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“Boy… You’re going to carry that weight,

Carry that weight a long time…”

-The Beatles, Carry That Weight

You realize a few things when you bring a baby boy into the world. Your mind swirls with emotion and awe and fear and joy. You start to dream immediately of the kind of life your son will have.

And somewhere in the midst of the love and elation and the dreams there are a few wishes. Please let him be healthy. Please let him have a happy life. Please let me be a good parent. Please let him always feel safe and loved. And also… please let him be tall and strong and bold and athletic. You don’t really say any of this out loud. In fact the last part is said quickly in your head as you rush to tick off the superficial qualities that you only care about because society cares. Because possessing these qualities will make his life a little easier… actually, a lot easier. It will afford him more respect and privilege. It will give him a leg up and an advantage on the playing field of life.

Yes, many of these traits were at one time vital to survival. They used to be desirable in searching for a mate who could provide food and protect the family in a world of man against beast. But now? They are just superficial.

Society still cares. Society still deems these as qualities that all boys and men should strive for. Society still rewards height with higher pay and more leadership positions. Society and the media still perpetuates the idea of men settling deputes with violence. Society still gives a side eye to the man who takes a different path than the traditional “Honey, I’m home” role.

Our world has evolved. But we as a whole are still stuck in Neanderthal times.

I think it’s time for us to grow up.

I think it’s time to talk about boys and men and feminism.

Because boys are a victim of the same system (culture, mindset, tradition) that denies rights to women and the LGBT community, and tries to strip away their value and their worth. Because underneath the blatant misogyny in this system?

The boys and men are losing out.

They are being mislead and mistreated.

They are being told that they have to be tough. That they have to be big and tall and strong. They are told that their job in life is to have a job. They are being taught that their role in parenting is secondary.

They are being boxed in. Into a standard, a stereo type. They are being taught to stuff down feelings and to squash emotion. Unless it’s anger. They are being told that to fight is to prove your manliness. To dominate, to be aggressive, to be tough is the epitome of masculinity.

And it’s all bullshit.

It serves no one.

Not the shy little boy who doesn’t want to fight.

Not the stay at home dad who wants to raise his children and still be respected by his friends and his community.

Not the women or men who fall in love with and share a life with and raise children with these men.

We don’t talk about it much. And it’s understandable. Men make more money than women. They are afforded certain privileges, especially and primarily if they are white straight men. They are almost always the ones in positions of power. But that doesn’t minimize or negate the impact that our culture and society – and in fact most of the whole damn world – has on them.

It shapes their concept of who they should be. It puts undue and unnecessary pressure on them. They are being taught to conform and to look and act and feel a certain hyper masculine way. But rarely do we think about how the system affects men. And that is exactly why I think it needs to be said:

Feminism is for boys too.

Beyond #HeForShe, beyond the battle cry for men to join the movement. Feminism is for boys and men too. To benefit them. To lift the burden they carry from the moment they are photographed in their first “Lil Slugger” outfit.

What if we took these expectations off of boys and just let them grow and evolve organically. No preconceived ideas about who they should be or how they should play or how they should feel. What if we decided that whatever lies within them will lead them exactly where they are supposed to be one day. What if we didn’t have to worry about society bumping up against them violently for not adhering to the plan? Antagonizing them with jeers of being left out or left behind or left hooked?

What if… what if we took the gender ideals – from what colors boys are allowed to like to what types of activities they are expected to engage in – and threw them out with with the grunts and the knuckle dragging.

What if…

What if we stopped expecting or encouraging or allowing boys to settle disputes with violence?

What if we stopped belittling or laughing at tears or emotions when they ripple across a boy’s face.

What if we valued sensitivity in a boy as much as we value a good arm or fast feet?

What if we allowed and encouraged men to talk about and deal with and get help for depression, anxiety, PTSD and any and all emotional and psychological ailments without shaming them or making them feel less than masculine?

What if we took the rape and sexual assault of boys and girls more seriously? What if we took the shame out of it for all victims?

What if we (in the U.S.) gave men paid paternity leave and put changing tables in men’s  rooms and treated dads as vital and crucial in their role of parenting as we do moms. What if being a Stay At Home Dad was just another job?

What if we accepted that our boys might not like sports. That they might like to dance or draw or act or write or cook. What if we took the pressure to fit into one lonely little athletic box -that can’t possibly hold all the boys anyways- off their shoulders?

What if it didn’t matter how tall a man was? That his height was as inconsequential as a woman’s thigh gap or lack thereof.

What if we took pressure off of men to be the sole and/or primary breadwinners in a family? What if we accepted and respected that there is no shame in their wife or significant other making more money?

What if we eliminated the false notion that boys are inherently more violent. What if we realized that nurture (by way of a society that expects it of them) has led us to this false belief?

What if we stopped expecting boys and men to dominate women, to rack up the conquests? What if we allowed and encouraged men to focus on the romance and the emotional connection and appreciate true intimacy?

