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What to Get My Daughter for Christmas

by Siobhan Carroll, braevehearts blog

And just like that, Christmas is upon us! It’s a bit of a doozie in our house because my oldest daughter’s
birthday falls near thanksgiving, so there are double the presents, double the fun!

Or, double the pink headache.

My daughter has never been a girly girl. She wouldn’t wear dresses between the ages of 2 and 5. She has never cared for dolls or dress-up. She likes art projects, action-based toys, and activity workbooks. Her younger sister loves Spiderman and pirates. So what to get the girl in your life who doesn’t care for princesses in a world of pink and purple sparkle vomit? Here are some suggestions:

For Your Little Engineer:
GoldiBlox has been quite the headliner recently, but allow me to be a hipster for a moment and point out that I knew about it before it was cool. We were Kickstarter donors back when Goldie was a twinkle in Debbie Sterling’s eye. Debbie is a Stanford engineer who wanted to get the next generation of STEM girls started early, and developed this toy to get girls building, testing and creating machines. My girls really enjoy it, but know that for the 5 and under set a grown-up will have to assist. Get in on the ground floor now- SIX additional toys are planned for Christmas 2014 (think carnivals, tree houses, and lighting things up)! $29.99 at GoldieBlox.com

For Your Non-Dressy Dresser:
Trutrain dresse Story: Maeve, my oldest daughter, was about two and half and we were headed to my nieces’ First Communion, which warranted dresses for her and me as well as my other niece, and we were all driving to the church. Out of nowhere, an utterly appalled Maeve yells “Mommy! I don’t have pants on! And YOU don’t have pants on! And Johanna doesn’t have pants on! Daddy, do YOU have pants on?!”. Hilarious and indicative of her attitude toward dresses up until about six months ago.

If your girl likes to be a girl and also likes trucks, dinosaurs and Pi, check out Princess Awesome. Dresses for infants through toddler sizes in patterns with trucks, the periodic table of elements, pirates, dinosaurs
and more. Just check out this little cutie patootie and her train onesie dress. There are some I would like in grown-up sizes!. Princess Awesome is just getting started so not all sizes and patterns are available but please give their site a look and see what might be there for your little conductor or paleontologist! Prices from $18 to $50.

robot t shirtFor Your Girl Who Wants a Regular Old T-shirt:
Another great idea for the girl who isn’t into the pink. Check out these T-shirts and hoodies with cool imagery minus the froufrou embellishment at Girls Will Be. This Eep Op Woot shirt will be under the tree for my 3 year old this year! Prices from $24 to $30 at www.girlswillbehq.com

For The Kid Addicted to Your iPad:
ipad picI don’t feel so bad about it forking over the iPad for some quiet time thanks to Tiggly. This app created specifically for pre-schoolers means they get to play with everyone’s favorite toy while also refining motor skills and learning about shapes and colors. Tiggly comes with four magnetized shapes (circle, triangle, square and star) used in conjunction with three apps (Safari, Stamp, and Draw). Make animals on a farm, penguins with an igloo, or just draw and animate little creatures all your own. Here are my little peanuts playing (quietly!) with Tiggly! Warning: you may not get your iPad back. $29.95 at tiggly.com, also available at Apple stores.

For Your Little Astronaut:
rocketship dollhouseRocketship “Dollhouse”: I love this. Take your traditional dollhouse, combine it with a cool rocketship shape and this is what you get. At $95.00 on Amazon it will make a great joint gift for our girls and the solid construction means it will last until daughter #3 gets her little mitts on it. I might play with this after they go to sleep. Kidcraft Rocketship Playset at Amazon.

I’m very encouraged by the push for gender-neutral toys in the marketplace, and although they make up a small share it is a good sign of things to come. Manufacturers now make things like Tinker Toys and Legos in “girl” colors and styles and I am resisting the urge to purchase those because it is frankly, dumb. There are no girl or boy toys, just toys. And maybe if they just showed a girl playing with plain old Lincoln Logs that would just be enough.

In the meantime I hope you found these suggestions helpful and happy holiday to you all!


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Marriage Equality is Not the Only Kind of LGBT Equality

CONGRATULATIONS ILLINOISby Jen Giacalone

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.


