Raising A Daughter While Feminist

She is starting to catch on. Her mom is a feminist. I work so girls and boys can be equal. And, she is serving it back in my face.

Eyes flashing, indignant. “Why do we only go to sports with boys?”

Well played, kid. We start to go to the neighbor girl’s basketball games.

Parenting while feminist is a thinker. It starts with an awareness of gender roles and how they are modeled by the parents, including resignation that some things in life are separated traditionally along gender lines, others are shared equally, and other points of pride that some gender norms are turned on their head in the way we divide up the labor within the household.

It is, on some level, letting go:

My daughter loves to dress up like a princess. More. Than. Anything. If I fight it, it’s going to turn into a bigger thing. If I teach her that traditional femininity is wrong, I’m giving her another narrow set of roles. She doesn’t need that.

It is, on another level, planting seeds:

If she says no, she doesn’t want to be tickled, it’s stopped right away. How many times has she heard, “It’s your body, and you are in charge”? Never enough. This is a child who gets several choices every day. She thrives on choices. She deserves choices. She does not get a sugar-coated version of reality. We talk about people in political life who make decisions that hurt people. We don’t pretend like there are two sides to hurting people with less power. The word for that is not conservative, because it is not a worldview. The focus is on the impact, and the word for discriminatory or harmful impact is wrong.

To be clear, feminism is not just about how we raise our daughters. It is not all girl power and self-esteem, though it’s great to give our girls that backing. Feminism at its best is at least as much about how we raise our sons. Parenting is political — very political. Our work as parents is part of our activism.

My girl is coming into her own. She starts kindergarten in the fall. To have been a feminist my entire adult life, and now to have this — it is mind-blowing. Someday she will realize at a deeper level what her mom and her mom’s friends are doing all the time. Someday she will remember going to marches and realize that a lot of kids didn’t do that growing up.

I am looking at the guilt I sometimes feel for working my ass off, for being wrapped up in the movement, my work, for not always being there for her. She may or may not be proud of my work someday. But either way, what she will have seen is strong modeling that if she has kids someday, it’s natural to have her own interests and priorities as well. Not even though she is a girl — because she is a girl.

 

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For Young Women Who Feel Awful And Alone

It’s excruciatingly hard for some young women to breathe. Anxiety, self-doubt, sadness. Comparisons to others. Fear. Depression. Pictures of other people’s superiority. Hurtful words echoing in your head. Cringing at yourself and what you did wrong, if only I had. Thoughts, threats, or actions that you can’t believe are really yours. Fear that you’ll never feel joy again; that it will always be this way.

This is for young women having a hard time, and I will keep this short:

You are unique. You are worthy. You are important.

Your brain is playing tricks on you, and it’s not your fault. You can get better.

There’s nothing shameful about therapy or mental health support. Accessing professional help does not make you a failure or a weirdo; it is a step forward to the triumph you deserve. Please, do the things with your head held high.

You are worth it. Your life is worth it. It can get better. It is a hard road. It is worth it.

I am grateful for people with depression who choose to keep going. I am especially empathetic to young women who feel awful and alone, and I want you to know that your dignity, self-worth, and liberation is at the core of what I am fighting for as a feminist.

I see you. I believe in you. You sticking up for yourself is my favorite thing.

When Democratic Party Institutions Try To Fundraise Off Of You, You Tell Them To Stand Up For Abortion

Every fundraising letter, every telephone request for money is an action opportunity. For years I have been taking action with the fundraising letters sent by the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, state Democratic parties, and Democratic-aligned PACs that don’t take abortion rights seriously. The call to action is simple:

Don’t give them money. Tell them to stand up for abortion rights consistently and without hesitation, and then you’ll give them your money.

Many times the letters include a prepaid envelope for your convenience. And with a telemarketer, hey, you can chat. In other words, these actions are free and take just moments of your time.

Now, do it. Do it every time they ask you for money. And give the money that you might have donated to them to Democratic candidates who do unflinchingly stand up for the right to abortion, even as some out-of-touch national leaders suggest a “big tent” for candidates.