What if we let boys be whoever the hell they are and didn’t require anything of them other than to grow and learn and to be a good person? What if we did this for all kids?

What if we stopped assuming that men are not able to control their lustful urges and must be protected by covering the female body in school or in the science lab or on the street?

What if we stopped reducing men to bumbling idiots with no self control?

What if we gave boys and men a little more credit?

What if while fighting the good fight for women’s equality and LGBT equality we also acknowledged and focused on how the system affects the mentality of a young boy and consequently shapes the mind of the man? What if we recognized that these very issues that boys deal with as they grow into men are intertwined with the very things that Feminists are trying to achieve?

What if we were all in it together and fought the system together?

What if one thing lead to helping the other. The vicious cycle of misogyny and hyper masculinity ground to a halt by the refusal of men and women to participate in the perpetuation of an ancient myth for one second longer?

What if we eliminated this pressure and instead created a place where boys could express emotion. Could cry. Could deal with anger or fear or sadness without embarrassment. And could grow and mature in a world where they could be their authentic self. What if this trickled down to less violence in our world?

What if it is that simple?

What if inclusivity is truly all encompassing? Women, Men, Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders… all doing it together to just be who we are. Without expectations and parameters and shame and judgement.

What if changing our mindset and calling out pressure and expectations and bullshit for everyone was the thing that finally took down the system.

Maybe there’d be a little less anger in this world. A little less confusion. A little less hate. Maybe there’d be a little more understanding. A little more acceptance.

Maybe boys need to be a part of the feminist cause too.

Tell me what you think. Do you think that changing our cultural mindset about boys and men will have an affect on other feminist causes? Do you think that men are tired of the pressure they feel to fit into these roles at a young age? Or do you think this is a non-issue? 

 

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School is fraught with all kinds of issues. Standardized tests to pass, social and behavioral issues to navigate. Bullying. And clothes. Don’t forget the clothes.

Apparently clothes are a big danger to our children. Specifically our boys. Well, not just clothes. But the girls who wear them. Their bodies and the clothes that they put on them are a distraction to our boys.

This is what the dress codes in many schools imply. It’s also what is frequently cited as justification for singling out girls in violation of dress codes.

As the new school year begins, social media is once again flooded with pictures of girls who were sent home or forced to change clothes. In one notable incident, a girl was instructed to put a scarf on to cover her collarbone. Yes. Because now collarbones are provocative too. The Principal’s statement in regards to this incident?

“Certain outfits that [female students] wore created this situation where guys would make inappropriate statements, and there was a distraction to the learning environment based on what some of the folks were wearing at school.

This man who -is paid to lead and teach young people- just blamed the girls at his school for the inappropriate behavior of some “guys.” Let that sink in for a minute.

Last year we had the younger generation schooling administrators on the sexism in the school dress code policies. There were the yoga pant clad students carrying signs to school that read “Are My Pants Lowering Your Test Scores?” There were the middle schoolers in New Jersey who got #IAmMoreThanADistraction trending.

What these girls were pointing out with their civil disobedience was a glaring issue facing school aged girls all over our country.

Dress codes sexualize young girls.

The bulk of school dress codes are aimed at girls. No tank tops or spaghetti straps. No exposed shoulders. No cleavage. No tight fighting yoga pants or leggings.

Girls are being singled out at school. They are made to line up and pass “fingertip tests”  when wearing shorts and skirts. We’ve seen a School Superintendent refer to girls dressed immodestly as skanks. My own daughter was forced to wear a cardigan from the school Lost and Found because she was wearing a sundress. In the 1st Grade. This is a problem.

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All of this sends a clear message to our young girls. They are being told that walking around in their bodies is too much for boys to handle. They are being told that they will give boys impure thoughts. That they’re very existence, unless covered appropriately, is responsible for other student’s education and behavior.

These girls are being embarrassed.

Shamed.

Sexualized.

Objectified.

It’s a story as old as time. Women and girls bear the burden of covering up. Women are walking temptations. Victorian times had women covering their ankles. Some religions require women to swim in full length dresses. Some tout the phrase “Modest is hottest.” The irony in that phrase is worthy of 1000 words unto itself.

But girls are fighting back. These young girls are reminding everyone that they are more than their bodies. That their bodies serve real practical functions, amazing feats, power and strength. Their bodies are more than objects to be ogled.

And let’s not forget. These are young girls. These are girls just trying to understand their growing bodies. These are girls going through puberty much sooner than previous generations. These are girls just trying to dress comfortably or maybe fashionably.

Let’s try to remember that these are growing girls who’s bodies change overnight. The skirt that fit last week might be noticeably shorter this week. The shirt that wasn’t tight last month might show cleavage this month. Let’s remember how hard it is to go through these teen years with ever changing bodies and moods and temperaments. And let’s acknowledge that girls who are more physically developed than their peers are getting called out more often.

