Fatherless by Choice!

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the annual onslaught of “Dads and Grads!!!” advertising, today is Father’s Day in the United States, If you have a happy relationship with a good dad, take some time to celebrate that. If you’re feeling down today because you don’t have a dad, don’t have a relationship with a dad, have a bad/absent/abusive dad, it’s okay.

It’s okay to feel less-than-thrilled about today. It’s okay to have complicated and confusing emotions. It’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to be indifferent. Maybe your dad has died and you feel that loss immensely today. Maybe you have a single mom and you want to give her some extra love today. Maybe you have two moms and aren’t even paying attention to this holiday. Maybe you have a dad, and he’s not great, and you feel conflicted today. It’s okay!

Despite overwhelming evidence that we’re social creatures who thrive in community situations, we have a heavy-handed cultural mythos that holds up the heteronormative nuclear family as the One True family. And when your reality doesn’t fit that narrative, holidays such as this one can be painful and difficult.

I’ve been hesitant to share too much of my personal history here, mostly because I know some ~hate commenters~ will use it to derail our conversations. But, y’know, the personal is political, so here we are. I haven’t had a relationship with my biological father in nearly a decade. And it was only by entering that estrangement that I’ve been able to blossom and grow.

I have a Bad Dad. Like, a very bad dad. I’m not nostalgic for my childhood because most of it was such an abusive and fearful time. My memories of my childhood are of being abused by my dad, and of watching him abuse my mom and sister. It was not good, friends! It was physical, emotional, financial, and yep, probably all those other checkboxes you’re wondering about, too. That dude was not a good dude!

Even after extracting myself, I was stalked, threatened, and further terrorized by him. It sucked so much! (I’m using exclamation points because I don’t want you to feel too bad about this!) Eventually, I lived out my favorite The National song: left my home, changed my name, and now I’m eating my cake. My life is really good now, and it’s in large part due to the fact that my Very Bad Dad isn’t part of my life.

But it took me a long time to feel okay about it. In the beginning, I couldn’t believe how much pressure there was from acquaintances, friends, and even family members to “make amends” and “not burn bridges” – and these were people who had borne witness to years of abuse. Consequently, the first few years of my freedom/liberation/estrangement were wildly difficult. I was made to feel such guilt and shame for refusing to continue a relationship with a clinically ill and dangerous man, just because he was my father.

We have cultivated a ludicrous adherence to biological ties as an absolution of all wrongdoing. I’m here to tell you that idea is bananas. If anyone (even your own family!) tries to guilt you for not associating with an abuser… it should be clear that they’re the deranged ones, not you. You know your own heart and needs better than anyone else. And having a Bad Dad (or any bad relation!) is not a reflection on you or your worth. That we have an official holiday for Fathers (and Mothers/Grandparents/Siblings/whatever) does not in any way invalidate your experiences and the choice to end a relationship.

If you feel sad today, that’s okay. It’s a lil sad! Sometimes I wish I had a dad. Not the biological nightmare I ended up with, but a dad who embodies all the greeting card sentiments. Like I said, it’s a complicated day. But you’re not alone and you’re going to be okay. The most important thing I’ve learned in my fatherless decade is that letting go of bad people makes room for really good people. And those people, the family I’ve chosen, are whom I’ll be celebrating today.

If today is difficult for you, be gentle with yourself. Whether you’re fatherless-by-choice (a new term I just made up and am now in love with), wish your dad was around more, or have lost a father you desperately miss, treat yourself with compassion today. There’s nothing wrong with you or your feelings.

 

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Nice Girls

I’m perpetually grateful to have a stable job that I love. I’m good at it and feel recognized and valued for the work that I do (and I’m fairly compensated, which really spikes that job happiness indicator all the way up). I have ample opportunity for professional development, and I’m encouraged to take advantage of all the workshops and conferences that come my way.

Recently, I’ve been attending a series of workshops for “Women Leaders” and they’ve left me feeling… less than impressed. After every session, I leave feeling like we didn’t have a truly nuanced conversation. The most recent one involved me sitting at a table being told the myriad ways in which millennials (ie: me) are lazy and self-involved. That’s a tired, baseless argument and doesn’t in any way help a group of women succeed in the workplace.

At one of these workshops, someone suggested we all read the book Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. The woman who suggested it was quick to point out that the title is jarring but promised it was full of really useful advice for us. I was skeptical, but I borrowed a copy from the library. The subtitle, 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make that Sabotage Their Careers sums up the entire book. It really is just 101 “mistakes” followed by advice on how to correct our behavior. And the “mistakes” are things like having a dish of candy on your desk and not wearing makeup.

We need to reframe the conversation. Instead of focusing on the 101 (101!) ways women should be, we need to address the underlying cause of gender discrimination in the workplace. Because I can promise you that hiding jolly ranchers in our desk drawers and switching to a $30 tube of mascara isn’t going to solve it.

I work in IT, and it’s as stereotypically male and casual as you might imagine. I’m often the only woman in a meeting, and definitely the only one in a skirt. It’s easy for me to discard this book and its laundry list of required changes, because I work in such a supportive and generally laid-back environment. My boss evaluates all of us on the merit of our work, not the extent to which we do or do not wear colors that flatter our skin-tones. I’m lucky because in my team, that doesn’t matter. I know it matters in a lot of places– I don’t want to discredit that. But I also know that reinventing ourselves as Professional Stepford Wives is like slapping a bandaid on a bullet hole. (Ugh, Taylor Swift, your silly lyric is invading my life.)

