Tag Archives: sexism

Dear Good Men

My dear Good Men,

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but, there is more to being good than simply not being bad. As the priest in my favorite movie, Boondock Saints, reminds his congregation, “We must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of Good Men.” It is this indifference that I want to address. This indifference toward the lived experiences of women, their lived terror at the hands of men.

Worse, we need to discuss the fact that even as I wrote that last sentence, I felt compelled to add, “not all men, not you, of course, not you” to pre-emptively assuage your defensive anger at being lumped in with those other “bad” men you work so hard to not be like. It is this combination of casual indifference about the actual plight of women, combined with your knee-jerk defensiveness when we try to discuss it that makes it hard for me to accept you at your word, to accept you as Good Men, or allies, or safe.

I understand that you would like to be Good Men. I want to help you. I want to tell you what I, a woman, need from you in order to bestow that designation. In order to understand what is needed, you’ll have to take off your Good Man badge, let your guard down, listen, allow yourself to become uncomfortable. You are not under attack, the women you know are. All of the women you know. This is about what we experience, weekly, daily, sometimes hourly. You need to let yourself feel that discomfort, it is the only way you’ll be able to grasp the solutions.

The story starts like this: I’m 15 years old. I tell my sister about being sexually assaulted by a married man. She hugs me and says, “I’m so sorry. Welcome to the club.” And then it’s her turn to talk. Her turn to tell a story. The first time she was assaulted…

The first time. Not the only time. Not the last time.

The first time.

Because once it starts, there isn’t an end. At least not while we still have breath. And we hope, each time it happens, that we will retain our breath, regain our breath, reclaim our breath.

Breath to keep going.

Breath to whisper our story.

Breath to change the story.

Some of us run out of breath. Some of us can’t hold it anymore, our breath, and we let it go rather than have it stolen from us one more time. Some of us lose it all to our attacker, have it pulled, choked, torn from us, never to return. Our breathless, broken body becomes our story, told for us on the 9 o’clock news.

But those of us who hold our breath long enough, who keep it, tight in our chest, guarding it against the next attack, and the next, we go on.

Our story continues.

When I reported my first sexual assault at the age of 15, nothing happened to the man who assaulted me. No reports were filed, no charges levied, no warnings given. Instead, I was sent home from my year abroad because my presence became too uncomfortable for him. His comfort was more important than my safety.

Welcome to the club. The guys all like it here.

When a man followed me home, pushed his way into my apartment and assaulted me, a Good Man asked why I hadn’t stopped him. The women I told hugged me and shared their stories.

Welcome to the club. What did you do wrong to gain membership?

When I told my boss, a Good Man, that I could not help a customer because he had been stalking me, I was told to do my job or go home. It was not safe to be polite to my stalker. I quit and hid in a bathroom until my co-worker came and told me my stalker had left the building. But first she told me her story…

Welcome to the club. This is a terrible club.

When I told my first corporate boss, another Good Man, that I wouldn’t feel safe if he hired someone who listed “pick up artist,” “ladies man,” and “playa” on his resume, he told me to relax and get a sense of humor. After all, this candidate had hard skills. I was replaceable. When I asked women about filing a complaint they all shook their heads and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. How do you think this club got built?

By the time my rapist showed up, I knew better than to report him. There was too much at stake. I had already seen how the system worked against women who spoke up. The “choices” we were given by Good Men looking out for their bottom line. I had too much to lose. The women I told held me tight and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. None of us asked to join.

A Good Man asked me recently why he’d never heard these stories, if every woman I know has one, and they all have one, most have many, why hasn’t he heard them?

Welcome to the club. The first rule of survivor club is, don’t talk about what you’ve survived. It makes the Good Men uncomfortable.

When I went to college, I was forced to attend an orientation that told me how to keep myself safe. They never said, “from men” because there were men in the room and no one wanted to imply that we would need to stay safe from them. After all, they were our dorm mates, our class mates, they were Good Men.

I was given a set of rules to abide by to keep myself safe:

Never walk alone at night, don’t let a man walk you home at night…

Don’t wear tight clothes, don’t wear loose clothes, don’t wear flirty clothes, modify your fashion if you don’t want to be raped

Always carry your keys in your hand, always be ready to defend yourself…

Always keep an eye, and a hand, on your drink, better yet, don’t drink

Make eye contact, but not suggestive eye contact

Be alert at all times – no listening to headphones, no talking on your cell phone, the attack could come at any time…

Vary your routine, you never know who’s watching…

Mark out “safe-houses” along your routes in case you need to run to one, make sure you run to a house with women in it

The men at this orientation were not taught similar precautions. They were not taught to protect themselves. Nor were they asked to consider their role in the precautions women were being told to take. They were not asked to look at themselves as anything other than Good Men, because clearly, only Very Bad Men hurt women. Monsters.

But none of the rules that women are supposed to follow in order to keep ourselves safe from Bad Men work. None of them kept me safe. None of them kept my friends safe. None of them will keep my daughters safe, or your daughters safe…

Because Bad Men are not the problem.

No, the Monster we must battle is not Bad Men, but the indifference, the blindness, of Good Men.

The indifference that makes it possible for Good Men to ignore the catcalls, the jokes, the threats, the violence of other Good Men.

The blindness that makes it possible for Good Men to ask me what I’ve done wrong to deserve the violence I experienced, what rule I broke. As if violence is like mud puddles – an inevitable inconvenience that women simply have to look out for and step around – and if we forget or get distracted and step into a puddle, well, that’s our own fault, isn’t it?

Welcome to the club. Stop playing the victim card.

You see, there is no message in The Rules about Good Men standing up to Bad Men. There is no message that sometimes the Bad Man in the room is your friend, your peer, your professor, your boss, your brother, you.

There is no message that being neutral in the presence of violence makes you complicit in that violence and revokes your Good Man status.

The Good Men in that room were not asked to see, and so they did not.

Good Men, I am asking you to see.

