You And Your Activism Are Not The Same Thing

You and your activism are not the same thing.

Your activism is not what makes you worthy to be known or loved.

Yes, your activism can be the thing you care about most. It can be the place where your mind wanders, the place where you have rich conversations, and an immeasurably great source of joy (and consternation). It can be creativity and emotions and hopes and dreams.

(You are still a legitimate activist if that’s way overstating it, and your jam is showing up once in awhile, when you can, because you care about a better world. Thank you so much!)

Activism can be quite personal, and often it is. The focus of your activism, the change you are seeking, may indeed direct whether or not you and/or someone you love will be able to live with dignity and justice under the law, in a community, or even one’s own body.

But this should never be confused with you and who you are.

I have been an activist for a minute, and I have watched a lot of people flame out. Often times it is based in trying to do too much, or expecting too much from the activism. The root cause of much burnout seems to be over-identification with the activism: Not just that the activism is more important than one’s personal health, life, and needs, but that the activism is the same as the person.

This type of over-identification also tends to make people not much fun for others to do activism with, because people over-identifying with activism tend to get defensive, territorial, and weird about the work. Differences in opinion or approach can be taken as a personal attack, because the person either consciously or unconsciously has decided they are the movement.

Social movements are protracted, frustrating, gorgeous things. The way social movements succeed, in good times and bad, is through longevity and sticking to it. So, investing in your long-term ability to do the work is never selfish. That means keeping a life and a self outside of activism.

If you are reading this, you likely know that I’m a feminist activist who has been on the abortion front lines for decades. My birthday was Tuesday, the day the nation came to grips with a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade. Many friends, meaning well, told me they were especially grateful for me on my birthday, in light of the news.

I appreciate that. Who doesn’t appreciate being seen for their work? But I also want to say quite clearly, I am grateful for me the person. The feminist and pro-abortion activist and leader is one important facet of my identity, but it is not me, the person, the sum of the miracle of my life.

These coming days, weeks, months, and years are going to be extremely difficult times for activists in my field. The pressure to over-identify with activism will be strong. This threatens our movement’s ability to continue over the long-haul because we can’t all burn out together, and it threatens the health and well-being of the activists, period. Do you really want who you are to be defined against Justice Samuel Alito’s blatant disregard for the dignity and humanity of half of the population? I sure as hell don’t.

No matter what, your activism is not who you are.

You are.

That’s good enough.

I Am Blogging On The Possible Death Of Twitter Feminism, 2007-Style

Elon Musk has bought Twitter and will make it a private company. This man makes fantastic cars but is one of the last people in the world who should be regulating speech on social media.

This is an era when hate speech online is rampant against people of color, LGBTQ folks, women, and intersections of the three. Musk is a bully.

Incitement to violence and false information came perilously close to bringing down our democracy on January 6, 2021. Musk wants ‘all the speech’ out there.

Putting Musk in charge of Twitter is like putting a fire-breathing dragon in charge of maintaining cabins built out of match sticks. Do you really feel okay sending your children to that camp?

Many of my friends and valued colleagues have already deleted their accounts. As a burgeoning old who is no longer the twenty-something advertising copywriter who started @erintothemax in 2008 (LOL that I never changed my handle when my volunteer activist life took over my professional life, srsly!), I am moving a bit slower.

I have requested a download of my Tweets, and have taken the app off my phone to give myself mindful time to consider my next steps. It’s pretty likely I will start blogging here more again; I’m here tonight instead of Twitter, aren’t I?

Twitter has given me so much good. For my career and causes I care about, it has given me a platform to meet other activists and collectively amplify our power, connect with journalists and better inform the media conversation on feminism and beyond, speak truth to power, and learn, learn, learn. Twitter has offered an immediacy and intimacy that is both its charm and its danger. More than 15,000 people care what I have to say, which is quite funny if you think about it.

Through a number of social media platforms including Twitter I have been subjected to a good bit of abuse and harassment over the years. Most of it is garden variety stupid but on some occasions it has presented a serious invasion of privacy, threat to my safety and security or that of my family, or caused significant emotional harm. Sometimes it has happened in the name of ‘pro-life.’ Other times it has occurred in the name of ‘social justice.’ Sometimes it is people who have been physically or otherwise violent toward me who come back years later to let me know they are still stalking me and wishing me harm. There is untold bullying and abuse directed toward women and feminists online, and this stuff is particularly pointed toward people with marginalized identities I do not hold: trans and gender non-conforming people, Black people, Indigenous people, people of color, people with disabilities, and fat women.

