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

“Will we ever understand? Or is the fate of man at hand? Will we live or shall we die?

How will we ever know if we never try?”

-Lenny Kravitz, What the Fuck Are We Saying

Them.

It can mean different things. It can be people who look different. It can be people of different nations. Different cultures. People who pray to a different god. People who love differently. People who live a different lifestyle.

Them. It’s a lie. I don’t believe in it. I don’t subscribe to the cult of judgement that seems to accompany the mentality of them.

They must be savages to riot in the street.

They must have done something to deserve being shot while unarmed.

They must not be strong enough/ have enough faith/ love enough to take their own life.

They must be filthy and ignorant to be ravaged with a horrendous virus.

They must believe in an evil god to live in perpetual war.

Statements dripping in self righteousness and contempt. Statements born of fear or ignorance or shame. Or all three. But nothing written or shouted or proclaimed from such a place is ever true. These things are not uttered in an attempt to help, to discuss, to heal. To rectify or repair. No, these words and others like them are a fallacy meant to perpetuate the myth of them.

Is it comforting, the idea of them? Is it a primal mindset we have yet to outgrow?

Lately it’s been too much to take. The harshness. The shrill. It’s become deafening. The evening news has become my affliction. Social media has become a playground for the ignorant to show their bitter hearts. And I’m wondering when it will all be done. When will we collectively say enough? When will people push through the bullshit of themThe other people. People not like you. It is so simplistic in it’s thinking that I wonder how this mindset has survived all these years. Decades. Centuries. How does fallacy survive? How does it endure?

“The government’s the devil’s hands. It’s a lie and it’s a scam. They wind us up, put us down and watch us go. And if you close your eyes, there’s a big surprise”

A piece of dirt in a disputed land. A land claimed by both sides as holy ground. Powers on both sides committing crimes and atrocities. All in the name of religion. People dying and children orphaned or maimed or traumatized. Because of them. They pray to a different god. They tread on our sacred ground. They are different from us. Propaganda demonizes the enemy. Because war cannot continue if people don’t believe in them. People on both sides. They will grow weary and war tired if they are allowed to see similarities.

Palestinians crying after seven children were killed by bombs in a refugee camp (Mahmud Hams/ AFP)
Palestinians crying after seven children were killed by bombs in a refugee camp (Mahmud Hams/ AFP)
Israeli's taking refuge from Hamas rockets in a sewer pipe (Reuters)
Israeli’s taking refuge from Hamas rockets in a sewer pipe (Reuters)

And the people caught in the middle? The people who retreat to a bomb shelter throughout the day? The people who’s children are killed and who’s homes are destroyed? They aren’t that different. They want to live in peace. Comfort. Security. They want it all to stop. They want to be able to eat and work and play and raise their families. But it won’t stop. Not until we stop seeing them. Not until we start seeing us. Seeing our children’s faces in a sewer pipe. Seeing our lives and hearts ripped apart because our child was killed by a senseless war that rages on. One that feeds on the notion of them.

 “I’ve been lost in the name of love. And we kill our brothers daily in the name of god. We’d better chill before we take on some tribulation. And if we realized? Then we’d make a little love”

Yet another young black man killed. Unarmed. Shot. More than once. Unarmed and walking down the street. Not a new story. A story as old as our nation. A story that continues to play out with heartbreaking frequency. A story that continues because of them.

And I’m angry. Because we should be better than this. I’m angry because I don’t care what he was wearing or what symbols or signs he flashed in a photo that seems to become some kind of implicit justification. Because he was shot. He was unarmed and he was killed. And this has happened again. And again.

(N.Y. Daily News)
(N.Y. Daily News)

I’m angry because it is clear that if you look a certain way you are living in danger every day that you venture out in the world. Because of how you look. Because of assumptions rooted in ignorance and hatred. Because of ideas that are so ingrained that many people don’t even realize they subscribe to them. And it doesn’t matter that he was college bound. But the nature of such incidents is to place the burden on the deceased to prove that they had a future. It cannot be assumed that they had a future. It must be stated and reiterated and shouted from a megaphone. That he had a future. The sick cruel nature of our world. To value the life of someone over another based on a certain path deemed worthy. Because if he wasn’t on a particular path, he wasn’t us. He was them.

