Trafalgar Square, London, England; January 21, 2017
It’s International Women’s Day — wear red in support of women striking for equality, and if you’re a woman who can strike today, please do!
Here’s a quick primer on the day.
We have one month left before we’re in 2017, and although it’s tempting to just curl up into a ball until it’s over, we know that we need to prepare to live in a Trump world. (For the many people who see how this year has just pulled back the mask on what wasn’t all that well hidden to begin with – I hear you. I’m sorry it’s taking some of us so long to figure it out.) Okay, so let’s live in this world, let’s make it as good as we possibly can, and let’s do it together.
I used to be a weekly churchgoer, and the rhythms of the church year still echo in my life. The season leading up to Christmas is called Advent. Advent is a time of preparation, during which Christians prepare for the coming of the savior of the world. They prepare for the end of the world as we know it and the arrival of a better world we can barely imagine. This year, we are preparing for what certainly feels like the end of the world, and it’s hard to see anything beyond it. Trump is the opposite of a savior, no matter how he brands himself in his populist speeches. So this year we need to prepare ourselves to be our own saviors, to save ourselves from what we’ve allowed to happen. (I’m speaking mostly to my fellow straight white cis folks here – people of color and queer folk have been doing the heavy lifting since forever.)
This election seems to have served as a wake-up call for many of us. It’s not right that it took a loss that will devastate so many lives and alter the fabric of our democracy to serve as such, but here we are. So now what? is the question I see most frequently on Facebook, Twitter, in the news. There are a lot of good answers out there, from better thinkers than I. Read them, discuss them with friends and family, take action.
But for what it’s worth, here is my “what now?” response. Advent is a time of preparation, so let’s prepare. For each day of December, I’m going to take concrete action that makes me more prepared to resist the Trump presidency, or that offers some resistance now, or that contributes something good and kind to the world. Some of these actions can be done anywhere in the world, and some are US-specific.
I also think it’s important to do a mix of overtly political and more community-building or “good deeds” type things. Especially if you haven’t been politically active before, you may find this a little intimidating, but what we’ve seen from the way Trump’s campaign was run, and now after the election, is that white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia play a prominent role in people’s political decisions and everyday lives. Coaching Little League builds community, yes, please keep doing that — but also see how you can assist your local Black Lives Matter chapter, to build community in that way as well. And artists — keep creating, always. Artists are vital.
Will you join me for this month? Especially for people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves political, or who don’t have much experience with activism, I tried to make this an accessible collection of things to do that will show how easy it is to fit these things into our busy lives, and how it’s not that scary to do.
If you have suggestions, please comment. Share this with anyone you like. The key is to take action, and to do it together. So call your mom, talk to your coworker, make a new friend, and go all in. As Angela Davis recently said, “How do we begin to recover from this shock? By experiencing and building and rebuilding and consolidating community. Community is the answer.”
Here is where I was going to put the calendar, but I can’t get it to embed. So please click through to the Advent Calendar for Social Justice. Be sure to click on each day to see notes and useful links with further info for each action item.
This calendar is intended as a helpful tool for people who want to do something, but aren’t sure where to start. I hope it will help you sample different ways of taking action, so that in the new year, you’ll be better prepared to really dig in to volunteering, donating, and organizing roles. I’d love your feedback. I consider it a live document and will adjust it as necessary.
Shout-out to Liz and Emmett for providing excellent advice and action items.
