Loving My First Gray Hair Is Political

Yesterday I got my first gray hair. It’s beautiful and light, hugging the soft space to the side of my forehead. I love it.

I have been waiting for this day. I am 35. Gray hair was going to happen. Years ago I made a conscious decision to continue loving myself as I grow older. This is an act of self-preservation, and defiance.

This is about my feminism — hatred of women is intimately tied in with dangerous, racist, and unrealistic expectations of beauty that we are expected to internalize. We must reject that as much as we can (real talk: this can be a day-by-day thing, and feeling like crap about your looks doesn’t mean you don’t get to be a feminist).

This is personal — I almost died of anorexia. Gray hair is a victory! I am fortunate I made it to my 18th, 19th, and 20th birthdays. I am both grateful and proud I did, because damn that was a lot of work. My personal interest extends beyond having overcome nearly lethal negative self-talk related to my appearance; I’ve reached an age where too many peers have died for no good reason. I’m lucky to get old.

This is about parenting, too — my daughter deserves the example of a woman who dares to look like herself and love herself.

As a social justice activist and organizer, I struggle with the decision to write posts like this sometimes. Today yet another video has surfaced of a Black person losing their life to police violence; his name was Sam DuBose. Racism is one of the most pressing issues of our time.

And so, I ask myself:

Is it indulgent to be introspective about the first freaking gray hair on my head at a time when people are dying, when politicians fail to acknowledge that Black lives matter, when terrorists are targeting abortion providers because they dare to help women?

I struggle with this question, and yet this post speaks for itself: Here I am, writing. My firm belief is that self-love is radical. You cannot fight effectively for equality, dignity, or justice when you are unable to treat yourself with respect. You cannot find the courage to accept difference in others if you’re unwilling to accommodate difference for yourself. Loving yourself is not ego or dominance (those are rooted in insecurity, after all); loving yourself is about compassion. Best part? Inner compassion is compassion, and both are contagious.

So, when I embrace my gray hair, what I am also saying is that we should embrace ourselves and one another as we are. We must treat our fragile lives with respect and love, and break every convention necessary.

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No More Bad Hair Days And Skinny Clothes

I’m done with bad hair days, they don’t exist. Men don’t have bad hair days; those few who say they do are distinctly in the minority because bad hair days are about sexism, not appearance.

Bad hair days are a way of trivializing women and making us feel like we aren’t good enough as we are. It takes hours for a woman to get the kind of hair that graces magazine covers — time that could be spent getting more sleep. Death to bad hair days!

My hair is neither curly nor straight nor wavy. I had been thinking of it as kind of this perpetual bad hair day. Except it’s not.

Recently I realized how much time I’d been spending beating myself up for not having time to blow dry my hair, since my mornings are about walking dogs, feeding dogs, changing diapers, and then getting a toddler dressed and fed before encouraging her to brush her teeth (good luck). I’m fortunate if I get in a shower before starting to work.

Thinking negatively about my hair had started to invade my space. I started thinking I didn’t look “professional” enough to see colleagues or “good” enough to see friends. I had all this self-imposed stress in the mornings to meet this goal to blow dry my hair.

Wait, what?

When I started unpacking it, I realized I have the same hair that I used to think was totally hot on guys I used to date. (I focused a good chunk of my single life on men who look like Jesus.) This made me realize — hey wait, that’s bunk! I’m not having bad hair days. I’m feeling bad about not measuring up to impossible standards for women. Perhaps, even, my natural hair looks good.

Well, okay then. Bye-bye bad hair days.

On a similar note, the other day I purged my closet of small (skinny) clothes. It felt wonderfully empowering. Leaving clothes that are too small in my wardrobe implies that I need to lose weight to get dressed. No, thank you. Clothes are supposed to fit people, not the other way around.

Self-esteem is not fluff, y’all. When we are able to stand tall, we are able to insist others respect our bodies and our minds. We can dare to be vulnerable, and we can dare to change. Creating the world that should exist is actually a hell of a lot of fun.

