Save the tatas!

It’s October, everybody! And you know what that means. It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves, throw on a low cut top with a pink ribbon on it, and get aware of breast cancer.

Although how you could be unaware is completely beyond me, especially when October 1st hits and everything from your local KFC bucket to your Kitchen Aid mixer is suddenly the color of pepto bismol.
Although how you could be unaware is completely beyond me, especially when October 1st hits and everything from your local KFC bucket to your Kitchen Aid mixer is suddenly the color of Pepto Bismol.

I kid, but breast cancer is no joking matter. With the death toll in 2013 in the US reaching 39,620 out of 232,340 reported cases according to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is a serious disease with serious repercussions for cancer sufferers as well as their families and friends. And with numbers like that, the likelihood that you know someone who will be effected by breast cancer within your lifetime is high.

Breast cancer gets a lot of attention as a disease. And that makes sense. No one wants the women in their lives to suffer and die of cancer. (Of course, men get breast cancer as well. 410 of those deaths listed above were men.) But when you look at the numbers on breast cancer, the concern to death ratio doesn’t quite add up. For example, when it comes to body count, heart disease is way ahead of breast cancer according to the CDC, taking the lives of 600,000 Americans every year. There are also several other cancers that claim significantly more lives per year than breast cancer, such as cancer of the digestive system, which took 144,570 lives in 2013 and the respiratory system which took 163,890 lives that same year. Those numbers are wayyyy higher than the numbers for breast cancer. When other cancers have death tolls like that, it begs the question: Why the focus on the tatas? Well, I have a few theories.

1) Boobies. This one is kind of obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. The fact of the matter is that a lot of us like breasts. That’s why you see campaigns like this on Facebook and other social networking sites all month long.

How about no?
Yea, no. Because flaunting my breasts 1) doesn’t prove or solve anything 2) is offensive to people who have lost or may face the reality of losing their own breasts to cancer. And 3) just… really? How obvious can you get?

So setting aside the issue of the incredible callousness required in order to happily flaunt your tits at women with mastectomy scars, this kind of campaign gets us to the heart of pink madness, which is this simple fact: boobies are pretty great. A large number of the population enjoy breasts either aesthetically or sexually. And another large number of the population enjoy having breasts. And more than that, the latter segment of the population have been taught that their feelings about their physical attractiveness hinges (at least in part) on the size, pertness, and existence of their sweater kittens. So if there’s a disease out there that could potentially call for the removal of something that a large number of us like and a similarly large number like to have, it seems obvious that we would sit up and take notice of that disease and want to throw money at it in order to preserve our happy places.

2) Prevention. The CDC lists a couple of ways that you can try to prevent breast cancer, including keeping a healthy weight, exercising at least 4 hours a week, getting enough sleep, avoiding alcohol, avoiding carcinogens, and being aware of the risks inherent in birth control and hormone replacement therapy. But there are no guarantees. Taken together, these tips add up to “be healthy, but you still might get it anyway, so get checked to catch it early.” Which is not really great, all things considered.

The only real fun part is getting to feel yourself up without judgment. IT'S FOR MY HEALTH, OK???
The only real fun part is getting to feel yourself up without judgment. IT’S FOR MY HEALTH, OK???

Cancers in general are pretty hard to prevent. Disregarding, of course, things like lung and esophageal cancer, which have been linked to smoking and other environmental and lifestyle causes. The difference between cancer and heart disease with regard to public awareness is that cancer sends out the call for research and a cure, while heart disease focuses on education and prevention.

The Mayo Clinic lists some things that you can do to help prevent heart disease. These include not smoking, exercising at least 30 minutes a day, eating a heart-healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, getting good sleep, and getting regular health screenings. Heart disease is linked to many factors, but excluding genetic defects, the majority of causes are linked to lifestyle choices made by the individual. Heart disease differs from cancer in that it is something that can be controlled and prevented with proper education and available medical assistance.

It should be said that we aren’t neglecting heart disease awareness. It even has it’s own month. Guess which one? Yea, it’s February. But I don’t think anyone could argue with the fact that the fervor for breast cancer awareness easily overshadows that of heart disease awareness. And the reasons for that are, I’m sure, myriad. But from my tiny perspective it seems to be twofold. One, boobies are awesome. And two, the hope is that awareness of cancer will lead to funding for research and perhaps, in time, a cure. So while heart disease awareness seems to focus more on prevention and education, breast cancer awareness is looking for some kind of magical fix. Which is alluring because, well, magic! The idea that, if we throw enough money at a thing, it will just go away, while wholly ridiculous, does have a certain amount of appeal.