I mean, come on! Under the wrongful big tent theory of change I’ve written about extensively for Rewire, Democrats lose more seats because the base does not unite behind candidates (in fact, check out this recent poll that proves recruiting anti-abortion candidates is more of a liability for Democrats than a gain in terms of voters), Republicans have more supporters for anti-abortion policy in legislative bodies, and the poor, sadistic, complicit Vice President Mike Pence gets the additional anti-abortion Democrats he needs so that he doesn’t have to make the trek from the White House to the Capitol to cast tie-breaking votes to kick human rights for women and transgender people who become pregnant in the teeth.

Your instructions to Democratic Party organs to stand firmly for reproductive health, rights, and justice when they come to you looking for money are not symbolic. They matter. They are tallied.

Fundraising Letter with I will support you when you stand up for choice written over it!

Over the years, I have been pleased to hear that I have inspired many  friends and fellow activists who know me to send their letters back with instructions to national party leaders to stop crapping on abortion, which is what is inspiring me to write this down here. Please, start taking this action, pass this message on, and urge your friends to do the same.

Also, please do give generously of your time and money to those Democratic candidates who hold strong for abortion rights. In the past year I’ve been as loud as I’ve ever been about holding Democrats accountable, and I’ve also given as much as I ever have directly to candidates and PACs that share my values — 10 percent of my  income in the last year, to be exact. It’s not just money and volunteer time that talks. It’s the absence of giving money and support, too.

Together we do have power.

One of these days national Democrats may get it, and stop repeating the right wing talking points implanted within our midst to undermine our effectiveness. But with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) having the gall to suggest a big tent on abortion inside an event hosted by Planned Parenthood — for cripes sake, the insult! — just a few days ago, I’m not holding my breath. I’m just taking action with every opportunity that presents itself, including in my mailbox and on my telephone. You can do the same, quickly and easily.

An Open Letter To Friends I’ve Unfollowed On Social Media Over Dieting Posts

Dear Friends Who Diet And Share It On Social Media,

I love you. I do not judge you and your decisions. But I do not want to know about your diet on social media. I react to posts about dieting on social media by having negative feelings about myself. With love and compassion for myself, I refuse to judge myself for the ways my brain devises to hurt me.

I may have quietly unfollowed some of your accounts or muted some of your posts even though I genuinely like you as a person. What is part of your life — perhaps your healthy life — is unhealthy for me.

I understand you may not even see yourself as dieting. There are hashtags, words, and numbers out there suggesting “clean eating” or cleanses or being healthy or whatever. This, too, is dangerous stuff for me. With love and compassion for everyone, I refuse to judge myself for having a reaction to trendy ways of eating that are usually about restricting food groups and losing weight.

When I developed anorexia and nearly killed myself in the process, it was an accident. I truly thought I was being healthy and getting in shape when I started. For some of us, these behaviors become obsessions, and even years after they have passed, to see even a wisp of them in other people — in whatever degree — is not healthy.

In the event you ever noticed my absence, I hope you will understand I am not rejecting you. I am giving myself permission to be me — the me who takes up space in my own body and brain. I’ve been healthy for a long time, and when I see your dieting posts I have reactions that are a threat to my commitment to my health.

Take care,
Me

Is Something Lost When We Say Coercion Is Rape?

Coerce (v): 1. To compel to an act or choice. 2. To achieve by force or threat. 3. To restrain or dominate by force.

Rape (v): 1. a) archaic To seize and take away by force. b) Despoil. 2. To commit rape on.

An anonymous account of a horrific date with actor and self-avowed feminist Aziz Ansari has been posted everywhere on the Internet; responses appear to range from the self-proclaimed sensible guy saying ‘look, we can’t read women’s minds’ when women are not exactly saying, “no, I don’t want to have sex with you and please go away,” to a number of prominent feminists arguing that what is described is nothing short of rape. I am reading the arguments from my fellow feminists closely. I am receptive to considering these arguments. Still, I am left uneasy that we are missing an opportunity to talk about coercion on its own terms. After all, Ansari says he believed the activity was consensual and while I believe there is a serious argument to be made that what is described is sexual assault, I also believe there is a serious argument to be made that what is described is instead coercion.

