Change Your Thinking, Change Your World

Over the past few weeks I’ve had my tone and communication approach mentioned or alluded to on several occasions.  As a human, my defenses wanted to go up, and they did to an extent, but I tried my best to take notice and examine the way I speak and interact with people, whether in person or on social media.

A couple of years ago I was invited to contribute to a blog with the goal of sharing in a kind but firm manner about the issues surrounding racial issues, privilege, and the way these topics contribute to a lot of negative events and divides in the United States.  I remember one of my editor’s critiquing me on my tone in a particular piece, essentially reminding me that “you get more flies with honey than with lemons.”

Due to my health circumstances, my primary mode of communication over the past two years has been technological and through social media.  It can be easy to get into word battles, forgetting the person on the other end of the conversation is more than that one point you’re arguing and, more than that, they are also human with a soul and feelings.  Therefore, with all the synchronistic reminders about how I come across to people, I am making a deliberate effort to check my words, speak kindly (but firmly, when necessary), but to also remain true to what I believe, even on hard issues.

A few mornings ago I entered into a conversation with a family member about a political meme they shared.  I care about this person a lot, and I want to facilitate good conversation when we speak because our relationship goes far beyond a Facebook chat.  We were able to have a constructive, cordial, and engaged discussion that ended on a very positive note.  Additionally, it left me considering what I had said, how I had said it, and if there was more I could have added to improve on what I’d said.

Like most people, I think, I continued mulling over certain aspects of what we’d said, trying to think of what my next response would have been, had we continued the discussion—which ultimately began addressing freedoms that we have in the United States, whether real, perceived, or mythical, particularly regarding money and how we spend it.

For instance, how many people are actually able to campaign to become politicians compared to those who would like to based solely on financial ability?  And would campaign spending limits fix this?  I know in the United Kingdom there are spending limits for referendum votes, like for Brexit (I don’t know if they limit candidate campaign spending).  I took the perspective that spending limits would make a positive impact on our political system because it would take some of the power away from the 1% and large corporations and give it back to “the people.”  My family member took the position that if we start to limit freedom in one area there is the danger it will spread into other areas, too.

I understand that concern.  I appreciate and value the freedoms that I have because of my citizenship, race, gender (in Western culture, because even with the hurdles I may face as a woman, other parts of the world are significantly worse), socioeconomic status, etc.  But, what happens to people who don’t have those same privileges?  I am by no means a wealthy person, but all of my needs are met.  Could I go out, campaign for office, and get elected?  Maybe at a local level (which is where we really need to invest our energy, by the way!), but without the right connections to people with money and influence, I would be hard pressed to go to a higher level.

The conversation flowed from the political curtailing of spending to the personal ability to spend, and whether or not either one of us would like someone telling us how we could spend our money if we were one of the lucky few to be exorbitantly wealthy.  Shortly after, busyness of the day caused our conversation to close, but I continued pondering the question and different factors over the course of the next few days (hence this blog post).

I agree that there is a potential danger to limiting freedoms, because when one is sacrificed, it’s that much easier to continue removing others one at a time.  In fact, I would argue we are already at that place, but it’s been done in such a way that many people don’t see it—for instance, the Presidential Alert that most cell phones in the U.S. received last week.  Those alerts mean the government has accessed all of our cell phone numbers from our cell phone companies and can reach and/or surveil us that much more easily.

Remember Edward Snowden?  He’s in Russia because he called out the NSA for illegal collection of data on Americans.  If that doesn’t mean anything to you, watch this great episode from John Oliver as he explains why that should massively freak all of us out!

Moving on…

So, while I get the concern (fear) of the slippery-slope of losing freedom, I have to jump to a different perspective from which to see the concept of spending and money (the semi-original topic).  The “American Dream (myth)”, while perhaps originally rooted in the idea of leaving someplace for a better life, has historically set up the majority of Americans (even today) to believe that anyone can do anything if they work hard enough, and what I earn is mine to use as I please without concern for anyone else (I recognize it’s a very black and white statement for a complex issue, but I’m trying to not write a book.  Feel free to email if you want to discuss further.)

