On Bee Using the “C” Word

I don’t watch Samantha Bee very often. But I usually like her when I do. So when I heard what she called Ivanka Trump, I was disappointed.

The “C” word is a word I really struggle with. I am daring myself to type it out right now but I can’t. My fingers just seem to freeze and hover over the keys when I think of typing out c-u – AHHH, I can’t anymore. When I need to discuss this word, I say “the ‘C’ word” or “see you next Tuesday.”

I’ve been called the “C” word twice in my life. Both times were by white men. Once I was just standing with a bunch of friends on a sidewalk as we made plans for the evening. Then some guy drove by in a truck and lobbed that word at us. We all stood there and one of us asked, “Did he just call us that?” It was like ‘Why?’ What had we done to him that made him feel the need to cut us down with one of the most degrading insults a man can say to a woman? The answer is we had done nothing wrong and done everything right by being a group of young women enjoying themselves and some white dude just couldn’t handle that. He felt the need to cut us down and take away something from our otherwise nice evening. Don’t get me wrong, the evening and night were still good but the part that stands out the most to me from them is that guy yelling that word at us.

I told a white male friend of mine once about this experience. He shrugged it off, saying guys shout stuff like that at each other all the time. He said he and his (white, male) friend were walking down the street when some guy drove by and yelled “I eat pieces of shit like you two for breakfast!” I told him that wasn’t the same thing but, in the moment, I had a hard time articulating why. So here’s why: One, the guy yelled a line from an Adam Sandler movie at them, which just makes the whole thing absurd. Two, cis, straight white men are at the very top of our social hierarchy. So, assuming the guy who yelled was a cis, straight white guy as well, there was no power differential there. And if he wasn’t, well I know my friend is all those things so he was either yelled at by someone who is his societal equal or his societal subordinate. That isn’t the same as a cis woman being yelled at by a cis man. Cis women steel themselves daily for the possibility that some dude could yell at them from his car, degrade them or even assault them. Male privilege ensures that non-cis, male genders are the ones who worry about sexual harassment and have to (safety) plan accordingly.

Anyways, the second time I was called the “C” word was when I was 23 and very drunk. I was leaving a bar with some friends and on the way out, I picked up the phone off the host stand and said “Hello?” into it. One of the bar’s staff, who was a white guy, walked up to me then and called me the “C” word. I was trying to be goofy. Was it obnoxious, drunken behavior? Yes. Did it warrant being called that? NO!

Both times this word was said to me, I froze. As in the flight, fight or freeze type of froze. Every fiber in my being was shocked that this word had been directed at me. It felt like being cut down to my core. And that is the intent. When a man calls a woman the “C” word, he is trying to cut her to the core, knowing there is no equivalent insult because cis men and cis women are not societal equivalents. (Of note, it is important to consider how race and sexual orientation and ability factor in to this. That’s why we have the kyriarchy and why I wrote a post on that several years ago).

I’ve never, to my knowledge, been called the “C” word by another woman. While I don’t think it would have the same effect as a man calling me it, I would still feel degraded by it. After doing years of domestic violence work, I can’t call another woman the “C” word. Nor can I call her a bitch (but I can type that word out apparently…). I used to call other women bitches. In high school, I even called some classmates “sluts.” I would never do that now. And I never, even before doing domestic violence work, have I called a woman the “C” word. I know that my use of any of these words is not the same as a man saying them, particularly a straight, white, cis man (but seriously to anyone who identifies as a man – please don’t call a woman the “C” word, or bitch or slut or whore and so forth). And yet despite my gender’s lack of power, I’ve made a commitment to not call another woman any insult that is misogynistic. And on some deep, core level, I just can’t.

When I read that Samatha Bee had called Ivanka a “feckless C,” my first thoughts were, ‘Oh gosh, how are we, as the left, going to respond to this? Do we need to call for her to be fired?’ That just didn’t seem right but initially I couldn’t put my finger on why. Then I found articles like this, explaining that while perhaps degrading, Bee calling Ivanka Trump that word when Trump is in a powerful position in a white supremacist, misogynistic administration (and society), is very different than Roseanne, a white woman, degrading people of color in support of said racist, sexist administration. That makes sense.

Still there is more to unpack here. Samantha Bee also instructed Ivanka to put on something tight and low-cut and talk to her father. Okay, that is abhorrent. That is poking fun at what? Incest?! And no one is talking about that. This is especially disturbing given some of the comments we know DJT has made about his own daughter. Based on those comments we know that at the very least, Ivanka Trump has experienced sexualized comments from her dad – if at least is the right term to use when discussing familial sexual harassment. But what I learned doing domestic violence work is that you have to consider what someone is willing to do or say behind closed doors based on what they’re willing to do or say in public. So while we can’t make accusations, we do have to acknowledge we really don’t know what has happened to her in private. This is why I have mixed feelings on her. And this is why, as much as I detest how uncaring she comes off, I also can’t degrade her. Because her father is a powerful, white man who has no qualms about showcasing his misogyny, I question how he is in private and the extent of his patriarchal harm. This is not an accusation but an important question I believe all of us should be asking in this case and in any case where the relatives of an abusive person are dragged into the spotlight.

And I just don’t believe in degrading someone else. I hate Donald Trump. Hate is a strong word but I’m unsure it’s strong enough to describe the feelings I have for him. And yet, if you notice, I take care to not insult him. When I describe him as misogynistic, this is a fact, not an insult. And I try to talk more about his behaviors than him as a person. This is crucial for undoing oppression. Oppressing someone else is impossible without dehumanizing them. And no, DJT is not oppressed nor is he at risk of oppression. But I believe that holding those most powerful and oppressive accountable and recognizing their humanity rather than dehumanizing and seeking revenge is how we end our oppressive ways. This is tricky because it sounds like “you can’t fight fire with fire” or “kill them with kindness.” But it’s so much deeper than both those cliches. The oppressor will paint those they seek to oppress as not solely inferior but also dangerous and harmful. The oppressor will then use this as justification for dehumanization and all the degrading treatment that ensues. When we challenge ourselves to see the humanity in those who do the worst to others, it becomes hard for anyone to be dehumanized and thus for anyone to be oppressed. If we take dehumanization off the table and see everyone’s humanity then how can oppression persist?