Coercion and rape are cousins. They are part of a horrific continuum of what heterosexual sex has meant for too many women for too damn long. Coercion, or the act of making a person in some way or another go along with having sex with you even if and as they have serious misgivings, is terrible. Rape, or sexual assault, is terrible. They do not necessarily need to be the same thing in order to be terrible. I worry that by talking about coercion and rape as interchangeable we are losing an opportunity to address coercion head-on within mainstream culture, where, let’s be honest, coercion is a common part of women’s lives and a practice that remains largely unquestioned.

In the middle of all these linguistics, what men need to know is that a woman should be consenting to have sex with you. If you are not sure, you should check. Checking does not mean assuming based upon body language. Ask — Do you want to do this? If you don’t hear yes, then stop.

In real life, lots of sex does not work this way, with an explicit “may I?” and a corresponding “yes” proceeding with every step. Perhaps where we are headed is that everything that does not conform to that standard is now labelled rape. I am open to these arguments, and urge careful consideration of them. We live in a massively unequal society and with sexual relations between women and men in particular, it’s impossible to pretend like it does not matter that women have been socialized to not articulate their desires and men have been socialized to pursue sex until they get it.

Viscerally, the Aziz Ansari story and the responses I am reading leave me troubled and frankly very sad, personally. Like women the world over, I have experienced coercion and I have experienced rape. Notably, I have experienced repeated instances of coercion and other times rape at the hands of the same person. And when I think back, I am horrified, just horrified by my experiences with coercion; as a general rule, I am more ashamed of my experiences with coercion than I am of my experiences with sexual assault. I feel more culpability for them, as if the disgustingness imposed upon me and the memories searing my brain with a spiked hot iron are, in part, a measure of who I am and the depravity I am capable of, even though I know logically that the deck was stacked against me. I can’t even list the catalogue of horrors that happened; I am so deeply ashamed.

With the rape, at least, I tried harder.

I read these insistences that what Aziz Ansari did was rape, and I hurt. I want someone to go back and hug the emaciated young woman I once was, her back raking the carpet as she finally hit her breaking point after so many bouts of humiliating coercion, crying and openly weeping, whispering, “no, no, please stop, please please stop,” over and over. The physical pain and the white ceiling. The tears rolling slowly and sideways down, nobody catching them.

I had been coerced into so many horrible things, and so many times, but that rape was worse and I knew it then and I still know it now. I want someone to validate that. More than anything, I want someone to go hug that girl and acknowledge her strength and her gall for finally fucking saying no, getting raped anyway, and knowing for certain, for textbook certain, that she was getting raped and he was still going. It was different. And it’s easier to tell you about this because I’m not ashamed because I tried harder than ever before to make it stop, and it still didn’t work.

I also know that what led up to this rape was repeated, humiliating coercion. That it was coercion that brought me to that point, where doing degrading, despicable things to me while I openly cried and said stop could be ignored, because degrading, despicable things had happened to me without my explicit, verbalized entreaties to stop and so they could probably continue regardless. That it was coercion that brought me to that point where my feelings didn’t matter, even when openly you-can’t-miss-it expressed. That it was coercion that was part of the sexual histories of all of my young friends, in that age when Britney Spears dressed like a school girl who didn’t know. That we were socialized to be coerced and sometimes raped. That we more often went along with it, until, bravely, sometimes we didn’t.

I want to see the bravery of rape victims who tried to stop being raped acknowledged. I want women who couldn’t resist rape to be saluted for their survival and savviness to know that resistance might have meant death. I want to see the survival skills of women who experience coercion saluted, to the point where we don’t internalize shame about being coerced — to the point where it is no longer easier to talk about experiences with rape or sexual assault than it is to talk about experiences with coercion. I want men who do not identify themselves as rapists to learn how common coercion is and learn to better process and respect signals from women, and to make asking for consent part of their pursuit. I want women to know what coercion means; I want boys and girls to be taught about coercion, and not just rape, in school. I want heterosexuality to stop being so awful for women, especially young women. I want #MeToo to include a spectrum of behaviors — all of the behaviors that hurt us — without insistence that they must be the same to count.

