sexual harassment accusations are emptying a lot of seats
Red Flags and Shock Fatigue
Sexual harassment is bringing down a lot of people’s heroes. Not so many of mine.
The only Woody Allen movie I’ve ever managed to sit all the way through was Antz.
I feel about him the way I do about tempeh. Other people have ordered tempeh and told me, “Oh, this is the best tempeh I’ve ever had!” and I’ve tried a bite, and honestly? Tempeh tastes like rot to me, and not in a good way.
I tried to watch Annie Hall, and not very far in, something in my stomach churned, and I turned it off and watched something else. I don’t even remember at what point that happened in the movie, or what triggered it.
Sometimes very good storytellers have a skewed view of the world, and those of us who see the skew recoil from the stories. Not every well-told story is good. When the allegations against him came out, something in me breathed a sigh—not of relief, just a momentary, “Of course”— as I finally got an explanation for an instinctive recoil.
We’ve known about him for years. He keeps making movies. I keep not watching them. Will the known abusers now face consequences?
So, as one does, I found myself watching videos on YouTube about how to tune a piano. We moved into this house 10 years ago and I don’t think the piano has ever been tuned since we moved, and I have a good ear and a tuning wrench, so I thought I might give it a shot.
I don’t wear a pin because I’ve never been able to sit down and shut up when someone’s being an asshole to someone around me, and people have always been comfortable asking me for help or accepting help when offered, so it doesn’t feel necessary (also my hair is purple and blue and very festive, and most people don’t look at me and assume I’m excessively conservative. My bumper stickers are also pretty freakin’ obvious already.)
When a baby is born, the first thing everyone wants to know is, “Is it a boy or a girl?” Even during pregnancy, parents often have an ultrasound scan, to look at a baby’s body and find out whether their baby has “boy parts” or “girl parts” before the child is born.
For All Students, Including Trans and Nonbinary Kids
Gender is something that traditionally has been taught in very simple ways. Penis means boy. Vulva means girl. Men are taller and stronger. Women are curvier and can get pregnant. People can be either male or female.
Schools are responsible for setting the tone of the school and keeping kids safe at school, but in order to do so they often require a sea change in how they handle reports of mistreatment, as well as how they train the kids.
We need to train kids through programs like peer mediation, which teaches kids how to handle problems in fair ways through talking.
We need schoolwide, consistent programs like “The Three Bees” (Be safe, be responsible, be respectful).
We need to actively ask kids to be heroes, rather than villains. In larger schools this might mean setting up buddy programs where kids who are afraid can ask for help and get several older kids who volunteer to walk with them in “high risk” settings (between classes, after school).
Adults need to adopt a “believe the victim” mentality. This doesn’t mean coming down like a hammer on every accused, this means LISTENING to every child. Even the bullies. Because in many cases, bullies ARE victims, struggling for control anywhere they can find it.
Toxic school cultures like “Don’t be a tattle tale” and “Boys will be boys” need to stop. Kids need to be actively trained to treat people well. I don’t care how “innocent” children are, toddlers and preschoolers can be mercenary little bastards and while some are tenderhearted and empathetic from the get go, a lot of them really need to be actively trained not to hurt people to get what they want.
Consent culture MUST be taught.
Bodily autonomy MUST be taught.
A child who bullies needs to be trained, not suspended. They need to be isolated from the child who is bullied.
Children need to be taught to understand boundaries and be allowed to set boundaries and have their boundaries respected. This starts with things like saying “stop tickling me” and having the tickling stop. And maybe the idea that tickling without asking isn’t funny.
We need to communicate everywhere that “We don’t treat people like that. We don’t allow people to be treated like that. We don’t let our friends treat people like that.”
We need to teach adults to listen, to mediate, to problem solve, to look for underlying issues rather than just bad behavior.
We need to stop punishing victims for coming forward.
The difference between life and death, between learning and depression, between functioning and suicidal ideation is not who people are, it’s how they are treated. That means that the people around them can be heroes, or they can be villains. There are no innocent bystanders.
This is true whether we are talking about trans people, LGBTQA people, disabled people, or just kids who ‘read’ to others as being different for whatever reason.Even when bullying doesn’t involve fists, it can kill. It can make people feel trapped in their situation. And the opposite of bullying is not “stricter discipline” but “more connection.”
We need to talk. I know we’ve probably not met and we’ve never said word one to each other online because I filter the hell out of my Facebook and you probably don’t go to Tumblr because it’s incomprehensible and I usually don’t get into it on those comment threads. But you need to hear this.
So, I adore your kids, okay? They’re amazing. They are bright sparks in a hard world. They’re looking around at a society that is far stranger than the one I grew up in, and let me tell you, Oregon in the 80’s and 90’s was pretty dang strange. And they’re trying to figure out who they are and where they fit.
These are kids who have loving hearts, who genuinely want to make the world a better place, and find their place in it. They want to make things better for poor people and children, and they want to help keep people safe and they genuinely want to do the right thing just as soon as they can figure out exactly what that is.
I need you to stop breaking them.
