unknown, via Twitter

“The police in New York City
They chased a boy right through the park
And in a case of mistaken identity
The put a bullet through his heart
Heart breakers with your forty four, I wanna tear your world apart”

-The Rolling Stones, Heartbreaker

Do you worry about what others think of you? I know I do. I worry about it too much. My worries are there because I want people to like me. But imagine if simply being you made others uncomfortable. Imagine if walking around in your skin caused fear. What if upon seeing you a person’s eyes enlarged, they backed away, they avoided eye contact or even turned and walked the other way.

Last summer I read a post by Questlove (Drummer of the Roots) on the Huffington Post blog. He wrote about how he has to worry, all the time -everywhere he goes, about what others think of him. Of how they may react to his appearance. I cried quietly as I read it. He detailed living his life, walking around trying to not be imposing. He described what it’s like to put fear in people simply by looking the way you look…

“All the time I’m in scenarios in which primitive, exotic-looking me (6’2″, 300 pounds, uncivilized afro for starters) finds himself in places that people that look like me aren’t normally found. I mean, what can I do? I have to be somewhere on Earth, correct?”

He routinely turns down invitations to swanky places because it’s “been hammered into his DNA to not ‘rock the boat’ “

I won’t attempt to summarize any further what he wrote because I won’t be able to do it justice. You’ll have to (click the highlighted link above) and read it for yourself. He wrote this right after the acquittal verdict in the Trayvon Martin case.

I wish I could say that his story is rare, an anomaly. Sadly it’s not. It is so common that African American parents in our country have to explain to their sons at a young age how people may perceive them and react to them.

They have The Talk with their sons.

No, not the sex talk. This is a conversation aimed at preventing young black men from inciting violence or suspicion or incarceration because of the color of their skin. This conversation informs these young boys that they must tread lightly around white men and police and other authority figures. Tragic stories abound of young black men being roughed up by the police for no reason. Young black men being killed because they didn’t defer to authority even in the face of extreme and obvious injustice. Young black men being shot because they were simply there.

Don’t talk back to white men.

Don’t try to explain, even when they have obviously mistaken you for someone else.

Don’t run down the street, someone might think you stole something.

Don’t hang out on the corner with a group of friends, they might assume you’re in a gang.

Don’t reach for your phone, they might think you’re reaching for a gun.

Move slowly.

Keep your hands visible at all times.

You may say that these are reasonable instructions for anyone. But I don’t know anyone personally who has been arrested or killed who did nothing wrong, committed no crime. Because I’m a white woman living in suburbia.

I have never had to tell my son that if he is running down the street that someone may assume he has committed a crime. Think about the absurdity of that for a minute. Don’t run. Your game of tag or your attempt to race to a friend’s house may be perceived as a threat. Think about telling your son not to run down the street. Ever. That is the reality you face if you are the parent of a young black boy.

This isn’t a new thing. The Talk dates back to 1863 following the Emancipation Proclamation. When slaves were freed in rebel states they were told to not celebrate openly, to essentially “fly under the radar” to avoid giving angry rebels cause to go after them. What I learned after the Trayvon Martin case was that The Talk still exists. It’s still relevant and necessary.

The Talk is a sad part of coming of age in the black community. And I had never heard of it before. Such is the privilege of being white in America. You can say you know racism is still alive in our country. You can have your heart ache with each new story of a son and a brother being shot. But if you’re white in America, you don’t know what it’s like. This is a reality that has been around for over a century and most of us have never and will never experience what it’s like to live in this kind of fear.

Right after the verdict in the Martin case, another trial was beginning. A 76 year old man was on trial for the murder of his 13 year old neighbor. He thought that Darius Simmons, a young black boy, had broken into his home days earlier. He shot him in the chest and killed him.

Recently our national attention was tuned in to the “Loud Music” trial. Michael Dunn faces up to 60 years in prison for firing 10 rounds into a car of young black men, killing 17 year old Jordan Davis.

These are just the cases that make the news. How many cases are there that don’t result in an arrest, that never catch the fleeting attention of the media? Democracy Now reported that in a study of 2012 shootings, that “at least 136 unarmed African Americans were killed by police, security guards and self-appointed vigilantes in 2012.”