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How to Talk to Your Daughters About the Beauty Myth

GABBY_SIDIBE

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.


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Parenting Is An Act of Feminism

by Siobhan Carroll, WRUN Contributor

braevehearts blog

I’m baaaaack! I know my faithful readers (both of you) are super-excited. I have a good excuse for being gone for a while- my third daughter, Nora, was born at the end of July. She’s awesome and I’m doing well, beginning to emerge from the baby fog. And I can’t say I like what I’m seeing around me.

Admin Jen explored this quite nicely in her “Feminism Isn’t Working” post last month. It is rough out there ladies and gents, and maybe it is because I now have a triumvirate of little girls to raise that I sense it more acutely at this moment. Maybe it is Malala Yousafzai, a girl who was shot simply for going to school, making the media rounds in the states; or the young woman so graphically photographed giving birth on the lawn of a clinic in Mexico that had denied her medical care just hours before; or the heinous and reprehensible questioning of the alleged victim in the Naval Academy rape case. Afghanistan, Mexico, my state capitol- all sites of lurid treatment of women, all examples of how we like to consider society so advanced and equal and yet we fall short on a daily basis. It is saddening, infuriating and maddening.

I can’t do a whole lot, about that I’m realistic and honest. I can write for this small but mighty blog and share my thought-out, researched and reasoned opinions with those I encounter and when it is appropriate. But to be a cliché, I need to be the change I want to see in the world. I have 3 daughters (3 DAUGHTERS!! How did that happen? Sorry, still a little stunned). I stopped working full-time almost a year ago for reasons personal, familial and medical. It has been a year of many transitions as I became a stay at home mom, my eldest began kindergarten, my husband started a new job with a lengthy commute, my middle one entered a new pre-school, and the baby made us a traveling circus of 5. I am more aware of how I am a model for my children and that my choices have an impact beyond our finances and the week’s dinner menu. My older girls are at the stage where they will actually remember what is going on- I don’t know if they will have a sense of before and after in terms of my working versus being home, but I know they will remember that I was there for field trips and co-oping and the first day of kindergarten, and that’s what is important to me now.

By being home I am a stronger presence, and that is both positive and negative. If you stopped by my home at 5pm you’d be pretty sure that a bomb when off, someone abandoned a crying infant in a carseat and two small children had declared nuclear war on each other while a banshee attempted to make dinner in the kitchen. It is loosely organized chaos at all times. I yell a lot (I am working on that). I get tired and stressed. I dream about 3 hour long massages and housekeepers. But I am happy in a way I haven’t been in a very long time. And I am present, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. We read books and talk about them. I help with homework. We talk about our days. My eldest daughter in particular shows an aptitude for engineering and science that I try to encourage with projects and discussions about how things work. My 3 year old is a natural-born actress and I try to turn her emotional breakdowns into interpretive dances.

I am there. That’s what I’m saying. I am there and I am here, and maybe instead of trying to change the world and improve the lives of women by making grand gestures I am doing it by tiny motions every day. By treating people with respect. By being kind when it is difficult. By raising smart, confident girls who will no doubt face adversity in their lives but who I also know will make extraordinary contributions to this world.

The news, the stories I cited, they focus on awful instances that yes, happened all around the world. But millions of girls go to school every day and excel. A select few will even go to the United States Naval Academy and serve their country with pride and dedication. And maybe one will run a clinic for women in a small town in Mexico, one that won’t turn away patients because they can’t pay. That doesn’t happen magically or overnight, it happens little by little every day because a mother cares, a father listens, a teacher educates and a coach encourages.

If you are angry and frustrated, I don’t blame you- I am too. But think about what you can do on even the smallest level to make things better. Sign a petition. Volunteer. Be a positive presence in a child’s life. Microfinance a woman’s business in a poor country. You can even donate to the Malala Fund if you’d like.

Bad things happen in such big, terrible ways. But good things, they happen every day in ways small and not so small, in ways that move us forward without us even knowing it. Be a good thing in your own small, terrific way. My little girls will appreciate it.


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Trickle-Down Hazing: The Sad, Sad Story of Misogyny in Tech

sexism in tech sticker

by  Jen Giacalone

Women enduring sexism in male-dominated fields is nothing particularly new.  There are horror stories from all kinds of fields – from banking to coal-mining to the art world and everything in between.  But the most egregious and juvenile misogyny these days seems to be coming from the tech world.