In my world, rule number one is “Mama loves you.” Not, “Mama loves you if you go to college and marry a nice person of the opposite sex and dress like people expect you to and get a job that is socially approved with sufficient status.” Not, “Mama loves you if you go to the right church and wait until marriage to have sex.”
Just, “Mama loves you.”
Here are things that don’t matter when it comes to rule number one:
The clothes someone wears
Who they love
What pronouns they use
What sex acts they do, and with who
What church they go to or don’t
Whether or not they are gainfully employed
Whether or not they go to college at all or finish in four years
Whether they identify as the gender they were assigned at birth due to inny or outy bits
Who their friends are
Who they vote for
Mistakes they make and trouble they get into
Now, I get having hopes and dreams for your child. I’ve got three children and I’ve poured my life into them for 23 years. I get having expectations and wanting to provide them with a solid start in this difficult world. But there’s a right way to do that and a wrong way. It’s one thing to help your kids understand your values. But if the value at the top of the list isn’t “Mama loves you” (or parental/quasiparental tag of choice), I’m sorry, the moment your child realizes that they can’t meet your ideal for them, there’s an awfully good chance they’re either going to break, or you’re going to lose them, or both.
You need to understand that you cannot stop a child from being gay, or trans, or bi, or nonbinary. It’s not about “how you raised them”, it just is. And the more you make them feel “wrong”, the less they’re going to care about doing right. The less you love them, the less they will feel lovable, and the more likely they’re going to go looking for that love in harmful places. You can’t make them gay, but you can make them broken.
I am losing count of the number of teenagers I have had in my house or in my inbox or chat talking about how they can’t tell their parents who they are because they are afraid. Kids who did tell you who they are, and you kicked them out, because “not under your roof.” Kids who struggle for years to get back to a healthy place where they place enough value on their own bodies and souls that they don’t go out doing the exact risky and scary stuff you’re afraid of because it doesn’t matter, they aren’t worth it, you told them so.
I spend a lot of time telling them how worth it they are. And they are. These are beautiful souls who, given a chance, will pour their whole selves into helping someone, into making a difference. They have so much to offer, but you make it all harder by teaching them that they don’t.
I love your kids, but it hurts me when they hurt, and I need you to stop breaking them. Stop worrying so much about their immortal souls and worry a lot more about their hearts. Stop worrying about what the neighbors will think, and start worrying about whether your child will survive.
So… stop asking your kids when they’re going to give you grandchildren. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Stop asking them when they’re going to get married, because the last thing you want for them is for them to end up with a bad marriage for the sake of being married. Stop judging the work they’re doing, and the friends they have.
You can tell them it’s okay to stand up for themselves. And accept it if they stand up to you. Listen. Don’t get defensive.
You can tell them it’s okay for them to expect people to treat them well. And then you better treat them well.
You can tell them it’s important to try hard and do their best. But don’t tell them they have to be the best. Don’t make your love contingent on victory conditions. Some of the best people in this world never won anything.
You can say that you worry about risky behavior because you love them and you want them safe, but don’t you dare kick them out and make them even more unsafe.
Teach them that you value them, not that they are worthless.
You can even teach them about your religious beliefs, but don’t you dare put them in hell on earth just because someone told you they might go to hell someday. I’m fairly certain if Jesus exists, he judges people more harshly for cruelty to their children than he does for who they sleep with or whether they have tattoos, that was pretty clear in the bible I read. Jesus was all about embracing people society couldn’t stand. Try being more like that.
I love your kids. They’ve slept on my couch and they’ve lived in my house and they are always welcome here. But it would be a better world if they didn’t end up broken to begin with.
Rule number one. Please. I’m begging you. Make sure they know it. Tell them it doesn’t matter. Tell them you want to understand but you don’t need to understand in order to keep loving them. Tell them they deserve love, and happiness, and joy and all good things, and that you know that their path in life may not look like your path but you want to be a safe space for them to come home to. That you don’t have to agree about politics or religion or social issues or any of those things, that they’re still worthy of all that life can give them.
And if that little person you thought was a boy comes to you and says that she’s a girl, your response there is a life-and-death issue. Their future happiness and ability to survive adulthood depends on what you say to them. And if it’s anything other than, “I love you, let’s figure this out and find out what you need to make you happy,” you’re playing with fire, because the biggest difference in whether or not a trans kid survives (yes literally survives) their teen years and young adulthood is whether they get support and acceptance or not. Your attitude can literally kill them.
Rule number one. Mama loves you.
Because while I will always keep my home open for them, I’d rather they not need me. I’d rather not have to build them back up and explain to them how you forgot the important thing.
Recently someone on Facebook responded to a post about Bernie Sanders and his remarks at Liberty University about abortion, with the following statement:
(under the cut because abortion argument) Continue reading→
It is, if not amusing, certainly bemusing to me that the older I get, the less clarity I have about my identity. When I was 20, I attended, very briefly, Evergreen State College. And the one class I enrolled in was titled, “Race, Class and Gender in Comparative Perspective.” The subject matter was a comparison between modern-day India and the antebellum South in the the United States. I didn’t get very far in the class because I got knocked up, and got my own personal sojourn through the roles of “young, single welfare mother” and “college dropout.” At the time I identified as bisexual, female, white, ethnically Jewish, polyamorous, democrat, feminist, and liberal. I never quite figured out the class thing because I had professional parents, who didn’t have much money while I was growing up, and I spend a couple years on welfare… so I had a middle class upbringing with working class resources. I dropped out of college mostly because I didn’t want to waste my money while I wasn’t able to focus. I didn’t go back yet because life is complicated. 22 years and I still say “yet”.