Becoming numb to these horrific stories, to these appalling tales, is not an option. You can’t be numb if you look at their faces.

The faces of these children who were murdered.

These sons who were loved and adored as much as you and I love and adore our own children.

These are children. And they are gone forever.

Because they went to buy Skittles.

Because they were taking out the trash.

Because they turned the radio up.

For buying Skittles
Walking home after buying Skittles
He was taking out the trash
Taking out the trash
He turned the music up too loud.
Playing music too loud.

You can’t look at these faces and feel numb.

If you’re like me you feel kicked in the gut. Despair.

I see a little of my son in each of them. I feel pain for the parents of these boys. I feel sorrow for them because I know a little bit about what it’s like to lose someone you love at such a tender age.

And I feel enraged.

I feel pulse racing, heat inducing, hand trembling rage.

And I don’t know what to do with that.

But I will have The Talk with my son.

With my white,suburban dwelling, young son.

Not for the same reason and not the exact same talk. I will explain to my son that because he is growing up  as a young white man in our country that this talk isn’t essential to his survival. But that he needs to know that it is essential for many boys his age.

I will explain that some of his friends are having The Talk with their parents because without it they may inadvertently put themselves, their very lives, at risk.

I will tell him that he needs to know that racism, which baffles a young innocent boy like him, is still present. That he needs to know that what goes on around him, even if it doesn’t affect him directly, is still worth his concern and attention. That even if by the time he has children The Talk isn’t necessary, that he can never forget it.

I will tell him that to forget our ugly sordid past with racism in this country is to ignore and deny a threat to our humanity.

That to forget allows it to fester and grow and continue.

Questlove’s story has stuck with me since I read it many months ago. It was heartbreaking. And it illustrates the magnitude of the problem. A noticeable famous figure, on t.v. five nights a week for the last five years, still encounters fear and racism.

Yes, racism is alive and well. And it’s ludicrous that anyone would need to be informed of that.

It’s not obvious to those of us who don’t feel the brutal brunt of it on a regular basis. Many people will scoff and point to our black president. Some will recite all of the ridiculous defenses and excuses that have been trotted out by lawyers and pundits in a lame attempt to explain how and why these children were killed.

But denying it is extremely dangerous.

Denying it or downplaying it allows it to continue.

Sticking our heads in the sand may seem comforting at first. Ignorance is bliss and all.

But eventually that sand becomes suffocating as will the cold reality of who we are- what kind of people we become if we can see the faces of these children who have been killed because of how they look, because of their race- and don’t at the very least acknowledge it. If we do that then we become no better than him:

Michael Dunn, upon hearing his verdict.
Michael Dunn, who shot Jordan Davis,upon hearing his verdict.

We become the personification of self righteous indignation when we shrug off the realities that black families in our country still face.

Jordan Davis’ mom put it best,

“You can’t pretend anymore. The blinders are off now. If there is this level of racism, it can’t be under the table anymore. It has to be exposed so we can deal with it.”

I say that we can’t deny racism as long as parents are still having The Talk.

The conversation that’s been a necessity -a tool of survival in the African American community for 151 years- when that conversation is no longer needed, then we can declare victory. Then we can say that it was a part of our past, no longer plaguing our society.

When it’s no longer necessary to “hammer it into (the) DNA” of young black boys, then and only then, will we have justice for Trayvon… for Darius… for Jordan.

Update, August 22, 2014: And now for Michael Brown.

Big Mike Jr Brown via Facebook
Big Mike Jr Brown via Facebook

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“You can’t always get what you want,

But if you try sometimes you just might find,

You get what you need.”

-The Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want

We are ruining them. Our kids. Every day that we lavish praise on them and reward them for mediocrity we’re ruining them. We’re teaching them that showing up is worthy of enthusiastic applause. We are showing them how to excel at being average. We are lowering bars and lowering I.Q.’s. We are enforcing the destination not the journey. And we will one day send them off into the world to get a giant, blindsiding slap in the face when reality comes charging at them full speed.

