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.

 

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.

How To Work From Home Without Losing Your Sh*t

Working from home can be the easiest way to work. It can be the hardest. Sometimes it is both.

Currently I work from home, and it’s been more than four years since I’ve held a job with a physical office. I’ve spent several additional years of my life working from home. I’ve worked from home as an hourly consultant, contractor under lump sum, freelancer drumming up new business, half-time employee for someone else, full-time employee for someone else, and entrepreneur starting my own non-profit. During these years, I’ve had a boss, been my own boss, and been somebody’s boss. I’ve worked with fellow contractors with more authority. I’ve worked with employees inside the firm that hired me — and they had an office. I’ve held multiple contracts at once, multiple jobs at once, and held full-time, work-from-home-jobs while also attending full-time school in the evening. I’ve worked in someone else’s home, too. And, I’ve worked in several offices.

Frankly, I love working from home and don’t want to stop. But if I had an office tomorrow, I’d probably say I loved that and didn’t want to stop. There are positives and negatives for both working environments.

These are my best tips for working from home without losing your sh*t:

When you’re working, work. When you’re not working, don’t work. 
The most important thing to do is to compartmentalize. Think of work as an on/off light switch. Not a round dimmer that lets you explore gradations of work and home life happening at the same time, an on/off light switch. This approach protects both procrastinators who delay their work as well as workaholics who can’t stop working. Be deliberate about your boundaries, and when you’re at home, go all-in on your work or all-in on your personal life.

*Note – Others take vastly different approaches and find it works for them. With this tip as with the ones that follow, take what works for you and ignore the rest.

Keep a timesheet.
Whether or not you have billable hours to report or a mandatory company timesheet, track the amount of time you are working. Keeping a timesheet is the next step of compartmentalizing your activity. It acts as both a safeguard to keep you aware of when you are working and not working, and also as a way to hold you accountable to actually working or not working (some of us have problems actually getting to work, others of us have problems actually having a life).

Work in a dedicated space.
Having a dedicated space, even a $20 Ikea chair on the floor of your otherwise barren studio apartment (been there) is another mental kickstart to getting in the work mode. Do not conduct conference calls from bed. You will begin to associate your bed — which should be your most sacred space — with work annoyances that should have been absorbed by a cubicle with a carpeted wall.

Take a shower and get dressed.
I wear nicer clothes on my working-from-home days than my weekend days (let’s be real, we’re talking about slightly nicer T-shirts with the same jeans, sneakers, and hoodies). Get ready. Brush your teeth. When you feel professional, it helps you to act professional.

Get out to coffee shops on occasion, but not as an excuse to delay your work.
I used to put so much energy into working from coffee shops. I had a circuit of coffee shops I went to daily (seriously, they would have been so upset if they knew I had other steady coffee shops). It feels good to get out of your house and be around other people sometimes. It’s human nature. But if you think you need to go to a coffee shop or a library in order to be able to focus, something is wrong with the way you are approaching your work at home. When you’re working, you need to work.

Put more emphasis on professional development, including attending educational and networking events.
I tend to have more interest in professional development, including attending educational and networking events, when I’m working from home. Even when you work from home with other colleagues, it’s simply not as natural to develop, learn, and network as when you’re in an office. So — sign up for some professional events, and go. It feels good and keeps you relevant.

If you work from home and have children, don’t pretend you can do both without childcare.
These days, one of the sweetest comments I get when people find out I have a child and work from home is the assumption that I can, oh, do both. Unless you’re working part-time and don’t have to be on a specific schedule or you can’t afford or secure childcare and are forced to never sleep yourself, you can’t. It is simply not sustainable to work from home and take care of young kids at the same time.  I’ve worked from home with a nanny who came to us (best advice I have is to stay out of it, let the nanny take leadership, and act like you aren’t there) and these days our daughter goes to full-time daycare outside the home.

Take extra steps to be personal with your colleagues.
Just as small talk is just about the weather but profoundly important to a person’s ability to ramp into a focused conversation with someone they don’t know well already, so is bullshit time. Bullshit time is the time you spend in an office standing around a copier that can’t be fixed even though everyone has tried what the monitor says. During bullshit time you find out who people really are, and this develops trust and impacts our ability to communicate honestly with one another, and give and receive feedback. Sending a handwritten card in the mail to someone you work with virtually takes 10 minutes but makes you remarkable. Build in time to care about someone’s weekend or sick kid. No one is just a cog behind a screen.