I’m still a liberal, feminist democrat. And I’m still incredibly pale, and I still like lox. I’m still the child of a white, Anglo Saxon protestant mom whose family roots go back to the Mayflower and a Jewish dad whose parents’ families fled Russia and Poland in the early 1920s, long before Hitler had power in the area. Because lots of people were assholes to the Jews back then.
In high school, during my junior year, I wrote a research paper about the history of Judaism. People have been kicking the Jews around for a hell of a long time. There was a lot of material. On the one hand, I felt it very personally, that these people like me had been so abused for so long. And on the other hand, Judaism doesn’t claim me, nor do I claim it as more than a cultural factor, because my mother is not Jewish. I grew up celebrating Christmas and Easter with rare forays that felt like tourism to seders and Hanukkah parties.
Recently someone said to me, “How do you dance the hora?”
I looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “And why do you think I know?” I asked.
“Well, your last name….”
Clearly someone who does not understand assimilation. (Side note: I actually have danced the Hora, many times, but I wouldn’t be able to right now and I only “know how” when I’m in a big circle of people dancing the hora because it’s that kind of dance.) It greatly reminded me of college, when a girl from Texas turned to a roommate and drawled, “You’re from California, what’s IN tofu?”
My roommate responded much as I did. She put on her best valley girl accent and said, “Like, I don’t know.”
But people have treated me different for “being Jewish”, no matter how little I look it or the fact that I don’t practice Judaism and never really have. I’m a freckled redhead with green eyes and pale skin, and really all I get from that side of the family is a lot of curl in my hair, full lips and a really flat butt. And my last name. It’s the name that makes people jump to conclusions, like, “Your people killed Jesus,” and “Do you sacrifice babies?” In contrast, assuming I know the Hora is pretty mild.
Growing up I went from being the weird white kid at the mostly black school (the school, now, is 97% black, in the middle of Detroit) to being the weird Jewish kid in a relentlessly white, sorta rural town in southern Oregon.
When people started saying, “White people don’t get it” I always felt kind of weird because growing up with my best friends being Black, and hearing the kids at school talk about their fears, and then ending up being identified without my taking the identity with a people who have been systematically oppressed for millennia, who have been the victims of genocide and segregation, who have been vilified, caricatured, rejected, and feared… it’s hard to imagine that there aren’t kind of a lot of commonalities. And yet… do we ever really understand where other people are coming from? If someone asks me if I’m Jewish, I can say “no”, honestly, and they shrug and move on. Most of the assumptions, even the negative ones, that people make about Jews tend to be fear of financial or political power (accurate or not) rather than assumption of inadequacy or violence, unless we’re talking sports. It’s a different thing. Just different.
So I’m sort of batting around thoughts about cultural appropriation. Intellectually I understand the concerns, but I also come from an incredibly mixed background of religion, ethnicity and place, and grew up with people talking about the melting pot as a good thing. I grew up liking moccasins and Baja hoodies and matzo balls, was baptized in the Episcopalian church and ultimately ended up as a lapsed Unitarian Universalist. And if you ever wanted a religion based on cultural appropriation…
As a teenager my go-to-sleep music was this:
Which is a Punjabi Buddhist mantra (I think) set to Celtic harp music.
Even baby carriers, everything comes from somewhere. Some of them come from multiple places. I like talking about where they come from but mostly I just want people to be comfortable wearing their babies, so sometimes the fact that things like the ergo are really Westernized adaptations of a number of Asian baby carriers gets lost in the shuffle, but hey, there were similar things in Sweden and Africa and yeah, it becomes challenging to know how much to worry about the cultural appropriation side of things.
We’re well off now. Secure, not “wealthy”, almost “comfortable”. On paper we look relatively wealthy, but mostly it’s because we’re planning for my husband to retire early. Like just over a year from now. So it’s got to last a while. But very, very far from where I was when I was 22, on welfare. Or worse, before welfare, when I had literally zero dollars and got by on foodstamps. Still have to think about money but surprises only upset us, they don’t break us anymore. And I grew up not able to afford college. I grew up in working class neighborhoods. But I grew up with parents who were white collar professionals. I had more in common with the upper class kids except the inconvenience of not being able to buy trendy shit. My parents gave me lessons and adventures and put a priority on my education and they were married and still are.
I talk about privilege a lot, and I’m working through most of this stuff with much the same filter. I don’t have a crystallized, formalized opinion yet.
Last night I was watching Honest Trailers, and was laughing my ass off. What they had to say about Skyrim and Harry Potter were hilarious. And then we got to the Avengers, and it was awesome, right up to the point where they said, “This movie will make your inner 8 year old stand up and squeal, unless you’re dead, or a girl.”