I Am Guilty

I’m guilty of it. Most of us are guilty of some of this or all of this. It starts when you feel that all-consuming love for a small baby that needs you for everything. We marvel at them. We all think our babies are exceptional and amazing in every way. And that’s ok. Having a child feels like a small miracle. It is a life changing experience. We should have a few years of obnoxious, gleeful celebration. And we should encourage and cheer for every milestone with these little prodigies. Babies need the affirmation. They need constant encouragement and reassurance.

The problem is that while babies grow out of this need as they get older, the parents don’t grow out of the need to give it. We continue to applaud. Applaud them for going down the slide (when in fact gravity is to be credited for this feat). We gush over every scribbled picture. What happens when your kids catch you throwing away some of their 8,000 pieces of artwork? They flip out. They feel wronged. Because we have led them to believe that every paper that they grace with their crayon is a Monet. I know this. I have little prima donna artists who think it is sacrilege to dispose of their “art.”

Everyone Wins, Everyone Gets A Trophy

Know what makes winning not so fun? When everyone wins. All the time. Parents don’t want their little slugger’s feelings to be hurt when his team loses, so someone somewhere decided that all the kids should win. So work hard, Buddy! Show up to practice and maybe, just maybe… no definitely. You will definitely win. No matter what. Now that’s some motivation. Nothing gets the kids all fired up like “even if you win, you really don’t win because we don’t keep score.”

And everyone must get a trophy. Why? Because they showed up, dammit.  You know what else everyone gets? A Tetanus shot. (well, sadly, that’s not actually true, but you get the idea) We have a generation that gets trophies for being on a team. Not for doing anything remarkable or winning a tournament, but just for showing up for games and practices. My son’s closet is full of these trophies. And he doesn’t care. They mean nothing to him. What did mean something to him was getting the game ball. Because not everyone got the game ball. And he had to earn it. It was special.

Life’s Not Always A Party

Our school adopted the “no homemade treats” rule. And some of the parents on Facebook acted like they were suggesting we feed our kids gruel and beat them with switches. A policy that is meant to protect kids with allergies was beaten down as a taking away of a childhood of joy.  Nevermind that a child in the class could possibly die from an allergen in the sugary treat. The mentality that puts little Precious’ happiness with a cupcake over another child’s safety is one that confounds me and scares me. My child’s happiness will never be worth more than another child’s life.

And the parties… don’t get me wrong. I love a good party. But since when is school also a party palace for every holiday? At the risk of sounding like Wilford Brimley, when I was in school we had two parties. One at Christmas/Hannukah and one at the end of the year. These parties consisted of Kool Aid and a cookie and some games of Red Rover. We loved it. Try to do a party like that in school these days and you’ll get the eye roll from even the sweetest kindergartner. We’ve spoiled them with elaborate celebrations in and out of school for every holiday or event. Even made up holidays! The 100th day of school is to now be celebrated for the historical and cultural even that it is! *eye roll*

Now we have Elf On the Shelf grrrrr… Pinterest-ized Valentines ugh… and the “Naughty Leprechaun?” What the….??? Since when did we decide that St. Patrick’s Day was for the kids? Don’t they have enough already? St. Patrick’s Day is for adults. It’s for us to drink green beer and act stupid. Kids, all you get to do is wear a green shirt and possibly get pinched. Now sit down and eat your gruel before I get out the switch…

All Of This Results In…

Entitled kids. Young adults with no sense of self awareness. A child-centric childhood that teaches kids that the world revolves around them. That the world is a soft fluffy place that will never ask too much, will never scuff them up, that will never demand anything. That phoning it in is acceptable. That someone will always fix things for them. That they are everything. That they are special.

What’s wrong with letting your kids think they’re special? Nothing. Unless that’s all you let them think, all the time.

The more we tell them that every little thing they do is “special” the less special that compliment becomes. Pretty soon “special” is their default, not-even-trying mode.

Kids are always going to take the easy path. Why wouldn’t they? If they can get an “A” on a project for slapping something together in between playing Minecraft, then why would they push themselves? If their mild attempts are lauded as exceptional, they will never try to go beyond that. They will only reach as high as the bar we set for them.