Even though I generally don’t have to worry about these things in my job, I’m not immune. A few weeks ago, my boss was checking in and said, “You’re doing a great job. Although… people find you very intimidating. They know you’re extremely competent but in general, yeah, you intimidate people.” Instead of feeling completely empowered… I totally freaked out. Even though he went on to say that he thought it was a good thing and I could use it to my advantage, all I was hearing was that people didn’t particularly like me. And I hated that!

I can’t decide what about me is intimidating in the workplace and how concerned I should be about it. I refuse to modify my speech patterns or ‘feminize’ my ideas/comments/requests in meetings, even though I know that makes some dudes bristle and I see most women at my office doing that. Or maybe it’s my resting bitch face? I can’t help my face! Or maybe my shyness is being interpreted as bitchiness?? Ugh!

I pressed my boss and it turns out that the men I work with think of me as a pal. We’re all work buddies. It’s actually the women in various other departments who think I’m a big ol unlikable weirdo. And I’ve found myself wondering if I should tweak things about myself—maybe if I don’t point out ways we can be less sexist (omg, we do NOT need to dye the lemonade BLUE because it’s a baby shower for a boy) people will think I’m more fun and less of a killjoy? But should I even care?

I think that if we want to change the system, we need to do it by being ourselves. Nice girls can and should get corner offices. We need to stop buying into the narrative that being feminine is a barrier to success. Because if we keep telling each other and ourselves that, it only reaffirms that narrative. So if you’re a nice girl, keep being a nice girl. If you’re a badass bitch, keep being one. (I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, by the way.) We need to let our work be judged on its value and merit– our workplace expertise should take precedence over our ability to be experts at accessorizing. I think we all need to start articulating exactly that, instead of trying to change 101 aspects of ourselves and hoping that works.

Last Year’s Rent

Let’s start with a few seemingly disconnected tidbits from my life: my friend recently sent me an Atlantic article about rethinking what we mean when we talk about capital-f Feminism; I can’t stop listening to the Rent soundtrack—it’s like I’ve reverted to my most extreme 2005 theater kid days and I’m not trying to make it stop; in the past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time with women I admire and love but don’t get to see often; I still don’t know how to talk about the past year.

I haven’t talked about last year much here. Just the one time, actually. And it’s probably not lost on you that the way I wrote was detached and impersonal. I didn’t know how to talk about it then, and I don’t know how to talk about it now. But I can’t stop listening to Rent and thinking about how we examine a year of our lives.

It was this time last year that all the bad things really kicked into high gear. My whole life unraveled in a torrential whirl, and the thing I try to avoid talking about is that it left me completely unmoored. I lost myself entirely. Fundamental aspects of my life and identity shifted. I’m so different than I was before. I didn’t find my way back to myself. I veered off course and became someone completely different.

I think our impulse in these moments is to talk about how we Survived the Trauma because we’re Warriors and Better because of the Struggle. I’m tired of that narrative. I don’t think I’m better because these things happened to me. I don’t feel broken or fragile, but I don’t feel like this was an essential to my personal growth. Any good things to have come out of the past year could have come about a different way. Preferably a way that didn’t involve having my life threatened, sleeping on couches because staying at home wasn’t safe, talking to police and  detectives, learning about filing restraining orders and temporary protection orders. I’m not glad that any of those things happened to me. There’s not one single part of me that’s grateful for any of those experiences.

The past year was devastating. I hardly recognize the shell I became for several months last winter. I spent most of my time huddled in a bathtub, trying to grow accustomed to the painful tinnitus that pounded in my ear. I completely isolated myself because, even though I didn’t do anything wrong, I didn’t ask for or encourage any of it… it still felt like my fault. And I have a degree in Women’s Studies! I literally have a degree in learning to recognize these patterns, to understand how abuse happens, how getting you to think that it IS your fault is a tactic manipulators use to gain more control.

It didn’t help that every system put in place to stop these kind of abuses failed spectacularly. There was never any retribution for the perpetrator. There was never any justice for me or for the friend who also experienced it. Our whole lives were upended. We left our jobs. We spent unseemly sums of money paying people to help us sort out the physical and emotional fallout that degraded our bodies.

I don’t like to acknowledge exactly how much of a toll being a Victim took on me. I don’t want people to treat me like I’m fragile. I know I should have acknowledged my own fragility, and that I should be able to talk about the ways my life remains completely altered. Because my experiences aren’t unique. This kind of trauma has an unfortunately ubiquitous quality. I like to blame my bad luck, but I think the reality is that we live in a perniciously malicious society, where the negative percolates to the top. I try to believe that there’s more good than not, but it seems like bad actions are constantly rewarded.

One of the disappointing aspects of my experience was that it left me wary of participating in the same kind of activism I’d done before. Spaces that were once safe felt foreign and dangerous. When I read that Atlantic article, I’d already been thinking a lot about the ways that Feminism, like many movements catalyzed by our reactionary internet culture, has gone off the rails in truly unproductive ways. When I started this blog its title (it. was. a. joke.) was a light-hearted jab at my own mellow, goofy personality and the way passivity sustains harmful norms. Now… I’m not as comfortable with the name. I’m still trying to articulate how in the quest for justice and inclusion, radicalized facets have created more discord and polarization.