And my god. I just shut it down. Closed the window and stopped watching, though there was plenty more in the rabbit hole. If they’d said pretty much any other label in place of “girl” it would have been immediately obviously offensive and I don’t think they’d have said it. But “like a girl” and “girls don’t like these things” and “fake geek girl” have been too prevalent lately to let this one go.
In elementary school, I won the competition to be on the Olympics of the Mind robot building team for our school district-wide TAG class. Won it. And when the team assembled, the boys put their heads together and told me and the other girl who’d made the team, “You guys can do the costumes. We’re building the robot.”
Their robot sucked and failed to work.
In the same class, we were learning to program computers. And when it was my turn, every time the teacher would give me the same program I’d already done, and then turn to the boys and help them do more complicated things. Not because I lacked aptitude but because clearly teaching me wasn’t worth the effort because I couldn’t possibly be interested in that. I was an adult before I taught myself to code at all. There was just no support for it.
In high school, despite having some of the highest scores in the math program, I was not invited to be on the math team. It was like I was invisible.
I grew up hearing Free to Be You and Me tell me that the only significant difference between Mommies and Daddies is the biological act of parenting. I grew up with a dad who taught me to cook and a mom who went to school and had a law office. With a dad who did much of the outside work and a mom who sewed. With a dad who wasn’t afraid to cry and a mom who wasn’t going to back down from a fight for justice. And it wasn’t until college that I learned this was kinda weird. And it wasn’t until the past few years that I really understood how deep gender discrimination goes. That having a female name makes it harder to get published. Or hired for many jobs. Or any of a number of other biases that in retrospect should have been obvious and I thought were just me. I was “bossy” and “bitchy” and “pushy”. I talked out of turn and raised my hand too much. I was fired from a job supposedly for breaking the rules (I didn’t) because one of the bosses didn’t like how her husband was looking at me. Once, an insurance company refused to pay what a totaled stolen and recovered vehicle was worth until my father came on the line and threatened to pull his accounts. I was 24.
And I never fit. Have literally never worn high heels. Too tall. My hands don’t fit in women’s gloves. They don’t make most women’s shoes in my size. Hardly anything is made to fit me. I’m thankful to walmart for actually acknowledging the existence of large women, as it means that I can at least wear colorful sweats and t-shirts without shopping from big and tall men’s stores (which I do anyway.)
I feel like when society defines what it means to be a woman most of it isn’t me. But I don’t feel like I’m not a woman. Except I don’t want people judging me on those terms, so I’m pretty likely to use a gender neutral pseudonym when I publish. I hate that it comes down to that. And my eldest kid is nonbinary. In their words, “I don’t mind being a sister and a daughter, but don’t call me a girl like that’s all I am.” I get that completely.
I don’t have a uterus anymore. And now that Miles is on the very tail end of weaning, I probably will stop having breasts in the next few years. I’m letting go of the things that ever made me connect to the idea of “womanhood” as separate from “personhood”.
I don’t have any answers, but I’m reading articles right now about whether or not Jewish people are white, and sort of laughing exasperated inside because my god, I’ve never felt completely white or completely Jewish or really completely anything because are things ever that simple? I’m not NOT those things, but they aren’t all I am either.
When I look in the mirror and think about identity, mostly I think, “I’m me.”
Not entirely straight, not entirely bi, functionally monogamous but I’ve been polyamorous in the past, not sure I could deal with it now, so does it matter? I don’t know. Not Jewish, not not-Jewish, and the Jewish identity matters more than being “white” as an identity because the tribulations of my great grandparents are much closer than the struggles of my 8-times grandfathers and grandmothers. Woman, female, not feminine, not masculine either, hell, even on the Meyers-Briggs my answers hover in the indeterminate middle. Mostly I’m not binary, and don’t like dichotomies. And injustice makes me angry and sad. And I want people to be safe, secure, happy and loved.
I don’t think there’s a box I fit in. Or maybe that is the box. That I don’t fit.
Maybe that’s what it’s about. Sitting with the uncertainty and accepting that as reality.
A few days ago, one of our co-op members posted about http://www.illgowithyou.org/ .
This is a project formed in response to the transgender protest #wejustneedtopee. See http://www.advocate.com/politics/transgender/2015/03/14/trans-folks-respond-bathroom-bills-wejustneedtopee-selfies for an excellent article about the issues faced by trans folk in bathrooms. To quote one young friend of mine, “Not having a safe bathroom made high school a misery.” A mom friend went to court to take the school district to task when her daughter was excluded from using “girl” bathrooms on the grounds that a six year old child is somehow a hazard to other children simply by dint of being a little different between the legs.
But it goes way beyond bathrooms. Transgender people are often subjected to relentless, devastating discrimination and violence. The isolation and feelings of alienation are so profound that more than 40% of trans folk have attempted suicide. Not considered, ATTEMPTED. And many succeed. How many people have we lost?
I posted about the buttons. It is a tiny thing, but it is a thing. And the co-op is buying them in a way that for every 100 we buy, we’ll donate 400 to local groups. We’ve already committed to ordering 200 paid-for buttons, which means at least 800 buttons to donate. My goal is that we get so many people wearing them that a trans person will walk into a public space and see so many buttons that they will feel welcome, reassured, and not even NEED to ask, in order to feel safe.
