Tag: Women

International Women’s Day: The Ironic Wisdom of Learning to Keep My Mouth Shut

“Deeds not words.”
– Suffragette slogan

Becoming aware of how much criticism is heaped on women for their life choices is depressing. Becoming further aware of how much of this criticism stems from other women is downright devastating. For me personally, realizing how guilty I used to be (and occasionally still can be if I don’t watch myself) of this behavior was humbling.

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I grew up in a culture that has highly defined gender roles and a lot of codified expectations for women and girls. I’ve written about the dress codes here, which also touches on the expectation that women “should stay home,” that they should be the primary caregivers to children, and uncomfortable echoes of rape culture. I’m no longer in this culture or ascribe to a lot of those values in the same way. But being out here in wider society as opposed to a small religious group isn’t necessarily easier when it comes to the pressures heaped on women.

Unmaking a lot of the lessons I’d been taught about gender and femaleness from a young age took and still takes a lot of work. In either constructing or reconstructing my own views on gender and the female experience, I’ve had to critically examine not just the views I was raised with, but also the knee-jerk reactionary views I sometimes developed in response to opinions that reminded me of my childhood culture. As fiercely committed as I am to supporting other women and claiming my feminism, I still have a lot of work to do.

Unmaking your own critical tendencies is a hard line to walk. I have just as many opinions about  how to live as anybody, but what I have made a dedicated effort to do in the past few years, is simply decline to judge most women’s life choices. From sex to education, childbearing to careers, I’ve come to the conclusion that how other women choose to order their lives is almost entirely none of my business. Where another person’s choices do not affect me, or does not impact my ability to make my own choices or my legal rights, what I have learned and try awfully hard to practice is the age old wisdom of keeping my mouth shut.*

I’m not talking about politics or policy in this post, what I’m speaking of here is the personal criticisms or judgement we casually fling at women who chose to work full time, stay home with children, hire help, use professional childcare, ask family to babysit regularly, have multiple sex partners, practice celibacy, eat paleo, eat vegan, eschew social media, take selfies, wear short skirts, wear hijab, read Talmud, read romance novels, do bodybuilding, not exercise at all, go into military service, go into nursing, have an abortion, decline to practice birth control, grow their hair long, wear their hair super short, be atheist, pray at the Wailing Wall, have tattoos, cover their skin from neck to ankle…

The list is quite literally endless. It often feels like we can’t win for losing!

Instead of picking apart, examining, or even stressing about other women’s choices, what I’ve committed to is supporting their choices better. They may bear no resemblance to the choices I’d make for myself, my marriage, my family, or my career; I may even disagree outright with her positions. But where her choices work for her, break no laws, and cause no harm, the onus is on me to stand up for her decisions the way I’d hope others will stand up for mine. The world is still plenty hard on women. I’m convinced it will get a bit better if we are easier on one another.

And the only control I have over that goal is starting with my own behavior. I like to think I’ve gotten better, and I like to think I’ll get better still.

Amy Poehler popularly summed this up in her book Yes Please with the phrase, “That is the motto women should constantly repeat over and over again. Good for her! Not for me.” This idea is full of generosity and, dare I say, grace.

*I separate this from political activism/engagement, it’s worth noting. I put my money and my time where my values are.

Weekend Links: The OK Ladies Now Let’s Get in Formation Edition

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

In case you missed it, the Womens March on Washington (and sister marches around the world, including the one I participated in in London) might have made some records. The coverage is still coming in and it’s amazing to see — more amazing to have participated in. You can see some my images here, but this is a story worth following and watching. To say nothing of joining in. Welcome to the Grab Back.

Oh yeah, and the US has a new president who doesn’t seem to be “pivoting” from his campaign persona in any way. Shock, surprise. I watched his inauguration because I’m a citizen and think it’s important to support the process of free government. The new First Lady looked absolutely lovely, and I thought it was gracious and correct for Secretary Clinton to show up in spite of how awful I expect it felt. The speech was Orwellian, but bang on from the tone of his campaign. The next day I laced up my shoes and hit the streets to make it clear that he was not elected with a mandate and I will be supporting the issues that I care about with my time, my money, and my voice. Because again, I think it’s important to support the process of free government. This is how it works.

Here are your links, kittens. Tell me what you got up to this weekend.

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I found this piece at Politico a very timely read. It opines that President Trump’s hostility towards the press may be a blessing in disguise. If the traditional lines of communication between the administration and the media are clipped, the press can and should (this writer argues) fan out to the myriad unofficial lines instead and take up the opportunity to do more and more extensive investigative reporting.