There is no them.

There’s just us.

Strip away the superficial. The colors, the accents, the mannerisms, the dialects.

The religions.

Eliminate them because they are superfluous. They don’t matter.

And what do you have? The same. The same red blood coursing through blue veins. The same hearts, four chambers pumping life sustaining blood. The same brains firing off directions and information and knowledge. The same hearts. The hearts that ache with loss. The hearts that want peace and safety. The hearts that yearn for life and joy and love. Boil it all down. That’s what we all want. The rest is bullshit. Life. Laughter. Dignity. Security. That’s what they want. Just like you. They are like you.

I’ve had enough of them.

I’m tired of political leaders and power grabbers and game players and antiquated prejudice telling me about them. I’m tired of the delusion being repeated. Causing damage. Destruction. Death. Shame. Disgrace. Someone somewhere has a stake in them. Someone needs to keep us in fear. Someone profits or exalts or rejoices in division rather than unity. Someone wants to inhibit change and progress. Someone wants to see only the differences instead of the similarities.

Look around. Watch. Listen to what people say. Look for them. Whether it’s politicians from disparate parties. Whether it is land hungry dictators. Whether its someone trying to justify a boy being gunned down. Whether it is people offering an overly simplistic view of mental illness and suicide. Whether its people advocating sending immigrant children back to the horrors they just fled. If they are speaking in them, then there’s an agenda. If they are speaking in them, there’s no will to unite or to bring together or to resolve. The aim is to divide further. To fortify the barriers to progress. To keep us in a place of judgement and hate.

And when you see it, don’t buy into it.

Don’t let them cloud your thinking.

Call them out.

Call bullshit on them. 

‘Cause I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of them.

 

 90

“And I don’t want to hold her down, don’t want to break her crown,

When she says… Let’s go,

I like the night life baby”

-The Cars, Let’s Go

Every morning I wake up early, just as the sun is coming up. I shuffle out to the kitchen and start my coffee before heading out to my back porch. With the early morning chirping of birds as background music I do my morning yoga sequence. Afterwards I sit with my coffee and soak it all in. The stillness. The serenity. The peace. By the time my kids are up I’m sparkling with energy and ready to start the day.

That is completely made up. That is not my life. That is the fantasy version I have wistfully yearned for. The reality is I trudge out to start my coffee barely awake, the kids already dressed and eating their breakfast. I mutter “Leave in 10 minutes” and go get dressed while my coffee is brewing. We all pile in to the car to head off to school, me gripping my coffee for dear life. It takes roughly two carpool lines for me to fully wake up and be in human speaking mode.

It ain’t pretty.

I decided this summer to change all that. I wanted the early morning yoga and the peaceful solitude of just me and my coffee. I started gathering up articles. You know, the ones that pepper every “lifestyle” or “healthy living” section of ever on-line newzine. I read “Top 10 Ways To Become A Morning Person” pretty straightforward and “Hey, Sleepyhead! How To Be A Morning Person” did I just feel someone tussle my hair?. These articles were full of sunny optimism. They made it sound so easy. Happy mornings are just a Buzzfeed article away!

Then I stumbled upon “So You Think You’re A Morning Person” are you taunting me? and “Why Morning People Rule the World” Really? Now you’re just being an asshole. But for the most part, the advice spewing articles were full of hope and promises. It’s so easy! Anyone can do it! Shaman promising to change your life in 10 steps or less. Snake Oil salesman spinning tales of people who’ve transformed their lives by simply adjusting their circadian rhythms. Billy Mays offering you a free Sham Wow if you just read this article!

And I fell for it. I fell for the money back guarantee and the free gift when you purchase two. I am a sucker.

You have probably guessed that it didn’t go well. I saw no sunrise. I tried. But I legitimately can not make my body fall asleep before 11pm. And that’s on a good night.

So in the vein of justifying things and making a negative a positive (my secret super power), I decided that I shouldn’t even try to change this. I shouldn’t yearn to be something different. Just as I shouldn’t wish to be a tall leggy blonde, I shouldn’t wish to be this other person. This unicorn of early morning euphoria. I know they exist, I think I may even know some, but I can’t really be sure. The point is, I need to accept who I am and not fight it.