And someone in my extended family said three words that broke my heart. And then fired me up.
“Don’t encourage them.”
If you are reading this, and somehow think that LGBT queer folk are somehow bad, wrong, or not to be supported, loved and made to feel safe as they walk through their everyday lives, we really need to talk.
The idea, the very notion that I should not wear and encourage others to wear a button that simply states, “I’ll go with you”, telling trans folk that they have an ally present who would be happy to make the bathroom spaces feel less scary to them, upsets me to the core. Especially since I strongly suspect said sentiment is somehow grounded in conservative christian notions of “sin”.
I don’t talk a ton about my religious beliefs which are complex, private, and not a subject I’m willing to discuss, but I will say that I was brought up from a young age learning a lot about the teachings of Jesus, and the ones that stick with me the strongest are the stories of Jesus sitting down with the people everyone else rejected, and simply being with them, talking with them, and LOVING them. Do you think that Jesus would have checked under someone’s robe to see if their garment matched their genitalia before offering them bread?
I have many, many people in my life who are trans, nonbinary, genderqueer, lesbian, gay, bisexual, poly and just plain ol’ too queer to define readily. And if you think for a second that I’m not going to stand by them and do everything I know how to do to make this world a safer, more loving place for them because you think I shouldn’t encourage them, you don’t know me at all. And if you think they are somehow unworthy of having a place in this world, undeserving of housing, employment, health care, love, and the same rights that all the so-called “normal” people get just for showing up simply because they don’t look like you want them to look or act the way you think people “should” act, you need to go back and read the teachings of Jesus a little more. Start with “love thy neighbor” and “judge not lest ye be judged”.
The main reason given by most of the gospels for the plot to get rid of Jesus was due to his constant breaking of the old ways in favor of common sense, common decency and humanity over law. They killed him for doing things differently, for throwing the religious establishment’s rules out the window because they no longer served. “The sabbath was made for man, not man made for the sabbath.”
Someone said to me today, in a comment which I deleted because I want my friends to feel safe, “Don’t encourage them.”
You know what? I will absolutely “encourage” “them”.
Because “they” are in my heart, my soul, my breath. And so, so many have been discouraged to death. Literal, actual death.
Encourage them? I want to shout to the rooftops, “You are welcome here, by my side. You are welcome here, in my heart. Tell me who you are, and I’ll do everything I can to meet you there. And if there’s somewhere you want to go, where you don’t feel safe, I’ll go with you. Because this world is better with you in it.”
Not really. It’s not about vaccination. Or welfare. Or religion. Or politics. It’s not about circumcision or abortion or gay marriage or Fox news or Florida or gun activists or Black people or White people or people who see the world differently or people who learn differently or any of the things that anyone, anywhere says are “ruining everything” or “causing all the problems”.
This, this, my friends, is about manners.
Here’s the thing about almost every SINGLE thing people rant about on the internet. At the heart of it, somewhere, someone’s story is there. It may not be a “beautiful” story. It may not be a “correct” story, but it’s their story. It’s personal. And when things are personal, people get hurt by the collective volume.
People have reasons for doing what they do, believing what they believe, knowing what they know, whether it is “correct” or not.
We walk a fine line, calling out the problems we see, between “shedding light on injustice” and blinding people.
It is too, too easy to forget that being right at all costs may have a higher cost than intended. And that insisting on “being right” may well guarantee that you will never, ever, EVER actually be able to persuade anyone who you feel is “wrong” of anything.
Don’t use the “Oh, but not YOU,” argument. That’s just insulting, just like saying, “No offense, but…” If you have to make that excuse, you should probably stop a minute and reconsider.
My eldest child’s school, shortly before we started there, had an issue with a child being bullied for having gay parents. The school had a long community discussion about an appropriate way to say, “This is not okay.”
They thought about expanding the existing “No harassment based on race, religion or gender” to include “sexual orientation, disability” and a host of other things. Then someone very wise said, “Why are we doing it this way? How about we just say, “No harassment.” Because really, when, ever, is it okay to harass anyone?”
It eliminates the, “Well, but that doesn’t cover…. ” argument. Yes, I know we need to call attention to specific types of harassment because people just don’t think… but from a policy perspective, this takes the broad view, the, dare I say it, “constitutional” view, the “word it simply, broadly, and in a way that future understanding can expand the definition as needed.”
So when we started at this school, their policy just said, “No harassment.” Period. And I concur. Don’t treat people that way. Teach your kids not to treat people that way. That’s just good manners.
Now besides manners, this is also about effectiveness. About understanding. And about communication.
I grew up the daughter of a computer programmer and an attorney. To say that I was raised with the idea that logic and right and wrong are quantifiable and knowable is kind of an understatement. I spent most of my childhood and early adulthood wanting and needing to be right. The arguments I got into and my frustration at their illogic were epic. I was a lonely kid. And at the time, persuaded very few people.
The concept of active listening dropped into my life like a bombshell in my early 20’s. I remember arguing a point of maternal fetal medicine with a nurse during my doula training, and her stopping me and saying, “The fact that you are still arguing with me means you are not listening to me.”
