An Open Letter To Susan Collins And Lisa Murkowski About My Daughter

Dear Senators Collins and Murkowski,

I would like to tell you about my daughter, Winnie. She is five, and a mother’s dream come true. She is healthy, strong, compassionate. She loves to watch baseball and dress up like a princess. Frozen is her favorite movie. Against all odds, she thinks dentists are cool and wants to be one when she grows up. She has been active in politics her whole life — from getting out the vote as a baby in a carrier on my chest, to knocking doors in national and statewide elections, to attending inaugurations. I try to let her take this stuff at her own pace; she can’t get enough. She likes to ask questions about politics and I make a point to tell her the truth.

Tonight, I told her: Mommy is sad. Why, she asked. I explained to her that it hasn’t always been that girls were allowed to do all the things that boys do — and generally it’s gotten better and more fair for girls over the years. I explained that I’ve had more opportunities than grandma, and that grandma had more opportunities than her mom, but if some people have their way about who gets to say what the law is in this country, she might have fewer opportunities than me when she grows up. My daughter knows that I’m a feminist and that I’ve devoted my life to working for women and girls. I told her it makes me very sad to think that it could be worse for her than it was for me.

She wanted to know how, specifically, it could be worse, so I told her the truth. There are some people who think they can make girls have babies, instead of being fair and letting girls decide when they get to have babies. My daughter does pretend weddings like every other day, and says she would love to be a mommy. She also understands that pregnancy is hard and babies are a lot of work. She gets mad when she is not given a choice about what to eat for breakfast. I could see it sink in on her face — at five — how not right this is.

There is a chill in this country, and I just know that as women of conscience you feel it. What I feel is what I imagine it felt like in other repressive countries just before women lost considerable amounts of freedoms they had once enjoyed: a sense that it is coming, a sense that it is inevitable and there is nothing we can do, and some people who are concerned and others who are in denial that anything will change.

You are senators. It breaks my heart that, as a parent, writing an open letter about my daughter to the two of you seems so critical to her future. I wish it were not necessary. But I know, in my heart, that if in your capacity as senators you do not put your feet down and say you will not vote for a Supreme Court nominee that would overturn Roe v. Wade — and President Trump has been very clear that he will only nominate justices who would — that terrible things will happen to at least some of the beautiful and innocent girls who today come to my daughter’s birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese and someday will experience the complexity that comes with living in a woman’s body.

As a mother, I am horrified that our little girls could have demonstrably fewer freedoms than we do for generations to come. You have both indicated support for abortion rights and in this current political environment, much less the current Republican Party, I can try to appreciate the contorted, lonely spaces you must find yourselves in. I hope you will try to appreciate the spaces millions of us mothers find ourselves in: Looking at our daughters, trying not to cry, vowing to do our best to ensure they get the freedoms we have now, but knowing that ultimately the matter is not much in our hands. The matter is, practically speaking, very much in your hands.

More than any other senator, it is the two of you who will decide whether President Trump is able to convert the Supreme Court into one that will repeal the federal constitutional right to abortion for generations to come. I hope you will think about my little Winnie, and all the other little girls her age, and how much we as their mothers love them. You are our last resort. Please stand up for our girls.

Sincerely,
Erin Matson

 

 

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Let’s Just Be Done With Excuses For Why Women Aren’t Running In Democratic Primaries

Let’s just be done with excuses for why women aren’t running in Democratic primaries, shall we? Let’s be done with excuses for why it is always some other man’s turn.

Yes, we know who gets invited to the golf course.

We got it.

Yes, we know that you find our ambition grating, our knowledge overwhelming, our qualifications a symbol of being “too establishment” or a liability in our “ability to connect.”

We know that you are delving deep into the psychology of why women don’t run, how we have to be asked several times, and how if we just thought more highly of ourselves then maybe it would happen.

We are also uninterested in you blaming us and our inner states, personally, for why centuries of male dominance are continuing today — even though none of the men who are actually holding the power mean it in any sort of oppressive way, lass.

We are up to our ears with Republicans who fundamentally disrespect our humanity and Democratic men who are said to be better for women than, well, the women who are the backbone of the party.

I stopped accepting your excuses for why women aren’t taking the elected seats years ago; you can still tell them to me, and I will listen. I will nod for your reasons, for even if I haven’t heard them before, together they make the most lovely quilt we can present to our daughters with the shrug that maybe their generation can do better.

Well, no. I refuse to teach my daughter that women should wait their turn.