I’m going to embrace it. Because despite what you may read out there, being a night owl is kinda cool.

I have crazy energy at night time. This is when I work out. Not late at night, but right before or right after dinner. My 7:30pm workout kicks my 6:00am workout’s ass.

At night I feel no guilt. I’m off the clock and done for the day. Free to do whatever I want. If laundry is piling up I let it wait until the next day. I can’t just sit and read a book in the middle of the day or watch t.v. I would stress about all the things that need to get done.

But at night? I can do whatever I want. It’s allowed. No one judges you for sitting on your couch in you pajamas shoving Cheez Its in your mouth at night time.  And you can have a drink without feeling like a degenerate. Try doing that at 6am.

Nighttime is mysterious and interesting and romantic and dangerous. I don’t want to miss out on it. There’s always possibility after dark that just isn’t there during the day. People are more daring, their inhibitions are lowered. No great story ever started with “So, I went to bed early… ”

I’m not alone.

There are plenty of us out there. Probably more than care to admit it.

There are all kinds of people who are biologically predisposed to staying up late. And you should be grateful that these people are out there. They are there if your house catches fire in the middle of the night. They are there if you have an emergency and have to go to the E.R. We need night owls just as much as we need morning people.

And let’s just consider for a minute that we live in a world that really starts moving on morning people’s time schedule. Most of us have to be up for school/work/life at the same time as all of you sunshine greeters. Only we didn’t go to sleep at 9:00. We get used to functioning with less, maybe even thriving. We don’t sweat being tired, it’s a fact of a night owl’s life. We go about our day, doing our thing. We don’t complain about how tired we are on FaceBook, it’s not a big thing to us. Night owls are bad ass.

I would like to point out that I really like morning people. I just don’t understand why we need 156 million articles on how to become one. (Really. I checked Google.)

So morning people, I don’t begrudge you your morning glory and a.m. chipper-ness. Yes, it may be annoying if you’re chatting me up before I’ve had my coffee, but I get it. This is your time. Your shining moment. This is your peak. And that works for you. But don’t judge me for my morning surliness. I’ll get down to business and I’ll get stuff done but I won’t be all sunshine and rainbows until at least mid morning.

My peak will come later in the day. I will have a day of gradual ascension, each hour feeling more energized and creative and alive. I will be dancing around my kitchen and acting silly at dinner time.  While you’re climbing in to bed, I’m sitting on my porch with my husband enjoying a glass of wine and great conversation. While you’re drifting off to sleep, I’m writing, words flowing out effortlessly. I’m recharging, I’m connecting with my man. I’m free to create and write. I go to sleep every night having spent a few hours doing whatever I need to do to take care of me. And feeling no guilt. No one was neglected or ignored because I spent this time on myself.

So here’s to all you night owls out there. Be proud. Flaunt your late night awesomeness. Embrace your lifestyle with no apologies. Steer clear of the articles and that are so abundant because they’re so easy and cliche’. You don’t need to change a thing. You don’t need to follow a ten step program. And you definitely don’t need to believe the hype. You rock.

 

 

 

 

 

n-WOMEN-POVERTY-large570

“Pardon me while I burst into flames,

I’ve had enough of the world and people’s mindless games.

Pardon me while I burst and rise above the flame.

Pardon me, pardon me. I’ll never be the same.”

-Incubus, Pardon Me

We live in a world where discrimination still happens but it often happens in the shadows. It is done in the way cowards typically do things- when the world isn’t watching or paying attention. And it still happens far too often. But there’s one type of discrimination that is totally acceptable to flaunt, to declare with authority and smugness.

Poor Shaming.

It’s still acceptable to shame the poor. It’s totally ok to stand up in the U.S. Congress and sneer about the “takers.” It still o.k. to go on Sunday morning talk shows and wear an unholy mask of disgust and contempt while talking about welfare and entitlement programs. This is all fine. You can do this and still be a regular guest on a news show. You can do this and still get elected to be a political leader. In fact, some people will vote for you for this very reason.