Don’t construct a narrative about what your boss or client is thinking.
You ever watched a friend project the universe onto someone hot they found online? (Okay, I’ll woman up and confess to doing that myself.) Our brains are wired to fill in the gaps for others — undeservedly positive or negative. We can over-inflate how wonderful someone blah is, or construct a really hostile narrative against ourselves (like, literally, I have convinced myself that a previous boss who is in fact one of my greatest champions hated everything I did and was going to fire me). When you’re working from home, you’re missing body language, contact, and context that helps you to understand better what your boss or client really thinks. Get out of your head. Don’t think and theorize, talk. The exception is that if someone proves to you in a virtual space that they are toxic — as with real life — find a way to get the hell away from them, and never look back.

Most important: If you don’t love your job, don’t work from home. You will fail.
Almost all the problems of working from home really stem from not believing in what you do. If you think your job sucks, is boring, evil, under the direction of evil people, or you’re in a dead end, you won’t be motivated to work. In those instances, be honest with yourself and get out. I say this with the acknowledgement that it’s a great privilege to quit your job because it’s stupid, and one that most people can’t swing. But that doesn’t mean that if you hate working from home you should be reading tips on how to correct the situation. Just start looking for another job. Your problem might be working from home, but it’s more likely your job being the wrong fit.

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If You Want To Win, Try To Win

Y’all, I am so inspired by Monday’s win for abortion rights at SCOTUS. While I welcome any opportunity to wake up, hop on the Metro, and dance party on the Supreme Court sidewalk with a few hundred of my feminist besties for hours, it is so much better when chased by Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

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Me and Amy Hagstrom Miller, Founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, on the evening of her Supreme Court win. (My life is not usually this cool. If it were, I wouldn’t be sharing this picture so proudly.)

 

I’ve been reflecting on this decision and what it means to me, and it means many things. First, it feels great to win. Winning in a concrete, immediate, meaningful way happens rarely in the feminist space. Yes, we may be winning some long games, but those are gradual and not always perceptible at the moments they are being won. The concrete, immediate wins we are presented with are typically not substantive. The sad truth is these ‘wins’ are often losses disguised as compromises, engineered and subsequently celebrated by organizations with fundraising goals to meet this quarter.

A real win is the rare, best bird, and it feels good to feel good.

Also, in the decision itself: Lying is not a legal basis for restricting women’s rights and people’s rights. Facts matter, and people can’t just make shit up and expect to get away with it forever — even the pro-life movement, which has been doing it for decades.

But more than anything, my reflection comes in the bright light cast around this country by Whole Woman’s Health Founder and CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller, who decided to press her case against the Texas abortion clinic closure law even when conventional wisdom suggested that taking a big abortion case to the Supreme Court probably wasn’t a good idea for abortion rights advocates. She did so fearlessly and without shame, and while centering women and what it means to treat them well. She has taught me this:

If we want to win, we have to try to win. Even when trying to win means risking a loss. If we want to win, we must hold our heads up, and fight, and believe. 

For decades many leaders in the abortion rights movement and the feminist movement have hunkered between our shoulders, trying to hide in plain sight, hoping it would all get better if we just tried to say the right, inoffensive, message-tested thing at the super-strategic time that, coincidentally, almost never comes (because too many of our political allies are using our issues for votes and campaign commercials, and can’t be bothered to stand up for us at inconvenient times after election day!).

This matters for activists and organizers inside the women’s movement, but it matters to activists and organizers in every sector. And also at the individual level for people in general and women specifically, who are too often taught to put ourselves last.

We must dare to try, to try to win, and to try to win big. We must become comfortable with the prospect of loss. We must not be cowed by opponents who fight dirty, or people on our side who feel the need to speak in whispers. We must speak clearly, convincingly, and with love in our hearts. We must try to win. Otherwise we are hoping on games of chance.

P.S. It comes as no surprise this lesson comes from an independent abortion care provider. People who provide care and listen without judgment or unsolicited solutions tend to know most of all.