This is what most people miss. If you are shouting, you aren’t hearing… but if you are shouting, probably no one else is really listening to you either.
I feel strongly about a lot of topics. But mostly it boils down to manners, and understanding that people are people, and that we are all in this together and we need to start acting like it. And that doesn’t mean all thinking or being or doing the same things, it means understanding that we never, ever will and finding ways to live with each other in peace anyway.
So the next time, and every time, you are about to post or repost or share or retweet or otherwise propagate something in this incredibly diverse and divisive digital world (that is, after all, in the real world and mostly generated by real actual human beings and is about real actual stories that happen to people)… please, stop a moment. Look at it. Maybe it makes you laugh, or snort, or nod your head.
But is it doing so by putting someone down? By reducing them from real, mistake-making, struggling human beings to caricatures and straw men? If you share it, will it hurt someone you care about? Or someone they care about? Or someone you’ve never met at all but who is struggling that much harder because people find their lives funny or enraging?
If so, then please ask, “Will sharing this actually improve a situation that needs improving, or convince someone who was wavering, or improve the world?”
Or will it just get the choir nodding in the background and further plug your ears to the realities behind the situation at hand? Will it plug the ears of the people whose minds you most dearly want to change?
Maybe you don’t care. I want to think you probably do. But if your goal is merely to be “right” or to look right or to appear smarter or to align yourself with the people you respect… please, stop. Think. Go here and read for a while, it’s useful. Look at your face to the world. Stop harassing people, and start listening.
We are a rich tapestry of stories and lives and perspectives and reasons and backgrounds. The world is made more complete by the variety and complexity of us. More interesting. In the long run, it is humanity’s variety that creates our ability to persevere. Value the fact that everyone doesn’t think like you, or me, or that guy over there. We would learn nothing if everyone understood the world in the exact same way. And we are, none of us, perfect.
I get the urge to yell. I’m a mom and live in a family and it’s made up of human beings and fur beings and we’re all of us fallible, even me. But yelling creates silence, or it creates more yelling, or it creates hurt. There’s not really much middle ground here. And it’s not very useful in the long run at fixing, well, anything.
Snipped from a conversation about finding out the gender in utero.
Today, my 3 year old son insisted on wearing a skirt all day. Amusingly, his black, heavy shoes are handmedowns from his 9 year old sister, who needed them for orthotic reasons (they were her shoes when she was 7 or 8. He’s 3.) The skirt he picked out at Costco for himself. The fish shirt is his FAVORITE. The jacket is supposedly “girls” from the tags.
My 21 year old daughter is now using they/them pronouns, has hair almost as short as my son’s (was shorter), and rarely wears anything remotely feminine. I’m over the whole gender binary thing. When people say boy and girl, these words, they do not mean what people think they mean.
I guess my point is that one might find out in utero what sort of bits and bobs a kid has, but it will give absolutely not one iota of information about the person they will become. Not a thing. Our abstract gender notions are so far off from the reality of who kids are, that it’s pretty meaningless, even if they are cisgendered in the long run, what it means to be “boy” and what it means to be “girl” are so wide and overlapping that I just don’t see the point. It’s like our abstract notions of what it means to be one race or another. The variations within any one race are greater than the differences between races, in almost every marker. The only things an ultrasound can really say (and even then it’s not infallible) is whether a child has a penis or a vagina. Heck, with transgender men giving birth, and transgender women banking sperm to use later, and lots of people not actually having kids at all, it doesn’t even tell you if they’ll someday be a mother or a father.
I get the whole “loss of the idealized baby” grief. I had that in spades when my middle was diagnosed with a chromosome difference that completely blew out of the water all my expectations about parenting, pretty much from the moment she was born and every moment after. I’m not saying it’s wrong to be sad or glad or whatever. Feelings are feelings. They’re not wrong or right. If you’re sad, you’re sad. If you’re delighted, you’re delighted.
But realistically, even if you know, and you “get what you want”… you don’t know, and won’t know and maybe even can’t know. I have a friend who transitioned at 46 years old. And know kids who are transitioning as young as five years old. All that little hamburger or hotdog on the ultrasound will tell someone is whether their kid has an innie or an outie, for the moment. It says nothing about what they will like, what they’ll want to play with, who they will be, who they will love, or how they’ll want to dress. It doesn’t tell you whether they’ll be energetic or quiet or bookish or athletic or good at math or amazing with colors or struggle endlessly or float through effortlessly or whether they’ll look good in pink or whether they’ll be delighted at spinning in a twirly skirt until they tumble to the ground.
I’ve been thinking a lot about gender, about neurodiversity, about social expectations of children and cultural notions of what it means to be male, to be female. I’ve never felt like there was anything inherently wrong with having female bits (although I was thrilled to no longer have a uterus once I was done using it for babies), but I’ve never in my life been much good at “being a girly girl” as our society seems to define it. And as I see a lot of young people struggling with notions of gender, my feeling that the whole binary thing is just so much horse pocky gets stronger and stronger. There’s nothing wrong with my gender. There’s nothing wrong with my skirt-loving son or my short haired daughters. Society, on the other hand, is really fucked up.
