The Vagina Museum, London, England; October 18, 2019
My friend Florence has opened the world’s first-ever museum dedicated to vaginas, vulvas, and the people who have them! First exhibition opens November 16th.
The Vagina Museum, London, England; October 18, 2019
My friend Florence has opened the world’s first-ever museum dedicated to vaginas, vulvas, and the people who have them! First exhibition opens November 16th.
Happy International Women’s Day! Here’s to the heroes, leaders, inspirations, and trailblazers. Here’s to all the women who navigate the complexities of an intersectional life. Here’s to the trans* women living proudly and refusing to prove their gender to anyone. Here’s to the women breaking glass ceilings and sports records and stereotypes and boundaries. Here’s to the women having it all, and acting as role models for their children. Here’s to the women making scientific breakthroughs, creating brilliant works of art, writing groundbreaking laws. Here’s to the women running the shops, working the factory floor, farming the fields, cooking the food, cleaning the offices, answering the phones. Here’s to the women working tirelessly every day in hospitals, schools, care homes, youth centers, job centers, hospices, and nurseries to improve the lives of others. Here’s to the women who consciously bring love and joy to everything they do.
And perhaps most importantly and most rarely commented on in these types of things — here’s to all of us when we’re not being heroes, when we’ve had a shit day and eat ice cream for dinner, when we lose our temper with our significant other or make a mistake at work that can’t be fixed, when we stay in our comfort zone and don’t try the hard thing, when we cry and rage and refuse to work the second shift. Here’s to us remembering that we don’t have to be super strong or super caring or super giving or super smart to deserve the admiration of others.
Here’s to us being fully human, and to the feminist and womanist movements that work to create a world that sees us as such, respects us as such, and structurally supports us as such. Here’s to us knowing that we are worthwhile just by being, and to creating a world that honors that.
Today, I took in:
2 episodes of Castle
William Faulkner’s “That Will Be Fine” in 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories
“I Started the Media Men List” by Moira Donegan
a return to studying Spanish on Duolingo
Have you been catcalled walking down the street? Called “sweetheart” at work? Had to plaster a smile on your face while clients hit on you because “you’re in a customer-facing role”? Forced yourself to laugh along with the taxi driver because it’s dark out and he knows your address? Walked the last few blocks home with your keys out, grateful your mom taught you this but wishing she’d never had to?
Have you said “I have nothing to wear” not because ladies are ditzes who buy too many clothes, but because you’ve still not found that magical outfit that will protect you from the leers and comments and gropings of strange and familiar men in the workplace, the subway, the bar? Have you worn what you wanted to anyway, and tried to not think “you knew what you were getting when you put this on” when the leers and comments and gropings appeared?
Have you tried to turn the times you’ve been sexually harassed into comic stories – you have to laugh or you’ll cry? Have you kept the incidents that are too serious to be turned into a funny story to yourself?
Did you at one time believe them when they said you were too fat or too ugly or too something for anyone to want to assault you? Did you feel somehow doubly betrayed when they assaulted you anyway?
When you were assaulted, did you immediately remind yourself that others have it much worse, and that comparably what you experienced is not so bad? Did you not tell anyone for some time? Did you find it hard to name it to yourself?
Have you noticed that I haven’t even used the word “men” once yet? Did you not notice because there’s no need to name the thing that is always there, the menacing presence that hovers on the periphery of your daily movements, and all too often forces itself into the center of your life?
Are you deeply distressed that “a menacing presence” is a valid way of thinking about men, since statistically speaking they are the ones who harass, beat, rape, abuse, murder? Do you wish there were some failproof way to know if any man you meet is going to be one of those ones? Do you have many wonderful men in your life? Do you wish you had more?