How To Be A Better Writer

I get away with things because I write. An ability to write well is power — to lead social change, to challenge assumptions and disrupt the status quo, and to validate your own feelings when other people won’t.

Writing is important to the feminist project for several additional reasons. Historically, writing has provided an outlet for women and marginalized people who had talent but were not eligible for other public roles because discrimination — and to an extent that continues today.

Writing is a way to share experience and theory, imagine alternate realities, and learn from one another. I’ve been saying for years that I believe it’s a radical act each time a woman tells the truth about her own life. Often those radical acts feel more comfortable in written form.

Recently I attended a networking event where a young woman shared that she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after college. I asked about her interests and she said she liked to write. I encouraged her to keep pushing herself in her writing ability — it would serve her well no matter where life took her.

In that spirit, I’m offering my tips for how to be a better writer:

Read. Read books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, lyrics, Tweets, manuals. Read promiscuously. Read outside your ideology. Challenge yourself — I read Ulysses at the gym, sob — and enjoy your teen lit without shame. Buy women authors, because feminism. Just read.

Write. The way to be a writer is to write. If you say that you want to be a writer, you’re either procrastinating or speculating. Anybody who sits the fuck down and writes is a writer. The way to become a better writer is to keep writing.

Give yourself permission to be yourself. This is at least as much life hack as writing tip, but don’t try to be other people/writers! Do not worry that you do not have their perspective! You have your perspective. It matters and you deserve to share it.

Identify your narrative arc.  It can be helpful to crystallize in your mind what drives your writing. Over a decade ago I realized that one of my chief aims as a writer is to expose uncomfortable truth. I believe acknowledging things we’re not supposed to talk about takes power from oppressive systems and redistributes it to individuals. Plus honesty feels great and helps me sleep. Not all of my work fits in the uncomfortable truth category, but I do find it helpful to remind myself why I do this work. In a few words, why are you doing yours?

Do not try to sound smart. If you’re writing to be understood by smart people, you’re lost on the side of a bad road. Make it excruciatingly easy for people to understand what you’re writing. Save the fancy words for standardized tests. (You’re still taking those? I’m sorry.) Do not assume people know the basics of your topic. Organize. Clear, concise, thorough — you win.   

Most descriptive language should go away. Adjectives and adverbs mostly dilute meaning. For that matter, be ruthless in cutting words from your drafts. Say what you mean, and say it with fewer words.

Find your weaknesses. One year I resolved to stop using the word “just,” which was all over my speaking and writing. Are you awkward with commas? Identify your crutches and work on them. Which brings me to my next point:

Invent challenges for yourself. I’ve done so many fun things over the years to keep my writing fresh. Poem-A-Day competitions with friends, National Novel Writing Month. Trying to write a screenplay (holy fail). But the best challenges I invented to directly attacked my weaknesses. For instance, I recognized that in my fiction, my characters sucked. So I took a whole month where I forced myself to write a new character every day. Some days it took the form of a poem, an article, a press release, a speech, a flip book, or more often a short story.

Dabble in other kinds of writing. I’ve taken spoken word poetry classes, fiction writing classes, and workshops on placing columns. Getting out of your lane strengthens your voice in your primary writing arena. It shakes up your thinking and it’s fun. 

Find editors who hate you. Actually please don’t seek out anyone who hates you. But the good editors are the ones who will challenge you to make revisions that make you roll your eyes in irritation. I have learned the most about writing from people who redlined me to tears.

Laugh at your old writing, and celebrate your resilience. I have successfully completed one novel, and that’s the only successful thing about it. It’s so bad I want to present myself to the jail a few miles away to show I’m sorry. I read grandiose things I used to write and cringe. I’ll probably read this post next week and do the same. Life is growth. Keep moving. Thank goodness.

Keep at it, and encourage others to do the same. I was in love with someone who showed me his writing. It was so bad! (To be clear, I’ve loved folks who showed me writing that was intimidatingly good, so please give yourself the benefit of the doubt in the event you’re an ex-lover perusing the blogs I am now writing, at age 35, late on a Friday night.) Yet he was so vulnerable. I didn’t know what to do, so I encouraged him on the few good parts of what he was doing. He actually got a lot better.

