On The Cusp

The end is nigh. My days of carefree, unadulterated freedom are almost over. Or, at least, hopefully they are.

What on earth am I talking about? I’m talking about trying to have a baby, of course! My husband and I, after three years of unspoiled-by-a-baby wedded bliss, are officially trying for a baby. So my days of free time and sanity (so I’m told!) are almost over. So I say hopefully because I’ve never tried to make a baby before. It could take us years to conceive, if we ever do at all. Or I could be knocked up tomorrow. Who knows?!

Am I ready for a baby? Yes. Or well, I’m the least unready that I’ll ever be. I’ve been happily married for three years. My marriage has been put to the test thanks to (multiple) bouts of unemployment this past year. And we weathered it beautifully. It wasn’t all peaches and roses, of course, because getting laid off is pretty terrible – it happening twice in seven months is a special kind of hell. But my husband and I are a team. We are equal partners and we get shit done all while supporting each other, having fun and making sure we each get our needs met. If we can get through that, I’d say there’s a good chance (nothing is ever 100% certain right?) that we can get through anything.

Plus I’m in my mid-thirties now (yikes!). Which means my eggs are as dry as a raisin in the sun, which is pretty damn dry when you think about it. Okay my eggs are (hopefully) not dried up yet but it’s not like I’m 25 (thank goodness!) or 30, for that matter. If we’re going to do this, we have to do it sooner than later.

Because we want to do this. As a “seasoned” millennial, I used to feel like these still youthful millennials. But, as it does for many (though certainly not all), things changed for me. I started to want one of those adorable, poopy, causers of severe sleep deprivation bundles of joy. I never really liked babies til I was 26. I always liked kids, I just didn’t really understand them until they could walk, talk and independently use the toilet. Prior to that, I felt like, okay here’s this oddly proportioned, human-like little being. Then it happened. I was sitting with a woman one day and her baby and I felt adoration. Like, ohmygoodnesss look at this little adorable, cutie pie, gaga googoo (do all adults who love babies experience a regression to toddler vocabulary when faced with a particularly cute infant… or is it just me?). I didn’t want a baby at that point in time. And tbh I never had the desire to have a baby right this second until I was 31 and a newlywed. Even then, I thought, ‘let’s just let this marinate a bit and make sure this desire is legit.’ It is. Several years later, I still want one of my very own. As does my husband.

Do I want to be sleepless, without any free time and unable to go to the bathroom on my own? NOPE! But I want a baby and that’s all part of the package so I have to suck it up and just do it.

But if I’m completely honest, I’m scared. I mean, I love sleep. And I do very badly when I’m sleep deprived. I mean, does anyone actually do well when they’re sleep deprived? Some people claim to not need much sleep but I side-eye them and I also tend to imagine they do better when they sleep more, not less. And yet. I get the feeling that going without sleep – especially the anticipation of being sleepless – truly gets under my skin.

For even further honesty, I’m wondering just how difficult it will be for me. Oh don’t get me wrong. I know it will be incredibly and at times painfully hard. I’m a huge advocate for parents, especially moms. I think society is brutally disrespectful and unappreciative to parents, again especially mothers. So I want to encourage parents to speak up and explain all that they actually do and that it’s way more work than most jobs. Because most jobs are not 24/7 and most jobs don’t require you to dress, diaper change and feed (often from your own body) another human being. So yes, I expect it to be DAMN hard. I expect it to be harder than I can currently imagine.

And yet when I read articles like this or this and I sense, well… entitlement and privilege seeping through and I start to wonder where we draw the line. I’m sure some of it is said tongue-in-cheek and I again I really support moms putting their realities out there… it’s just that then, joke or not, these type of posts imply that parenting is the only tough life experience out there and no one else has the “right” to complain.

Parenting is not the only hard life experience. It’s not. As my friend of a toddler told me after her mother passed away, “Grief is the most exhausting experience. Yes I was tired after my son was born but there was an excitement and an adrenaline surge too. This sadness, it just takes everything out of me.” That she was parenting a toddler while grieving her mother probably made things way past overwhelming for her.

My hardest work experience to-date was graduate school. I have a masters in social work and the experience, for me, was grueling. I was pretty privileged and had money leftover from undergrad that I used for living expenses during grad school. That said, my income was very fixed. And I took out loans, for the first time in my life, for tuition – which even with scholarships, was quite costly. So I had very little money and virtually no time to work for pay. My time was spent in class, reading articles and writing papers, doing joyous tedious process recordings and going to internship. And no, my internship was not the go on coffee runs type. It was a little training and then doing the actual work. But I didn’t get paid, oh no – I paid to do it.

I’ve never regretted going to social work school but that doesn’t change the fact that I hated my life during grad school. My first year was particularly tough. All week, I spent my days in class or internship and then came home to read or write papers/process recordings. I rarely stopped even for dinner. I just ate my microwavable meal while reading an article on the complex trauma endured after surviving genocide. Then came Friday when I’d almost cry as my roommates got ready to go out and I… got ready to hit the books. I did the same thing on Saturday morning and maybe took a break on Saturday night for dinner and drinks – but not too many drinks lest I be hungover when it was time to start up again at 8 am on Sunday morning. I was 24 years old.

I desperately wanted to be like other 20-somethings. I wanted to spend exorbitant amounts of time on MySpace (this was the mid-2000s) and spend my small paycheck on cheap booze (oh to have ANY-sized paycheck!). And all my friends just thought I was in round 2 of college. It. Was. Not. College. It was hellish. I felt so alone. On my walk to the subway, I’d look at restaurant signs announcing their specials and I felt like the whole world was meant for everyone but me. It was meant for people who had free time and disposable income and where did I fit into that? Nowhere.