So, no, you’re not special. Sorry kids, but you’re better off hearing it now. Before you try to demand a raise three months into a new job. Before you have to eat at Taco Bell every day, all while carrying your Prada purse that Mommy and Daddy bought you. Before you realize you will have to be the one to pay off the giant credit card debt you incurred because you deserved stuff.

So, it may sting right now. It may be a bitter pill to swallow. But heed this message now and you’ll find that hollow, empty feeling of getting awarded for all things all the time replaced with pride. With the confidence of doing hard work. Of knowing you’re capable of hard work. You will discover new emotions. Gratification. Fulfillment. Purpose. Self respect. All of that can be yours. As long as your realize that the only way to be special is to earn it.

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“Then we’d go running on faith,

All of our dreams would come true,

And our world will be right

When love comes over me and you”

-Eric Clapton, Running On Faith

If I could sum up the way I live my life, I would say that I wing it. I feel my way. I kind of just go with it. I’m not a big planner. Never have been and probably never will be. It’s neither good nor bad. It just is.

Some times the universe conspires to plant seeds in my mind…

Last week, Aussa wrote a post about life planning and Diana wrote about planning and organizing her blog. I do neither. My life has no plan beyond next week. My kids will be out of school for the summer in a few weeks. No plan. I’ve been writing this blog for 7 months. I average a post a week, sometimes two. I have no idea what I’m going to write about this week. Or next week.

But Diana and Aussa got me thinking. Along with the chaos that sometimes is my life. The rushing around, the race to get things done. The screw ups when you get schedules confused. I tend to live in laid back mode until the last possible moment and then it’s a frantic rush to get the stuff done. Accomplished. Crossed off the list I didn’t actually make. I always get it done. Just not in an organized, sane manner.

So no, not a big planner. I didn’t plan to have a third child.  I didn’t plan on going on a first date with my (future) husband two days after breaking up a three year relationship. I didn’t plan on leaving Atlanta and moving back to my home town. I didn’t plan on starting a blog.

What if I had planned?

It’s real easy to plan to not have a child…

Popping a small pink pill would have been all the planning needed. But what if I had? This child, who made our family complete, who brings me laughter every single day for the last five years, I never would have known. My “plan” was to go to graduate school. I had started studying for my GRE. The older kids would both be in school full time and it was time for me to work on me. But I got pregnant. And I panicked for about a day. I stressed over a third pregnancy. I stupidly stressed over what it would do to my body. I stressed over having a baby need me night and day when I had just started to taste the freedom that comes with kids becoming self sufficient.

Stressing didn’t stop the inevitable. She came barreling into our lives, quite literally, not even waiting for the doctor to show up at the hospital. The last five years have been a beautiful crazy mess of a whirlwind. That first year, I would hold her every afternoon feeding her before her nap, her tiny hand reaching to grasp a piece of my hair to twirl through her fingers. As she would stare intently into my eyes, I would find myself overcome with emotions. I would hold off the tears until she shut her eyes. The tears of joy and relief. Silent prayers of thanks swirling through my mind as I studied her delicate face through the haze of tears. Intense gratitude that my “plans” had been ignored. That someone, something, knew better than I did what I needed.

I didn’t plan on falling in love…

I had just ended my relationship with my college boyfriend. I had a “plan.” I was going to move in with my friend, sleep on her floor until I saved up for my own place. I was going to experience young adulthood as a single woman for a while. I had been a serial monogamist, in a series of relationships through college. My friends called me “Never without a man Gretchen.” I felt like I really needed to take some time to just be me.

Joe asked me out two days after I left my boyfriend. I was torn. I had a plan. But I also really wanted to go out with him. I did what any rational woman would do. I said yes to that first date. And it was incredible. I knew there was no going back. Eighteen years later I wonder what would have happened if I would have said no to that date. If I would have insisted on being single for a while. Would we have found our way to each other eventually? Would I still be single? Would I not have these three children? I threw my plans and caution to the wind and have a marriage that has endured and weathered and strengthened and a life I never could have imagined.

I never thought I’d move back home…

I loved Atlanta. I wanted to live in a large city, a city of art and culture. Not the small southern city of my youth with it’s conservative bent and unofficial uniform of khaki pants and polo shirts.