I got angry the first time I took her out in a baby carrier to get out the vote and realized that in the allegedly most progressive corner of the Commonwealth of Virginia we were working to elect nine men and no women. In the Democratic Party. Four years later, in 2017, Arlington Democrats added literally one woman to the picture — out of nine candidates they wanted us to elect. Now, in 2018, we have what The Washington Post calls “two newcomers [battling] for Democratic nomination to Arlington County Board.” No shade to these lovely men, but there is nothing new about having men hold the gavels and women hold the clipboards, and I’m just done.

Those moments in life when we stop accepting our own excuses are the most powerful. I am no longer accepting my own excuses about why I cannot run for office — if you know me personally, you know my No. 1 line is that Arlington is a big pond with political people from D.C. who have a long line of succession, and if I lived somewhere else, I’d do it. I realize now that my excuse sounds a lot like another patch on the quilt of excuses for why Charles is almost always in charge. I am giving up my own excuses now about why I can’t run for office. I can run for office, I’m just not doing it right now. I encourage you to give up your excuses with me.

 

Justice For Stormy Daniels Is A Feminist Issue

Stormy Daniels’ interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes was something electric. In this conversation, Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, detailed her affair with Donald Trump and the intimidation, harassment, and outright threats she has endured at the hands of the president and his attorneys. Let’s get this clear:

Believing Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue.

Supporting Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue.

Justice for Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue.

Stormy Daniels told Anderson Cooper a convincing story, and she deserves to be believed. The most powerful man in the world has repeatedly tried to silence her. The most chilling part of the interview was the revelation that someone came up to Daniels in a parking lot while she was carrying her infant in 2011, shortly after she had nearly sold her story to a tabloid, and said, “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story. That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.” In addition, Daniels repeatedly referenced being intimidated by the legal machinations of Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen.

There is no question that Trump has done, at the very least, versions of this to other women he slept with. Non-disclosure agreements. Payouts. Intimidation through the legal process.

Further, while not every man is as rich or as disgusting as Trump, Stormy Daniels would not be the first person who has been pressured by a man with more power to stay silent about sex. Further, as a sex worker, Daniels is part of a class of women and people who are repeatedly disbelieved for having agency in their sexual lives. It is for all these reasons — much less that she could potentially be sued Trump and his thugs for millions of dollars for speaking out on television — that believing Stormy Daniels without hesitation is a feminist issue.

Supporting Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue. As a feminist, it was difficult for me to watch her say repeatedly that she did not see herself as a victim. I respect her right to self-definition. But it was also sad and hard to hear her describe her revulsion at the prospect of sleeping with Donald Trump, and the fact that she blamed herself for getting into a hotel room with him, and felt she had to follow through.

To be 100 percent clear: You are never obligated to give a man sex. Ever. Even if you went to his hotel room. Even if you are his girlfriend or his wife. Even if you just went on a date. The choice is always yours, and that is what consent is all about. Still, Daniels’ self-definition is to be respected. Supporting Stormy Daniels means that we can be concerned enough to pipe up that you don’t owe anybody sex just because you are in a hotel room, and also respecting her agency to choose to engage in sex with Donald Trump on one occasion, even though she didn’t really want to. The time to pick Stormy Daniels apart is not now. Stormy Daniels needs and deserves support, and that is a feminist issue.

Finally, justice for Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue. By bravely speaking her truth, Stormy Daniels belongs solidly in a line of women who have resisted the horror and thuggery of Donald Trump and the people who support his work.

In the truest sense, Stormy Daniels is a patriot — and an inability to acknowledge that is, for most people, most likely rooted in the sexism of thinking a woman in the pornography industry is too dirty and/or unserious to have something meaningful to contribute to our country. That’s hogwash. There is nothing wrong with sex, and sex workers are people.

Stormy Daniels deserves justice. The ‘hush money’ legal agreement that Donald Trump failed to sign under his pseudonym shortly before the election should be ruled invalid.  Her safety should be guaranteed. And we in the feminist community should all be standing with her and making these demands.

The woman is brave, she is a patriot, and she deserves respect from every woman who says they care about women. Justice for Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue.

I’m Not Waiting Until The Polls Close To Say It This Time: Virginia Democrats Have Got To Put More Women On The Ticket

 

So this puppy just landed on my doorstep:

I’m not waiting until November 2017 to say this:

One out of nine candidates as a woman is an insult to women. One out of nine candidates as a woman is a gigantic reveal of sexism. One of out of nine candidates as a woman four years after the choices were zero out of nine candidates as a woman shows you how entrenched this is.