This is what I ask of myself. This is why I aim to not degrade others, no matter how vile their actions. And if I do slip up, I take responsibility. I’m wondering if you can do the same.

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Imagine the possibilities…

Content Notice: Parts of the below scenarios focus on traditional, heterosexual, cis-gender roles/norms. I did incorporate a non-binary, LGBTQ focus too but I recognize I am not the ideal person to speak on behalf of the LGBTQ and/or non-binary community and I apologize for that. Also, these posts are intentionally taking an absurd approach on directives for straight, cis dads to exemplify what straight, cis moms currently go through. My true wish is that there would be genuine, nonjudgmental encouragement for all parents to equally partake in parenting.

Imagine if society put as much pressure on dads as it did on moms. Imagine if cis, straight men faced the same impossible standards and catch-22s as cis, straight women do when it comes to parenthood. And imagine if our parenting culture (books, guidelines, social groups) was more inclusive to LGBTQ and non-binary folks. In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m putting my imagination to the test. Here are some of the ways that could play out…

Situation One

Reality: Women are identified as the only gender capable of becoming pregnant and giving birth. There is no acknowledgment that some pregnant people may identify as male or neither male nor female. Women are given strict guidelines about what they can and cannot do if they are trying to become pregnant and especially if they are pregnant. They are told of all the uncomfortable symptoms of pregnancy but not given much concrete support to cope with them. People who do not identify as women but are pregnant are not even acknowledged on a societal level.

Now imagine: Pregnancy is recognized as an experience that people of all genders and sexual orientations may have. Guidelines are given to expectant parents along with encouragement around all the things they still can do. There is much support and non-judgment given to expectant parents about how to cope with pregnancy discomforts. The partners of expectant parents are given tasks to do to make the experience better for the expectant parent. Our culture is able to support expectant parents’ challenges while also being sensitive to the experiences of people trying to conceive or who have lost a pregnancy or baby (because believe me, losing a pregnancy is horrible, it is hard fucking shit and I’m really done with my pregnancy-related heartburn).

In cis, straight relationships, men are told they must care for the mother of their unborn child. They must assume the majority of household tasks so their partner can be comfortable “as she is carrying your baby twenty-four/seven.” This directive is given with the understanding that pregnant people are not incapable of doing things but because their comfort is of utmost importance.

Situation Two

Reality: New moms are encouraged  pressured to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months. And when I say breastfeed, I mean literally breastfeed – no pumping, no bottles. Moms are told to take care of themselves with little guidance on how exactly to do this when also being told to be a 24/7 milk dispenser. Very little encouragement is given to fathers to be involved in this process. As of yet, I have come across no acknowledgement that people may be single parents or co-parenting with someone who is not a cis male. Nor have I seen any acknowledgment that not all breastfeeding parents identify as female.

Now imagine: In cis, straight relationships, new moms are non-judgmentally given information on options for feeding a newborn. New moms are given support and validation for whichever option they choose. If a new mom chooses to breastfeed, much focus and scrutiny will then be placed on dad. Providers will tell him, “You really need to take of your baby’s mother. She is solely providing all the nutrition to your infant. You need to wake up with her in the night and make sure she is fed and hydrated. She is going to need company so she isn’t lonely and the baby needs to bond with both of you. You’re going to need to be in charge of all diaper changes and burping and getting baby back down. Your baby’s mom is going to be tired and need to rest so she can be in the best possible shape when she needs to again feed your baby in an hour. In the morning, you’re going to need to get up and go to work. She is going to need to take leave from her job in order to feed your baby. You need to be the one to keep the paycheck coming in. Remember she is going to be feeding your baby all day long. When you get home, you need to cook and clean. She is not going to have time to do that when she has been feeding your baby all day.”

(Note – we can also take this situation one step further, it is imagination after all, and imagine both parents get to take paid leave so dads really have no excuse for not waking up with moms).

There would also be just as much support and focus for parents who are not straight and/or not cisgender. There would be nonjudgmental encouragement given to parents regardless of if they are in a relationship, who they are in a relationship with and what gender they identify as. They would be gently encouraged to equally share parenting tasks or in the case of single parents, find a friend or loved one to help support them.

Situation Three

Reality: Work-life balance focus is primarily on straight, cisgender moms. Moms are the ones expected to decide whether or not to return to work and face criticism regardless of what they choose. If they do return to work (whether by choice or need), they are typically in charge of arranging childcare, staying home with sick children and scheduling/attending doctor appointments (among a whole smorgasbord of other tasks). Working moms are seen as unreliable and often lose money while their straight, cis male counterparts enjoy raises. Breastfeeding laws and protections, while unintentionally contributing to the pressure to breastfeed, are focused on cisgender women. Even the dreaded Mommy Wars, while terribly unfortunate, are exclusive in their own way as they discount the experiences of people who are not straight, cis women.

Now imagine: Work-life balance is inclusive to all parents. Cis, straight men are told to be 50/50 in taking time off from work for sick kids and doctor appointments, among other tasks. After all, you do not need breasts or a uterus to go to a pediatrician’s office. Society engages in a long reflection of all the ways it still sees women as inferior and how this oppressive view especially rears its ugly head during parenthood. Any parent who goes back to work is viewed as competent and worthy of good pay.