If this sounds dramatic, it might be a little. Sometimes I’m dramatic. But it is how I really felt. I also recognize that I still was really privileged (see my note on finances above) and sometimes I did go out. I also made friends with my classmates and they helped as we bonded over the perils of social work school. And then there’s the fact that some of my classmates did not find it all that difficult. A classmate sneered and told me, “It’s not rocket science.” This same classmate also once proudly told me that she never did the reading and when it came time to write a paper, she would pick a source at random from the course bibliography and insert it as needed. She cheated. Hell, she copied one of my papers and when I confronted her, she looked at me with wide eyes and said, “But that’s not a problem, is it?” But no, Social Work School isn’t that hard – if you’re like her.

Still. I know not everyone finds the experience of Social Work school as challenging as I did. I’m a perfectionist and that makes school particularly difficult for me. I also have massive anxiety and I was coming off a particularly difficult round of OCD when I started school. None of these things made the experience any easier for me.

So I wonder how I will find parenting to be after that experience, which is all too fresh in my mind. After all, my friends who are parents watch TV, I never did that when I was in grad school. Okay that’s a lie. I watched Grey’s Anatomy every Thursday during my second year of school.I would have loved to go on a play-date – being outside or someplace fun and being able to at least sort-of talk with another adult!

But I know I’m seeing all this through my non-parent eyes. There are a million things I don’t understand about parenting or play dates that I will never understand til I’m doing them myself. I also realize that when I was in grad school, I had vacations. I had winter break – four weeks in December-January with few obligations. I had summer when I was like a “normal” person again and went to work and earned MONEY and did nothing but whatever the freak I wanted at the end of the day! And the whole experience was over after two short years. There are no breaks in parenting and it lasts decades, not two years. I explained my concerns about parenting being like grad school all over again to a friend of mine who is a parent and who was also in a strenuous grad school program and she said, “Grad school is like a sprint whereas parenting is more of a slow burn.” Will I find it that way too? It’s different for everyone and I won’t know what it’s like for me until I’m in the experience myself.

My first job out of grad school was no walk in the park either. I did domestic violence work for almost a decade and my first post-grad school job was one in which I had to be on-call 24/7 one week per month. My on-call weeks varied, sometimes I only got one call from shelter staff, asking about where to find a broom. Sometimes I’d be up all night doing intakes for the shelter or covering the shelter for an awake, overnight shift when one of the hourly workers called out last minute. On a quieter week, I’d sit down to watch The Office, knowing I could be interrupted at any moment because of a crisis at the shelter. It was exhaustively overwhelming and I only lasted a little over a year at that job. Still. It was less difficult for me than grad school had been. And. The job ended. I wasn’t always on-call. There were breaks. There are no breaks in parenting.

As I was leaving that job, I had a particularly negative experience with the executive director. In hindsight, I can see that she could be cruel and she made bad decisions. I sometimes think of writing a book about her and calling it, “The Devil Has A Social Work Degree.” But I won’t…. Anyways, I have past trauma and this situation with her triggered a lot for me. So I got to start a new job – a dream job, mind you – feeling completely triggered and insecure. Unlike my first bad bout of OCD, I couldn’t take time off and I had to prove that I was worthy of this DV job at an elite and prestigious institution in a major city. It was so draining. And I don’t feel like I’ve been well-rested once since starting it. Well maybe there have been two days when I felt well-rested. I started that job seven years ago.

These are all job experiences. My hardest life experience was my first serious round of OCD. There were significant stressors and some trauma leading up to my first experience with OCD. But none of my real-life drama compared to the hell of OCD. I remember the worst day being a Wednesday in August in the mid-2000’s. I got ready for work after being kept up most of the night with a different sort of nightmare. I ate breakfast and immediately got sick, the fear consuming me making it impossible to consume anything. I walked into the summer heat and went to my job. All the while, every step I took that day, I was terrified. I was scared a misstep would surely shatter me and out would pour all the ugliness and horror that my life had become, for all to see. It was dreadful.

I’ve recovered greatly. And while my OCD has returned, it’s never been so brutal. I cope better and I’m stronger. Still. It was an excruciatingly difficult time for me. Will parenting be that hard? When people talk about it being the hardest thing ever, I just think of all I’ve survived… and hope those experiences that ultimately made me stronger will pay off when it comes to future challenges. I think in many ways they already have…

Which brings me to the last point… so much of what the pop culture internet props up as evidence of parenting being so hard just reeks of privilege. I’ve been through some shit but I have never – and hopefully will never – go through what so many people go through. The people who talk about the hardships of parenting all seem to be coupled off (in hopefully healthy relationships – as Lord knows Domestic Violence makes for a nightmare all its own). Anyways they aren’t single parents working three jobs. They’re (mostly) white and educated people who mourn going out to nice dinners and sleeping in. And while I’ll miss those things, I know it is a privilege that I’ve gotten the past eight years since finishing social work school to have them. Furthermore, I already don’t have so much of what people talk about missing. Because of all my past personal and professional trauma, I rarely feel well-rested. I used to have nightmares so frequent and so bad I didn’t even want to go to sleep. Now I just wake up frequently through the night- my depression waking me or my overactive bladder – cuz I already have one of those. I also have stomach issues that make me easily spend 20+ minutes on a single bowel movement. So the 45 minute poop mentioned in this article doesn’t sound too unimaginable to me. I don’t eat gluten so I’m already planning all my meals, I never have the luxury of just grabbing something to eat. Plus I’ve been trying to lose weight for like ever so I hardly ever just go out spontaneously. Over the past seven years I can only remember making last minute plans to go out once, and it was thanks to the prompting of my colleague, who is, mind you, mom to a 2 and 4 year old.

