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!

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:

A white person is never going to know what it is like to live in a Black body in this country.

My public response to one viewer who challenged my statements on the show in favor of transgender equality can be found here.

Leggings Are Pants

These are leggings.

Leggings

Leggings are pants.

Pants are made of fabric, and cover the lower abdominal area, crotch, and both legs.

Pants come in a variety of styles.

With pants, as with life, fit is everything.

Women, like men, are allowed to wear pants.

Some people say women’s bodies are “distracting.”

If only women and girls would hide their bodies, the thinking goes, men and boys could succeed.

That’s not right.

Women can have butts, and curves, and fat, and should be free to wear whatever is comfortable regardless of the shapes of our bodies.

Leggings are pants.

Praise be comfort, acceptance of women’s bodies, and women’s full and equal participation in society.

 

Let Snow Days Be Snow Days

Expecting workers to telecommute on snow days is discrimination against caregivers, pure and simple.

It’s not just offices that are closed on snow days. Schools are closed. Daycares are closed. Caregivers who come to the home either stay home themselves, or put themselves in danger. Parents and caregivers aren’t capable of pretending like it’s just another workday, but in our pajamas and from our kitchen tables. We have people depending on us.

From a sentimental/artistic/being a human standpoint, I believe everyone should get a snow day — caregiver or no. When nature dumps white to the point of municipal breakdown, we may as well look out the window and wonder, catch up on our reading or binge-watching, or have sex (just saying, the maternity wards are going to be crowded in D.C. in 9 months).

But those think pieces exist. What exists far less is an acknowledgement that when our basic institutions don’t open, parents and caregivers who work outside the home can’t just do our work inside the home like nothing ever happened. There are diapers to change, baths to give, meals to prepare, and they do and should take precedence. And yes, this primarily impacts women.

The same extends to students. My alma mater, Georgetown University, now has a concept called “instructional continuity” that means that when classes are cancelled, students are often on the hook for doing something for the class during the same time. What an assumption that professors and students don’t have people depending on them in their real lives!

I’ve always hated the “work/life” concept and thought it was a marketing gimmick to cover up for the fact that our society throws women and caregivers to the wolves, even makes us feel guilty for it and like we are somehow personally deficient. But that’s a book and not a blog post.

For now, for modernity’s sake, for humanity’s sake:

Let a snow day be a snow day.

How To Explain The Benghazi And Planned Parenthood Hearings To Your Two-Year-Old Daughter

What’s this? 

It’s a hearing, sweetie. And we need to talk about something important.

What do you notice about the people asking questions?

Yes, they seem mad. Really mad. What else?

That’s right. They’re almost all boys. Usually when boys grow up we should call them men.

Now what about the person getting yelled at?

Yes, she’s not a boy.

So this is not fair, but it’s true: There are a lot of boys who grew up thinking they were better than girls.

Why?

People were mean and they were wrong in the old days. They thought only boys could be strong, and only girls should take care of other people. I know, that’s not at all like your friends! Now boys play with dolls, and girls are great at running and jumping and playing baseball.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard for people to let go of things they learned when they were little, even when those things are mean and wrong.

The reason why they are picking on Hillary Clinton and Cecile Richards, and not boys, is that for a lot of people, these women represent more opportunities for girls. One could be our first woman president. The other works so that girls get to pick what to do with their lives.

A lot of boys with mean and wrong ideas don’t like that. So they’re trying to put them in their place.

What I want you to notice is that neither of them are giving up, even though the questions are really mean. If someone ever tries to bully you because you are a girl, you shouldn’t either.

And I will be so proud of you. I already am.

Hillary Clinton at Benghazi hearing

Loving My First Gray Hair Is Political

Yesterday I got my first gray hair. It’s beautiful and light, hugging the soft space to the side of my forehead. I love it.

I have been waiting for this day. I am 35. Gray hair was going to happen. Years ago I made a conscious decision to continue loving myself as I grow older. This is an act of self-preservation, and defiance.

This is about my feminism — hatred of women is intimately tied in with dangerous, racist, and unrealistic expectations of beauty that we are expected to internalize. We must reject that as much as we can (real talk: this can be a day-by-day thing, and feeling like crap about your looks doesn’t mean you don’t get to be a feminist).

This is personal — I almost died of anorexia. Gray hair is a victory! I am fortunate I made it to my 18th, 19th, and 20th birthdays. I am both grateful and proud I did, because damn that was a lot of work. My personal interest extends beyond having overcome nearly lethal negative self-talk related to my appearance; I’ve reached an age where too many peers have died for no good reason. I’m lucky to get old.

This is about parenting, too — my daughter deserves the example of a woman who dares to look like herself and love herself.

As a social justice activist and organizer, I struggle with the decision to write posts like this sometimes. Today yet another video has surfaced of a Black person losing their life to police violence; his name was Sam DuBose. Racism is one of the most pressing issues of our time.

And so, I ask myself:

Is it indulgent to be introspective about the first freaking gray hair on my head at a time when people are dying, when politicians fail to acknowledge that Black lives matter, when terrorists are targeting abortion providers because they dare to help women?

I struggle with this question, and yet this post speaks for itself: Here I am, writing. My firm belief is that self-love is radical. You cannot fight effectively for equality, dignity, or justice when you are unable to treat yourself with respect. You cannot find the courage to accept difference in others if you’re unwilling to accommodate difference for yourself. Loving yourself is not ego or dominance (those are rooted in insecurity, after all); loving yourself is about compassion. Best part? Inner compassion is compassion, and both are contagious.

So, when I embrace my gray hair, what I am also saying is that we should embrace ourselves and one another as we are. We must treat our fragile lives with respect and love, and break every convention necessary.

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