I can see the ways that this exact inability to converse contributed to how the past year of my life unfurled. The institutional structures that should have protected me didn’t. The discussion was so bogged down in politics that what could have been solved quickly and painlessly turned into one of the most traumatic and prolonged experiences of my life. How else can I explain why the same person (who had the most ability and responsibility to rectify the damage) was able to say, “You’re not safe. You should never be alone—these are truly dangerous threats.” And a short time later, “Well, we do need to let him express his personality. We can’t ask him to change who he is.” …I mean… really? ‘Stalker’ is a protected identity now??

But then I come back to women who are smart and graceful and funny, who change the world by being themselves, who remind me that I’m doing just fine by doing exactly what I’m doing, who gently let me know that removing myself from the conversation isn’t the path to healing. And that’s the kind of feminism that matters to me. I wouldn’t have survived the last year without it.

We have to keep critiquing and reflecting and evaluating the ways our movement is working and the ways it isn’t. There’s not an end goal—we’re never going to be done. But we have the opportunity to save lives, and that’s not something we should give up on. So I’m not going to change the name of this site, or delete it, even though I sometimes think about doing both. I’m not an authority, but I do have a stake in this work. We all do.

When I think about the last 525,600 minutes I don’t think of them as being seasons of love. (I’m not going to apologize for that. Did you really think I wasn’t going to bring that in??) I want to be very clear that I do not believe those platitudes. None of this made me a better person. None of this should have happened. It was like being on a rollercoaster that was so violent you vomited the whole time and needed a chiropractor after. You don’t get off of that feeling Better. Different, but not better.

One last thought in this discordant jumble: autumn has always been my favorite season. And it’s been hard to love it in the same way this year, because now I associate it with the start of one of the worst times of my life. But nobody gets to take an entire season from me. I’m still here and I’m still trying. And I’m still an Angry Feminist Killjoy, but not in the way you might think.

Summer Slow Down

I have plans to run a half marathon in September. I had an elaborate 12-week training plan set up, because I don’t have a history of adding mileage slowly or safely and that’s how you knock yourself out with unnecessary injuries.

The training plan is in the can and I’m down with an unnecessary injury. I broke my toe. It wasn’t a running injury; I caught it on an old cedar chest and felt the bone crumple. I had no idea such a little bone could hurt so much.

There’s not much to do for a broken toe other than to RICE it– rest, ice, compression, elevation. I’ve been propping my foot up under my desk, with an ice pack balanced on my foot. But walking hurts. I have to go slow and hobble around like a brand new duckling.

Slowing down, especially against my will, has made me reflect on the great privilege and gift of my ability. I’m so lucky to have a body that lets me run, to live without chronic pain, illness, or disease. I am able-bodied and I don’t spend enough time thinking about how much that informs my life experiences.

I’m thinking about it now, and about the ways my prescribed and adopted identities align me with a population I’ve resisted. The county I live in was recently named the least diverse in my state. As I watch housing prices soar, see interesting construction and business changes, and observe various political shifts, it’s clear that my city caters toward wealthy white liberals.

And increasingly, I’m realizing that I’m one of them. There’s nothing wrong with being affluent, or white, or liberal. But there is something wrong when one such privileged group eclipses all others. To help stabilize my toe, my doctor told me to buy a pair of hard-soled sandals. She gave me a list of brands, all expensive and very popular where I live. I didn’t own any, and I hadn’t wanted to. I’ve resisted buying into (literally, monetarily) the dominant culture of this place. I worry about who gets erased as the Wealthy White Liberals take charge.

I bought the shoes, and they’re helping a lot. But it’s not lost on me that I could buy that pricey pair because I now have a graduate degree that helped me find a job with a stable income. I can pay my bills, work on my student loans, and save enough to have a Shoes for Broken Toes fund. I had to buy a new (used) car this year, and I chose a zippy little hybrid. I work in a nice office, in a tech job that provides me fancy gadgets and expensive software. When I’m not injured, I’m out running on trails and visiting microbreweries. All these external indicators place me solidly in this yuppie bubble culture. I worry that I’ll get sucked in and lose sight of the world.

Even now, I feel like all I’ve just done is write a Poor Little Rich Girl story. And what purpose does that serve? Now, more than a year out of school, I find myself still struggling to bridge the gap between student activist and autonomous, isolated, workforce citizen. I didn’t expect the change to be so dramatic, and for the most part, I’m infinitely happier now than I was as a student.

But there are aspects I miss so much. Like the community of bright, and diverse people who challenged this city and me. And even that feels complicated because I’m the one responsible for doing my personal work, not my peers. I need to consider my feminism and how it’s evolving within me, and how and to whom I’m engaging in this new life phase.

As I slow down this month, I hope to think more, challenge my innate and chosen identities more, and to find a way to validate my space without encroaching upon and erasing the people and cultures and communities we so very badly need.

Birthday Wishes

A lot of the feedback I’ve received on this blog over the past few years has been dudes mansplaining the brokenness of my relationships to me. Apparently, there’s this conception that I’m only writing about feminism online because I’m incapable of having positive and successful relationships in my real life. Not so! I would argue that a) the internet is part of real life and b) my offline relationships are so fulfilling and wonderful that I heavily prioritize them over arguing with strangers online (which is why this site is rarely updated).