That said, there are things I will miss. And there are reasons why I’ve procrastinated and waited several years after my biological clock started ticking at me. Case in point, it’s Sunday evening and I’m still in my pj’s after sleeping til noon today. I sleep in ridiculously late on weekends because of how badly I sleep during the week – oh, and because I don’t have children. I binge-watch like it’s my job and I read away my days off. Binge-watching and binge-reading are things I’ll have to give up – at least until after the kiddos are tucked in and even then there’s a good chance I’ll be interrupted.

So I say all this to say, I have no expectations for parenthood other than that I expect it to be harder than I imagine. Maybe someday I’ll read this post and think I was oh so naive – when I’m up to my elbows in diapers (wait, if I mean that literally that would be kinda gross because if I’m up to my elbows in diapers, I really shouldn’t be on my laptop too, haha). But that’s part of why I wanted to write it now, while I’m on the cusp of parenthood, about to take the plunge with no real insight. I’m curious how I’ll feel later on. And I really encourage parents, especially moms, to speak their realities so that society maybe starts giving some goddamn respect. But don’t be a jerk about it either. I would have loved to have ranted and raved as so many of you do when I was in grad school or in the middle of a particularly miserable on-call week. But people would have been pretty mad at me if I’d demanded they bring me expensive take-out or been condescending. And rightly so. So if I didn’t get a pass then, perhaps you don’t get one now either.

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Over It: The Oppression Olympics

Down in Rio, the 2016 Summer Olympics are underway. Meanwhile, in Cyber Land, another type of Olympics are well underway and have been for decades. These would be the Oppression Olympics, a “competition” of sorts in which groups of oppressed people vie for the title of “Most Oppressed.” Ever. Always. Yeah.

As a privileged white lady, I make the disclaimer that I’ve competed in this silly game. Though not necessarily for the team you’d think. I tend to think racism, at least in the United States, takes a heavier toll than sexism. I say that as an unwavering, fiercely-loyal feminist and one who also tries to eschew the Oppression Olympics. Still. It’s hard for me to not get sucked in to this comparison game sometimes and think, on some level, that racism wreaks more havoc than sexism does in the US. Maybe it’s because I’m female. Let’s face it, women of all races, though especially women of color, tend to downplay their own needs, which leads to a tendency to say “Oh, its not so bad for me.” And well maybe that plays a role in my conviction… But more than that, it’s likely because I am aware that racism is a huge part of the US’s foundation and that I have a very comfortable life, even as a woman, because of my white skin.

So that’s a disclaimer to this post. Perhaps a hypocritical one and perhaps one stemming from some unchecked white guilt. Still, I wanted to put it out there. And now I have.

That said, the overall point of this post is to say that even if there is one oppression that is more harmful than the others, does it really matter? At the end of the day, it’s all oppression and it’s all injustice and all of it has to stop. And sooner than later.

So what are some of the concerns that have come up for me in regards to the Oppression Olympics? Well, one concern is it can lead to dangerous beliefs that “more oppressed people” cannot cause “real” harm to more privileged people. Case in point is this everyday feminism post. There are many layers to an example mentioned in the post in which the writer recalls telling a friend, who is of color, to stop abusing his white boyfriend. The layers are that yes, DV is a form of oppression against women because it would not exist without patriarchy but yes the notion of controlling your partner to get what you want has spread to the LGBTQ community and yes it’s just as harmful then and yes the individual referenced in the post is a disenfranchised person using a tool developed by misogyny in his relationship with a man, and yes, in this individual situation, said individual’s abuse of his white partner is not systemically supported… but it is still abuse. Got that? Well regardless, more on that in other posts – past and present.

The thing is that we, as humans, really need to embrace the idea that none of us have the right to harm someone else. No matter what. This idea is about more than “violence is not the answer” and “you can’t fight fire with fire.” It’s about a deeper recognition that justification of any violence paves the way for justification of any and all violence. If there’s truly no excuse for violence then it is significantly less likely that the cycle of violence will spin on. Look when I started doing DV work, it was easy for me to fall into revenge fantasies. It was a means of coping. These were fantasies, mind you, ones I never would have actually done. And yet, ultimately I realized how unhealthy this type of coping is – for many reasons. But not the least of which is that by having these fantasies I was dehumanizing people who abuse their partners. And it is precisely dehumanization that enables batterers to abuse, to justify their violence. And while I would never have done IRL what I dreamed of doing, harboring those beliefs was unhelpful, unhealthy and ultimately counterproductive. And it wasn’t just ‘oh I can’t stoop to their level’ – because even that is dehumanizes them. It’s a richer belief than that. Because even after all batterers have to done to their partners, if there is no justification for violence towards them then there is no justification for their violence either. And this does not signify, by any means, that batterers are not to be held accountable. It just means we never lose sight of their – or anyone’s – humanity.

And yes, sometimes we need to defend ourselves but we also need to seriously ask ourselves, how often are we defending versus how often are we avenging? True self-defense does not involve the dehumanization. It involves a need for survival and a lack of any other options.

The other concern is that out of the Oppression Olympics comes the idea that people who belong to a marginalized group but also belong to a very privileged group are only kinda oppressed or are not oppressed at all. I take issue with these arguments and, as a white, straight woman, can speak more accurately to the claim that white women aren’t oppressed but rather suppressed – which if you look those two words up are defined essentially the same way (see links on each word above). I can see how saying white women are oppressed may sound like an implication that there is some form of oppression that white women experience that other women do not. It’s important recognize that white women are oppressed because they’re women but they’re privileged because they’re white. I absolutely agree that the damage caused by racism and sexism to women of color is ten-fold to what white women have experienced and that there is a hellish level of inhumane cruelty that is unleashed on people who live at the intersection of multiple oppressions. Also white women must recognize their white privilege and that we have historically been very brutal to women of color. And yet, sexism oppresses all women, even white women. I say this because like all women (even if to a lesser degree) white women fight to be safe in their communities and especially to be safe in their own homes; free from the violence of rape, street harassment and domestic violence. We’ve fought, and continue to fight, for bodily autonomy and to be viewed as more than vessels for future human lives. We’ve fought to vote and to be equal to, not less than, men. We fight to not be second-class citizens and not be relegated to marginalized roles and restricted personalities and abilities. We’ve fought to be viewed as humans and not sexual objects. We’ve fought for independence from men, which when you consider the frequency of DV and rape that occurs in intimate partner relationships and that this violence disproportionately impacts women, you can see that our quest for independence runs deeprer than simply being able to work and earn money. Though those abilities are important too… And all this said, women of color experience all these same issues severely compounded by racism.

