I appeared on PBS’ To The Contrary, and discussed gender roles in government, LGBTQ athletes in the Olympics, and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Watch here:
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.
For My Fellow White People After Charlottesville
To my fellow white people looking with disgust upon the white nationalist rally and violence in Charlottesville that killed Heather Heyer, know that the responsibility to address racism is squarely ours.
Go to solidarity vigils. Donate to Black-led organizations and follow their leadership. But most of all, know that some of the most profound activism you can do involves examining and dismantling your own whiteness and encouraging the white people around you to do the same. Your white privilege makes it more likely other white people will listen to you about white privilege.
So please, do the activism and the donations. But that does not absolve your responsibility to talk to your uncle about his racist joke or to challenge the white people on your Facebook feed who think racism doesn’t exist in their own communities. Racism is everywhere, and the responsibility for dismantling it is not just political — it’s deeply personal.
May 2017 To The Contrary Appearance
I appeared on PBS’ To The Contrary, and spoke about Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos getting booed at Bethune-Cookman, Trumpcare and women, and sexual assault on college campuses:
How To Stop Conversational Manspreading: A Self-Help Guide For Men
Manspreading is not just a physical thing.
It’s a conversational thing. Conversational manspreading is when men dominate a conversation or insert opinions into areas they just shouldn’t comment on.
It sounds like men using a question and answer period to insert an opinion. It sounds like stating opinion as fact. It sounds like men challenging women on their own lived experience. It sounds like former Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA) saying Hillary Clinton should smile more, even though he is ‘with her’ electorally speaking. It sounds like, well, conversations with men dominating that happen in classrooms and workplaces every damn day.
Conversational manspreading is not the same thing as mansplaining, or men explaining to women things they already know, although mansplaining can certainly be a tactic in the conversational manspreading toolbox.
So often we see self-help directed toward women as a way to rise above sexist inequality. Women are told we are underpaid because we choose the wrong careers, or we need to find the self-confidence to speak up, or we need to learn how to negotiate, even though new research shows that contrary to conventional wisdom, women ask for raises as much as men — we just don’t get them.
In this spirit, I’d like to offer some self-help tips for men so that they can find a way to rise above the insecurity and awry feelings that lead them to take up more conversational space than they need. Here goes:
- Don’t tell a woman what she goes through when she has her period, or how she should think about her own anatomy or reproductive matters in general — just don’t. Ever. Even if you happen to work in the reproductive health field.
- Don’t comment on how much or how little others are eating or exercising.
- Don’t interrupt women.
- Do not “shush” women as you disagree with them, either with sounds and/or your hands.
- If you are answering every question or speaking to every point raised in a meeting, you are speaking too much.
- Don’t tell someone how to feel. Don’t tell someone to smile. Don’t tell someone to lighten up.
- If you are a man and dominating a conversation about feminism with your own opinions, you’re doing it wrong.
- If you’re a white person and you’re dominating a conversation about racism with your own opinions, you’re doing it wrong.
- If you agree with something someone else said, say so. Do not present their opinions as your own.
- Don’t respond to queries for questions with your opinions.
- If you don’t have the lived experience, spend almost all of your time listening.
- If you don’t have the lived experience, do not explain how those who do should respond to injustice.
- Don’t tell activists they are doing it wrong.
- Don’t respond to police brutality with a nervous call for everyone to calm down and remain peaceful.
- If you are all over a listserv like every other post, stop it!
- Don’t mansplain. Don’t mansplain what mansplaining means to the one woman sitting at your table of four (I sat next to that at a restaurant once and it took every fiber of my being to not whip out the video camera).
- Don’t say something flirty or cute to someone who works below you, ever. It’s not a joke.
- If you consider yourself a progressive man, all of the above still apply to you. Do not assume you are perfect.
Add in your tips for men to stop the conversational manspreading in the comments!
Video: July 2016 To The Contrary Appearance
I appeared as a panelist on this week’s To The Contrary, and discussed police violence against Black people, discrimination against women with disabilities, and transgender athletes competing at the Olympics.
You can watch a video of the show here:
My public response to one viewer who challenged my statements on the show in favor of transgender equality can be found here.
Feminism Must Be Anti-Racist
Recently, an acquaintance on Facebook upset several mutual friends with a post that started with an admission that every time someone says the phrase ‘white privilege,’ she laughs out loud. She went on to detail how, while she was a white woman, she has experienced a number of specific oppressions in her life and felt it was unfair to conflate her with white male bankers. She identifies vociferously as a feminist.
