Dear Girls, Friendship Is The Best

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Dear Girls,

Someday you will get older than you imagined possible. You will begin to imagine the humanity and youth of your parents when they were your age and you thought they were way older. You will begin to look older. If you’re lucky, you won’t care.

Hold on to your friends. The ones you took bad pictures with. The ones you didn’t see for years. New friendships become harder and more rare as you get old. Old friendships, even just for a brief, reminding moment are the best.

But enough of this lofty shit. Have a Coke.

Fondly,

Erin and Christopher

 

To My Lovely Young Feminists, Don’t Apologize For Being Young

To my lovely young feminists, don’t apologize for being young. You are not “just” an intern or however many years old. You are a person. You deserve to take up space.

In many spaces, declaring yourself a feminist can be hard. Working for change is even harder. Overcoming internalized sexism and other forms of oppression is a bitch. For this, you are strong. Remember that strength and take up the space you deserve.

As women, we are taught to doubt ourselves and our worthiness to be at the table. I have seen this play out especially with young feminists — an identity I held for so long, it turned me old.

This is not to say that older people don’t have something valuable to share. For that matter, a younger person could be more seasoned than an older person within feminism specifically, and this isn’t to say that more experienced people — regardless of age — don’t have something valuable to share. Humility toward the experience of others is an asset. Having the wisdom to listen to others rather than shutting your ears before they open their mouths is a form of maturity that will carry you everywhere.

But as that goes, being young is also a lived experience. Yes, older people were young once, but they are not living the life you lead in this current moment. So it’s important for you to speak up and take up space. In fact, it’s critically important for you to take up space at a time when women of reproductive age are treated with such disdain under the law (and, unfortunately, even by some lawmakers who claim to be on our side but are willing to compromise on our bodies and our humanity in order to win elections or achieve other policy goals).

Don’t apologize for sitting at the table, minimize your opinion, or disclaimer your thoughts with your lack of experience. Clear your throat and say your piece. If you are afraid to do it, hate on the gendered nature of imposter syndrome — and then speak up.

 

In Celebration Of The Strident Woman

Strident women move mountains. Strident, like most words that mean abrasive, is rarely applied against men. The strident woman has an opinion. It does not matter what the strident woman’s voice actually sounds like — it might be fast, deliberate, high-pitched, bellowing, or marked by vocal fry — the problem with the strident woman’s voice is that she uses it.

Strident is one of many insults deployed against a woman who seems to have forgotten her role.

Lest you think you can win this, if you’re not strident, you’re usually thrown somewhere on a continuum between ditsy and basic bitch. And still the strident woman roams through the air, her shrill little voice scratching ears like nails on a chalkboard.

Strident is a sexist term. It, like other terms that more or less mean shrill, is applied disproportionately against women in the workplace or positions of authority. There is all kinds of data to back this up, but I’m not going to dive into that now because I want to thank all of these strident women who have achieved amazing things:

Hillary Rodham Clinton • Sojourner Truth • Alice Paul • Gloria Steinem • Angela Davis • Dolores Huerta • Carol Moseley Braun • Emma Sulkowicz • Betty Friedan • Wilma Mankiller • Heather Booth • Sylvia Rivera • Linda Sarsour • Mary Wollstonecraft • Emma Goldman • Donna Edwards • Ellie Smeal • Simone de Beauvoir • Alva Belmont • Marlene Dietrich • bell hooks • Coretta Scott King • Elizabeth Warren • Yoko Ono • Ruth Bader Ginsburg • Sonia Sotomayor • Eleanor Roosevelt • Beyonce • The Leader With The Pigtails On The Playground • The High School Girl Wearing A Feminist Shirt • The Smart Woman At Work Who Isn’t Getting Promoted Even Though It Has Been Her Turn For Awhile

You? Could you be a strident woman reading this post? I want to tell you that you’re doing nothing wrong. I want to tell you to keep it up. When someone doesn’t have the guts or the data to attack your ideas directly, what they will often go for is your personality. Strident is a sexist term meant to silence you by suggesting that the very act of listening to you is intolerable.

I want you to keep pushing because the business of feminism is so deeply unfinished.