I must point out here because it would be ignorant and dismissive not to that the article I linked to above was written by a black woman. The article IMW(hite)O, makes really good points. There just were a few aspects of the article that bothered me. And I wish I had some other articles to reference. There are many other examples I’ve come across written by men, by white women, by transgender that have brought up the same concerns for me. And yet that article is the ones that most stuck with me – perhaps because of my privilege and some unchecked entitlement. And for that, I am sorry.

Another one of the absurdities that most irks me are people’s tendencies to take a single example or single form of oppression and use it as “proof” that one oppression is worse than the other. We saw this when Obama won the nomination in 2008 and plenty of people (mainly white women) claimed this meant that sexism hasn’t been as easily vanquished as racism. What the what?!

There are countless other examples of this – that men of color first sustained the right to vote but white women have never been blocked from voting the way people of color have. And while this is true, it is one example. You could also say that white women haven’t had voting their rights denied (which is true) but all women’s right to bodily autonomy continues to be threatened via attacks on places like Planned Parenthood (although it’s also true that reproductive issues aren’t unique to women as black men had their reproductive ability thwarted through pretty disgusting practices). The Civil Rights Act was enacted more than 50 years ago but it’s also debatable how effective it has been because of the War on Drugs. Still. The pro-woman legislature of The Equal Rights Amendment was never enacted at all (thanks White Lady, Phyllis Schlafly). You could also point to the fact that while white women don’t often experience domestic violence by men of color, the reality is that patriarchy wins out in (straight) intimate partner relationships and so if a man of color is abusive and dates a white woman, he will be able to effectively dominate her. So a-ha! The smoking gun, patriarchy trumps white supremacy. Except for the fact that white women are usually abused by white men but white women are conditioned to fear black men and black men have been scapegoated repeatedly and treated in ways that are inhumane no matter what crime may (or may not) have been committed. But wait, lest we forget that women of color are harmed by all of this.

Wow, so I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve just been on a never-ending, high-speed merry-go-round. And that was only “comparing” sexism and racism – just think of all the other oppressions we could add in there! Not to mention, I’ve yet to throw in any of the realities of intersectional oppression. Oh joy… (sarcasm).

Then sometimes I wonder if maybe what is blocked more for any given group is what the dominant group perceives to be the most powerful right for that group. The one that might give them the best shot at overcoming oppression. Like how people of color are blocked from voting and women are blocked from abortions. But once again, the people most screwed over by this are women of color who are impacted by both systemic attempts to stifle their right to vote and right to choose.

But in the end, does it really matter? Should you really compare types of injustice? If one is more harmful than another… then what? Do we ignore or take less seriously the “less bad” oppression(s)?  I mean, it’s all oppression – it’s all harmful and degrading. It’s all based on the notion that one group is superior to another and the group deemed inferior is deserving of maltreatment and restriction of rights.  And honestly, it’s kind of supremacist to categorize and stratify humans. Human needs are human needs and human rights are human rights. These are humanitarian issues – ones which should not be checked off, put in a box and placed in some sort of hierarchy.

So what to do? Don’t buy into it. When someone is speaking of their experience, don’t interrupt them. Don’t try to one up them. Don’t say “well the same is true for me because I’m… x, y and/or z.” Even if that’s true just hear that person out. Support them. Comparing, judging and assuming – none of that is supportive and none of it is helpful.

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Loathin’ on Lazy

Recently the word lazy has become an insufferable word to me. Someone makes an off-handed comment that so-and-so is lazy or this whole group of people is lazy and I cringe. Seriously it’s become nauseating to me.

It seems like an innocent enough word – I mean, at least compared to other words used to insult or portray someone badly. It can even be used in a positive sense, like a lazy morning spent in bed or lazy summer days. That sounds so nice, doesn’t it? Using it in that sense is almost calming to me.

But when it’s directed towards someone or a group of people, it becomes demeaning. And maybe the fact that it isn’t some profanity makes it worse. It’s a word that can be used without reservation and in everyday conversation to denote someone’s inherent negative quality(ies).

And so often it is used in just that way. “And that’s when I realized tenants are the laziest people out there.” “Well she says she’s depressed but please, she’s just lazy.” Those are just some examples I’ve recently heard. So often, lazy is used by someone in a position of privilege and/or power over someone else, who at least in the moment (perhaps always), is lacking that same privilege or power.

Think about it; to discredit someone’s own lived experience with a mental health disorder and chalk it up to their own lack of internal motivation or work ethic is pretty darn oppressive.It’s saying, “I know your experience better than you do.” It’s also saying, “It’s your own damn fault that you’re in the position you’re in so I don’t need to waste my precious, well-earned time on helping, understanding or empathizing with you.” It’s a presumptuous statement as it neglects to consider other factors or what that person’s day-to-day experience is really like.