Lucky for you, today is my best friend‘s birthday and thus provides the perfect opportunity for you to get a little glimpse inside the real life friendship of two angry feminist killjoys. Below are some birthday wishes, lovingly published here because they’d otherwise be lost among a million Facebook messages, 4,020 unread email messages, or USPS’d to the wrong address because my BFF has a very exciting and fabulous life that involves traveling the world.

  1. I hope somebody visits alotofsorrow.com and buys that for you. I came THIS CLOSE to buying it for you myself, but that’s ridiculous, even for me.
  2. I hope your Balloon Fiesta sweatshirts never pill and that your ABQ sweatshirt collection continues to grow, courtesy of the geniuses running that store in Old Town.
  3. I hope you never run out of lavender soap/lotion/bath salts/rooms, etc.
  4. I hope boys stop telling you about The National, as if you don’t already know.
  5. I hope you experience the true joy of wearing a crop top you love.
  6. I hope you eat an obscene amount of Flying Star bagels (and think of me, LBP, when you do.)
  7. I hope you always have someone looking out for you when you’re in potentially scary situations, like that time we were in the middle of the desert and there were some suspicious folks lurking outside the building I was in, so you followed me inside, because if we go down, we both go down together.
  8. I hope you take some real time off.
  9. I hope you always find easy on street parking in front of your favorite restaurant, even when you’re driving a veritable semi-truck.
  10. I hope you get Wi-Fi.
  11. I hope every time you consider feeling bad about yourself, you give that voice in your head a name and tell it to buzz off, ie: “Andrea, you’re deranged and I’m fabulous.”
  12. I hope your avocadoes are always perfectly ripe.
  13. I hope you always hear your favorite songs on the radio.
  14. I hope boys stop trying to claim a room in our Adobe House.
  15. I hope a Diva cup makes its way back into your life. *insert emoji of hair flipping girl*
  16. I hope you have easy access to a bathtub suitable for bath bombs.
  17. I hope all your dreams involve eating sandwiches with Dessners.
  18. I hope you become the literary sommelier darling of book club (and also maybe always tell me what you’re reading so I can participate from afar).
  19. I hope you gasp when you get to that part in Rebecca that you definitely didn’t see coming and then call me to talk about it, because I’m going to feel like a prize dummy if it was super obvious and I missed all the signs.
  20. I hope you go on at least one hike that isn’t a muddy death trap.
  21. I hope you know that it’s good to love something/person/place so much that it’s sad to say goodbye, even when you know you’re doing the right thing—which is a thing I think you already know, because you handle your life very gracefully.
  22. I hope you’re always feelin’ 22 (and also maybe don’t kill me for always bringing Taylor Swift into everything).
  23. I hope you hang out with lots and lots of really cool lady friends.
  24. And finally, to quote something you wrote to me back to you, I hope you stay furious, sweet angel.

Shining Like Fireworks

When Taylor Swift was 19 she was in an abusive relationship. Statistically, most women will experience these kinds of destructive relationships. It may come from an intimate partner, a family member, or in my case– a guy you had the extreme misfortune of working with.

Most abusers want power. Most abuse is about power. Rape isn’t about sex; it’s about power and control. While abusers are clearly mentally unwell, they’re often intelligent and charming. They’re clever manipulators and will often use tactics like gaslighting to make the people they choose to abuse doubt themselves. If you’re able to speak out, they may try (and unfortunately may succeed) to portray themselves as innocent, as the victims of vindictive slander. It’s a terrible situation that virtually every woman has experienced more than once in her life. I don’t know a single woman who can’t recall such a situation.

What do you do when someone is trying to take control of your life, wants to turn people against you, and engages in stalking behavior patterns in an attempt to assert power? Well if you’re Taylor Swift, you don’t take it sitting down, that’s for damn sure. When Taylor Swift was nineteen she wrote a song that clearly says, “You’re trying to make me into a victim and I’m not going to let you.” She did that when she was 19! Of course, the media used this to further their narrative of her as boy crazy and vengeful, not realizing that she’d just given young women of the 2000s what Kathleen Hanna gave young women of the 1990s: a clear path out of that media narrative of victimized women.

Thanks to Tumblr user Monica-Geller, we can all take a moment to appreciate this perfect moment in the song Dear John:

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The lyrics of that song beautifully capture what it’s like to have a mentally unwell man try to control you, and then what it’s like to decide you won’t be victimized, to reassert power over your own life. The man referenced in Dear John tried to manipulate the situation by releasing (a truly pathetic) song trying to deny his abuse, to make people feel bad for him. That’s what abusive men do. They’ll never take responsibility for their actions. And if you have the added struggle of dealing with an abuser who has sociopathic tendencies, you’ve got even more to go up against.

You probably can’t prevent abusive people from showing up in your life. And the very real and volatile, often deadly, fallout should never be ignored. But you also don’t have to resign yourself to a life of fear and mistrust. The person abusing you is sad and empty. You are not, which is probably one of the reasons you were targeted in the first place. An abusive person might stay in your life for a long time, because they’re sad and empty. But that doesn’t need to get you down, because you should be so busy shining like fireworks that when that pitiful abusive person tries to pull another stunt you pause and laugh and think, “You? Still?” and then get right back to your amazing and fulfilling life.

