Radical Issues: An Interlude

This morning I read Rebecca Solnit’s “letter to my dismal allies on the US left.” So much in it resonated deeply with me. In it, she said:

Maybe it’s part of our country’s puritan heritage, of demonstrating one’s own purity and superiority rather than focusing on fixing problems or being compassionate. Maybe it comes from people who grew up in the mainstream and felt like the kid who pointed out that the emperor had no clothes, that there were naked lies, hypocrisies and corruptions in the system…

When you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail, but that’s not a good reason to continue to pound down anything in the vicinity. Consider what needs to be raised up as well. Consider our powers, our victories, our possibilities; ask yourself just what you’re contributing, what kind of story you’re telling, and what kind you want to be telling.

So often I feel like we spend so much time as feminists and activists pointing out the nudity of our leaders and the systems that they put in place that we cannot enjoy our victories even for a moment.

A prime example for me came in the form of the SCOTUS decision on Friday regarding marriage equality in the US. You have to have known that it happened. The internet has been awash in rainbows ever since.

Anyway, about halfway through my day on Friday I noticed a vocal minority starting to talk about how there is a lot more work to do and how we need to turn our eyes to the future.

They’re not wrong.

But I couldn’t help the frustration that welled up in me. Can’t we just have ONE DAY? I thought. Can’t we just celebrate this culmination of so much blood, sweat and tears and then think about the rest of What Must Be Done tomorrow?

One of my biggest issues with being involved in social justice as a feminist is this constant nitpicking at everything that happens. I know that there are larger issues at stake. I know that we are not done fighting. I know that things are getting better in small increments that appear big when they suddenly have a cover story in the New York Times.

But sometimes I just want to celebrate without delving into the minutia of complications that suck the joy right out of a victory. Sometimes I just want to say “Hey, isn’t it great that SCOTUS ruled in favor of marriage equality?” and have people respond with “Yes” rather than “Yes, but…”

I’m not an idiot. I don’t live with my head in the sand. I recognize the irony of Facebook plastering everyone’s profile pictures with rainbows while still not allowing trans folks to use their actual names on their profiles. I’m aware that the right to get married to my girlfriend does not mean that, in certain states, we can’t still be fired or evicted based on our relationship.

I know that. I know all of that and more. But it’s fucking exhausting to be reminded of it even at the height of something wonderful happening.

As Solnit said:

There is idealism somewhere under this pile of bile, the pernicious idealism that wants the world to be perfect and is disgruntled that it isn’t – and that it never will be. That’s why the perfect is the enemy of the good. Because, really, people, part of how we are going to thrive in this imperfect moment is through élan, esprit de corps, fierce hope and generous hearts.

We all want to live in a perfect world. We want to see things change for the better. But I think that being constantly on edge and constantly picking at people about the problems is not necessarily as healthy for ourselves or our causes as we would like it to be. When we are delivered a solid win like the one we had on Friday, I think it’s OK to let go and celebrate the victory for the moment and set the inevitable problems aside to analyze later.

Wentworth v. Orange is the New Black

Four months ago Frankie and I went to XenaCon. It is by far the gayest thing I have ever done aside from having sex and intimate relationships with women.

We had a great time. The actors who came were all sweet and kind and welcoming. Some of the Xenites had huge sticks up their asses, but we mostly ignored them in favor of finding a few cool humans to spend our weekend with.

That weekend was when I first heard the name “Wentworth.” Danielle Cormack was in attendance speaking about her role as Ephiny on Xena. When the time came to ask her a question, one of the first ones was from a Aussie woman who wanted to know what was coming down the road for Bea in the next season.

I wish I had realized how amazing Wentworth was before I went to that con. I would have had so many questions for Danielle.

In the time since XenaCon I have started and finished watching Orange is the New Black and enjoyed it immensely. But I have to say that I’m glad I watched it before I dove into Wentworth. Let it be known at this point that I am going to describe my reactions to these two shoes without a single spoiler. Because I am cool with you all like that.

I love OITNB. That said, there is something about it that feels cartoony to me. It could be the buffoonery of the guards. There isn’t a single guard or boss on that show that I take seriously. Even the villainous ones seem like villain parodies rather than actual bad guys.

On the other hand, Wentworth feels more authentic than OITNB in a lot of ways. The guards aren’t a joke, for one. They do their jobs and, when they don’t, their choice to break the rules seems much more believable to me as a viewer. Even their relationships make more sense. The mistakes and choices that they make have more impact because their connections to other characters seem really informed by their personal identities, rather than being flash-in-the-pan shock material, which OITNB delivers in spades.