Souls vs Stomachs

One very powerful Congressman recently said the school free lunch program gave students a “full stomach but an empty soul.” Because anyone who’s ever gone hungry knows that you need to feed your soul. I mean, that’s top on the list of concerns for a hungry child who’s trying to make it through a school day with a growling stomach eating away at his concentration. That is a priority in a life of not knowing when your next meal will come. More than one political leader has suggested that poor kids do janitorial work in exchange for free school lunch. They say that this will help those kids to understand that you must pay for things. That things just don’t come easy. Because, you know, poor kids are so entitled. They don’t understand the value of hard work. Especially when they watch their parents work two jobs and struggle to pay the bills. So, let’s have the poor kids sweep and mop and scrub toilets. While their wealthier peers look on and eat their lunch that I’m sure they worked very hard for. Some people actually think this is a good idea. Teach those little free-loaders that life ain’t easy. 16.1 Million U.S. children live in poverty.

A Combo Meal of Discrimination

Recently, one very powerful Congressman got flak for saying this:

 “this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

His assumption- that there were entire swaths of people who have no desire to work, who wanted to receive handouts- was not the problem. The problem was his use of the words “inner cities,” a.k.a., minorities. Yes, this comment was one of those underlying racist comments, indicative of a mindset so entrenched that the speaker doesn’t even realize it’s racist. And it should be derided. But the outcry shouldn’t have stopped there. In one statement, this politician managed to dismiss two disenfranchised entities. It was a two-for-one. But it’s ok to shame the poor, so his comment was called out for being racist, when it should have been called out for exactly what it was. Racist and poor shaming. It should have been called out for the bullying tactic that it was.

Insight and Ramen Noodles

Recently, Karen Weese wrote an insightful article on poverty. She gets to the heart of what it feels like to be on the fringe. She illustrates the perceptions that exist and pokes holes through all of the standard theories. But where she really got me was when she discussed “The Ramen Noodle Effect.” She explains that many of us can point to times in our life when we can all relate to being “poor.” Those years post college of living on thrift store furniture and eating 25 cent packets of noodles. But this is a false equivalency. Having a few years of living in a run down apartment is not the same as growing up poor. Surrounded by a family and community in poverty.

“It is much easier not to panic about tight finances when Mom and Dad have a guest room you can always move back to (even if you never actually do)…. It helps when there’s someone in your family who can advise you about applying to college or buying a home. It’s reassuring to know that, no matter how bare your cupboard, there will be a full spread of food when you go home for the holidays, and family and friends who can help you, standing in the wings.”

Not Even Close

It’s not the same. Working in a minimum wage job for a few years as a teenager does not give you insight into the lives of people who spend a lifetime in those jobs. Your stepping stone is someone else’s tenuous life line. Your “character building” position as a dishwasher or fry cook is someone else’s shaky grip on survival. Sleeping on a mattress on the floor for a few years isn’t equal to growing up sharing a bed with three siblings or finding yourself sleeping in your car. Digging for change in the crevices of your sofa for Starbucks isn’t the same as juggling finances to figure out which bills get paid this month. Selling your old shoes or clothes at the consignment store for beer money isn’t the same as selling plasma every month to pay medical bills.

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The Words.

The things people say when discussing the poor. They harken to Dickensian times. “Lazy. Victims. Takers.” These words are used to dehumanize an entire group of people. These words offer justification and comfort to those who wish to keep the poor exactly where they are. Poor people are fundamentally flawed, in character and morals. They don’t want to have better or to do better. They want a hand out or a hand up or a free ride. They enjoy this lifestyle. If they were motivated and ambitious and resourceful they wouldn’t be in this position. These are the statements that are repeated. They are hollow excuses for disdain. They are the rationalization for judgement. They are the lame attempts to lift oneself higher while stepping callously on the backs of those already crippled with exhaustion. They are the words of bullies.

Lack of Empathy?

Some people seem to lack the imagination to understand any circumstance they haven’t personally experienced. They are so self involved and egocentric that they can’t be bothered to consider what any other reality may actually be like. Maybe they were spoiled or grew up so isolated from people who were different. Can we really blame them for their obtuse view on life? Yes. Yes we can. We live in an age of information and access. One only has to spend a few minutes listening or reading to hear what other’s reality is. One only has to pay a tiny bit of attention to the person cleaning up after their office closes or caring for their elderly parent. It doesn’t take much effort at all to shed the notions bred by ignorance to see the good in people versus the bad.