Four years ago, I wrote I Waited Until The Polls Closed To Say This: It’s Insulting To Have Only Men Running On Women’s Issues, which was subsequently picked up by Talking Points Memo and run as It’s Insulting To Have Only Men Running On Women’s Issues in Virginia.

I wrote it on November 5, 2013, literally as I watched poll results come in. My hands were shaking and I wrote so fast. I was furious and had been balling it up for months. Not anymore.

I am working to elect Democrats in my community. I am knocking on your door, calling your cell phone, and asking for your money and vote. I am also openly mad about the failure of Democrats in my community to live our stated values, which is what’s happening when we have a woman problem.

So here’s the deal for you non-Virginians: Arlington prides itself as being the most progressive corner of the Commonwealth.

If the most progressive means putting men forward for nearly all of the elected positions, count me out. I want to be clear that I strongly support each of these leaders as individuals and will vote for them this year. They are wonderful people.

That said, it’s simply inexcusable that the choices are nearly all men. The “women won’t run” excuse is flimsier than a high-quality pantyhose. Our progressive pipeline in Virginia is brimming with talented, capable women who are ready and eager to lead, and Arlington is not an exception to this rule.

How are we to evaluate conversations within the Democratic Party about easing up on abortion rights and women’s rights at a time when women hold so few of the power-holding positions? Exactly as they appear: Dismissing the importance of abortion rights to a progressive agenda is part of a broader, stubborn problem of marginalizing women within the party that purports to be our party.

I write this as an ardent supporter of our Lieutenant Governor and candidate for governor, Ralph Northam. I have personally raised this issue with him. I’m pleased to say that not only has he always resolutely stood for women’s rights, he did not get defensive and say ‘well, I’ve always stood for women’s rights.’ He did not grab for the second-most frequent excuse you’ll usually hear, which is blaming women for not having the self-confidence to run (not the issue; there are women trying and the old boys — many of whom position themselves as the new boys — are coalescing behind other candidates). He listened, acknowledged the problem, and said he would make certain to appoint women into key positions. This is a step.

Some of the speed bumps on the road to hell are the shushings of Democratic Party operatives (even non-self identified Democrats) who dismiss women running for office as “the establishment.” Look at your freaking GOTV fliers. Denying that putting few women into the elected positions is an issue, much less a progressive one, means that you are part of the problem.

It’s 2017. Let women lead.

 

Parenting Is Political

Having a baby changes your life, and that’s true for activists, too. In my microsphere of feminist and progressive activism, I’ve long been uncomfortable with the way children and specifically having children is viewed.

Having kids can be seen as a burden, an impediment to career advancement, a selfish move that hurts the environment, or a means by which women without children are forced to do more work for the people who get to go home early. I’ve heard feminists who don’t have children say all of these things, and I died a little each time. (To be clear, I’ve also encountered feminists who accommodate caregiving and inspire the best of me as a mom and an activist.)

A feminism that directs women to outsmart the reality of caregiving is probably superficial, market-oriented feminism at its worst. By all means, women and all people should be free to live their lives without being accused of having a maternal instinct to tend. Women who don’t have kids are doing right by themselves and don’t need scrutiny or second-guessing or third-party guilt trips. But to conflate the choice of some women not to have kids as an imperative for all women not to have kids or dependents of any kind, if they want to get ahead in the adult world — why, that’s crap.

Children are part of the universe. They are people with needs. Until we accept the presence of people with needs as part of the public and not just private sphere — be they children, adults with disabilities, or seniors in need of help — equality for women is going nowhere. Whether a woman will have children or not, others will use her presumed reproductive capacity and their opinion of her fitness for it to make decisions on her behalf.

It was tough for me to have a baby, and to adjust. I have always been what my husband calls a “gunner.” Prior to having a child I have, at times, run myself ragged chasing my dream of equality. Once I hit a limit to the point that a friend allowed me to sit on the phone stupefied, unable to speak, only able to cry, because I was working so hard (and without pay), completely disconnected from “life.”

More often it was healthy and fun, where instead of watching TV I liked to go to activist meetings and throw protests (I mean, it is more interesting)! In my last incarnation before getting married and having a baby all domestic-like, I was doing work-related things most weeknights and weekends. It was my community and my passion, and mostly, I was having a good time.