It is not fair that men feel entitled to wear their Good Man badge every time they don’t actively, physically hurt a woman, while women feel grateful every time they simply survive another day in a world populated with men.

Good Men, do you feel that difference? Do you begin to see why we are tired of rewarding you for simply not killing us?

It is not enough.

So, Good Men, I will give you the message you’ve been missing. The message no one wants to give you lest it upset your fragile self-image as a white knight who is good simply by not being bad.

That is not enough.

It is not enough to not be a rapist, an attacker, a harasser.

That’s standard. That’s the default.

Good is something altogether more.

If you want to be Good Men, you must be good enough to say, “We should not hire someone who lists “pick up artist” on their resume, that creates an unsafe culture at our company.”

You must be good enough to say, “If an employee is threatened by a customer, we should ask that customer to leave rather than lose a good employee.”

You must be good enough to say, “It’s not okay to joke about other people in ways that dehumanize them. It’s not okay to talk about women as if they are meat.”

You must be good enough to say, “Leave. What you’re doing and saying is inappropriate and is making others feel unsafe.”

You must be good enough to say, “Back off, she said no.”

You must be good enough to hear “no” in the silent absence of a “yes” and act accordingly.

You must be good enough to hear, “I have been hurt before. I need you to approach with caution and kindness.” and not take it as an attack on your Goodness.

In order to be Good Men, you must open your eyes and ears and hearts. You must learn what violence looks like and sounds like so that you can call it out and tell the perpetrators to stop before it erupts.

You must be good enough to listen when women speak of the violence done to them, to believe them, and to not get angry at them for making you uncomfortable. If you respond with defensive anger, you are telling them that your comfort is more important than their safety, than their very life.

As Margaret Atwood so famously said, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”

If you want to earn your Good Man badge, you must be good enough to put women’s safety above your comfort. You must go beyond “not bad” and behave in ways that actively promote equality and justice.

“Not bad” is the default.

“Not bad” is neutral.

And neutral is the playground of the oppressor.

Welcome to the club.

 

(Note – this piece was written for one of my classes. A few of my fellow students wrote that they hoped I would publish it, so here it is. My regular readers will read/hear echoes of previous pieces, but I do believe this one ties many threads together into an approachable package. As always, feel free to share. Thank you.)

 

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Schrodinger’s Rapist Revisted

I had an experience today that got me thinking about the way we treat each other, the things we expect from one another, and the things we do to take care of ourselves in an uncertain world.

My train of thought led me back to this old post trying to explain the concept of Schrödinger’s Rapist. That attempt largely failed with the very people it was meant to educate/enlighten/help…

Maybe today’s experience will prove a better example.

See, the premise of Schrödinger’s Rapist is that anyone could be a rapist – and no one knows if you are, or aren’t, until it’s too late. Thus, certain people who fall into categories that are historically, socially, statistically and physically more vulnerable to rape are right to take extra precautions around people who fall into categories that are statistically, historically, physically more likely to be rapists until they have sufficient evidence to believe they are safe.

This concept upsets a lot of people, primarily men, because they believe it amounts to saying that all men are rapists. It doesn’t. It says all people are potentially rapists, we don’t know until we “open the box.” (To stick with the Schrodinger theme) It further says, since men are more likely to be rapists than people of other genders, it is not unreasonable to practice caution around men until you feel you can move them into the “not a rapist” box.

Still, men are upset about this.

So, let me try again with a more tangible, real life example.

This afternoon I was leaving the grocery store. While I was shopping my car had gotten boxed in by three really big trucks, severely limiting my visibility as I tried to back out of my spot and head home.

I backed out very cautiously, moving slowly, checking my mirrors and turning my head to check all my blind spots frequently as I inched out. Once I broke free of my parking space, I saw an elderly woman walking up the aisle toward the store. The nose of my car was pointing in her general direction and as I straightened out my car it was clear I would be driving right past her. She was just on the other side of one of the large trucks that had been blocking me in. I cranked my wheel a little further to make sure I could swing around both her and the truck and leave enough room for her to feel safe and comfortable.

Instead of continuing to walk forward, she froze. Then she slowly inched her way closer to the bumper of the large truck, hugging it, and staying on the other side of it from me.

Now, I had a couple of options – I could take this personally. Didn’t she know I was a good, safe, nice driver? Hadn’t she seen me cautiously and slowly backing out? Why on earth would she be scared now and move to protect herself from me and my vehicle? It’s not like I was going to run her down in the King Sooper’s Parking Lot. I DO NOT COMMIT VEHICULAR HOMICIDE, DIDN’T SHE KNOW THAT?

OR

I could appreciate her caution for what it was – an act of reasonable self-protection based on decades of social training that told her that cars CAN BE dangerous. Cars have the potential to harm or even kill unwary people. Sure #NotAllCars are driven by homicidal, or even just hurried and harried, or absent-minded and distracted drivers… But, a few of them are – and YOU NEVER KNOW UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE.

In fact…

While most drivers in most parking lots drive slowly and cautiously, respecting the fact that parking lots are filled with pedestrians of all stripes as well as other cars trying to maneuver their way into and out of spaces, we’ve all seen the person who mistakes the parking lot for a race track, who cuts off pedestrians and other drivers to snag that prime spot, or who backs out and then tears through the parking lot as if Gotham has sent up the bat signal and they are Batman’s ride to a dubious and destructive heroism.

In fact… Many of us have been that driver at one time or another. In a hurry, distracted, running late and desperately trying to get through one more f’ing chore on our way to the place we’re supposed to be.

Or, perhaps, you’re like me, and you’re hungry and you’re pretty sure that getting in and out of that store AS FAST AS POSSIBLE is the only thing keeping you out of prison for mass murder, so scaring a few people in the parking lot is a small price to pay, you were paying attention, you were focused – THEY”RE STILL ALIVE AREN”T THEY!?! No matter that if a small child had wriggled free of their adult (as mine once did) and runs out from between two cars (as mine did) and dashes in front of your car (as mine did) and then panics and STOPS instead of running out of your path (as mine did) you wouldn’t be able to react in time and you’d be the bad driver we’ve been taught to fear after all… (luckily the driver my kid ran in front of was one of the much more common cautious in parking lots sort. Which did not stop me from soundly scolding said child and making sure she understood that SHE ALMOST DIED!)