This (predominantly) American mentality has created a selfish society that values personal, monetary worth over the good of humanity.  Of course, many who read that sentence will think, “Not me!  I give _____ amount to such-and-such a charity or religious organization,” or “I gave that homeless person $5 last week,” and while those are good things, it misses the core problem: that while giving to those causes we consider “worthy”, in the very next breath we criticize those who are in need or policies that could help make the playing field more equal if we feel our personal income and accumulated possessions/finances are going to be threatened.

Before you start thinking, “She should move to Venezuela and see how she likes it” or “She’s such a socialist,” hear me out.  I am advocating for a change in how we view our freedom and how we view our fellow humans.

If, as my family member posed, I’d been born to a billionaire father, would I want someone telling me how I could spend my money?  My first reaction is, no.  I’d want to be able to spend and give as I saw fit.  However, when considered, we need to recognize that a better system could be structured if we separated the personal spending from the political.  The issue is that the 1% and the large corporations can use their money as personal investments in the political arena (buying products…or in this case politicians, policies, votes, etc.) to benefit themselves.  How does that help the 99% (who, incidentally, are often the biggest advocates for the absurdly wealthy to be given tax breaks and other benefits, rather than being expected to pay their due to our system, too)?

Ultimately, I see it boiling down to selfishness and greed brought on by the idea that no one deserves anything and should therefore have to work just as hard to get anywhere.  But that ideology ignores the cultural, economic, and systemic shifts that have taken place.  No longer can a college student work for a summer to pay for college.  No longer can someone walk into an office, drop off an application face-to-face, and practically be guaranteed the job.  No longer can (or could we ever?) receive quality healthcare without the risk of financial ruin.  No longer can you move out on your own and easily survive…or survive at all.  The list goes on…

How do we fix this?  We can start by reading, educating ourselves on what’s really happening behind the “curtain” of our political system, opening our hearts and minds to the plights of others, and viewing ourselves as a team.  I’m not advocating for “everyone gets one egg for their meal today.”  I’m advocating for a mentality shift that doesn’t equate “tuition free college” or “free healthcare” as an attack on our freedoms and bank accounts but as an investment into our society and future.  I’m pushing for the understanding that when we set up a system to succeed, even if it costs a little bit more from the people (tax dollars…that aren’t poured into the military industrial complex), that we will all be more successful and stable.

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Time to Wake Up!


It’s one of those days where I woke up, started scanning Facebook, and hit the share button at a much higher rate than usual.  It was a good news day to post articles about everything that needs to change.  But, at the end of the day, I am angry and grieved by the blindness I see in so many—particularly in many Republican/Conservative circles, and even more specifically, among many “Christians.”

Today (and most days), I share, I post, I talk, I do what I can to spread the urgency of the need to fight for equality for all people, for our environment, for our country, for our world, for the oppressed and suffering.  There is no room to sit back and wait for someone else to advocate for change.  Women are assaulted over and over by men who never meet justice, polluted air is closing schools in Delhi because it is so potent, and the sitting president of the United States admitted to not knowing how many countries there are (or even a rough estimate) upon becoming president…because he didn’t have political experience (his words, not mine).

We have no choice but to stand up and fight for people who cannot fight for themselves.  We have to speak out for the health of our planet, because if it is not healthy, we will not be healthy.  It is time to look beyond our immediate spheres of influence and see that our individual experiences are not everyone’s experiences.  Therefore, if something unjust is happening to someone somewhere, we must speak out and advocate on their behalf.

High school and college peeps: Women’s March announced they are starting chapters!  Check it out if you are interested!

Most of all: wake up!
Rant over.