Witness the bro-tastic tweets of Business Insider’s CTO, Pax Dickinson, who I hear has recently been relieved of his job:

feminism in tech remains the champion topic for my block list. my finger is getting tired.”

Who has more dedication, ambition, and drive? Kobe only raped one girl, Lebron raped an entire city. +1 for Lebron.”

Elissa Shevinsky tells a nauseating little story about attending Techcrunch and watching a contest in which a couple of tech guys pitch a fake app called “Titstare.”  You can go read about it if you want; I won’t waste time describing it.

Women are making inroads in this field, a few are even making it to the top, and it really seems like a lot of these guys just can’t stand it.  I wondered; has the sexism always been there? Is it just backlash? Women are relatively late breaking in there as opposed to other fields, after all. Or is it maybe something else? 

I decided I needed a second opinion, so I called my friend Steve.  Steve and I went to high school together. He’s probably a lot like the stereotype that you think of when you think of the working-class Italian guy from Long Island who likes to fix cars.  Except Steve is a bright guy, who, while he would probably never, ever describe himself as a feminist, is really good at explaining, without hostility, how male-dominated society and traditional gender roles are miserable for men too.  It’s useful when I start to forget about that or can’t see that perspective. 

So I called him.  “There’s a lot of stuff in the news right now about women having a hard time in the tech industry, with sexism and harassment and stuff.”  I lobbed it out there and waited.

He paused for a moment, then immediately launched into an anecdote.  “There’s this type of girl that you find a lot of times, working the desk at the auto repair shops,” he began.

“OK…”  I said.  I wasn’t clear where he was going with this.

“Her name is Darla.”

He described Darla.  She sounded a lot like Marisa Tomei in “My Cousin Vinny.”  Darla knows you, knows your car, knows just from what you told her on the phone that it’s probably the tranny and since it’s a Pacer, you’re gonna need to just replace the whole thing because nobody is going to want to deal with finding parts for it.  Guys will come in and ask for Darla, and if she’s not there, they’ll leave, because they trust her.  Younger mechanics come from the back to get her opinion because she’s grown up around cars and knows as much or more than they do.  Steve, over many years in and around the auto repair business, has run into many Darlas.

“Now, Darla’s cousin Frank works in the back of the shop.  Like your typical blue-collar guy, in any kind of a team or work environment, he and the other guys who’ve been there a while are going to pick on the younger, smaller, or physically weaker guys.  You have to prove yourself, prove that you can take it.  It’s about the team knowing they can count on you.  And then once you prove yourself, if anyone picks on you… they close ranks and defend you.”

“OK…”  Where was this going?

“And most of the time, if a woman wants to work in an environment like that, she’s gotta put up with the same kind of thing, in the beginning.  Even Darla.”

I was horrified.  “Are you saying that sexual harassment is just guys’ way of testing women in the workplace to make sure they’re on the team???”

“Hell no!  Sexual harassment is terrible, but that’s not what this is.  It’s more like a… hazing period, and sometimes women can mistake that for sexism because they don’t see that it’s equal opportunity. If you can’t match these guys physically, they need to know that you can do it emotionally.  That you can take a few punches without whining about it.”

So then I explained about Titstare.  And Pax Dickinson.  And the myriad women in tech who get overrun with online rape threats simply for the crime of pointing out that tech is a hostile field for women.  So many rape-threat stories, so little time…

“Oh.  Well, that’s different. There’s only one thing you need to know, then:  Frank and his friends in the shop spent most of their high school years punching those computer geeks in the nuts and stuffing them into lockers.”

It was a long walk to get there, but I understood.  Sure, there are plenty of dude-bros in tech, but there are also a healthy number of physically nonthreatening, nebbishy guys who had their manhood questioned by bigger, stronger guys who were going to grow up to be mechanics and ditch diggers and guys who blow things up for a living.  Some men just weren’t built for that ritual and, unfortunately, they came away with an idea that the way to prove their manhood is to put someone else down.  Lucky you, ladies of tech: You might be Darlas, but you’re not dealing with Franks.  You’re dealing with the guys Frank used to beat up.

