Archive for the ‘feminism’ Category

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Road Trip Stories in the South

April 8, 2019

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Last week, I had a most excellent adventure. First, I met my oldest and closest friends in New Orleans and then road-tripped with my 88-year-old mom through the South. Both pieces were extraordinary.

My friends never disappoint. Sure, we’ve grown older; our legs more tired and our wrinkles much deeper. We’ve raised kids and dogs and worked and suffered. We’ve become strong, independent women who know a thing or two, and yet, have plenty to learn. We’re a complicated crew. Because of my gals, I’ve learned that relationships take effort. I’ve also learned, the best ones are worth the investment.

As lives change, friendships shift; but once together, my friends and I remember. We remember big hair, Bon Jovi, shoulder pads, banana bike seats, pool parties, and Schaeffer Light. Now, we roll eyes, remembering the jocks and the burn-outs, the teachers and the coaches. We remember laughing. We remember predators. We remember love. Mostly, we remember our stories. Together; eating and drinking and dancing like fools, we make more moments to remember. Stories.

After my friends, dispersed, Mom arrived. Because her grandma was a suffragist and taught her to demand social justice, Mom taught me the same. We headed for Montgomery where much of our nation’s horrific history is recorded. We sat with ghosts. We studied at the Legacy Center, listening to stories of incarceration, injustice, lynching, and death. As white women raised in America, like it or not, we’ve benefited from slavery’s dark legacy and the Jim Crow laws that followed. After many museums, we sat with ourselves; sorry and ashamed. Mom and I had long talks about racism, social injustice, and the history that got us here. We committed ourselves to listen better. Act more. And to speak about what we learned; sharing both the stories that were told and the stories that disappeared.

By the end of my adventure, I realized, not for the first time, how quickly life moves; how tragic and joyful it can be. In the time we are given, relationships and stories transform life, making it either better or worse.

Stories.

For me, I hope to create a life where I live a good story, I write a good story, and I listen to all the stories I can.

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An Epidemic: 15 Personal Stories of Assault

October 2, 2018

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First published on Medium.

As a writer, I’m keenly interested in definitions and stories people tell. But sometimes, we need to be on the same page, especially in the age of #MeToo.

What qualifies as assault? Rape, of course. Physical abuse, yes again. But it goes deeper, broader, regardless of how it’s defined in a court. For me, an assault has occurred when a person uses power and control to instill fear and discomfort toward another.

I asked a few women, and included myself, to share experiences about an assault—a time when a man or a boy exerted control over their world, causing them pain, shame, and fear. The recollections are disturbing. They are also common. Without knowing, a few told the same story, but at the time it happened; none of us spoke up.

Why?

A host of reasons. There was no one to tell. There was confusion. Who would believe it, and what would they do? There could be a consequence for telling. We might be mocked, told to take a joke, shamed further. Without a clear definition of assault, maybe it wasn’t assault. Maybe the story wasn’t worth telling. Above all, we wanted it erased.

But the memory of assault never goes away. And moving forward isn’t the same. There remains a hitch, an indelible mark which can cause further confusion.

Meanwhile, the perpetrators carry on; almost always hurting more people.

For women and girls living in a patriarchal world, we are warned about assault. We are told to wear proper clothing. We are told to cross the street when a man walks toward us. We are told to carry mace or whistles or phones set to 911. Above all, we are told to be careful, careful, careful. The world is a scary place.

But more often than not, dark alleys aren’t the primary places for assault. They happen at school, at work, and in homes—like in the 15 accounts below. The list is real, disturbing, and painful. Each event created a dark and permeant stain. Read them. See yourself in them. Consider them assault, or certainly, a close cousin. They are.