Let’s remember that these are girls.

They are not trying to seduce.

They are trying to learn.

They are not aiming to distract.

They are usually trying to fit in and fly under the radar.

They don’t view their bodies as sexual. They don’t think of their bodies as a means to produce “impure thoughts.” Not until you suggest it, imply it, or outright state it as you wave your sacred dress code in their confused faces.

Many of us rail against objectification of women in media. Many of us rant about the sexualization of women’s bodies and how that contributes to rape culture.

Yet, we’re letting it happen in our schools. To our young girls. By people we pay to educate them.

What effect is this having on our girls? Well, we’re teaching them young. We’re teaching them that society will view them as sexual even as they try to learn.

But what about the boys? Exactly. We’re not giving boys much credit. These policies tell them that they are easily distracted. They tell them that they have little or no self control. They imply that they shouldn’t even try to have self control. It’s also suggesting ideas that may not have been a part of their mindset to begin with. 

A bra strap is not going to send them into a dizzying flurry of hormones that will render them unable to be educated. Leggings or yoga pants or any tight pants are not going to cause such a distraction that they won’t be able to function. No. But do you know what does cause that kind of disruption and distraction? Singling the girls out.

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We’re sending our kids off to school, entrusting teachers and administrators with educating them. We want our kids to learn to follow rules. To show respect. To respect the educators. To respect others. To respect themselves.

I’m not so sure that these dress codes are serving that purpose so well. Maybe it’s time for the school dress code policies to grow up.

We need to remind our schools. These girls are more than their physical appearance. They are more than temptations. They are more than distractions. By the looks of these protests, they are much more. They are a force to be reckoned with.

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“Me and a gun
and a man
On my back
But I haven’t seen Barbados
So I must get out of this
Yes I wore a slinky red thing
Does that mean I should spread
For you, your friends your father, Mr. Ed”

-Tori Amos, Me and A Gun

My daughter had this funny thing she did when she was a baby. She would do something she knew was “wrong” (throwing her sippy cup to the ground, throwing a toy) and when we would respond with a firm “No, no,” she would cover her eyes. She thought, in her adorable baby brain, that if she covered her eyes and couldn’t see the spilled milk on the floor, then it didn’t exist. My husband and I would laugh every time she did this. We marveled at the simple naiveté of a small child. We thought it was precious.

But you know what’s not precious? When adults do it. When we do it. When society does it. When we do it about something more serious than spilling milk, it’s not cute at all.

I would like you to complete a short, simple mental exercise. Imagine 5 young women or young girls that you know. Picture each of them. Now, with that mental picture in your head, consider that one of those girls will be the victim of rape. Horrifying, right?

It’s horrifying and shameful and appalling…

It’s also reality.

This is a reality in our country. I know that this is not something any of us want to consider. Who wants to look at our young girls and imagine those kind of odds, that kind of future for them? But not thinking about it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Sticking our head in the sand doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s also dangerous.

Is this the way we are choosing to operate in our country? Apparently so.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 5 women will be raped at some time in their lives. An estimated 80% of those rapes occur before the age of 25.

And we call ourselves a civilized society?

We are lying to ourselves. We’re covering our ears and our eyes and pretending like we don’t see what’s happening all around us.

The world in which we live is oozing rape culture like a festering wound.

Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.

-Marshall University Women’s Center

There’s no disputing the misogyny present in our music, our television, our movies, our advertisements.

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It’s the accepted degradation of half of our population. Sexualizing women, sexualizing girls. Even taking images of young girls in literature/movies and creating “sexy” halloween costumes. So, now we have women dressing up as “sexy children”???

Violence marketed towards boys/men. The vernacular that plays out on talk radio and from politicians. The demeaning of feminism (“feminazi”- ’nuff said.) Women portrayed as hypersexualized while men stand by and look on in their fancy suits…

I have no problem with women expressing their sexuality. I think we all should embrace that part of ourselves. We should own it, nurture it, love it. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it. But I can’t help but notice the obvious disparities in our media. It is this incongruence that is troubling. And it’s just one small piece of a much larger rancid pie.

We have radio talk show hosts calling women sluts for wanting birth control pills. (Because, you know, women have sex in a vacuum. Men are not even in the equation.) We have politicians talking about ‘legitimate rape” and “forcible rape.” We have girls being raped while drunk at a party in front of a group of boys, boys recording the assault and posting it to social media to further the pain and humiliation of the victim. We have news outlets that do this:

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We have “slut shaming.”

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This week a wealthy DuPont heir was sentenced to probation for raping his 3 year old daughter. The judge said he “wouldn’t fare well in prison”. Last year a 56 year old teacher was sentenced to 30 days for raping a 14 year old girl. The judge said that she was “older than her chronological age” and that she was “as much in control”. The girl committed suicide before the case even went to court. In 2013 an Alabama man was found guilty of rape and sentenced to counseling and probation. For raping his teen neighbor on three separate occasions. These are just a few examples. A quick Google search for short rape sentences turns up a stomach turning number of articles chronicling similar sentencing.