Another thing that makes OITNB feel cartoony is the unrealistic hotness of some of the actresses. Not that I don’t appreciate it, mind. Because I do. But I think that hotness is an unfortunate symptom of the American television system. There are a few stellar actors on that show that don’t fall into the stereotypical box of sexiness, but they are more than balanced out by the parade of eye candy that is the rest of the women.

On the subject of hotness, the women in Wentworth are much more believable. There are a few stunningly attractive people, namely Franky Doyle. But Franky’s sexiness is explained by her position as a reality TV star on the outside. The rest of the women look like friends or people you know in your life, rather than unattainable Beautiful People. Again, this is probably due at least in part to the differences inherent in the Australian television market as compared to TV in the U.S., so it’s a somewhat unfair comparison to make, but the difference is there and it makes a difference in how I view both shows, so it needs to be said.

The content of Wentworth is also much darker. They go to more nuanced places regarding addiction as well as women’s lives both inside and outside of prison. Rape isn’t a persistent theme, thankfully, but on the occasion where it has been brought up, the consequences of and reactions to it feel very real as they are described and lived out by the people in the show.

On the whole, they are both good shows and I enjoy them immensely. But OITNB feels like junk food to me after having watched Wentworth, which feels like a hearty meal.

Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems

A while ago my favorite misogynist at work schlumped into the office at 8:15AM and began pontificating on the campaign to get women on 20s.

In the midst of his spiel on how ridiculous he found the whole idea, he stated that there would “first have to be a woman president.” Because apparently Ben Franklin was president? Who knew.

He also said that there hasn’t been a woman in America worthy of being on our money. At that point I was so angry that I had to leave the room. He joked as I was leaving that I was going to look up names. Bro, I don’t need to look up names. I can rattle off the names of women who have done plenty for this country without breaking a sweat.

Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sally Ride, Sacajawea, Zora Neale Hurston, Lucretia Mott, Sandra Day O’Connor, Dorthea Dix, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Blackwell, Grandma Moses, Margaret Sanger, Helen Keller, Georgia O’Keeffe, Amelia Aerhart, Dorothy Day, Grace Hopper, Abigail Adams, Maya Angelou. The list goes on, believe me.

This week, it has been announced that we will, in fact, be getting a woman on our money. I honestly cannot wait until he comes down here to complain about it. I have so many one-liners prepared, it’s insane.

“Guess the Treasury didn’t agree with you about the ‘worthiness’ of women, huh?”

“Are you going to boycott the $10 now?”

“Man, it must be hard to see centuries of privilege spin away into the ether. Do you need to sit down?”

It will not, however, be the $20, but rather the $10, that gets the makeover. Mostly because the $10 was the next in line to get a makeover in the next few years.

This brings up a couple of issues. First among which is that I’m not sure I want to see Alexander Hamilton replaced instead of Andrew Jackson. The Women On 20s group specifically targeted Jackson on the $20 in their campaign because of his controversial policies, namely the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which led to the Trail of Tears. Jackson also favored silver and gold coins over paper money, making him an odd choice to put on American cash, in my opinion.

By contrast, Alexander Hamilton was the founder of the financial system of this country. He was our first Treasury Secretary and took the lead in establishing a national bank. He also died in a duel, which makes him super bad ass in my book.

I get that the $10 was the next up to be changed, but replacing Hamilton over Jackson doesn’t really make good sense to me.

The other big issue that I have is that they might not be removing Hamilton entirely from the $10. They might just move him to the back. Now, while I’m a huge fan of Hamilton and don’t think he should be replaced, I don’t really like the idea of putting a woman on the money only to have her be chaperoned on the bill by the guy who had the job before her. Do they need the guy to lend her credibility or something?

And honestly, as thrilled as I am to see women taking a place on money, I have to agree with Jessica Williams from the Daily Show. I would rather see us make the money we’re worth than grace currency that’s quickly becoming outdated.

Morbidity & Mortality

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about dying.

I was introduced to death when I was 10 years old. My great aunt was 93. When I left school one day my mother told me that she had died. I cried so hard. I barely even knew her, but the idea that someone was permanently gone from my life was so difficult to imagine at that age.

I remember her funeral. I remember burying her and going to this big restaurant to eat and really just wanting to go home and be sad in my room.