  1. The boss at my restaurant only hired pretty high school girls. The ones who gave him blow jobs got perks and better schedules.
  2. The guys in my high school kept a tally of who they screwed. If you weren’t on the list, they made life hell for you.
  3. A bartender told me he’d give me all the money in the cash register if I got on top of the bar and danced for him.
  4. A lot of the boys in high school ‘date’ raped multiple friends of mine. The same guys asked why I had an exclusive relationship with a guy from a different school and told me I was no fun.
  5. My boss in my first “real” job demeaned me for wearing red lipstick—then asked if I wore it other times. He wiggled his eyebrows and offered me a lollypop.
  6. In high school, I remember sitting in a kitchen with two “friends.” When they poked and prodded me in sexual ways, I told them to stop. They didn’t stop. Fortunately, the mom came home, and I ran out.
  7. My elementary school gym teacher, who we nicknamed a male chauvinist pig, told us when it came to most sports, the place for girls was on the sidelines. He always let the boys choose teams and called anyone who cried a sissy.
  8. My boss told me I should wear high heels and shorter skirts like my co-worker. He said, I’d get more accounts.
  9. The president of the company at my second job had an affair with my manager. We all knew it, which made the work environment uncomfortable. When his wife found out, my manager was fired, and he remained president.
  10. In elementary school, an older boy told me he was going to get me. He made sexual signs. When I stopped taking the bus, he followed me. If I hadn’t been such a fast runner, who knows? For years, I ran.
  11. My Brownie Troop leader who told me I needed to lose some weight if I wanted the boys to like me in a few years.
  12. My manager pressed so close to me; his penis jabbed into my back.
  13. When I was a freshman in college, two fraternity boys invited me and a couple of girls over for hot chocolate. Within minutes, ten more fraternity guys surrounded us.One squirted whipped cream in places that made me block out my memory. Somehow, we escaped and ran into town.
  14. Everyone knew to stay away from the supply closet if our manager was doing inventory. Things happened in there.
  15. One of my teachers, about age 50, kissed me in the closet and then did a bit more. We didn’t talk about stuff like that when it was happening. It was wrong. It was scary. It was too big to talk about. My parents would have freaked out on me.

If you see yourself in one of these scenarios or have a different story to tell, do. Step up and speak. Write them down. These stories continue to happen—Every. Single. Day.

It’s time to take to the streets, share our experiences, and halt the assaults. The events that are happening in DC should be of no surprise. We live in a patriarchal world, and the men in charge want to keep it that way. But this can change. Certainly, women need to protest, to vote, and to demand to be heard. But it’s bigger than that. If we create an environment with women leading, sharing, and working together, I believe, we will be able to build a healthy environment for all. At the very least, let’s change the conversation about assault. Any abuse of power is unacceptable.

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March #RESIST

January 4, 2017

 

 

I plan to march. On January 21, 2017, millions of women across the country will be marching to express their voice and taking part in the Women’s March on Washington, while other will march in sister cities around the world. Some people criticize us for being anti-democratic, sore losers, and pinheads, but none of those tags are true. I won’t be marching to protest the vote. I will be marching because women matter. I will be marching because I’m half the planet’s population, and I’m not going away. I choose to march because…

I march because I matter.

I march because I believe in freedom.

I march because I have a voice.

I march because I love my country.

I march because I have daughters.

I march because I have a son.

I march because I have a mother.

I march because I have sisters, a brother, a husband, nieces and nephews and cousins.

I march for my grandmothers and great grandmothers who marched before me.

I march for my father, brothers, grandfathers and ancestors who’ve past and can’t march.

I march because I represent marginalized voices.

I march because we matter.

I march because I love pure democracy.

I march because I choose to march.

I march because I believe choice matters.

I march because I am tired of people telling me how to feel and how to act.

I march because women should not be called fat, or ugly, or pussies.

I march because assault is not okay.

I march because women are more than contestants in a beauty pageant.

I march because I don’t want to be ranked by my looks or my f!#*$@ability.

I march because women have brains.

I march because I believe in good and right and equality.

I march because we need to heal.

I march because women should not be marginalized or minimalized to objects.

I march because women are not lesser human beings.

I march because women should not be afraid to be women.

I march because I love.

I march because I care.

I march because I am not afraid.

I march because I want others to know women matter.

I march because women should be able to choose what they do with their bodies.

I march because when the environment is ignored, women suffer first.

I march because women should not die in backroom, coat hanger abortions.

I march because I care about early childcare initiatives that help women.

I march because locker room talk hurts women.

I march because I have a right to feel safe.

I march because women should not be thrown into poverty because men got them pregnant.

I march because I have a vagina and am not embarrassed or ashamed to say it.

I march because women should be paid what men are paid.

I march because it is time to move forward, move beyond sexism.

I march because I need to feel hopeful about my future.

I march because I don’t want to feel terrified alone.

I march because women working together can transform the planet.