We should be so gentle with ourselves. Treat yourself like someone you love — encourage the areas that really work, and turn off the critic that focuses on the shit surrounding it. Coax the good stuff out and rely on what you learn from people who edit you to prune the rest.

Keep writing and you will get better.

So You Want A Feminist Job

I often get asked: I want your job; how do I do that? Here is a compilation of advice and reflection I’ve given over the years.

“Being a feminist” is not a job. Being a feminist ___ is. 
Pick a function or at least a set of skills that sound interesting. Maybe you like writing? Or fundraising? Or are interested in lobbying? If there are employers out there hiring feminists because they are feminists, I’ve yet to meet them (though they do sound lovely). You are going to be infinitely more employable if you say you’re interested in accounting, marketing, something — and yes, feminist organizations hire for all of these things.

You can still be a feminist and work anywhere, not just with a non-profit or an NGO.
I have worked in: Advertising agencies, consulting firms, investment research firms, writing companies, financial service firms, media organizations, and explicitly feminist non-profits. Working for a feminist employer is not what makes a ‘real’ feminist, it’s your values that count. This world needs more feminist bankers, doctors, and retail store managers. And let’s be honest — the pay in feminist organizations has a tendency to suck. It’s okay (and feminist) to want and seek more money than a movement job can provide.

Do not, under any circumstances, work for free.
Volunteering on your own schedule and for tasks you choose is fine, but unpaid internships are not your friend. You should not work as an de facto employee or member of a team of paid employees without getting paid. There are other internships and jobs out there that can be stepping stones toward the job you really want, even inside the organization offering you an unpaid internship, and you deserve to be paid.

Further, do not work for free. Do not offer to work for free as a trial, or delay paychecks if an organization you love is struggling financially. I drained my savings to work for an organization that didn’t pay me for months, and owed me back pay for years. It was horrible and I’m ashamed of myself for doing it; don’t make this mistake.

There isn’t a cause on Earth worth a toxic work environment.
Do not, under any circumstance, confuse an employer or a single organization with a movement. There are a million ways you can do feminist work. If someone is abusing you, harassing you, or otherwise treating you like crap, put yourself first and find a way to leave as quickly as you can. No regrets!

Seek out the smaller organizations.
Some of the most interesting work in the women’s movement is happening within smaller organizations you may not have heard of. Sure, request your informational interviews with the more obvious feminist organizations, but be sure to ask each person you talk to what other organizations they admire. They’re likely to name some folks you haven’t heard of; track those organizations down. They are likely to both be doing more ground-breaking work and offer more meaningful work for someone at the entry-level.

If your dream is leadership in a legacy organization, don’t move to Washington or New York.
In my personal experience, starting at the entry level and working your way up in the national office of a large, big-name feminist organization is exactly how to ensure you never ascend beyond middle management — in the best case scenario. These legacy organizations tend to be quite hierarchical, and entry-level employees at headquarters are often paid poorly, respected less, and spit out like cherry pits. If you want to build up leadership experience and have meaningful tasks, go work in a state affiliate. That’s where many of the most impactful fights are, anyway.

But still, your dream is to be the president of ____. Oh, boy.
Love me some ambition, but if you can’t articulate why you want to lead a specific organization and/or what new thing you would want to accomplish in such-and-such role, you’re just star-fucking.

Do not enter public feminism with the illusion that people will like you.
Feminists are generally treated like shit — by the outside world, and other feminists. Very few people will applaud you for doing the hard work it takes to advance equality and justice. Most will be mean, patronizing, or stare down your shirt instead. For that matter, I meet many people who believe that feminism is like a Xanadu where women are nice to each other and sit around saying, “great idea” while eating potato chips dipped in chocolate. Not so. Movement work is hotly contested, messy, and filled with rivalries and difficult personalities. And most everything you strive for will be shot down, in the broader world and the feminist world. It’s okay to be motivated by praise from others or visible progress — it’s totally human — but if that’s critical for you, there may be better fields.

But actually, it can be awesome.
I wouldn’t trade my life for the world. Every day I get to work on issues I care deeply about, and I do believe my efforts make a difference. There are hard-fought tangible political or institutional wins, yes — and those are the best. But the barely visible personal is at least as gratifying and exciting.