And tenants? Seriously? At its core that statement is about classism, but it doesn’t even make sense because most people, not matter how resourced or not, start off as renters. I know I did. And I wouldn’t have wanted to be labeled as lazy. To be honest, I had some moments in my early 20s where landlords could have easily decided I was lazy or that I wasn’t the brightest bulb on the chandelier. Literally. My friend and I once called our landlord and asked if he could change a light bulb for us. Yup. And in my defense I was only 22 and well, still getting my feet on the real-world ground. Plus both my friend and I, who were the only two people living in the apartment at the time, were quite vertically challenged. Still no big surprise that our landlord’s response was, “Yeah that’s not my responsibility.” And I totally get it now and it was not one of my finest moments. But that’s all it was; a moment and hopefully not one used to judge or deem my entire existence.

Often times, passing moments in people’s lives are used to label or categorize them. In addition, people are often judged and scrutinized without consideration or mention of their full and true experiences (experiences which are often highly dominated by oppression and marginalization). How often are people of a certain race or certain class described as lazy? The term lazy is used by the privileged to rationalize why the unprivileged are just that unprivileged. I mean, if only they would work harder or just pull themselves up by their bootstraps then they wouldn’t be in this predicament. Whenever I hear someone say this, they were most often born white or middle class or able-bodied or don’t have a major mental health disorder and all I can think is Really? You think so? And just how are you so sure of this? How do you know they aren’t working so, so hard and still can’t afford basic necessities like food and housing? These notions that people are responsible for their own plights completely denies the layers of oppression and rejection and marginalization from the larger society. It also absolves the privileged from any accountability for this problem or any steps they could take towards ameliorating this problem. After all, if someone else, is dooming themselves to a life of misery and/or poverty then only they can fix it so it’s not your problem, right?

Because of all this, lazy has become such a vile word to me. We, as a society, tend to use it so nonchalantly and seldom acknowledge just who tends to use the word and when and just who tends to be the target of this word. Lazy has become a really demeaning and oppressive word. I think we seldom use it accurately because often times people labeled as “lazy” are working multiple jobs or battling physical or mental illnesses or both plus working. There are so few people out there who truly are poor simply because they sleep all day or never try. Moreover the people who sleep all day or do not try, have reasons far more complicated than laziness for why that is how they spend their days and in fact are likely doing a lot of work just to survive. We have started to challenge crazy and its negative consequences, I say we start doing the same with lazy!

 

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Grief

Disclaimer: I love the 90s, for a lot of reasons and not the least of which is because they feel like a simpler, safer and more carefree time. I recognize this likely has a lot to do with the fact that I was still a kid then and that I was (and am) a white, middle class American. This disclaimer is to acknowledge that there are many other people who, understandably, feel differently.

It’s times like these when I begin to deeply miss times gone by. I remember that it was almost twenty years ago to the date that I was on a middle school class trip to NYC. About 20 years and one week ago, I stood, with many of my classmates, atop the World Trade Center. It had taken me awhile to go out on the roof. I am so scared of heights and often shake as I climb up, up, up… But everyone else was doing it. I stood on the top most floor, the 110th floor, and kept a distance from the windows, not wanting to see just how high up I was. My classmates were all smiles, as they rode the escalator to the open air of the observation deck. One boy turned and saw me, undoubtedly with my arms folded and a frown on my face.

“C’mon, Izzy,” He called to me, “Don’t be a chicken!”

And that was it. I made my way to the escalator and ventured into the world above. I exhaled sharply as I made my way on to the deck and grimaced, preparing to be terrified. But then it wasn’t so bad. There was plenty of distance between me and the ledge and it would have been nearly impossible to fall plummet to my death, as I probably was imagining. The city sprawled below me but it may as well have been all of the world. I felt free and exhilarated. The air was warm and my heart skipped a beat or two as I realized how unafraid and how happy I was. I felt both invincible and safe. In that moment, from my point of view, the world was safe and sound.

I couldn’t have known then that in just over five years, those towers wouldn’t exist anymore. And disappearing with them was the sense of safety and freedom I never imagined I’d lose. But that was just the beginning. Then came too many mass shootings; Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino and now Orlando, among others. There was a severely misguided and calamitous war. There was Hurricane Katrina and a feeling that something just not right is going on with our climate. There was a bombing at the Boston Marathon and I was there that day.

Of course, there were things that came before, even in the US. There’s well, our whole history of racism and white supremacy. And then in my life time there was the Oklahoma City bombing. Columbine came shortly after and it was scary and made my high school experience kinda hyper-vigilant but… it didn’t change things the way things changed in 2001. Now there’s a collective terror and trauma and it keeps accumulating with each new horrific tragedy. Our reactions have ranged from fear to despair to grief to anger to numbness to irritability over the new norm.

I’ve felt all those things. But in the immediate aftermath, I often just feel sad. I grieve with everyone for the loss of life, the murders and the loss of times gone by. And I miss how things used to be. Or at least how I thought they were. Now I can see there was also far too much devastation in this world and even in my own privileged life, there was still trauma and sadness.

Still, there was a time the world and my life felt differently. There was a time before wars and mass murder and destruction was familiar to me. There was a time when my own traumas didn’t weight so heavily upon me. There was a time when life wasn’t much more than open meadows, rolling hills and fresh forests. When the outside world was so still, there was only the breeze in the summer and the snowfall in the winter. Despite some hardships, there was a sense of peace and I had no ability to imagine the world held otherwise.

Yes I was very lucky. But now that it’s gone, I wish and realize that we should all be so lucky. I spend my days chasing that long-lost feeling of tranquility. I want it back and the country life still feels better, closer to that. But there’s also a break, like a crack, right down the middle of my idyllic surroundings. Because there’s a sense that nothing is so safe as it once was. I don’t mean to sound as though I think I live in a war zone. Nothing could be further from the truth. I just mean, it’s different than it was. And I miss, oh I ache, for how it was. If only I could get back to then, if the world could heal or if all the horror could be undone.

