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I Don’t Want to Hear About Your Domestic Violence. Oh, Wait, Are You Famous?

by Jen Giacalone

Zimmerman-wink-300I promised myself I wasn’t going to talk about George Zimmerman.  The sight of the guy’s face generally makes me near-apoplectic, and that’s on a good day.  How you shoot an unarmed kid in the chest and walk away with nothing, not even a month’s community service picking up trash by the freeway, is beyond me.  But this other problem has been burning in my brain since we shared the story of his most recent brush with the law.

To recap briefly, his current girlfriend called 911 during a dispute with him, in which she says he smashed her coffee table and then pointed a gun at her.  A shotgun.  Nothing says I love you like a twelve-gauge to the chest, I suppose.  This scene quickly escalated into dueling 911 calls, in which he appears to sound calm and reasonable, explaining that he didn’t really point anything at her, and that she actually broke the coffee table, not him.  The world is full of miserable relationships between crazy people of various genders.  Of course none of us were there, so we don’t really know, but if this were a dispute between any couple in the world that didn’t have the baggage of George Zimmerman, we’d probably be more hesitant to hazard a guess.

But it wasn’t any other couple.  It was George Zimmerman and his girlfriend.  It was the guy who was, only a few months ago, picked up for allegedly pointing a loaded gun at his wife and father-in-law.  He claims the father-in-law attacked him, and again, we’ll never know.  In any other situation, with any other people, with the limited information that we get as “the public”, it would probably have been hard to tell.

But here’s the thing:  we don’t hear about many of the other situations.  We hear about George Zimmerman’s domestic abuse raps because he’s a famous killer.  That’s what the press finds interesting about him.  He killed an unarmed kid in what surely looked to my untrained eye like a racially motivated attack.   He’s either lionized or demonized for that act depending on who you talk to.  That’s what makes him so fascinating to the people who decide what’s news.

He had a very high profile trial, he walked free when a lot of people felt he should have done time for what he did, and now the media is obsessed with his every move and using every idiotic scrape he has with the justice system to continue to stoke the outrage around him and fuel the speculation over whether his trial was botched or not.

But as we prepare to relive that outrage one more time, it’s also worth remembering that the only reason his domestic violence stories are worth the press’s time is because of who he is.  Because he’s George Zimmerman.  And when we hear about his speeding tickets, or how he gets caught with weed in his glove box, or waves a gun around inappropriately, or whatever insane, stupid, bench-ticket-worthy offense he may commit, that coverage is sucking time and attention away from domestic abuse situations that DON’T involve George Zimmerman.  The literally thousands of domestic violence situations every single day that don’t involve George Zimmerman.

Of course I’m outraged that this guy is still allowed to walk around, still allowed to own a gun, still allowed to enjoy the life and liberty that he stole from Trayvon Martin.  Of course.

But I’m also just as outraged that someone like him, of all people, is what it takes to get domestic violence talked about in the mainstream media.  You have to be famous, or infamous, for people to care.  And even then:  Saatchi choking Nigella Lawson in a restaurant earned him a “warning” from the London police (“Stop!  Or I’ll say stop again!”), and the long list of scary ways Charlie Sheen has terrorized women seems to get a shrug from, well, everyone.  A lot of people conveniently forget Mel Gibson’s history with terrorizing and verbally abusing his girlfriend, or else chalk it up to him being a “a little nuts”.  Chris Brown still has a career.  It’s another day in America.  We don’t have an organization at the national level advocating for this cause, the way that, say, breast cancer does.  So not enough people with serious clout are working the media on it.  Nobody’s feeding them the real stories, or explaining to them how to handle it.

Zimmerman’s a celebrity of sorts, his antics are click-bait, and I get that if you are a media outlet, you have to get eyeballs to pay the bills and keep the lights on.  I’m not saying the press should never report on the abusive behavior of famous people; that would amount to enabling.  But it’s deeply problematic when that’s the only time you hear about it.  Domestic violence then becomes this salacious thing that happens to celebrities.  So, if I could say one thing to the wizened grey heads at say, CNN, it would be this:  if you care about domestic violence as an issue, how about covering it like journalists?  There are plenty of tabloids to chase dirt.  Why not devote some space and time to the other hundreds of thousands of people who are suffering with this anonymously every day?

It’s just a thought.


Marriage Equality is Not the Only Kind of LGBT Equality


We appear to have reached a tipping point in the push toward marriage equality in America.  The movement is sweeping (or at least, ambling quickly) across the nation.  Tuesday night, Illinois became the 15th state to decide that all marriages between two loving people were valid in the eyes of the law.  Congratulations, Illinois!  It’s a great day, to be sure; it loosens the stranglehold of entrenched gender roles; it acknowledges LGBT Americans as full human beings deserving of dignity; it chips away a little bit of religion’s outsize influence in our society; and most of all, it confers all of the privileges and status of marriage equally among all couples.  Those are all great things.  But as with many movements (cough cough, feminism, I’m looking at you) it’s a boon mostly benefiting the privileged in the community, so in honor of this moment, I’d like to point out a few LGBT civil rights issues that we need to keep our eye on.

