Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Who we are

Last night I was thinking about the message that this election sends to the world, and I was upset about the fact that we have elected a bully and a predator. Because I kept thinking to myself "this is not who we are." But this morning I realize - this is who we are. To some extent or another, America has always been a bully and a predator. Nothing has changed.

I'm sad that white men and evangelicals voted so strongly for Trump. I wanted people to care about sexual assault. I wanted people to be willing to defend me when someone grabs me by the pussy. I thought maybe I lived in a world where people would. But like many people, I've been living in a bubble. Evangelical Christians and white men don't care. They didn't care when I was six and they don't care now. And when it comes right down to it, they can swing an election and prevent their nightmare of a woman in office from coming true. Even if it means we have to have a bigoted sexual predator representing us as a nation.

So this is a sobering moment, but it's important to have a clear vision of who we are and where we are. And now back to the task of raising girls in a world like this...

Friday, October 14, 2016


I've heard from a number of people who are shocked - SHOCKED - that Jerry Falwell Jr. has said he will continue to support Trump even in the face of allegations of sexual assault. And Falwell's continued support is a number of thing, but it's not shocking. Falwell comes from a culture where it's very common to support men who are accused of abusing their power to engage in sexual relationships with adult women where there's a huge power imbalance, bringing the question of consent and coercion into play, and in cases where men have sexually abused children. This response is pretty standard in that culture.

There's a script. First the accusation comes out. Then the question of whether or not the victim is believable is raised, and discussed openly and repeatedly. Then the redemption narrative begins. He's a changed man. Our God is a powerful God and can bring about instant change in the heart of the man that has gone astray. And finally the victim is pressured to show a forgiving spirit and look for the sin in her own heart that caused the abuse. He hasn't quite gotten to the last piece of the script, but he hit the first part perfectly in stride.

It's not at all surprising.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The white male privilege of Bernie or Bust

Some disclaimers:
  1. I know that many Bernie or Bust-ers are neither white nor male. That being said, everyone in my social circle who's still Bernie or Bust is white and male. That's an admittedly small sample size of 8. But still. 
  2. I wholeheartedly agree that some of the shit that's gone down in the DNC is very fucked up. No argument there. Both the internal politicking and the Russian hacking... all very fucked up. But still.
After numerous conversations the past few days I'm thoroughly frustrated with the whole thing. First, let's be reasonable. You don't get to say #nevertrump and also #neverhillary. That's not how it works. In this case, #neverhillary just is Trump. And you can rail against the system (and I'll agree) and throw a giant tantrum (preferably not in my ear, but I've tolerated it before and can probably handle it again), but at the end of the day you still can't have it both ways. Depending on the state you live in, a #neverhillary vote amounts to a vote for Trump.

So maybe you're OK with that. Maybe you think we deserve a Trump presidency, or you want to kick-start the revolution, or you just want revenge on the DNC. The problem is, that's revenge on all of us. And it's disproportionate revenge on women, minorities, LGBTQI folks, and the working poor. A Trump presidency combined with a Republican Congress combined with a Trump supreme court justice spells the end of access to comprehensive reproductive care, for example. Maybe they can't make it illegal, but they can make it inaccessible, and that amounts to the same thing. A Trump presidency amounts to unequal pay (because, after all, women would get the same pay if they did as good of a job as men). A Trump presidency amounts to All Lives Matter. I could keep going here, but you get my point.

The privilege to not care where the chips fall is every bit as powerful as the economic and social privileges that come with being white and male. As a woman, I cannot afford to be Bernie or Bust. And as supporters of Bernie, all the B or B-ers should ask themselves "what would Bernie do?"

I think Bernie would stand with me.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

When words count

I'm guessing we all know by now that a speech writer on the Trump campaign staff issued an apology for plagiarizing Michelle Obama's speech. What's interesting is the wording she chose.

"I apologize for the confusion and hysteria my mistake has caused."

Confusion is just funny, because it doesn't seem to me that anyone was confused. It was glaringly obvious. But hysteria - that's an interesting word choice. There's a history behind that word - a history that even now makes it a convenient tool for dismissing the legitimate concerns and feelings that other people might have. It suggests that the problem is with the person on the receiving end of the wrongdoing rather than with the wrongdoer. It almost goes as far as suggesting that you're only responding the way you are because ... there's blood coming out of you.

Hysteria vs. Concern
I would suggest that there are two underlying reasons many people feel uncomfortable with Melania Trump's speech. The first is that plagiarism is something we should take seriously, always and everywhere. Respect for the intellectual property of others is a basic democratic value. The second concern is that maybe the plagiarized speech is indicative of a deeper issue - an approach to the world and to other people in it that's shared by the Trump camp. Blatant disregard for others in small things is usually an indicator of blatant disregard for others in big ways.

The Trump camp hopes to paint this as an oops. Many people are interpreting it as an expression of character. That's harder to fix.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Gag orders

Content note: sexual abuse, spiritual abuse.

