Why My Work For Abortion Rights Will Change When I Hit Menopause

Just after turning 32, and just before I stepped down from my role as action vice president of the National Organization for Women, I gave a then-radical speech in which I championed the leadership of young feminists and called for the organization to evolve. If you care about what I’m going to write, I urge you to take five minutes to watch it here on CSPAN, and then read on. 

If you watched that, you are probably not surprised that I resigned from that position a few months later. You are probably not surprised that I explained that decision to TIME Magazine with, “When you want to build a jet pack, sometimes that means you have to leave the bicycle factory.” You are probably not surprised that I went on to co-found the cutting-edge, left flank reproductive justice activism group Reproaction with Pamela Merritt a few years later. (We are still leading this and it’s bomb! Sign up for our email list if you haven’t already, and we’ll send you opportunities to take direct action to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice.)

I believe in innovation and taking risks. I believe in the leadership of young people and their capacity for it. And I believe with my deepest heart that I would be living in contradiction of my values if I led activist work for abortion rights as a menopausal woman. So this is my promise to you, as I near the big 4-0. Within 10 years you will not see me leading the work I am now.

I will do the daylights out of abortion rights activism in the streets for the rest of my life. As long as I am living, I will never be past tense in the activist community. I nearly died of an eating disorder and I’m not messing around — activism for gender equality is the work of my life and it hadn’t become that, I would have been dead 20 years ago. I believe deeply in the power of direct action to change society and also, ourselves. But, as an older woman, I will be doing the daylights out of abortion rights activism in the streets behind a younger woman or gender non-conforming person holding the bullhorn because that’s who I have always believed should be leading the abortion activism work.

I believe in experience and wisdom. I do not believe people should be cancelled on the basis of age or, for that matter, other characteristics of their identity. I will support young activist leaders for abortion rights, mentor them, show up for their actions, give money to them, maybe even be their employee. It may well be the case that I take a frontline leadership role in another reproductive health, rights, or justice organization with a primary focus in communications, education, elections, policy, research, service delivery, or basically anything other than grassroots activism, or that I go on to lead a feminist or other progressive organization, even an activist one, of which abortion rights is one issue within a broader social justice agenda. I will certainly never stop writing, innovating, taking bold action for gender equality.

I don’t think older women don’t have important reproductive and sexual health issues. I don’t think older women should stop leading organizations (including reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations!) or speaking to the media or testifying in Congress or giving their full-throttle brilliance and if that’s your interpretation, you are purposefully misreading me.

This is about me and my values, and what I see as my role in grassroots activist leadership for abortion rights.

If my body isn’t bleeding, if I am physically no longer in need of access to abortion, I’m moving my perch. It won’t be to irrelevance or apathy. Just wait until you hear this old bird sing.

Amy Klobuchar, Or The Case Of The Workplace Bully

I believe Amy Klobuchar will be the Democratic nominee for president. I wish I was more excited about this. I don’t know how to get past reporting in The New York Times titled, simply, “How Amy Klobuchar Treats Her Staff.” If you live in the D.C. area and work in progressive circles, as I do, you are likely to know tons of stories that never have and never will be printed, shared first-hand with you by a variety of dedicated professionals who worked for her, people with no desires for notoriety and no axes to grind. The difficulty of working for her is common knowledge in this town.

Why I Want To Like Amy Klobuchar
It’s been time for a woman president since Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016, and I really want to like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The first woman senator from Minnesota — a dream I started phonebanking for in middle school, when Ann Wynia ran in 1994 — she gave the best campaign announcement of any Democrat running for president this cycle.

She launched her effort to defeat Trump in a literal snowstorm. The image of her smiling behind the podium, snow falling down, is epic to the point of worthy of a tattoo on other people’s shoulders.

She’s funny. She’s smart.

She maintained her dignity when Justice Brett Kavanaugh stepped far over the line with her during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing, asking her if she had blacked out while drinking alcohol rather than answering the same important question she had posed to him, germane to the credible story presented by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her with a friend in the room while they were drinking at a high school party.