We Must Choose Unity

IMG_3551Photo taken at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor, ME

A few weeks ago I received the exciting news that I am one of the recipients of the Heather Heyer Scholarship to attend the Women’s Convention in Detroit, MI next weekend!  It is such an honor to be awarded this opportunity—especially as it is in the name of a woman who died tragically while fighting against the hatred and terrorism of white supremacy and nationalism.

However, over the past week I’ve experienced great frustration with many women who have spoken out in anger and pulled their support for this movement because they did not like the decision to invite Senator Sanders to the Women’s Convention.  (It seemed) Most outrage came from Hillary Clinton supporters (who, the Women’s March has stated, was invited but cannot attend) who simply do not consider Senator Sanders an ally.  Others thought it was a poor decision to invite an older, white man to speak at an event for female equality.

The first complaint makes me angry because they are choosing to stonewall an ally, who also started a progressive movement among people who are looking for more than the establishment has to offer, on the basis that their female candidate of choice lost the race (I was never a Clinton supporter).  This is ignoring the fact that the DNC (in my opinion, supported by the evidence of how the mainstream media chose to cover Clinton versus Sanders) never intended to allow anyone else a shot at the party nomination, and that Senator Sanders surprised many within the Democratic Party with the mass support he garnered.

The second complaint holds more clout: was it wise to advertise Senator Sanders, a white, older man, as a key speaker for the Women’s Convention?  Probably not.  Initially, there was not a lot of specificity in what his role would be, and if I recall, it originally appeared that he was opening the event.  However, the feminist movement is not about excluding male supporters and team members.  For many of us, Senator Sanders was our candidate of choice.  He represented the changes that we wanted to see take place in this country.  Truthfully, I was thrilled when I saw that he was going to be at the event.

The bottom line: we do not have the luxury to divide over such a small issue.  Feminism is a broad term that encompasses many people (I wrote about this in March) with many views, united by the fact that we believe women deserve equality.  However, this movement goes beyond simple equality of women, it focuses on equality for ALL people, regardless of gender, religion, race, culture, etc.

I am attending this event to learn and connect with other people who are in this fight to raise awareness about equality.  I am attending as a journalist who wants to learn how to do a better job of reporting and writing about issues that matter.  I am attending as a white woman who wants to better understand women of color and the additional challenges they face and who wants to better understand my own privilege as a white woman and how I can use it positively.  I am attending as a relational person seeking a community of people who “get it.”  Lastly, I am attending for all the women who can’t or won’t—for all the women, young and old, I know who don’t think they need feminism.

I am political—it’s in my blood.  I am a passionate person, and I am learning how to channel that into issues of truth and justice, advocating for change.  I am excited and ready for this, my first large-scale social justice event, and all it encompasses.

Are you going to be there?

The Importance of Engaging Even When You Don’t Agree

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When I am in the car, I love listening to NPR.  Sometimes, like during one business trip, I listen to the news for so long I start to go a little crazy with all the awful and frustrating things happening (that I want to change) and have to turn it off in order to process.  Other times, there are interviews and stories that keep me flipping the radio to keep up with the changing NPR station as I travel through different regions.  The latter was me on Monday.

As you’ve probably heard, Hillary Clinton’s book “What Happened” released last week.  I’ll be honest: I wasn’t planning on reading it.  I’m not interested in reading 512 pages of blaming and explaining…how, what, where, when, and why (especially when she and the DNC made it impossible for Bernie to get the nomination).  However, after seeing this post on Grok Nation, I’m more open.  Maybe not for all of the reasons listed, but because, despite all the reasons Hillary Clinton did not deserve the White House (issues for another post I may or may not write), she made history becoming the first woman nominated for president in a major party, has pushed through stereotypes and gender inequality during her career, and has inspired women to do more than they otherwise might have believed possible.  I can at least skim it to see where she is coming from (and try and figure out what’s genuine versus political bullsh*t).