Workplace Equality
Many people in America don’t realize that most states still allow an employer to discriminate against LGBT employees and applicants based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.  In fact, only 17 states have laws on the books that include LGBT individuals as a protected group.  So, appropriately (surprisingly?) our Congress has decided to take a break from lighting things on fire and throwing their toys from the pram and has actually decided to make a law to deal with this, called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA.   It’s likely to pass the Senate with ease, as all 55 Democrats and several Republicans are expected to vote for it.

But let’s not get out our platform heels and disco balls just yet: it’s likely to be stalled in the House, which is still run by the Tea Party, who are totally about taxes and not at all a bunch of religious fundamentalists (ahem).  So, if we want LGBT equality, we’d better get on the task of hounding our representatives about it.  It’s far from a slam dunk, but with lots of pressure and arm-twisting, we did eventually get this same angry mob to pass a Violence Against Women Act that included LGBT people too.  ENDA is a big issue because, maybe even more so than marriage equality, it crosscuts most segments of the LGBT community.  Not everyone wants to get married.  But pretty much everyone needs a job.

Equality of Economic Opportunity
Americans generally harbor the stereotype of the affluent gay professional (think Will from “Will & Grace”), and while there are plenty in the community who fit that description, there as many or even more gays living on the fringes, in poverty.  After all, if your employment is an open question simply by virtue of who you are, it’s not hard to see why it might be tough for some to make ends meet if they don’t live in a gay-friendly place or work in a gay-friendly industry.  And generally speaking, it’s the kids who have it the worst.   While the general youth population is about 10% LGBT, the homeless youth population is about 20% LGBT.  This is due to a high rate of family conflict among gay and transgendered youth, whose parents either abuse them until they run away, or throw them out of their homes and disown them.  Even more heartbreaking is that many of these kids are at much higher risk for sexual victimization and violence once homeless, and twice as high a risk of suicide.  Who wouldn’t be, after the way some of these parents react?

Despite the fact that the most recent version of VAWA was expanded to include gay and transgendered individuals, there is still a lot of work to do to bring the homeless shelter system up to speed on the need to shelter LGBT individuals.  The trans community has a particularly tough row to hoe, as many individuals who do not identify as male are still forced into homeless shelters for men, where they are targets for abuse and violence.

Equal Concern for Public Health Issues
African Americans as a group are at higher risk for HIV infection than the general population, but it is a particularly big problem among gay black men, who are marginalized both by racism in the gay community, and homophobia in the black community (and not just the church community).  The rate of new infections among gay black men is double that of their white counterparts.  These factors contribute to increased risky behavior, less willingness to admit to risky behavior, and the tendency to stay insular within the gay black dating pool.  I’m not a gay black man (obviously), but I have seen what kind of treatment some gay men of color often put up with from their communities attempting to police their masculinity.  It’s the dictionary definition of “patriarchy hurts men too.”

While the march of marriage equality may help move the needle on attitudes toward gays in the black community (which will help remove some of the shame and stigma attached to being gay) we need more than that, sooner than that. We need a public health campaign for this, pursued with the same vigor as anti-smoking campaigns, or anti-drunk-driving campaigns.

Transgender/Intersexed Visibility and Acceptance
I am a cisgendered woman.  That means, I mostly identify with the set of reproductive bits I happen to have been born with.  I don’t have any idea what it must be like for the roughly 700,000 Americans who are not comfortable in the body they got dealt.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the cisgendered privilege I enjoy.  There’s a lot of work to do on this.

Germany has recently introduced an “other” box for the gender option on birth certificates in case the child is born intersexed or the parents simply wish to allow the child to define his/her gender when he/she gets older.  Can you imagine such an option becoming common here?  I would pay to watch Pat Robertson’s head explode.  I’m not saying that particular initiative is what’s most important for the transgender community; it’s just an example of what can be done if you start thinking about shaping public policy around the principle of inclusion.  And, if we’re to achieve that, we need to start listening to trans voices.  That means, oh radical feminists, accepting trans women as women.  And it means, my cisgendered friends, remembering that trans people are people and worthy of the same respect and freedom from discrimination and prejudice as anyone.

So, let’s toast to marriage equality!  I’m thrilled that many of my dear friends who couldn’t marry before will be able to do so now.  My lovely old voice teacher and his partner of 60 years can finally tie the knot.  The recognition of marriage equality surely will have a role in righting the many inequities faced by LGBT Americans, and will play its part in the relaxing of strictly assigned gender roles, which will benefit all of us.  There’s nothing to dislike here.  But let’s not forget, equality doesn’t begin or end there.  There is still so much left to be done.