Resources for Educating Yourself and Taking Action:
Accomplices Not Allies
A List of Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Earth, Anti-Bigotry Organizations That Need Your Support
Oh Crap! What Now? A Survival Guide
Opportunities for White People in the Fight for Racial Justice
“We’re His Problem Now” Calling Sheet
What Educators Can Do to Support Undocumented Students
What to Do Instead of Calling the Police
Organizations Fighting the Good Fight:
American Civil Liberties Union
Black Lives Matter
Council on American-Islamic Relations
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Coalition for the Homeless
National Disability Rights Network
National Women’s Law Center
Showing Up for Racial Justice
Southern Poverty Law Center
Sylvia Rivera Law Project
The True Colors Fund
The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, masterpieces of the form from the late 15th/early 16th centuries on display in the Museum of the Middle Ages (formerly the Cluny Museum), have appeared in novels, poems, songs, and as some sharp viewer noticed, on the walls of the Gryffindor common room in the Harry Potter movies. Ever since George Sand rediscovered them and wrote about them in the mid-19th century, these tapestries haven’t been exactly obscure. And yet, no one knows quite how to interpret them. There are several theories, the most prominent being that they are about the five senses and the soul, since at the time the tapestries were woven, the senses could be seen as doorways to the sacred but also reminders of our base humanity. The final tapestry, which bears the inscription à mon seul désir (“to my one desire/love” or “by my desire/will alone”), is usually seen as the lady putting aside material things for higher ideals. It could also be about the lady preparing to give up her virginity (unicorns are symbols of chastity but that long horn is also a bit suggestive, so unicorns are generally sexually ambiguous). But these interpretations are all wrong. Clearly, The Lady and the Unicorn series shows the lady and her maidservant falling in love.
Okay, here’s our first tapestry, “Touch.” Our lady is bracing herself, holding on with one hand to the flagpole bearing her family’s crest, and with the other to the unicorn’s horn. The unicorn looks up at her calmly, secure in the knowledge that he is what she needs. She knows what’s expected of her, that she will be married off to a man, but she can’t even bear to look at him, to admit what her future will be. The lady is isolated, just her and the lion and unicorn, and one brave little bunny. Notice that many of the animals here are shackled, chained and unhappy.
Ooh, our lady and her maidservant meet here in “Taste.” Right away, the lion and unicorn are up on their hind legs, reflecting that feeling you get when you meet someone you’re immediately attracted to–you feel alert, alive, like you have to stand up and take more notice of the world. Notice that the animals are unchained and free now, and several of them have joined the women and lion and unicorn on the little island. Everyone feels like more things are possible now. The maidservant is offering up a bowl of sweets to the lady, literally offering up something sweet for the lady to taste. How does the lady feel about that? Well, she would never be so unrefined as to have her hair blown back, but her veil is waving about behind her. A little bird lands on an outstretched finger, a little symbol of freedom. Check out the look on the unicorn’s face; he knows that serious competition has just arrived.
In “Smell”, our lady and maidservant get to know each other better, as they hitch up their skirts for the work of the day, a gesture of intimacy we haven’t seen yet. Our lady, who before was so overcome with feeling that she had to glance shyly away from her maidservant, is now able to look her right in the eye. Our maidservant holds up a tray of flowers, from which our lady gathers blossoms to make into a garland. Delicate lady-flowers are definitely in play here.
Look, now they are literally making music together. In “Hearing,” our lady plays the notes on the organ while our maidservant works the bellows. This is a two-person job, and dare I say they have to be perfectly in tune with one another to do it properly? The lion is even sort of turned away to give them some privacy, although he can’t help peeking. The unicorn is coming around to the idea of this whole arrangement; the tilt of his head seems to be saying, “Go on, babe, I see what you’ve got going here.” Our wonderful maidservant looks frankly at her lady, as she has done in all the tapestries she’s been in so far. No maidenly shyness here; she knows what she wants and she’s looking right at her. I’m pretty sure we have not one but two goats on the little island as well (goats being well-known symbols of randiness).
In “Sight,” our lady bids farewell to the unicorn. Our maidservant isn’t here–she has tact–so our lady looks almost sorrowfully at the unicorn as she breaks it to him that this is never going to work between them. But look at him, he’s pretty sanguine about the whole thing. He rests his hooves on her legs and gazes at her with affection. He’s not going to get in the way. She holds up a mirror so he can see himself, and what he sees isn’t a reflection of himself now but as he will be in the near future–alone, maybe, but head held high and looking out for what’s next.