**Before you all freak out on me, I am a feminist, I can’t wait for a woman to sit in the White House, but HRC did not deserve to make that particular piece of history.  Jill Stein on the other hand…she’s good.  But, in America we don’t believe in Green Parties.

Anyway, NPR released the interview they did with her (full transcript here) and it was amazing, because it covered many topics in a conversation style of speaking, rather than a speech.  My two favorite topics were (1) when she addressed Donald Trumps patriarchal misogyny towards her bathroom break during a debate and the implications that has for women everywhere and (2) the corporation allegedly pulling-the-strings behind several huge votes and elections in the world.

Hillary Clinton first addressed the time that Donald Trump ridiculed that she was late returning to stage during a debate for using the restroom.  She called out his misogynistic and objectifying view of women and that he did not hold back using degrading language, and implications, when speaking of her in similar terms that he spoke of Megyn Kelly.

We have to keep talking about and bringing attention to the issues of gender inequality and the harassment and abuse that women face.  As we all know, the powerful are often the ones who get away with the most (shall we talk about Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly, not to mention Bill Clinton), but it happens everywhere, and we need to start  making changes (shout out to The Bold Type for using their platform with intention last week).

Clinton had this to say about Trump’s reactionary statement: “He sexualizes women. He objectifies women. He’s more than happy to comment on what women look like and whether they’re too thin or too fat or whatever his particular obsession might be.

But what about women who use restrooms? (Which is all of us.) What about women who give birth? (Which is many of us?) What about women who have all kinds of physical parts of their life? It said to me, ‘No, I can’t be bothered. I can’t even think about that. I want to see you in a low-cut dress. I want to see you in a bathing suit. I want to see whether you fit my standards.’ And I thought it was incredibly weird.”

Another issue that Clinton discussed was corporate backing by Cambridge Analytica and the Mercer family (who are directly connected with Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway), including possible interference into various elections and votes around the globe (Kenya, Brexit, and even the USA). Now, granted, there are some statements in the following quote that make different red flags go off (like, how long have you really thought we needed to get rid of the electoral college?), but she draws attention to some situations that, I believe, require attention.  (Also, I love the French commentator’s remark, because I’ve had issues with the Electoral College since it was explained to me when I was nine years old.)

“You know, the Kenya election was just overturned and really what’s interesting about that — and I hope somebody writes about it, Terry — the Kenyan election was also a project of Cambridge Analytica, the data company owned by the Mercer family that was instrumental in the Brexit vote.

There’s now an investigation going on in the U.K., because of the use of data and the weaponization of information. They were involved in the Trump campaign after he got the nomination, and I think that part of what happened is Mercer said to Trump, ‘We’ll help you, but you have to take Bannon as your campaign chief. You’ve got to take Kellyanne Conway and these other people who are basically Mercer protégés.’

And so we know that there was this connection. So what happened in Kenya, which I’m only beginning to delve into, is that the Supreme Court there said there are so many really unanswered and problematic questions, we’re going to throw the election out and redo it. We have no such provision in our country. And usually we don’t need it.

Now, I do believe we should abolish the Electoral College, because I was sitting listening to a report on the French election and the French political analyst said, ‘You know in our country the person with the most votes wins, unlike in yours.’ And I think that’s an anachronism. I’ve said that since 2000.”

A simple Google search reveals many details that should cause concern about these allegations.  As a journalist, the interview gave me names to research to find out who is benefiting from whom, and what negative impacts will happen as a result. These are important issues, because, as we all know, money talks.  The rich are the ones who make things happen by donating to people and groups who they want favor from at a later date.  It is unethical, and we must raise a voice.

As citizens of a country and the world, it is our responsibility to investigate, educate ourselves, and critically think so that we can tell the “shit from the shinola.”  Yes, there are many people in places of leadership that are not qualified or have done things to disqualify themselves.  However, we have a responsibility to provide qualified candidates so that people don’t find themselves faced with the (fallacy) of choosing between “the better of two evils.”  We also have to open ourselves to the idea of radical change…and choosing to not be afraid of words that we’ve been taught are scary (i.e. socialized/socialism).  If we allow fear to control us and keep us from new ideas in an ever-evolving world, we won’t get very far.

