Raising A Girl During #MeToo

The #MeToo reckoning has only started to reveal the routine and gratuitous presence of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault in the lives of women and girls. It’s going to be a long, slow burn of new stories coming to the surface, some of them shocking and others as duh-tastic as possible (you mean that pompous guy who was known for treating his employees like shit and the “pro-life” congressman who obsessed about controlling women’s bodies all day long on the House floor were treating their women employees like their own personal sexual property? NO WAY!). There will be more backlash, and considering who is president of the United States, it is going to be terrible.

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of us still need to raise our daughters.

I’ll be honest, I find this a particularly challenging moment to parent a girl who is getting ready to go to kindergarten. Here is where I’ve landed:

I’m no longer turning off the radio or television as these stories come up on the news. As much as I would like to, I can’t protect her from every sexist thing in the world. If she asks what these stories are about, I’m going to tell her the truth in age-appropriate terms (such as, someone didn’t respect her body, and only you get to decide what to do with your body).

I’ve been thinking a lot about the encouragements we give our children to give someone a hug. This isn’t a new line of thought for me, but it seems to take on new urgency in this moment. Why are other people telling my daughter to go give someone a hug? Why am I? As it pertains to teaching her how we act around family and close friends, there is balance to be found here, but I’m also getting increasingly uncomfortable with suggesting physical contact if she clearly doesn’t want it.

Donald Trump is not a person we talk about in neutral terms. If there is one thing I want my daughter to remember about growing up during the disastrous period of Donald Trump’s presidency, it is that we did not look the other way — we spoke up and we took action. Donald Trump’s disrespect for women and girls is but one of many hate-fueled reasons on his part as to why his presidency should never be normalized before our children. I still remember looking at her the morning after the election and crying. My political work is, in part, a fight for her.

If the Access Hollywood bus won’t pick him up to remove him from the Oval Office where he clearly doesn’t belong — it is up to us.

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Abortion “Big Tent” Sellout Theory Disproved in Virginia Democratic Sweep

Earlier this year, several national Democratic Party leaders appeared to collectively lose their minds by suggesting – with no supporting data – that the path to reclaiming power depended on welcoming anti-abortion candidates into the fold.

Helpfully, Virginia voters have stepped forward to provide the data they were missing. Voters are enthusiastic and motivated to elect candidates who act like Democrats, and that means candidates who stand up clearly and affirmatively for abortion rights just like the party platform does.

This spring, as Bernie Sanders stood on a stage with anti-abortion mayoral candidate Heath Mello in Omaha and Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez prepared to meet with the paper tiger advocacy group that calls itself “Democrats for Life,” national press focused on the philosophical cat fight. They largely overlooked the real ground zero of this debate: the Virginia elections.

One of the key differentiators in the primary between Ralph Northam and his challenger Tom Perriello was abortion. As a state senator, Northam had successfully led the fight to relax Virginia’s transvaginal ultrasound law and during the primary gave an unequivocal “no” to a reporter from Rewire who, no doubt referencing the debate taking place among national party officials, asked if there was a place in the Democratic Party for politicians who don’t support abortion.

Perriello had voted for the Stupak-Pitts abortion restriction to the Affordable Care Act during his term in Congress and he apologized for that vote in during the primary. Though he had been personally involved in advancing an anti-abortion agenda, unlike the national Democrats fomenting controversy by suggesting a “big tent” on abortion for candidates in order to win elections in the Trump era, Perriello was able to connect dots that out-of-touch national Democratic leaders have still failed to  – buddying up with the right wing and working in opposition to abortion rights won’t fly with the Democratic voters of today, even in swing states.

Ultimately Northam won the primary with a 12-point lead – and that election had the highest turnout of any Democratic primary in Virginia in a non-presidential year. In the general election, he doubled down on his commitment to abortion rights, saturating the Northern Virginia airwaves with commercials spotlighting Republican Ed Gillespie’s contention that he would like to see abortion be banned (disclosure: my daughter and I starred in that ad). That Northam ran a mild-mannered, genteel Southern gentleman’s campaign made his unflinching commitment to reproductive rights ever more notable.

Again, Northam won, this time with a nine-point lead – and winning more votes than any previous Virginia governor. But perhaps the biggest story of the night was the Virginia House of Delegates, where, pending recounts, Democrats picked up at least 15 seats previously occupied by Republican legislators. Women swept the overwhelming majority of those seats, including the poetic justice of Danica Roem, a transgender woman, sending the notoriously anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion Del. Bob Marshall to lick his wounds somewhere in the bowels of bigotry and shameful footnotes. Anti-abortion Democratic candidates were not a presence in the Virginia statehouse election, and all of the incoming new Democratic legislators are pro-choice.