I do not trust Elon Musk to mitigate the infringements on the ability of people of good faith to use their voices in the public square. I believe he will make it worse. Just two days ago Musk posted a fat-shaming photo of Bill Gates on Twitter contrasting him with an emoji of a pregnant man in case anyone needed to “lose a boner fast.” Can Feminist Twitter continue to be a thing in this new reality?

I need to close this post talking about my friend Mazzie, who recently passed away. Mazzie in many ways exemplified the best of Twitter: I met her online, she was a razor-sharp feminist, funny as hell, encouraging me and everyone who followed to think deeper, be more caring, and advance social justice in inclusive ways. We interacted on the platform for I don’t know how long until once, in 2013, a man exposed himself to me and the District of Columbia police refused to take my report.

I tweeted about this and Mazzie stepped up, posting on neighborhood police listservs until I got a call a few days later from the police, inviting me to come into the station and file a report. She did this for someone she never met in real life. I’ve made some of my best friends on Twitter, some I meet and have had all these significant moments in the flesh with, and others like Mazzie, who was deeply real to me, whose last words to me on Facebook just weeks before she became suddenly ill and died were “I’m so glad we have each other <3.”

Yesterday, the day before Elon Musk bought Twitter, my friend Amanda Levitt organized a Zoom memorial for Mazzie. More than 50 people attended. On this screen I cried openly with others, some who I had met in-person and others I had only followed or known online for years. I made new friends and strengthened existing online relationships yesterday. We all agreed that Mazzie would want us to spend more time with one another in new and unexpected ways.

Tonight I’m going to think about Mazzie, not Elon Musk, as I weigh my next steps. I don’t want to think about the evil and the violence on the platform and what I anticipate could happen next. I want to capture the good and love and think about how to continue that moving forward.

Rest in peace, Kimberley Anne Schults. You were the beautiful soul who would have said exactly the right thing about the craptastic Elon Musk Twitter takeover. In your absence I’ll take a beat.

Doing Feminism In The 2000s

The increasing attention on the abusive treatment Britney Spears has received in the media throughout her career as well as a conservatorship that robs this talented, brilliant woman of basic control over her own life has put the spotlight on a number of important conversations, including the rights of people with disabilities to live with autonomy and dignity and the real crappiness and sexism of the 2000s.

This is when my feminist activism began, and I recall how being a feminist not of the baby boom generation was considered such an abberation at the time that basically anyone was labelled a “young feminist,” whether they were 5 or 45. I was one of them, and would like to pause and reflect back on how different it was to do feminism then than it is now.

We were marginalized. Basically everyone, whether or not they identified as feminist, was getting date raped whether they acknowledged it as that or not. People repeated Rush Limbaugh’s “feminazi” slur uncritically. Literally the first question I usually got was, “are you a lesbian?,” which rules because lesbians are awesome, but made no sense coming from people like a live-in boyfriend’s family.

While there was really exciting growth of activism among my age cohort, and second wave feminists pursued incremental progress within the corridors of power, overall the movement was in a fallow period. This is not a slam. The young feminists of the 2000s and early 2010s were successful beyond our wildest dreams. In the span of those years, feminism shifted from a punchline to a mainstream value. While I love the more radical, less-mainstreamy stuff, especially the hard questions about claiming sexual equality and pleasure, deconstructing white womanhood and its relation to systemic racism, and challenging gender roles and gender period, it matters when people more generally want to advance gender equality. We engineered that change, us feminists in the 2000s, through blogs and protests in the streets when most people thought what we did was a joke and older feminists thought we really needed to cover up our midriffs. It is because of our work that the numbers grew. There are so many more feminist activists today, just look!

Of course we talked about Britney then. We were, like everyone else, obsessed with her. We would endlessly debate whether Britney and other stars were empowering for women and what it all meant. But we were climbing up hill, all of us. I’m proud of how far we have come.

I Wanted To Thank You For Going To The Pub

I wanted to thank you for going to the pub. I hope you had at least four Miller Lites, and traded numbers with someone cute (I’m sorry they haven’t called). I know you had been feeling lonely. My daughter just turned seven and she is an only child, so she can relate as camps have closed for the summer.