3) Pinkwashing. So pinkwashing refers to a couple of things. The first is exemplified by that first photo that I showed you. But here’s another:

breat_cancer_awareness_truck
Every bit of cement solidifies our commitment to end cancer!

And another:

pinkpistol
Put a cap in boob cancer’s ass!

And yet another, because I can’t resist a nice set of wheels.

This car brought to you by
This car brought to you by “Deep Impact Boats.” I can’t make this stuff up, kids.

So pinkwashing is, first and foremost, the selling of pink products with the idea of representing the fact that one supports breast cancer research. Ah, but there’s the rub. See, it turns out that you can slap that ribbon and pepto color combo on basically any product without too much oversight. You can, for example, require a proof of purchase for a pink item before the seller makes a charitable donation. And how much of a donation you make is not necessarily dependent on how much money you make from selling those branded product. You can look to the amounts donated by Major League Baseball and the WWE for examples of that. Both of those organizations sold branded products to people who believed they were making a sizable donation to Susan G. Komen. But the amount they donated is nothing compared to the amount of money they likely made from the sales of their overpriced pink bats and pink WWE gear.

Another issue with pinkwashing is the partnership between the Komen Foundation and several bottled water companies. Since water bottles commonly contain BPA, which has been linked to breast cancer tumor growth, that’s… well, it’s not a great partnership.

But pinkwashing draws a lot of attention and money to the cause, right? So that can’t be a bad thing, right?

Well, yes and no. Setting aside the fact that “awareness” does not equal “money in the pockets of deserving researchers,” there is a larger issue when it comes to some of the organizations that we choose to give money to in the name of this cause. I speak, of course, of cancer awareness mega giant Susan G. Komen, the organization standing at the heart of our Pepto-colored seasonal wonderland.

So aside from the issue of organizations not being required to give more than a pittance in donation in exchange for the use of the Komen name and pink branding, there’s a few issues to be had with the way that Susan G. Komen conducts itself.

Let’s start with Planned Parenthood.

Back in January of 2012, Susan G. Komen disclosed plans to eliminate $680,000 in grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings and education programs. In the four days that followed, a few things happened. First, several members of Susan G. Komen’s prominent staff members resigned over the issue. Second, Planned Parenthood received sizeable donations from other donors in order to make up for the loss of the grant. And third, the negative press became so problematic for the group that they reversed their decision just four days later, issuing this statement.

The snark delivered to Komen by the internet was proportionally epic.
The snark delivered to Komen by the internet was proportionally epic.

Komen’s reasoning? Well, according to statements made by them at the time, their new grant policy precluded the giving of funds to organizations that were under investigation by local, state, or federal authorities. Of course, Planned Parenthood was the only group to fall under that category. They didn’t, for example, find it necessary to drop Bank of America, who was under federal investigation at the time for foreclosure and mortgage fraud. And, of course, this decision had nothing to do with the fact that Karen Handel (VP for Komen’s public policy), who ran for governor of Georgia in 2010 (and lost), identifies as staunchly pro-life and specifically opposes Planned Parenthood.

What’s insane about Komen’s pulling back on Planned Parenthood is just how much good Planned Parenthood does in the fight against cancer. In 2012 they provided cancer screening and prevention measures to over 1 million women, including pap tests, HPV vaccinations, and breast exams. Planned Parenthood seems like the perfect partner in the fight against breast cancer, providing women from all walks of life with the medical treatment necessary to detect cancer early, when it is most treatable. When you take into account the political leaning of Komen’s leadership, it becomes clear that Komen’s reasoning had more to do with them being anti-choice than any trumped up policy regarding federal investigation.

Speaking of the federal government, Komen spends a lot of money on lobbying in Washington DC. Now, depending on who you talk to, that’s a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, their lobbying might pay off in the form of government funding being put toward cancer research. On the other hand, if the lobbying is not successful, they are wasting the money given to them in good faith by their donors. The latter view of their governmental activities seems to have informed their decision, after the 2012 Planned Parenthood debacle, to lessen their impact in Washington. They went from spending $140,000 a year in 2011 to spending under $20,000.