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The Sexism Is Everywhere, But Handling Hillary Clinton With Kid Gloves Isn’t Feminist; It’s Sexist

No woman in the public eye symbolizes the tremendous change in opportunities for women more than Hillary Clinton. It is not in spite of this, but because of this, that she inspires passion and deep ambivalence. People love her, or people hate her. The media reports on and questions her style as if the entire credibility of constitutional democracy might rest on her cleavage, her hair, her pantsuits, her scrunchies, and now, her logo.

On substance, feminists are frequently told to judge her by the sexual mores of the man she married. Someone has yet to credibly explain how judging a woman by the actions of her partner, rather than her own actions, is feminist.

In the 2008 elections, the Democratic Party failed to treat Hillary with the respect she deserved. She was surrounded with calls to get out of the race while she was still ahead in the primary.

As one of my mentors, Olga Vives, argued with passion, even during her final days on a sick bed, the women’s movement failed to recognize the extraordinary transformative power of a woman candidate for president, and failed to stand behind Hillary during a grueling primary.

I was, with Olga, active in the National Organization for Women then. It was a contentious time.

Some women’s organizations bestowed endorsements on Obama early in the race, when their memberships were still divided on whether to support Obama or Hillary; others endorsed her, but didn’t challenge the blatant sexism of the Democratic Party pushing her out too soon.

In this vacuum, some of those women’s advocates left standing for Hillary went to ugly places. Some refused to accept Obama as a legitimate candidate, and one who earnestly continues to champion advancements for women, especially in the areas of pay equity and sexual assault; others embraced the racist strategies to defeat him deployed by the right.

One of the strangest strains was a vocal group that proclaimed Sarah Palin was both a feminist (wow, no) and the right candidate to assume the vice presidency (oh my goodness, considering what might have happened really could give a woman the vapors).

This climate presented a difficult slate of options for those of us who were ready for Hillary the first time. She was treated with horrific, condescending, get-out-of-the-way sexism by her own party, and yet the most vocal response to that was a fantasy-land embrace of Sarah Palin, an emotional reaction that amounted to gender essentialism and overlooked the antifeminist platform of her platform, party, and ticket.

My response was simply to get behind Obama, cry when Hillary spoke at the convention, and lose faith that women’s organizations will do the right thing simply because they are women’s organizations — and that the Democratic Party, its leadership, and the progressive movement should be trusted to handle feminist affairs with the current infrastructure charged with holding them accountable.

Which brings me to today.

The problem is that this time around, the treatment of Hillary from within also bears shades of sexism, albeit in a different way. It’s as if to atone for what happened, now the new rule is that Democrats are not allowed to criticize or question Hillary’s positions. Any of them. Even before the general election. Or you, yes you, are failing feminism and perhaps our one and only chance to see a woman president in our lifetimes.

This is not how politics works. Politics, and particularly primary season, is supposed to involve a robust debate of the issues and honing of positions on matters vital to the community.

There is an inherent sexism in the idea that, this time around, Hillary must be handled with kid gloves. If a woman is running for president with the blessing of the big dogs, why must we sit in the back of the classroom and raise our hands and wait to be called on?

There was sexism coming from the establishment in the past, too, in the idea that it wasn’t Hillary’s turn, that something was wrong with her “likability,” when she was a competitive candidate in 2008.

Just as there is sexism in the frame that only women can credibly challenge Hillary today. Why must Hillary play in a women’s league?

This piece is happening on both sides of the aisle.

The calls to draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are interesting, because by dint of her actions, principles, and resolve, Warren symbolizes the progressive movement better than any other one candidate. But I’d also like to challenge these calls a bit from a gender lens.

First, it’s the simple matter men dominate everything, including the infrastructural leadership of the progressive movement, and even with Warren’s qualifications, it’s a bit fishy that the official energy backed by money and power has coalesced around her and no other alternative; that a woman is expected to challenge a woman from the left.