I’m neither bashing nor stereotyping; I have spent time in both of these kinds of environments.  I’ve spent Saturday nights hanging out with Steve and his gearhead friends, and I’ve worked in mobile gaming.  I’m not saying that everyone in either arena is like this, just that there are enough to make the environment hostile.  I’m saying that like always – and yes, I’m about to use the “P-word” – the patriarchy is screwing everyone.  Its rigid expectations for what constitute manhood may produce close camaraderie among men that fit its mold… which ironically may mean that “macho” men ultimately feel unthreatened by a tough chick in their midst. But it also may make less stereotypically manly chaps feel that the only way to prove their mettle is to be objectively hostile to women.

For those ready to object, I’m not suggesting sympathy for the Titstare guys or anyone else.  They may be victims of the patriarchy, but they still have to learn to eat without drooling and disagree with people without punching them in the face.  It’s just useful to have some idea of where the behavior could be coming from in order to figure out what direction we might be able to go.

This isn’t something that can be fixed tomorrow.  Getting more women into tech will probably help a lot.  So will a general shift in cultural attitudes about sexism.  But to use Admin Pattie’s phrase, we are dealing with entrenched gender roles that are without a doubt built on a patriarchal structure.  And while we can and should be spending time talking about how to be a woman in tech, it would be equally useful to start talking about some different, better ways to be a man.


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Feminism Isn’t Working and I Give Up

I GIVE UPby Admin Jen

I’m hanging it up.

Yeah, that’s right. I’m done with feminism. It’s not working. We’re getting nowhere. In fact it actually seems like we’re going backwards. Someone come confiscate my “Feminist as F*ck” t-shirt, buy me a beekeeper suit and leave me to my new, non-feminist existence which will entail popping out more children and possibly listening to a lot of Katy Perry, who is an avowed non-feminist. (The woman who dresses her tits up like cupcakes says she is not a feminist, are you surprised?).

Fighting double standards has become worse than passé. In that entire media whore-nado over Miley Cyrus and her VMA spectacle, the only person I saw pointing out that Robin Thicke is actually kind of questionable for grinding his bits on a girl who could be his daughter… was another dude. Even we in our own circular firing squad of feminism didn’t manage to catch that one, as we were too busy deciding whether to be mad at Miley because she was demeaning herself (maybe) or because she was treating the black women onstage with her like sex dolls (probably) or because “We Can’t Stop” is a mediocre song that has gotten far more play than it deserves (definitely).

The juggernaut of terrible anti-abortion laws just keeps coming despite our best efforts to stop it. State legislatures are in a race to the bottom and still they manage to exceed my expectations. I’ve stopped saying “It can’t get any worse,” because it’s become a dare. Statutory rape cases like the one in Montana just frustrate and depress me; a 49-year-old male teacher walked away with a 30 day sentence after a supposedly consensual relationship with a 14 year old student ended in her suicide.

I just can’t anymore.

I have arguments with otherwise entirely reasonable people who wonder aloud whether women really take enough responsibility for avoiding rape, that maybe they’re just not careful about what they wear and where they go, because women’s sexuality just isn’t the same as men’s, and we don’t understand how hard it is for them to control their penises. As if every woman in America doesn’t have a list of things in her head that she does to avoid getting raped. As if the staggering 35% of college aged guys who have admitted they would rape someone if they thought they could get away with it are beyond educating. As if we are completely wasting our time hoping for any better.

I love sex, I consider myself pro-sex, and I want to say that women should do whatever the hell they feel like with their vaginas, yet I feel like that’s a pipe dream and that it’s neither safe nor OK to do that. Because it’s not. You might get photographed and slut-shamed on Twitter. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to avoid the rape threats or the actual rapes or any of the other fun stuff that could go along with that. Though you might just as well expect that kind of treatment for, say, campaigning for Jane Austen to be printed on some money.

And god forbid you are, or have ever been, a woman in or near the sex industry. Men can pay for prostitutes and be back in the saddle after a tearful apology and a few years out of the spotlight. But not the women they patronize. They lose their jobs and careers and lives when that kind of information gets out, even if it was 15 years ago and the woman in question now is a professional with a master’s degree.