I grasp for it, that past, that serenity but I catch nothing. Because it’s gone. And maybe someday we will heal and the world will be a better place to live. But for now, I am so sad.

I have many other thoughts and feelings on the Orlando shooting this past weekend, like how the Latino LGBTQ community has largely been ignored and how the anti-Muslim sentiment just keeps rising. These things are bothering and saddening me. But for now, this is all I want to say.

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Vermont circa the 90s

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Supremacy, not privilege

There are so many disturbing aspects to the recent outcome of the former Stanford student, Brock Turner’s brutal attack on a young woman. That the rapist received light consequences, considering the vileness of his crime. That the judge seemed more concerned for the rapist’s future than for the survivor’s. That it re-affirmed society’s message to men and boys that they can do what they want to women with few or no consequences.

All of these facts are horrific. And the public outcry reveals I’m not the only one who feels this way. But the public outcry also reveals how deeply entrenched rape culture is in our society. The father-to-father letter that went viral is one example. I was all with this guy until I read that Brock got away with this because of white privilege.

Yes, undoubtedly, the rapist’s race and class played a role in how the judge was able to sympathize with him. And had he been a man of color attacking a woman, particularly a white woman, it is likely he would have faced stronger consequences, though IMO rapists of any race are seldom given consequences truly commensurate with their crimes. But yes, it is highly probable a man of color who was found guilty (though keep in mind, it’s really hard to convict someone of rape) would have received more than six months.

But it’s not just about race. While both men and women can be victims of rape, women are disproportionately affected and men are far more likely to be the perpetrators of sexual assault. If it were an issue of race then white women would be perpetrators as often as white men are but there is no evidence to suggest that this is true. Rather, this is an issue of gender in that rape and the threat of rape are used to terrorize and subdue women, both cisgender and trans women, as well as people whose gender is outside the gender binary. Again this is not to say that men don’t experience rape. But whether or not a woman is ever raped, she lives in constant fear of it whereas (non-incarcerated) men do not fear it so much nor do they plan their daily lives around it. So if it is a privilege, it would be male privilege.

But is it a privilege to get away with raping someone? To me, when I think of male privilege, I think of the fact that men aren’t scrutinized so severely (or at all) based on their looks or sexual history. I think of how (straight, cisgender) men don’t go on dates and tell their friends where they will be and with whom in case, God forbid, their date attacks them.Nor do straight, cisgender men worry about or experience domestic violence at the same rate women do. I think of how when I was in college, my female and friends and I drove past a man going for a jog around 9 pm and one friend said, “male privilege!” The implication being that none of us would feel safe walking, never mind jogging, after 9 pm (maybe even earlier).

Being safe and not being judged on your looks or sex lives – those are things everyone should have but men get to enjoy these rights more than women/people who aren’t straight men (and in terms of safety, I’m speaking about safety from misogynistic violence specifically – I know there are plenty of other oppression-based types of violence men live in fear of).

Back to racial privilege (which this is not but there are many good defs of white privilege so I’m using them) consider definitions of white privilege. Its definitions typically note that it advantages white people over people of color and gives white people more access to things that again everyone should have equal access to; such as quality education, healthcare and safety. Many definitions of white privilege also acknowledge that white people get immunity from some liability or burdens (see def linked to above). To me (and I absolutely could be wrong), this speaks to the freedom white people get from unwarranted searches and pat downs and that drugs that are more commonly associated with white folks (i.e., cocaine) get lighter consequences than drugs like crack, which was typified as a black person’s drug, particularly during the Reagan years and his white supremacist so-called war on drugs. But rape? Is that something anyone should get immunity from? Is it a privilege to rape someone without consequence? So if we (as a society) include rape when we speak of immunity white people get that people of color don’t, should we maybe change that? Not to mention that if this is really privilege to deny the gender factor is to dismiss the very real fear of and experience of rape women of all races live with on a daily basis.

To me, white privileges are largely good things and things that white people should work tirelessly to ensure everyone has equal access to them. Most of the things white people get because of their race are things that no one should be without, such as good healthcare. It is unfair for people of color to be systematically denied rights. And it’s not okay.

But no one has the right to rape someone. To say it is white privilege that lets someone get away with rape implies that this is unfair to people who rape but receive harsher consequences. No. Getting away with rape because you’re a white man or because the system was designed in a way to disadvantage all survivors and all women (and people of color too) doesn’t mean you have privilege. It doesn’t mean you have access to something that other people should have but do not. It means you have supremacy. It means that your needs and getting your way are more important than the victims rights to their own bodies and to safety. And since rape is highly gendered and disproportionately impacts women/non-cisgender folks, the message is that women’s safety is less important than men meeting their so-called needs (aka getting their damn way with women).

I’ve heard men of color say that white privilege means knowing you can rape or beat your wife and get away with it. Not only is this viewpoint male-centric and heteronormative, it implies that it is so unfair to men of color to not be able to get away with assaulting women in the way that white men can and do get away with it. And by no means would I deny that men of color face harsher consequences for violence against women (because compared to white men, they do), but as someone who worked in the DV field for years, I can say plenty of men of color commit violence against women of all races and never face consequences. This is often because their partners are worried for the harsher, race-based consequences they might face should law enforcement become involved. And while women of color are certainly more sensitive and aware of this, white women also hesitate to involve police because of DV/rape, whether their partner is a white male or not.