So there ya go, there are three current realities imagined differently. And there are countless more we could explore.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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On Having Thin Skin

I’ve heard it a lot throughout my life; that I can’t let things get to me so much. There are all different ways this idea has been expressed to me…

“You have to grow a thick skin.”

“Who cares what other people think?”

“You need to care less.”

“You can’t let that stuff get to you.”

“Don’t think about it.”

“You need to have a healthy disconnect.”

As I move into motherhood, this notion of caring less is going to be spouted at me more and more. While my husband will likely receive praise for doing the most menial of parenting tasks, I will likely experience more judgment than I ever have before. People tell me, “You’re going to be judged no matter what you do or don’t do” so… “You can’t let it get to you.”

But there are a few factors that make this much easier said than done. When people tell me not to care, or not to worry (the other frequently heard refrain in my life), they might as well be saying, “Just speak Korean.” It’s a totally foreign concept to me. I care. A lot. About other people, how they are doing, the terrible things people do to one another, the suffering of others and yes, what other people think of me. This is a trait that pumps in me as much as my own heart does. So it’s not going to change over night.

And it depends too on what the judgment at hand is. Some things I can let go. I don’t know if my husband and I will have more than one child and I’ve read that this is apparently a choice to be judged. For me, that is the kind of decision about which judgment matters less. I can let go others’ criticism with a shrug of “it’s not any of your damn business.” That laissez-faire attitude is very unusual for me. And it’s one that more easily exists when people throw metaphorical stones at choices that require me to challenge fewer of my own insecurities. As I mentioned in a previous post if I care for myself or focus on myself and am called selfish for it, that is an insult/judgment which can leave me gutted. Logically, I know that I must take care of myself. But my own personal history as well as societal gender norms have left me feeling that everyone else (literally- no, not figuratively, literally – the whole world) must be attended to before I can attend to myself. And when you think about that, really think about it, is it any wonder that I care so much about what other people think about me? What am I here for, if not to please others? Of course, I recognize that this belief is not helpful for me (or anyone) nor is it possible. I know I can’t please everyone. I know that if you try to make everyone happy, you make no one happy. But just like speaking Korean, letting go of this is not a skill I will develop overnight. It will be developed and honed all my life.

The other thing is how much of this do I want to let go? There I said it. Yes I want to let go of my perfectionism, my insecurities and my people-pleasing ways. And believe it or not, I have already shed many layers. But sensitivity and caring about others? Especially the latter. I mean, in this world, do we really need less care for others?

I understand that there is a balance. When people tell me to find “a healthy disconnect,” they don’t mean stop caring altogether. They just want me to not be so consumed by empathy that I’m left severely traumatized. Which is, well, a logical and healthy hope for someone else. But I’m just not that way. The more social work I do, the more I hear, and sometimes see, I never waver in my intensity of emotions for others. While awful things seldom surprise me, they continue to shock me. The way I think and feel about so much injustice in the world may lead some to think that I am naive or inexperienced with such matters. But nothing could be further from the truth. Violence is not normal and all its forms and impacts continue to shake me to my core.

And that’s not a bad thing, you know? I don’t want that to change. And… isn’t it possible for me to both decrease how traumatized I am without sacrificing how much I care?

I think so. I can change the way I cope with all that I’m exposed to, whether its the trauma of violence and/or disaster or harsh criticism. And how I personally (and successfully) cope is not going to involve a decrease in care or a healthy disconnect. It will involve validation and self-compassion. Reminding myself that I am exposed to a lot and it’s okay to be deeply bothered by it. That the terrible things that happen to other people are not okay but how I react to such things is okay, provided I’m not hurting myself or others. That I can respond and not react and that I have the right to my feelings.

I have already begun to change how I cope and these sentiments are what help ground me amidst stress and trauma. They help me heal and grow. There is still a long way for me to go. But trusting myself is key and I trust myself to know what is right for me. That last part is evidence in and of itself of how I have grown and am continuing to grow. And I trust that this way of coping will help me through parenthood. It’s okay to be bothered by people thinking you’re not a good mom. It’s awful to be insulted in such a way. I mean, how many women are actually bad moms? Not very many. So it is unfair that so many women are made to feel this way. And we have the right to feel however we need to about this grave mistreatment. And we have the right to demand better societal treatment.

I’m going to end with a disclaimer: I wish I could say I never judge others. But that would be a lie. I have made a commitment to being less judgmental and that has had some real, positive results. In my pre-motherhood days, I have been a good mom-ally. I tend to be more curious and open towards other people’s choices that differ from my own. But sometimes I judge people. This especially comes out towards people who are highly judgmental themselves. I have very little tolerance for this. But at the end of the day, this isn’t helpful. Yes people need to be accountable for the ways they mistreat or disrespect others but being judgmental seldom serves as an accountability tool. So I try to attend to myself when I’m set off by the judgment others. I validate myself so I can cope and so that I can respond in a way that feels helpful and healing.

410px-Arundhati_Roy_1

Arundhati Roy, author of one of my favorite quotes.  (Image is Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike 2.0 Generic License, author jeanbaptisteparis)

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Breast milk for Thought

Sometimes I like to kick back and observe the utter belief/behavior/attitude pendulum that American society just can’t seem to get out of. As a group, Americans are fickle. We are inept at finding balance and middle ground. Why? My personal belief is that we haven’t mastered the art of responding instead of reacting and that our dominant, white culture is incredibly rigid and fixated on perfectionism (as well as profit – which is yes, related to all this).

It’s really quite fascinating. Until you realize how fucked up it all is. And how connected it all is to all sorts of oppressions.