Are you wondering why more of the men in your life aren’t speaking up today? Wondering why you don’t see them taking concrete steps to intervene when they see sexual harassment, to call their friends out when they say something sexist, to take a friend aside and ask if they realize that what they’re doing is hugely harmful? Wondering why men aren’t proactively suggesting rigorous (not checkboxes-style) sexual harassment training at work? Why they’d still rather make a joke than a real change in their behavior?
Are you reading this and feeling unseen and unknown, because you are a man or non-binary person who has experienced sexual harassment and assault? Or because a woman is the one who assaulted you? Or because your experience includes additional layers of abuse involving race, religion, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, class?
I see you. I believe you.
Are you angry that even though we’ve said it over and over again, we’re being asked to say it again? Are you furious that it is on the survivors and victims to say something, that the harassers and abusers and rapists can continue on with their day unaffected – which is always true for them anyway? Are you livid that the norm is for their lives to be wholly unaffected by what they have done to you, while you’ll carry it with you for forever?
Are you heartbroken by the sheer number of people who are posting today – and from such a wide swathe of your life? Have you seen your former teachers post, the priest of your childhood church, parents of your friends, community elders, not to mention what seems like every single one of your peers? Are you holding them all in your heart, including those who don’t use social media or chose not to post but definitely have experienced sexual harassment and assault?
Are you holding a bit of hope that maybe this time, more HR departments will fire the harasser instead of retaliating against the whistleblower, more colleges will expel the rapist instead of punishing the victim, more people will say “we’re on her side” instead of “I see both sides and I’m sure he’s sorry,” more men will do the hard work of holding each other accountable instead of looking away and feeling guilty? That maybe more people who have felt alone now feel less so?
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
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.
#1: Author Joanna Russ died on April 29th. She wrote science fiction and literary criticism, and I have The Female Man waiting in my Goodreads queue. Another one of her books had the best book cover:
#2: Zadie Smith has shared the shortest, most to to the point, list of ten rules for writers at the Guardian:
1 When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
2 When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
3 Don’t romanticise your “vocation”. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle”. All that matters is what you leave on the page.
So far I have #1 down! Excellent. (Read the rest here.)
#3: The Rejectionist has a delightful (as usual) post on using female characters’ deaths as plot devices:
Racking up the (hot, slutty, dismembered) Lady Character body count to prove just how Depraved your serial killer is: NOT APPROPRIATE
The Lady Character randomly kills herself/is murdered solely to add Dramatic Interest to a Conflict between two Gentlemen Characters (aka the “Christopher Nolan”): NOT APPROPRIATE
I love that she named that last one. (Read the rest here.)
“The people making the rules are not the people in the kitchen.” So says my friend Leah as she explains the intricacies of kosher to a group of us as she prepared the Seder dinner for Passover on Monday. No mixing of meat and dairy, of course, but also why only matzo should be used and not regular flour, what fermentation is allowed and what is not, and so on. Some of it conflicts, or doesn’t apply to modern day life, and when we point this out, that’s when Leah points her chopping knife at us and says, “exactly.” Later, after we’ve finished the Haggadah and dug into our meal, someone asks about the rules on the Sabbath. Leah’s friend says that not only are you not allowed to turn lights on and off or make any money transaction, you can’t carry anything on the Sabbath. So, she points out, if you have a baby, you can’t carry your baby for a whole day. To get around this rule, you must be in an eruv, or ritual enclosure established by rabbis, in order to carry things on the Sabbath; this provides a literal loophole from the rule, allowing you to do basic things like care for your child. Again, Leah says, “the people making the rules are not the people in the kitchen.”
Those people making these difficult, impractical rules are, of course, men. Despite the fact that more women than men are religious worldwide, far more men than women are in positions of power and authority within any given religion (okay, except maybe for Wicca). Despite the egalitarian messages promulgated by the major world religions, every single one of them has something to say about the inferiority of women. Every single one of them has fought, or continues to fight, women’s desire for full inclusion. Roger Ebert, on his endlessly interesting blog, wrote a piece about this last December, and I encourage you to read the whole thing. He points out a couple different ways in which Catholicism in particular keeps women subordinate, and links to some videos with different takes on the issue in Buddhism, Catholicism, and Judaism.