So I’m hanging it up. Let Ann Coulter come and take away my 19th Amendment. I don’t need it. I’ll clean house and maybe watch re-runs of “The Real Housewives of Who Gives a Damn.” It feels like the entire world is telling me to shut up and I’m tired of fighting it. Y’all can go on without me. I’m quitting feminism. I mean it.

Except, I can’t.

Every one of the issues that I bring up here is worth an editorial (or several) of its own. Most of them have already been discussed at length in many different venues including this one. Some of them are subjects I myself still have to do some heavy lifting on to sort out a position that makes sense. But deciding that I’m tired and want to lay down my sword is not an option. The world is going to keep kicking me, and us, whether I feel like kicking back or not.

Sometimes, when reading the news feels like living in London during the Blitz, it’s hard to remember that just because the opposition is fighting harder, it doesn’t mean they’re winning. The worst abortion laws are consistently losing in court challenges. Ohio recently passed a law wiping the prostitution records of victims of sex trafficking, a move that in America, disproportionately helps women. Republican Governor and Tony Soprano body double Chris Christie just signed an equal pay law in New Jersey (yes, really). The percentage of women in Congress, while still pathetically low, is higher than it’s ever been. And female leaders from journalism to politics to business are becoming household names and are standing as examples for ways to be a strong woman in the world. The Democrats’ current best hope for the presidency in the next election cycle is Hillary Clinton. People are flocking to the banners of Elizabeth Warren and Wendy Davis. PBS has turned The News Hour over to Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill. And I defy you to find one person over the Labor Day Weekend who wasn’t talking about Diana Nyad’s historic swim from Cuba to Florida. When it’s incremental, progress can feel like it’s not happening. When there are a lot of bombs going off, it’s hard to notice that a lot of the flying rocks are not actually hitting you.

So, yeah. I know you’re tired of hearing about rape culture. But I’m tired of my friends getting raped.

I know you’re tired of hearing about abortion. I am too. So stop trying to tell me what to do with my uterus, and I promise you won’t hear another word from me about it.

I know men and women are different from each other. I’m just tired of that fact being used to excuse the inexcusable.

I know you’re tired of hearing about income inequality. But fuck you, pay us.

This is how it works. We get mad, we fight, we get tired, we get mad, we start again. Rinse, repeat. Feminism isn’t without its flaws, and it doesn’t seem able to speak with one voice or crystallize answers on the darker, stickier aspects of human nature and sexuality. But if I may get Rumsfeldian for a minute, this is the army we have. The fight comes to us whether we seek it or not, whether we want it or not, and whether we are ready or not.

So might as well be ready. Ready, and maybe even happy, to die on the hill.

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If you liked this post, please check out these other ones that we especially loved from our archives:

W:RUN’s Women of 2012 – Women Who Shaped the Year

Tired of Talking About Abortion?  Me Too.

Where the Action Is:  A Primer on State Legislatures

Messing With Texas, By Way of Galway

In Stunning Last-Minute Move, Congress Does the Right Thing for Once


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An Open Letter to the NC House of Representatives

Editor’s Note: This brilliant submission came from our reader, Kim Cherif, who is fighting the good fight in NC. Please consider supporting her and other women like her whose reproductive rights are under threat in that state with donations to Planned Parenthood Action Fund or the Center for Reproductive Rights. ~Admin Jen

Dear NC House of Representatives:

As we move closer to the House vote on House Bill 695 tomorrow morning, I wanted to take a moment to express my gratitude Although I did not vote for the majority of you, as a female resident of North Carolina, I wanted to thank you for your arduous protection of my health, as illustrated by the amendments added to this bill, which was originally designed to protect women from Sharia law—a male-dominated legal system based on a religious beliefs in which women have very few rights.

I would have liked to have seen discussion in the House late last Tuesday when you gentlemen decided that these amendments were necessary, but I had no idea that the current legislature was so interested in women’s healthcare, nor did I think you would be working past normal business hours to promote it. So while I did miss out on enjoying hearing about how much male state representatives care about women’s health, I thoroughly appreciated hearing male state senators testify to their concern about women’s health issues during the bill’s debate in the senate on Wednesday morning.