Rape culture exists is alive and well in our courts.

Obviously it’s not just video games and popular music and movies and tv shows that contribute to the rape culture that is permeating our society. We are absorbing this from every place.

We see it every time a politician makes dismissive comments regarding violence against women.

We see it every time there’s another slap on the wrist for rape.

We see it when every time a rape victim’s sobriety, purity and behavior is all called into question.

We see it every time a woman is shamed for being sexual, for embracing her sexuality.

We see it every time a girl is told to cover up at school becuase her legs/shoulders/cleavage are too distracting.

We see it every time a young boy lashes out at his female classmate and we utter the phrase, “boys will be boys.”

We see it every time bros are whining over being “friend-zoned.”

We see it every time a girl’s rape is passed around on social media for entertainment and ridicule.

These things matter.

These things seep into our subconscious. The reinforce an ancient narrative. One of control, of power, of objectification.

Rape culture. It’s not just feminist speak. It’s not just political correctness run amok. Look around you. It’s every where.

We need to recognize it. Get used to calling it out. Get used to talking about it.

We need to stop looking past it, pretending not to notice. We need to take our hands off of our eyes and stare it straight in the face. We need to understand that to ignore it is to ignore a sickness that affects us all. That to ignore it is to ignore the ripped psyche of every  girl or woman who is assaulted, raped or shamed. The longer we deny this exists, the more it will persist.

Ignoring it will only bring us more. More “Not Guilty” verdicts. More short sentences for rape. More victim shaming.

More rape.

America, this is your rape culture.

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Feminism… sigh….  Why has such an important word that signifies so many good and important things become so vilified? You would think that at this point in our country, in our culture, in society as a whole- that this discussion wouldn’t be necessary. But alas, it   is.

It seems like you can’t read the news, surf the net or get on Twitter without someone declaring their opposition to Feminism. I recently read a female blogger’s comments on a post where she stated that she could not sign on to be a “man-hating” feminist. That she would declare herself a “humanist” instead. I figuratively scratched my head and wondered, can’t you be both? Is there an either or? I am a feminist. I love men. Always have. Growing up I had a lot of guy friends. One of my best friends was a guy. I have been lucky enough to date really great guys. I married a man, one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. I had a sensitive, caring, compassionate brother. I have a loving Stepfather. A beautiful son. I think most men are pretty great humans. I would not want to live in a world where men were demonized or demeaned or forsaken. And I am a Feminist. Yes, you can love men, appreciate men and be a feminist.

Guess what? You can also dress however you want. You can own your sexuality and celebrate it, flaunt it, embrace it. You can put on makeup and heels. You can enjoy being feminine. Or not. Either way, none of this precludes you from being a feminist.

You don’t have to spend every waking moment devoting yourself to feminist causes. You don’t have to tattoo it on your forehead. It can be a part of who you are and one facet of your world, it doesn’t have to dominate your life. And you can still be a feminist.

The cause of Feminism has changed and evolved over the decades. It was once a fight for the rights to own property and vote became the fight for fair wages (still an ongoing battle) and the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace. Thanks to the men and women who fought for these causes, we can rest easy on some of these issues. But that doesn’t mean that there is no need for feminism in 2014.

The fight now is about many things. It is easier to promote a cause when it is about a specific, tangible thing. When there is a victory on the far off horizon to be claimed. The goals today may be less quantifiable. My reasons for caring about it and talking about and trying to do something about it are varied.

The commonality of sexual assault and rape in our country and all around the world is appalling. The statistics are staggering. 17.7 million women in the United States have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. (Nat’l. Inst. of Justice and Ctr for Disease Control and Prevention).  One in four women attending college will be the victim of sexual assault or an attempt. This is not the behavior of a civilized world. What are the reasons behind this? What can we do to stop this epidemic? These are the things that I find to be critical issues in the feminist cause.

The fight for women’s rights around the world are important for feminists everywhere. We can’t insulate ourselves and only concern ourselves with what happens in our country. Our world is more intertwined and connected than ever before. I have received comments from women in Pakistan and India on my blog, comments about the limited rights and violence against women in their countries. We can no longer afford to be egocentric and stick our head in the sand when it comes to these issues affecting women and girls all over the world. Child brides are being married off to old men. Young girls are undergoing genital mutilation. Women are being raped as retaliation. There is a long sordid list of injustices happening around the world to women. Our world and these other countries will never be healthy until women are treated as equal.

There’s a thing called Feminist Friday in the blogging world. I first learned about it from a fellow blogger (thank you Gene’O) and since then have connected with other bloggers who care about these issues. Smart people. People with a social conscious and a desire to discuss these things. People who truly want to make things better. They have written some important pieces on this issue. You can read Alva’s Almanac about why Feminist Friday is important to her. Take a look at an important post by Diana at Part Time Monster about teaching our children to have empathy and see the struggles others go through. And check out Gene’O at The Sourcerer. I think it’s vital that men be a part of feminism. I think that men have a place in the discussion and the cause. I absolutely believe that you can be a man and be a feminist.