Second, some of us may remember when Jessica Williams asked her “feminist” critics on Twitter to lean the fuck away from her after she indicated she was not interested in taking over as host of The Daily Show. There’s an element of that here, although it’s nuanced.

On one hand, Elizabeth Warren has said repeatedly that she is not running for president — and the activists continue to beat the drum. On the other hand, this is sort of how politics work — the song and dance of being asked to run by the grassroots. Still, one is left with a discomfiting sense that were Warren a man, her word might be taken at her word by large progressive organizations like MoveOn.

On the Republican side, Carly Fiorina is expected to run for president, or at least make a great deal of noise. No one expects her to become president — she couldn’t even win a Senate election. So what exactly is she running for, and why is she getting so much space to air her views in presidential fora on the right?

Simple. She is running against Hillary’s campaign on behalf of the real candidates for the Republican Party — just like Jackie Sharp on House of Cards. It’s insulting to Fiorina, and it’s insulting to Hillary. It’s also insulting that the men of the Republican Party who are credible contenders are delegating the women’s work of taking down a woman named Hillary Clinton who steps out of the boundaries of traditional womanhood.

The coming election will bring with it a bevy of sexist attacks; and feminists must call them out and demand a change in culture, no matter where we stand on Hillary and her priorities. But feminists and everyone must also be free to question Hillary and examine her policy proposals as we move forward; it’s frankly sexist to silence ourselves in pursuit of elevating one woman to the top.

My Pregnancy, My Eating Disorder

Among other things, recovering from my eating disorder meant I could get pregnant. Me. Pregnant. It’s a stretch for many of us to imagine getting excited about growing a big belly, but add a history of eating disorders into the mix and it’s downright weird.

Eating disorder culture is an unhealthy, relentless focus on unrealistic standards of beauty and physical fitness, along with the presentation of hunger and food as pathologies, or demons, to be conquered. This culture of body hatred is inescapable, whether you have struggled with an eating disorder or not.

We are supposed to feel bad about our bodies, no matter what they look like.

We are supposed to judge our food and exercise choices as “good” or “bad.” It is considered totally normal to say “I was good today” in reference to starving, or to say “I’ve been so bad” to refer to the act of not exercising. This happens so much it is considered commonplace; but it’s shocking when you think about the fact that food and exercise are used as shorthand to convey our entire worth as persons.

Body hatred, negative self-image, and eating disorder culture are so relatable because they are everywhere. They are not the exclusive provinces of women, but it’s true that women are disproportionately impacted. The pressure to be less is profound; it is not just about bodies. It is about the devaluing of an entire gender. It is a pressure, placed strongly upon women, to take up less space in the world. To be seen and not heard. To be airbrushed into something that is non-human. These unattainable standards are labeled “perfect.”

And yet, how to explain the endless fetishization of pregnant women? The pressure to turn pregnancy into a spectator sport, complete with photographs that everyone you’ve ever met can comment upon online? The relentless messages about “getting your body back” after pregnancy is complete? The magazines, the stars, and the stories about how they lost (or didn’t lose) the baby weight?

Through the process of my pregnancy, and through my lens as an eating disorder survivor, I came to see pregnancy voyeur culture as an important component of eating disorder culture. The specifics may be different, but many of the pressures and root behaviors are the same.

Whether a woman is pregnant or not, her body and physical appearance is seen as appropriate for comment by strangers.

Whether a woman is pregnant or not, it is considered appropriate to discuss how much weight she has gained or lost, and these numbers are taken to signify something more than simply what she weighs. They are taken as a way for others to assess not just whether she is acceptable, but whether other women are acceptable.

Whether a woman is pregnant or not, the shape of her body is taken as an immediate assessment and announcement of her sexuality.

Whether a woman is pregnant or not, strangers feel they can touch her, from rubbing a belly to rubbing an arm.

Whether a woman is pregnant or not, her body is treated as a piece of public property. That body may be commented upon, or have laws placed upon it.