I put Shiny in pink sometimes, and she wears dresses sometimes, because they’re colorful, she looks good in pink, and the clothes are cute. Miles gets more pants and shirts… but often throws a skirt on top if he has his druthers. Handmedowns provide him with an endless supply of pink jammies and twirly skirts and dresses. He honestly dresses almost exactly the same as K did, 18 years ago, with almost an identical frequency of skirts, or pants, or sometimes both. Which just goes to show you exactly how much influence a twirly 3 year old’s penchant for circle skirts and tulle has on their identity as an adult. We just don’t know, and it just doesn’t matter all that much. Like I’m going to love them one iota less?
My main struggles are editorial and habitual… I was raised a fairly strict grammarian, and singular they in reference to a known person just makes me twitchy. Not morally, not intellectually… grammatically. And I spent 21 years thinking of K as “she”, and it’s a brain plasticity failure that I haven’t made the leap easily.
But that’s my problem, not my kid’s. I may stumble over pronouns, but I stumble not at all on loving them with my whole heart.
Someone recently posted for discussion an idea they’d heard (not agreed with) that “Guys are the gas and girls are the brakes”. This was an infuriating concept on pretty much every level, but got me to thinking about the messages we send kids and what we need to teach them. Because in my experience, a HUGE percentage of rapes are as much a result of poor training and lack of consideration as actual malice or active intent.
Messages like “Guys are the gas”, or “If she doesn’t say no, she means yes” actually train guys to rape. It is entirely possible for a sexual encounter to seem like “no big deal” from one side and “soul destroying devastation” from the other, and when that is the case, ultimately we have to point at training. I have, in my own personal experience, known men who raped without being aware until after the fact that it was rape. Who once informed of the issue, corrected their behavior and expectations. Those are training issues. And we can fix them.
There has been a lot of talk recently about a relatively new concept… “Yes means yes”. Training kids that the default is “respect boundaries until invited in” is essential, fundamental to changing the current paradigm. How does that look?
I’ve started with my son while he is still a toddler. He’s not even 3, is still breastfeeding, and I’m setting limits with him about grabbing and touching. He has to ask if he can nurse. If I say no, he doesn’t get to grab. I don’t put up with him casually grabbing my boobs anymore at all, or with him getting aggressive with me.
We have to start that young. We have to teach little kids that hurting people we like is never okay. Simply insisting on manners can go a long way toward teaching mutual respect. Teaching those manners often requires demonstrating them. My husband and I spend a couple weeks saying to each other, “May I please be excused?” at the dinner table, because that was what reminded my son to ask. Things he says, “Gimme” for are rarely gotten. When he says “Please, may I” he usually gets what he wants if it is reasonable. I am often startled by how few children actually ask for things rather than demanding.
But most important, I think, is teaching simple self control. Delayed gratification. Teaching kids to think forward about consequences. It is not impossible. But the teaching never stops. I spend hours talking to the 21 year olds in my life about boundaries and limits and ways of handling the tricky situations they find themselves in.
In a lot of ways I’m very glad that I was born female, because I suspect that with the kind of training boys and girls got when I was a kid, I probably would have ended up raping someone without even understanding it as a young adult.
We teach kids a lot about “no means no”, but when you factor in the “freeze” response to “fight or flight”, the fact of the matter is that someone has to be able to communicate in order to say no, someone who is scared or drugged may not be able to do that. It has to be, it MUST be, “Yes means yes, No means no, Stop means stop, and silence is not consent.”
We have to teach kids to separate fantasy from reality. We see so many “sexy” scenes on television where an aggressive kiss with fighting back becomes willing participation…but in reality, we can’t risk that. The freeze response creates relaxation, and that relaxation could easily be confused for “lack of rejection”. It is possible to have fantasies of being overpowered, while absolutely never wanting that in real life, and we have to teach our kids about the difference. I can love reading science fiction and reading about space flight and not actually ever want to sit on the rocket ship, you know? I can adore stories about medieval cultures without ever wanting to live in a real one. I can enjoy watching a drama on television without ever wanting my life to be that dramatic.
If I say, “White people enslaved Black people, murdered Native Americans, and interred Japanese in concentration camps” it is very obvious inherently that I’m not referring to “All white people”. It doesn’t mean it’s not a true statement. It also doesn’t mean it’s INTENDED to be a blanket statement that refers to all white people. And the least helpful possible response to “White people did this” is “Well, not me, man.”
The most helpful possible response is, “Wow, those were shitty things to do. Why don’t we do whatever we can to make sure they don’t happen again.”
And yet… when women say, “Men rape.” Or “Men beat women” or “Men are in a position of power in this culture that puts them at an inherent advantage.” Or “Men made my life miserable through much of my childhood”… one of the first responses they get is an indignant, “Not me! Not all men do those things!”
Which is a complete distraction.
It is true that men rape. It is true that men beat women. It is true that men have an inherent power advantage due to our culture’s biases.
That does not mean, OF FUCKING COURSE it does not mean that “all men” rape. Or that “all men” beat women. Or that “all men” abuse their privilege.
Except… when you use (or try to use) your inherent advantage to derail the conversation from “How do we stop men from raping, how do we stop men from beating women, how do we redress the inherent imbalance in our culture”…. you BECOME “All men”. It doesn’t make you a rapist, it just makes you part of the problem.
