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

 

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.

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