It literally makes my whole life when people I know from high school or an old job tell me I helped them see an issue differently, or someone who I helped with an informational interview comes back years later and tells me they are doing awesome work. I am moved to tears by women who seize their courage, stand up for themselves, and tell me about it. I am challenged and inspired every day by feminists who have it more figured out than I ever will.

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You’re Not A Leader If You Say You Have No Weaknesses

In the most recent Republican primary debate, the presidential candidates were asked to name their greatest weakness. For the most part, everybody ducked.

Kasich and Christie invented their own alternate questions, and answered them. Huckabee, Rubio, and Paul used the opportunity to compliment themselves. Bush, Trump, Carson, and Fiorina answered by painting themselves as genuine people rather than political hacks. Cruz came through most honest, acknowledging that most of us don’t want to have a beer with him — which, at some level, indicates he’s not a team player (true, true).

Most everyone who has been through the job interview process, particularly on the hiring side, knows that an inability to admit weakness is a big red flag.

There’s something deeply wrong with people who are so conceited they can’t identify areas for self-improvement. They’re awful team members, bosses, and direct reports. Perfect people tend to refuse criticism and act like arrogant, boorish jerks. Their ability to grow is limited, because how much can you learn, much less change and improve the next time, if you’re already perfect?

Most of all, an inability to concede weakness is the hallmark of a craptastic leader. Leadership is not the person in the cape who saves everyone. Leadership is helping others do their best. Leadership is working through other people, and to do that well you need to listen to others, have empathy, and be open to changing your mind in the face of new information or additional perspective.

Otherwise you’re just telling people what to do.

Maybe that works for awhile, as in the case of Bully in Chief Donald Trump’s early dominance in the Republican presidential primary season, although his numbers are slipping; or notorious psychopath Al Dunlap of Sunbeam, who wrote a book titled Mean Business before the company was forced to file for bankruptcy in spite of (or perhaps because of) the merciless staff cuts he made as its ‘chainsaw’ CEO.

Leadership as dominance is never ultimately sustainable, because the little guy has tremendous power, especially through organizing and collective action.

And we should absolutely question why ‘the little guy’ has a positive, go get ’em connotation, and ‘the little lady’ has a very different, condescending one.

There’s been a good bit of attention paid to the pitiful percentage of women in the most respected forms of leadership — executive leadership, public service, religious leadership — and there should be more.

The leadership gap is not due to character defects inherent in women, or a lack of appropriate training, although programs that specifically aim to train and develop women and girls must continue until equality has been reached in the ratio of women and men in leadership.

That said, the ‘but we need to build the pipeline’ argument is a bit of a smokescreen: There is an excess of qualified, capable women who are willing and ready to lead today. Rather than ask women why this is happening, it’s time to ask the white men who continue to wield disproportionate power in virtually every corridor of repute. They’re not sharing, and they have some ‘splaining to do.

Commonly it’s suggested, even by those who identify as feminist advocates, that women are more collegial and more likely to listen because they are women — but this is a gender essentialist trap. However, this argument does underlie an important and real point.

Leadership is actually not dominance — a good leader uses empathy, humility, and listening in service of building and supporting strong people who don’t need a strong, blustering leader. Leadership is growing alongside the people you’re charged to support. Sounds like a good parent to me, actually.

Maybe the character traits and experiences that we’ve devalued as feminine and non-leaderly deserve a fresh look.

 

Dealing With Trolls And Assorted Hate Online

I have experienced a fair amount of trolling in my day. The trolling has occurred in my Twitter mentions, on Facebook, by email, in comment boxes, in paper mail, in voicemails, on blogs, and by call-ins to television and radio programs on which I have been a guest. It has been directed at me personally and organizations I’ve been affiliated with. Garbage like this can come with the territory when you’re a feminist, and especially when you’re a woman on the Internet.

At its most garden variety, the trolling is a never-ending stream of comments on my sluttiness, my stupidity, and my appearance. The trolls can’t decide if I’m super ugly, or hot and have good “jugs.” The focus is never my actual appearance so much as baldly sexist attempts to reduce my worth to my appearance. Ah, and how could I forget — I am an advocate for reproductive health, rights, and justice — therefore I am a murderer!