Also, what did the administration do on Day 2? Malign the press in the face of documented facts and figures, and talk a lot about himself in his “reach out” to the CIA.

Don’t let anyone say the Women’s March doesn’t matter. 2.9 million participants is not a “tantrum.”

An interesting piece on the physical logistics of changing over an administration.

An important reminder about some of the realities of race and privilege, especially when it comes to assembly. I for one, know I can do better and I intend to.

This SNL from Asiz Ansari was great and nicely nuanced against hysteria. We’ll be fine and the people ultimately set the tone for change, and if yesterday is any indication…

Shut up and take my money.

A bit more fashion levity and some street style.

STOP. I swear every time I read an article like this, my heart breaks a little. I know there are more important immediate issues, such as the civilian lives in the crosshairs right now, but this hateful and deliberate dismantling of human history is also hideous

Album of the week: Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool

London Snapshot

“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
― Winston Churchill

Britain’s in the midst of honoring the first year of WWI this year, but this monument is one of my favorite wartime memorials in London. A little vague, still deeply appreciated.

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A handbook was issued to American GIs stationed in Britain during WWII that cautioned them how to behave to British women. It pointed out how most of the women they encountered, whether in uniform or out, had been at war a lot longer than they had and had already sacrificed time, skills, labor, and lives to the cause. They had mobilized to grow food, work in factories, provide medical and military service, run businesses, protect communities, and perform critical work to keep the nation together. As such, the handbook stressed they deserved to be treated respectfully as comrades in arms. So say we all.

Ban Bossy

“I’m not bossy, I’m a boss.”
– Beyonce

Boy am I a fan of Sheryl Sandberg! Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead was personally one of the most important and influential books I read in 2013, I had to physically restrain myself from buying it and placing in the hands of a few people who I felt desperately needed to reexamine some of their own opinions and privilege. It’s not a perfect work,* but it is a significant one and has kicked off and re-energized a lot of conversations.

Skip ahead to more recently, Sandberg and Anna Maria Chavez penned a piece in the Wall Street Journal and announced a collaboration between the Lean In organization and the Girl Scouts of America to launch a campaign to end the use of the word “bossy,” particularly for girls.

I’m whole heartedly behind this in theory (though I’m not sure we need to ban the word so much as seriously recognize and reevaluate our usage of it). The word should simply describe a universal behavior but what makes it so problematic is that it’s applied almost exclusively to girls and women. As the article mentions, the earliest usage of it in the OED and one of it’s main descriptive definitions both relate specifically to women. Negatively.

I’m  assertive and openly ambitious, starting in childhood I’ve taken it upon myself to assume leadership roles when given the opportunity, I’m occasionally competitive, and – yes – I’m naturally loud. I’ll step up to the plate if I think I’m the person for a job. I’ll disagree with a plan if I see harm in it. And if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been called bossy in my life in a negative way, I could have retired out of college. If I had another dollar for every time I been called it for exhibiting behaviors that another person (of the opposite sex) was exhibiting in the same room at the same time and in the same situation, I could have retired out of high school.

I’m not going to argue that domineering behavior is a virtue, it’s not. Nor do I think that being rude or pushy or arrogant are useful or good actions, they aren’t. I am going to argue that if being aggressive or ambitious is bad for one person, it should be considered bad for another. The fact that it’s not, and that that difference is drawn so starkly down gender lines, is the problem. This campaign is not about addressing bad behavior, it is about addressing behavior that is only seen as bad when exhibited by certain people. It is about using a word as a silencing mechanism. It is about encouraging, accepting, or even tolerating behaviors, attitudes, and actions from one group of people while discouraging, frowning upon, or openly punishing another group for the same things.

How we talk to and about boys and girls matters, especially if we talk to and about them so differently. I know from personal experience that those differences are felt and have long lasting effects.

What do you guys think about the campaign to #banbossy? I support it, especially in spirit, but in addition to how often I’ve been called it as an insult, occasionally it’s been used towards me as a compliment or encouragement as well. Not nearly as many times, but it has happened. I’m not convinced that it is in an of itself a wrong word to use to describe behavior, but I am convinced it’s used disproportionately to shush or dismiss girls and women. Is this the way to fix the problem? Is there a better one? Tell me your thoughts, I’m curious to hear them.