Pregnancy can be a profoundly alienating and centering experience. My pregnancy was both. It was shocking to me that my body could create my baby, and also that during the process of pregnancy I could feel totally new things. That foods I had loved no longer tasted good. That foods I hadn’t desired in years were sudden, urgent cravings. That aches could develop in areas of my body I had never considered.

It was also centering, in that I had to surrender to what my body would do. When it came time to give birth, I had no choice. I was operating on my body’s timetable. Not my mind’s.

When I realized I was going to have a girl, I thought hard about the body image struggles I had gone through in the past. I thought about the hospitalizations of my youth, and the days when, at rock bottom, I accepted that anorexia meant I was probably going to die. I thought about not wanting to pass that along to my daughter, and more specifically taking active steps to not model any body destructive behavior in front of her.

And so, as with my recovery, I ate. I ate and ate and ate. I grew. And this time, so did she.

This original essay first appeared in DISORDERED a zine on eating disorders feminism and anti-oppression…

Is It Rude To Bring A Baby To A Restaurant?

Is it rude to bring a baby to a restaurant? Should parents get a babysitter or stay home so other patrons can have an adult conversation without the threat of crying in the background? Should mothers breastfeed their infants in the restroom because boobies don’t belong in a dining room? To all of the above: Hell, no!

Let’s be clear about something. The most disruptive behavior I have witnessed in public restaurants, coffee shops, and bars has always been drunk and/or horny adults, not babies. Sure, I’ve been in restaurants where babies cried, but I never remembered those crying babies years later, the way I do the drunk guys who puked on the floor of the restaurant, the frat boys who shouted and shoved each other into the snowbanks on the sidewalk outside the door, the middle-age couple with mismatched ring fingers more or less sliding into second base at Starbucks (it was so clear you were cheating, OMG!).

And yet no one is saying the drunk and/or horny shouldn’t be allowed to go into restaurants.

Being a new parent of an infant in our culture can be incredibly isolating. One of the things you hear new parents say over and over again is that first going into public can be scary for fear of the baby needing to cry, nurse, or both. This fear is culturally supported by the idea that infants in restaurants and other public spaces are disruptive. Further, this fear is supported by deeply ingrained ideas about gender: That women and children should “stay home,” that public spaces are primarily for “adults” (read: men, or women without children), that breastfeeding infants is  somehow “sexual” or “dirty.” Gender matters because while this affects parents of both genders, women are disproportionately and uniquely impacted.

It’s something we should overcome because infants are part of our human family as much as everyone else, and deserve to live in public, declare their basic needs, and have them met. It’s something we should overcome because mothers (and fathers!) are adults who deserve to take up space in public restaurants at least as much as, if not more than, rude adults who can be much more disruptive than a crying baby a parent is working to soothe. 

No one makes blanket statements that drinkers and people who are going to have sex should not be allowed in restaurants.

In Response To The Allegation That Pointing Out White Male Dominance Is Racist And Sexist

Is it racist and sexist to point out that white men are dominant? Since launching the Tumblr white guys doing it by themselves, I’ve been called a “racist bitch” and told I’m sexist, too.

I welcome the opportunity to respond to these comments because while they lack decorum, this strain of thought is out there in less aggressive forms and it’s important to address it.

No one is a bad person for thinking that it’s racist or sexist to point out differences between advantaged groups and disadvantaged groups. Rather, they are tuning into decades of right-wing messaging gone mainstream: That equality has been achieved, that racism and sexism are wrongs of the past and not the present, and that the true victims of racism and sexism are white men who are less likely to get jobs and all the other things they might otherwise rightfully achieve on this planet were it not for misguided affirmative action efforts. None of these messages are true.

In a hypothetical world, it could be racist to exclude white people in order to prioritize people of color. It could be sexist to exclude men in order to prioritize women. We do not live in a hypothetical world.

We live in a real world where white men are so dominant that it’s easy to overlook how often they dominate to the point of excluding everyone else unless it is pointed out.

Pointing out white male dominance is not an attack on white men. It is an attack on the centuries-old practice of racism and sexism excluding everyone but white men from the levers of power, and the invisibility that allows that discrimination to continue.