This post is dedicated to my lovely colleagues at NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia*, who yesterday in a post on Blue Virginia were accused of “strident” opposition to a candidate who, as I have written about at length, has a disappointing record on abortion at the same time that we have a candidate with a wonderful record. Sounds like garden-variety advocacy to me, but I guess we’re girls (can we be women? can we be fully human? all the time? under the law? am I getting greedy?) and therein lies the rub.

Look, women are allowed to advocate for women. Indeed, nothing will get better for women unless and until we speak up. We must speak up. In that spirit, I invite you to comment on this post with some of your favorite strident women, and then go forth and be strident. Thank you.

*Note: I sit on the NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation Board of Directors, which plays no role in NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s electoral efforts, and I do not speak for the organization. This is me speaking for me, stridently.

10 Ways To End This “Pro-Life Progressive” Nonsense

There is no such thing as a pro-life progressive. There is no such thing as economic justice without reproductive justice — the right to parent, the right not to parent, and the right to support our families in safe and healthy communities. And yet, my friends, it seems that as of late a number of our friends within the Democratic Party and the broader progressive movement are confused.

We must chase pro-life voters, they say. We must be less rigid about women’s basic human rights.

NOPE.

I can’t tell you how ridiculous it is that some leaders of the Democratic Party have forced this unnecessary, immoral, and losing debate in the middle of  a constitutional crisis. Instead of organizing to address what Donald Trump is doing with Russia, some leaders are focused on crapping on their base (us).

Rather than venting, let’s get productive, shall we? Here’s my 10-point plan for beating back this garbage:

1. Be proud to stick up for abortion rights. First and foremost, state your views like a winner. No need to whisper, no need to apologize. You believe in the right to abortion and you’re not buying excuses about why there is something wrong about that.

2. Get people out of their feelings: The approach of policymakers is about policyPeople with a variety of feelings about abortion vote to advance, respect, and uphold abortion rights. In the political realm, we are talking about putting people in positions of power to make decisions that impact other people’s lives. The only voting options are yes and no. There are no Blue Books about feelings voting on abortion bans, ultrasound requirements, and unconstitutional laws that force abortion clinics to close.

3. If people insist on wallowing in their feelings as an excuse to torpedo abortion rights, call them out. Why is a woman’s private life open for public debate, when other matters of public policy are not? Do they really believe there is not something a teensy-weensy bit sexist about that? Don’t get scared when someone claps back with “religion” — there are large constituencies who believe in reproductive health, rights, and justice because of faith, not in spite of or in absence of faith. “Religion” has been used as an excuse in many civil rights arenas — notably, as a means to stop advances toward racial justice and LGBTQ equality. At some point you just have to clap back. Sometime after that point, you win.

4. Correct the lie that chasing pro-life voters is going to magically produce the numbers Democrats need to win. Voters who are highly motivated by opposition to abortion are going to vote Republican. Putting in a Democratic candidate who agrees with the Republican is going to drive away more voters than it gains. If people are concerned about Democrats getting more votes, maybe they should tackle voter suppression because that would make a big, actual difference and actually reach toward advancing progressive values. 

5. Point out who stands to benefit from this whole mess: Pro-life conservatives. Gee, it must be a coincidence that the people with the most full-throated defense of this crap are pro-life conservatives who want no functional opposition. They don’t want Vice President Mike Pence to have to bother to cast tie-breaking votes. They want Democrats who will vote with them for 20-week bans, refusal clauses, and Trumpcare. Nope.

6. Hold the paper-tiger “pro-life Democrat” groups accountable for their sole agenda item: restricting abortion. Are these folks talking about saving maternity coverage, reducing maternal and infant mortality, expanding Medicaid, defeating Trumpcare, or basically anything else? Negative. These folks are posers with a teeny base and an outsized profile on The New York Times editorial pages, and they rarely act like Democrats in other senses of the term. They should leave Democrats alone and set up shop in Ivanka Trump’s office in the West Wing, where they belong. They’re made for each other.

7. Get Tom Perez to pull a Tim Kaine. DNC Chair Tom Perez has taken a number of bad actions, and he’s kind of all over the place. It’s a mess. At this point his best choice is to pull a Tim Kaine in the vice presidential debate — to turn the tables on the opposition. Stop talking about feelings and big tents, Tom, and ask the Republican Party why they don’t trust women, and why they are banning abortion and sending women to jail!