I wanted to thank you for going to the restaurant to have a bacon cheeseburger with your family, eating indoors while the waitstaff wear masks. I know you needed that. Meatpacking workers, many of them from immigrant communities, also need food on the table and have been continuing to go to work — sometimes under government command — until they die. Mmm, bacon!

I wanted to thank you for standing up for small businesses by seeing your manicurist, getting your roots touched up at the salon, and keeping up with your local gym membership. I appreciate that it all felt ‘super safe.’ Friends who contracted COVID-19 continue to struggle months later, seeking new referrals by the week for pulmonologists, cardiac specialists, and gastroenterologists. Many of these medical professionals, too, operate their own small businesses and I’m glad we’re working together to keep our economy safe.

I wanted to thank you for refusing to wear a mask. You have looked so manly. On occasion my husband has joined the throngs not sleeping well, and SARS-CoV-2 couldn’t push up anxiety and depression rates like this without your unrestrained virility.

I especially wanted to thank you for going ahead with your summer vacation (YASS! Cotton Candy on a Stick!), as this week my school district has announced that for the next year children have the option to attend school two days per week or all-virtual. In my daughter’s grade they are honing reading skills so the timing could not be more effective to cement and intensify the inequities experienced by children with disabilities, non-primary English speakers, and poor kids of color without broadband and devices. We can’t solve everything for the kids, am I right?

I do apologize for getting a little windy during your long flight home from paradise (hope that guy in the aisle with the face mask over his eyes doesn’t snore too loud!), but since you’re up anyway, let me tell you what’s happening to moms of young kids. Without childcare, the nurses and nursing home attendants on the frontlines have been SOL this whole time, and now a sizable segment of my generation of working moms with office jobs are on the brink of being permanently forced out of or downgraded from our careers. In this new normal of barefoot and managing Zoom calls and ever-shifting distance learning decrees for my daughter, I appreciate the ability to ponder the intensification of systemic white patriarchy through school closures against a newsfeed of busy boardwalks and you, looking so great in your swimsuit.

Now that you’re home, I wanted to thank you for refusing to take off your mask in Trader Joe’s and for connecting this issue to the Democrats (though, gently, I remind you that the need for chocolate-covered mango potato chips is non-partisan and for those on the team, our symbol is a donkey, not a pig). It may be that no one in America better understands the need for people to wear masks in public than hourly workers, many of them people of color who have no choice but to serve you, so it was helpful that you provided some an opportunity to do so on camera while wearing fabulous Hawaiian shirts (every moment deserves a little cha-cha, yes?). As with some of their colleagues who have died in packed ICUs after restocking shelves and ringing up your toilet paper, the rhinestoned Bebe brand you were wearing during your viral rant may never recover — and as a member of the Georgetown class of 2002, I too am ready to move on.

I wanted to thank you for insisting on holding the funeral in-person and indoors, and making sure everyone had a role to play so they just couldn’t let you down. My daughter has not seen her grandparents in five to seven months, and should the worst happen during these delicate times when traveling across state lines carries mandatory quarantine or even closed borders, it is helpful to know that many of the elderly people in attendance were able to have everyone together singing the appropriate funeral songs before some of them die alone on video cam.

I wanted to thank you for attending the Trump rally wearing red, white, and blue, for desecrating the American flag with a blue line, and for wrapping yourself in the flag carried by rebels who tried to defeat the people of the United States of America. Your visible patriotism of destruction is poignant as Black people are killed in the streets by law enforcement because this presents a second option in the event the virus that is disproportionately infecting and killing them ‘magically disappears’ as has been suggested by the authoritarian Nazi sympathizer too busy ordering the military to teargas peaceful protesters against racism to lead a national strategy to defeat the coronavirus, from which, after arguing for less testing (the numbers will make him look better) and reopening the economy (the numbers will make him look better), he has moved on.

I have been staying at home for 17 weeks and am grateful for this opportunity to reflect upon what happens when I play along with ‘we can do hard things’ and you do not. At various points in this sofa-bound adventure, I have played Italian music from my iPhone and fantasized about having that one pasta dish from my honeymoon in Florence, and you have carried more than your fair share in this group project to ensure that Italian borders are closed to us so that this fantasy can stop taunting me. Scientists warn there may soon be 50,000 daily new infections in the United States.