No matter, you’re a good driver. You’re safe, you’re nice, considerate.  You don’t commit vehicular manslaughter.

You’re not a monster.

Most of us aren’t.

And yet… We teach our children to be cautious around cars – in parking lots, on streets, even on sidewalks – looking both ways, paying attention to reverse lights, looking around when they are riding their bikes, listening for cars as well as watching for them. We teach our children to hesitate first, to be hyper aware, to assume that drivers do not see them, and will not stop for them – even when the driver SHOULD stop for them. (Because sometimes drivers fail to stop. Sometimes drivers fail to obey the traffic rules. Even good drivers sometimes fail.)

So, when people exercise caution around cars and take steps to protect themselves against being harmed or killed by wayward drivers and their vehicles – we don’t take it personally. We don’t throw up our hands in disgust and wail, “Why don’t pedestrians TRUST ME? Why are they always so cautious? It’s rude. It’s profiling. Don’t they know that I’m a nice driver? I don’t commit vehicular manslaughter. #NotAllDrivers!”

Instead we respect their caution. We respect that they have been trained since birth to understand that pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists (and smart car drivers) are all at a distinct disadvantage should they fail to be cautious at the wrong moment or let their guard down around the wrong driver. And we respect that they can’t actually know if a driver is dangerous UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE, so it is okay for them to exercise caution around ALL DRIVERS.

We understand that there is a power differential there that favors the person in the car, and so we allow, we encourage, people to exercise and express their caution. We applaud them for it.

In the same vein, there is an inherent power differential between men and women and people of other genders in our society. This is something that has been trained into non-male people. We have been taught, since birth, that men are stronger, faster, more aggressive, more powerful – physically, financially, politically… We have been taught to respect, and fear, the power differential – the same way we’ve been taught to respect the power differential between a pedestrian and a car. We’ve been taught to exercise caution, because we are at a disadvantage.

So, while #NotAllMen are rapists, men hold more power and are statistically much more likely to be rapists than people of other genders. Therefore people of other genders should not be shamed, browbeaten or yelled at for exercising caution around men in the interest of protecting themselves. Especially not while we live in a society that continues to blame the victims of sexual violence – they asked for it, they were in the wrong neighborhood/bar/club, did you see what they were wearing, they were drinking, they smiled, etc.

As long as victims must accept social responsibility for the violence inflicted on them, it stands to reason that we should allow them every and any self-protection remedy they see fit to employ, including exercising caution around all men.

We cannot simultaneously tell people in parking lots that they are responsible for their own safety and then yell at them when they press themselves into corners to avoid oncoming vehicles.

We cannot simultaneously tell people that they must protect themselves from rape, and then yell at them when they aren’t relaxed, fun, nice, flirty, whatever with all men… Or even with all nice men – because they don’t know you’re nice until you show them – and getting upset at them for protecting themselves… Yeah, maybe you’re not quite the nice guy you thought you were.

 

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Unspeakable Things

I finished reading Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny aka Penny Red a few days ago but haven’t had time to sit down and go through ALL the sticky tabs and compose a discussion until now.

unspeakable sticky notes

A well stickied book

If you want the quick version, I read this book “out loud” for one of my twitter read-alongs and then storified the results. You can check that out here if you just want the highlights without the analysis.

Also, you can catch me reading “out loud” on twitter most Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-5 pm mountain time.

Okay, so diving in –

Unspeakable Things is a non-fiction book that covers a pretty broad range of social topics, all centered on feminist philosophy.

“Feminism is a process. Call yourself what you like. The important thing is what you fight for. Begin it now.”

I’m going to highlight just a couple of the topics covered in this book that really resonated with me.

The first is our idea of “Equal pay for equal work” and how very broken that conversation has ALWAYS been.

“Women are more likely than men to perform labor that is socially necessary but low waged or unwaged.” And thus, women are also “more likely to need public services and welfare.”

Laurie Penny talks about this idea that we have of women getting paid less than men because we “need” flexible schedules, or because we reduce our hours to care for kids and take care of the home – and challenges us to flip that around and start talking about all that socially necessary free labor that so often falls on women’s shoulders. If we’re serious about equal pay for equal work, then we need to make sure that women are getting paid in some way for that second, and sometimes third, shift that they work.

This of course leads to questions about, “what work should be paid, and what is simply part of love and duty…” Because it turns out that the reason so much of the work that women do is unpaid or underpaid is because, “we think of it as ‘love’, as a moral expression of feeling rather than a practical task of immense and tangible value.”

This covers things like raising children, cooking meals, cleaning the house, washing the laundry – all those supportive care taking jobs that often fall to women by default and are part of the old, and outdated story that, “Men, in other words, are good at doing, making, building things; women are good at making life easier for men.”

Laurie Penny comes around to this idea again later in the book. She talks about the broken (middle and upper class) pact that the wage system once rested on, “whereby men were obliged to seek paid employment to support women’s unpaid work, and the labor of both would be sealed in a system of sexual bargaining.”

And as for the many women who are trying to raise a family on their own – forget about it.

“The millions of women raising children without a co-parent are spoken of in the same terms as beggars and thieves: they are a drain on the state, the scourge of hardworking taxpayers who must forfeit the proceeds of ‘real’ work to pay for the maintenance of these ‘broken homes.’

Laurie Penny reminds us, “In the United States, there is no male equivalent for the term ‘welfare queen’. Having a child alone and asking for support with raising that child – from her community, her family or the state – is considered uniquely selfish.”