Finally, here we are on the final tapestry, which shows a little tent, a bench, and our maidservant holding up a big ol’ chest of jewelry for our lady. Perhaps she’s placing the necklace back in the chest because she doesn’t need material items to be happy, just the love of this woman. Perhaps she’s taking a necklace out of the chest to give to this woman as a token of her affection. Perhaps she’s getting undressed because they’re about to go inside that tent and get busy. But whatever she’s doing with the jewelry, it’s clear what she’s doing with her future: she’s building it with this woman, her maidservant becoming her partner. A little lap dog appears for the first time, a symbol of domesticity. The lion and unicorn hold up a long veil that looks remarkably similar to what women often wear on their wedding day. And now that ambiguous phrase overhead makes sense: à mon seul désir. It both means “to my only desire/love,” as she gives her heart over to her maidservant, and also “by my desire/will alone,” as she lives her life according to her own desires and not by what was expected of her. She still displays her family’s flags proudly, she’s not trying to reject them, and look she’s even still friends with the unicorn (in a he’s-bowing-down-to-her kind of way). But she knows what she wants, and she’s looking right at her.
Watching the murderers of Mike Brown and Eric Garner walk away unpunished in any way has been infuriating and heartbreaking. These two cases (and there are more cases coming to light every day, such as that of Tamir Rice) highlight the extreme racism and injustice at the root of American law and culture. Following people on Twitter and reading blog posts and articles linked from Facebook has helped me learn more and direct my energies and monies to movements that are responding on the ground (since I’m in London and can’t be there in person to march).
I’ve compiled some pieces here for Learning and Taking Action. This is mostly for my fellow white people, since a lot of this is explanatory in a way that people of color don’t need to hear because they’re living it. There are a range of pieces, from beginner to advanced stage anti-racism, so don’t be scared if you’re new to listening and talking about race in an informed way. Certainly I’m not any kind of expert, but a lot of the writers here are, so please take a look. I can especially recommend Ta-Nehisi Coates, Melissa Harris-Perry, Jay Smooth, Janet Mock, and Latoya Peterson as people to follow, read, and learn from.
Let’s not look away. Let’s look this straight in the face and tell it where to go.
Please go to the comments to share any other links you’ve found helpful.
If you’re only going to read one link from this post, read this one by the excellent Luvvie. It’s smart and comprehensive but succinct, and she uses funny GIFs.
White and not really understanding why people are so upset about Ferguson and Eric Garner? It’s probably because you’re mostly talking to other white people–that’s the norm in the US, as this article explains. Time to broaden what you read and who you talk to.
Here’s an even more accessible article on how acknowledging white privilege and working against racism doesn’t mean you have to hate white people, just the terrible racist system that white people put into place and now perpetuate.
The devastating new rules for being black in the United States. My friends have a baby not yet two months old, and knowing he’ll learn these rules makes me furious.
Eric Garner’s widow, Esaw, is not accepting the apology of her husband’s killer. She’s furious, she’s grieving, and she’s not letting Pantaleo make himself feel better by getting her to forgive him.
Bevin’s great collection of resources and reflections over at Queer Fat Femme highlighted this article, which reveals that #BlackLivesMatter is a specific movement founded by queer black women. It’s good to be aware of the origins of this widely-used hashtag.
Ta-Nehisi Coates continues to be one of the foremost writers on a lot of things, but especially race. Here he talks about Obama’s reaction to Ferguson, and what the system is set up to do and not do.
One piece of laminated plastic means this Vassar College professor experiences humiliating, dangerous situations rather than life-threatening situations –and he’s never allowed to forget it.
Don’t repeat the ignorant ‘but what about black-on-black crime?’ question. Coates has you covered.
We like to think that the non-indictments in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown case (and the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin) are evidence of flaws in the American justice system, but this straightforward piece argues that they’re just links in the chain of a justice system doing what it’s designed to do–oppress people of color for the benefit of white people in this country.
Steps to take as a white person if the Ferguson case is just shaking you awake to the trenchant racism alive and well in the United States. Self-educate and get involved! (I especially like the intro, in which the author Janee Woods wonders why so few reactions to the case appeared on her Facebook wall–something I wondered about when looking at my wall, too.)
You want facts to convince you of the unfairness of what happened? You want convincing that protests are worthwhile? Check out this post on how to talk about Ferguson and the aftermath.
Support people taking anti-racist action in the aftermath of Ferguson by making a gift to various organizations. ‘Tis the season, right?
Do you interact with kids as a teacher, parent, guardian, relative, friend? Here’s a great resource on how to talk with them about what’s been going on.