Have you ever wanted to make a change?  Here are a few ways to get involved:

  • Start attending your local council meetings;
  • Find out who the leaders are, what the issues are, and educate yourself;
  • If you think, “I could do that,” run for office;
  • If you have a passion for leadership in government and want to help people, start looking bigger;
  • Consider parties that are not Republican and Democrat;
  • Get out there and volunteer (I’m hoping to find a way to register people to vote);
  • Oh, and make sure you register to vote—and don’t just wait for national elections.

How Frequently Do You Feel Unsafe?

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Over the weekend one of my close friends, Sarah, was visiting.  We had deep and fun conversations, many of them revolving around women’s issues—particularly the lack of feeling safe in certain circumstances, men feeling they can act familiarly with us even when they don’t know us, and the things we females do and think about because of the simple fact that we are women.

A few examples are:

  • Walking to the car with your keys or a sharp object in your hand;
  • Checking under and in the vehicle before getting in;
  • Being hyper-aware of who is behind you, especially when alone;
  • Feeling unable to adequately defend yourself if needed;
  • Etc., etc., etc.

The issue of unwanted attention from men dominates, by necessity, far too many conversations.  However, I think many of us fear the (almost) inevitable dismissal if we mention it to authority figures (leaders, etc.), because historically that is how society handles claims women make about men.

This leads to my own, recent, experience.  I was in a church service where I knew many of the attendees.  However, there was someone with whom I was unfamiliar sitting two rows ahead of me.  Towards the end, he turned around, made eye contact, smiled, and winked at me.  Instantly, anything amiable I felt (I rarely feel animosity towards strangers) evaporated and was replaced with a sense of invasion of privacy by a stranger.  When he got up a few minutes later and walked by me, I was on guard in case he tried to make physical contact.

I know it probably seems absurd to jump to feelings of fear of someone walking by you and touching you—but as a female, I know that it is not far-fetched.  I know we live in a society where familiar physical interaction (hugs, pats on the arm, shoulder rub, etc.) are “normal.”  But, none of the above give permission to invade a person’s bubble without their permission.

“Personal bubbles” can even expand beyond physical and into the non-physical.  In my experience, winks are fun when given and received by people with a mutual understanding of a relationship of some kind (friendship, family, partner/spouse, etc.), but when given by a stranger, it is a sign of flirtation.  People have the right to go about their business without fielding and/or ignoring unsolicited advances from strangers.  Females should be able to go to school, the store, the park, a place of worship, etc. without feeling unsafe or objectified.

What are some ways you handle unwanted attention from men?  Do you talk with people who could facilitate change about the situations that make you uncomfortable?  If so, what is their response?

P.S. I’m aware this is not solely a female problem, but the majority of the time it is.

Our Minds Scare Them, So They Attack Our Bodies

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Photo by: Gabe Gomez NYC
(The brilliant women in my life who support me, love me, encourage me, and push me.)

How many of us have young girls in our lives who look up to us (women) as an example?  On my maternal side, I am one of fourteen granddaughters/great-granddaughters in my family (for scale, there are ten grandsons/great-grandsons).  On my paternal side, I’m one of four females and three males.  Of those eighteen, there are six under the age of ten.  When I interact with them, I have the opportunity to influence them.  The question is, what kind of influence will I choose?

In 2011 I read a blog based on an article that has stuck with me every since.  A Cup of Jo talked about the HuffPo article by Lisa Bloom dealing with how to appropriately talk with little girls.  It deals with the way people address them and what they place value on, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Stereotypically, what is the first thing you want to do when you see an adorable little girl in the cutest outfit?  You want to compliment the way she looks.  I’m with you!  My little cousins are beautiful—but, more than their beauty they are hilarious, intelligent, witty, and observant.  That’s why, from the time I read that article till today, I do my best to ask the young girls I encounter about their interests, school, books, outdoors, anything other than their attire.  It’s hard, though!  Habits are hard to break.