And yet, we know that it is cheaper to educate a child, to feed a child, to clothe and house a child than it is to let them slip through the cracks into our bloated “justice” system. We know that we ALL benefit from having a generation of educated, intelligent, secure kids coming up behind us to keep the economy running, to pay into our social security, to have the skills and the know-how to take care of us in our old age…

But the idea of paying a parent to stay home and do the hard work of raising competent citizens – FUCK NO! Damn welfare queens should have kept their legs shut until they could afford to have a child.

And when we talk of raising the minimum wage so that all workers can afford to support their families without help from the state – FUCK NO! If they wanted to get paid enough to survive they should have gone to college (which we also won’t pay for, and which they can’t get into because they came from the wrong neighborhood and the wrong schools and had to drop out to get a job to help their family, or because they got pregnant because birth control wasn’t available and the nearest abortion clinic was 500 miles away or…)

And when we talk about making it easier for both men and women to work flexible schedules, or to increase spending for quality pre-schools, day cares and to expand the school year so that people don’t have to make a false “choice” between having a career or raising children – again, we hear a resounding FUCK NO!

There is no help coming. The village that used to raise a child has decided that children are now an individual choice and thus an individual burden.

“Of all the female sins, hunger is the least forgivable; hunger for anything, for food, sex, power, education, even love.”

So we won’t help them, but when they fail, it is all their fault for not trying hard enough. And when they complain about wanting equal pay for equal work, we refuse to acknowledge or even see how much free work they’ve been doing all along, because that isn’t real work, that’s just what women are supposed to do.

As Laurie Penny writes, “The best way to stop girls achieving anything is to force them to achieve everything.” or, later on, “Little girls, though, only ever get two choices: We can be the princess or we can be the witch. And everybody knows what happens to women who do their own magic.

witch burning

She’s a witch!

The second topic Laurie Penny takes up is the Lost Boys of modern masculinity, the other side of this broken pact.

Laurie Penny looks at men and what shifting expectations have done to their world view, and the contradictions that they are forced to try to navigate – the many, many broken promises that were made and that they are struggling to piece together.

Men have been told that they are living in “a brave new world of economic and sexual opportunity.” But really, where is the power that today’s young men were promised? Where is the privilege everyone keeps telling them have?

Our men are raised to expect dignified work that leads to financial security, but after years of recession and increased worker exploitation by employers, that dream is harder and harder to achieve.

Working hard is no longer enough.

These dashed dreams are what seem to be fueling so much of the male frustration and rage that we see enacted on the nightly news. “Violence happens when people are frightened that somebody’s about to take away their power.”

Laurie Penny reminds us here that the culprit is, and always was, patriarchy. And she reminds us that “Patriarchy does not mean ‘the rule of men’. It means ‘the rule of fathers’ – literally, the rule of powerful heads of household over everybody else in society. Men further down the social chain were expected to be content with having power over women in order to make up for their lack of control over the rest of their lives.”

She goes on to remind us that under patriarchy, “Most individual men don’t have a lot of power, and now the small amount of social and sexual superiority they held over women is being questioned. That must sting.”

But men are not allowed to talk about their gender and how if affects them. Instead modern masculinity seems to work much like Fight Club, “in that the first rule of Man Club is you do not talk about Man Club.”

Laurie Penny posits that modern masculinity is working exactly as designed by, “keeping men, particularly young men, in a state of anxious desperation, lonely and isolated, unable to express their true feelings or live the lives they really want, taking out their social and sexual frustration on women rather than understanding it as a systematic effect of elitism inequality.”

Which is to say, modern masculinity functions by never allowing men to question it, and telling them to instead blame their discomfort and insecurity on those uppity feminists trying to usurp their place in the pecking order, rather than examining the systematic forces of patriarchal oppression that hold us ALL back.

Modern masculinity squeezes men into a narrow bottleneck that no one is equipped to fit through, leaving the average man unable to express their desire to be taken care of, to be cuddled, to cry, to do creative work that will not make money, to be a full-time parent, to have their vulnerabilities acknowledged, to go into care taking as a profession, to play with makeup or clothing, to have women as friends… To want deep and lasting social change.

But here’s the “last great secret of the supposed ‘golden age of masculinity’ that’s been destroyed by feminism: it never really existed in the first place… there have always been men who would not or could not conform.” There has never been only one way of “being a man.”

Laurie Penny encourages us to be compassionate toward the men who are struggling to find their place in this bold new world where masculinity feels at once more constrictive than ever, while simultaneously being ever more open for those brave enough to challenge the old guard.

Part of the challenge is that, “Men grow up expecting to be the hero of their own story. Women grow up expecting to be the supporting actress in somebody else’s.”

But more and more women are demanding the space to be their own heroes, and many are even *gasp* asking men to step up and be their supporting cast. There are few acceptable role models for this – there is no available script for men to take that kind of role.

“Of course it’s going to hurt. But then, it hurts already.” Change is hard, and scary, and we all need help navigating our way through it.

“Social change happens when the old stories we tell ourselves to survive are no longer sufficient, and we create new ones.”

Story time

Laurie Penny talks a lot about “adjustment disorder” (An actual new diagnosis!) which rests on the idea that unhappiness cannot possibly be the fault of the system, it is our fault for failing to adjust to the straightjacket of society’s gender expectations.

“We were taught, all of us, that if we were dissatisfied, it was our fault, or the fault of those closest to us. We were built wrong somehow. We had failed to adjust. If we showed any sort of distress, we probably needed to be medicated or incarcerated, depending on our social status.”

If we are unhappy, there are drugs and therapy – anything to avoid talking about justice.

But the truth is, we are not broken – the system is. But we can only change it if we are willing to examine it, and our role in it and then do the hard, painful work of challenging it at every turn.

There are additional insightful chapters on sex, sexuality and sexism that I ran out of words for.

I appreciated Laurie Penny’s efforts to discuss the ways the current system hurts people of all genders. (I didn’t dive into that part of the discussion, but she talks a lot about the ways gender-non-conforming people are especially damaged by the current arrangement, but also how they are the vanguard of change because they are the ones pushing the hardest to open the doors of equality open ever wider.) I thought she did a good job of bringing in more perspectives and points of view than her own and widening the lens to help us all see beyond our own limited experience.