Also this week, I was pulled over for speeding (oopsie!) and waited in frustration as the officer spent seemingly forever in his car with my registration and license. When he came back, he gave me a warning and let me go. I’ll admit; I was a little frazzled. Earlier that day my daughter had fallen and hurt herself at school, and waiting in my car for the police officer meant I was getting more and more late to pick her up. I told him so, and he left me with a genuine expression of concern. His last words were, “have a better day.”
This, when women like Sandra Bland wind up dead in jail after a routine traffic stop. When some white people continue to defend the Confederate flag after the terrorist murders in Charleston. When people I know sully the ‘feminist’ movement with open hostility toward intersectionality and a self-aggrandizing desire to shout over the lived experiences of others.
I cried as I drove away.
White privilege is an institution that is scary for whites to acknowledge. Hardly anyone wants to be called racist, and just about everyone, white people included, can cook up some stories of how they overcame hardships and got where they are by dint of hard work. The institution of white privilege does not mean that every white person is inherently bad, nor that every white person lives a dandy oppression-free life, but it does mean that every white person doesn’t have to deal with the race-based economic, political, and social inequality people of color have to deal with every day. It also means that white people have a responsibility to listen, learn, and advocate for change.
To deny that at this moment of crisis — when we keep seeing new videos and learning new names of Black people who die in police custody, when activists from the Black Lives Matter movement are tugging the strings of the nation’s conscience and doing the hard work to redistribute power where it belongs — to deny that automatically lands you on a continuum somewhere between ignorant and asshole.
Many of the best feminist activists, organizers, theorists, thinkers, and writers I know are women of color. For that matter, many of the best feminists I know who have told me they most struggle with the term “feminist” are women of color.
Because there is this baggage of white feminists who declare all women are the same, when we are most clearly not. Or things like Patricia Arquette’s exclusionary speech for ‘women’s rights’ at the Oscars.
What we don’t need is ‘unity,’ a phrase that is often deployed as a way for women with more power to get their way.
What we frankly need is to educate these women, or else.
I know many feminists who will rise up to defend why you need to support abortion rights in order to identify as a feminist. The same thing needs to happen with racial justice — if you are not willing to listen to others with different experiences and identities without putting yourself first, if you are not willing to look racism in the face, you really need to get the fuck out of the tent.
Video: April 2015 HuffPost Live #WMN Appearance
I appeared as a panelist on this week’s episode of #WMN on HuffPost Live, and discussed backlash against Trevor Noah, the consequences of shutting down Planned Parenthood clinics in Indiana, a new “spa-like” abortion clinic in Maryland, and the TSA searching Black women’s hair. You can watch a video of the show here.
Long-Term, What Should We Take Away From L’Affaire Arquette?
For a second, it seemed like Patricia Arquette might be the new hero of the feminist movement.
After using her Oscar acceptance speech to call for equal rights for women, later that evening she expanded on her remarks backstage. “It’s time for all … the gay people and people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now,” she said.
Look, the initial acceptance speech was not perfect — not all women give birth, citizenship is a privilege that many people don’t get to have, and “we” have not all fought for “everybody’s equal rights” that are currently being exercised and enjoyed — but it was an exciting moment for feminism anyway. The wage gap and equality for women should be mainstream issues.
That Arquette used her Oscar acceptance speech to call for political and social equality for women does not negate the harm of what she said backstage. By drawing lines around who is considered a woman (ostensibly, not gay, of color, or both) and insinuating that LGBT people and people of color (again, not mutually exclusive groups) owe something to those women who are white and straight and getting paid unfairly, Arquette set feminism back.
There are feminists and others who vehemently disagree with me on this; they think I am being too hard on Arquette or that I am demanding perfection of women who step out for feminism. Briefly, I understand it is difficult for celebrities to step out as feminists, and as, I have written before, I believe Celebrity Feminism Is A Good Thing. Nor do I think women and in particular feminists all need to be perfect. I’m not perfect and I’m not going to let that stop me from trying to advance equality for women and girls. These issues are not what’s at stake.
As a broader movement, feminism has a massive white privilege problem and exclusion problem. This is nothing new (racism has always been present in the women’s movement, with racist suffragists posing strong historical examples, and likewise Betty Friedan warned of the “lavender menace,” or the ridiculous idea that lesbians pose a threat to the women’s movement, in the 1960s), but Arquette tapped into it and reinforced it in a very public way.