Another reason for the drop in spending in Washington could be the 2012 scandal that occurred when it was revealed that their CEO, Nancy Brinker, had a salary of almost $700,000 (it has since dropped to $400,000, according to Better Business Bureau). It should be said that I am not against people working for charitable organizations making a living. And certainly if you are the CEO you should make a salary that makes your job worth your time. But I think the appearance to donors was that she was living in the lap of luxury while donations plummeted, and that’s not an image that you really want to cultivate as a charity.

And speaking of Komen’s political and lobbying machinations, we would be remiss if we overlooked their sue happy legal department. Susan G. Komen has entered into over one hundred legal battles over trademarking with other breast cancer organizations. Specifically, they are not interested in letting anyone else use the phrase “for the cure” in conjunction with any other cancer non-profit. So they are suing and threatening to sue other groups who have done this, wasting money that was donated to fight cancer to both the Komen Foundation and to the organizations that they are suing. So that’s… um… horrible? Yea. Really nothing more to say about that.

But what’s the benefit of them suing other groups in order to keep their “brand” untouched? Well, it may not surprise you to find out that the Komen Foundation rakes in a shit ton of cash every year. I’m not a super fiscally minded person, but the people over at philanthropy.com are. And they have a thing or two to say about Komen’s spending. I’ll break some of it down for you here:

In 2011, Susan G. Komen declared having received “$420-million in private support; $439-million in total revenue; and $409-million in expenses, including $333.7-million to program services, $48-million for fundraising, and $27.3-million for other general and administrative costs.”

Program services are where you see the amount that they give to research, so let’s look at that. In 2011, program services included four areas: “public-health education ($181.1-million), research ($75.3-million), health-screening services ($54.1-million), and treatment services ($23.3-million). And those areas are further broken down into 16 expense categories, such as the salaries, supplies, and the marketing costs associated with each. Out of the $75.3-million Komen spent on research, for example, $63.3-million went directly to awards and grants.”

So there’s a problem right there and my biggest issue with Komen financially other than the issues I’ve listed above. If your name as an organization is “for the cure” and, out of the immense amount of money you raise every year, only 22% of your income goes to actually finding a cure for breast cancer… I have a serious problem with that. And yes, some of their stuff goes to health screening and treatment, but the bulk of their program services goes to “public health education,” which, is basically awareness of the diseas. Which is basically just them producing pink stuff and information cards and calling it education when, really, it’s fundraising for Komen more than it’s anything else. Because honestly, how much more aware could we possibly get of the threat that breast cancer poses?

Bottom line? I am 100% in support of raising money to support breast cancer education, treatment, prevention, and survivors. But I think that Susan G. Komen is an organization that has very much lost it’s way. If you call yourself an organization that is “for the cure,” if you spend millions in order to make sure that you are the only organization who can even use those words, you should probably be actually funding a cure. Because that is why donors entrust their money to you. That is what we are all hoping for. A cure.


Want to find out what percentage of your money goes to a good cause? Always do your research before you give away your hard-earned money. Check out potential charities over at the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator.

With everything that I’ve said here, it seemed only fair that I give you some options other than Susan G. Komen if you want to donate to charity. There are a lot of deserving organizations out there, but these are some of the highest rated ones according to Charity Navigator.

National Breast Cancer Foundation (CN Rating: 97.6)
The National Breast Cancer Foundation’s mission is to help women now by providing help and inspiring hope to those affected by breast cancer through early detection, education and support services.

The Rose (CN Rating: 95.42)
Board Certified Radiologists, specialized technical staff, two Mammography and Diagnostic Imaging Centers plus a fleet of Mobile Mammography vans offer advanced breast cancer screening and diagnostic services including mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies and access to treatment to more than 35,000 women annually. Since its launch in 1986, The Rose has served nearly 500,000 patients and is now the leading nonprofit breast health care organization in southeast Texas.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer (CN Rating: 93.67)
LBBC is dedicated to assisting you, whether you are newly diagnosed, in treatment, recently completed treatment, are years beyond or are living with metastatic breast cancer. We are also here for your family members, caregivers, friends and healthcare providers to provide breast cancer information and support.
As a national education and support organization, our goal is to connect people with trusted breast cancer information and a community of support, regardless of educational background, social support or financial means.

Breast Cancer Connections (CN Rating: 98.76)
Our mission is to support people touched by breast and ovarian cancer by providing comprehensive, personalized services in an atmosphere of warmth and compassion. Bay Area Cancer Connections is a nonprofit organization located in the San Francisco Bay Area, but you’re welcome to call us from anywhere.