Laurie Penny encourages us to be suspicious of any program that seeks to restrict freedom in order to protect us. “It’s for your own good.” are words that should send a shudder of rebellion through us all.

In her final battle cry, Laurie Penny reminds us that in a system this broken, there are no rewards for good behavior. “The world doesn’t need another handbook for how to submit with dignity to a world that wants you to hate yourself.”

unspeakable things

You are not broken.

If you’re tired of being told that you’re the problem, and you’d like someone to pick you up, dust you off and prepare you for revolution, Unspeakable Things is a good place to start.

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Filed under Books, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Uncategorized

Still me, but with less swearing

I am hoping to make it back to TBT today to either post part 2 of the Guns in America conversation, or perhaps another detour about ethics, morality & money.

In the meantime, and in case I don’t make it back – My first article for Everyday Feminism just went live, so you can read about parenting in a post-feminist world over there –

http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/07/make-room-for-bigger-truths

The article is a positive action based piece on helping kids break open their gender boxes a little bit to make room for more of their truth to shine.

Feel free to drop a comment. I’ll be bouncing over periodically to join the conversation.

Cheers.

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Filed under Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Emotions, deeply held beliefs and actual facts.

I’m 3/4 of the way through 6 articles right now – Part 2 & 3 of the American Gun Culture conversation, a piece on teaching children compassion, a piece on immigration reform and Obama’s rumored executive action on that, a piece on being an askable adult and a piece on buffer zones and free speech.

I haven’t been able to work on any of them for the past couple of days because I have been blinded by rage. And… as much as I like preaching to, or screeching with, the choir from time to time, recently I’ve really enjoyed using this space to try to speak a little more calmly and clearly about issues that matter to me and to try to shed new light on contentious issues.

So… I’ve been doing some gardening, some cooking and when I could, some reading.

I’ve been trying to breathe and find my peace in the world.

This afternoon, finally, I was able to slink past the visceral emotion for a brief, shining moment to give a friend some additional facts to support her argument that Monday’s SCOTUS decision regarding Hobby Lobby was complete and utter political/religious bullshit.

*deep breath* Trying to calm the rage and get back to facts – because… The facts simply aren’t on the side of Hobby Lobby.

Here’s the tip of the iceberg –

Beyond the fact that Hobby Lobby  has no problem importing most of their cheap products from China, which engages in forced abortions, or the fact that their retirement plan invests in companies that make bank producing and selling contraception, including the forms they claim to object to…

Hobby Lobby’s employee insurance previously covered precisely the forms of birth control they “sincerely object to” – until they re-examined their policy in light of ACA and pressure to bring suit by an outside organization.
http://www.becketfund.org/…/Hobby-Lobby-Complaint… (Note 55, page 14 of their original complaint.)

They claim they did not know they were covering it, but here in Colorado, if you offer insurance to your employees, you are required to cover all forms of FDA approved birth control if prescribed by a doctor, so… They knew because birth control coverage is mandated in 26 states in which Hobby Lobby operates! (For those who need a little help, that would mean that the majority of US states recognized contraception as basic health care prior to the ACA.)
http://www.ncsl.org/…/insurance-coverage-for

A side note here – this can be looked at two ways, as employers being required to pay for things they don’t agree with, or as insurance companies being required to cover a defined minimum set of standard medical care options, including contraception.

Last, their sincerely held belief that IUDs cause abortions is scientifically and demonstrably false so having the Supreme Court uphold their right to deny their employees medical care based on false beliefs is truly terrifying. SCOTUS’s response that the government can come in and pay for/subsidize these forms of birth control is naive since the Hyde Amendment bars the federal government from funding abortions and SCOTUS just agreed with Hobby Lobby over medical science that these 4 forms of birth control are actually abortifacients if you just clap your hands and believe hard enough.

These are actual facts – that Hobby Lobby’s “sincerely held belief” only began once Obama signed the ACA into law, that prior to that they had never sued any of the 26 states which required all employee insurance plans to cover all FDA approved forms of birth control and that their belief that these forms of birth control are abortifacients is simply false and therefore SCOTUS just showed an employer’s religion preferential treatment over their employees, thus actually violating the intent of the first amendment they claimed to be upholding.

Here are some more facts.

If we have insurance, we are all paying for things we disagree with. That is how insurance works. They take all our money, pool it together in one giant pot and use that money to pay out claims – without consulting us. I don’t have a say in whether Bob next door gets to take viagra, or whether June down the street really needs medication for her depression. Those are decisions that are made between a patient and a doctor and the insurance company’s job is to pay the damn bill. And yes, my money, as a healthy person who never goes to the doctor, is being used to cover those treatments whether I agree with them or not.

This whole, “But I don’t want to pay for your…” argument is tired and boring and ignorant.

pay for war

I don’t agree with war. But my taxes still pay for it.

We are ALL paying for each other via insurance premiums and tax dollars.

In addition to that – allowing employers to say that they don’t want their insurance plan to cover certain items is dangerous and despite what SCOTUS said, should be illegal.

Here’s why.

Insurance offered through your employer is part of your overall compensation package which consists of wages AND benefits. How we spend our wages cannot be controlled by our employers. How and where we use our vacation time cannot be dictated by our employers. How we use our insurance shouldn’t be either.

Freedom to impose your religion

Your freedom ends at my body.

If Hobby Lobby really has a sincerely held religious objection to these 4 forms of birth control, then does that mean they can dock the wage of any employee using these forms of birth control, or fire people who are using them (or benefiting from their use)? I ask because of this whole, “They shouldn’t have to pay for your slutty choices.” argument.

If they are paying wages to someone who uses those wages to purchase an IUD or Plan B or any other form of “objectionable” birth control (If they were Catholic that would be ALL of them…) that really is the same as offering insurance to their employees which covers those options.

Could an employer fire someone because they used their sick days or vacation time to access an abortion? If not, they should not be able to dictate how an employee uses their private insurance which is offered to them by the company as part of their overall compensation package.