8. Demand accountability from Democratic politicians who are screwing up. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin met with David Daleiden last week, whose fraudulent videos against Planned Parenthood led to 15 felony charges and whose rallying cry was used by a terrorist who killed three people and injured nine others in Colorado Springs. Bernie Sanders, you are an independent vying for control of the Democratic Party and we see you and your ‘super progressive’ endorsements, too. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi could give better interviews about this flap. Let them know you’re mad.

9. Don’t agonize, organize (part one)! Defeat “pro-life progressives” in your local elections. Think global, act local. Are one of these guys or gals (but let’s be real, it’s mainly guys) running in your area? Volunteer for other campaigns, recruit better candidates if there aren’t any, think about stepping up yourself to run. Talk to other voters. Be indefatigable. Keep persisting, it works.

10. Don’t agonize, organize (part two)! Let the Democratic Party know how you feel. Those national mailers from the DNC with postage-paid envelopes? Return them with messages, not checks. If you’re not already involved in your state and local party, start showing up. The world is run by people who show up.  

But also, these are my preliminary ideas. I’d love to hear yours — please share them in the comments! This moment is serious. ALL HANDS ON DECK.

 

May 2017 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared on PBS’ To The Contrary, and spoke about Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos getting booed at Bethune-Cookman, Trumpcare and women, and sexual assault on college campuses:

Burying An Ex, Or Why I Hate Drugs

I nearly died for anorexia twenty years ago. It was stupid but maddeningly complex, and I couldn’t get out. I went to the hospital. I left the hospital. I went to college. I relapsed. I relapsed again. I spent a summer in hell, living with my parents, floating through rooms, speaking to no one. I let the phone ring. Message boards were pretty much my only contact with humanity, if you can call them that.

And then one night I went to a party. I spoke with this charming, funny guy I’d gone to school with earlier. I was sick as hell, but he treated me like I was human. We started flirting and fantasizing about getting married and having kids. We were basically kids. We became boyfriend and girlfriend. He stood by me when I was a pile of immobilized insecurity crying in the bed, terrified about my body and my future. He told me he loved me. I wanted to impress him so badly I ate a real dinner one night on a date, above the screaming voices that had kept me locked in deadly patterns for months.

He died in his twenties. He used drugs, kind of big time. Drugs were never my thing, but I looked away from his unhealthy behaviors and he looked away from mine. I got healthy. I married. I divorced. I found new love. We lost touch.

He died when I was 28 and felt like I was getting my shit figured out. He died when I was on a trip to D.C. and the mentor I idolized asked me to run on her ticket for the next NOW executive officer elections — basically the apotheosis of my dreams at that stage of my North Minneapolis, volunteer-feminist life. I came home with my suitcase on this incredible high and learned this man with the flowered sunglasses and spring in his step was dead. I sat outside and stared at a crack in the sidewalk.

I felt a sorrow I’d never known before. I saw him in dreams. I stayed in bed. I cried. I cried so hard it felt like someone had jammed a cantaloupe in my throat. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I didn’t know how to grieve an ex-boyfriend in front of a boyfriend, so I shut the door and turned out the lights. Was I an enabler? What would saving him have looked like? I don’t believe you can save people; I learned quite directly that people who tried to “save” me from anorexia failed and our friendship ended. I thought and still think people who are struggling need love and not direction, but it was hard not to second-guess myself.

I attended his funeral by myself, sitting in the back. It’s been almost 10 years, but I still remember what I wore and that I thought I looked hot. It seemed like the least I could do for him. I walked by his casket and saw his embalmed body. I hated, I hated, I fucking hated drugs in that moment. I still hate drugs. I hate them with my whole being. I don’t know if drugs killed him and it’s not really my business. But I know he struggled, and I know I hate drugs.

It is possible to hate things that cause people to suffer, and to not judge people. I hate drugs and still want to decriminalize them; I think locking people up for drugs is a tool for oppressing people of color and preventing people from accessing the care they need. I’m writing about this because I don’t want stigma for anything.

I’m getting old. Thank God I’m getting old. It’s a privilege to get old.

Root Your Activism In Your Moral Clarity

I’ve been at social justice work since I was a kid. It didn’t necessarily start with my parents — though they discussed public affairs with me as if I were an adult, they were hardly activists or political people. I just liked to read newspapers and books about politics, and had a strongly felt sense of right and wrong.