I’m so grateful that Taylor Swift was brave enough to write and share this song, to give young women this incredible example of owning your truth, speaking out, and living fearlessly. I’m so glad I got over my internalized misogyny, stopped exclusively listening to sad white boys, and became the conductor of the Taylor Swift Defense Train.

And I’m especially glad I did all of that before that sad empty guy I had the misfortune of working next to decided to start sexually harassing and stalking me. It’s a truly disgusting situation and it’s always disappointing to see how thoroughly wretched and actively malicious people can be, but that’s his lot to live with. All I’ve been doing in the months this has been occurring is casually achieving all of my personal and professional goals.

My world and life keep getting bigger and happier, and while it’s aggravating to still be dealing with a person who is so clearly and dangerously unwell… my fireworks are shining so bright I barely even notice.

I decided to climb my career ladder and was able to juggle multiple job offers, and then choose to accept one that makes me happy and pays more than I probably deserve. I wanted to brush up my web development skills, so I learned Sass and Javascript and all kinds of frontend and backend tricks. I go out on dates because somebody else’s unwanted infatuation isn’t going to prevent me from having a rich life. I’ve been living with incredible people. I go on runs and every mile feels better than the last. I decided to learn how to cook fancy meals, and most of them have been stellar. I get to cuddle sweet dogs.

All of my relationships are flourishing.

My friends are all shining in their own lives and making me better as a result. I love that I get to catch a plane, just because I want to drink wine with Madelaine. I can drive around with Whitney, screaming, “Testify!” Sam sends me mail addressed to “Bagels” and it gets delivered. Megan and Sarah meet me for Lady Brunch. Lindsay and I discuss the books we’re reading as if we’re living in the stories. Jennie wears silly cat ear headbands around the house with me. Taylor reminds me that our kind of love is immutable. Sue thinks I’m capable of performing and presenting alongside her (!). The coolest 11-year-old girl lets me goofily dance around with her. Lydia inspires me to do no harm, but take no shit. Vani reminds me that even small acts of resistance can have a big effect.

All of these things would be happening even if I never had to deal with being harassed. But abusers want to crush all the good things in your life and, like Taylor Swift, I soundly reject that kind of manipulation. This angry feminist killjoy is shining like fireworks.

Bad Feminist Reading List

I’ve always considered pop culture widely, deeply, extensively, obsessively. My friends and I used to spend endless hours analyzing Harry Potter, building detailed backstories and predictions. This habit was encouraged in graduate school, where critical conversation is always given more weight than the artifact being considered. When Serial was airing, I devoted more time to the podcasts about the podcast than I did considering and consuming the official episodes.

Now that you know this about me, it makes sense that Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, a book brimming with detailed essays analyzing pop culture and our lives, would become an instant favorite. I’m excited about Roxane Gay– and that’s only partly because her PhD is in the same unknown-beyond-academics field I staggered through for my MA. (I feel an absurd connection to Rhetoric and Composition/Communication people because, and I’ve tested this considerably, nobody knows what it is unless they’ve personally been involved in it.)

My favorite part of Bad Feminist was how generative I found it. It made me want to learn more and to create on my own, which are the two greatest gifts a book can give. So, here’s a list of books, articles, and other media referenced in the essays of Gay’s “Gender and Sexuality” section. These are things I want to read for the first time or revisit in a new context, but this is not a comprehensive list of all the media you’ll find referenced and discussed in Bad Feminist. This should keep us all busy for a bit though, especially as we all Resolve to Read More This Year.

From “Garish, Glorious Spectacles”
Judith Butler, Gender Trouble
Kate Zambreno, Green Girl
Helene Cixous, “Laugh of the Medusa”
Joan DIdion, Play It as It Lays
Richard Brantigan, The Abortion
John Irving, Cider House Rules

From “Not Here to Make Friends”
Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
James Wood, How Fiction Works
Sara Levine, Treasure Island!!!
Pamela Ribon, You Take It From Here
Megan Abbott, Dare Me
Lydia Millet, Magnificence
Claire Vaye Watkins, Battleborn
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Marguerite Duras, The Lover

From “How We All Lose”
Hanna Rosin, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women
Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman
Kate Zambreno, Heroines
Junot Diaz, This is How You Lose Her

From “Reaching for Catharsis”
Diane Spechler, Skinny

From “The Smooth Surfaces of Idyll”
Roxane Gay, An Untamed State
Dawn Tripp, Game of Secrets

From “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence”
Lynn Higgins and Brenda Silver, Rape and Representation
Sarah Nicole Prickett, “Your Friends and Rapists”
Margaret Atwood, “Rape Fantasies”
Laura Tanner, Intimate Violence

From “A Tale of Three Coming Out Stories”
Garret Keizer, Privacy

From “Beyond the Measure of Men”
Meg Wolitzer, “The Second Shelf”
James Salter, Last Night
Elizabeth Strout, generally.

From “A Tale of Two Profiles”
Katheryn Russell-Brown, The Color of Crime

I hope you’ve read Bad Feminist or plan on finding it soon. Find a good lady friend who will mail it to you after she reads it—thanks Madelaine! In the mean time, check out The Butter, edited by Roxane Gay. I’d suggest starting with my friend Sam’s brilliant and wrenching “Highlights from the Apocalypse.”