Most of the time I ignore this stuff, but on occasion I will share a few of the Tweets I get because opponents of equality and justice for women need to be revealed for exactly who they are.

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On the ground, the trolling can take the form of anti-abortion activists getting in your face and taking your picture. Here I am with one such man who I distinctly remember taking photographs of everyone’s faces outside the Supreme Court during a Roe anniversary:

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Logic does not apply to trolling. Twitchy decided I should be the person to pay when Hustler, a magazine that does not have my support, created an horrific Photoshopped image of S.E. Cupp that I denounced. (Incidentally, trolling against feminists often takes the form of arguing that we need drop everything we are doing and spend the rest of our efforts applauding the personal lives and policy positions of right-wing women.)

Trolling is often, by nature, obscene, although sometimes it seems like the obscene goes beyond imagination. Horrible things have happened to some people I care very much about. Adria Richards was targeted by 4chan with the express purpose of destroying her life. Imani Gandy has been the target of racist stalking on Twitter. Andrea Grimes continues to receive rape threats in the aftermath of making a joke about vaporizing guns. These women have all spoken up bravely about their stories, and they inspire me. (And while I don’t know her, I’m also greatly moved and inspired by Lindy West speaking up about a troll who took on the identity of her deceased father.)

It is because of the bravery of these four women that I’m going to share a trolling story I have never publicly acknowledged before. It deeply hurt me and I didn’t want to reward the trolls. Now, however, I am beginning to see the power in pulling back the curtain. Here goes.

After my daughter was born, I did what a lot of new moms do: I sat in a hospital room in the dark, holding and nursing a baby all night long. To keep myself awake, I sat on my phone and sifted through congratulations and well wishes on email, Facebook, and Twitter.

An individual with more than 40,000 followers on Twitter took a photograph I had shared when my daughter was first born and put up a blog post about me, encouraging his followers to give me hell. Even pasting this partial screenshot makes me angry — the violation of my privacy, the most private and joyous and significant of moments, the appropriation of the first photograph of my beautiful daughter’s life.

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His followers began to deluge me with “pro-life” hate in my Twitter mentions, telling me that she should die, telling me that it would have been better if she had never been born, telling me that I didn’t deserve her. I held this new life in my hands in the dark — this great love of my life, this daughter who needed to be brought to me because I’d just had a C-section and could not stand up myself, and I wept as quietly as I could.

It was terrible.

I couldn’t just turn off Twitter; I’d just had a baby and I didn’t want to be alone. Tons of legitimate friends were sending me congratulations and encouragement, and I wanted to share this moment with them. So I saw the terrible messages, too, and I blocked every individual who sent them to me. I estimate that I received hundreds of hate tweets in a series of a few days, and my guess is that I received many more that I didn’t see because I’d blocked the senders.

I wanted to share this story now to illustrate one of the ways that we can deal with online abusers and stalkers: we can acknowledge them. While it doesn’t always make sense to engage at the time, I think it’s important for people to realize exactly how low trolling can go. This is not a question of whether people are “tough” enough to participate in public dialogue. There are people out there who are working very hard to silence feminists. I can speak to this especially from my perspective as a feminist who dares to call proudly and with enthusiasm for a world where, without exception, everyone has access to abortion as a matter of human dignity.

I’m okay, guys. The story I shared was really tough for me, but I got through it and I am still fighting without fear for that better world we all deserve. I’ve heard others, especially feminists who aren’t active on the Internet, or those who are but may be earlier in their careers, express doubts about taking up public space for fear of the trolls. We are all best qualified to know what our personal needs and limits are, and I respect that, but I don’t want anyone to believe I’m saying the best way to beat the trolls is to give up. That is, after all, what they want.