As I venture into motherhood, I’m thinking about this in terms of breastfeeding. FULL DISCLAIMER: I intend to breastfeed my baby. There is plenty of research that breastfeeding is excellent for baby and the breastfeeding parent. When I was a senior in college and learning about the documented benefits of breastfeeding, I was amazed and proud of what my body would one day (hopefully) be able to do. My point in this post is that we’ve entered a period of extremes around breastfeeding. One when people will digitally tar and feather you if you dare to publicly announce you plan to stop breastfeeding, especially within the first year of your baby’s life. One where breastfeeding is promoted at all costs, and I mean at all costs.

What I’d like to promote here is a culture that is more empowering to parents, especially moms and other parents who are not cis, straight men. One that truly offers information and options and unconditionally accepts each parent’s choice or needs. That’s what we need to focus on and supporting parents to do what is right and healthy for them, which will be what is right and healthy for their baby, breastfed or formula-fed or a combination of both. Right now, we are very far from that.

But how did we get here? At least, how did we get here in recent history? I’m not going to explore back to the dawn of human existence on this planet. Perhaps just back to the dawn of my own existence on this planet. I was born in the 80’s. My mom has told me at different times that I was breastfed for six weeks or six months. Her poor brain was probably so exhausted at the time that she honestly couldn’t tell the difference between months and weeks! If, in fact, my mom did the six months of breastfeeding, it seems she was in the minority. Breastfeeding was not the norm back then, or at least its commonality cycled rapidly (what was that I was saying about a pendulum earlier?).

Then along came Dr. William Sears. Ever heard of him? It seems our country has a relationship of extremes with him where people either love and revere him as a guru or they hate him. As a social worker who thinks a lot about bonding and attachment, Dr. Sears is actually a new name for me. But apparently he is credited with popularizing attachment parenting, though this theory of parenting certainly existed well before he began espousing it. Though many of his theories are good at their core, he tends to take them to an extreme. I am skeptical of someone whose philosophies are rigid and perfectionist (indicative of our white dominant culture, perhaps?).

Some women assert that racism and sexism are the driving forces behind our current breastfeeding obsession. I’m starting to become one of those women. There are whole books on how the push for natural parenting, especially breastfeeding, may have ulterior motives. And this push has led to not just an evolution of morality but also an evolution of policy (see more here and here and btw, the way WIC talks about breastfeeding is actually pretty gross like hey, poor women we are going to really focus on your boobs and what you do with them and tie that to how well your basic needs are met). And if you notice, none of these policies actually, truly benefit the person who gave birth to this baby. When I read the WHO’s recommendations on exclusive breastfeeding (no bottles!) for the first six months of an infant’s life, I want to both laugh derisively and cry. If they care that much why aren’t they pushing for mandatory paid leave policies? And even if we have paid leave, how many people’s mental and physical health can weather the strain of being the sole food source for a tiny human for 12 hours/day, 7 days a week? Sleep deprivation is known to impair in the same way alcohol does. Where is the concern around that? Why is providing breast milk and its slight benefits to babies more important than ensuring that their parents are rested enough to make sound decisions? Why doesn’t society push for better care and support for the people caring for babies? Is it because this is traditionally the work of women and women are supposed to self-sacrifice and put their own needs dead last when it comes to family life?

Despite the fact that when you peel back the surface of the natural parenting movement, the misogyny is glaring, natural approaches appeal to crunchy, granola people. So there has been a strange meshing of liberal feminists with conservative men, a trend that has led some to dub them as strange bedfellows. And thus more pressure is created. Whether from conservatives or from other women who may be progressive, unsolicited opinions and shaming around feeding your baby run rampant in our society. People who plan to breastfeed and feel able to admit their doubts and concerns explain how much judgment they encounter. And it makes you wonder how often moms make decisions that really aren’t in their or their baby’s best interests.

To be clear, it is not that I think or mean to say that breastfeeding isn’t a good idea. It is. And on the other end of the spectrum, women are shamed for breastfeeding their children for too long. Seriously? What is the magic amount of breastfeeding time that is neither too short nor too long? Exclusive for 6 months then increasing supplementing with foods other than breast milk up to two years of age – but you better not do any more or any less and you better follow that to a T. Talk about rigidity and perfectionism. Wouldn’t that depend on the child and the breastfeeding parent? People don’t fit into nice, cookie-cutter plans. What is the point of all this judgment? How does it do anything but hurt the breastfeeding parent? And how does it help the person we’re allegedly focusing on here, the baby?

So. I plan to do it. But I also want to be part of a new societal message; one that assures parents that there is more than one way to feed a baby. As a good friend of mine recently said, “There’s this old saying. It goes, ‘Fed is best.'” If you don’t breastfeed,  your baby will be just fine. Hell, I was breastfed as a baby but my sister didn’t get a single drop of breast milk. And I’d argue that she is smarter than me and definitely has less issues with her weight than I do. She’s a Nurse Practitioner who is healthy as a horse. I’m worried and scared to live in a society that would have accused my mother of poisoning my sister. What evidence does anyone have that that’s the case? Would my sister have been smarter if my mother breastfed her? I mean who the fuck knows?! We have studies that indicate higher IQs in children who were breastfed but a healthy bond and connection is also instrumental for child development and for many women, the strain of breastfeeding may impede this and thus have the opposite effect.

My concern is the fanaticism that currently surrounds breastfeeding. I’m planning to do it but I’m working hard to take it day by day and keep an open mind. In the end, I know I’ll do the best I can and make the decision that’s right for me and my baby. So few people say that, especially when they’re going into it. For me, it’s scary even just to write that hey, I’m going to do my best and I’ll breastfeed as long as I can but I don’t know how long I’ll be able to hack it. And right now, I’m not planning on breastfeeding past the first year. Could that change? Absolutely. But right now, I feel like that is what will be right for me. For you, it could be shorter or longer than that. For me and for my own mental health, I’ll probably want my body to be just for me after 21 months of pregnancy plus breastfeeding (not to mention the other two months of pregnancy I did only to have that result in a loss that led me to be screened for disease for months after). Yeah, I think I’ll be done with feeling like my body is a shared commodity or a weird-ass medical research project.