We will be having a Twitter conversation today about Feminism. About the meaning of the word and the perception of the word. If you would like to join us on Twitter or by commenting on this or any of the above linked posts, please do! On Twitter you can find us by #FeministFriday, or you can find me at @gkelly73.  Happy Feminist Friday everyone!

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“Brainstorm take me away from the norm,

I’ve got to tell you something.  This phenomenon, I had to put it in a song.  And it goes like

Whoa, Amber is the color of your energy,

Whoa, Shades of gold display naturally…”

-311, Amber

I have a confession to make. I am actually a very open person. My Mom calls me her “Open Book” because I will tell anyone my thoughts, feelings, my shortcomings, my insecurities. (No this isn’t the confession, I’m getting to that). And it’s true. In real life I have no secrets. I start spilling my guts to people even when I’m just getting to know them. This baffles my husband who is much more private by nature. What I’m beginning to realize is that while I’m open in real life and share everything with people I interact with in real life, I am uncharacteristically private here. In this format, on this blog. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because it would be documented in word. In print. That kind of makes it more revealing and people tend to remember what they read more than what they hear (not a scientific fact, just my assumption). Maybe it’s because this place matters so much to me. It matters more to me than I thought it would when I started blogging. It is possible that I’m worried that if I reveal too much of the real me that I will sully this place that I love. I will ruin what I’ve started and what I have grown to love. So, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone and making a confession(finally). I am vain.

This is the part where I’m going to try to make that sound not so bad. I am not vain in the “I think I’m awesome, I look awesome, everyone look at me” kind of way. I am vain in the more quiet, fly under the radar way. I am vain in the “Ewww, don’t take a picture of me” kind of way. I am vain in the I want to view myself with the fuzzy, memory infused haze of how I used to look instead of the reality of what 41 years and three kids have done to my appearance. (Yes, I just blamed my precious children for ruining my looks.)

It’s not that I hate the way I look.  I’m generally o.k. with my appearance.  I’ve accepted certain things (I will always have dark circles and bags under my eyes) and other things I actually like.  Probably  a better way of putting it is I accept and even like my appearance, it’s grown on me over the last 41 years. But it wasn’t easy arriving at this place.  I was a dorky, awkward kid.  My awkward phase was unusually long.  There are times that I still see myself as that dorky kid with big teeth and Greg Brady hair.

I would love to tell you that my looks don’t matter to me.  For the most part they don’t, but there is a small part of me that really cares.  We are often our own worst critic.  I have torn myself down visually on more than one occasion.  My critical eye doesn’t extend to other people.  I see beautiful people everywhere.  In the carpool line, at the grocery store.  I don’t look at others and even consider applying the standards of “conventional beauty” to them.  I think society’s ideas about what is beautiful is bullshit.  I always have.  I think confidence and humor go a long way in making someone beautiful.  I have always been more attracted to someone who is interesting and unique looking rather than your typical good looking guy.  I was the girl who fell for the guys that left some of my friends scratching their heads.  They didn’t always see what I saw in some guys.

It’s also worth noting the difference between pretty and beautiful.  Pretty is someone who was given the genetic makeup to fit into society’s idea of what is attractive.  You know- tall, thin, perfectly symmetrical features, high cheekbones…  Beautiful is a different thing altogether.  Beauty comes in many different shapes, colors, sizes.  True beauty is something that shines form within.  It can be a smile, a laugh, a sparkle in the eye.  It can be a flair for being mischievous, it can be a spirit of adventure, it can be wit and humor.  It can be the way someone carries themselves, the way they tilt their head or the way they walk. It can be so many different things. I see beautiful people all around me.  Everyday.  And many of them likely don’t think of themselves as beautiful. Many of them would never make it on the cover of a magazine.

All of that being said, my vanity is not based in logic.  I know that the way I look is not important.  I know that people in my life don’t like me because of the way I look.  But vanity and insecurity, like so many negative emotions aren’t rational.  But it’s there.  I am acknowledging that it resides deep inside me and I’m not particularly proud of it.

I recently heard about the #feministselfie project.  The idea behind it is for women to take a selfie every day for a year.  The point is for women to put themselves in front of the camera, to show themselves.  Show themselves glammed up or au natural, in joy or in pain… however they feel or whatever mood strikes them.  Social media will be flooded with pictures of real women, positive selfies.  And ultimately, through this exercise of seeing themselves and seeing other women embrace themselves, some of that will infiltrate our subconscious via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram….  We will hopefully see real beauty.  Not the commercialized watered down homogenized version of beauty that is thrust in our faces every day by the media and by our society.