I’m going to conclude this post by sharing a response I once gave to a young woman who was receiving hateful emails and asked for my self-care tips. Here’s what I said:

I’m sorry to hear you are receiving bad emails. That can get pretty demotivating and demoralizing. Here are some things I’ve done to take care of myself in the past, although not all at the same time and some tips may even be contradictory. Use your judgement of what works for you now, in this situation:
– Delete — without reading. I will delete some things without reading them, especially when I’m getting deluged with hate. If I start reading something and realize it’s hate, I stop mid-way through and delete.
– Share. Read the bad things and then share them (without sharing the identity of the person, as they really want the attention and I’d hate to give them that). This is not something I really consider self-care, so put yourself first.
– Block. I used to be slow to block people on Twitter, for example. No more. I block assholes right away. They do not deserve my mental space nor does anyone deserve an explanation from me about why I block them.
– Be more guarded. While I’m still pretty free with my personal information, there are things I work hard to keep private and that varies depending on where I am in my life. I used to be really secretive about where I lived, especially when I was living alone. 
– Most of all, just walk away. Life is too short to accept other people’s pain unless you have freely chosen to do so. Abuse is ridiculous and doesn’t deserve your time. Even without the abuse, carve out time for yourself. I have gotten much better about not checking email and social media as constantly as I used to — and it is relaxing!

How To Be An Amazing Feminist If You Are A Man

Men who are feminists. Feminists who are men.

From UN Women’s HeForShe campaign to President Obama calling only on women at one (note: one) press conference to Aziz Ansari going all feminist on David Letterman, mass culture is ready to declare everyday Valentine’s Day for those men who believe in the inherent dignity and equality of women and are willing to work for it.

This is great because feminism needs men to succeed.

But, let’s be honest, there is a dainty line between mansplaining and men advocating for feminism, and sometimes it appears our allied brethren appear to have no idea they are using their male privilege in the very spaces where good women are trying to be rid of it. Further there are good men who want to be good feminists but have questions about how to do so.

The first rule is that any man who wants to be feminist must take it upon himself to learn about the ins and outs of gender-based oppression, and how that negatively impacts women as well as men. A less polite way to say this would be that it’s not a woman’s job to educate you, and it’s certainly not a feminist’s job to drop everything she’s doing to let you know what’s up. The middle-ground would be to say that the phrase “men’s work” sucks and is offensive, but the one thing that can legitimately be added to this category is the responsibility of men to care about and learn about sexism without asking women to serve them education on a platter.

One of the primary truths of any social movement is that those most directly affected should be at the center of leadership, organizing, and power. So if you are a man who is a feminist (yay and thank you), please be mindful that the best people to run feminist spaces and speak to feminist issues are women. This is not asking men to sit back, nor is it asking men to be silent. Au contraire.

Men have a responsibility to take leadership in those spaces where women are not present or have not yet reached a critical mass. Instead of trying to be the darling of the feminist movement, use your male privilege in the spaces where women are not present or underrepresented to insist that more women are brought into leadership teams, or to advocate for the promotion of women. (Hint: Adding one white woman to the otherwise dude-bro panel isn’t going to cut it.) Look at issues like domestic violence and rape and the underrepresentation of women in politics and focus on what men should do differently, not what women should do differently. If the media notices you, great — use that power to draw attention to less-acknowledged women feminist thinkers, writers, and activists who should also be interviewed and given speaking platforms.

Being a true member of a movement means having opinions of your own, and articulating them, but if you find yourself disagreeing with women on how to advance gender equality — seriously, check yourself. Slow down and listen, then listen some more. (For that matter, describing vaginal discharge or how menstruation works is nearly always creepy from cisgender men — things I have seen from self-described feminists who are men — you can leave that to women, okay?) The bottom line is that men who are amazing feminists are amazing listeners and amazingly present. They listen to women and they support the leadership of women in feminist movements. They volunteer as activists and fundraisers and participants without insisting on hogging the limelight or floor.

And here’s a big no-no to get out of the way! Straight cisgender men who use the women’s movement to find a date are frankly disgusting. It’s okay to be a man, a feminist, and someone who likes to get laid. It is not okay to be a man who uses his feminist gatherings as a dating service. Having been on the other side of this multiple times, I can tell you it is, categorically, the worst. There are few things more dispiriting than discovering that the man who appears to value your specific ideas about women’s liberation is actually hoping for a blow job.