Arrogance?

Some people like to think that they have arrived at a place because they are better than. And those who haven’t reached that place must be less than. I was poor. I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. Sure you did. But perhaps you fail to recognize that not everyone experienced life in exactly the way you did, in the same exact circumstances. Perhaps you worked super hard. And perhaps you had a little luck. Perhaps there was someone who gave you a hand up. Perhaps there are some people so caught up in the downward spiral of poverty, scratching and clawing to feed their children and keep a roof over their head that “bettering” themselves isn’t on the bare table they face every night. Perhaps your experience isn’t exactly the same as someone else’s experience. Perhaps you could use your experience to try to be the one to extend a hand. Perhaps instead of tearing people down because they didn’t arrive at the same place you did in the same way you did, you could offer help or encouragement.

Bullying?

Maybe they were the bully on the school bus. Maybe they were the kid who only felt good when they were putting other people down. Maybe a tone of self righteousness couched in policy making and social commentating gives them a sense of power that they crave and need. Maybe they need to understand that the bullying that left them feeling angry and empty when they were younger is not going to fulfill them as an adult. Maybe they need to direct their anger elsewhere. Maybe they need to find another outlet rather than the convenient punching bag of someone who is too busy trying to survive to fight back.

Whatever.

Whatever the reason, it needs to stop. Heaping shame and humiliation on those living in poverty isn’t productive. No one has ever solved a problem when coming from a place of judgement and contempt. But the bullies don’t get this. The bullies need to be called out. We tell our kids to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. We tell them to “Stand Up and Speak Out.” Maybe it’s time for us to say something. Most of us are good people. We’re appalled when we hear racial epitaphs. We cringe when we hear a sexist remark. We wince when we hear a gay slur. It’s time we started reacting to the words and actions used against the poor. It’s time we stop accepting the false arguments that have been touted as justification for poor shaming.

Vernacular can be changed.

Mindsets can be altered.

Empathy is a skill that can be learned.

Kindness can grow and spread.

Assumptions can be examined.

Bullies can change.

Poor shaming can be called out as discrimination.

We can vote.

We can stand up.

We can speak out.

 

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“You were fighting every day

So hard to hide the pain.

I know you never said goodbye,

I had so much left to say.

One last song,

given to an Angel’s son.”