I march because I love and stand with my LGBTQIA, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Black, Brown, indigenous, disabled, ethnic, hurt, abused, and all of my sisters.

I march because we won’t move backward.

I march because we matter.

I march because I matter.

Join me. The organizers for the Women’s March on Washington posted this statement; “We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families—recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”

If you can’t get to Washington DC, go local! There are over 30 states planning sister marches, including in Colorado. The event in Denver will be 9 am- 3 pm on January 21, 2017 at Denver’s Civic Center Park. For more information and other marches, check out: https://www.womensmarch.com/colorado/

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Grandma’s Ring

April 12, 2016

On Easter Sunday, I lost the diamond in my Grandma’s wedding ring. My mom gave me the ring after my grandma died, more than ten years ago. I never took it off—until the diamond disappeared.

Because the ring fit best on my wedding ring finger, I wore it there and shifted my own wedding ring to my right hand. The two fit together, like mated hummingbirds. My own ring is simple, and I wear no band. My grandma’s ring was old but also simple and also worn with no band.

When I discovered the diamond was missing, my entire family helped me search. It happened during a play and probably went down the drain while I washed my hands during intermission. But it doesn’t much matter; it’s gone. What does matter is what the ring represented.IMG_8384

For me, wearing my grandma’s ring was more about remembering her than it was about the bling. My grandma was a fascinating woman; one I wish I’d gotten to know better, as an adult. Back in the day, my grandma was a flapper and nicknamed Dizzy Izzy, probably for more reasons than I was told. Grandma liked gin and tonics and travel and lemon bars. Sadly, she suffered from manic depression and piloted shock treatments during the 1950s and 60s. She helped people. She and her mother were suffragettes, and when I was young, she made me watch a movie with her about the feminist movement in London. During the part where women were being forced food through their noses, I almost threw up. When the movie was over, she turned to me and said, “It’s not a pretty history so don’t take voting for granted. Ever.” Go Grandma.

I wonder what my grandma would say about so many people being so very disgusted with the current political election. What would she say to my daughters who would rather not vote if Bernie’s not elected? What would she say to my son and the millions of individuals who want to vote Republican but not for a misogynist, authoritarian clown? I know what she’d say. She’d say vote anyway—it’s a privilege.

And she’s right.

But this isn’t a political column, at least not today. It’s an ode to my grandma and her lost ring. Call me voodoo, but I believe possessions find a way of leaving their caretakers when they’re no longer needed or when they know the person is ready to move on. It’s no coincidence I lost the diamond on Easter Sunday. Among other things, Easter is a time of renewal. Of letting go. Of rebirth. The day before Easter, I’d returned from a writing workshop, full of possibilities and fresh perspective, ready to embrace a new project and complete another. On the home front, 2016 marks a pivotal turning point for my family. My oldest will move away, begin college, and launch her next adventure. In a hop, skip and a jump (as Grandma would say), the other two kids will be following her out the door as quickly as the eye blinks (Grandma liked her clichés).

Clearly, I’m in a phase of letting go and embracing new patterns and opportunities. It’s not easy. In fact, I struggle with change. But maybe that’s why I lost the ring, as a reminder that life is ever changing. Grieve and forge ahead. And just like that, even without the ring, Grandma’s spirit teaches on.

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White Oscars: Not Okay

February 22, 2016

On February 28th, the Oscars arrive. But for the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated only white actors/films in the industry’s top categories; exposing a shocking lack of respect for our diverse culture. As a writer, not an actor, should I care about the Oscars and the recent movie scandal?

Yes. Everyone should.

The Academy’s predominately white, male board members may not have consciously or purposely shut out diverse movies, but that’s no excuse. Honoring all people, matters.

Why?