I was at a casual gathering recently and found myself sitting around a fire pit with a group of friendly acquaintances. The mood was light and open, the conversation witty and engaging, and the night very pleasant. At one point one of the other people there turned the conversation to church and started advocating that the rest of us visit his church. I kept my mouth shut, waiting for the conversation to move on. It didn't. He finally asked me directly if I would be interested in attending his church, and I commented in an offhand way that church isn't really my thing and then tried to change the subject. It didn't work. I kept politely trying to dodge, and he kept pursuing the subject. I should have gotten up and left, but I didn't. Instead it got to the point where he directly asked what it is I don't like about church. I responded that I find evangelical churches to be emotionally manipulative in general, that I feel that at this point in my life I have a strong sense of what I think and feel about God, and that church has not been a positive experience for me. He pushed on this last point. Why wasn't it positive? What went wrong? I said I don't respond well to situations in which I feel that I'm being judged on criteria and values that I don't espouse for myself, and that appeals to emotion and fear turn me off. I also noted that the "support" one gets from a church community seems rather conditional, and I feel more comfortable forging my own support networks. He kept pushing on this last point and asking for examples, Finally I responded with several examples of how the church of my childhood as well as his own church in the town where I live now had not been supportive of individuals who were dealing with personal struggles, but shaming and manipulative. He wasn't going to let it drop, so I finally said "and then there's the fact that my own grandfather and uncle molested me, and everyone was more concerned with protecting the reputation of the church than with my well-being. That doesn't seem loving or supportive." This brought the conversation to a full stop, and made several individuals in the situation visibly uncomfortable. I had obviously crossed a line by mentioning my sexual abuse. But why? Why is this topic off limits?

My mom has cited a concern for my embarrassment or shame when defending the way the adults in the family handled the situation when it all came out in the open. Their actions that looked like they were defending the perpetrators were really intended to protect the victims. But again, why? What do I have to be ashamed about? I did nothing that should invoke shame. In my mind, the shame lies entirely on the shoulders of my uncle and grandpa.* And yet there's this taboo surrounding any discussion of sexual abuse. One ought not to talk about it. Even though it informs so much about who we are, for better or for worse. It's a formative experience. And it seems to me that by having this taboo - by requiring survivors of sexual abuse to keep a lid on it - we impose a second burden. You have to figure out how to grow and mature through the damage that was done, to develop healthy coping skills and learn how to let yourself be vulnerable and take social risks in healthy ways. And you also have to carry the weight of this secret. You must protect the delicate sensibilities of others by never speaking of it except with your closest friends. This seems somewhat akin to a second victimization. I didn't ask for the abuse, and I also didn't ask for the weight of this secret. This secret that explains so much about me. And yet it's mine.

The phrase "gag order" has always seemed unnecessarily violent to me. It's kind of jarring. But now I see how appropriate the violence it evokes really is. He who controls the discourse wields the power, right?

I choose to speak about it when speaking seems appropriate. Try to stop me.

*Unless, of course you're of the opinion that a woman is damaged goods, and polluted in some sense, once she has been sexual in any way - even if she did not consent or was too young to even understand what was happening. Then, of course, she does have cause for shame. The source of her personal value has been compromised.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Let's not forget who's talking here

Generally speaking I think there's not really much more to be said on the issue of gun violence in the U.S. But I think it is an interesting (and tragic) study in how commerce drives culture in our style of capitalism + democracy.

According to this article, "the NRA has given more than $36 million to the 56 Republican senators who blocked the gun control measures on Monday." Where does that funding come from? The gun industry, of course. When the economic interests of our industries are more powerful than our collective beliefs and values, it's time to reevaluate how we do shit. Of course this has been said a million times before, but there it is. As long as we're willing to allow the industry to shape and dominate the dialogue, we'll continue to get what we've always gotten. In the meantime, Republicans can't claim to be the "pro-life" party as long as they're the minions of the firearms industry. And as a nation, we can't claim to value the lives of the people who are killed in mass shootings until we're willing to do something about it.

I'm sure this is what the founding fathers intended - aren't you?

Friday, June 10, 2016

The perils of changing your brand midstream

Now that primary season is effectively over, people are visibly shifting into general election mode. Most prominent Republicans have fallen in line and endorsed Trump, at least to some extent. And now there's some concern about broader appeal and independent voters and all that, and now it behooves the campaign to soften up on the racism and misogyny. Which is of course the strategic thing to do.

Unfortunately it's not a terribly realistic thing to do, from a marketing perspective. It helps to make a distinction here between a brand and a set of talking points. Your talking points can change from day to day. They reflect your current priorities - the things that you take to be important in the short term. In contrast, your brand is who you are - or at least the public perception of who you are.*

Given the timeline of a political campaign, the brand that brought you into the arena is crucial, because there really isn't sufficient time to change your brand in significant ways in a general election. This could be seen as a flaw in the primary system - the things that bring success in the primaries may not be the same things that bring success in the general election.