Once I had a baby, the activist labor of planning actions/meeting with activists, going to panel discussions and meet ups, and the endless cycle of board and committee meetings most every evening screeched to a halt. And, in the quiet of a burbling baby who needed to be rocked to sleep and would wake up again 10 minutes later, I began to internalize how removed some feminist quarters I occupied were from the reality of so many women’s lives.

It took more time still for me to realize that some of the most profound activist work I can do is not “activism.” It is not shouting the right thing into the bullhorn, or rounding up the permit and building the engagement ladder, or deepening my understanding of privilege and pushing my own boundaries of what it means to accept and love your neighbor. I do not denigrate these things — I do them.

The most profound activist legacy I leave behind may well be my parenting, and if that winds up being true, I see it as no lesser than the accomplishments of starting an organization, speaking truth to power, and forcing change in the public sphere. Giving my daughter a sense of love and justice, and encouraging her questioning and willingness to participate in collective activism, matters.

Parenting can be activism. Parenting can be a more profound contribution of activism than the things people associate with activism. It’s not anti-feminist to believe that. Frankly, the anti-feminist problem may sit in the slice of feminist spaces that don’t explicitly accommodate people with children, that don’t encourage their participation by explicitly welcoming families in actions and meeting spaces, and that don’t explicitly lift up the importance of the caregiving work that so many women do as a site for collective liberation in the the struggle toward equality.

In Celebration Of The Strident Woman

Strident women move mountains. Strident, like most words that mean abrasive, is rarely applied against men. The strident woman has an opinion. It does not matter what the strident woman’s voice actually sounds like — it might be fast, deliberate, high-pitched, bellowing, or marked by vocal fry — the problem with the strident woman’s voice is that she uses it.

Strident is one of many insults deployed against a woman who seems to have forgotten her role.

Lest you think you can win this, if you’re not strident, you’re usually thrown somewhere on a continuum between ditsy and basic bitch. And still the strident woman roams through the air, her shrill little voice scratching ears like nails on a chalkboard.

Strident is a sexist term. It, like other terms that more or less mean shrill, is applied disproportionately against women in the workplace or positions of authority. There is all kinds of data to back this up, but I’m not going to dive into that now because I want to thank all of these strident women who have achieved amazing things:

Hillary Rodham Clinton • Sojourner Truth • Alice Paul • Gloria Steinem • Angela Davis • Dolores Huerta • Carol Moseley Braun • Emma Sulkowicz • Betty Friedan • Wilma Mankiller • Heather Booth • Sylvia Rivera • Linda Sarsour • Mary Wollstonecraft • Emma Goldman • Donna Edwards • Ellie Smeal • Simone de Beauvoir • Alva Belmont • Marlene Dietrich • bell hooks • Coretta Scott King • Elizabeth Warren • Yoko Ono • Ruth Bader Ginsburg • Sonia Sotomayor • Eleanor Roosevelt • Beyonce • The Leader With The Pigtails On The Playground • The High School Girl Wearing A Feminist Shirt • The Smart Woman At Work Who Isn’t Getting Promoted Even Though It Has Been Her Turn For Awhile

You? Could you be a strident woman reading this post? I want to tell you that you’re doing nothing wrong. I want to tell you to keep it up. When someone doesn’t have the guts or the data to attack your ideas directly, what they will often go for is your personality. Strident is a sexist term meant to silence you by suggesting that the very act of listening to you is intolerable.

I want you to keep pushing because the business of feminism is so deeply unfinished.

This post is dedicated to my lovely colleagues at NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia*, who yesterday in a post on Blue Virginia were accused of “strident” opposition to a candidate who, as I have written about at length, has a disappointing record on abortion at the same time that we have a candidate with a wonderful record. Sounds like garden-variety advocacy to me, but I guess we’re girls (can we be women? can we be fully human? all the time? under the law? am I getting greedy?) and therein lies the rub.

Look, women are allowed to advocate for women. Indeed, nothing will get better for women unless and until we speak up. We must speak up. In that spirit, I invite you to comment on this post with some of your favorite strident women, and then go forth and be strident. Thank you.

*Note: I sit on the NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation Board of Directors, which plays no role in NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s electoral efforts, and I do not speak for the organization. This is me speaking for me, stridently.

Toilet Paper Is Free In Public Restrooms; Why Not Menstrual Products?

Toilet paper, soap, water, and hand towels or hand dryers are provided free of charge in public restrooms. So why are women supposed to pay for a tampon or a pad?

Just like peeing and pooping, menstruation is a predictable, routine bodily function that people take care of in public restrooms every single day.