My activism started out as general liberal/progressive-type stuff. I started phonebanking in middle school for what could have become Minnesota’s first woman senator, and by the time I hit high school I was dodging the police officer assigned to the outside of the school to catch skipping students (I was out campaigning for Senator Paul Wellstone).

It wasn’t until late high school and early college that my general leftist activism channeled into explicitly feminist activism. I developed anorexia and nearly died, fighting tooth and nail for my life. When I got on the other side of that, I vowed to do whatever I could to help prevent other women and girls from having to go through what I did — or at least, to make it easier for them to get out. I saw my eating disorder as a manifestation of a society that demands women and girls take up less space.

I took a wider view and went into general feminist activism. Women and girls are consistently pressured to take up less space in public life, to have bodies held to impossible standards and open to the public approval and judgement of others, subjected to violence and control, paid less, respected less. The areas where women are most praised for stepping up — presenting ourselves in sexualized ways, for the pleasure of others rather than ourselves; or taking notes at the meeting or having a really clean house —  do not refute my view of less space because they, too, support rigid gender roles that help no one, woman, man, or gender non-conforming. I should note, here, that my commitment to feminism has also kept me on track and in some ways, helped to save my life on an ongoing basis. Having the views I do now makes it pretty hard to go back to hurting my body the way I once did.

Over time, I have specialized more and more in reproductive health, rights, and justice issues, and I see strong links between cultural control over women’s bodies in the form of impossible standards of physical beauty; legal control over women’s bodies in the form of sexual repression and the shame and stigma that supports it; and medical control over women’s bodies in the form of forced C-sections, “religious freedom” with the effect of denying women access to health care in health care settings, denial of accurate medical information for fear we might choose to have abortions, and the like.

Reproductive activism can be a hard field to be involved in — our side loses a lot, the opposition is unhinged more often than not, and terrorism and violence is part of the pro-life movement’s playbook. But frankly, all activism is hard. That’s why I shared my story. The reason why I do my work is rooted in my moral clarity: I’m doing this work because I survived, and I feel a sense of purpose in advancing women and girls. I’m doing this work because if I could stand up to my eating disorder, I can certainly stand up to anti-abortion, sexist, racist, homophobic bullies who are trying to intimidate activists and ordinary people out of the discussion.

If you’re an activist, I encourage you to think about your story. Why do you do the work you do? This is the moral clarity you bring to your work. It will feed you when days and nights are long, and help you avoid burnout (though you also need to take care of your own life or you will burn out — for more on that, see my old post Time Management: Activism Without Losing Your Mind).

Your story and your moral clarity are not a set of political views. They are not an emulation of people you admire or a repudiation of people you can’t stand. They are not about what you think other people should do to move closer to justice in the set of issues you advocate. They are not even your theory of change, or how you think the work should be done.

Your story and your moral clarity are why you, uniquely you, feel motivated to do the work you do. I encourage you to take some time to think about yours, and remember to come back there every so often. This will nourish your work for the long haul. At least it has for me, for my entire adult life.

If you’ve read this far you must be an activist; so long as you’re fighting the good fight, thank you.

Surrendering To Solitude

Parenthood broke me. Not parenthood itself — I think I adjusted pretty well. During the course of pregnancy I felt mainly radiant, with the exception of the last week before birth, which was hell. Mercifully I dodged the postpartum depression thing. With the exception of one hard cry the day my husband went back to work, I was A-OK. I rocked and lightly bounced the baby to sleep. I shushed. I sang. I got up in the middle of the night and took care. Now I mimic too many of these behaviors for my naughty pug mix, but that’s another story. What parenthood broke for me was a need to get out of the house or to see other people.

Parenthood has turned me into a homebody. After a few months of craving getting out of the house at the beginning of my daughter’s life, I have fully surrendered to the solitude of responsibility. It is no Walden out here. There are endless loads of dishes to put away, and laundry to wash and fold. My daughter could yell for me at any moment to come fix her sock or help her clean up after a trip to the bathroom. But I no longer try to be alone as a performance or production, as when I used to take myself out to Sunday brunch solo in my early twenties — a bad-ass and satisfying routine, to be sure. These days I don’t know if it’s that I have too many responsibilities on my plate or am just plain lazy, but in either case, when I find myself with a rare spot of free time I do not leave the house. I stay home and do more chores. Or I sit.

It is amazing to sit.