Do women rape? Yes. Do women beat men? Yes. Do men suffer because those things are invisible in a culture which assumes that because of men’s “inherent advantage” that those things cannot happen to them, that it is not physically possible for them to be victims? Yes.
The fact of the matter is that EVERYONE suffers from the bias in our culture. And the battle I am fighting, that most of the feminists I know are fighting, is one that not only lets our daughters fly and follow their passions and talents without false limits of gender bias… but one that lets our sons choose their paths as well, free of the biases that limit them too. I’m fighting for my daughter to have equal pay in the profession of her choice… and for my son to have equal access to parental leave if he ever chooses to have kids.
When we start saying, “We need to tell men not to rape” and someone says, “But not all men rape…” They’re derailing the conversation. And that conversation NEEDS to go farther. It needs to get from the basic, “We need to tell men not to rape” and get all the way to “We need to teach all our children about true and enthusiastic consent because otherwise we’re setting traps for our sons and destroying our daughters at the same time.”
When we start saying, “Men catcalling women on the street makes me feel unsafe and angry” and men pop up and say, “But we never catcall on the street” or worse, “We don’t mean anything by it, what’s your problem?”
They’re derailing the conversation. If you don’t catcall women on the street, fine. You’re not the one who makes me feel unsafe. I’m not going to pat you on the back for not being a douchebag, especially if you start being a douchebag by derailing the conversation before it can get to where it needs to go. You want kudos for not being a dick, get all the way from neutral into positive ally territory, and say, “I’m not sure I understand why that is so upsetting, but it is clearly very upsetting. So if I see someone doing that. I’m not going to be silent about it when I know how upset it could be making someone. Or even better, acknowledge that having random people invade your space uninvited because they’re acting like you’re their personal sex toy when they’re bigger and stronger than you is annoying at the least and terrifying at the worst.
That conversation needs to get from “Don’t catcall women on the street” to “Tearing other people down in order to impress the people you are with is a bad idea which makes you less of a human being and which hurts everyone involved far more than you think. Treat people with respect, no matter who you think they might be or what you might want from them.” It needs to get to the point of “Hey, women don’t LIKE being thrust onto a sexual pedestal when they’re out and about and minding their own business, because sometimes it’s just harmless and sometimes it could be a prelude to rape and we don’t KNOW until we’re safe that we are safe.”
(Hint: Not one man who ever catcalled me ever got the time of day. The ones who did? Treated me like a human being.) And if people are jumping into the conversation with “Not all men”, THE CONVERSATION CANNOT GET WHERE IT NEEDS TO GO.
If you have heard. If you understand. If you have listened…. that is what we’ve asked. If your response to that is, “But I don’t….” You haven’t understood. You haven’t listened enough.
I can say, “Men do these things” and be correct, without that meaning that I think “all men” do these things. I don’t have to spell that out. I’m not wrong for saying it.
And if at this point, you’ve already reached that conclusion… you can give yourself a gold star and move on. Not my job to pat you on the back, not my job to reassure you that you’re not “tarnished” with the “stain” of all men. You either already know you aren’t, or you need to figure it out, or you are, in fact, part of the problem. I respect you enough to believe that you can, in fact, figure out where you are at in this equation and figure out where you need to go, or at the very least what questions you need to ask.
We *all* find ourselves at one point or another sharing a broad Venn diagram with others who do shitty things. The question is, are you in the overlapping circles? Or just happen to have a few shades in common without being in the problem area?
I happen to share “white” and “feminist” with some crappy ass people who treat women of color badly in feminist discourse. They do shitty things that I do not condone. I know where I fall in that Venn diagram, and the last thing I need to do is ask some Black lesbian to tell straight white me that I’m doing a “good job” at being an ally. I’d much rather take my time to actually BE an ally, and not derail her conversation from the fact, that yes, some White Feminists do some shitty clueless and downright offensive things that they need to stop doing (Hint: Don’t hold retreats at slave plantations when women of color are asking you not to.)
Anyway. I’m not mad at you, but you asked for a mediator and clarification. It took me a half hour to write this. I’m giving you that time be because you’re a friend, and trying, I’m willing to give the clarification. I’m also going to paste it out to my blog because I don’t want to spend the time again, which I could spend sleeping, or fighting the patriarchy instead of educating people who are already supposed to be on the same side.
Note: these arguments have been spoken by many others before me. I honestly don’t think I”m saying much that is new here, hopefully I’m saying it in a way that makes sense, since clearly the deluge of other sources hasn’t yet sunk in enough that I don’t still have people on my list saying, “But not all men!” or “I don’t!” as the response to “Men did….”
There are only a handful of men in my life who have mistreated me. I have some amazing men in my life, I chose to marry one of them. Don’t tell me you don’t mistreat people… tell me how you’re going to work to make sure that no one is mistreated where you have any power in the situation at all.
addendum for the blog: if you know of a cartoon, article, tumblr or blog post that addresses this issue well (or made one of these points first) please do link in the comments. I’m sick right now and don’t have the energy to track down the links to the amazing works that have helped shape my thinking on this.