What people fail to understand about the birth control coverage mandate is that – it requires insurance companies to simply cover all FDA approved medical prescriptions – including but not limited to birth control. It requires those to simply be part of every plan. It does not actually require anyone to USE that coverage, any more than it requires me to get a colonoscopy even though that too is covered by my (and your) insurance plan. If I don’t want a camera up my ass, I don’t have to let a doctor put one there. But if my doctor tells me that it would be a good idea to take a look, at least I will know I won’t have to pay $1,000 for the discomfort.

(And not because I have “pre-paid” for that service via my monthly premiums but because the other members of my insurance plan have been paying into the pool. So, you might be paying for that. Since Rush Limbaugh wants video of my slutty sex if birth control is covered by insurance, does that mean he also wants the video of my colonoscopy!?! That thought almost makes me want to get one… Because I’m malicious that way.)

A last note – I know that Obama created a work-around for actual religious institutions and organizations. For the record, I was pissed off then – and this is why, because of the slippery slope it created. I am tired of women’s health being up for debate. I am tired of being told that no one wants to pay for my slutty sex while staying absolutely silent on the continued coverage of penis pumps, viagra and penile implants.

I am so tired of the argument that birth control is frivolous and therefore shouldn’t be covered by regular insurance alongside viagra.

Seriously? Men have a “right” to erections, but women don’t have the “right” to protect themselves from an unplanned pregnancy?

See, birth control is something that is used for many purposes outside of slutty sex. The pill is something you have to take every day whether you plan on having sex that day or not. If you plan on having sex that month, or the next month – you have to take the pill every day. If you’re worried that you might get raped, you have to take the pill every day. IUDs are long term birth control that a woman gets and tends to just leave in until she decides she wants to have a child. It isn’t worth the hassle or expense of getting one put in, taken out, put back in… They ARE NOT abortion machines delivering 365 abortions per woman per year. (366 on leap years.)

The pill, IUDs, the Ring, Depro, etc. are all basically insurance policies for women (and the men having sex with them). They are not things women use and pay for so they can have slutty sex every day. They are tools for planning and controlling family size and timing. Many of the most effective methods are used by women for long periods of time even when they are not having sex.

I used birth control for a full year before I ever had sex. And I stayed on it during every “dry-spell” in between partners. It helped me walk home late at night from my job as a security guard in the middle of a rape epidemic. I hoped being on it would mean that even if I was raped, at least I wouldn’t ALSO have to deal with a pregnancy and abortion.

Beyond preventing pregnancy, many birth control methods are also tools for promoting the overall health and well-being of the women who use them. Women use birth control to treat a variety of ailments that have nothing to do with sex or preventing pregnancy.

The reasons a woman is using birth control, as well as her reasons for choosing one method over another, are private medical decisions that take place between the woman and her doctor and she should never have to justify them to her boss, to her legislators or to strangers at her insurance company. Contraception is basic, common preventative health care and it’s time we started treating it as such.

As for who is going to pay for it – we all are. Just like we all pay for the other basic, common, non-controversial health needs in this country. It’s time we recognized women’s health needs as legitimate health needs.

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#YesAllWomen, but what do we DO about it?

I was working Sunday when the #YesAllWomen twitter hashtag got started up in response to Elliot Rodger, an openly rage filled misogynist shooting down 6 people and killing himself in Santa Barbara. A friend DMed me the link, in case somehow I had missed it.

When I first followed it, I was a bit confused. It didn’t seem to make sense. How were all of these posts connected, what exactly did #YesAllWomen mean. So, I asked the google.

What I discovered was that this was a response, not just to the violence which took the lives of 5 men and 2 women, but to the all too common response that women hear when we speak up about misogyny and sexism in our lives. #NotAllMen. As in, “Not all men are like that.

Very often if I speak of something that men, plural, as in more than one man, have done to me in my lived experience, I am called out for attacking ALL men. Which… I’m not. But this tactic has a silencing effect. Because, I have been conditioned to try to be nice, polite, considerate – to not hurt other people’s feelings, even at the expense of my own. As have many women.

So, when men (plural – not synonymous with ALL) take a conversation about trauma that I, or other women, have experienced and make it about their hurt feelings because we used the plural of man, as in I have been sexually assaulted by multiple men, it does a couple of things – first, it reminds me that my feelings of trauma, my physical safety and my desire to speak about it are less valid, less important and less worthy than those particular men’s hurt feelings over being the same gender as the person who hurt me.

Second, it tells me that I should quiet down because it is MY FAULT, perhaps not for being hurt in the first place, but for using my injury to make other men uncomfortable about the violence, threats, harassment and sexism I experience regularly. That I should not draw attention to these abuses because it makes the “good men” uncomfortable.

So, in response a few, and then a couple hundred, and then thousands and then a million or so women on twitter began to talk about #YesAllWomen. Because, no, not all men are violent or sexist or misogynistic or dangerous. BUT, enough of them are that it makes the world feel very unsafe for most, if not all, women.

Under the hashtag #YesAllWomen, women began to speak, to open up, to talk about their own experiences of sexism and violence. We began to talk about our lives, the things we do to protect ourselves, the ways we feel we are asked to change and hide and bury pieces of who we are in order to be safe – or are told that if we refuse to break, then we need to shut up and accept the consequences of living in public. As if violence is an acceptable price to pay for leaving the house.

And I know, I know, I know – men experience violence too – most often at the hands of other men. BUT I know, I know, I know – women perpetuate violence too. There, I’ve said it.

Here’s the thing – and here’s where this particular hashtag became so powerful for so many people, for a brief time we created a space where we didn’t feel we needed to restate the obvious. Where we didn’t have to defend our right to talk about our experiences or stop and placate bruised male egos who are uncomfortable hearing that yes, some of their brethren are violent a-holes or acknowledge that yes, some women are violent a-holes too in order to talk about our lived experiences and our hopes for change.

It was brutal and beautiful and raw and cathartic and traumatic and inspiring and ultimately empowering.