It turns out that the path to Democratic victory in the age of Trump is not paved with anti-abortion candidates. Bernie Sanders, Tom Perez, and other leaders on the left in national spaces should lay off the conservative movement’s anti-abortion talking points and take a cue from Virginia voters who are getting resistance to Donald Trump done in the most spectacular and unanticipated ways. We take our cues from the millions of women who marched around the world the day after Trump’s inauguration. Those women were not confused about their bodies or their rights, and the Democratic men in the national spotlight who are should stop insulting us.

There is no such thing as a progressive opposed to abortion rights. The anti-abortion movement employs fake science, terrorist violence, and works in opposition to public health, equality, and justice. In fact, they have been fanning the flames of the big tent divide they dreamed for in hopes of having no functional opposition in policy arenas and lower Democratic voter turnout due to infighting they started. Virginia voters have proven that the answer is, no thanks.

Republicans don’t need Democrats to join them in voting to ban abortion and criminalize the women who have them, as is evidenced by the felony charges currently facing a woman named Michelle Roberts who allegedly gave herself an abortion in Virginia. Republicans are able to hang to dry with Donald Trump, and themselves.

What Kind Of Candidate Truly Respects Women?

Note: Today, Leeann Tweeden said Sen. Al Franken forcibly kissed her and released a picture of him groping her as she slept. Sen. Franken apologized. On June 7, 2008, I published an OpEd in the Star Tribune with Shannon Drury with the same title as this piece standing up for Al Franken just before a difficult Democratic primary, in which the center-stage issue for him was controversy over rape jokes he had written for Saturday Night Live. The piece was influential in his moving forward, and noted that we were the current and immediate past presidents of Minnesota NOW. Tonight, I hurt. This is what I have to say on November 16, 2017, under this same title. What kind of candidate truly respects women?

Why are we asking the wrong questions?

Why is the most sought-out speech for a feminist woman the praise or denunciation of a man in politics?

Why are our voices most compelling when we are supporting the guy, taking down the guy, or sharing our pain? Why are the roles available to us cheerleaders, hecklers, and the injured? When will we get to be the referees and the players?

Why are almost all the political leaders men?

Why is the partisan divide more powerful than public disgust with men sexually assaulting women?

Why did white women vote for Donald Trump? Why do they think white supremacy will give them an advantage when so clearly, white supremacy and sexism are inextricably interconnected? Do we hate ourselves that much?

Why are creeps cultivating support from feminist women and using the little political capital we have when they know they are grabbing ass and even if we don’t know that, we’ll be the ones left to pick up the pieces later?

Why are men so loved for repeating feminist women’s words, including within the women’s movement?

Why are we knowingly tolerating posers? Who don’t we know is a poser?

Why are women being raped, harassed, propositioned, stalked, and belittled in spaces that call themselves progressive?

Why are we not connecting politicians crapping on a woman’s right to abortion to those politicians cupping women’s asses or refusing to meet alone with us? Why are our bodies an open buffet when our minds are shoved off the table?

Why are we not collectively demanding that they all resign, including the president of the United States, Donald Trump?

Why are we being used? Why are we allowing ourselves to be used?

Where are the men who proclaim to be our allies? What is the true end for which we are the means? Why aren’t they working on the men who would never listen to us in one-on-one conversations instead of being the women’s columnists in The New York Times? Why aren’t they using their platforms that are supposedly all about advancing women to demand that women sit on the platform?

Why are we weaponizing lecherous men against women? Why do we ask the wrong questions and point fingers in the wrong directions?

Why? For God’s sake, why does no man seem to respect women? Who can we trust? When will we be free? Why, Al, is the joke coming back to us?

Wondering If He’s Watching On Social Media, Waiting For #YouToo To Speak Up?

Hey, girl,

If you were watching #MeToo and wondering what would happen if you weighed in — specifically, if your abusers* were watching you on social media to see what you would say — I see you. (*Let’s default to plural, as the topic is sexual abuse of women in real life.)

You are not less courageous or brave about sexual violence you have experienced if you do not share your story out loud.

You do not have to speak up every time you have experience with something that hurts you, just because it has become the topic of the day.