Dana Farber Cancer Institute (CN Rating: 94.93)
Since its founding in 1947, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts has been committed to providing adults and children with cancer with the best treatment available today while developing tomorrow’s cures through cutting-edge research. Read about our history, our breakthroughs, and the resources that help us support the health of our neighborhoods and communities.

Childless by choice

Yesterday at work I got into a conversation with the girl who cleans the first floor of this building. I always like it when she stops by. She’s really sweet and artistic. She has an 8 month old son and we talk about him a lot. Halloween is coming up, so she’s been debating what costume to get. And holy crap, is that a mine field of choices. And I’m not being facetious here.

I made the obvious suggestion.

Because this Dobby costume is a CLEAR win.
Because this Dobby costume is a CLEAR win.

So she’s been struggling with this choice. And I’m insisting to her that a Dobby costume is The Way To Go. And she’s saying she never read the books, but I’m confident that doesn’t matter because a tiny elf baby is cuter than a stupid teddy bear any day of the week.*

In conversation, it comes out that I used to nanny before I took this job. She asks me about the boy, and I tell her a little about him. And how I sort of miss being a playmate all day long but I like the regularity of my job.

Then comes The Question.

“Do you plan on having kids?”

I give my usual answer.

“Nope!”

And then comes the inevitable series of comments and questions and the long litany of reasons why parenthood is an ocean of flowers and mental orgasms and gorgeous photos of ponies running on rainbows in the summertime and I’m just resisting the urge to be a jerk to this woman because I actually do like her and I don’t think she’s doing what she’s doing to be malicious but the urge to yell at her during the whole exchange is driving me crazy.

*breathes after the longest run on sentence ever*

So, point is, I’m going to use this blog post to say the things that I can never say to the people who bug me about not having kids. Because telling coworkers to fuck right off is, generally speaking, not considered “good form.”

We’ll start with the most basic. Generally, the first question is:

Why not?

Because I don’t want to? Because none of your business?

But seriously, if you want an answer to that that’s direct and to the point, I’ll give you one. Or three. First, I am terrified of pregnancy. Like, the idea of having my body usurped by a little person makes me so anxious that I start sweating and, if I think about it too long, I get a stomach ache and need to lie down. So… not a great sign. Second, I’m selfish. Like, really. I want what I want when I want it. And as a person with no children, I can usually have those things. Quiet time? Done. A nap? Done. A trip to Asia? Some saving and, again, done. If you have a kid, you have to be all kinds of selfless. And I can do that in small amounts, but not on a 365 day a year basis for the next 18 years. And third, I really, really, really don’t deal well with gross stuff like poop or blood or illness or any of that. Again with the anxiety. It’s why I’m not a nurse. I dealt with poops and things as a nanny because I was paid to do it, but I gagged every time. And I pick up my dog’s poop with the same amount of gastrointestinal churning, but I put up with it because it’s part of the program and I can get fined if I don’t. So, basically, I’ll only deal with poops if there is some kind of financial benefit or in fear of some kind of financial penalty.

But you’d be a great mom!

Thanks for the compliment, random person that doesn’t know me. But I really don’t think you’re qualified to tell me whether or not I would be a good parent.

In fact, I think that, given that I actually worked as a nanny and was able to judge myself based on my personal Fed-Up-With-Kids-O-Meter™ at the end of any given day, I think that I am infinitely qualified to make a judgment on my own about what I want to do with my life and my ovaries. And even if that weren’t the case, I’m still a better judge of me than you are, having had a lifetime to get to know myself.

And being good with kids doesn’t necessarily mean that I want kids. I’m also good with snakes and have handled live cockroaches. I don’t want either of those things. Conversely, I very much want plants but have murdered every single one I have ever owned.

RIP Derek. We barely knew ye. Well, we knew ye for about two months, but forgot to feed ye.
RIP Derek. We barely knew ye. Well, we knew ye for about two months, but forgot to water ye.

You’ll change your mind at some point.

You know what, that may be so. But I don’t think you’re really qualified to tell me that, Mr. Always Covered in Unnamed Child Stains. Unless you got those stains whilst building a time machine with your child and have seen the future. Which, if you have, could you please give me some winning lottery numbers or ancient relics with which I could make my fortune?

But let’s be serious, if I do change my mind and it’s “too late” and my uterus expires, there’s this handy thing called adoption. Or surrogacy if I’m really attached to having a genetic clone.