So many close friends who are also feminists put huge amounts of pressure on themselves to breastfeed. When some made the decision to stop, they felt tremendous guilt but also knew, in their guts, it was the right choice for them. As an outsider (as of now) looking in, it became so clear to me that this pressure was an extension of society’s love of telling women what to do with their bodies and ensuring women downplay their own needs at all costs. And yet. I had my doubts. My gut said I was right but I’m not immune to societal pressure and sometimes I wondered if I was actually just being selfish. Selfish, of course, being one of the most detrimental insults a woman can receive. Society, I really wish you’d get out of my head!

It’s easier said than done. I can see myself logically knowing that my self-care is crucial for caring for my baby but falling into the guilt trap that ensnares so many women, compelling them to become robotic, round-the-clock milk dispensers. But you know what? When I fall in that trap, and I will, I’m not going to berate myself for it. I’m not perfect and my strive to embrace imperfection will not be perfect either.

Feeding sis

Me, formula-feeding, my baby sis!

 

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A Quick Word on Hope Hicks and DV in general

Hope Hicks has now resigned from her position as Communications Director for the WH. About a month ago, there was intense focus on her relationship with Rob Porter following the public disclosure by two of Porter’s former partners. According to the Daily Mail, about a week later she was no longer dating Rob Porter.

Considering that Porter has been accused by multiple women of abuse, it is very likely Porter would have abused Hicks, if he had not already. Unsurprisingly, the White House’s response to Porter’s exes’ accusations was toxic. Kellyanne Conway’s comments on their relationship were perhaps most dangerous of all (no, wait the comments by our sitting president who has himself been accused by multiple women of either DV or sexual assault/misconduct are most dangerous – let’s not let a woman, however egregiously entitled, take the fall for men’s violence against women). That said, there were also comments from people with good intentions that were dangerous.

The one that stood out most to me was a post on the site Daily Kos entitled “Dear Hope Hicks.” It was written by someone who was was, understandably, concerned for her safety. The open letter urges her to leave him asap. I appreciate that the writer is herself a survivor and deserves recognition for sharing her story, which she is certainly under no obligation to do. I also could make an educated guess that these public disclosures of domestic violence were a trigger for her. I was in one, perhaps two, abusive relationships as a teen and then did DV work for almost a decade and I found myself avoiding these stories because they were too much. I also appreciate that the writer expressed compassion for Hope Hicks despite her clear political differences (this is more than some supposed progressives can claim). That said, telling a survivor to leave an abusive relationship is one of the most unsafe things a concerned bystander can do.

Why? Because leaving an abusive relationship is one of the most dangerous times for a survivor. If someone could walk out of an abusive relationship without fearing repercussions, don’t you think they would? Don’t you think there would be a whole lot less domestic violence in the world if it were that easy?

It’s not that easy. In fact, it’s very difficult to leave an abusive relationship. People who control (read: abuse) their partners are adept at trapping them in relationships. They do this by threatening or carrying out physical violence (including murder), financial ruin, or any of the many other ways they successfully entrap their partners.

Leaving is (usually) possible but it takes time, thought and planning. Most survivors need to connect with a DV Advocate to think through their options and develop a safety plan that takes into account their (and should they have them, their children’s) various basic needs. To be successful, the survivor often needs time to build an adequate support network, which usually has to be done from scratch because of the  isolation the survivor experienced in the relationship. To be successful, the survivor may need to save money in a secret bank account. The survivor may need to seek legal counsel.

There is a lot more to leaving an abusive relationship than telling your partner, “It’s over.” I don’t know the circumstances surrounding Hope Hicks’ breakup with Rob Porter. Maybe she did develop a safety plan. Maybe their relationship was so brief that he had not sunk his hooks deep into her enough and she could exit (relatively) safely. Then again maybe not as a dear friend of mine once dated someone for three months but his abuse of her lasted well over a year. And as a white, privileged woman Hicks faces fewer barriers and dangers than less privileged survivors do (though it is never easy no matter who you are to exit an abusive relationship – please, please remember that). We don’t know how it all went down in the end between Hicks and Porter. We don’t know if this is the end. But that’s the thing with all these uncertainties, they are just that; unknowns. So we can’t make blanket statements urging her to leave. Certainly for her sake, we can wish her well and hope he is not abusing her despite the relationship’s end or reeling her back in.

Please don’t ever tell a survivor “You should leave.” I know you mean well. I know you’re worried. I know you’re scared for the survivor’s safety. But your advice is going to come off as judgmental, lacking in understanding and pressuring. Saying to survivors, “just leave” is more likely to cause them to feel they can no longer go to you or to cause them to exit prematurely and end up in more peril than they were in to begin with.

And please don’t write an open letter to a survivor on the internet imploring her, and any other survivor reading it, to just leave.

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There will be backlash

Remember how three weeks ago your social media and news feeds were littered with stories about Aziz Ansari and that babe article? Remember how on January 13th I wrote a post and said I predicted there would be backlash to the #metoo movement? And then the NEXT DAY the story about Ansari broke and both widened the conversation on consent and opened a can of worms (aka backlash) about whether the “me too” movement had gone too far.

So I’m a bit behind on writing this. That’s because it often takes me several hours to write just one of these posts. Because I’m a perfectionist. Well that crossed out part is true but I like to back up what I write as much as possible and find articles that exemplify my points. I also take pride in my writing and no matter how few people these words reach, I want these words to be real, useful, powerful and proofread. And that takes time. And attention. As such, my focus drifts from my basic needs. I tend to not go to the bathroom or eat as I write these posts. So when I finally finish I really have to pee and I’m starving. It takes a lot out of me so it takes a lot of motivation to do them, even though I also enjoy (for the most part) writing these posts. And… I could probably set better boundaries with myself. In fact, I’m hungry now. I’m gonna take a lunch break. Just, y’know, FYI.