The ability to be taken seriously as a leader, as a white man, is a privilege. It is not earned, although many white men work hard and do good things on top of this privilege. With this unearned privilege must come awareness and responsibility among hard-working white men to insist others are included in discussions affecting all of us. This is why white guys doing it by themselves exists.

White Guys Doing It By Themselves

Follow my new Tumblr: white guys doing it by themselves.

From the House GOP conference live-tweeting its get-together during the shutdown under the hashtag “Fairness For All” to the school board in North Carolina that banned The Invisible Man, white guys doing it by themselves is a tribute to white men totally comfortable telling everyone else how it’s gonna be.

Don’t worry, erintothemax.com is still my blog-blog, so stick around here, too!

Wired Claims Exposing Sexism Is Just Like Being Exposed As Racist

Uh-oh, looks like the editorial team at Wired got their garbage and their clean towels confused!

In a new piece, Why You Should Think Twice Before Shaming Anyone on Social Media, writer Laura Hudson claims that getting flak for sharing racist bullshit on Twitter is just like reporting a climate of sexual intimidation at a tech conference, and requesting some help, and then getting fired from your job because you, unlike the white guys you exposed, are a woman of color and therefore just as guilty.

Say what?

As a publication that holds itself out as an arbiter of tech, it is disturbing that the Wired editorial team can’t leave crappy enough alone. It has been more than four months since Adria Richards was fired for making it clear that forking and dongle jokes don’t belong at tech conferences. That she is a woman of color exposing routine sexism, and by the way paying a pretty big price for it, makes it even more outrageous that she is being put on the same plane as people who are racists.

Just like exposing sexism and being a racist are totally separate things, so are embarrassment as a tool for social change versus shaming. As I have written before, these are totally separate tactics. People should be embarrassed when they are caught being an oppressive bigot. It helps to dispel future oppressive bigotry. Shaming, on the other hand, is attacking the core of who someone is. No one, at their core, is a bigot. Bigotry is learned social behavior. Very bad learned social behavior that relies, among other things, upon false claims in service of the status quo.

Time To Abolish “Self-Promotional” As A Slur Against Women

Like slut, “self-promotional” is a charge levied against women for the purpose of silencing, shaming and shutting them down. It refers less to unseemly behavior and more to an idea that whether the offender is too aggressive, too self-confident or simply too unique, she is a woman who has stepped out of the can-can line and seems to be enjoying herself and her continuing success too much.

How frequently are men:

Called aggressively self-promotional in a negative way?

Seen as a problem for making it known within the workplace that they are seeking promotion, an increase in pay, an increase in responsibility — and making sure their superiors can easily track their accomplishments as a path to getting there?

Encouraged to “lean back” and not worry so much about how to get from the present to the goal, however improbable, because it will all work out? Encouraged to gain more experience before taking risks that will help them grow?

The answer is, they’re not. Certainly nowhere near as much as women. Examine your personal life. Look at the proportion of Congress (less than one in five elected representatives are women). Take a business example and consider the aggressively self-promotional Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, and how he is commonly portrayed as charismatic and chasing the dream.

Bluntly, self-promotion is part of chasing the dream. You are much more likely to achieve success and get what you want if you make it known to yourself and others what your pot of gold at the end of the rainbow looks like, and how far along the beam you’ve traveled so far. Without shame and with pride.

I’ve found that women who first come to my attention with a “self-promotional” whisper coiling around their reputations tend to be women I love. How exciting to have dreams. How wonderful to go for it. How silly to claim that a woman should sit down, shut up and take whatever bits are tossed at her. If you’re doing something cool, we should all be so lucky to hear about it and share in your success. And if you’re calling another woman self-promotional as a slur, kindly shut up.

VIDEO: April 2013 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared on this week’s To The Contrary with Bonnie Erbé, discussing a sexist attack on The New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson, a new film about Saudi women’s rights, and students using social media to fight sexual assault on campus. You can watch it here:

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