She was right when she pointed out that women candidates with Pete Buttigieg’s comparatively low level of political experience would not stand a chance in the Democratic presidential primary, and it was a feminist act to name that.

Why I Think Amy Klobuchar Will Be The Nominee
I believe Amy Klobuchar will be the Democratic nominee for president. I have been saying this privately for months; now you are seeing it here, in the public forum of my personal blog. I believe this will happen because, regardless of my personal beliefs, policy priorities, and favored candidates (I am to the left of Sen. Klobuchar, and unapologetically so), I believe that Democratic primary voters will eventually coalesce around a centrist candidate who they believe is most likely to beat Donald Trump in a general election.

As a centrist from the upper Midwest, Klobuchar checks a lot of boxes.

I believe her ascent is inevitable because former Vice President Joe Biden is a weak frontrunner, which is convenient to blame on the fact that he is 77, but actually stems from the ageless truth that he has run in presidential primaries repeatedly over the decades and has never proved much good at it.

With fundraising prowess, surging poll numbers, and a sharp generational contrast, it may appear that Pete Buttigieg has the easiest path to surpassing Biden in the centrist lane, but as is true for high school and life, it’s critical not to peak too soon. As much as I believe in the leadership of young people and that Buttigieg has a promising future in politics, it seems likely that centrist voters will shift from Biden’s weakness as a candidate to Buttigieg’s lower experience level to eventually land upon Amy Klobuchar and her electability among white Midwestern voters, who Trump can’t win without.

(This is not to say I don’t think Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, doesn’t have real gaps with to fill with Black voters, and especially Black women voters, whom Democrats can’t win without; however they seem less insurmountable than Buttigieg’s failure to thwart police violence in his own community and wild card Michael Bloomberg’s racist stop and frisk policy as mayor of New York City, for which he has recently apologized.)

On Tough Bosses, Women Bosses, Workplace Bullying, And Amy Klobuchar’s Run For President
A tough boss can actually be a great boss. Tough can mean high standards that make staff work hard, grow, and achieve more than they thought possible. Tough can be challenging in the moment and a source of pride later, even when it seemed at the time like the difficulty could never be redeemed and the boss was just the worst. Workplace bullying is different.

I’m defining workplace bullying as repeated aggressive, degrading behavior in the workplace that serves to isolate and ridicule its targets, making life a living hell for them; in order for it to truly be workplace bullying, this behavior must be accompanied by power dynamics that make it impossible for its victims to free themselves from the behavior, short of leaving their jobs.

The stories about Amy Klobuchar seem to fit the pattern of workplace bullying, and that matters for her presidential run because workplace bullying indicates what I believe to be a serious failure of leadership. Leaders articulate a vision, and inspire others to work together to achieve that common purpose. If a political leader can’t inspire their own staff — who share their ideology and in the context of the dysfunctional capitol dome should in most circumstances be the easiest management issues on their plate — without psychologically beating them into submission, how can they be expected to lead the whole country?

Rigorous definitions are important. A colleague who disagrees with you is not necessarily a workplace bully. Nor is a woman in power who isn’t ‘likable.’ There are unfair standards for women leaders, and it’s true that people have all manner of irrational reactions to women in power, even feminists who claim they want to see women in power (you know, those hypothetical women in power who are more attractive leaders than the women actually doing the work now, although a large number of feminists seem to be pretty inspired by Elizabeth Warren, thank you very much).

I remember earlier in my career, a woman I worked with was frustrating to me. Our styles clashed and we often had different points of view. Once during a phone call she spat out, just because I’m disagreeing with you doesn’t mean I’m yelling at you. She was right. I appreciate this lesson, and actually remember her fondly today.

Our Country Needs Leadership — Desperately
Our country needs profound, courageous, principled leadership if we are to bounce back from the deep challenges to our democracy posed by structural inequality, ascendant white nationalism, and an authoritarian administration that has purposefully sown doubt in what is fact, undermined the free press, and used overt racism, support for gun manufacturers, and the magic carpet ride of anti-abortion extremists who will go along with literally anything to overturn Roe v. Wade. We will need to find ways to overcome conservative gerrymandering and social media echo chambers. The crisis of our democracy in 2020 is an urgent cry for leadership.