Tonight in Ferguson

Tonight, my privilege means that I can close my Twitter app. I can turn the volume down and cry for our society that isn’t broken- it’s been shattered since its inception. I can shake with fury and yell at these injustices without fear of personal retribution. I can sit with pen and paper, then put my fingers to these keys and I won’t be disturbed by demonstrations, because the streets here are filled with white people indulging in the privilege of ignorance.

But to say that my town is ambivalent tonight only holds a mirror to my own acts of passive violence. How can I erase and silence the voices of all those here who push back against this unjust dominance?

Tonight, I scrolled through Twitter reposting and reposting and reposting because my own words would not come and my own words should not be elevated tonight. And as I scrolled and shared these raw jagged-edged thoughts, the university in my town posted photo after photo of smiling white children holding their acceptance letters. So I asked them to stop, because they shouldn’t be doing that now, when the only thing the rest of us can think of is Mike Brown, and the fact that he will never smile at a university.

Tonight, I watched as every media outlet displayed split screens—an empty anticipatory courtroom; streets full of protesters. They did that because they knew what would happen. Didn’t we all? I watched as the president called for peace on half the screen while the other half exploded in smoke from the canisters of tear gas police threw into crowds of citizens.

Tonight, I sat across the table from my mother and I remembered when I learned about Martin Luther King Jr.’s dreams for the first time. There, in the multicultural 90s, in Washington DC, in a school that was entirely black save my sister and me, we were told rosy lies. They told us that Dr. King had peaceful dreams and he wasn’t angry because there wasn’t anything to be angry about because we used to swim in different pools and we all share now.

When I am six years old, I tell my mother this story I’ve learned in school and she looks at me sharply. I was there, you know. In 1963, the March on Washington. When she tells me this I am ecstatic and jealous because my mother had been there, she saw it happen, and I am reveling in the joys of having an older-than-average mother because none of my friend’s mothers saw Dr. King talk about his dreams. And I so wish that I had been there. Then my mother is even sharper. You do not understand. You do NOT wish you were there. I do wish I’d been there and she doesn’t understand that Dr. King’s dreams are a Big Thing because it is February and we are learning all about it.

My mother does her best to instill the sense of terror that historical period carried. She tells me about her friends who feared for their lives because they were black. She tells me of riots that scared her, even though she was white. She tries to tell me that there was nothing romantic about it, that we built such a corrupt world that violence was the only way out. She tries to tell me about the deaths that led to those dreams. She tries to tell me that they’ve taught it all wrong, that it wasn’t peaceful because there was everything to be angry about. But it’s all been lost between the decades and privilege between us so I pretend to understand, but privately I think she’s crazy for not constantly bragging about her former proximity to Dr. King’s dreams.

I don’t think I really understood what my mother was trying to tell me until tonight, and I know that’s a privilege, too. We are still living it and there is still everything to be angry about and it is not beautiful or romantic and we cannot lose this reality in the decades that span out before us. My white privilege means I am only now realizing the weight of what we have created, of what I unintentionally perpetuate. My privilege means that I can write a self-indulgent blog post about my own experiences and convince myself I’m doing something productive.

But I am doing harm if I only take up the hashtag, “Black lives matter!” in these unavoidable moments.

Tonight and every night, I am complicit. I must confront my complicity in this moment and all those innumerable moments that do not headline the national news. As a white American, I must find a way to use my position to confront what I have contributed to creating. Because black lives matter, tonight and every night. Black lives matter beyond a Twitter hashtag, and we must learn how to enact that belief. I don’t have the answers and I am finally realizing that I haven’t even been listening to the questions.

Is Complimenting a Woman Sexual Harassment? – MarinaShutUp

Today, I want to share a video from a very smart and articulate young woman, who posts videos to the MarinaShutUp channel on YouTube. This is is a more extensive conversation about the ‘catcalling video’ I referenced in my last post. I’ve tried to express these sentiments frequently– I used a slightly different version of the ludicrous way these situations escalate from ‘compliment’ to threats of violence, and it’s sad that we can all relate to that experience.

Another important note is that while this video rightly focuses on street harassment, abuse happens everywhere and by all sorts of people. It’s common to be harassed by a stranger on the street, but it’s also unfortunately common to be manipulated and made to feel controlled and uncomfortable by people you know well, in an environment that should feel safe to you. There’s a bit of a Stranger Danger myth surrounding who we cast as perpetrators of violence in our mind’s eye.

If someone close to you, a person with any kind of emotional or physical proximity, makes you feel uncomfortable, gaslights you (a term from a Hitchcock film that means you’re made to think you’re the crazy one), or is in any way making you feel unsafe, know that there are people who care and resources available to help you. Not every situation, especially those at an institutional level, are handled the way they should be. That’s something I’m hopeful to see change, especially given the attention these matters have been paid to college campuses recently. Know that it is never your fault if you’ve been abused, and even if you can’t find the support where you are, you are a good and valuable person who doesn’t deserve to be sexually, emotionally, physically, or psychologically harassed.

If you’re a person who doesn’t believe stories of harassment and abuse, please check out the website Marina lists at the end of her video: Everyday Harassment. Listening to the firsthand experiences of survivors (which is what we are) is one of the most important things you can do.