In our own special ways, I suspect, we have been concerned about recent declines in American standing, and now we can say objectively that as far as coronavirus goes, the world watches on as we take irrefutable first place.

So truly, thank you for going to the pub. I used to think it was sad to drink alone.

Erin reading a book in a vintage swimsuit

Tidying Up With Marie Kondo: A Show More About Gender Than Clutter

My grandparents were hoarders. They had a majestic four-story farmhouse in small-town southern Minnesota, overlooking the park with the baseball diamond, and most of the rooms were sealed, some filled to the ceiling with stuff. Growing up, I would go “spelunking” beyond the two semi-passable rooms in which they had confined themselves. After my grandfather got sick, they moved up to a senior apartment where my grandmother lived during the brief period before he died and the subsequent years that followed. She promptly filled that one-bedroom unit, too, with stuff, creating impassable corridors and unusable spaces with tantalizing green glass knickknacks, piles of books and periodicals, and tins full of candies or coins or buttons everywhere. A covered table and lack of couch did not matter: You could sit on her bed or stand at the makeshift table to eat her luxuriant pies and have a spot of amusing conversation. It would be easy to blame the hoarding on my grandmother, but I believe my grandfather, too, was a hoarder: In addition to the big-old house, he had literal warehouses full of stuff that he would auction. My grandmother’s mobility was limited and I think only he would have been able to fill most of the rooms in their home.

‘Hating’ The Container Store in a principled yet flirty way is part of my feminism. I resent the implication that I can have it all — an office, a kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a Christmas wrapping season that never ends — and be neat, and yet I am tantalized by the implied promises whispering in my ears as I pace slowly, solipstically down aisles smelling of new plastic, gleaming and not yet bulging botulistic with objects that are irrelevant to my present needs but that I have not found the confidence to throw away. I am guilty of purchasing plastic bins that don’t get used, sometimes empty old bins stacked on top of new, aspirational bins, for years-long stretches before I try, slowly, to chip away at my stuff. Mainly I just hate that we expect women to be ready for everything but also to be clean.

I think we’re supposed to hate Marie Kondo. Mainly because she’s a woman and we’re supposed to hate women, but also because she’s a successful Asian woman, businesswoman, and entrepreneur with a net worth that our culture mostly reserves for white men. In my artistic presentation of the problem she treats, her book has sat on my overstuffed bookshelf for well over a year. As I look forward to reading it, I have started watching her show on Netflix. And I love Marie Kondo. I love her skirts and her hugs. I love imagining getting dressed up and walking into someone’s house and loving their energy and giving them a hug during a filming season just before viral loads and droplets wrecked all that. I love how she sits down and blesses a house. I love how she listens to people and offers no judgement over their habits and preferences and quirks. I love how she folds T-shirts in a way that make them seem like little tea towels. I love her name. When I say it I feel sweet, in control, and ready to storm the gates. If Madonna in a cone bra was the next stage of feminism in the 1990s, surely Marie Kondo reassuring women and silently letting men and children begin to observe the latticework of their own over-reliance on Mom is another stage of feminism during this bleak juncture of the twenty-first century.

For this viewer, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo is not a television show about clutter. It is a way of analyzing gender. What I see in these shows is women being expected to hold it together for everyone and slowly, then finally, breaking. It is women navigating grief and loss, picking up the pieces of lives that are no longer in the present. It is women who are so well dressed, forced to confront at an older age a mountain of clothes showing how we are expected to look stylish and fresh. She makes us put the mountain on our beds, where culture shoved us in such a different way when we were younger. Sometimes when I watch this show I cry. Marie Kondo is perfect. She is calm, measured, flexible, patient, and playing her gender role in a radical, subversive way — making bank and also giving women permission to look at ourselves honestly and say what who we really are and want out of life, rather than holding on for contingencies someone else might expect us to have at the ready, just in case. Her television show is, for this feminist, about shedding crap and allowing people in the private sphere to be seen. Subtly, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo acknowledges the complicity of men and kids in delegating the hearth to women in the most unrealistic of ways, and promotes building confidence to see and state our own preferences in a mainstream, unthreatening way that walks and talks like self-help capitalism rather than the radical feminist promise it holds.