Cory Booker has a great message about leading with love, and I believe that our country desperately needs inspirational leadership skills and messages like his to draw people back together. While I could get very excited about a Booker candidacy, or a Warren candidacy, and I deeply, painfully miss the Harris and Castro campaigns, maybe the candidate we get will not be very exciting to me or to you.

If our first or second choice is not the nominee, we should choose to be grown-ups. Stopping Trump is indeed the most important thing. Tearing down every Democrat running is counterproductive, and every time I log into Twitter, where I follow mostly Democrats, I feel a little more demoralized to see how much energy is going into total, all-or-nothing shutdowns of Democratic candidates. No one deserves a total shutdown except Putin puppet Tulsi Gabbard (Kamala Harris was right about a number of things, including this!).  Mostly, I’d like to see Democrats organize respectfully for our favorite candidates and chill.

So Amy Klobuchar will not get my vote in the primary. If she is indeed the candidate in the general election, I will lean into what I like about her, dig in for the work required to move her to more progressive positions, and do everything I can to get her elected. I will do this for any Democratic nominee who is not a known Putin puppet. If it is Klobuchar I’m certain I would ugly cry and joyfully scream to see a woman from Minnesota defeating Donald Trump. But I will not pretend now like workplace bullying does not give serious pause. It does. It should.

Treating Food And Exercise Like A Zero-Sum Game Is Peak Eating Disorder Culture

Here’s a horrible idea that promotes disordered eating: Researchers in the United Kingdom have suggested labels that list the amount of exercise required to burn the amount of calories in a food. As someone who nearly died of anorexia, I know that displaying this information in this manner — on literally all packaged foods — is a direct threat to the lives of the tens of millions of people struggling with eating disorders.

Eating disorders are hell. They make enemies of food, movement, and living life in general. With eating disorders, numbers become instruments of obsession, self-hatred, and self-torture: calories, nutrients, bites, steps, pounds, and sizes.

Putting the number of minutes required to ‘work off’ a food is peak eating disorder culture because food and movement are two different aspects of life that should not be presented as prerequisites for one another. You deserve to eat whether or not you exercise. You deserve to enjoy exercise without verging on the brink of collapse.

Food is fuel and nutrition as well as culture. At times food is an instrument for expression of creativity, love, and joy. Our bodies are built to eat food. Without food, we die. Movement and exercise are energizing, empowering, and make us feel good in body and mind. Even considering the range of disabilities that bring diversity to our communities and perspectives, our bodies are generally built to move.

The authors of this study suggest their food labels could help fight obesity, and troublingly, one representative responded to CNN with concerns about eating disorders with a dismissive, “we’re interested in the population as a whole.”

In the United States, more than 30 million people struggle with eating disorders. As an anorexia survivor, I have learned the hard way that people struggling with lethal eating disorders come in all shapes, sizes, weights, genders, races, ethnicities, socio-economic classes, and ages. We are your children, parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings.

As for scientists who wish to be ‘helpful,’ please can you not? Let’s not turn labels into weapons slapped onto every food at the grocery store. We’re still working on getting rid of the digitally altered magazine covers at the checkout aisle.

Note for readers who struggle with eating disorders or negative self-image: I want you to know that I believe in you and your ability to live a life without this horrible stuff. You deserve happiness. Recovery is possible. Seek professional support. Keep pushing, it’s worth it. xoxo

Things I’m Telling Myself Before Running A Marathon In Maybe A Blizzard

I’m running a marathon in 48 hours! Maybe in a blizzard because it’s in Northern Minnesota in October. I trained in the summer. I’m currently wearing sandals because it’s supposed to get up to 75 where I live. Here’s what I’m telling myself:

  • You trained for this.
  • You got this.
  • Maybe the weather will change.
  • Probably the weather won’t change.
  • This is your story for the ages.
  • You do not waste hard work.
  • You can handle anything that is put in front of you.
  • You trained for this.
  • You got this.
  • The faster the race, the sooner inside.