A lot of fellow bloggers are participating.  I saw their pictures on Twitter.  I was impressed.  I was intrigued.  And I was a little envious.  I scrolled through their selfies and I saw women who looked confident.  I saw women who looked comfortable in their own skin.  I saw women who were fearlessly putting themselves out there for the whole world to see.  And I saw women who were beautiful.  I read some of their blogs.  I realized that some of them were not so comfortable in front of the camera.  They were stepping outside of their comfort zones.  And many of them said that as they went through this process, they started to view themselves differently.  They weren’t as critical of every picture.  They started to embrace the beauty that each and everyone of them uniquely own.  I sighed with resignation knowing that I should participate.  This was something that scared me, which probably meant it would be good for me.  I am going to do this for those fellow bloggers.  For the women who are tired of only seeing the perfection waved in front of them as an unattainable and unrealistic goal.  For my daughters so that maybe the public conscious will eventually shift and they won’t grow up in a world that places priority on the sameness and the superficial.  But I’m also doing it for me.  I want to be in my family’s photo album.  I want to be in front of the camera once in a while.  I want to not care about what the version of me in my head says I need to be.  I want to take myself when I’m glammed up or au natural, in joy or in pain.  I want to take myself for better of for worse.

My first one, writing this post….
My first one, writing this post….

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“Stand up like a man, You better learn to shake hands, You better look me in the eye now, Treat me like your mother.  Come on look me in the eye, You wanna try to tell a lie?  You can’t, you know why?  I’m dressed like your mother.”

-The Dead Weather, Treat Me Like Your Mother

When women are being called names, something’s not right. When women are being harassed, something’s wrong. When women are being threatened with rape and death, something’s got to change. Right? Most of us can agree on that. But what if these things are happening online?

Is the fallout any different because the words showed up on a screen rather than in the mailbox or on a voicemail?

Is the emotional toll and the fear any less because it was done electronically?

Does the vehicle by which a threat was issued even matter?

Is a threat not a threat?

Journalist Amanda Hess wrote an article titled,“Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet”. She goes into great detail about the vile comments she has received over the years. She has an active presence online as a writer and has endured angry rants, threats of rape and threats of death. She has had one individual in particular stalk her online.

Lauren Mayberry of the indie band Chvrches wrote an op-ed that appeared in The Guardian. She wanted to shed light on the misogyny that she has been subjected to on-line. Her band gained notoriety and acclaim after posting some of their songs on a music blog. The internet has been a crucial part of their success. For this reason they find it important to keep communication going between their fans online. Among the gushing fan postings were some hostile comments. Name calling. Threats of rape. Details of lewd acts that men promised to do to her.

These two women are not alone. They unfortunately are in good company.

There are writers, singers, actors, business women, students, executives, and kids who have all experienced the same thing. They are mostly women.

And they are considered targets by some simply because they have the audacity to log on to the internet.

They are told to shrug it off, laugh it off, don’t engage, move on.  In other words, suck it up.   Good girls stay quiet. Don’t make a fuss.  Just smile. Don’t make anyone uncomfortable.

It’s a response that women have heard for ages. Don’t make a fuss about voting, just try to sweetly influence your husband’s vote. Don’t complain about your boss grabbing your ass, just be grateful you have a job. Don’t bother reporting that rape, everyone will just think that you did something to encourage it.

There has been talk of taking the anonymity out of sites like Twitter. Sure. Being anonymous makes it easier for these perpetrators to be more brazen. There have been questions asked concerning who should be tasked with investigating these threats….  the police? The companies that own these websites like Twitter, Facebook and AskFM? Sure.  An avenue for women to report these assaults could give them a way to fight back. While these things could be helpful, they are merely the tourniquet on a bleeding wound. The only way to truly change the dynamic that is festering online is to find the source of the bleeding.

Where is all of this coming from? Is it the continual and persistent objectification of women in all parts of the media? Is it the rampant disregard for other’s feelings? Is it a culture that views women as easy targets, the weaker sex? All of the above?

One issue is lack of empathy.  Recent studies have shown a decline in empathy in our youth.  This disturbing trend is not just some factoid for psychologists and behavioral specialists to be concerned with.  We should all be worried.  As parents, it’s our job to teach these skills to our children.  I believe it is the most important thing we teach them.  Socialize them at a young age.  Set an example of compassion.  Talk to your children about social issues that demonstrate the need for caring and understanding.  If kids don’t learn these lessons, they may be more likely to bully.  They could see a sexual assault of a drunk girl at a party and take a video of it instead of trying to stop the crime.  They may be the person who sees such a video and posts it to social media.  Without any apparent remorse or concern for the victim.  These kids will laugh.  They will ridicule .  They obviously don’t view the girl who has been violated as a living, breathing, feeling, real person.