Okay I’m back, 1 hour and 21 minutes later. And no, I wasn’t eating lunch that whole time.

I’m actually glad I’m a bit behind on writing on this topic. Why? Because our culture (and probably most of the world) has such a short, reactive attention span. So we start these meaningful dialogues and then things come up, like the government shuts down and then there’s a memo released by Devin Nunes not to mention a plethora of inane, but dangerous, tweets by he-who-shall-not-be-named.

And while the halt in conversation on Ansari has halted the backlash (for now), it has also halted the conversation on why this seemingly common, “no big deal” experience is exactly the kind of experience we need to discuss. So I’m picking the conversation back up.

On January 15th, I first caught wind of this article, though I believe it hit the interwebs on January 14th. I am a fan of Master of None and Aziz Ansari so my stomach dropped when I saw the headline. Ansari was the first one to be named who made me think with much dismay, ‘No, not him too!’ I read articles about the babe article but they all discussed the accusations in a vague way that left me skeptical of any wrongdoing on Ansari’s part. So I went straight to the source and then it became clear to me that his behavior was definitely harassing and coercive, even if not assault.

Many people have criticized the woman who came forward and some of this criticism has been downright hostile. The biggest gripe seems to be this is a bad date and saying that it was anything more is an attempt to sabotage Ansari.

A bad date? Really? To me, a bad date is one in which you show up and find you have nothing in common with your date. There’s awkward silence and you can’t wait to leave because you’re bored and also disappointed/embarrassed by the lack of chemistry. A bad date is one in which the other person chews with their mouth open and/or doesn’t cover their cough or sneeze. A bad date is when the other person won’t stop talking about themselves or starts crying over an ex. A bad date is an experience where you are so not into the other person and they try to kiss you at the end and you have to dodge them but they respect that you’ve declined them and don’t push the issue. In my opinion, these are bad dates.

Contrast this with what the woman in babe reported; her date went from 0-100 in terms of physical intimacy and when she told him she was not comfortable, he said okay and then, per her account, immediately began the exact same behavior she just asked him to stop. She even told him she did not want to feel forced into anything and he continued to physically come on to her. If he had stopped when she told him to stop this wouldn’t have been an issue. But he didn’t. He kept pushing and pushing. Fortunately when she said she wanted to leave, he respected this. But why didn’t he chose to respect her before when she said she didn’t want to do something and he continued to push for it anyways?

Now it gets complicated because what happened probably wasn’t illegal, though I do wonder about the continued touching after she told him to stop. That could potentially fall under assault. But I’m not a legal professional so at the end of the day the legality of it is not my call. However, it’s everyone’s call to decide whether or not this behavior is acceptable. So, are Ansari’s actions truly ones with which we are okay? Are we willing to accept that any date we go on could end as such with us saying “stop,” “don’t” or “no” only to have the undesired behavior continue?

I’m not okay with that and I hope you aren’t either. Because none of us should go through that. I think it’s been hard for people, especially women (cisgender or trans), to see parallels between their own experiences and the one told in the babe article. It is disturbing to look back on an experience and suddenly wonder if you were coerced or degraded in some way. And with all this talk about how the woman in this article “let” it happen up until she left, you may start to wonder too if you “let” this happen to you. Perhaps you then even jump on the bandwagon of dismissing this woman because if you say you’re okay with what happened to you, that it was your choice, then you didn’t “let” it happen to you and you can stay on the strong side of a dichotomy where women are strong or weak, good or bad and smart or stupid.

But the truth is, if such an experience has happened to you, you are strong. What happens to you doesn’t shape who you are. The people responsible for harassment, coercion or bad behavior are the ones carrying it out, not the ones being made to endure it. That said, society has an obligation to have conversations that dig deeper on social justice issues. We must acknowledge that a lot of consent is not as black and white as “yes” or “no.” These are messages which people of all genders need to learn. I know that when I was younger, I figured a man could not be assaulted by a woman because he was physically stronger and could always get away if need be. It embarrasses me to admit that now because that assumption is so lacking on the nuances of coercion. It also places overemphasis on physical strength (specifically upper body strength) when in reality physicality is only one mechanism for carrying out assault. Entitlement, beliefs and manipulation are other mechanisms and perhaps even more dangerous. Not to mention, that no one of any gender, should have to get to the point where they are physically pushing someone off them.

Still there are differences in the ways that straight, cisgender men are socialized and the ways straight, cisgender women are socialized. And these differences are dangerous and can lead men to believe they have the right to sex and women to believe their needs are less important than men’s when it comes to intimacy. So while we all need better education on consent, our current gender norms for straight, cisgender men and straight, cisgender women can be much more severe and damaging for women (and probably for people who fall outside the gender binary and/or are not heterosexual).

To illustrate this, I’ll give some examples from my own life. As soon as I was old enough to watch TV or understand songs on the radio, it became pretty clear to me that intimacy was not for me. Even as a child, I understood that intimate relationships were defined by men for men. Women were props that men used to gratify themselves and to bolster their own bragging rights with other men. I cannot speak to the experience of other girls. But I think it’s pretty telling that even in elementary school, even before I really knew what sex was, I understood that when I got older, relationships would be defined from the guy’s perspective and it wouldn’t be about what I wanted or what we together wanted but about what he wanted. I don’t know if I’m explaining this well. All I know is that as a straight, white, cisgender girl the male gaze and narrative on sex was apparent to me from a very young age.