When my grandmother died I was at work. I was just out of high school. I got a call on the restaurant’s phone and went back to answer it. After that I don’t remember much. I remember sliding down the wall like in a movie. Crying in front of the whole kitchen. I remember sitting at her funeral next to my grandfather who was crying openly and telling me he didn’t know what he was going to do without her.

He died shortly thereafter. He waited for me to come and say goodbye. I sang to him in the apartment beneath my aunt’s house that he had shared with my grandmother. Then he died.

When enough people in your life slip away from you, you start to think that it doesn’t even really matter anymore. One more death. You’d think it would numb you. But it doesn’t.

When my father’s best friend died I was in Germany with my mother. He’d had cancer for a while. I had to comfort my mother, so I didn’t grieve for him the way I had done for the people before. Years later, I find myself missing him with this sharp ache that hasn’t really started to ease yet.

When enough people in your life die you start to be afraid of phones when people are sick. Which, when I was younger, wasn’t as difficult as it is now. Now, whenever my grandmother’s number appears on my phone, I worry that someone has found her in her apartment. But instead of my phone being in my house all the time, it’s in my purse. This weird specter that looms over my everyday life with the threat of bad news when things get dire for someone I care about.

I don’t know why death has been in my head so much lately. Maybe it’s because things have been so good that I’m expecting the other shoe to drop. Maybe I’m dreading the thrice-fold tumbling of people I know into some abyss. Maybe I’m just anxious and this is how the anxiety is manifesting.

I worry about my family. I worry about my dog.

I have to remind myself to breathe. To let the worry go. To remind myself that death is a symptom of life and to live my life with fervency and relish. To fight the fear. Death is inevitable, after all. And living my life in fear of it is not going to do me any good.

Spank a Feminist and see what happens: Twitter & MRAs

I wasn’t really that much of a Twitter person until recently. I don’t know what changed. Suddenly I just found myself using it more. I think it’s a cool platform for the most part, but I don’t live there. I do most of my socializing on Facebook and most of my ruminating on here.

Yesterday morning I woke up and found that the hashtag #SpankAFeminist was trending. I saw a couple of responses from feminists I know and automatically recognized that it was some MRA bullshit. So, I joined in.

Within a few minutes, my phone was blowing up with the pitter patter of little troll feet. These guys looked at my Twitter profile and asked me to define patriarchy. I responded with the link to Let Me Google That For You, because asking a person to define terms that you already damn well know – or could find out with a basic Google search – is just a way to make the conversation about nuanced little pieces of grammar rather than larger issues. If I tell you that the patriarchy is my favored enemy in my profile, you know what I’m talking about. And you can make all kinds of arguments based on the dictionary definition of patriarchy as meaning a government controlled by men, but the definition that I’m talking about is right there below it and your arguments are really about breaking me down so that you can tell me my points are invalid.

I’m not playing that fucking game with strangers on the internet. And as a friend said yesterday:

Of course, once I blocked them and moved on, there were other trolls accusing me of silencing the opposition and all that good garbage. Because they honestly think they’re entitled to my time and attention. Silly little trolls.

I did manage to get into a somewhat productive conversation with one person who approached me with a genuine question about my views on patriarchy. Of course, that did eventually degrade into him telling me personal anecdotes about false rape accusations and feminists not supporting men’s groups to help prevent suicide when I was on my way out the door to see a movie. Because anecdotal evidence is the best evidence? I don’t even know.

Anyway, it should be known that this hash tag didn’t just leap spontaneously into existence. It was launched by Dean Esmay, the MRA crowning jewel. In his article about why #SpankAFeminist should trend, Esmay said the following:

[A]ny time you meet a feminist, you should spank him or her until they cry. And do it every time they open their mouths to spew forth their hateful lies about standing for tolerance, inclusion, and equality, when there is no movement in the modern world that does more to fight against tolerance, inclusion, freedom, and equality than feminism. Not even real life fascists or communists can top them at this point.

So, couple of things.

First of all, equating a social movement to fascism and communism is way off the rails to begin with. As Godwin’s Law states, bringing those things into the conversation effectively ends the conversation. The fact that Esmay goes there in his announcement about this new hashtag is pretty telling.