If you already consider yourself an active ally, take a look at this piece that challenges us to be accomplices rather than allies.
Don’t contribute to #CrimingWhileWhite–keep the focus on #AliveWhileBlack.
AND SOME HOPE
Look, redirect your money for militarizing police forces to these trainings instead, and eliminate police killings of citizens in under a decade! It truly is a culture we can change, not a given we must resign ourselves to.
Happy Labor Day, fellow Americans! I hope you’re all enjoying barbecue with loved ones. For my friends outside the US who may not know, Labor Day is the American version of May Day; it used to hold a lot more power as a holiday recognizing workers’ rights, but now it’s generally seen as the the last party of the summer. Let’s take a moment to remember why we get to have the party.
Especially this year, when we’re remembering the March on Washington 50 years ago, I think it’s important to be grateful on Labor Day for the protections and opportunities we have, while we fight for the ones we’ve lost or haven’t gained yet. The nationwide attack on teachers–especially nasty in Chicago–in the guise of helping students. The “right-to-work” laws passed in 24 states (an amazing semantic victory for the right). The gender wage gap. Crippling student loan debt–and the recent doubling of interest rates on those debts. Blocked immigration reform. An unlivable minimum wage. Minimal support for new families, especially mothers in the workforce. Legal discrimination against LGBT folks. There’s a lot about employment in the US that needs fixing. (Click on those links to see groups that are taking action; you can join them.)
Obama’s speech this past Wednesday was pretty good, but the line that adapted MLK’s famous one is great: “The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own.” He then urges everyone to continue fighting the good fight, a point he makes in a lot of speeches but far too frequently contradicts in his actions as president. Still, he’s not wrong. The reason we have the workers’ rights we have is because people fought for them, and not just the union leaders and lobbyists paid to fight for them. People who were tired after a long day at work then went out and rallied in the streets, wrote to members of Congress, went on strike, made changes to local laws, talked to their friends and neighbors about what was going on, elected leaders who promised to fight the fight with them. You don’t have to come home from work tired and angry with workplace injustices and your lot in life. You can come home from work tired and happy with the work you do and the conditions you work in. You can come home from work fired up to make work a place you want to return to.
So raise a toast to the unions and workers of yesterday and make a pledge to join with the ones who are fighting for a better life today. Because Labor Day means a lot more than the last day of the season to wear white.
If the title of this post put that awful song in your head, I apologize. My first night in Bangkok was as grating as that song, and the first day was kind of a wash, but things picked up for the latter half of my stay there. Including infuriating political discussions on a street full of escorts.
I arrived late at night and wandered around Khaosan Road, and the next day I moved across town to a quieter hostel. On the way, I stopped at the central train station to buy a ticket out of town, and not only was the ticket I wanted not available, but I had to change transit three times just to get to the train station and then twice to carry on to the new hostel. All with a 30-pound backpack on and the tropical heat making me dizzy. My mood didn’t improve when I checked in at the hostel and learned that the Grand Palace closes at 3:30pm and there’s no way I’d make it in time, so I’d have to try to go the next day, although I’d have to go early in the morning because I needed to leave town by noon so I could get my train out of Ayutthaya in the evening. Ugh, just writing about my poor planning and the inconvenience of the sprawling city is frustrating me all over again!
I decided the solution to my bad mood was ice cream, so I went to the Magnum Bar downtown. I bought an electronics converter for $5 from one of those odds n ends stalls near the train station, the kind of stall probably entirely stocked with stuff that fell off a truck somewhere. But that converter is still working today, keeping my electronics from frying in the changing voltages in new countries, so I’m not asking any questions.
That night, I went out with two women I met at the hostel; H and K* are both teachers in China, in a “small” city about 2 hours west of Beijing. (“Small” in China means only a few million people, of course.) We thought we were going to a ladyboy cabaret, but K’s phone directed us to Soi Cowboy, which is a street that combines all the stereotypes about the seedier side of Thailand: neon everywhere, girls wearing next to nothing idling outside their clubs, lackluster table dancing inside the clubs, old white men at all the clubs, and a general sense that everyone is trying really hard to pretend it’s all normal and not sad.