And honestly, the thing I’m scared about the most when it comes to kids is that I’ll change my mind after the kid is born. And I know, all the parents in the world will try to tell me that you love them and want them no matter what once they’ve clawed their way remorselessly from your belly like a terrifying, bloodied alien, but here’s the thing, I’m worried that about half of them are lying out their asses. Because you have to figure that, for every parent that is just over the moon about their progeny, there has to be at least one that is more than a little bit unhappy with the whole parenting gig. But if they were to admit that, I’m pretty sure they would be tarred and feathered by the local PTA in some kind of insane culling ritual.

Who will take care of you when you’re old?

There are so many things wrong with that question. Let’s start with the first one. Who the fuck has kids just so they can be cared for in their old age? I mean, really? How selfish is that? And leaving that aside, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be batshit insane when I’m super duper old and need care, in which case my kids probably wouldn’t want anything to do with me anyway and would put me into a little old person storage unit to sit there until I die from boredom and despair.

You don’t know what love is until you have a child.

Really? I don’t know what love is? You know what, that statement is so presumptuous and nasty that there’s no real way to answer that one other than to tell you to fuck right off. So… you know… fuck right off.

53a0697a8edaf_-_4phyzkv

Don’t your parents want grandchildren?

Yes, I have actually had people ask me this on behalf of my parents. Because that’s not creepy at all. Well here’s an answer, nosy guy: Maybe? Probably? But it’s not their choice whether or not I bring life in the world. And here’s a weird story: I have zero intention to give up on my major goals in life (travel, gaming, hobbies, and having nice things) so that they can snuggle a new life once a week. I love my parents very much, but I refuse to give in to the social pressure to have children so that my parents get to experience grandparent-hood.

Hey, let’s be honest, I would be a stellar parent. And if I, somehow, were saddled with a child accidentally (thank all the holy things that ever existed for the lack of accidental pregnancies inherent in the lesbian relationship), I would parent that kid so hard. I would get an honorary advanced degree in parenting. And I would love them more than anything on earth and I would kill and eat anything that tried to hurt them. Because that is how parents should be.

But I don’t particularly want to do it. And if I don’t really want to do something, doing it because of my inherent ability to incubate a life or because of some crippling fear of loneliness in my old age seems like a really terrible idea that is bound to end in tears for many – if not all – of those involved. And, given that I associate way too deeply with the lady on the right in this particular Oatmeal comic:

...eew.
…eew.

… maybe we should both just agree that having kids isn’t for me and move on?


*As I was writing this, the girl from my office walked in, we chatted, and I suggested the best possible mother and baby Halloween costume. And she is going to do it. We even discussed the best ways to draw a mustache on her son.

I am unreasonably excited about seeing photos of her with her son after Halloween.
I am unreasonably excited about seeing photos of her with her son after Halloween.

So, rape culture sucks.

But I’m pretty sure you already knew that.

The other thing about rape culture? It doesn’t even make any sense at the best of times. At the worst of times, it is nigh-on indecipherable.

Saturday night. It had been a while since Frankie and I had gone out on the town together, so we made plans to do just that! Little did we know that the weather was going to serve us a big, wintry wake up call with a low of 50 that night.

So, what to do? Well, the obvious answer was to first drink some bourbon and warm up. And since the Twisted Tail is 1) two blocks away and 2) my favorite bar, this was a no-brainer.

Bellies warm with Bourbon, we set off to find a place where dancing might be had. We walked all the way up to Rittenhouse and tried a few places, finally settling on the Raven Lounge and it’s tiny, hot dance floor and decent club music.

Although why they only play 15 seconds of any given song, I will never understand.
Although why they only play 15 seconds of any given song, I will never understand.

We get to the bar and settle in. I wind up laughing at the group of girls who seem intent on creating some kind of dance circle show off group. Ladies, there is no space for that. Please stop. But it’s all in good fun and I’m having a beer and dancing with my lady and all is right with the world.

At one point I feel a hand grasp my elbow, then release it. After a moment, a man’s voice says “I can’t even say hello?” I ignore it, assuming that it was meant for me, but not giving any particular craps about talking to some dude in a club. I glance back and see a dark-skinned, short, white-shirted guy walking back to his friends. I tag him mentally and go back to dancing.

A few more segments of song flash by. My beer is half-gone. I’m laughing at the silly happy people standing on the benches along the walls and shouting to their friends. Everyone is having a good time.

Then the man in the white shirt is standing very close to me. He tells me that he “had to come over and talk to me.” I ask him why, moving myself away from him so that he isn’t touching me. He is clearly drunk. I can barely hear him above the music and shouted song lyrics and my own blood pumping in my ears.