Just one of the lovely things (there are so many) the queer liberation movement has brought to feminism is the blurring and complicating of gender identity. This is a good thing; nothing in this post is meant to assert that transgender men or transgender women don’t belong at women’s colleges or within feminist spaces, for example — what makes women’s spaces special is not the insistence on a certain set of anatomy but rather freedom from those who most directly benefit from patriarchal supremacy. Further, men who do not benefit from heterosexual privilege and/or white privilege will relate differently to feminist concepts than men who do.

This is meant to be a dialogue rather than an edict, so please share in the comments what you think makes men amazing feminists. Men and women are welcome and encouraged to contribute!

You Should Start A Feminist Blog

How do you be a writer? You write. How do make change? You speak up. And that, my friends, is why you should start a blog.

The written word is an intensely powerful thing, and it plays an important role in social change. Especially for feminism. Writing can be a more accessible way to reach people who are undecided about or opposed to your point of view; while they might automatically tune you out if they see you on a street corner with a clipboard, or outside a statehouse with a bullhorn, your written words are more approachable and give you a chance to more fully explain what you mean. (Although please know that more direct forms of activism like signature gathering and physical demonstrations are also useful and effective, and they belong in your activist toolkit, too.)

In addition to making your views on political issues more accessible to a general audience, writing can be an easier way to share more personal narratives if you are so inclined. I’ve said this before: I believe each time a woman tells the truth about her own life it is a radical act with the power to change society. It transforms others, and it transforms you. The baggage we carry as a result of sexist bullshit — including but not limited to internalized shame we might feel for having imperfect lives, bodies, relationships, class status, desires, you name it — loses negative power over ourselves and others when we dare to acknowledge it out loud. Oppression feeds and breeds on your silence.

I am routinely asked how to start a blog. The best thing to do is start. There are a variety of platforms that will let you build your site for free. I’m partial to WordPress because I’m used to it, it provides fairly sophisticated yet usable data on who is reading your stuff, and because they have been so kind to feature my previous posts on Michelle Obama and my late, great dog on their Freshly Pressed hub, which got me exposure to tons of new readers who didn’t get here through the traditional feminist channels. That said, I also use Tumblr for my other blog, white guys doing it by themselves, and when I hit the jackpot and got featured on their homepage I gained more than 7,000 followers in a few days, many of whom like to reblog pictures of white men running the show (every show). There are other platforms, of course. When picking your platform, think a bit about what you want to do on your site. Are you going to be doing more in words or images? What are your goals for your site — who do you want to reach, and how? Is reblogging important to you? Think about what platform better suits your needs.

Once you get that blog going, be sure to promote your posts on your various social media accounts. Also, however, be sure to invest the time to read other people’s blogs and as you are so moved, comment upon and share their work. One of the best ways to build readership is to engage in organic and authentic conversations with others — especially over their ideas.

Many people who ask me about starting blogs are currently involved with organizations that have blogs of their own. If you have a chance to write for those, great. By all means do. My advice is still to start and have a blog of your own as well, because — and this is important — no organization, even a great one that you love, deserves a monopoly on your precious and unique voice in an era of modern feminism that needs you just as you are. I look back and remember the tears streaming down my face as I closed the predecessor to this blog around the time I was elected to be a vice president of the National Organization for Women in 2009; in some ways that moment presaged why I chose to leave more than three years later. It is always the right time to say the right thing, and when you have your own platform, you can hit publish whenever you want.

If you do paid writing work, you should still have a blog of your own. While it doesn’t pay and may not get you the same exposure as published works in other publications, a blog is still an invaluable career tool in supporting your ability to get those paid opportunities. In addition, it provides folks with an easy way to contact you. Finally, a blog of your own allows you to write those things that are so important or personal to you that you don’t want an editor tinkering with it. (This is not a bashing of editors; editors make my work so much better and I love them!)

Another thing: Having a blog of your own means you don’t need to approach, count on, or wait for other people to say what you think. I get many requests to write about issues, and while I enjoy that and take that feedback seriously, my first response is almost always: You should write that! Seriously, the more voices the better.

Starting this blog that you are reading now is among the best professional decisions I’ve made. Yes, it’s not for everyone — if you work in a field where you can’t be an out feminist, I get it. But even in that scenario you can start a blog under an avatar.

Do you have more tips for starting a blog? Questions? Thoughts? Or just want to promote your feminist blog in the comments? Then, please, by all means, comment away.