Your pain does not exist for the consumption of others or to prove a point.

Social media sharing can be epically powerful. It can fundamentally change you and how you see the world, the things that have hurt you, and yourself. It can be a powerful tool for transformation — personally and socially.

I believe in storytelling and sit with tears for the people who are bravely speaking their truths. I have done it many times and I am not sad, nor am I ashamed. I have experienced firsthand the radical storytelling online that is a modern-day form of consciousness-raising for women, and especially how it has changed me (for more on this topic, see my chapter titled “Feminist Over-Sharing in the Wake of the Ray Rice Scandal” in Scandal in a Digital Age).

For all the benefits of storytelling, they are not accessible to every person at every moment of her life.

On social media, many people are directly connected or otherwise accessible to an awful lot of people — some of whom have treated them awfully.

Did you see #MeToo and wonder if someone who had raped, sexually harassed, assaulted, abused or otherwise mistreated you was watching your pages and lying in wait, waiting to see if #YouToo would speak up? Did you wonder if they would reach out to you to dispute what you had to say; or if they would see themselves in your carefully non-detailed storytelling; or if they were interacting with the posts of women they hadn’t abused, maybe with likes and supportive comments and the shit that sticks in the cracks of broken mirrors?

I see you. I hold you. Sometimes our rapists and harassers are our friends online. Sometimes they may have no idea what the fuck they did and how much it destroyed us or devalued us. Other times they know what they did or at least that we freaked out, but you know, power dynamics. Sometimes they contact us.

The horror is real.

You’re so vain

You probably think this song is about you

You’re so vain, you’re so vain

I’ll bet you think this song is about you

Don’t you?

Don’t you?

– Carly Simon

I’m Not Waiting Until The Polls Close To Say It This Time: Virginia Democrats Have Got To Put More Women On The Ticket

 

So this puppy just landed on my doorstep:

I’m not waiting until November 2017 to say this:

One out of nine candidates as a woman is an insult to women. One out of nine candidates as a woman is a gigantic reveal of sexism. One of out of nine candidates as a woman four years after the choices were zero out of nine candidates as a woman shows you how entrenched this is.

Four years ago, I wrote I Waited Until The Polls Closed To Say This: It’s Insulting To Have Only Men Running On Women’s Issues, which was subsequently picked up by Talking Points Memo and run as It’s Insulting To Have Only Men Running On Women’s Issues in Virginia.

I wrote it on November 5, 2013, literally as I watched poll results come in. My hands were shaking and I wrote so fast. I was furious and had been balling it up for months. Not anymore.

I am working to elect Democrats in my community. I am knocking on your door, calling your cell phone, and asking for your money and vote. I am also openly mad about the failure of Democrats in my community to live our stated values, which is what’s happening when we have a woman problem.

So here’s the deal for you non-Virginians: Arlington prides itself as being the most progressive corner of the Commonwealth.

If the most progressive means putting men forward for nearly all of the elected positions, count me out. I want to be clear that I strongly support each of these leaders as individuals and will vote for them this year. They are wonderful people.

That said, it’s simply inexcusable that the choices are nearly all men. The “women won’t run” excuse is flimsier than a high-quality pantyhose. Our progressive pipeline in Virginia is brimming with talented, capable women who are ready and eager to lead, and Arlington is not an exception to this rule.

How are we to evaluate conversations within the Democratic Party about easing up on abortion rights and women’s rights at a time when women hold so few of the power-holding positions? Exactly as they appear: Dismissing the importance of abortion rights to a progressive agenda is part of a broader, stubborn problem of marginalizing women within the party that purports to be our party.

I write this as an ardent supporter of our Lieutenant Governor and candidate for governor, Ralph Northam. I have personally raised this issue with him. I’m pleased to say that not only has he always resolutely stood for women’s rights, he did not get defensive and say ‘well, I’ve always stood for women’s rights.’ He did not grab for the second-most frequent excuse you’ll usually hear, which is blaming women for not having the self-confidence to run (not the issue; there are women trying and the old boys — many of whom position themselves as the new boys — are coalescing behind other candidates). He listened, acknowledged the problem, and said he would make certain to appoint women into key positions. This is a step.

Some of the speed bumps on the road to hell are the shushings of Democratic Party operatives (even non-self identified Democrats) who dismiss women running for office as “the establishment.” Look at your freaking GOTV fliers. Denying that putting few women into the elected positions is an issue, much less a progressive one, means that you are part of the problem.