-Sevendust, Angel’s Son

I never said goodbye. It’s taken me 14 years to realize it. I remember so much and so little about that night. Certain memories stand out like a bad dream on a loop that I can’t pause. I remember sounds. The shrill ringing of a phone. The sound of my breath. Raspy. Shallow. The inexplicable calm in my mother’s voice. “You need to come.” I stayed calm until I hung up the phone. Then I lost it. I didn’t want to go. I can’t do it. My hands trembled uncontrollably as I pulled on my pants. I was frantic and stalling at the same time. I want him to save me. Tell me I don’t have to go. Tell me it’s all some sick cruel joke. He took my hands and steadied them. “You have to go. You have to do this.” I nod quickly, more times than necessary. I manage to find the keys. “Are you ok?” he calls out. I nod one more time and shut the door behind me. If I talk, if I hesitate, I’ll break. I must move forward or I’ll crumble. I remember the sound of the keys. Clanging like a frantic jester in my trembling hand.  My teeth chattering. Nerves had taken over my body and I was shaking. I remember the audacity of a beautiful night. Warm. Breezy. In defiant contrast with everything I was feeling. I don’t remember driving there. Mom met me on the sidewalk to the house. She’d come out to give me the details. To let me know what I was going to see. Dear god, I just saw him two days ago, what could have changed in 48 hours? I tried to follow her into the house, but collapsed into her arms overcome with fear and anguish. I collapsed. I knew I was supposed to be strong for her, but I couldn’t help myself. I was ashamed, but I succumbed. I let her guide my limp body into the house. She sat me on a chair and comforted me. She comforted me. I knew this wasn’t the way it was supposed to go, but I felt more out of control than I’d ever felt in my life. When I finally calmed down and the sobbing subsided I went into the living room to see my brother. He was asleep, but not asleep. I realized quickly that the last time I saw him, only 2 days ago, was the last time I would have a coherent conversation with him. And what did we talk about? I don’t even know. Probably some bullshit. Probably me trying to be stupid and make him laugh. Did he know? While I was rattling off stupid one-liners, did he know that it would be the last time we would really talk? Was he annoyed with my oblivious idiocy? Did he want to scream at me or shake me and tell me to shut the fuck up? To be real? Did he want me to say goodbye? I’ll never know. I’ll never know if my self preservation robbed him of a real moment, of getting to say goodbye to me. He was always so protective, he wouldn’t want to upset me. He would have put my needs ahead of his. He would have hidden his disappointment. And now I’ll never know. That night passed like a dream. I remember some things so clearly. I remember feeling the most desperate panic I’ve ever felt in my life. I wanted to leave, to escape. My mind was screaming inside my head while the world moved in slow motion. I remember disbelief. I had been so hopeful. So optimistic. And still we were here. I remember worrying that he was suffering. I was so intensely scared that he was suffering and couldn’t tell us. I remember feeling guilt. Guilt because I laid on the floor and closed my eyes and drifted in and out of a tortured sleep. Guilt because my sister sat by his side the entire night. Not budging. Guilt because she was having to be the strong one and I reverted to a scared little girl who just wanted to shove her thumb in her mouth and rock back and forth. The details of that night and the next morning are sacred. We were all there. My parents. My sister. Her husband. Me. Joe. We all were there for a moment that is indescribable. It was beautiful and wrenching and I’ll never be able to put into words watching someone precious die. I think we all knew it – that moment. And I still didn’t say goodbye. I held up  afterwards. We all did. The house felt obscenely quiet. We were all in shock. I went through the motions. We all did. I still had wedding stuff to attend to. I still had to plan for the happiest day of my life that was to follow, only ten short days, after the worst day of my life. Planning seemed so superficial. So stupid. I didn’t care. I didn’t want a wedding anymore. I would have been happy with a signature on a piece of paper to make it legal. But my family wouldn’t have it. They convinced me that the wedding had to happen. I had to do it because it’s what he would have wanted. He knew, even before I really knew. He knew that Joe was the one. He told my parents, after I’d brought Joe home the first time,”That’s the guy she’s going to marry” So of course I had to keep on keeping on with the wedding. He would have been pissed if I’d canceled the biggest party of my life. But now, all these years later, I realize I never said goodbye. All these years later, when that realization hit me, it was like someone had cut my legs off. How did I sit by his side for hours upon hours, knowing it was goodbye, yet never saying goodbye? Was it selfishness? Was it denial? I have been told I should write a goodbye letter. The mere mention of that left me open and seething. A wound, this particular wound, that I didn’t even know was there for fourteen years, was now bleeding. I operate between two worlds. In one world I go about my business and tell myself that I’ll see him soon. He’s traveling. He’s busy. That’s why I miss him. This is feasible. The other world is on a more spiritual level. I know he’s gone, but I know he’s here. He’s with me. I know he was with me when I walked down the aisle on my wedding day. I can tell you the exact moment he showed up during the births of my three children. There have been times, random times, when I hear his favorite song and I know he’s with me. I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I have felt him here with me when I’m writing about him. I still don’t want to say goodbye. But maybe I’m still being scared and selfish. Maybe saying goodbye is the right thing to do. So here goes… How do you say goodbye to someone when you don’t want to let them go? I don’t want you to go. I know I can’t put a cap on this, I can’t fold this up and put it in a box. But I do want you to know some things. Your life was a gift to us all. You brought laughter. You brought art. You brought joy. You made us, this hodgepodge family a real family. You gave each of us a part of you. Your smile that could light up a room. Your laughter that could soften the hardest of souls. Your humor that could cut through any moment and bring sweet relief of laughter. You could make me laugh when I didn’t want to laugh. And is there really anything better than that? Is there any greater gift? I want to hold on so tight, my jaw clenched in tight determination, but I also need to release. I am not going to tell you goodbye. I just don’t believe in it. But I will tell you all the things I wanted to say so badly. All the things I kept to myself because you weren’t giving up and I didn’t want you to think I was too. I want to tell you that I love you. I want to tell you how much better you made my life, everyone’s life. I can’t imagine a world without you, so I just imagine you’re still in it. I miss you. I miss you so bad I feel it in every bone. I hope you’re good. I hope you are happy. But I’m not saying goodbye. I’ll never say goodbye.