I watched and I saw women speaking up for the first time about their experiences. I saw women exhaling as they realized that they were not alone – they were not crazy for feeling afraid, they were not the only ones covering themselves in metaphorical armor before they left the house, they were not the only ones who spent more time planning safe routes home than they did getting ready to go out, they were not the only ones who felt guilty for failing to protect themselves from violence, for not doing enough to anticipate who their attacker would be, because after all they were out in public, they should have known they were a target and accepted their fate…

They were not crazy for being wary, or being skeptical of Nice Guys™, or second guessing their outfits before they walked out the door (too sexy and you’re asking for it, not sexy enough and you risk being abused for not trying to please the male gaze). They were not crazy for being frustrated by the sexual double standards that force breastfeeding moms and young girls to cover up while men and boys run around half naked whenever they want.

They were not crazy for being afraid.

In fact, that was the sanest response to their lived experiences that they could have.

Scientists recently discovered that humans are hardwired to be afraid of snakes. Even though #NotAllSnakes are dangerous and many are actually beneficial, it turns out that people who flinch first when they see a snake live longer – long enough to reproduce! Because if you flinch first and it’s venomous, you live! And if you flinch first and it’s benign, you can still approach after you’ve confidently identified it.

I posit, that right now – and perhaps always, written history shows us that the world has long been hard on women – women who are wary of men, who flinch first, who approach with caution, live longer. Not because all men are dangerous, nor because all men are to blame, nor because all men are violent, but because enough of them are.

Almost every woman I know has some story of violence, threatening harassment, assault, rape – something that colors how she faces the world. It is true, it’s #NotAllMen, but the flip side is that, #YesAllWomen have experienced some level of violence, harassment or intimidation from men.

Last night I talked to my husband about the conversations I had on #YesAllWomen. First because they brought up heavy and intense emotions and I needed to talk that through. But also because I wanted to see his reaction. And because I wanted to brain storm solutions.

Ultimately, this isn’t a woman’s issue – it’s a men’s issue. Because statistically speaking, men are much more likely to express violent aggression than women are – against women and against other men. Men are much more likely to become physically and lethally violent. So, I wanted a man’s perspective on what to do about it, how to curb it – whether that was something I could even dare to ask for. (I did, I dared. We HAVE to. What’s that saying about all progress being made by unreasonable men who expect the world to adapt to them!?! Women, don’t you think it is WELL PAST TIME that we got a little – okay a lot – more unreasonable here!!!)

The conversation was rough. It was uncomfortable. It was that same brutal, beautiful, raw and tender that my online conversations had been. It took some back and forth for us to get to the root of it, the heart of the discomfort. It stems, I think, from a place of genuinely wanting to help – but not knowing how, not knowing what to do with this information. It all feels too big, too entrenched, too ingrained. And, it’s uncomfortable because no one wants to admit they are complicit in perpetuating a world where people they love are hurt and afraid. It’s uncomfortable because no one really wants to hear about someone they love being abused or harassed, especially if there is nothing they can do to change it.

But… There are things that we can do to change it. And I think that’s why these conversations are so important to have. That’s why this hashtag is so powerful. Because… One of the things my husband said last night shocked me, but shouldn’t have because it’s the same thing I hear echoed over and over every time I talk about this issue in mixed company.

“But, I don’t see it. It’s not me. It’s not my friends. It isn’t happening in my spaces. How can I change the culture when I don’t see it – at all?”

For any man courageous enough to read #YesAllWomen for a while, you’ll begin to see it. But, you have to remind yourself that word men is plural as in more than one man, not synonymous with ALL men. Women talking about things that have happened to them, things that they have lived through and experienced is not the same as women attacking you for being a man.

Because, the truth is, this is out there, it’s happening all the time, all around us and it’s visible if you look – but it’s small and insidious and hiding in plain sight. And so many of us are so accustomed to it that we fail to register it. However, once you start to see it, it becomes impossible to unsee.

It’s misogynistic jokes that degrade women, it’s catcalls on the street that some men think are compliments but many women feel threatened by, it’s boys in my daughter’s 3rd grade class vocally rating the fuckability of their female classmates, it’s revenge porn, it’s right there when my husband admitted that fully 2/3 of the women he knows have experienced sexual assault.

If that is true – then this violence DOES exist in his world. It is there. And he is living with the consequences, because those experiences color and shape how those women move through the world. I repeat, this is not a women’s issue. This is a cultural and social issue – and right now men still have more political and social power than women.

Look at the laws being written, passed and enacted that REQUIRE DOCTORS in some states to LIE TO THEIR FEMALE PATIENTS before providing certain medical services, thus undermining doctor/patient trust during an incredibly vulnerable time in a woman’s life. Look at the laws in 31 states that allow a rapist to claim parental rights over any child created during that rape. The list goes on, but this post is already too long.

So, for the men who want to help, who are uncomfortable with this discussion because they don’t know what to do with it, what to do with the feelings it creates and the discomfort it provokes… Here are some things that you can do to help.

First – listen. Listen through the discomfort. Listen. Don’t try to deflect, or change the topic or get defensive. Again, we are not attacking YOU, we are talking about things that we have experienced, so unless we specifically say, “You did XYZ”, it’s not about you, it is about US.

Last night, my husband created a safe space where even though he was uncomfortable and even though part of him felt like I was dragging him through my old trauma. (Didn’t we deal with this 12 years ago, why are you making me have these yucky feelings again now, there’s nothing I can do, what do you want from me? Am I supposed to apologize for having a penis? – These are NOT things he said in the moment – that would have made me feel disrespected, and unsafe, these are things he admitted feeling afterward, when the conversation had moved to that point.) In the space he created, I felt able to talk about my experiences and not be judged for them, I felt able to talk about my fear, my solidarity with women who are living their lives the way I lived mine in college – never going out without a switch blade in one hand and pepper spray in the other, for 3 years! I was able to talk about my hopes for our daughters and for our friends’ children of all genders. I was able to let my shields down and be raw and vulnerable and angry and hurt – and trust that I would not be attacked in that moment of open weakness.