It’s 2017. Let women lead.

 

Why Do I Talk About An Eating Disorder I Don’t Have Anymore?

Somewhere, tonight, someone is hurting. I know because I have been her.

I have been the girl who will not answer the telephone, who walks through rooms without speaking. I have met insomnia and the noises night can make. I understand going for late night drives and lights shining on grass, the crippling fear of social functions where food is served, the failure to know what is hunger because it all feels terrible all the time.

It’s embarrassing, terrifying, and sometimes a freaking fucking relief to sit on a hospital bed when you are about to die because of your own actions. This was all so many years ago.

I have recovered from an eating disorder. I am not going to stop talking about it.

My life is gleefully full with other things, yes. The depression that narrowed my world and told me I could never be small enough is a shriveled snake skin that has blown thousands of miles behind me. Instead, I shimmer. The grueling hard work of recovery let me live, and so I’m living life in neon lights.

Because I am blessed with a life that is full, I could easily make the choice to not talk about these things. But I share my story and my experiences because I have come to realize that when I do, people who are locked in hell as I once was feel hope or a little less scared to share what’s going on with someone else. It’s not just people with eating disorders, it’s people who struggle with other mental health issues, addictions, and things that are stigmatized and hard to talk about.

Me sharing my eating disorder story without shame or fear is one of the most political things I do — and I work in politics on life-or-death issues (DEFEND DACA!). It is an invitation to compassion and believing that more is possible, a rejection of shame and stigma about the shit real people go through every day, and a direct and personal expression of my belief that it’s revolutionary for women and all people to tell the truth about our lives.

I am not stuck in the past. I am sharing my past for the purpose of helping others become unstuck. Over the years, so many people have come to me with their stories. Our struggles and conditions are not the same but we are united in our defiance of demons and the stigma that gives them the upper hand they never deserved.

To those of you who are still fighting, keep pushing. It’s worth it. Love you!

 

 

Parenting Is Political

Having a baby changes your life, and that’s true for activists, too. In my microsphere of feminist and progressive activism, I’ve long been uncomfortable with the way children and specifically having children is viewed.

Having kids can be seen as a burden, an impediment to career advancement, a selfish move that hurts the environment, or a means by which women without children are forced to do more work for the people who get to go home early. I’ve heard feminists who don’t have children say all of these things, and I died a little each time. (To be clear, I’ve also encountered feminists who accommodate caregiving and inspire the best of me as a mom and an activist.)

A feminism that directs women to outsmart the reality of caregiving is probably superficial, market-oriented feminism at its worst. By all means, women and all people should be free to live their lives without being accused of having a maternal instinct to tend. Women who don’t have kids are doing right by themselves and don’t need scrutiny or second-guessing or third-party guilt trips. But to conflate the choice of some women not to have kids as an imperative for all women not to have kids or dependents of any kind, if they want to get ahead in the adult world — why, that’s crap.

Children are part of the universe. They are people with needs. Until we accept the presence of people with needs as part of the public and not just private sphere — be they children, adults with disabilities, or seniors in need of help — equality for women is going nowhere. Whether a woman will have children or not, others will use her presumed reproductive capacity and their opinion of her fitness for it to make decisions on her behalf.

It was tough for me to have a baby, and to adjust. I have always been what my husband calls a “gunner.” Prior to having a child I have, at times, run myself ragged chasing my dream of equality. Once I hit a limit to the point that a friend allowed me to sit on the phone stupefied, unable to speak, only able to cry, because I was working so hard (and without pay), completely disconnected from “life.”

More often it was healthy and fun, where instead of watching TV I liked to go to activist meetings and throw protests (I mean, it is more interesting)! In my last incarnation before getting married and having a baby all domestic-like, I was doing work-related things most weeknights and weekends. It was my community and my passion, and mostly, I was having a good time.

Once I had a baby, the activist labor of planning actions/meeting with activists, going to panel discussions and meet ups, and the endless cycle of board and committee meetings most every evening screeched to a halt. And, in the quiet of a burbling baby who needed to be rocked to sleep and would wake up again 10 minutes later, I began to internalize how removed some feminist quarters I occupied were from the reality of so many women’s lives.

It took more time still for me to realize that some of the most profound activist work I can do is not “activism.” It is not shouting the right thing into the bullhorn, or rounding up the permit and building the engagement ladder, or deepening my understanding of privilege and pushing my own boundaries of what it means to accept and love your neighbor. I do not denigrate these things — I do them.

