March 2019 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared on PBS’ To The Contrary, and discussed childcare and paid family leave, as well as girls entering the Boy Scouts:

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So A Northern Feminist (Me) Marries Into A Southern Family

Three years ago I married someone who so happened to grow up in rural Georgia. Prior to this, my knowledge of the South was limited.

Sure, I went to the South on occasion and I knew people in the South: Mainly Southern feminists and racial and queer justice advocates living in urban areas. The majority of my knowledge about the South was confined to knowing exactly how to drive to its abortion clinics, the dossiers of the terrorists with track records targeting them, and who the brave people are willing to engage in clinic defense.

Beyond that, I was not particularly interested in engaging. I was both a product of my environment and, by virtue of my laziness and relative tunnel vision, an active participant in creating that environment for others.

It is fashionable in some circles I run in to make an outrage porn show out of legislative oppression in the South. Largely the purpose is to capture attention and raise money for national organizations. As a matter of activity, those types of national organizations primarily hold self-congratulatory events for Northerners in the North and Californians in California.

A good number of progressive people make their jokes about how Southern secession would benefit the country, which basically means they are just as guilty of dehumanizing and throwing people away as those segments of Southerners who actively do wish to restrict the rights and dignity of people on the basis of race, gender, and sexual orientation (these people very much exist and hold at least a modicum of power in all regions of the country, by the way).

Before my spouse, to say nothing of before we moved from Capitol Hill to Virginia, my life experiences didn’t point me toward deeply probing or questioning these practices.

In hindsight, I can say barely engaging with Southern people and understanding Southern culture deeply limited my potential as an organizer, as a feminist, and as a human being.

Some of my prejudices were just trivial. After one nightmarish experience with grits at a YMCA camp in Wisconsin decades ago, I had closed myself off to the possibility of cheesy grits — a major clown move.

You could forgive me for my ignorance of the South and say it was because I just didn’t have time to learn, but that’s far too generous for someone who has always cared deeply about politics. Of course I had limited time, but even though I’ve always kept a full plate, I still managed to spend a good portion of my hitherto adult life reading books, watching The Twilight Zone, and agonizing over busloads of Mr. Wrong. I had time; I didn’t use it.

The plain truth is that it’s easy to spend your life interacting with people who think like you and talk like you, or at least think and talk a lot like you. Further, people like me who spend time working for diversity and equality and justice don’t necessarily have it all figured out in our progressive circles.

It would be arrogant and totally untruthful to say I understand the South today. I don’t. However, I have learned many things in the past few years. The best are related to cuisine because cobbler and cheesy everything, but I’ve also been pleased to experience and begin to understand the strength and persistence of progressive activity and values in the South — even in the one-room, all-white church out in the country I’ve been as surprised as anyone to attend (scratch that, my mother is probably still shocked enough to burn a hole in the Minnesota snow).

What I have learned most of all is that I have so much more to learn, and that this learning will only benefit my work toward equality and justice. The more time I spend in the South the more I am genuinely curious to know what the Confederate flag means to the people who fly it. (This is not to say I think it’s acceptable; I don’t support the continued use of symbols, language, mascots, team names, and the like that signify discrimination, hatred, or oppression, even if the people using them claim it has nothing to do with that.)

I have strong opinions, yes, but even more that that, I have a strong desire for equality. Progress toward equality isn’t going to come about through conversations with people who generally see the world as I do; it’s going to come through courageous conversations with people who don’t. In order to truly be conversations, that means listening as well as talking.

A white, progressive friend remarking upon the Black Lives Matter movement noticed a tendency of her white, progressive friends to defriend people on Facebook who were saying racist shit. We all have our lines to draw and are the best judge of what those lines need to be in order to take care of ourselves (I defriended an abortion opponent from my high school who made a nasty comment about me during my pregnancy, and have never looked back). Still, there are some conversations that don’t violate what we need but are merely uncomfortable.

This is a profound point that applies to conversations about discrimination and the desire for social change. If we really want to be change agents, we need to engage with people we know who have different views — even views we strongly disagree with.

Which brings me back to my new Southern family and this deeply personal opportunity I’ve been given to learn more about the South. I’m learning, and frankly sometimes the simple act of listening is scary and hard as hell. And yet I continue.

Does It Make Sense To Work When Child Care Is So Expensive?

On the brink of another life change, before I got married the first time, my mom offered the following unsolicited advice:

“Always have girlfriends, and always keep your own bank account.”

In other words, always stay interdependent with others outside your family, and always maintain enough independence to call at least some of your own shots.

It’s something I’m considering as I navigate the fraught terrain for women planning to merge career and child care for the first time. How do I find this stuff? How much should it cost? How do you make sure it’s good?

And the biggest question of all, one that keeps coming up with other friends who are expecting children or new parents:

Is it selfish to keep working when child care is so expensive and he makes more money than I do?

That question. My goodness. That question we’d heard before and never thought would apply to us.

I keep thinking back to my mother’s advice. Always have girlfriends. It’s not just about friends. It’s not just about marriage. It’s about a woman’s place in a broader world. It’s about support systems. Having just one support system is not supporting yourself as well as you could. My family is important to me. But I feel like I’m selling all of us short if I don’t have friends and career, which are also important to me and my sense of identity.

Always keep your own bank account. This one feels more tricky. Like a lot of women married to men, my husband makes more money than I do. And with a kid on the way, the questions get louder. As one New York Times blogger wrote, Why Do I Think My Salary Pays for Child Care? I admit to the same thinking, and hearing it among friends. Does it economically make sense for me to work? Given that we almost always direct this question at women, how will we clear the way so our daughters don’t have to ask this question? Sure, we often get paid less. But maybe if we stick around at work we can help be part of the ongoing and as-yet unrealized call for equal pay.

It’s also about now and not just the future. As one of my friends said to me, sure he makes more than I do, and he’s going to pick up more money for the baby’s needs. What if I work less or not at all to stay with the kid, and I want to buy a pair of jeans? What if I want to stop for a coffee? And whether we’re talking about disposable income or accessing basics like food and health care, that’s what money really comes down to: Power. The power to make your own decisions and be in control of your life.

I don’t have easy answers to these questions. Our baby will come soon. As I consider a life on the brink of great change, I can’t stop thinking about what my mom said. Mixing interdependence, independence, child, work and family is not easy. It makes me frustrated that these issues are typically seen as women’s issues. They are societal issues. My guess is the more we move toward that frame, the easier it will be to make some changes.