Menstrual products are basic public health supplies that allow people to maintain sanitary health standards — just like toilet paper, soap, water, and hand towels or hand dryers.

Access to menstrual products is critical for the full dignity, equality, and participation of women and girls worldwide — in South Africa, for example, poor girls have stayed home from school because they didn’t have access to pads.

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A free sanitary napkin dispenser in the Orlando International Airport (photo mine).

Some might object that people would become freeloaders and stop buying menstrual products altogether, and grab large quantities to take home. (Which begs the question of why pads and tampons are unfairly expensive in the first place — here’s looking at you, majority of states with a ‘tampon tax.’) But Americans are innovative, and we’ve figured out how to have toilet paper in pubic restrooms without everyone leaving with several rolls in their bag. The same can be done for menstrual products.

Others might argue that women should pay for cleaning up their own periods. And yet, the routine things men do in public restrooms get basic accommodations. It’s also not possible to argue that men don’t get any special preference in public restrooms — they do, in the form of specialized urinals designed specifically for people who stand while peeing, in addition to toilets.

Are women human? Yes, we are. Is menstruation abnormal? No, it’s not. Public restrooms should offer a free pad to those who need one.

P.S. Free menstrual products in ALL the restrooms, women’s, men’s, and gender neutral! While failing to provide basic menstrual supplies in public restrooms is an A-1 classic example of a society stacked against women who are thought to have extraordinary bodily functions they must personally control and fund (hi, abortion and maternity coverage opponents!), the ability to pee and period in peace is critical for the ability of all people to participate in public life. That includes transgender and gender non-conforming people with periods. xoxo

 

 

Stop Saying Hillary Clinton Is Not Perfect

It’s time for an indefinite moratorium on Hillary’s supporters saying she is “not perfect.”

It’s quite obvious nobody is perfect. And yet there seems to be a bizarre — dare we say gendered — compulsion for many of her supporters to disavow her when they’re otherwise affirming her.

Why do we expect perfection of women? Why are we so insistent that women in the public eye do everything just so? When do we say that our political leaders who happen to be men are “not perfect”?

Don’t distort me here. I remain aggressively committed to doing whatever I need to do to ensure Hillary stands up for, prioritizes, and follows through on meaningful progressive policy change for women’s rights, reproductive justice, racial justice, economic justice, and LGBTQ equality.

I’m not afraid to call for changes in her platform. I have not been afraid to have public conversations about her commitment to reproductive rights, especially after Tim Kaine joined the ticket, even when fellow advocates I respect have winced and tried to shush me up (Note: Judging by her eventual swap of the stigmatizing “safe, legal, and rare” to becoming the first major candidate to call for repealing the Hyde Amendment, and Kaine’s improved performance at the vice presidential debate, pressure seems to work). If she becomes the first woman in the White House, I will be glad to criticize her when her actions call for criticism. But I’m also keenly aware that an orientation toward accountability has nothing to do with expecting perfection of a woman.

As this election cycle drags on in the worst ways, I am starting to believe that rejecting the calls for Hillary to be perfect is an act of self-love for women. None of us need be perfect. We need to do our best, and we need to understand that others may call on us to do our best. But expecting perfection of women is sexist, and toxic.

How To Stop Conversational Manspreading: A Self-Help Guide For Men

Manspreading is not just a physical thing.

manspreading on the subway

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Don’t comment on how much or how little others are eating or exercising.
  3. Don’t interrupt women.
  4. Do not “shush” women as you disagree with them, either with sounds and/or your hands.
  5. If you are answering every question or speaking to every point raised in a meeting, you are speaking too much.
  6. Don’t tell someone how to feel. Don’t tell someone to smile. Don’t tell someone to lighten up.
  7. If you are a man and dominating a conversation about feminism with your own opinions, you’re doing it wrong.
  8. If you’re a white person and you’re dominating a conversation about racism with your own opinions, you’re doing it wrong.
  9. If you agree with something someone else said, say so. Do not present their opinions as your own.
  10. Don’t respond to queries for questions with your opinions.
  11. If you don’t have the lived experience, spend almost all of your time listening.
  12. If you don’t have the lived experience, do not explain how those who do should respond to injustice.
  13. Don’t tell activists they are doing it wrong.
  14. Don’t respond to police brutality with a nervous call for everyone to calm down and remain peaceful.
  15. If you are all over a listserv like every other post, stop it!
  16. 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).
  17. Don’t say something flirty or cute to someone who works below you, ever. It’s not a joke.
  18. 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!