I do not like being approached by drunk strangers. They frighten me. Especially when they are male. Especially when they keep moving closer to me as I inch away from them.

He tells me that Sarah and her friends told him to come over to me. I ask him who Sarah is and what this is about. He tells me that Sarah is the “wife of the night” and gestures behind him, where a group of four guys and one woman (standing on a platform above the men) are watching the exchange with interest.

I ask him what a “wife of the night is” and inform him that I really don’t have any interest in whatever is going on. He starts to get frustrated and tells me that I’m not letting him explain himself. At this point, I inform him that I don’t really care what he wants, but that I don’t want to talk to him and he should leave us alone. Of course, because my feelings on whether or not I should talk to him are totally irrelevant, he gets more insistent.  I tell him that I don’t want to talk to him. I tell him that I’m there with my girlfriend and that we just want to dance and be left alone. He continues to insist that he needs to talk to me and, when Frankie tries to talk to him, brushes her off and says he’s talking to me.

Frankie kicks into another gear at this point and rushes over to his friends and asks them what’s going on and what he wants. They don’t respond. They just stare at her and smile. So she informs them that this whole thing isn’t fucking funny they need to get their friend to leave us alone or she will be getting security because this is harassment and it’s weird and we just want to be left alone.

While she’s doing this, he is still standing near me and tells her really loudly that she’s “getting aggressive” and that there’s “no need for that” and that he just “wants to talk” to me. I tell him, yet again, that I don’t want to talk to him.

Apparently, my girlfriend is intimidating, because the males in the group slowly reach out and grab him and start to pull him back. As they do that, he is half turned and pulling away from them. He tells me loudly that I’m “being an asshole” as he pulls against his friends. I tell him to go fuck himself.

The friends take him back into the group and Frankie pulls me toward the bar. I’m shaking and angry and upset. I see white shirt explaining his side of things to his little circle of friends. They look up at us and smile. All of them. They seem to think it’s funny. I experience white hot rage and just want to go over there and take the “wife for a night” by the hair and fling her across the dance floor. I’m certain by the way she is smiling satisfactorily and what white shirt had said that she orchestrated the whole thing.

I’m uncomfortable being in the same room with them. And I’m upset at not having the guts to go and say something to them because white shirt seemed really ready to physically lash out both in his body language while talking to me and while being pulled away from us.

I tell Frankie that I want to go. She insists that we should talk to security or something. I tell her I just want to go. We get our coats from where they’re hanging and make our way back out into the night.

I’m torn between extreme rage and some kind of horrible fear reaction as we walk outside and catch a cab. When we get out of the cab and walk toward Tattooed Mom’s to calm down I’m so frustrated and upset that I start crying. Then I’m struggling to pull myself together before we hit crowded South Street.

The whole thing was so confusing and upsetting and frustrating. I don’t know what he wanted, and that’s bugging me. But I know that it centered around us being gay and female. And I know that his whole attitude of entitlement to our time and attention comes straight out of the rape culture handbook. I tell him that I’m not interested in talking to him and I’m an asshole. Frankie tells his friends to get him to leave us alone and she’s being unnecessarily aggressive.

And why not, right? We left the house, so obviously we want any attention that we get whilst going about our lives. How dare we just want to dance with each other! How dare we tell him that whatever drunken shenanigans he was trying to describe, we had no interest in participating in! How dare we, as people he wanted to interact with, rebuke that interaction directly and succinctly.

Situations like that are what make me want to give up on going out altogether sometimes. They also make me miss Sisters quite a bit, because I could always go there for a drink and some dancing and feel relatively safe.

All in all, the situation was resolved well, I guess. I still wish I knew what the hell he was talking about. He was obviously soliciting us for something, but I will never know what. But at least no one got hurt, which is the main thing.

Sigh. Stay classy, Philadelphia.

Boys Will be Boys: Masculinity and “Womens Issues”

I recently watched a brilliant TED talk by Jackson Katz on violence against women and how it’s a men’s issue.

mvp
Be an MVP. Hells yea.

Katz is a co-founder of a group called Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), an organization that works to enlist the help of men in the ongoing battle with domestic violence against women. So, basically, I had already decided that I liked him before I watched the video. When I watched it, though, I liked him even more. He’s this super down-to-earth, everyman-feeling kind of guy, and here he is talking about power and privilege and using his position as a powerful, priviliged man to expose the injustices in the world. Anyway, he encouraged me to write this blog post. I strongly encourage you to take the time to watch it, but if you don’t have the time, let me tell you what I took from it in a few highlights.