Now I’m guessing that the father who wrote the viral letter did not intend for his words to come off this way. I’d also imagine that many men of color don’t realize how what they are saying comes off as highly misogynistic. But it doesn’t always matter what you mean. Because sometimes what you didn’t mean to say (but actually did) is more reflective of society’s beliefs and treatments of an oppressed group and unwittingly you perpetuate that oppression in saying such things. In addition, I certainly have some reservations, as a white woman, on calling men of color out on this because of white supremacy and power dynamics that benefit me over people of color of all genders. Still men of color are not immune from male privilege/patriarchy, or more appropriate in this case, male supremacy. And while society (read in this case: white men) has pretended to care about white women’s safety (spolier alert: it doesn’t really) as a means to further oppress men of color, specifically black men, that doesn’t mean men of color can’t and don’t do things that perpetuate the patriarchy and are harmful to all women. Saying you are unprivileged because you can’t get away with rape is one such example.

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On Moms

So Mother’s Day has come and gone, for this year. I was with my mom all this past weekend and the one before so I was a wee bit busy with my real-deal mother and didn’t have time to post a tribute to moms on this blog. But it’s still the month of Mother’s Day and really shouldn’t it be Mother’s Month?

Okay slight digression here (but it’s related!)… It’s been a year since I left a full-time job in the DV (Domestic Violence) field and now my work is much broader than solely DV, though it still substantially pertains to DV because DV is e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e. This year has been awesome because after 8 years of strictly DV work, I am learning a lot and I am expanding my knowledge base. I am being challenged and I am challenging society and systems. While no longer in the DV field, I am forever a fierce advocate for survivors. So the system pushes me and I push back.

Part of this self-expansion is, of course, stepping out of my comfort zone. I look at how human services have become just that; services. The field has moved away from the movements for social change and social justice that really ignited so much of this work in the first place. Admittedly, the DV field has always been steeped in white privilege, specifically white lady privilege and its brand of feminism, white feminism. But as the DV field streamlined itself to get more stable (if you can call it that) funding, it began to depart from its origins and the social justice that it was also steeped in. It became less accessible to those most marginalized. It became top-down and much more overtly white supremacist even though many survivors are not white and women of color are disproportionately impacted by DV. In this past year, I have by broadened my work and I have been graciously welcomed into new communities and all this has pushed me to understand how my own privilege and internalization of white supremacy has rendered me null and even harmful to many people, in the DV field and beyond. Simply by being out of the DV field, I come to see just how many survivors have been excluded from the DV field. The conventional DV models benefit many but also ignore many and that fact makes the whole system worth revisiting. I like to think in my new work, I’m in a good position to witness other ways of supporting survivors and their families. Then I can school my white lady colleagues on how it is 😉 And part of that education is to push them to not just get this information from me because a white woman is just never going to entirely get it or articulate it very well.

None of this, btw, is to knock the DV field. I am so happy I spent 8 years of my life working in the DV field and it is entirely likely I will return to it one day, just not quite yet. But the reality is that the DV movement and its subsequent field, like many social movements of the last century, are symptoms of a society/system diseased by white supremacy, misogyny, ableism and the like. Despite the many obstacles the DV field does still do a lot of good work and most people in the field are conscientious, work really hard and want to do more and to do better. It wasn’t necessarily (entirely) intentional that the DV field shifted in this direction but that doesn’t mean it can’t be accountable for the shift and work to change.

But I digress. The truth is the work-related challenges of the past year have not always been so pretty and inspirational. While I have been able to see more clearly the insidiousness of white supremacy in my work and how I can change that, I have also come face-to-face with the misogyny that is entrenched in human services, despite it being a female-dominated field. The messages of the fathers’ rights movement have infiltrated the human services field and people of all genders wittingly and unwittingly regurgitate its rhetoric. There is blatant misogyny and heterosexism in these messages and yet it is completely disregarded and all sorts of support and attention are given to (primarily straight, cisgender) men.

And of course, men and fathers deserve support and attention but in terms of gender, aren’t they the ones who have traditionally gotten more of it? Even in parenting. Despite the fact that women have traditionally (and still) done the majority of child-rearing, we still live in a patriarchy and men still assume heads of household and dominant positions in the public and private spheres, at least (typically) compared to the women in their lives. Right now, engaging and including fathers is all the rage and while there is inherent value in this initiative, it is, in my opinion, putting the cart before the horse. The horse, or er, first step is to push for fathers to be responsible. Fathers need to be accountable to their families; their children and the other parent of their children. This is not to imply that all fathers are irresponsible or to label men or fathers as “bad” – although the percentage of fathers who exercise power and control over their families or abandon their families is far too high and warrants attention. Rather this is to acknowledge that women were relegated to the domestic life and primary parental role. Against their will, women became viewed not as humans but as vessels for babies and were pushed into the home, thus stripping them of any sort of economic or political power, which in turn led to a loss of personal power and agency. And while many women who weren’t white or middle class had to enter the workforce, they still did most of the care-taking and were made inferior to men in their lives. And all of this says nothing for the women who weren’t into dudes or people whose gender identity did not match their assigned at birth gender.

In essence a woman could not be safe or well without a man (because of societal restrictions to her independence) but being with a man could also jeopardize her safety and well-being. And while this is 2016 and the women’s rights movements has had several waves now, the fact remains that this is still true to an extent. The fact also remains that women still take on the lion share of domestic work and end up being more tired, less well and still politically and economically disenfranchised. If men want equal rights to children, they need to share equal responsibility and hell, they need to let women put their feet up once in awhile.

Again, this is absolutely not to say all men are bad – or really, that any man is bad. Even batterers cannot be labeled as “bad people.” The good/bad dichotomy causes far more harm than help and frankly as a society, we should know by now that people are far too complex to be defined by one single adjective (duh).