If you think I am being “divisive” and ignoring that Arquette “meant well” and at this point wish to hit me over the head with a frying pan, I urge you to read Imani Gandy’s The Road to Structural Erasure Is Paved With Well-Intentioned White Ladies. (Seriously, though, if you hit her over the head with a frying pan I’m coming to get you.)
So now that all this has happened, what should we take away from this moment?
Here are my primary three suggestions:
1. Embrace fearlessness, rather than unity, as the rally cry for feminism.
Women are not all the same and, as I’ve written before, it’s not helpful to speak for all women. Many of the people standing on Arquette’s side in this affair believe that women need to “stand together,” or strive for “unity.” The problem with this logic is that inevitably “unity” means quieting the softer voices in the room, or the people with less power. Calls for unity can be oppressive because, by drawing upon and reinforcing existing power dynamics, they can come to operate as calls to resist the inclusion of marginalized people.
Feminism is at its strongest when we embrace the reality that not all women are the same, and that women experience different oppressions on the basis of a wide range of identities and privileges.
Imagine how strong the women’s movements could be if we embraced fearlessness rather than unity as the rally cry for our feminisms.
Let’s fearlessly examine how racism impacts life in America. Let’s fearlessly engage in difficult conversations with others. Let’s fearlessly remain open to changing our own views, and learning from others committed to human rights and social justice but with different perspectives. Let’s fearlessly speak up for the rights of all people — starting with but not exclusive to women. Let’s fearlessly embrace different people sharing diverse explanations of what conditions are required to thrive.
2. Criticism does not mean someone should go away, but Arquette should apologize.
It would be great if Arquette would apologize publicly for what she said, and such an apology would not be an admission of weakness but rather a representation of strength. The most feminist thing Arquette could do would be make an apology and commit publicly to growth. (While she has subsequently tweeted about the way the wage gap disproportionately impacts people of color, that is not a genuine “I’m sorry for what I said, and I will work to be more inclusive in my feminism in the future.”
As I wrote previously in Getting To Sorry: Why Apologies Matter When Someone Says Something Bigoted:
Feminism, as a practice, is not about gotcha and declaring some people good and other people bad. It is about eliminating bigotry from our lives — something all of us will have to work at — and moving forward in new ways that honor the full potential and human rights of everyone. So getting to sorry is a big deal, because it is that first step toward honoring people and making change.”
To be super clear, Arquette should not leave feminism, and her harmful words should not be used as an excuse for why others should not enter feminism. Should Arquette choose to handle the controversy with an apology, a little vulnerability, and an open commitment to expanding her practice of feminism to make it more intersectional, she could in fact give feminism a great gift.
Because lots of people will step in it. No one person can escape the thinking that underlies systems of oppression, even people who are committed to ending them in whole or in part. Social change agents will not succeed if they are not willing to change themselves.
3. Feminism must also mean listening to and elevating the experiences of women of color.
Please stop reading my blog right now and read Jasmine Burnett on Navigating a ‘Crooked Room’: Reflections From Black Women on Their Experiences in Progressive Spaces. It is a disturbing, important, vital piece.
In Response To The Allegation That Pointing Out White Male Dominance Is Racist And Sexist
Is it racist and sexist to point out that white men are dominant? Since launching the Tumblr white guys doing it by themselves, I’ve been called a “racist bitch” and told I’m sexist, too.
I welcome the opportunity to respond to these comments because while they lack decorum, this strain of thought is out there in less aggressive forms and it’s important to address it.
No one is a bad person for thinking that it’s racist or sexist to point out differences between advantaged groups and disadvantaged groups. Rather, they are tuning into decades of right-wing messaging gone mainstream: That equality has been achieved, that racism and sexism are wrongs of the past and not the present, and that the true victims of racism and sexism are white men who are less likely to get jobs and all the other things they might otherwise rightfully achieve on this planet were it not for misguided affirmative action efforts. None of these messages are true.
In a hypothetical world, it could be racist to exclude white people in order to prioritize people of color. It could be sexist to exclude men in order to prioritize women. We do not live in a hypothetical world.
We live in a real world where white men are so dominant that it’s easy to overlook how often they dominate to the point of excluding everyone else unless it is pointed out.
Pointing out white male dominance is not an attack on white men. It is an attack on the centuries-old practice of racism and sexism excluding everyone but white men from the levers of power, and the invisibility that allows that discrimination to continue.
The ability to be taken seriously as a leader, as a white man, is a privilege. It is not earned, although many white men work hard and do good things on top of this privilege. With this unearned privilege must come awareness and responsibility among hard-working white men to insist others are included in discussions affecting all of us. This is why white guys doing it by themselves exists.