 

Learning To Cook

Putting a pastry in the toaster used to be my definition of cooking. When I was active in the National Organization for Women, for a time the juiciest gossip making its way back to me was: She doesn’t know how to cut a tomato. I remember the older feminists I revered watching me clueless in the kitchen — and I was 31. What hath feminism wrought? was all over their faces.

I did not grow up in a family of cooks. Dad and I went to Burger King every Thursday on the way home from my cello lessons, and by my ’20s I would come home on Friday nights for ‘girls night’ with Mom — frozen pizza, Franzia, the best conversation, and me doing free laundry before heading out on the town.

My cooking ignorance could be thrown into a larger life theme of not appreciating food. I sure as hell didn’t. I nearly killed myself with anorexia a few times. Body image is something I continue to navigate, even if many days I don’t think about it.

As an eating disorder survivor with all the attendant dieting and more extreme behaviors going with that, significant portions of my life have gone by with food as an object of disdain, lust, or both. I feared food because I feared my body, and I feared my body because I feared myself.

But y’all, I’m in total ‘fuck it’ mode now. I love to eat and also, I love to cook, including from recipes with ingredients I need to Google image search before heading to the grocery store. In the last few days I have prepared several things for family and friends from recipes — goat cheese toasts with pistachio and mint, pumpkin bread with olive oil, and green lentils with spinach and chipotle. Off-recipe and just having fun, I have made roasted brussels sprouts with a hint of olive oil, pumpkin, almond milk, anise, and cardamom seeds, and a salad with baby beets and homemade oil and vinegar dressing.

Cooking is an art. It is creative. It is relaxing. It is becoming as much fun for me as writing poetry, fiction, and essays. As I have taken to following recipes, I have learned how to improvise on my own. We do not need to choose one approach or the other; we can keep trying, scrubbing our pans, and starting over each and every meal.

Cooking is also love. It is how I spice things up for my husband on a Friday night and give him ‘date night at home’ now that we stay home with a little one. It is seeing my daughter’s joy in having leftovers earmarked for her the next day. It means everything that we remember her.

The other day, I was startled with an additional realization brought to me by the joy of preparing food. Food is no longer my enemy. It is not just taste and adventure. It is literally life. When I cook, I am giving joy and life to others and myself. The act of eating a hard-cooked meal is an act of consuming and becoming one with love, creativity, and unexpected beauty in the form of presentation on a plate.

Also, by the way, feminists can cook.

Brussels sprouts

 

Toilet Paper Is Free In Public Restrooms; Why Not Menstrual Products?

Toilet paper, soap, water, and hand towels or hand dryers are provided free of charge in public restrooms. So why are women supposed to pay for a tampon or a pad?

Just like peeing and pooping, menstruation is a predictable, routine bodily function that people take care of in public restrooms every single day.

Menstrual products are basic public health supplies that allow people to maintain sanitary health standards — just like toilet paper, soap, water, and hand towels or hand dryers.

Access to menstrual products is critical for the full dignity, equality, and participation of women and girls worldwide — in South Africa, for example, poor girls have stayed home from school because they didn’t have access to pads.

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A free sanitary napkin dispenser in the Orlando International Airport (photo mine).

Some might object that people would become freeloaders and stop buying menstrual products altogether, and grab large quantities to take home. (Which begs the question of why pads and tampons are unfairly expensive in the first place — here’s looking at you, majority of states with a ‘tampon tax.’) But Americans are innovative, and we’ve figured out how to have toilet paper in pubic restrooms without everyone leaving with several rolls in their bag. The same can be done for menstrual products.

Others might argue that women should pay for cleaning up their own periods. And yet, the routine things men do in public restrooms get basic accommodations. It’s also not possible to argue that men don’t get any special preference in public restrooms — they do, in the form of specialized urinals designed specifically for people who stand while peeing, in addition to toilets.

Are women human? Yes, we are. Is menstruation abnormal? No, it’s not. Public restrooms should offer a free pad to those who need one.

P.S. Free menstrual products in ALL the restrooms, women’s, men’s, and gender neutral! While failing to provide basic menstrual supplies in public restrooms is an A-1 classic example of a society stacked against women who are thought to have extraordinary bodily functions they must personally control and fund (hi, abortion and maternity coverage opponents!), the ability to pee and period in peace is critical for the ability of all people to participate in public life. That includes transgender and gender non-conforming people with periods. xoxo