Secondly, the people in this hashtag are trying to make the argument that this whole thing is a facetious rejoinder to the Kill All Men hashtag. I don’t think that comparison is apt at all. #KillAllMen is ironic misandry at it’s absolute finest. We are obviously not going to kill all men. We have no interest in killing all men. Esmay went ahead and quoted my Tweet yesterday as “further proof that all feminists are violent criminals” or some such nonsense. I blocked him without responding. But honestly, has there been some kind of madwoman running around cutting off the hands of men who dare to touch her ass without permission? Is there a womanhunt on the news? No. I’m joking. Calm your fucking tits, Esmay.

As far as #SpankAFeminist and #KillAllMen are concerned, the other issue with that comparison is that Esmay sounds 100% serious in his article about there being a “solution” in the idea of spanking feminists until they cry. And that shit is not OK. Describing feminism as “an intolerant, hateful, racist, anti-gay, misandrist, misogynist, gynocentric religion and hate movement” sounds pretty serious to me. Calling for violent reprisal against people who espouse it as a belief is not a joke. It’s not funny. It’s painting a group of people who have been systemically oppressed as a hate movement and calling for them to be silenced. And for a white man to do that as a member of the most privileged group on the planet is completely unacceptable.

This whole thing was my first time being involved in any kind of Twitter drama or attacks. I did not care for it. But I care even less for the legitimate attention being paid to Men’s Rights Activists and their movement. So I’m going to shout about that and take the heat rather than sit back and let them act like their disgusting venomous nonsense is at all acceptable.


 

As a post script, here is a beautiful poem by Shane Koyczan on trolls.

 

Humanism ≠ Feminism

On Monday I went up to visit my parents. On the drive back to the train station, my mom told me that she’d had a super awkward conversation over dinner with old friends. The people she was eating dinner with brought up a guy they knew who had passed away in a car accident some years back. In the conversation, they remembered him being “a great guy” with a “great laugh.”

Mom brought the conversation to a screeching halt with two small sentences:

“Yea, such a great guy. You know he used to beat the hell out of his wife?”

After that, things got weird and awkward. Other people in the conversation called the woman in question “mouthy” and said that it wasn’t a coincidence that every man she’d been in a relationship with had beaten her. Mom cited repetition compulsion and that being “mouthy” (whatever that fucking means) is never an acceptable justification for abuse.

Mom felt super awkward about the conversation, but I was so proud of her! Feminist killjoy moments like that make me so happy I just have to Tweet about them.

When I told my mom that the conversation was an awesome feminist moment and how thrilled I was that she had opened up like that and corrected the other people in the conversation, her response was to say that she doesn’t “identify as feminist,” but rather as a “humanist.”

At which point I just wanted to put my head in my hands and rub my face with frustration.

I totally get where she’s coming from because I used to be her. I thought that feminism was too aggressive a movement for me to identify with. I didn’t want to lose friends over my association with some extremist viewpoint. I also thought that feminism was exclusive to women and didn’t want to exclude the men in my life from my primary operating belief system.

I had some serious learning and growing to do.

The first thing that I had to learn is that humanism is already it’s own thing. Humanism is chiefly the belief that humans have no need of supernatural powers to solve their problems. The American Humanist Association defines humanism as having numerous meanings depending on what exactly you are speaking about. Literary humanism differs from religious humanism, for example. They define Modern Humanism as:

“…a naturalistic philosophy that rejects all supernaturalism and relies primarily upon reason and science, democracy and human compassion.”

It should be noted that modern humanism grapples with whether or not it should be defined religiously or secularly. I, personally am a secular Humanist. I’m basically an atheist and I truly do believe that humans have the potential to rationally sort out their own problems. With that said, my humanism and my feminism are distinctly separate beliefs that inform one another.

My understanding of feminism was fundamentally changed when I re-framed it as a resistance to – and revolution against – the patriarchal ideals which inform our society. I realized that men were very much included in feminism when I learned about things like toxic masculinity and started to think about how the roles and responsibilities that we apply to the fantasy that is the gender binary hurt people all along the sex and gender spectrum.

My world was further opened when I found myself interacting with intersectional feminists and discovered that my feminism could include not only all genders and sexual identities, but also people of other races and other issues of social justice. Of course, this portion of my feminism meant I got called out a lot on my white feminism and my ignorance when it came to issues of trans inclusivity, which was incredibly awkward for me at the time.

The point of all of this is to say that feminism and humanism are not the same. But even more than that, feminism includes men and women and trans folk. It includes people of all colors, sizes and sexual identities. And if you meet someone who calls themselves a feminist and doesn’t actually include all of those things? Then they are not really feminists. Feminism is either intersectional or bullshit. One of those two things. But that is an issue for another blog.