There’s the detachment that is part of the online world.  Typing a message on Twitter is a little easier to do than screaming it in the person’s face.  Harassing someone on Facebook takes a little less nerve than doing it in person.  Behind the  keyboard, a person is likely to feel more bold.  Some people feel that the lack of physicality gives them a license to be a little meaner, a little more cruel, a little more threatening.  They are able to act out from the safety of their home, they can say things they may never say in person.  The scary fact that for the person on the receiving end of these kinds of messages is that they have no way of knowing when or if the perpetrator is going to take it to the next level.

Does it matter that these threats are online?  No.  The threat is no less real.  The only difference is it is easier to hurl a lewd comment or convey violent intentions over the internet.  It takes less effort than the more traditional means of harassment or stalking.     But the result is the same.  A woman is belittled.  A girl is shamed.  Their safety is threatened.  They feel violated.

The world we live in has changed dramatically over the last 20 years.  The internet is an integral part of all of our lives.  It is a part of our work, our education, our entertainment, our socializing.  We have more access to more information.  We can reach more people with a keystroke.  While all of this access to information and people affords us all kinds of benefits, we can’t ignore the risks.  We can’t enjoy the fruits of the digital world and turn a blind eye to the uglier side of what is taking place.  Social media has become a way for journalists and artists and business people to promote their craft. But it has also become a breeding ground for abuse.

It’s time for us to come to a collective reckoning.  These things need to be addressed, scrutinized, understood.  We need to understand that the person we see on the computer, tablet or phone screen is a real person.  A living, breathing, feeling, real person.  They are not a character in a video game.  They are not a “virtual” anything.  They are women, they are girls.  They are Amanda Hess and Lauren Mayberry.  They are your mother, your sister, your friend, your daughter.  And they deserve to be treated as such.  They are trying to bring this issue to light, they are starting the conversation.  It’s our job to continue it.

“You gotta cry without weeping, talk without speaking, scream without raising your voice…”

-U2, Running To Stand Still

Be firm, but be polite.  Be funny, but tactful.  Be hard, yet soft.  Be strong, yet understatedly so.  Be direct, but soften it with a smile.  Be smart, but don’t be too obvious about it.  Run the board room, but do it with humility.  Isn’t this what we’re taught?  Those of us of the “fairer sex”?  Not necessarily by our parents, although sometimes that is the case.  But by society.  We have surely come a long way in the last century.  While there are still these unwritten rules by which polite society would like for us to abide, we are far better off than we used to be.  Women are CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies.  Women hold key positions in national government.  We have opportunities and options and choices that women of the early 20th century couldn’t have dreamed of.  They couldn’t have imagined these things because many of them were fighting simply to be considered a relevant member of society.  To have the right to vote.  To be land owners.

You may wonder why, in the waning days of  2013, I feel compelled to write about this.  It all started with a blog post I read a few weeks ago.  The writer was a mom of young children.  She was lamenting the loss of control of her life and her body to her children. She was speaking to the lack of sleep, the forgone plans, the neglect of one’s self to care for young children.  I read this with a little smile on my face as I drank my morning cup of coffee.  I am for the most part past this stage of motherhood, but I remember it all too well and the moment one of my children is sick I’m right back there in the trenches with stained clothes and un-brushed hair, forgoing all hygiene and sleep, not fit for public consumption.

I was then taken aback when she equated her devotion to her children as anti-feminist.  That is goes against feminist teachings.  She ends with,”Maybe that’s why by far the majority of women today reject the label feminist.  We kind of like being happy.”  I actually had to re-read the entire post to see what I missed.  I am no morning person and it can take me a while to be fully functioning in the morning.   I assumed that I had misunderstood something. But no. The fact that it took me a second reading to realize that she was implying that feminists can’t or don’t believe in being devoted to their kids, that perhaps they can’t choose to be stay at home moms…. this doesn’t speak to my ignorance or even my groggy morning fog. It illustrates her warped view of the definition of feminism.

I’m not sure when feminism became a four letter word.  And I don’t know why so many people have collectively bought in to it.

fem·i·nism noun 1. the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

This is what feminism means.  That women are equal to men.  I naively thought that this was a non-issue, that this is one that had been resolved.  That we’d all collectively agreed on this:  women… men… equal.  I thought this was filed away in the annals of history as one of those things that no longer warrants discussion or debate.  Then I read this.  Then I started seeing other writings, articles and videos on the subject of feminism. I don’t know if  it was a weird coincidence or if my antennae was raised, but either way I realized that some how this was still a thing.

Can a word have a public persona?  If so, then I think this is one word that has become so twisted in the public consciousness.  How else do you explain celebrities who shy away from it? Katy Perry: “I’m not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women”. Taylor Swift, when asked if she was a feminist: “I don’t really think of things as boys vs girls”.  Marissa Mayer (CEO, Yahoo):  “I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist.”  Lady Gaga: “I’m not a feminist, I love men.”  Let’s just consider for a minute that none of these women would be who they are and even quoted in a blog post if it weren’t for feminism.