When women say they want a man to make them feel safe – well, I won’t speak for all women, but for myself – that is the kind of safe I mean. I don’t want a white knight to protect me from the outside world, I want a partner who makes me feel safe to be me, who makes me feel loved and cherished and valuable and worthy even when I’m a mess, who makes me feel like it’s okay to be imperfect, to be wounded, to carry some scars.

LISTEN. Create a safe space for the women in your life.

Second – If what they say makes you uncomfortable and angry and frustrated and powerless, remember it is not their fault. They feel the same way. The trauma they are sharing with you was done to them. Sympathize. Don’t attack or get defensive. Many, many, many survivors of violence feel ashamed, it is one of the biggest emotions we need help with. We need compassion and understanding, we need to hear that it’s not our fault, that we didn’t ask for it, invite it, trigger it, allow it. We need to hear it over and over and over until it sinks in.

Third – don’t rush out to battle their demons for them.

This is a hard one for many of the men I know to hear and understand, but many women just want you to listen. They aren’t asking for action, at least not immediate action. They are asking for compassion and understanding. They are asking for someone to validate their feelings to tell them it’s okay for them to be angry, hurt, scared, frustrated, pissed off, furious… It might seem stupid to you that we feel we have to ask permission to have negative feelings, but… many of us don’t have much experience with it and feel like we’re always supposed to be smiling and be polite and be nice. Just as many, but #NotAllMen, need permission to cry or show tenderness or other “feminine” emotions…

Sympathize with them, it’s okay for you to say you are angry along with them, saddened, hurt, scared… Let them know you’re on their side, that you get it, that yes, what happened to them sucks and is unjust and unfair and shitty. Just like you would sympathize with a friend who got jumped in an ally and got his ass kicked by some punk.

Last – take what you hear, what you learn, and let it change the way you see the world and move through it. Let it open your eyes to another point of view. Of course you’re one of the good guys, but are you one of the good guys when it counts?

Can you stand up to your peers when they are crossing the line and tell them that they are being offensive, or that they are being more aggressive than a situation warrants, or that they need to back off? And can you do it in a way that doesn’t perpetuate further violence? (ie; punching a guy for grabbing a girl’s ass is, to my mind, counter productive. You are teaching that men need to respect women when there is a stronger male there to protect her, not that they need to respect women because women are humans worthy of respect.)

women are people

Treat ALL people with respect and dignity.

Treat misogynistic speech the same way you would treat racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or other hate-speech, because that’s what it is. Call it out when you hear it, use those opportunities to educate your peers. (And if it is not safe to call it out, because sometimes it isn’t, then simply don’t join in, don’t validate sexist jokes with your laughter, don’t try to one up with an even more abusive joke. Or, be sly and subtle, look up some good feminist jokes, yes they exist, and up the ante with one of those.)

If you can do that – awesome! Please – go forth and be an ally! Because often, when women say these things we are whining, nagging, bitching, being overly sensitive and need to grow a pair or get a sense of humor – it’s all just good fun. But… Often, when a man calls out these behaviors from within the group, some members of that group have an easier time hearing it.

When I stand up for myself and call out sexism, I am often told that I need to get a thicker skin – but a thicker skin won’t stop bullets, or fists, or rape. And when women speak up for themselves, it isn’t just words we are threatened with.

A Margaret Atwood quote has been going around the #YesAllWomen conversation that really says it all: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women’ are afraid that men will kill them.

 

 

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Conspiracy Theory Update

Pulling on the #RantyPants for this one.

ranty pants

People are people, yes, even women.

So, a year and a half ago I floated a conspiracy theory about the GOP and the war on women.

It went something like this: The GOP, which claims to be all about jobs, but is really all about enacting harmful legislation restricting women’s access to reproductive health care including birth control and abortion, knows exactly what it is doing.

abortion restrictions graph

Unprecedented.

The GOP is deliberately trying to force more women into pregnancy and, hopefully, out of the workplace, in order to create the illusion of more jobs and more opportunity because for every woman who leaves the work force, there is a man waiting to take her place. And the women who leave the work force because of pregnancy, or to raise children don’t show up on the unemployment roles. Ta-da! Instant job creation!

I was angry when I wrote that. I was fed up with the relentless onslaught of legislation restricting my rights and the rights of my daughters to determine our own futures, our own sexuality, and the timing and size of our families.

I put it out there as a half-serious, and scared, and half-joking, and angry, hypothesis. The truth is, I didn’t want to believe that the GOP could really be that clever and conniving.

Today – GOP congressman Bob Goodlatte actually spoke my conspiracy theory OUT LOUD. And he wasn’t joking.

He really believes that the new GOP anti-abortion bill that just passed the house committee will… create jobs!

Yes, limiting women’s reproductive choices is a real economy booster…

Except, of course, it isn’t.

Keeping women barefoot and pregnant doesn’t raise the standard of living, or put food in anyone’s mouths, or keep roofs over anyone’s heads… We have an economy that makes it really, really hard for a family to live on a single average American salary. Which means, barefoot and pregnant equals poverty. Which means government assistance, not the self-sufficiency that the GOP claims to want to achieve.

Now, I know, I know, those slutty sluts could just stop having sex if they don’t want to get pregnant.

So, men, are you ready to give it up? The sex? Because if women are only safe having sex when they actively WANT to get pregnant, well… That’s a whole lot of not shagging going on.

These policies need to start having consequences for men too. Men need to understand that women don’t get pregnant in a vacuum.

Luckily, the great Charlie Glickman has posted a lovely piece on redefining sexual success. Perhaps all those forced-birthers should give it a read so they can prepare themselves for their intercourseless futures.

Or, I guess they could just go with another lovely GOP candidate, Dick Black (You can’t make this stuff up) who thinks that there’s no such thing as marital rape. I mean, she gave consent on the altar amiright!?!

#EndRant

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