We walked the length of it–the only tourist women there except for a few middle-aged women we spotted with their husbands–and ended up on the patio of Cowboy, which had a cover band inside instead of dancing girls. H had a lot of uninformed things to say about gender and sex work, which frustrated me to no end. She kept asking about ladyboys: “What are they, women or men? What parts do they have? What are they, really?” Do your homework. Even a cursory glance at a guidebook will clarify for you that ladyboys (who usually refer to themselves in other terms, actually, like “kathoey” or “a second type of woman”) are usually biologically male, but their chosen gender expression is female. Asking what gender someone is “really” is hugely insulting, no matter the culture, but especially in a place like Thailand, where information is readily available on this prominent part of the population, it’s inexcusably ignorant.
Her other favorite topic for the evening was whether the women working here had chosen this life. She’d read all sorts of stories about the “white slave trade” in Southeast Asia, which… what. But she also thinks that some Thai girls, while not kidnapped for the sex slave trade like white girls from America (WHAT), are still forced into the job. If they chose the job, though, she was okay with it. I did a little “choosing from super limited options isn’t a true choice” (my main line when encountering “feminism is about choice” defenders), but mostly I was irritated that she insisted on talking about this while we were sitting right there. If this scene bothers you, that is perfectly understandable, but there’s no reason you have to stay here. As soon as we arrived, we could see it for what it was; babbling about how worried you are for these women as you drink cocktails they bring you is useless and almost insulting.
Anyway, when we steered clear of those conversations, we had a good time, and I was glad to have gone out for one night in Bangkok. (Oh no, I did it again.) The next day I went to the Grand Palace, but by the time I got there, every tour group in Thailand was shoving its way into the gates, and it was too overwhelming. I walked along the outer wall and crossed the street to Wat Pho instead.
Wat Pho (or Po) is a beautiful complex. It contains the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand, covered in gold leaf and housed in a building barely big enough for it. Pillars hold up the roof and split up the view of the buddha, which is too bad for taking in its magnificence in one look, but did give intriguing glimpses as I walked down toward the feet. The soles of the buddha’s feet are covered in intricate mother-of-pearl decorations, which were lovely. The rest of the grounds contain a massage school, a shrine to a seated buddha, and small stupas. There was also a small display on President Obama’s visit to the temple in November 2012, including the gift he brought with him–a candle from Chesapeake Bay. A candle? Really? A candle is what you get someone when you don’t know them well enough to know what to get them. Surely someone on the team could’ve tried a little harder.
After I walked around the wat, I collected my luggage, spent far too long finding a minibus, and got to Ayutthaya for a few hours of sightseeing before headed farther north. A whirlwind trip to Bangkok.
*Usually I use full names in my stories, but since I dwell on the negative parts of my time with H, I thought that imprudent.
Dearest fellow travelers, let’s talk bodies and how we talk about them. Just a bit! The subject of one’s weight and beauty is fraught with social pressures, personal histories, and private traumas. I’ve talked a little about how my own fatness affects my ability to travel, and I will probably post some more about that in the future. But for today, I wanted to share my new favorite way of stopping damaging body-shaming talk in its tracks. You can use this on yourself, your friends and lovers, even casual acquaintances. Ready for this amazing secret??
Generally, we all feel some sort of weird in our own bodies. Maybe we think we’re too fat, too skinny, too dark, too light, too too too something–we’re always some measure off of an impossible beauty standard so deeply ingrained that we almost think it’s natural. I have a lot of thoughts about that, and a lot of websites to direct you to, but despite appearances to the contrary, I don’t like to spend all my time pontificating. I have a set amount of pontificable time. The rest is spent reading Kate Atkinson novels and imagining myself into Cary Grant movies.
But just because I’m not pontificating doesn’t mean I think it’s okay for us to go around hating on our own bodies (or those of others, but that’s a whole other conversation). How do I shut down body shaming without making the person feel yelled at, or shamed, or condescended to? How can we take a moment of body shaming and turn it into a gentle reminder to love your body, without preaching? The answer: humor! (AS ALWAYS.)