But one weekend I went home for a visit and returned to Atlanta with the overwhelming urge to move back. Joe agreed to move with me. A few months later we were setting up house in our new apartment, ten minutes from my parents’ house. A year later my brother would be diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

The prognosis was horrifying. The 18 months that he fought for his life were spent hanging out together, going to movies, going to concerts, having lunch. I can’t quantify the value of spending all of that time with him. I know that it would have killed me to live four hours away. My decision to move back home gave me the gift of time. Time to laugh and talk and soak up every second with my brother. Time that I look back on as treasured memories, the most precious of moments that reside in my heart. Time that I still cling to all these years later, time that was a gift.

I had no idea what I was doing…

A blog. I had flirted with the idea, but that’s about it. Then one day I read something that infuriated me and within minutes found my way to WordPress and set up a basic blog and started typing. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I didn’t plan to do it. I didn’t research the ins and outs. I just did it. I started typing and didn’t even edit before I hit publish. And seven months later I have found something I love, something I don’t think I can live without. Sleep, nights out with girlfriends, projects around my house- all things that I’ve sacrificed over the last few months for this blog. And I wouldn’t change a thing. Writing in this place has been huge for me. It has given me a voice I’d forgotten I had. It’s made me stretch and grow. It’s given me something… something all mine. And I love it.

So, what if I had planned?

What if I lived my life needing complete order and control. Following a carefully crafted blueprint? What if I agonized over every impulse and every unscripted action? It is completely possible, likely even, that I never would have had my daughter. I wouldn’t have fallen in love with my husband. I wouldn’t have lived near my family when they needed me most. When I needed to be here. I wouldn’t have started this blog. I don’t know where I would be or who I would be with. I don’t want to imagine. These things that were a consequence of lack of plans are some of the biggest blessings of my life. They are more than happy accidents. They are me, listening carefully. Following my inner voice. Listening to my gut. What works for me and how I go through life wouldn’t necessarily work for everyone. But for me, living life is not a race, not a straight shot for the goal… but more of a meandering. It’s what works for me. Planning would cloud my process. So I’ll take the chaos and the frenzy that comes with winging it. Because along with that craziness comes surprises, comes blessings, comes a beautifully unplanned life.

 

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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.

This morning I logged on to FaceBook to do some mindless meandering before reading some real stuff. I was numbly perusing postings about the weather (rain, again?) and someone’s cute kid doing something amazingly cute, when I saw an article from NME magazine that made me almost spit my coffee all over my computer. It was an interview with Lily Allen (British pop singer) titled “Lily Allen: Feminism shouldn’t even be a thing anymore”.  What the….??? Now, Allen likes to fan the flames, push the buttons and stir the pot. She’s into the shameless hype schtick and that’s all fine and well, but I think that Allen needs a crash course in pulling one’s head out of one’s arse and maybe a little Feminism 101.

Lily Allen
Lily Allen

In the interview she states that everyone is “equal” in the modern world. Whew. That’s really good news. I am actually relieved to hear that. I mean, I actually agree. We are all equal. Problem is, people- sometimes the government, sometimes the military, sometimes the judicial system- don’t always adhere to that simple premise.

A few cases in point. This week a Massachusetts judge ruled that “Upskirting” was not illegal. So, if you would like to take a picture or videotape a woman’s nether regions without her consent or knowledge, go right ahead. Heck, it’s a fair assumption that if you can figure out a way to get a camera down her shirt that would be ok too!

Also this week, our Senate in the U.S. blocked a vote that would overhaul the procedures for prosecuting sexual assaults in the military. Right now the system isn’t working. According to the Pentagon, last year soldiers were 15 times more likely to be raped by a comrade than killed by the enemy.

The current system forces the victims to report assaults to their commanders.  The problem is that the commanders often know both the victim and the accused. In some cases, the commander is the accused. Add to that the Department of Labor’s statistics that 62% of victims who reported a sexual assault were retaliated against.

An Army General just this week pled guilty to sexual assault.

A Brig. General pled guilty to inappropriate relationships with two female Army officers and is being investigated for forcing another to have oral sex and threatening her family.