But mostly, I want the young women who felt safe to resist to finally get their acknowledgement for sticking up for themselves even when it was futile, and going through a rape they knew to be worse than all the other unspeakable, entirely relatable, “bad date” times.

Let This Be The Year Your Internal Bully Dies

Your internal bully is an asshole. It is not an internal voice that is helping you. It is designed to destroy you. Let this be the year your internal bully dies.

Here are some things your internal bully might tell you:

– You are not good enough.
– You’re going to be alone.
– You didn’t get invited to a thing because there is something wrong with you.
– That thing you said that sounded dumb? People are still talking about it.
– Your body shape isn’t good for that outfit.
– You need to go on a diet.
– You’re no good at fitness anymore because you are lazy.
– If you admitted you needed help, they’d laugh.
– The terrible thing you have done means you should go away.
– No matter what you do or how hard you try, you can’t do that.
– It’s not your turn yet and you need more credentials.

There is no point to continue; chances are, your internal bully has told you things that are worse and more cruelly personal. Often, internal bullies masquerade as a ‘voice of reason’ that are helping you to ‘improve.’ That’s poppycock. An internal bully exists solely to shut you down. The internal bully is not here to help, unless if by help you mean feel crappy and miss out on opportunities you deserve.

Internal bullies manifest in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are quiet bursts of self doubt in an otherwise clear head. Sometimes they are addictions or mental illnesses that ebb at times and take over at others. Other internal bullies are encouraged and planted by mainstream “self-improvement” programs or advertising, or abusive bosses, family members, frenemies, or romantic partners.

Internal bullies are absolutely a gendered phenomenon that impact some people more frequently and severely on the basis of many intersecting identity-based oppressions including racism, heterosexism, and ableism, although they can strike anyone.

If you are a woman who identifies as feminist it’s basically your patriotic duty to tell your internal bully to fuck off. Not to say that discarding internal bullies is easier for feminists; in my experience it can be harder to admit you have negative feelings about yourself. But, I suspect the reward for shucking internal bullies is explosively rewarding for feminists. The personal is political indeed.

Seeing your internal bully as an internal bully strips it of its power. Naming it out loud and continuing to live your life anyway does the same. We are not weak because we have thoughts of self-doubt. We are strong when we recognize the thoughts for the unhelpful bullies they are, and choose to ignore them.

You don’t need self-improvement. You deserve to live and enjoy your life. That doesn’t mean you need to stay the same. You can make changes you want and do the hard work to become the person you want to be without beating yourself up for being the person you are now. Self-love is revolutionary. Self-honesty is not self-badgering. If you wouldn’t say it to someone you love you definitely shouldn’t say it to yourself. Let this be the year your internal bully dies.

Vacation Is A Feminist Issue

Vacation is a feminist issue. A report from Project Time Off showed that women are less likely to use vacation time provided to them by an employer. The numbers are notable for millennials: Just over half of millennial men (51 percent) are using their vacation time, versus less than half of millennial women (44 percent).

In the study, women were more likely to say cite guilt about taking vacation and the mountain of work they return to as factors that influenced their decision whether or not to take vacation. Further, women were slightly more likely to say they were nervous taking vacation would make them appear less committed to their jobs.

Okay, let’s stop talking about the study and start talking in plain English:

Vacation is a feminist issue. If your employer is providing you with paid time off, you should be taking it. You are literally not getting paid in full when you are not taking your vacation days. Add this to systemic pay inequity experienced by women, most profoundly experienced by women of color, and it’s grosser still.

Whether you “vacation” in the travel sense of the word or simply take the time to rest (or take care of your home-life obligations, which has been, real talk, much of the vacation time I’ve been using at the end of this year), you are more free to be happy, healthy, and productive in your life, including in your workplace.

Within feminist and/or non-profit professions specifically, can we just cut it out with the martyrdom complex? You are not more committed when you are working yourself to the bone. You are, however, more likely to be unhealthy and stressed out.

I sincerely doubt that at the end of your life you will wish you had spent more hours on the clock. TAKE YOUR VACATION TIME, LADIES!

Rosie the Riveter image over a desert island

Raising A Girl During #MeToo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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