So I’d imagine that most straight, cisgender boys receive this same message and as they grow into men, these messages will become internalized and lead to entitlement with women. And straight, cisgender men really have to work to undo these beliefs.

That takes us back to Ansari. In Master of None, he appears pretty aware of these dynamics. It seems he has done a lot of work to re-frame his beliefs on gender norms in dating. And there are plenty of straight, cisgender men who would have responded much differently to this woman’s request to stop, as in they would have respected it right from the beginning. So why didn’t Ansari do what so many other men would have done? Why didn’t he stop? And since he didn’t stop, does that make him a sexual assailant? From the woman’s account, probably not. But it does mean that as much work as he has already done, he has a lot more work to do.

I think a lot about how to hold people accountable without demonizing them. What would that look like in a situation such as this? Should Ansari lose his show? My gut says no because that may be falling more into the demonizing of someone. Though there are many cases where employment loss or even incarceration may be necessary, I think in many other situations these are not appropriate consequences. But there should be repercussions nonetheless. And that’s where it gets more nebulous because what that looks like for any given person will depend. I can’t say what meaningful commitment to further undoing male entitlement regarding sex would look like for Aziz Ansari. He is the one who has to make that decision and then follow through. But as a society, our response can be to push for him to do this. And to recognize there is no quick fix. We must acknowledge that undoing entitlement based on the oppression of others takes time and commitment. Most people have at least some privilege-based entitlement to undo and when we harm someone else because of this entitlement, we must take real, long-lasting steps to change our ways. The responsibility falls on each of us alone for own actions. And as a society we can encourage and promote these changes on a larger level. At the very least we should not be dismissing such harmful behaviors as “a bad date.”

There will likely be more backlash. So get ready. And trust your gut.

And by the way, it took me 1 hour, 46 minutes to write this. Minus my lunch break, that is. Not too bad. But once again, I’m hungry. And I have to pee.

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Dear Paul Ryan, we have some requests

About a month ago, Paul Ryan made some comments about the declining birth rate in the US. And I have some comments back.

Now this may sound strange coming from a woman who just announced her pregnancy. However, this is my first baby. I’m in my mid-30s. I’m not sure I am going to have another baby. There are lots of reasons for why I may not. But certainly the way the US treats families is going to be at least part of the deciding factor for me. So I say if Paul Ryan is going to make such demands of us then I have some demands for him and his colleagues. Here they are:

#1. First and most importantly, unconditional policies that protect low-income families. Lest we forget that in 2014, Paul Ryan suggested we cut free school lunch programs so poor children would know they are cared for (?!). In 2016, he admitted he used to think of impoverished, single mothers as “takers.” And while he claims that he now understands the cycle of poverty, he continues to rail against people on welfare, seeming to imply that they choose to be on welfare because it’s easier than getting a job. All while telling us to make more babies.

But first, I’d like to see our minimum wage change to a living wage, varying depending upon where someone lives and the cost of living in any given place. A living wage that ensures people do not need to supplement their income with cash assistance and SNAP (foodstamps). The answer is not to cut benefits so that people no longer make more on welfare than they do at some job paying abysmal wages. The answer is to ensure there are no abysmal wages.

I’d like to see recognition that welfare to work doesn’t work. While having a higher minimum wage is necessary, sometimes people need welfare benefits, sometimes for a long time and for a variety of reasons. The notion that any able-bodied person can and should work is ableist and ignores invisible disabilities, including debilitating mental health and neurological conditions. Trust me, I know firsthand that someone can look well on the surface but be anything but well. The most important thing is that individuals and families are able to get their basic needs met whether through full-time work or through benefits. All the time and energy we put into interrogating and judging poor people about how they earn money and live their lives is not helping anyone. Especially not their children – those very people who Ryan would like to see “living their full potential.”

We need universal daycare and preschool. If both parents need or want to work then we need a system that supports working families. And, well let’s face it if we’re all going to be shouldering the cost of baby boomers’ (and future generations’) retirements then both parents probably need to work regardless of their household income. These benefits would also provide benefits for children. Beyond the obvious that less stressed parents are good for children, pre-school is excellent for young children’s development. And despite this, there is no guarantee young children can have access to this resource. We need to shift away from pro-birth mentalities and be focusing on pro-family, pro-woman and pro-child policies, which unconditionally accept all the forms families can come in. We also need policies that maintain and increase access to reproductive health care, recognizing this is necessary for well families and a well society.

And… we need to hear more from poor people themselves. I can only make so many recommendations without inevitably overlooking many of their needs. If Ryan thinks he knows what is best for the poor, I’d like to see where his commitment to listening to them has been and if he can be willing to hear them.

#2: Policies that end disparities. This one builds off number one but expands inclusion to other marginalized groups such as people of color, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities, people facing intersectional oppression and so on.

This would include improving maternal well-being across all races. While there is disparity in maternal health outcomes in the US depending upon which region you live in and I’d guess which class you belong to, it is well-documented that black women are more likely to die during and after childbirth than white women. The recent story Serena Williams shared illustrates that a black woman’s wealth and status do not exempt her from this increased risk. While many sources say there is no single explanation for this, it is undoubtedly NOT a coincidence that this racial disparity occurs in a country that built itself on the enslavement, breeding, segregation and mass incarceration of black people. If this is a problem society created then society can certainly end it too. I’m looking at you, Paul Ryan and the rest of congress. Do the right thing and ensure our health care systems are providing better and equal care to all people.

Part of increasing black mother’s well-being would be to listen to and follow the recommendations of the Black Lives Matter movement. Founded by mothers, the group can speak to their needs and what must change to ensure black families are safe and, among other things, black parents are not disproportionately affected by child loss and the murder of their children.