Either way, the pertinent question at this point is how will Trump go about changing his brand? It's clear that other Republicans want him to, as they recoil from his attacks on Gonzalo Curiel. But the racist and misogynist stances that Trump has always taken are not talking points for him. They're central to his brand. And this is not something you can change overnight. It's also not clear that he wants to change his brand. And in fact, changing brands midstream can be a very tricky and potentially disastrous thing. Can you work to place more emphasis on different aspects of your brand? Sure. But changing it wholesale on this kind of timeline is highly unlikely.

So the only question is, how many voters outside of Trump's base can be persuaded to swallow the unsavory aspects of his brand in order to attain the benefits they think they'll get from his presidency? It will be interesting to find out...

*The distinction between who you are and how your brand is perceived is an endlessly interesting and important one, particularly in the context of conversations on business ethics and marketing strategies.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Not the kind of change I can believe in

Content note: sexual assault

Remember a couple of years ago when the news stories came out about sexual assault at conservative Christian colleges and how extremely bad their response to sexual assault tends to be? And then shortly after that there were news reports about how the Duggar's had responded to their molestation (non)crisis, and screenshots of pages from counseling textbooks used in conservative churches made the rounds and there was all kinds of shock and pearl clutching and hand wringing for about 10 minutes until the next news cycle hit?

Well, now it's the same song, second verse, but with the Mormons. I understand that if you didn't grow up in a conservative religious environment this stuff may continue to be shocking, but in fact it shouldn't be. And asking institutions like Bob Jones University and BYU to change their approach to sexual assault and sexual assault victims is asking them not to be who they are. It rests on a lack of understanding of the most fundamental views of these groups concerning women's bodies and sexuality. This is not a surface-level, cosmetic fix. It's deep in the roots.

Used chewing gum, stuck to the bottom of a shoe
Your vagina, on sex
Think about how rape victims were treated in the Bible. Now think about the analogies that are most often used for women's bodies in purity culture. Women who have had sex are like pieces of used chewing gum. It's completely meaningless to ask chewing gum whether it consents to being chewed or not. Even if it could consent, whether it had consented to be chewed or not would not make even the tiniest bit of difference concerning the outcome. Chewed gum is no longer useful and can only be spit out in the trash.

Trash can with duct tape on it
Used tape. Don't stick it on your dick.
Similarly, tape cannot consent to being stuck to anything, much less a trash can. Even if it could consent, whether it had consented to be stuck to something or not would not make even the tiniest bit of difference concerning the outcome. Used tape is no longer useful so it can only be thrown out.

And so it is with women who have been used. In this culture it's just an odd thing to consider whether they had consented to being used or not. The simple fact that their bodies are no longer "pure" is taken as a sign of some sin, or a violation of the school code, or whatever. And the reality is, sin or no, their gum has been chewed. Their tape has lost it's stickiness. You don't want to stick your dick in that. (I maybe don't completely get how these analogies are supposed to work.)

What's surprising to me about these stories is that people who are from these churches go to these universities and are then shocked by the response when they get assaulted. The church is supposed to be a safe space - it's supposed to be about love and all that, so I get why you might expect a compassionate response. But these core beliefs make it so that, in my experience and in the experience of those individuals featured in these stories, these environments will never be a safe space for women.

So maybe what's more distressing about these stories is not just that the women who were assaulted found that is wasn't a safe space. It's that at the end of the day, it's not a safe space for any of the women there. Living your day-to-day life immersed in an environment that views you as being similar to a piece of chewing gum or used tape just isn't good for you, and kills you with a million tiny cuts that you barely perceive. Maybe you're better off to experience the big dramatic cut right away, so you become aware that you need to get out. Or you get expelled. Either way, at least you have a shot at recovery now.

Monday, May 16, 2016

What you know vs. who you are

I've heard this thing three times in the last two days now, and it's finally irritated me enough that I have to post about it. When asked about Donald Trump's record on "women's issues," conservative female politicians and pundits suggest that he can make up for his "weakness" in that area by surrounding himself with strong women in his administration. As if this is something like being weak on foreign policy.

Let's make a distinction here. Being weak on foreign policy is a matter of knowledge and experience. It's about your history and your background. You can learn that shit and rely on some good advisers. Every candidate is going to be weak in some area. But being a misogynist is an orientation. It's a stance and a fundamental way you approach the world. It's who you are.

Of course you can change your attitudes and your stance, but you have to want to do it, you have to work to educate yourself, and it takes time. Note Caitlyn Jenner's attitudes toward women's and transgender issues. That shit doesn't happen overnight, and surrounding yourself with smart and strong women doesn't make you smart about women's issues by some mysterious process of osmosis.

So for now, let the record be clear. Trump is an unapologetic misogynist, and that's not changing any time soon. It's about who he is, not what he knows.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Death and Taxes

Or maybe just taxes.

I just got my tax return (yay!) and in honor of the event, here's a graphic showing where our taxes from 2015 went:

You can read more here.