[W]hen we hear the word “race,” a lot of people think that means African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Native American, South Asian, Pacific Islander… When [we] hear the word “sexual orientation” [and] think it means gay, lesbian, bisexual… [we] hear the word “gender,” [and] think it means women. In each case, the dominant group doesn’t get paid attention to  This is one of the ways that dominant systems maintain and reproduce themselves… the dominant group is rarely challenged to even think about its dominance, because that’s one of the key characteristics of power and privilege, the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection, in fact being rendered invisible in large measure in the discourse about issues that are primarily about us. And this is amazing how this works in domestic and sexual violence, how men have been largely erased from so much of the conversation about a subject that is centrally about men.

The power behind that realization is potent. The fact if the matter is that the dominant group in the conversation about domestic violence, sexual assault, and harassment is rarely challenged to think about it’s role.

I’m lucky in that I’m surrounded by awesome male allies as a female in the world today. I can still remember having a beer with my brother a little over two years ago. He leaned across the table and said to me:

“So… rape culture. What’s that like?”

What followed was a moment that I will always remember. He acknowledged his privilege and listened to my experiences as a woman. He didn’t bluster or get offended. He didn’t say things like “not all men are like that” or “well I would never do xyz.” He listened and he internalized and tried to understand.

And I know a bunch of guys like that. Self-described feminists and womens’ allies that rock my world when they engage in this conversation. But the fact of the matter is that victim blaming is a part of the conversation about so-called “women’s issues.” The first thing out of a lot of people’s mouths is a question about – or an accusation of – the woman.

Why was she out so late at night?
Why doesn’t she leave him?
What was she doing dressed like that?
She’s a tease.
She’s a slut.

The man is rarely a part of the conversation.

And I get that, actually. I understand where that comes from. It’s hard to think about what we do about men, just like it’s hard to think about what we do with any perpetrator. Perpetrators are scary because they are not a predictable element in our everyday lives. And violent domestic and sexual perpetrators are especially terrifying because they do their work right in front of our eyes, behind the closed doors of our neighbors and friends. But Katz is asking the right questions when he says, toward the middle of his talk, that:

You know, the perpetrators aren’t these monsters who crawl out of the swamp and come into town and do their nasty business and then retreat into the darkness. That’s a very naive notion, right? Perpetrators are much more normal than that, and everyday than that. So the question is, what are we doing here in our society and in the world? What are the roles of various institutions in helping to produce abusive men? What’s the role of religious belief systems, the sports culture, the pornography culture, the family structure, economics, and how that intersects, and race and ethnicity and how that intersects? How does all this work?

Like this awesome kid, right here.
Like this awesome kid, right here.

It’s absolutely true that perpetrators aren’t alien monsters. They’re somebody’s son. Somebody’s brother. And they are born and raised right alongside men who don’t beat and rape the people around them. And I think that’s what makes dealing with them so difficult and so terrifying. If every abuser were, say, bright purple or something, it would make it easy to avoid them. Just don’t go near that bright purple guy! Easy peasy. But that’s not the case, so the question becomes: What makes those men different?

I believe that Katz is right in his assertion that we have to trace those violent tendencies back to some kind of societal cause. I think it starts with socialization in childhood. Men are socialized to think that they need to be aggressive and big and dominant and powerful in order to be “real men.” I’m sure you’ve heard these lines before.*

Boys don’t cry.
Man up.
What are you, some kinda pussy?
You’re a little bitch.

In just those few examples, we can see some of archetypes that men are being called to fill. Not only are they expected to perform as men by being emotionally closed off and immune to pain and weakness, but those last two “insults” have always spoken to me – and a lot of other feminists. If you insult someone by calling them a pussy or a bitch, what are you really saying? You’re saying three things, and stick with me here:

  1. They’re a woman, or possess female genitalia, for one.
  2. You’re inferring, through that statement, that being female or having female sex organs makes a person inferior.
  3. You are teaching them, through those two correlations, that women are inferior beings.
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Something about the math here seems… off.

It’s not a straight leap, but if you are a boy and you hang out in enough schoolyards with enough other boys, you might come out of it scared of being seen as emotionally or physically weak and female, because those traits are traced back to femininity, and femininity is bad.