How to Talk to Your Daughters About the Beauty Myth


By Siobhan Carroll, WRUN Contributor
Braevehearts Blog

I find the universe’s machinations to quite canny sometimes. My almost six year old daughter is deeply observant, the kind of child who notices when you change the hand towels in the bathroom (this doesn’t extend to remembering to brush her teeth without prompting for some reason). Lately she has tuned her antennae to me when I am putting on makeup, something that happens maybe twice a week. I don’t know if it is a result of her growing awareness of boys and girls being different, or just that it looks kind of funny when your mom is putting paint on her face, but I am acutely aware of it.

For the record, my daughter is gorgeous, with a canvas of creamy skin dotted with freckles and perfectly mottled pink cheeks. She has eyes the color of an autumn sky framed by dark lashes and perfect dimples that you could scoop guacamole from. How do you explain the concept of makeup to a tiny person whose appearance A) isn’t something she should be thinking about because she’s a kid and B) is a non-starter because said appearance is perfect anyway?

She likes to sit next to me while I put makeup on, messing with the brushes, looking in the mirrors, playing with the different tubes and packaging. She asks what each item is for, watches me use it, sometimes pretends to do it herself. She’s asked me why I wear I makeup, and I’ve said something along the lines of “because it makes my skin look pretty like yours” or “it just helps cover these dark circles under my eyes from not getting enough sleep”. I feel like those are half-assed explanations though, but it is a loaded question. The full truth is complicated.

I wear makeup to cover up the story my face currently tells- that I am tired from having three children, one a newborn. That I rarely wash my face at night. That I haven’t had a facial in over a year. That I don’t take care of myself like I used to.

I wear makeup to feel like I’m trying. To put my best foot forward when I’m meeting new people or want to make a good impression.

I wear makeup to feel attractive, to feel young. I’m only 36 for Pete’s sake!

I wear it to my regular mom’s night out because it is a way to feel indulgent about time that I so rarely have these days.

I wear makeup because society says I should.

That last one hurts, which means it is the real truth. Makeup is one of those things that addresses a problem we didn’t know we had. Yes, Cleopatra wore kohl but if it weren’t for the modern cosmetics and beauty industry would we be standing in front of mirrors lamenting the paucity of our eyelashes and seriously considering Brooke Shields’ sales pitch?

Back to the universe- this has been making the rounds on the internet in the last week:

The model transforms within a minute from a very pretty, normal woman into what can only be described as a Barbie doll. The most disturbing thing about the video is not the use of makeup and hair extensions- things that given the time and means we could all do- but the digital manipulation of the woman’s body that renders the original model unrecognizable. I actually flinched when the retouching lengthens the model’s legs, as though it was being done to her physically.

Then there are these illustrations by artist David Trimble, an attempt at making Disney princess-like characters out of actual female role models like Rosa Parks and Malala Yousafazai. It was done, in the artist’s words, “to demonstrate how ridiculous it is to paint an entire gender of heroes with one superficial brush”. Many people didn’t take it too kindly- reducing Anne Frank to a cartoon is a provocative move- but I find it rather brilliant. To say that to be a hero you must be a wasp-waisted, big-haired cookie-cutter figurine with an omnipresent smile plastered to your face is absurd, and Trimble skewers that absurdity to perfection while displaying an extraordinary swath of heroines of all shapes, sizes, colors and ages.

My husband and I were flipping through OnDemand movies last night, looking for something to watch and the thumbnail for the Little Mermaid flew by. I made some sort of growling noise and said I didn’t like that movie, and since my husband may or may not have witnessed a few impromptu family renditions of “Part of Your World” featuring my sister on lead vocals with a wooden spoon for a microphone, he looked perplexed. “Well, I DID like it, until I realized that she gives up her voice- her actual, literal voice!- to be with some dude she spied for 15 seconds over the bow of a ship passing in the night”. Bogus message, supremely catchy songs though (Le Poisson is my personal favorite. Hee hee hee haw haw haw!).

We are bombarded constantly with messages about our physicality as women and precious few about our brains (or voices, for that matter). Heck, this is true of men too- less David Beckham maybe, more Neil DeGrasse Tyson. We are visual creatures, we respond to things we find visually pleasing and there is nothing wrong with that, but creating unattainable ideals is a problem. There is no difference between Photoshopping that model and caricaturizing important females in history. Both started with real women and both attempted to make them fit some kind of pre-determined ideal, and both ended up ultimately dehumanizing them. One was just more upfront about it.

So here’s what I’m going to say to my daughter when the makeup thing happens again: nothing. I’m going to let her play like she does and ask questions.  I will answer them the best way that I can, and tell her that it is just part of how I like to feel at my best. And then we will play soccer again, or read books, or I’ll pretend to be Robot Mommy (My robot voice is awesome and for some reason they listen when Robot Mommy tells them to do stuff. All hail the robot overlords!) . She’ll learn that being the best her involves being healthy, being smart and expressing herself, and that all the mascara in the world can’t replicate the thrill of a goal, the joy of a great book, or laughing hysterically with your best friends.*  That’s where real life is lived, and true beauty resides. It is not in a magazine.

*And also, beware giant undersea octopus witches singing catchy tunes.