Congressmen, I applaud your concern. Abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures with complication rates much lower than many other surgical procedures and less than one-tenth the rate of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. There are less than a handful of documented cases in the state of women dying following an abortion since it’s legalization in the 1970s, while this states sees approximately 40 deaths annually from all surgical procedures. How dedicated to women’s health you must be to begin your campaign for improving women’s health by addressing such a trivial issue! Surely this means that once you have this straightened out, you will move on to more pressing health concerns for women.

For example, our state has the 4th highest maternal death rate in the nation, with 105 women in NC dying during childbirth each year. Most of these deaths are poor women who have received substandard prenatal care. I know that you have recently restricted funding for Planned Parenthood. Certainly that was an oversight on your part, since Planned Parenthood is where most low-income women receive prenatal care and they may die or suffer serious health complications without it.

Another area you may want to focus on is violence. Over 100 women are murdered each year, the vast majority of these murders are by men in domestic situations. Surely, congressmen, you will want to increase funding for battered women’s shelters and social programs to help women in domestic violence situation. You may also want to consider stricter laws related to stalking, harassment, and battery of women.

About violent deaths of women, of the over 100 women murdered each year, half of them are killed by gunshot. That’s over 50 women dead a year by gun violence, compared to less than 1 dead a year by illegally operated and poorly regulated abortion clinics. So, you should have at least 50 times more interest in controlling gun violence. My thought would be to start with gun retailers, many of which are operating in violation of current gun legislation. Surely if more legislation can clean up and protect women from poorly regulated abortion clinics, it can help women from being shot and killed by illegally obtained weapons.

Finally, I know that mental health care is going to be very high on your list of priorities for women’s health given that over 250 women in NC die each year by suicide (that’s 250 times more women than die from botched abortions). I am convinced that the state legislature in its wisdom will reverse the recent budget cuts to state mental health facilities and agencies. So many women are dying already, surely more will die as a result to restricted access to mental care under your legislation.

In closing, let me again thank you gentlemen for your concern and attention to the healthcare needs of women. We women are forever grateful for any attention the state legislature sees fit to bestow upon our healthcare needs, however miniscule, but are hopeful that you will also address some of what most humans might think are more pressing health concerns. If you need a list of the top health issues affecting women, you might want to have a look at state data found here: http://www.schs.state.nc.us/schs/deaths/dms/2011/northcarolina.pdf.

Kim Cherif is a 44 year old mother of a five year old son and a mental health professional in NC.


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You Can’t Invade Without a Map

by Admin Jen

I’m afraid I owe you an apology, Ohio.

You see, I’m reading up on the deeply unsexy subject of gerrymandering.  Because I couldn’t figure out how you wound up with a governor and legislature so hostile to women’s rights that it was passing regressive, probably unconstitutional legislation with such wild abandon.  And I want to thank our dear readers of Ohio, because they pointed out that my frequent contention that bad legislators find jobs in the statehouse thanks to voters not paying attention… well, it isn’t the whole story.

You can’t plan an invasion without a map, as it turns out, and that goes for when you’re invading your constituents’ uteruses too.  Specifically, this map:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a8/Columbus_Ohio_Congressional_Districts.gif

What is that?  That’s a Congressional district map of urban, liberal stronghold Columbus, Ohio, in the center of Franklin County.  What do those colors mean?  Did I redecorate it for Pride Month?  Alas, no.  That’s Columbus, being brutally dismembered into three separate districts.  All three segments peel off a hunk of that liberal base and bury it into a district with a large swath of conservative suburbs.  This is a gerrymandering technique known as “cracking”, and it’s remarkably effective.  Were the entirety of Columbus its own district, it would no doubt be sending a Democrat to Congress with reassuring regularity.  But this way, not so much.

So this is how we get curious situations like Ohio, in which a small but real majority of the electorate really, really hate what the legislature is doing yet can’t seem to get them to stop, and can’t seem to get rid of them.  Lots of people vote out of habit, out of party affiliation, out of reasons that don’t have much to do with who the actual people occupying those state offices actually are; but also, lots of people do show up to pull the lever in a wasted effort because whoever’s in power gets to redraw the district maps any which way they like.  And yes. State level offices work in the exact same way.

President Obama won re-election in the state by a margin of about 2%.  Yet, since Republicans controlled the statehouse in 2010, at the time of the last census, they got to draw the district map, and won House of Representatives seats by a margin of 12-4.  You can chalk that up to the President’s bi-partisan appeal if you want, but I call shenanigans.