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“Where you born to resist, or be abused?

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?”

-Foo Fighters, Best of You

Saturday was a fun day. We spent the evening at friend’s house. The kids laughing and playing in the pool while we enjoyed good food, great conversation and more than a few drinks. We all came pouring in the door full of energy and laughter. We shuffled the kids upstairs to get ready for bed. I paused for a minute to soak up the moment. My family. All of us smiling, happy. I was still reflecting on the fun evening whenI grabbed my phone. I popped on to Twitter for a quick peek to see if there was anything of interest happening.

#YesAllWomen. That’s what was happening.

I stopped my distracted cleaning that I had been doing while reading tweets. I had to sit. It was everywhere. Women tweeting. Tweeting in response to the shooting in Santa Barbara. Tweeting about their experiences.

All the things that have been said and done or implied that reminded them that they are less.

Less important.

Less valued.

Less worthy.

Less powerful.

I was taken aback. I felt overwhelmed. I felt tears burn at the edges of my eyes. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt too connected to what these women were saying. I could relate. I knew what they meant. I had experienced so much of what they were discussing. The every day misogyny. It’s not the stuff of news stories or even blog posts. Usually. It’s the stuff that I have brushed off my whole life. The things that I have learned to expect and to accept. And I don’t know if I ever truly realized it until reading these tweets.

I am no stranger to women’s issues, to feminist causes. I have written about it many times on this blog.

I’ve written about rape, the need for Feminism, on-line misogyny, and sometimes just your basic rant against Feminist deniers.

I participate in a wonderful and enlightening #FeministFriday discussion every Friday with some smart and engaged blogger friends. I obviously am very passionate about these topics. But it did not occur to me that I had spent most of my life minimizing and diluting the very thing I was writing so vehemently about.

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I think it went like this:

  • In Kindergarten a boy pulled my pants down. It was nap time aka time for the teachers to watch their soaps. I had scooted away from him and he got mad and grabbed ahold of my pants as I army-crawled to a different spot. I pulled my pants up quickly. The teachers were engrossed in their show. No one saw. Out of embarrassment I said nothing.
  • Boys at school would occasionally grab and grope me in the hallway. I said nothing. It happened to my friends too. We would just roll our eyes and shrug our shoulders. If the offending boy hadn’t darted off we would maybe offer a quick punch to send him a message. But we didn’t make a big deal out of it. It was just what happened. It was normal.
  • During my teen years, it came from adults. Strangers. And I was still a kid. A teenage girl, whether she has breasts or looks mature, is still just a kid. These men had no problem flirting with a cashier who was 20 years younger than them. These men saw nothing wrong with saying lewd things passing me in a parking lot. These men would make obscene gestures at a stoplight. These men thought that a young girl was an appropriate outlet for their sick and twisted and perverted impulses. But I brushed these creepy encounters off. It was normal.
  • On the first day of college we had a meeting in the dorm. A meeting about campus safety. About how to not get raped. Don’t walk on campus alone at night. Don’t drink too much at a party. Don’t go back to a guy’s room. Don’t lead a guy on. But never, not once, did we hear: Don’t rape. They definitely said “No means no.” But this phrase was such a sing-songy vague campaign, in the vein of “Just Say No To Drugs” as far as effectiveness. Repeated so oft it becomes white noise. What would have been impactful was a simple rule book. With one rule. Don’t rape. Instead we all heard “Don’t get raped.” We got the message. The onus was on us to not get raped. We didn’t flinch or question. We’d heard all of it before. It was normal.

I left college unscathed by the horror that too many girls face. I realize, only now, just how lucky I was to have breezed through four years without being violated.