  • Everyone deserves to be heard, and everyone has a story. Enough said.
  • Our country has changed. The white majority is in decline, and yet, they still command the wealth, privilege, and power in our society. Until all individuals are recognized for their accomplishments, a distorted and unfair balance hangs like ugly air. Not only is it important to learn from a film’s content, but also, it’s crucial to have a diverse balance of leaders running the show.
  • Education is key to our country’s health and well-being. Diversity (including, but not limited to; race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, age, sexual preference, and gender) should be recognized and reflected in all realms of our society. By watching stories on the screen, we can learn about historical and societal events, highlighting a variety of subjects. In Straight Out of Compton (unfortunately, NOT nominated for best picture) the audience learns one reason artists rap about police brutality, exposing an important and timely issue. While watching the movie, I felt extreme empathy for African Americans who continue to be unjustly targeted in police brutality. Empathy (via education) is a key ingredient to change.
  • People need positive role models. If there aren’t any in film, literature, business, or in our leadership, how can there be growth? In the book/film, The Danish Girl (unfortunately, NOT nominated for best picture), the main character’s confusion about his gender identity almost leads him to suicide. However, once he finds the courage and support he needs to come forward as a woman; he discovers himself, paving a way for others struggling with gender identity and acting as a progressive role model.
  • Diversity can act as an avenue to discover common ground. People suffer. People triumph. People cry, and people laugh. It’s simple; human emotion does not discriminate.

A diverse culture creates a strong economy. I come from a long line of farmers, and my female ancestors contributed to the economy by raising children, preparing meals, cleaning clothes, and running the household. They created the foundation for stay-at home-moms. However, as our country expanded beyond an agricultural workforce, and thanks to people like Gloria Steinem, women expanded their talents and skills. Girls can now become whomever they chose to be: a pilot, a plumber, a CEO, or a carpenter, thus creating a more sophisticated and healthy economy.

Shame on the Academy for not recognizing and respecting our culture’s rich diversity. For our country to move forward in a healthy, successful manner, we need all walks of life to be honored in film, books, businesses, and in our government—diversity should be respected and represented in all realms.

 

 

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Warrior Girls

February 6, 2016

I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, but childhood nostalgia pulled me to the new Star Wars film during the holiday break. Chewy and the gang did not disappoint. However, the movie, which had the potential to stand as an intense feminist film, fell short of an achievement in gender equality.

The movie was diminished by the new and powerful female lead, Rey; not because of her performance, which was stellar, but because she was referred to as ‘the girl’ throughout the film. Rey was not four or eight or twelve-years-old. She was not a girl. Rather, she was a tough and buff young woman. Very few young male warriors are referred to as ‘boys’. Why was she?

Not only did the film fall short as a feminist model because of biased language; the never-ending scrutiny over Princess Leia’s aging face demonstrates that our culture lacks support for older, striking woman. The standard for a beautiful woman remains a size-2 teenager. Realistic? Not in my world. The prejudice about how Carrie Fisher weathered time as opposed to Harrison Ford is staggering. And yet, I shouldn’t be surprised. As modern and free as our society has become, women still fall short on the equality factor.

Here are a few brief facts. According to the National Committee on Pay Equality, in 2014, women still made 78.6 percent of what men earned. Forbes reported that only 26% of college presidents are women, and according to the Catalyst, a mere 4.2% (a total of 21 women) hold CEO positions for the S&P 500 (a list of 500 companies). I could go on—there are gender differences in almost every field.

So what happened to the women’s movement? Somewhere along the line, since the 1970’s, feminism became a dirty word. The lobby became associated with armpit hair-growing, men-hating activists who thumb their noses at stay-at-home mothers. This characterization was and is fueled by people who want to maintain a patriarchal power structure. Those who want women to keep quiet behind men encourage stereotypical branding.

How do we grow strong daughters when their future is capped by a society that doesn’t fully embrace gender equality?

For one, we embrace the word, ‘feminist,’ and redefine it to stand for strong and powerful girls who become strong and powerful women, unafraid to defend their integrity, their grace, and their belief in themselves. A feminist should be able to work from home as a mom, an organizer of their family. A feminist should be able to work as a CEO with or without having children. A feminist should be able to make her own choices without prejudice or backlash.

Language is a subtle but powerful method of creating hierarchical structures within a culture. Words like ‘girl’ might seem innocent or even sweet, but words can be dangerous. If we begin to understand when language is used in negative ways, we can begin to unwind destructive behavior.

Above all, we can teach our daughters and our sons that although men and women are inherently different, both genders should be given the same opportunities, the same respect, and the same privileges without inherent bias. And when movies do cast a strong female lead, and the directors do something belittling; like referring to her as a girl and diminishing her power, let’s talk about it. Let’s point out the inequality and not let it slide by. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rey is a female warrior, not a little girl. Not only is she physically strong; she’s smart and savvy, and funny. All such young warrior women should be championed.