Except, I don’t need to.  The Republican party has been pretty unable to keep from congratulating themselves on it.  In their Republican State Leadership Committee report, “How a Strategy of Targeting State Legislative Races in 2010 Led to a Republican U.S. House Majority in 2013,” they admit pretty readily that gerrymandered maps in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were responsible for them overcoming a vote deficit to the tune of 1.1 million. That’s right.  More people actually voted for Democrats but thanks to the gerrymander, Republicans  nevertheless hold the majority.

(I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the pro-choice Republicans who are out there, shaking their heads over this junk along with us.  I imagine you as sort of lonely and closeted, not wanting your party to turn on you like a pack of angry wildebeests. Guys, it gets better. At least I hope so.  I’d like to also acknowledge that I have never met a wildebeest and am only guessing that you would not want to make one mad.)

It’s amusing that Rick Perry was wailing about the will of the people being subverted by Wendy Davis’s epic filibuster; Perrymandering has given America one of the most hostile legislatures in the country, but also one that doesn’t entirely represent its constituents.  That’s right – the Lone Star State’s demographics are changing.  It’s just that we’re still conditioned to expect macho legislative crotch-grabbing from Texas.

But Ohio?  Michigan?  Wisconsin?  Union bastion Michigan gave us “right to work” and a far-reaching abortion bill among other legislative atrocities.  Wisconsin repealed equal pay for women under cover of darkness and steamrolled a forced-ultrasound law through, over the objection of thousands of protestors.   And Ohio’s Swamp Thing of a budget, jam packed with bad news for low income women and their reproductive care, is just the latest example of a pattern of discriminatory legislation passed by legislative bodies that haven’t the first interest in representing their states.  Just their narrowly drawn, contorted districts.

Yes, there are districts that have been gerrymandered to Democratic advantage:  Rep. Joe Walsh, who I do not miss in the least, lost in part thanks to his own cartoonish buffoonery, but also in part thanks to a gerrymandered district that gave Tammy Duckworth an advantage.  What was a probable victory for her became an “over-my-goddamned-artificial-knee” spanking.  There are districts in California that have been similarly tinkered with.  Our friend and sometimes guest blogger Marc Belisle, has a swell article here showing some of the other contorted districts around the country, designed to dilute the opposing party’s influence.  (The Everlasting GOPStoppers have written some interesting bits on the history and practice of gerrymandering, which you can find here and here.)

Bottom line: partisan hacks should not get to draw the districts anymore.  Like the filibuster, this isn’t necessarily a good weapon for either side to have in an unlimited way if we’re interested in actual representative democracy.  The idea of one party government is certainly appealing when you’re the party in power, but a strange thing happens when one party holds too much power for too long without fear of losing it; it encourages corruption and overreach, because they aren’t accountable to people they’re supposed to represent anymore.  And that’s what we’re seeing in some of these middle-America center-left states right now, who are laboring under legislatures that don’t particularly represent them.

So what’s the answer?  The answer is, I’m not sure.  Having the Census Bureau itself drawing the districts seems like a logical notion.  Or maybe statehouses’ proposed districts have to meet some form of judicial approval before they’re implemented. I’m interested in your ideas, dear readers, because this affects all of us.  I don’t live in Ohio, but it’s my next door neighbor and I don’t need my representatives getting any more terrible ideas than what they come up with on their own.

Sound off in the comments below, or on our facebook!


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Forget Kansas, What’s the Matter With Ohio?

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Ohio Governor Kasich signing a budget bill that will wreak havoc on women’s rights, while surrounded by a bunch of other dudes whose private parts are not impacted by said bill.

I have always thought of Ohio as the home of eminently sane, down-to-earth reasonableness.  It’s the state that gave us columnist Gail Collins, whose gentle humor kept me from stabbing myself in the face with a spork during the 2008 Democratic primaries.  The state gave us eight presidents, four of them portly and sporting really impressive beards that would totally work if they were having a beer in a Brooklyn hipster club.  It gave us Paul Newman, Woody Harrelson and Julie Haggerty.  It gave us E.T. (Spielberg) and the Cathy comics.  My chiropractor aunt and her nutritionist husband spent some time living lovely, polite, reasonable lives there.  The biggest paper in Cleveland is called the Plain Dealer, for crying out loud.  These are generally nice people who are, on balance, probably more emotionally conservative than they are socially conservative.  Which is not to say that they aren’t socially conservative, they’re just not all up in your grill about it.