So this is to say that if fathers ask for rights without showing their commitment, it is adding extreme insult to terrible injury. I mean to the guys out there, it’s like you all put us in this position. So don’t just come sashaying in here and take over. Help us. Be there for your children and for us, time and time again and without expecting anything in return. For millennia women have been self-sacrificing and given their all and then some to their families without demanding anything in return (and don’t any one of you dare say that women expected a man to work and provide for them because it was not our choice to not work and to have to be dependent on you). Men are never going to go through millenia or centuries or any amount of time being in the position women have long been in. Still. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Don’t just say you’re a parent with rights, show you’re a parent with rights. Put your kids ahead of yourself and make sure you and your partner take turns taking care of each other. Always be civil to the other parent, even if you’re no longer with them. Being a parent is more than sharing DNA or having some little person refer to you as their parent. It’s giving your all and then some and not being entitled about it. It’s thinking about your responsibilities to this child, not your rights to this child. And since mothers still assume the most responsibility (in straight relationships) for parenting, we need to see dads doing the same. Yes, we need to engage fathers, but we need to engage them first in responsibility. Whether this means a father needs to be accountable for his abusive actions or be accountable to his children when they’re sick and sometimes be the one to stay home with them. This is parenting and this is what children need from the adult or adults in their lives.

And no, I don’t have daddy issues, thank you very much. I have mommy issues. Because, let’s face it, no parent is perfect and with all her imperfections, my mom was the one who really took care of me. My dad is great but like your average American dad, he left most of the parenting to my mom. And parent she did! Through all the beautiful moments and all the icky, exhausting, relentless and terrifying moments, she gave it her all.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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No Anjali Ramkisson is not an example of The Matriarchy. Because there is no The Matriarchy.

Hey-o! It’s been awhile, so here’s a post from this largely absentee blogger….

On Sunday I was skimming through my newsfeed when I came across this article. I hadn’t heard of Anjali Ramkisson up until this point but apparently she is the young woman who  has become notorious for berating and assaulting an Uber Driver in Florida a few months ago.

Full disclaimer: This post is not in support of Ms. Ramkisson nor her actions. Obviously, intoxicated or not, berating and assaulting someone are not excusable actions. This post is to point out the piles and piles of misogyny that were spewed towards her.

So yeah as I was reading about Dr. Ramkisson’s “temper tantrum” the news articles were already exhibiting sexist undertones, discussing her outfit and appearance. The comments were, unsurprisingly, outrageously misogynistic. People made degrading comments about her, claiming her female anatomy is the only reason she “got away with” her assault. Though I’d hardly say she got away with it, since she has been verbally degraded and abused by the internet and lost her job…. But some people thought she “got away with it” because she was not arrested and thrown in jail and that this would have been different, had she been a man. Maybe, maybe not. Stories about this incident state the Uber Driver declined to press charges. I don’t know Florida state laws but that does seem to imply that Florida is a state that allows victims to decide whether or not to press charges. Had this incident transpired some place where the state determines whether or not to press charges, then the outcome may have been different. Anyways to say that men get arrested for being violent and women don’t is, well, that is just BS.

And it only got worse from there. By far, the most disturbing comments are highlighted in this article and are a horrendous blend of misogyny and white supremacy. And then there’s this post that claims Dr. Ramkisson’s lack of arrest is evidence of “The Matriarchy.” The Matriarchy… this is part of the backlash to the feminist movement and  feminism’s naming of The Patriarchy. Well a Patriarchy and a Matriarchy cannot both exist at the same time and feminism coined theirs first… so there. No I’m just kidding! But seriously what happened with Dr. Ramkisson does not demonstrate The Matriachy.

First of all, she didn’t get away with it, like I said before. No she wasn’t arrested and whether or not she should have been, the fact of the matter remains that there were consequences (significant ones) for her actions. If she got away with it, she would still be working her job, her reputation would not be completely tarnished and she would be going about her life as usual. That would have been getting away with it.

The author of the post above about the supposed matriachy, claims that criticism of his choice to label Anjali Ramkisson a slut is proof of the matriarchy. How exactly is standing up against the degradation of women proof of the matriarchy? Because, he says, people will respond more to his remarks than they will to the assault on the Uber driver. Ummm… yeah… NO, pretty sure the internet has already responded way more to her actions than to the blatant misogyny that emerged in the aftermath. But even if that is true then where is the public outrage, public humiliation and degrading comments over these attacks involving Uber drivers (one as the victim and one as the assailant)? Both attacks were significantly more severe but they both also involved male assailants and so there is a lot less reaction to both of them. A simple Google search of the two male assailants and Dr. Ramkisson can show that.

And about her reputation being tarnished, what exactly did that look like? Well if the links to racist, sexist comments above weren’t enough then consider the volume of disparaging comments about her physical appearance. Consider how many times she was called a slut, a skank, a c*nt… When men behave like Dr. Ramkisson did, they aren’t called such names. Why? Because insults of such a degrading magnitude do not exist for men. Ask a man, as a man, what is the worst thing he has been called – it probably has to do with implying he’s feminine because being like a woman is just *so* awful (according to The Patriachy). But if he ever was called something else, like an ass or a dick then he likely didn’t like it but he also likely wasn’t too shook up. Ask a woman if she’s been called a whore or c*nt and if she has been, which she probably has, then she was likely pretty shaken up, shamed and threatened by the experience. I should know because men have leered these vile words at me FOR NO REASON and I will not forget those moments, not ever. So why the discrepancy? Why are men able to cut women down with words but women can’t do the same to men? Not that I’d want to do that to men, nor would most women I know, but it’s an important question to consider. Because the answer is that we live in a patriarchy, not a matriarchy, and in a patriarchy men have power over women. This power differential is like all forms of oppression in which the words and actions of the oppressor towards the oppressed carry more weight and have more devastating consequences than if the oppressed tries to harm the oppressor. And if you think that’s a double standard and unfair, consider what it’s like for people who live with one or more types of oppression.

 

 

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