Hatred, Terror and the Shooting in Charleston

I woke up this morning to the same news as many of you. Last night in Charleston, North Carolina, a white man consumed by hate shot and killed 9 people in a church after a prayer meeting.*

My heart goes out to the community in Charleston and to the families and friends of those injured and killed. I cannot begin to imagine what they are going through.**

The scariest thing about events like this is that, although we condemn the people who have committed these acts, the fact is that the person behind the gun is simply that: a person.

Things were simpler when I was younger and lived under the mistaken assumption that Bad Guys were easily identifiable and worked for Evil Organizations with names like Cobra so you knew they were bound to do something terrible. As an adult, I’m aware that a lot of the terrible things we see happening are the result of individual choice. And that terrifies me.

When I was in high school the 911 attacks happened. I won’t bother to recount what they were like. So many of us were around when they happened. And the events themselves are not the point.

After the attacks, the people around me were so angry. I want to say that I was somehow above all that. That I saw instantly the inherent humanity of the cultures out of which the terrorists arose. But I was young and I didn’t have that inherent response. The people around me infused me with anger. I didn’t know who to point my anger at, so I pointed it at the countries that we were told by the government were the ones responsible. And I felt that anger with all the forcefulness of a teenage girl who had not yet learned important lessons about temperance.

I hated a group of people intensely. For a moment. Before I stopped myself and started to work out the nuance of that group. I saw the absurdity of hating a whole swath of human beings as though they were responsible for the actions of individuals.

The things that cause and engender violence on the part of individuals are more complicated and nuanced than simply being born in the same place. Eventually, the choice to do violence unto another person comes down to individual choice.

But that’s the scary part.

Individuals.

I could walk through my life and manage to never be pushed by external or internal forces into an act of senseless violence. But the people around me have no way of knowing if I will one day snap and do something terrible. Something irrevocable.

The bastard who shot up that church last night deserves to be punished. The terror that he has inflicted upon the community in Charleston is very real. And lasting. The damage that he has done can be measured in lives lost and terror inflicted.

He is just one man. And that’s what frightens me. That one man could do so much damage and cause so much grief and somehow be missed by the authorities until after he had done something so terrible… it makes me afraid. Which I’m sure was at least part of his goal. That’s the way that terrorists usually operate, after all.


*That man, Dylann Roof, has since been apprehended. It’s worth noting that he has been taken alive despite having killed 9 people. A privilege that is not afforded many people of color in this country who have been killed for merely having a gun, or just walking down the street. I can’t wait to hear the mental health and “he was a quiet boy” defenses start rolling off tongues in the peanut gallery. I want to talk more about this story as it unfolds. I’m already exhausted in the face of the racism inherent in our media and police force in their handling of this situation. I’ll muster up the words for my thoughts soon.


**Please consider making a donation to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to help get their community through this trying time.

Other People’s Pools

in the summertime we’d gather.
when the heat rose through our feet
and made our barefoot lives untenable.

our parents packed and piled us,
we teams of children, small barbarians,
into mini vans and busses.
on arrival we threw ourselves through
neighbors houses, loud with summer frenzy.

we were chaos manifest. we
did not pause to take in the serenity
that is a dormant pool.
its mirrored surface marked
with leaves of trees
too hot to bear the weight
gentle ripples caused by bugs’ wings
iridescent, brushing the surface
on their way about their business.

delirious with heat,
sick with the sun, we
scattered into riotous motion
the bugs who buzzed
around the surface
                (dancing, biting things
                their green chrysalises
                the color of our bathing suits)

sticky in the sun we
plunged, bodies arching
in the light like rainbows,
into blue and white.
so cold our teeth would chatter
so pure we would not protest
the chill that arched through to our bones.

we tossed each other’s toys and then,
mimicking the pose of ancient divers,
set out. fingers fumbling, we found them
floating to the bottom of the pool
bellies brushing cement,
eyes open, goggles on.

we were sharks, then,
fingers clutching prizes, predatory,
the sea of legs above a tempting sight.
we stalked the icy depths,
eight feet below,
then pounced! our prey,
once friends, made splashing, shouting protest.

we lounged,
large jungle cats disguised as kids,
arms and legs dangling,
bodies sheared by
hard lines of cold water
splitting us
between earth
                        and captured sea