My friend told me about a roommate she had who turned her world around on this one. My friend is usually comfortable with herself, but she has her bad days, as we all do. Whenever she’d get down on herself about her thighs or her hair or her skin or whatever, her roommate would look at her lasciviously and say, “Are you flirting with me right now?” in a super exaggerated way. She’d even flutter her eyelashes a little and pucker up her lips. Every single time, my friend would laugh and carry on with her day.
It’s perfect! It’s absurd and non-confrontational, while also gently pointing up the absurdity of endlessly stressing over perceived body flaws. It doesn’t offer any of the usual reassurances — “no, that doesn’t make your butt look big,” “just eat yogurt for the next week and you’ll feel so much better,” “I have a new moisturizer you should try, it only cost $3,000” — but it is reassuring nonetheless. It reassures the stressed friend that what they see as a major flaw or even minor annoyance is actually nothing at all, a triviality, a reason to relax and have a laugh. It’s like saying, “I wasn’t focusing on your body but if we’re going to, let’s enjoy it!” It takes a moment of anguish and turns it into a moment of connection and fun.
So the next time you’re despairing your love handles, or your friend is bemoaning her chest size, make a funny face and a dramatic gesture and say, “Are you flirting with me right now?” I bet you laugh and move on with your life, in that beautiful body of yours.
Food for Thought
Not a proper GBS, but here are a couple neat things I’ve found on the Internets lately:
Two easy-to-read infographics on why health care in the US costs more than any other developed nation. I think my favorite part is the angel halos around the “Truth!” bullets in that second one, and also the fact that they say outright that lack of regulation is what allows providers and insurance to charge more here than they would be able to in countries that keep that kind of thing in check.
The ever-brilliant Rebecca Traister has been watching and commenting on the last week of Oprah’s network talk show. This article is a great reminder of why Oprah matters so much — she started out with just about nothing and now is one of the most powerful women in the country. (Funny how she’s not often held up as the example of the American Dream by politicians and media pundits. I’m sure her gender and race have nothing to do with that.) Her departure will remind Americans of just how white and male the rest of the media landscape is, and what a loss that is for all of us.
Also, thanks to all who have made suggestions for where the twins and I should vacation this fall! We’ve never had a sisters-only vacation before and we’re pretty psyched. I’ll keep you updated on what we choose.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, who is inviting me to their Memorial Day BBQ this Monday?? It promises to be a hot and sunny day, and I promise to bring tasty beverages. Let’s do it.
I don’t know about y’all, but we’ve been having a miraculous week of warm weather and sunshine here in Chicago. Luckily, it’s going to be rainy and cold this weekend, lest we get too confused about where we’re living and start advertising the city as a spring break destination or something. This means that it’s a good weekend to see a movie without any feelings of guilt for not enjoying the outdoors! May I recommend you go see Bridesmaids in droves.
I haven’t even seen the movie yet, but I’ve read all the build-up to it. And people are putting a whole lotta pressure on this movie; it’s supposed to be the one that proves that not only are women funny, but they’re bankable. Putting aside the inherent ridiculousness of even pretending that women aren’t funny and that no one wants to spend money watching them be funny in movies, and also putting aside the fact that it took a big-name male producer (Judd Apatow) and established male director (Paul Feig) to get this female-penned screenplay (Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo) made, I say that since the movie has already been built up as a litmus test for what kinds of comedies studios will be greenlighting for the next decade, it is worth it to speak up.
And how do we speak up in this country? If you guessed “vote in elections,” nice try! The correct answer is “with money, baby.” So vote with your dollars for a funny, raunchy movie written by and starring women. If you can make it, go see it this weekend, since studios rely heavily on opening-weekend box office numbers when they make decisions for future projects.
Many reviewers liked the movie, including Manohla Dargis at NYT, Dustin Rowles at Pajiba, Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon, Dana Stevens at Slate, Scott Tobias at The AV Club, etc. I doubt the movie will show me a Headly Surprise, but it just might pass the Bechdel Test, and at the very least a movie about how exhausting weddings can be for single people is welcome in this, my year of seven and counting wedding invitations. And perhaps most importantly, this movie’s going to be hilarious.
UPDATE: It was hilarious!