So, what the hell, Ohio?  What’s going on with you?  I understand that you’re a purple state, just like my own (Pennsylvania) and that as a rule, I’m not going to like everything you do.  But you’ve gone blue in the last two elections, and came pretty darn close in the two before it.  I like to think of you as my churchgoing cousin who wears a cross and hangs an American flag outside her home, but who secretly votes pro-choice because well, you believe everyone should mind their own damn business.  How did you end up with an anti-choice law so strict that not only will it close three Planned Parenthoods in the state, it will, in the rare case of a complication in an outpatient abortion, prohibit the transfer of that patient to a public hospital?  If you are actually pro-life, that sure is a funny way of showing it.

Earlier this year, we called attention to a certain Ohio State Representative named Jim Buchy, who in an interview with Al Jazeera, admitted that although he was busily working to restrict abortions in his state, he had not given so much as a moment’s thought to why a woman might be looking for one in the first place.  The same people who think that restricting guns won’t stop people from committing crimes with them seem to think that outlawing abortion will make it go away.  Peculiar.  And out of character for a reserved, sensible place like Ohio.

So we get Right to Lifers crowing because they are closing clinics.  Cutting poor women off from their contraceptives seems like an extraordinarily good way to cause more abortions, or at the very least, to burden the state with lots more Medicaid births, unwanted children, child abuse and food stamp bills.  This is happening in Texas, and the nice conservative gentlemen in the legislature are just scratching their noodles over how this could be.  We have staunch “Constitutionalists” celebrating the fact that rape crisis centers now have a gag order that says they are not allowed to counsel rape survivors about abortion as an option if they believe they are pregnant as a result of said rape.  If they get caught doing so, the government can apparently “shut that whole thing down.”  The First Amendment apparently doesn’t apply to people trying to help women who have been victimized.  It only applies to crisis pregnancy centers who want to lie about the effects of abortion and tell you it causes breast cancer.  By the time you get to the photo of the bill signing with Governor Kasich, surrounded by a bunch of – yep, you guessed it — smiling white guys, you’re not even surprised.  Not one woman up there.  Not even as a prop.  Not even for optics.  Come on, guys, now you’re just rubbing it in our faces.  And that’s not Ohio’s style.

In Ohio, the abortion rate has more or less tracked the national average:  that is to say, it’s been on a very, very gentle decline since 1991.  And contrary to popular belief, only about 17% of those abortions are in women under 20 who ostensibly don’t know what they’re doing.  They are adult women, who very much understand their actions and do not need paternalistic scolding about what they’ve got growing in there and what it will turn into if they let it keep going.   They don’t need mandatory ultrasounds under the moniker of “informed consent,” while being fed lies about how abortions cause depression and suicide (post-partum depression is no more prevalent in abortions than it is in pregnancies carried naturally to term).

This is why I am always on my soapbox about state legislatures, people.  I am not an Ohio resident, but based on the little bit I know about you decent folk, I can’t believe that this legislature and its overbearing, unapologetic bullying of women represents you.  I have to believe that these folks snuck in while you were paying attention to something else.  According to a recent Public Policy Polling poll, 52% of you don’t support the new budget specifically because, in spite of its red-meat tax cuts, it so nakedly seeks to kill Planned Parenthood, which so many women depend on for preventative care and family planning services.  So how did the lunatics take over the asylum?

I don’t know enough about Ohio politics to know the answer to that question.  It’s something you’re going to probably have to work out for yourselves.  And dear readers from Ohio, if you happen to know, we’d love to hear from you.  A legislature is supposed to be there to carry out the will of its people.  All I can do is beg you to take a look at the names beside those levers before you pull them and find out who they really are.  Find out what they’ve been up to.  Call shenanigans if necessary.  Maybe consider voting against your usual party affiliation if the incumbent has been behaving badly.

This dreadful budget is a crying shame, but you will have a chance to fix it.

2014 is coming, Ohio.