 

One final note, it’s been a long time coming and I’m sad to do it, but comments have been closed down for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, I have enough harassment to handle in my offline life and I’m not up for it cluttering my online life as well. We’ve had some really good and productive conversations here, and I’ve received enough vitriolic and abusive comments to know that this blog needs to keep running– you know that old saying, the comments on any article about feminism prove the necessity of feminism. I may reinstate them in the future, but for now, seek out information from many sources, engage in conversations with the people around you, start your own blogs– and stay fierce, feminists.

Wicked Kind of Women

This weekend, I was honored to perform at the Denver Art Society alongside a group of incredibly talented, smart, and savvy women. Being surrounded by fearless women has been and continues to be one of the most important parts of my life, and I feel so lucky to be supported, challenged, and loved by such a wonderful group. Below is a rough transcript of the piece I performed at the Wicked Kind of Women reading– just imagine it embodied with a lot of improv and sass! And stay wicked, women.

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When my friend Whitney told me about this all women reading, I was so excited. I love women. I think women are so cool and important and should always have a platform for telling their stories. Louis CK once said, “I don’t think women are better than men. I think men are worse than women.” And I relate to that so much. When I see a woman, I’m like, “Cool! I bet she is smart and funny and has had fascinating life experiences that I would love to hear about!” I feel like I am that Bikini Kill song—Rebel girls you are the queens of my world!

I saw a tweet once that said, “You know the old saying, boys will be trash.” And I relate to that so much. When I see men, what I usually think is, “Well. Looks like you crawled out of a semi-decent dumpster this morning.” Men usually find this really offensive and say, “You CANT hate ALL men!” I mean, first of all, don’t tell me what I can and can’t do, but secondly, let’s unpack this idea. There’s a difference between the individual and the collective. So, while, yes, there are good men and I know many of them, all men do belong to a collective nebulous system that gives them privileges to the detriment of others. That’s what I’m most concerned about—not even the inequity of men being advanced, but the part where the privilege causes tangible harm. If you’re so upset that I’m saying that this system of male privilege and toxic masculinity contributes to the continued murder of people who are not men, you’re probably not someone I want to spend my time with. I feel like I have to say ALL men, yes, ALL men. If I don’t, nothing will ever change because every man will assume they’re in the good man group– which is like the Blue Man Group with slightly less body paint. If it makes all you men and men sympathizers feel better, I have to consider this exact same thing with all of my privileged identities—being white and straight and able-bodied and about a thousand other things. Yes, I’m an individual who tries to do active good, but I’m still a member of those nebulous groups that do active harm.

But it really is true that I don’t hate all men. Here’s a story of a man I don’t hate at all. Art. The post office guy. We have this whole comedy bit down where I go in to mail a package and he says, “Liquid, perishable, fragile, or hazardous?” And I say, “No!” And he says, “This isn’t a care package full of batteries?!” And I say, “No!” but sometimes I like to mix it up. Yesterday, when Art said, “Liquid, perishable, fragile, or hazardous?” I said, “Oh yes, all of those things.” And he said, “Batteries?” “No, Art. A six page handwritten letter analyzing the new Taylor Swift album.” And without even missing a beat he goes, “Then we’d better insure it for at least $100.” Yes, Art. You bet we’d better. I like Art so much!

It is possible that Art is always so sweet to me because he thinks of me as his 12 year old granddaughter. This is not unusual in my life. I have to try really hard to look like a legal adult. Once, recently, I had put a lot of effort into looking like an actual adult human. I was flying on an aeroplane which is always a great opportunity to pretend to be terribly sophisticated. You can sit in an airport bar looking mysterious and unapproachable. So that’s the look I was going for. But on my way to the airport bar, my hair tie set off the TSA’s body scanners. And the TSA agent pulled me aside and said, “Okay, we have to pat your hair but I’ll need you to wait right here until we call in a representative from unaccompanied minors.” At which point I said, “I am not an unaccompanied minor! I am on my way to look mysterious and unapproachable in the terminal bar! Look at my sophisticated outfit!” And she said, “You look 12.”

I went to a literary costume party once and I decided to simultaneously make my youthful appearance work for me while providing social commentary on sexual abuse of young girls. Which is to say, I went as Lolita. My friend went as Humbert Humbert and I really thought we were illustrating, once and for all, that Lolita is not a book that should not be romanticized. I put a lot of effort into my costume. I wore a nametag that said Dolores Haze, which is Lolita’s actual name. I was out to rehumanize her! I wore an incredibly non-sexy work-appropriate outfit that I wear all the time in my non-costume party life. It’s actually my most complimented outfit. The last time I wore it I was stopped by no less than five women, all who told me it was super cute. For the costume party, all I did was slap a nametag on that outfit and put my hair in pigtails.

But all I remember from that night is being incredibly uncomfortable. I have never been catcalled or hit on or sexually propositioned so much in my entire life. This is deeply disturbing to me because I did not look sexy. I looked like a twelve year old. I was trying and succeeding to look like an actual child and that’s when I was most attractive to men. All kinds of men, too. Men my age, men much older than me, homeless men on the street, the PhD holding men who paid to go to that literary costume party. A former professor of mine- who did not recognize me- tried to pick me up. He called me a seductress. Even though I felt completely creeped out by this evening, I was mostly terrified for actual 12 year old girls. Who is keeping them safe? Who is stopping men from shouting these horrible things at them?