As Bloom put it, “What’s wrong with that? It’s our culture’s standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn’t it? And why not give them a sincere compliment to boost their self-esteem? Because they are so darling I just want to burst when I meet them, honestly.”

Here’s why it’s important to break the habit and start talking about things other than clothes and appearance: “Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.”

Imagine, then, the frustration I (and others) feel that as girls grow into young women they are still overwhelmed with the magnifying attention that is constantly placed on their clothing in settings where they are supposed to be growing as contributing human beings (like school, religious settings, clubs and organizations, volunteer situations, etc.).

Earlier today I read an article (one of how many?) dealing with a girl whose male history teacher berated her in front of the class about her clothing and her body shape/size.  It stated, “The teacher reportedly told Anderson she was in violation of the dress code and should be shopping at plus-sized stores. He then went on to lecture the mortified high school student in front of the entire class on how ‘smaller busted women could get away with more than larger busted women,’ the lawyer said in a statement.”

The girl’s mother addressed the issue on Facebook with the following. “I refuse to put my daughter in a situation where her self esteem is completely destroyed. She is there to learn. This whole time she was missing out on an education while we were all sitting in a room discussing her boobs. How often does this happen to your sons? Seems like another way to keep girls uneducated.”

How long are we going to continue allowing people’s and institution’s ideologies harass and abuse females?  How long will we allow the double standard and sole-focus regarding women’s appearances to be the main conversation?  When will say enough is enough?  This is why we need feminism.  This is why females have to support each other, because if we tear each other down, we have taken out our allies.  Our intelligence is not based on the head coverings or crop tops we choose to wear, it’s based on what is in our minds and hearts.

 

Feminist Isn’t A Bad Word

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Over the weekend A and I went to Winston-Salem, NC for a quick trip to meet with friends.  Winston-Salem is also where he went to high school and undergrad, so he takes me to his old haunts whenever we’re in the area.  This time, he introduced me to McKay’s used bookstore.

It has such a great selection of books, movies, CDs, and more.  But seriously, the books.  So good!  I had to practice self-control, because our home is turning into a library (not a bad thing—just a space issue).

However, I’ve really wanted to grow my knowledge of women studies, feminism, etc., and the best way to do that seems to be starting “at the very beginning” (to quote Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music—which I did sing while leaving the store).  So, when I found a great copy of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan with an intro by Anna Quindlen, I grabbed it!

One of my sources of extreme frustration is when I hear or read females (teenage, young woman, woman, older woman—doesn’t matter) say they don’t need feminism.  They typically add that equality isn’t an issue in our country, and that things are far worse in other parts of the world.

I agree…to an extent.  Women in the United States do have more equality than women in, say, Saudi Arabia.  However, as one who has experienced sexism in the work place, social life, etc., I have to advocate for the rights of women—even the ones who say they don’t need it.

Growing up, I thought “feminist” and “feminism” were bad words.  I equated feminists with man-haters.  I never imagined I would become a feminist.  However, in college I encountered three young women, peers of mine, who helped shift my perspective.  Thanks to them, and others, I look for ways to protect myself and other women from patriarchy—whether imposed by men or other women.

We all know the stereotype of females being called “catty.”  That needs to go away, along with the words “nag”, “whore”, “hoe”, “bossy”, and many other terms and phrases that, when used in association with women, are meant to “put her in her place.”  We need to start, from a young age, showing support, advocacy, love, and encouragement to our fellow ladies!  Women supporting women has the potential to create a huge cultural and social shift.  Let’s do this together!

What do you do to help influence the way the world interacts with and treats women?  How do you support the girls/women in your sphere of influence?  I believe it’s an ongoing, reconditioning of how we view the world around us and how we interact with it.