Ebert’s main question is why do men have the upper hand in all religions, and his answer is bluntly, because they can. I think patriarchy’s roots are a little deeper and more complex than simply “men can physically overpower women so their word is always final,” but on some basic level, he’s right. Men have had power in just about every group of humans the world over for thousands of years, and frankly, once you get used to power, you’ll do a lot to cling to it rather than share it more fairly.
As you may recall, I’m not a particularly religious person anymore, but boy howdy was I when I was younger. I liked that there are rules, and that you have to follow them or suffer consequences—my middle school bullies suffered many agonies in my mind for their un-Christian behavior. I liked that there was a plan, that someone was in charge and knew what was going on, because I had no idea why the world functioned as it did and that freaked me out. And perhaps I had an easier time of reconciling my religious beliefs with my growing, changing mind because I went to a fairly liberal Episcopalian church. The main priest during my formative years was a woman, and I didn’t question whether that was the norm until an evangelical classmate told me my congregation was going to hell because it was led by a woman.
That stroppy boy got me thinking and questioning more deeply about the similarities and differences between his branch of Christianity and mine, and whether there were too many upsetting similarities for my comfort level. By the time I finished college, I was no longer a practicing Christian. Now I’m a Creester, showing up to Christmas Eve and Easter services only, tuning in for the beautiful music, the comforting liturgy, and the familiar community of people who raised me.
There’s the part that means so much to so many, and explains in large part why women remain committed to their religions despite the regular reminder that they are less than; it’s the community. My parents have found a community of kind, irreverent people at their church, and they wouldn’t leave them for the world. They are bound by a common belief system, but even within that there are varied thoughts on any topic you can name, from when to kneel and cross yourself to the divinity of Jesus himself. For them, it’s not how precisely they agree on every topic, but rather the willingness to return week after week, year after year, to ponder spiritual questions and share their lives with one another. They’re a beautiful group of people and one I’m proud to know and be an ancillary part of.
Still, it is ironic (yes, truly ironic) that the major religions, which have done so much to keep women down in every possible way, are full of women who defend those religions, attend their services regularly, and make them central to their lives. In that sense, religion is not the opiate of the masses that Marx so famously referenced, but rather the biggest power play ever made, and the greatest trick men ever played on women. If I think too much about the particulars, I get real furious real fast.
Which is why so many women take religion into their own hands. They return to the original texts, they seek out alternative histories and commentaries, they share what they’ve learned with one another. They ordain themselves. They convince the governing body of the religion to change its mind and ordain them. They nurture the communities they hold so dear and seek relentlessly to find an honest place in their lives for the religion that means so much to them.
While I find it difficult to reconcile the very real oppression of women by the major religions of the world with my desire for a spiritual life in a larger community, I understand the desire to do so, and I understand the women who continue to go to services and profess belief in a faith that excludes them on a basic level. This week is Passover and Easter, and as we go through Holy Week (as it’s known in the church), I’ll be thinking of the women who grapple with these issues in their religious lives. I’ll be thinking of Mary Magdalene, the first person to see Jesus after he rose from the dead. I’ll be thinking of Miriam, the prophet some fill a glass of water for during Passover for her essential role in the liberation of the Jews. I’ll be thinking of the women who are in the kitchen and making their own rules.
Photo from http://www.lib-art.com/tag/catches.html
Welcome back to another round of The Headly Surprise! Today’s honoree is Vera Farmiga as Alex in Up in the Air. This 2009 film follows middle-aged Ryan (George Clooney) as he crisscrosses the country firing people for companies too chicken to do the firing themselves. It’s a bleak premise, and the movie carries that feeling throughout, not least because Ryan is, by nature and by habit, kind of a dick. He gives lectures on how to stay emotionally disconnected from others, and he has a trunkful of reasons why his job is helping people rather than devastating them. Of course, Ryan is played by the puppy-dog eyes and aww-whatever-I-did-I-promise-not-to-do-it-again-baby half-smile of George Clooney, so we can’t totally hate him.