Still, this shit happened:

  • I couldn’t wash my car for an entire summer in my parent’s driveway because the construction workers building the house next door would make disgusting comments.
  • I got my ass grabbed too many times to count by my boss at the restaurant where I worked.
  • I had to fend off a kiss by my boss with a punch in the stomach.
  • I worried when my boss’s started drinking before the end of the shift if this time they would try to take it further than an ass-grab or a kiss.
  • I had to politely, with a smile, derail come-ons by drunk older men at the bar where I worked.
  • I learned to expect that I would get groped at some point at every single concert I went to, at every crowded bar I frequented. Almost every time I would turn around to try to confront the offender, only to see a crowd entangled, trying to edge closer to the stage and/or bar.

And even now, as a grown woman, this shit STILL happens:

  • I stopped by the house we were building to check on something. I got in my car to leave and turned to look at the house from the road, only to see one of the construction workers making very large, dramatic, jerk-off motions in the window. Directed at me. I was stunned and he stopped as soon as he saw me looking. I drove away considering my options. I could call the builder and tell them. But what if they fired him? What if he has four kids and is struggling to put food on the table? Yes, he’s a misogynistic asshole, but I couldn’t bear the thought of someone being out of work because of me. So I said nothing.
  • Condescension. Too many times to count. The baseball coach who said “And try not to be late next time” when I inquired about an upcoming game. I bit my tongue. I wasted my opportunity to school him in how to speak to a woman, to a person. I didn’t take a moment to let him know that the only reason we were late to practice was because my daughter’s piano lesson ended at the same time that baseball practice started and since my husband travels during the week that I have to do it all and be all places at all times and get all of my kids where they need to be and that I have been all over town in a frantic rush just trying to make it all work. All so he can stand there and smack his obnoxious gum and talk to me like I’m his child. And I knew, beyond any doubt, that if it had been my husband who had been standing there instead of me that he would never have said it. Because no one has EVER talked to my husband that way. But I said nothing. Because my kids were standing right there. Because my son still had a whole season of playing on this dickwad’s team and I didn’t want him to ride the bench because of me. So I said nothing.
  • My husband and I tried to have a drink a our neighborhood martini bar. We sat and watched middle aged men ogle the young waitresses. Girls young enough to be their daughters. The two waitresses stood off to the side, their arms awkwardly hanging in front of their bodies, trying to cover themselves from the creeptitude. My husband I sat and watched, disgusted, as the waitresses timidly walked to the tables where these men sat on their fat asses, leering with such entitled lust and righteousness. I wanted to say something. I wanted to scream at these men to keep their metaphorical dicks in their pants. I wanted to get right in their foul smelling faces and demand to know what gave them the right to make a young girl feel that way. I wanted to walk up to the owner of the bar who was walking around chatting it up with patrons, and knee him in the gut and then explain to him how to treat his employees and how to demand his customers treat them. I wanted to take these girls home with me and wrap a comforting blanket around them and feed them some homemade soup. I wanted to tell them that no one would ever look at them that way again. But I would be lying. And I didn’t do any of that. My husband and I sucked down our sickeningly sweet martinis and paid the bill and left, vowing to never give that bar another dime. I said nothing. Even though I really wanted to.

Enough of that shit.

I’m tired of saying nothing. I’m tired of minimizing the everyday bullshit that happens to every girl and every woman everywhere. To me. To my friends. To those waitresses. I spent my life shrugging it off. I laughed it off. And even when I wasn’t shrugging or laughing, even when I was angry, I said nothing. But then I started this blog. And I started saying something. And then I met some pretty awesome bloggers who care about the same things. And together we started saying something. And then I read these tweets and I saw women, all of them saying something.

And I’m going to keep saying something.

I won’t shut up.

I will say something when I see politicians minimizing rape with qualifications.

I will say something when girls are video taped being raped.

I will say something as long as female genital mutilation continues.

I will say something as long as women are subjugated and demeaned and dismissed.

I will keep saying something.

You won’t be able to shut me up.

I’m hoping you won’t try.

I’m hoping you’ll say something too.

 

What are your thoughts on #YesAllWomen? What kinds of everyday misogyny have you experienced? Do you think a social media movement like #YesAllWomen is helpful/ enlightening/ productive? Talk to me…

 

 

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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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