*My main issue with Lean In is that I felt it dealt with the work/family/life/ambitions/career concerns of primarily higher succeeding and educated women – leaving huge segments of the female population who are often already underprivileged and whose concerns are less well addressed. However there’s a reason it, justifiably made waves. We need better conversations and options surrounding women across the board and Lean In really has opened up the conversation in the second decade of the 21st century with a bang.

Incendiary Monday Post – Healthcare, Birth Control, Women’s Roles – Oh My!

“Woman must have her freedom, the fundamental freedom of choosing whether or not she will be a mother and how many children she will have. Regardless of what man’s attitude may be, that problem is hers — and before it can be his, it is hers alone. She goes through the vale of death alone, each time a babe is born. As it is the right neither of man nor the state to coerce her into this ordeal, so it is her right to decide whether she will endure it.”
― Margaret Sanger, Woman and the New Race

My old job did a horrible job at supporting women’s health. There, I said it. No real maternity leave (unless you count 12 weeks without pay, after which time your job is hypothetically up for grabs and much relies on the goodwill of your department), no day care (there is a single care area, but it is a research facility and not open to public enrollment), and frankly less than impressive health care options.

I have my theories about this, but primarily I think it’s because it’s a private religious school that’s part of a traditional gender essentialist cultural. Women with kids should be at  home with those kids, goes the thinking. Granted I certainly I never heard anyone at the university say this in an official HR capacity, but I heard it everywhere (including some classes) unofficially, even from administrators of my own department. Let me be clear, I do not believe for one second that the policy and procedural edicts on the subject were the result of some cabal of men evilly stroking cats and scheming in a dark room somewhere, but I do think that this idea of prescribed gender roles passively plays a role in making assumptions about what working women do or do not need long term.

1970's ad from Australia.
1970’s ad from Australia.

I’m not going to get into the arguments for or against this cultural set up now, except to say that for a school that emphasized family values, I often wondered why I saw so many policies and procedures – and cultural mores – that made it hard for women (employees and students alike) to have one, because that’s a rant for another day. What really bothered me personally was the issue of birth control.

Yes, my birth control was theoretically covered by my work insurance plan. In practice, however, it turned out to be cheaper for me in the long run to go through Planned Parenthood for my annual exams and prescriptions. That is ridiculous. I often wondered what was the point of my healthcare plan if the main thing I used it for besides dentistry (being otherwise a pretty healthy person) turned out to be more financially heavy than services outside its administrative scope. And believe me, Planned Parenthood was not popular or commonly marketed as an option in this state!

But the real challenge came when I quit that job in preparation for our London move. I needed a supply of  several months to get me through the summer, the move, the settling in, and the setting up of our new health plan in Britain – we’re covered by the NHS but opted for additional coverage as part of Jeff’s work benefits package. Planned Parenthood could only give me 2-3 month of a prescription at a time, and my GP couldn’t write me a prescription that could account for my change of employment status, since my insurance disappeared with my job. My GP was a great doctor who took them time to listen to my concerns and ultimately wrote me a full year’s prescription and worked with the pharmacy to fill it, since they also normally dispense it in smaller quantities. But it was entirely out of pocket for me and cost nearly $400 to do so – a bit more than a $1 a day to remain child free by choice.

VictorianPostcard

Fast forward to London. When down to my last month of birth control, I make an appointment with the doctor’s office I’ve registered at (coincidentally a 7 minute walk from our flat). My stats and measurements are taken, my health history is reviewed, my current prescription is examined to verify they carry the same or a similar drug, a new prescription is written. The whole process takes 10 minutes. Four days ago I walked to the adjacent pharmacy and filled it, getting two months of BC. It is not as attractively or complexly packaged as what I got in the States, but the dosages are identical.

It cost me nothing.

I don’t pretend that socialized medicine is without consequences, particularly for a country as large and divided as the US. But I grew up in socialized medical care – by which I mean… the system that treats the military and government servicemen and women of the country. It too had some major drawbacks (witness a large scar on one arm when having skin biopsied vs the nearly invisible one I got for the same treatment in private care), but when run properly it works. Astonishingly well. I’m for more of it, particularly more that treats women’s health as an integral part of the system, since we’re 51% of the population, instead of a specialty field.

Discuss.

– My friend Heidi documents a less than stellar experience from her Danish doctor. Any other expats have stories to share, good and bad?

John Green talks about healthcare costs on the vlogbrothers channel, worth a view even if you disagree vehemently.

– A post laying out the pros/cons of universal healthcare and comparing it in the US to other nations

Another pro/con examination

The Annual Anti-Harassment Seminar, As Told by C.

“Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other.  Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.”
~ Katharine Hepburn

Yesterday, under orders from the University, the entire department attended an anti-harassment seminar.  It didn’t go as well as could have been desired.

The officers, muttering something about cooties, grudgingly trotted off and about an hour later office personnel followed.  When the secretaries entered, a collective groan went up as the men were forced to put away their Vargas posters and NSFW magazines.

The presenter stood up, closing her ears when an unnamed person muttered something about “having to listen to this broad for an hour,” and put on a cheerful face.
“I’m here to talk to you all today about unacceptable behaviors at work.  Luckily there are no [censored slur] here, so this should be easy.”

Things rapidly devolved from there.

“The protected categories of personal traits are sex, gender, religious affinity, color, genetic information, age, and -”
“What’s the difference between sex and gender?” yelled out someone.  “I mean, besides who you’re allowed to hit on?”

Musical Theatre, as seen by some seminar attendees.

“One is your actual sex, male or female.  The other refers to expectations or traits of your sex.  For example, ridiculing a woman for trying to tackle something obviously beyond her scope, like chemistry.  Or a man for studying something that we can use to determine his sexual orientation, like musical theatre.”

“I’m a musical theatre major,” injected one student from the back of the conference room.
“Oooh, look at him,” cooed some of his compatriots flapping their wrists at him and beginning to make obscene personal remarks.
“Then why don’t you put on a skirt and wash something,” yelled a sergeant, diminutive in size anxious to fit in the Boys Club.

You're a girl!

C., enraged at the slur on A) skirts and B) laundry duties, leaped to her feet, climbed up over the seats and delivered a long and inventoried tirade abusing the sergeant’s personal hygiene and evolutionary history.  Hennessy, attempting to restrain her friend, tried to mitigate matters until a student officer told her to “shut up, quit working, and stay at home like she was supposed to.”  Whereupon both Hennessy and C. launched themselves at the student and his companions and frightful blows were exchanged.

“Women can work,” Chief hurried to scream into the fray, trying to calm everyone down, “unless they become pregnant!”
Excuse me?” bellowed Wise planting her hands on her growing stomach to brace for impact before she barreled him over.  Rounding on the company she roared, “Who’s next, you bunch of communists?!”
Susie demanded, “Who’s the commie pig?” whipped off her heels and began stabbing anyone in her way with stilettos

I'll save you, helpless maiden! (or) I'll kill you, helpless maiden!

While this was going on, both a male and female officer had taken refuge under the stage.  “Good thing we’re staying out of it,” said the male officer to a female, nudging her arm conspiratorially.
“Molester!” she screamed and dragged her surprised, hapless victim out where he was quickly devoured by a herd of bloodthirsty traffic clerks.

From the podium, the presenter tried to beat off a student officer with a propensity to stalking with a chair, yelling “Fire!” to make someone pay attention to her plight.
“I thought,” shouted Chief from where he was wrestling with a young female worker who was trying to get him in a compromising position in order to sue the university, “you had to tell someone who – ow! – was annoying or offending you – let go of my leg! – to stop before you could take legal action.”
“Oh no!” responding the presenter, getting her assailant into a headlock, “A behavior doesn’t have to be acknowledged to be unwelcome.”
“Yeah!”  shouted Lt. Colossus, emerging from the brawl bloody but unbowed.  “Watch!”
He reached out to where Lauper was punching an officer and ridiculing him for impotence, slapped her on the bum and collapsed on the ground when she promptly kneed him in the groin.  She was then set upon by a small horde of police officers who beat her senseless, calling her (alternatively) Hindu, Sheik, Protestant, and a variation of African spiritualism  that the editors are not sure how to correctly spell.

Pictured: the seminar room, post seminar.

The brawl was not broken up until both dogs and firehoses were turned on the rampaging attendees.  At which time it was ascertained that four were dead, seven concussed, one was bleeding out, three had lost the ability to walk, and two the ability to reproduce.  Other casualties include a missing eye, several knocked out teeth and, to date, one marriage.  After mopping up the entrails, the mob was deposited at the university’s Equal Opportunity office where the presenter, ashamed that she let the meeting get so out of hand, apologized but was fired anyway because in the future, “keeping track of these [censored slur] would clearly be a man’s job.”

After a strict talking to, the rest of us were sent home with copies of “Men are from Neptune, Women are from Saturn’s Sixth Moon, Titan.”