Our wayward hero meets Alex in a VIP airline lounge, and they bond over car rental discounts and credit card miles before having a passionate night in Ryan’s hotel room. They sync their calendars to meet up again in various cities around the country, as both their jobs keep them almost perpetually on the move. All goes well until Ryan’s young colleague Natalie lectures him on using Alex instead of committing to her. [**SPOILER ALERT**] Ryan feels inspired to ditch his emotionally stunted viewpoint, and he surprises Alex at her Chicago home in one of those grand romantic gestures that the movies have primed us to receive for decades. But uh oh! Alex is furious that he’s shown up, since she’s married with two kids, and he could ruin her home life with any displays of affection. Ryan returns to Omaha and his previous life a bit sadder and, of course, a bit wiser.
Alex’s Headly Surprise status rests in the way the movie handles this big reveal. There’s no commentary on how her cheating is immoral, or how it makes her a bad mother. In fact, the movie does a neat job of setting Alex up to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl character, there to help Ryan find himself without having her own personality, needs, or desires; it then inverts those expectations by showing that this part of her life, which is so central to Ryan and the movie, is merely in her periphery. Her real life is with her family, and Ryan, fond as she is of him, is just an escape.
And she made no bones about that. Sure, she never told Ryan she was married, but from their first encounter, she sets up their boundaries so they’re both on the same page; she wants a no-strings-attached, uncomplicated, passionate affair. This is what Ryan wants too, and it’s why they work so well together, at least until he starts to fall in love with her. Then Natalie gives him that push over the edge into acknowledging his feelings and suddenly he doesn’t just want a passionate affair anymore.
About Natalie’s speech: she’s not wrong to tell a grown man to stop leading a woman on and tell her how he really feels and take steps toward building a life with her. She just happens to be wrong in this instance because she doesn’t know what Ryan does, namely, that Alex explicitly said what she did and did not want. Alex even expresses this at the end of the movie, saying how surprised she is at Ryan’s hurt, since she never said she wanted more than what they had and she’d thought they were on the same page with that.
This is a wonderful example of listening to what a woman says instead of listening to what you think she means, or what you want to hear. We are far too ready in these United States to dismiss a woman’s words as game playing or indecisiveness, rather than her actual thoughts and feelings. This has very real and dangerous consequences, of course–see all the men who stalk women who have told them they aren’t interested, or the men who rape women who say no, or the legislators who tell women that they don’t really want an abortion no matter what they say. There are other, less physically harmful, consequences to this line of thinking, too, like assuming a woman must be coyly angling for a commitment when she says she needs no such thing. This robs women of their agency and reinforces the idea that they’re untrustworthy, scheming beings instead of autonomous individuals fully capable of making their own decisions and expressing their own desires. If our needs and wants aren’t heard when we plainly state them, it’s no wonder some women start speaking in the code that’s expected of us, just to eventually get the desired result one way or another.
Anyway, Ryan is clearly upset by what he sees as Alex’s betrayal, but he doesn’t argue with her that she was anything but upfront about their relationship. The film honors her character as a three-dimensional person who makes the possibly ill-advised decision to cheat on her husband without punishing her explicitly. It hurts her to lose Ryan, but we get the sense that her life will carry on without him pretty well, and she’ll maybe think of him wistfully in a hotel here and there. That kind of complex characterization is rarely afforded to women who cheat in film; they’re usually shown as sluts or too simpleminded to make up their minds about which man to love more. Alex knows which man she loves and builds a life with, but she’s not above finding some good times on the side as she travels for one-third of the year. She’s not perfect, but she’s not a devil, and for that, she earns The Headly Surprise.