Katz asks over and over again in his talk “What’s going on with men?” And if you start back on that playground with that little boy being taught that his “feminine” qualities (and don’t even get me started on gender assignment and heteronormativity) make him inferior, it doesn’t seem too far a leap that the same little boy, once grown into a man, would find it hard to respect the women in his life.

And if that same little-boy-now-man finds himself still experiencing things like emotional and physical weakness, do you think he is likely to express those things? Of course not. Because “being a man” demands that he be a stoic warrior type with no emotional output. And what do you think happens when someone bottles down all of their emotional baggage for years and years out of fear? Will all of those seething emotions just go away? No. Will they come barreling to the surface like a freight train? Yes. And could that barreling stampede of pent up emotion translate into physical and sexual violence? Absolutely yes.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg. And I will get back to the issue of male gender roles in a later blog entry, because I think it’s super important to think about. The scary thing is how big that problem really is. How do you socialize men differently? How do you socialize boys so that they learn at a young age that the types of behavior classed as “feminine” are not shameful? How do you teach them that violence is wrong, particularly when it is enacted against those over which one holds power? Well, Katz has a solution to that.

Now, when it comes to men and male culture, the goal is to get men who are not abusive to challenge men who are. And when I say abusive, I don’t mean just men who are beating women.We’re not just saying a man whose friend is abusing his girlfriend needs to stop the guy at the moment of attack. That’s a naive way of creating a social change. It’s along a continuum, we’re trying to get men to interrupt each other. So, for example, if you’re a guy and you’re in a group of guys playing poker, talking, hanging out, no women present, and another guy says something sexist or degrading or harassing about women, instead of laughing along or pretending you didn’t hear it, we need men to say, ‘Hey, that’s not funny. You know, that could be my sister you’re talking about, and could you joke about something else? Or could you talk about something else?I don’t appreciate that kind of talk.'”

Wow, right? I mean, we can enact all kinds of social programs and educational initiatives in order to get some handle on how these boys turn into abusive adults, but Katz is calling for something much more immense. He wants societal change on an individual level to influence these young men and steer them towards healthy, loving relationships. It sounds both incredibly simple and immensely difficult at the same time.

Katz calls silence in the face of things we find objectionable a “sign of consent and complicity,” and I think he’s right on the money with that. In my previous entry on street harassment I didn’t quite get into talking about solutions for that issue. Mostly because I was ranting and didn’t feel like coming up with constructive thoughts. Because… rant! But the attitudes and actions that lead to domestic violence and sexual assault are very much present in the issue of street harassment.

When I talk about it with people, there are always all kinds of solutions offered to me on how to deal with street harassment and the men who do it. Here’s some examples:

Throw your dog’s poop bag at him!
Yell and curse at him and walk away.
Just ignore it.
Turn around and yell “Come and get it, sugar!”

And, my personal favorite:
Maybe you should just move out of the city if you don’t want to deal with that.

As entertaining and groan-inducing as some of these solutions are, none of them come close to solving the problem of street harassment as a whole. And that’s the goal of talking about these social issues, isn’t it? I mean, if I feel better after one incident, that’s great, but if we can eliminate street harassment as a prevalent big city issue in the U.S…. well, that’s the dream!

And that’s what Katz is talking about when he brings up what he calls the “bystander approach.” An approach that I think works for all forms of rape culture awareness and which I believe is the only surefire way to work the attitudes that contribute to rape culture out of our society. Katz says:

[T]he bystander approach is trying to give people tools to interrupt that process and to speak up and to create a peer culture climate where the abusive behavior will be seen as unacceptable, not just because it’s illegal, but because it’s wrong and unacceptable in the peer culture. And if we can get to the place where men who act out in sexist ways will lose status, young men and boys who act out in sexist and harassing ways towards girls and women, as well as towards other boys and men, will lose status as a result of it, guess what? We’ll see a radical diminution of the abuse.

Best traffic sign ever, right?
Best traffic sign ever, right?

All I could say when he said that was “Yes. Yes. That’s the only way this works.” Because if men are socially rewarded for being big, aggressive, rapey creeps, then they will continue in that pattern. But if they lose status every time they violate the safety of another person – be it with their words or their fists or their sex – then instances of domestic violence and abuse will be dramatically lessened in the general population.

I want to talk a lot more on this blog about men and men’s issues. I thought this was a good place to start, though. And I hope that I gave you all some food for thought.


*If you are interested in learning more about how we socialize American boys, please check out this short preview for the film The Mask You Live In. And be sure to follow the excellent work being done by The Representation Project.