The most profound activist legacy I leave behind may well be my parenting, and if that winds up being true, I see it as no lesser than the accomplishments of starting an organization, speaking truth to power, and forcing change in the public sphere. Giving my daughter a sense of love and justice, and encouraging her questioning and willingness to participate in collective activism, matters.

Parenting can be activism. Parenting can be a more profound contribution of activism than the things people associate with activism. It’s not anti-feminist to believe that. Frankly, the anti-feminist problem may sit in the slice of feminist spaces that don’t explicitly accommodate people with children, that don’t encourage their participation by explicitly welcoming families in actions and meeting spaces, and that don’t explicitly lift up the importance of the caregiving work that so many women do as a site for collective liberation in the the struggle toward equality.

Eating Disorders And Unforeseen Consequences

I broke my shoulder when I was 28. The surgeon asked me where I had my skiing accident. When I explained that I slipped and fell Christmas shopping, he told me that my injuries were consistent with a woman in her eighties doing that.

So, let’s settle in for a conversation about eating disorders and how much they can fuck up your health in ways you never imagined.

Anorexia almost killed me in my late teens. The health problems that came with it were self-evident and scary by the time I got into treatment. Insomnia, blacking out, feeling insatiably cold. Easy bruising, blue nails, extra hair on my body. My pulse was 32 the first time I saw a doctor and it’s a miracle I’m not dead. But honestly the worst part of that life was that I was so sad, ashamed, and unable to break free from thoughts and obsessions that took up almost all of my brain.

Recovery from eating disorders is no walk in the park, but I’m glad I did it. I love my life. What I went through turned me into an unstoppable fighter for women.

I broke my shoulder several years deep into recovery. I had no idea all that previous dieting would turn my bones into twigs, to the point that slipping and falling on the sidewalk would turn into a visit to the official orthopedic surgeon for the Baltimore Orioles (a wee bit embarrassing, yes)? I’ve been dealing with chronic shoulder pain almost 10 years later because of a stupid fall that never should have broken a bone. Without my history of eating disorders I would have laughed, brushed off my pants, and stood up within 30 seconds.

Dieting sucks, my friends. Eating disorders suck. We all know about the link between eating disorders and the after-school special that, blissfully, my life no longer is. Many times eating disorders will tell you that you can outsmart slipping into the dance with death or that you’re not that far along (hint: I tried that and believed that, and you can’t and you’re probably wrong).

Fewer of us know how eating disorders can produce all kinds of unforeseen health consequences that can mess with your life on an ongoing basis. I’m waking up at night with pain in my shoulder because I wanted a perfect body twenty years ago.

If you’re doing weird things to yourself with food or have nasty feelings about your body, I urge you to reach out for professional support. Getting your life back is amazing. Also, you’re less likely to encounter health problems you’d never associate with looking at fashion magazines or social media posts that make you feel like shit about yourself.

PSA: I’m Not Pregnant — My Stomach Sticks Out

I’m not pregnant. My stomach sticks out. This is my body. I have survived anorexia and now, your question.

A few years ago I was asked if I was pregnant when I wasn’t, and I cried. I am open about my recovery from eating disorders, and while most of the time I can smile and tell anorexia and negative self-image to go shoe-shopping in hell, I think it’s important to acknowledge that recovery can come with bad days.

I don’t think I looked pregnant two years ago. This time, it is more likely I do. In recent weeks I’ve been asked several times if I’m pregnant by a variety of people who mean well (all of whom apologized profusely).

The reality is that my stomach protrudes. Compared to some pregnant people, I probably do look pregnant.

It’s not practical to walk around sucking in all the time. I’m not particularly interested in giving up my cute, form-fitting clothes. Most important, I don’t want to go on a diet. I know that, for me, the words diet and death are too close for comfort. And so, I’ve had to learn how to deal with people thinking I’m pregnant without turning knives into myself.

I’m not pregnant. My stomach sticks out. This is my body. It takes up space. My body takes up space in ways that some people do not readily understand.

Loving yourself is a radical act. You can hate oppressive systems and the self-doubt and presumed right to question that comes with them. You can forgive the people who push the buttons that are supposed to hurt you (though refusing to forgive can be righteous, too). You can find transcendence. I am choosing to forgive others and myself, while working to change the culture. I am finding transcendence.

The best gift I can give to myself, my activism, and the people who love me is to move on. The radical gift I have for all of us is to share this information without shame.

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