Have you waltzed through the girl’s clothing section of any store recently? If you haven’t, take a quick goosey gander the next time you’re in Target. Actually, maybe you shouldn’t aimlessly wander through the girl’s section… I’ll just tell you about it now. There is no longer a difference between women’s fashion and girl’s fashion. Sometimes I’ll pause next to a very cute ensemble that I would wear out in public and I’ll look a little closer only to realize it’s made for a literal four year old. And before you get any fancy pants ideas, no, I do not have the sartorial tastes of the recently potty trained. I’ve been to middle school. All that fearless abandon and willingness to mix prints was stomped out of me years ago.

When I was a kid, the girl’s clothing section was filled with, like, spandex bodysuits in every color. On the one hand, I’m glad nobody has to experience that kind of humiliation, although I do believe that kind of embarrassment builds character. On the other hand though, I really worry that we’re taking something away from kids by making them wear tiny versions of grown up clothing. And I feel really conflicted about that feeling, because I don’t want to censor anyone’s body or fashion choices. That’s what high school dress codes are for. You know why those dress codes exist, right? Because we’d rather send girls home from school than teach boys not to lose it over three inches of exposed shoulder. And if that doesn’t tell you exactly who we value and who we believe deserves education, I just don’t know what to tell you.

So, I don’t want to go all high school dress code on girl’s wardrobes. But I also feel like we’re not saying, “2nd graders, you are people and we respect that even at 7 years old, you do have bodily autonomy, and you can wear whatever you want and we will all respect that.” I feel like what we’re saying is, “You must wear this padded bra, even though you haven’t learned long division yet.” Those are a real thing, by the way—padded bras for baby girls. It’s a sick sick world. And I know that there’s really never been a time where it’s been safe to be a girl or woman in this world, and maybe I’m just more aware of it now, but I feel like we’re publicly declaring that we think of children as tiny adults and because of that, we’re not properly outraged when terrible things happen to children. I think we should all be horrified when women are threatened and catcalled and most people aren’t horrified at all. But it feels even worse when it happens to a kid who already has very little agency in this world. So many girls and women have stories about being sexually propositioned in the street when they were actual children and I don’t get why we’re not freaking out about it.

Have you all seen that CNN video where a woman of color and a white guy ‘debate’ catcalling? I don’t suggest watching it, because it’s just rage-inducing. It’s basically just this sad white guy yelling about how he should be allowed to threaten and harass women and the woman listening to this rant makes the most beautiful reaction faces. You should watch the video just to see her incredible facial expressions. Well, this week, some guy posted that on my Facebook page and said, “Let’s critically discuss this!” And, like, what? What do you want to critically discuss here? The fact that men are trash? Because I think I’ve already established that. But then, some other random trashman shows up and says, “Any fem who says catcalling is never okay is just being a bitch. Because cold approaching is different from catcalling and that’s always okay.” I got so furious that I just deleted the whole thing, because I don’t need that misogynistic bullshit anywhere in my life. Anyone who refers to women as “fems” or “females” should not be trusted. That is a dehumanizing tactic. Anyone who believes that a woman is a “bitch” for stating she doesn’t want to be violently threatened, should not be trusted. And anyone who really thinks that it’s harassment to yell, “Nice ass, suck my dick!” but thinks it’s completely acceptable to walk up to a woman, block her path, make her feel trapped, and say, “Hello female with a lovely rump, put your lips on my penis.” Should definitely never be trusted. That person should probably be on some kind of watchlist. These men who pretend to be feminists while espousing deeply harmful ideologies are what Margaret Mitchell would call mules in horse’s harnesses. More succinctly put, they’re asses.

They’re the kind of guys who think women shouldn’t wear makeup. Just this week, I overheard a guy say, “Yeah, but, like, I couldn’t honestly tell a woman that she’s pretty if she has makeup on because I don’t know what she really looks like.” And what I want to know is, when I come into work wearing one outfit one day and then wear a completely different outfit the next day, does that rock your world? Do you find that deeply unsettling?

These are the kind of people who believe in the friendzone. The thing that kills me about this idea of the ‘friendzone’ is that by the time a guy thinks he’s been ‘friendzoned’ the woman doing the zoning did not consider him a friend. I have never thought, “Oh, yay! Here comes my BFF Jim. He’s such a good and dear friend. My favorite part about him is the way he keeps trying to force me into a romantic relationship!” No. The guy who gets ‘friendzoned’ is the guy I run away from every time I see him coming. I’ve stopped using the term ‘friendzone’ actually. I’ve never ‘friendzoned’ anyone. I have been ‘girlfriend zoned’ many times. You can’t just decide that I’m obligated to be your girlfriend and then have a fit when I don’t agree. And honestly, the way you go from “Date me!” to “You dumbass ho bitch!” in 2.5 seconds does not endear you to me in any way.

I feel like I got off track for a bit there. The point I was trying to make is that when my friend Whitney told me about this all women reading, I was so excited. Because sometimes it feels like the whole world is actively working against women, so it’s really important to have this space where we can tell our stories.

SO ANYWAY YAY WOMEN