In addition, we need to ensure same-sex parents and their children are treated with respect and given the same opportunities as children of heterosexual parents. This includes protecting equal access to marriage but also expanding rights to people who have long-term domestic partnerships. We must ensure recognition and policies that include pregnant people who are not cis-women. There are people who have a uterus and perhaps are expecting but do not identify as female and their voices and experiences must be included in our public discussions and policies.

There needs to be better care and education given to children with disabilities. This means upholding FAPE and only granting positions of power to people who understand IDEA (cough, Betsy DeVos, cough – you shouldn’t have the job you do!). It also means continuing to hear from individuals with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities about their experiences and their needs.

Our policies must be inclusive and reflective of the realities and complexities of the human experience. The rest of these recommendations build off this staple that policies and social norms must be inclusive to low-income folks and other marginalized groups. With that focus, the following, hopefully, will benefit everyone.

#3: Paid family and medical leave for all workers. This could cover a variety of things including caring for a sick relative or time needed for surgery or other medical care. It would also include paid parental leave for all parents whether they are expecting a biological or adopted child. In heterosexual couples (where there’s no DV, that is) paid parental leave can decrease defaulting into restrictive, traditional gender roles. Not to mention that caring for a child on your own is challenging, even if it is just for part of the time. If there is a single parent, perhaps a loved one of this person could also use this benefit to assist them in caring for a new baby. It takes a village, dammit, and we need to have policy that supports this reality.

At the job my husband had two years ago (before the first lay-off), he was guaranteed six weeks paid parental leave. While I was psyched he got that, knowing it would make a big difference for us, I also was resentful. We plan to have a biological child (or children) and as we all know, childbirth takes some time to recover from. Not to mention, what if I require a c-section? That complicates and lengthens the needed recovery time. And then there’s breastfeeding. As much as I want to breastfeed, I’ll be honest and admit there’s a part of me that doesn’t feel like I have a choice. There is so much pressure to breastfeed that I know I’d feel so guilty if I didn’t try it. And if for some reason I can’t breastfeed, I’ll feel awful because society makes you feel like you’re basically poisoning your child if you give them formula. Newsflash – there are times new parents can’t breastfeed and their babies turn out fine! In any case, I plan to breastfeed so between pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, it did not seem at all right that my husband got paid leave and I did not. Of course in his new job he doesn’t get any paid leave. So now neither of us do. C’est la current vie in the USA.

Paid family leave needs to be longer than twelve weeks. If I take the standard twelve weeks, my baby will not even be three months old when I go back to work. And I’m “supposed” to breastfeed for the first year of his life! Not to mention sleep deprivation and physical recovery. Or the fact that our baby will only be a baby once and I don’t know, it might be nice if both my husband and I were able to be there for those early months without having to plan to go back to work prematurely. And let’s face it, I’m one of the “lucky” ones if I get to take the full twelve weeks. I’ve seen colleagues come back to work after eight weeks because they could not afford longer. Eight weeks! A report from a few years back found that in the US, 25% of moms return to work within two weeks of having a baby. That just seems punitive and if you read the accounts of these new moms, it’s downright nauseating. And Paul Ryan wants us to work and have more babies! Paul Ryan, give both parents the PAID time they need so we can keep working. Don’t subject families to inhumane conditions by forcing one in four of us back to work two weeks after bringing a baby into the world. You say you did your part. I say you did your part for your family. Now in your position of power, truly do your part and enact policies that support working parents. It is truly disgraceful to see the contrast between the rest of the world, industrialized nation or not, and the United States in terms of paid parental leave. The contrast makes clear we are, in fact, a nation of takers and makers but contrary to what Ryan once believed, the makers are the majority of us while the takers are those at the top. But he and his colleagues can and should change this. And they should remember that paid leave means continuance of paychecks, which means more paying into our social security and medicare systems.

4. Single payer health care. All people deserve quality healthcare. I’ve heard people complain that public health insurance benefits are better than private health insurance benefits. And, in my experience, these people often aren’t wrong. Private health insurance companies, in general, are profit-driven, not person-driven. Some people think we need to do away with public health insurance programs but the ramifications of that would be horrible for poor people but also for people with complex medical needs. I think public healthcare should be the option available to all. Countries that have single-payer healthcare tend to score better in terms of health and well-being. And while, as I mentioned before, certain groups are disproportionately affected by maternal death in the US, our country has a shockingly high rate of this across the spectrum. I don’t think it takes much effort to make the case that the US needs better health care.

One might argue that government healthcare would increase taxes. But it’s important to consider how much of your current paycheck goes towards buying insurance through your work and then having to cough up money for co-pays and deductibles.

Not to mention, it is just not any of my work’s damn business. My work is pretty progressive but I hate that something so personal is tied to my employer. When I went through all I did with my miscarriage, questions came up about my deductible and HRA. Granted, I didn’t need to tell my employer exactly what happened. But I didn’t want to be speaking about it all with the HR person at my work. Even if I just said, “oh yeah I had surgery” or “I had to have a procedure done” – I was still having to bring up topics related to something very painful in my life. And I suppose this would still happen even with single payer care. If you need leave, you’ll have to give some explanation. Still. Why increase the amount of overlap between personal and professional life? It truly adds insult to injury.

Speaking of insult to injury, let’s talk about how I felt when I got a bill in mid-December for over $600 to cover the anesthesia for the D&E I’d had for my miscarriage seven months before. It would have been nice to have a heads up that I would be getting this large bill and right during the holidays, nonetheless. Better yet, it would have been nice to have all aspects of this painful part of my life covered and to know that no one out there had to chose between their physical health and their financial well-being. The trauma of many health concerns is difficult enough without factoring in stress related to a bill. We need better, compassionate and unconditional care. And we need it now.

This may be just a start but this is what I’d like to see change. And whether or not I have a second child may just depend on Paul Ryan. Anyone else feel the same?

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