Erin sweating and wearing running gear

 

I Would Never Be Able To Run Marathons If I Still Had An Eating Disorder

I did not set out to develop an eating disorder. I wanted to get in shape. I started running. I started eating ‘healthy’ snacks. I started dieting. I lost control. I almost died.

I would never be able to run marathons today if I was still playing around with that bullshit.

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Me at the finish line of my first marathon

Through multiple humiliating rounds in the hospital, I have learned in the hardest way possible that dieting is an addictive scam. Attempting to placate negative self-image through restrictive eating or unhealthy exercise patterns is an onramp to self-destruction without brakes.

Thank God I figured out how to keep running, because it’s so great.

My primary trick is this:

I don’t diet.

I don’t listen to negative body thoughts.

I don’t punish myself for having a stomach that comes with regular queries about whether I’m pregnant.

I eat with joy.

I run for me.

Not All Requests To ‘Pick Your Brain’ Are Bad

A simple request to ‘pick your brain’ can be costly and frankly insulting to some consultants who make money based on sharing the expertise they have built in a given field. But I’d like to argue for a more nuanced position:

Not all requests to ‘pick your brain’ are bad.

Personally I grant a good deal of requests for ideas, conversation, or advice from young and/or less established people who share my values. My belief is that if I’m not investing in the next generation of feminist leaders and creators, I’m not doing my job as a social change agent. This not to say that I’m a pushover: If I’m too busy, or simply don’t see a request for a conversation as a good use of my time, I will respectfully decline. But I am proud to have spoken with a number of people over the years to offer support, encouragement, or a few words of advice on their journey.

I respect those who have boundaries such that they automatically turn down all requests for free advice or quote an hourly rate. Where I have landed, however, is evaluating requests on a case-by-case basis and maintaining strict control of how much time I allot to these requests. As I do so, I remember all of those who have helped me, with gratitude.

Thinking Of Running For President As A Democrat? Please, Just Don’t.

There are too many Democrats running for president. The vanity and ridiculousness in the 20+ Democrats running could be hilarious if it weren’t so serious —

We have a classroom’s worth of politicians angling to be captain rather than part of a winning team. This is not how we defeat an authoritarian leader who lies, violates democratic norms, and welcomes misinformation campaigns from foreign adversaries that actively work to sow division among his opponents.

Let’s be honest: The current bloated field is filled with candidates who are replicas of one another. An ever greater number of these candidates don’t have a chance in Jupiter of winning Democratic primaries, much less the general election. Democratic Party leaders have failed to take control of this situation. This has happened likely in part because of fear of a renewed batch of complaints similar to what occurred from the Bernie Sanders campaign and its supporters after the last election, but an intramural and dated fight about a ‘rigged system’ within the Democratic Party shouldn’t be a factor, because it’s both an echo of the complementary waves that brought Trump into power within the Republican Party and also irrelevant to voters in the suburbs and exurbs who need an alternative to Trump.

I am not arguing for a coronation; an ideal number at this stage would be five or so candidates — enough to have a significant exchange of ideas, but also enough to get real and create the conditions where candidates with low poll numbers decide to move on. As it stands, not getting traction or polling into relevance is not enough incentive for our bloated field to winnow itself down now, because most candidates don’t have traction or high polling, creating an effect where no one leaves.

We cannot choose a strong candidate to support when we can’t even fit all of our candidates on one stage. There is a reason why no conference, ever, invites more than 20 panelists to weigh in on a given topic. Please, for the good of the Democratic Party, the United States of America, and the entire free world, if you’re thinking of running for president as a Democrat just now, don’t. And if you’re not getting traction, do the honorable thing and drop out. 

Sometimes the greatest acts of leadership are not when one person’s name blinks in giant lights, but when that person assesses the real landscape in which they operate, recognizes what exists and what is needed, and declines to blow a fuse.