I would like to clear up some misconceptions about feminists.  This is an attempt to dispel the myths that seem to abound.  To quiet the fear that if we all declare ourselves feminists that we will all grow out our armpit hair and shave our heads and start kicking all the men in the balls.

  • Feminists aren’t man haters. Men are awesome. The world would be boring without men. I know a lot of great guys.  In fact, I’m married to one.
  • Feminists aren’t butch. There’s nothing wrong with being butch, if that’s your thing. But this former tomboy has embraced her “girly” side.   I enjoy being feminine.
  • Feminists aren’t anti-marriage.  I like being married.  I got married because I fell in love and wanted to.  I didn’t hand over my feminist card on my wedding day.
  • Feminists are allowed to be stay at home moms.  We are allowed to be anything we want.  That’s kind of the whole point of feminism.  If you’re a stay at home mom, a working mom, or not a mom at all, embrace your choices.  Be proud of your choices.  And never, under any circumstances judge another woman for her choices .

So, for all of you feminism apologizers or deniers- you don’t have to tattoo it on your forehead.  But for the sake of your daughters, your Mothers, the women who went to jail or were beaten so that you could have the options you have today, please don’t be ashamed of it.  Please don’t quantify it with a “but”.  Please don’t let someone else’s misguided notion diminish your staking of your claim of what’s yours in this world.  I am a feminist.  It’s part of me.  I believe in the equal rights of women.  And I’m in good company.  There are feminists all over the world, fighting right now for  the most basic of rights:

  • On October 26th dozens of Saudi Arabian women protested the ban on women driving in their country by getting behind the wheel of a car and risking arrest.
  • There are women fighting right now against female circumsision, a barbaric and mutilating act designed to inhibit a woman’s sexual feelings.  This horrific mutilation is common throughout parts of Africa and usually performed on girls between the ages of 4 and 8.  It is still, in this day and age, performed on about 3 million girls a year.  Brave women like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Waris Dirie are fighting this, often under constant threat of death.
  • Lubna Hussein, a Sudanese writer, was arrested and beaten for wearing pants. She asked to go to trial, refusing immunity offered her as a U.N. press officer.  She risked 40 lashes and imprisonment.  Despite death threats, she continues to speak out on women’s rights in her country.
  • Malalai Joya, of Afghanistan, helped to set up secret schools for girls in her country. She now lives in a series of safe houses and travels with armed body guards for her protection.  She rarely sees her husband for fear of him being killed by his association with her.
  • Rana Husseini, a Jordanian journalist, is fighting the act of “honor killings” by reporting on every case she came across, even though these killings were largely ignored by the media.  She has won numerous awards for bravery in journalism for her work.
  • Malala Yousafzai.  She spoke out about the rights of girls in Afghanistan to an education and the Taliban saw her as a threat and shot her in the head.  Her story is one of undeniable courage, strength and grace.  She addressed the U.N. in July, “Here I stand not as one voice but speaking for those who have fought for the right to be treated with dignity, their right for equality of opportunity, and their right to be educated,” she said.
  • Sampat Pel Devi, and her Gulabi Gang.  They are a vigilante force of women who are fighting injustices against women in India.  They have stormed police stations when officers refused to register complaints of violence against women. They have attacked men who have abused their wives. They have stopped child marriages. Devi travels around Northern India on an old bicycle holding meetings and recruiting members. The Gulabi Gang now has over 20,000 members.

So, the next time you feel the need to demure about your feminist leanings or hear someone diminishing this word- perverting it’s meaning by whittling it down to a caricature- think about these women. Think about the women who fought to give us the rights we enjoy today.  We no longer have to have our ass groped in the work place. We no longer have to defer to our husband’s opinions on matters of politics.  We no longer have to shelve our dreams because society doesn’t allow it.  None of this just happened by chance.  There were women, and sometimes men, who fought for every little bit of it.  There are women right now,  who are fighting for the most basic rights.  To be treated as a human.  To not be abused, forgotten, traded, mutilated, attacked, killed.  Feminism is alive and well. It’s heavy weight is being carried on the backs of these brave women around the world.  We have come so far, here in the U.S.  We have come so far that so many of us have forgotten what this word really meant.  Maybe some of us  never really knew.  What a luxury to not have this as part of our everyday lives. What a luxury to enjoy the options available to us and not consider the pain and sacrifice that made it possible.  What a luxury to be a CEO of one of the largest companies in the world and reject the word and the women on who’s shoulders you’re standing.  What a luxury to be able to write a blog about being a mom and the sacrifices it entails and not have to parse your words or fear for your life based on the things your write.  We have many luxuries for sure, here in the west.  The very least we could do is not forsake the very thing that is giving strength and power and possibly inspiration to those who are still in the midst of the fight.  We can at least honor the people who came before us by not withering under some false notions.  The least we could do is to own this word, to take back the meaning.  Equality.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

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