Holding A Baby And An iPhone

I live-tweeted labor. The first night of my daughter’s life I realized I was going to be nursing for long stretches overnight; I began using my phone to stay awake. Every night I spent hours nursing her quietly, listening to her sweet little swallows, and surfing the Internet like it was the best Gidget movie in the world. I developed eye strain, and my carpal tunnel flared up again.

Eventually maternity leave was over. I held a different job then, one I loved, but I was also a rare part-time employee on a staff of full-timers. That meant checking in on email all the time anyway, so I wouldn’t fall behind.

Work-life balance is this elusive thing. It’s a psychic pair of skinny jeans, designed to punish. Work-life balance is not a gender-neutral phrase. Work-life balance may as well be Morse code for throwing women to the wolves. We are expected to take care of our families, make nice food that looks like it belongs on Instagram, and shatter glass ceilings through perseverance and sheer will. (Friendly reminder: There are no personal solutions to societal problems.)

Generally I suck at work/life balance, as do a good portion of the people I know, because we are expected to work all the time and we have the Internet with us almost everywhere we go.

And yet I’m not complaining: I’m fortunate that my line of work so happens to be my life passion. Still, if work/life balance means having two separate spheres of life that are both well-tended, nope, I don’t have that.

I’m the woman who is opening up Slack for conversations with a colleague while my daughter eats in a high chair next to me. You can catch me firing off work emails at the playground. And I’m ashamed by how often I look at Facebook when she is in my care.

My daughter has taught me a love of presence. We should listen to crickets and wonder what they are. An airplane overhead is worth pointing to and talking about. Silence is a lavish gift — seriously, take it when you can get it.

It is hard for me to reconcile my actual and/or perceived need to be always available online with being the attentive mother I want to be. And yet, I am terrifically proud to be a working mother, and I claim that title. I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to realize that the woman suffrage poster in her bedroom is not just wall art, and that her mom is a troublemaker.

Ultimately, I am doing both. Sometimes I hold my daughter and write emails. Sometimes I push the stroller and go on Twitter rants.  I am a parent and a working feminist at the same time.

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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!

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.

Video: June 2014 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on a recent episode of To The Contrary, and discussed home births, Pope Francis offering advice to have more children, and the World Bank and advancing progress for women worldwide. You can watch a video of the show here or here:

Also, I recently appeared on the awesome podcast Fortnight on the Internets, run by my hilarious and incisive friends Alison the Business Casual and Alpine McGregor. We discussed online misogyny and #YesAllWomen. You can listen to that here.