And the Army’s top sex crimes prosecutor is being investigated for allegedly groping a female lawyer at a sexual assault conference.

So you can see the problem with victims reporting these assaults when the very people at the highest ranks are sometimes guilty of the thing they are supposed to be investigating.

But our Senate chose to block a vote.

Not vote it down.

There was majority support for this bill. But they blocked the vote from even happening.

One has to wonder if it was primarily men being raped by other men, would this vote have been blocked? One has to wonder if there would be a bigger sense of urgency on the issue? Meanwhile women in the military are left to fend for themselves in an incestuous system that is clearly not serving their needs well.

Allen offers the theory that women are the problem because we are inherently envious and judgmental of each other. Yes, that is a problem. We need to build each other up, not knock each other down. But it is not The problem.

The problem is that women are still viewed as commodities. As less than. Even in the Western world. It is estimated that 1 in 5 women will experience rape or attempted rape during their college years.

The problem is a society, of which we all are a part, that doesn’t tackle misogyny. That objectifies women. A problem this big doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The men that perpetrate these crimes seem to have the view that women are there for their use and disposal. And too many times our judicial system doesn’t see fit to investigate or prosecute these crimes.

Then there’s this piece of sage wisdom from Ms. Allen:

Feminism. I hate that word because it shouldn’t even be a thing anymore,” she said. “We’re all equal, everyone is equal. Why is there even a conversation about feminism? What’s the man version of feminism? There isn’t even a word for it. Menanism. Male-ism. It doesn’t exist.

You hate that word, Ms. Allen, because you don’t understand it’s meaning.

You have willfully and blindly gone the way of the sheep and bought into the misinformation and propaganda that has been slowly oozing it’s way through our culture over the last few decades. Like a bad smell, this has been wafting around enough that you don’t even notice it anymore or realize it’s noxious nature.

Feminism isn’t some foul thing that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

That would be the bitter taste of lies and obfuscation.

Feminism is the basic fight for equal rights for women.

Equal pay for equal work.

The right to vote.

The right to join the military and not be raped.

The right to not have your body exposed and recorded by some creep with a cell phone.

The right to go to college and not be sexually assaulted.

Basic human rights of decency.

And here’s another thought, Ms. Allen.

While you’re sitting in your comfy home enjoying the life of a woman of privilege, please remember that feminism is not only a Western construct. To assume that Feminism is no longer a “thing” because we have the right to vote, we hold political office, etc….  well, that’s just ignoring about half of the world isn’t it?

There are women around the world who are fighting to not be stoned to death for having sex out of wedlock.

There are women fighting for the right to drive.

There are women fighting to stop the heinous act of female circumcision.

There are women fighting for their lives, to not be a piece of property under the law.

The fight for basic human rights is still going on in too many parts of the world.

And any time you or any other woman who is riding high because of the very cause that you demean, you are diminishing the battles these women are still fighting.

We’ve come quite far in the west, but don’t be fooled into thinking that we’re done fighting here. I know what world I want my daughters to grow up in. And it’s not a world that gives them a 20% chance of being raped in college. It’s not a world in which a woman who’s been raped is shamed and told that she’d be better off just letting it go.

And it’s certainly not a world in which we turn a blind eye to the injustices happening to our sisters around the world.

If you don’t want to listen to me, then please hear this from a truly wise and brilliant woman. Amy Poehler was asked in an interview with Elle magazine, about being a feminist and about feminist deniers. She said this:

But I don’t get it. That’s like someone being like, “I don’t really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don’t know what I would do without it.

In her succinct and magnificent way, she’s telling you, Ms. Allen, that you are driving the very car that you love, that gets you where you need to go. But at the same time you don’t believe in it. And in your case, maybe you’re confused about what it is. But trust me, you’re driving a car that wasn’t built by Detroit, you’re rolling through life on wheels that are powered by an engine that wouldn’t be possible without feminists.

So, please reconsider Ms. Allen.

Consider the victims fighting for justice in an ambiguous system.

Consider that feminism is not an issue just for the modern world.

Consider why there is no male version of feminism.

Take a minute and ponder that.

You may, without even realizing it, see that you made your own case for feminism.

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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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