Skirting the Issue

The long or short of it? We're at risk regardless.
The long or short of it? We’re at risk regardless.

The foreign minister in India just made headlines for a newly published list of tourism tips. They run the gamut of normalcy, common sense mingled with observance of local custom, but with an interesting caveat for female tourists.

Don’t wear skirts.

After a string of high-profile rape cases in India against foreign women, (not to mention the appalling rape and sexual assault statistics for Indian women themselves), I’m sure the foreign minister thought he was helping by giving women tips to lower their chances of being the victim of sexual assault.

That right there is the problem.

Once again we’re putting the burden on girls and women to AVOID being assaulted or raped when the burden should fall squarely on the shoulders of men. Women should not need to avoid getting raped. Men should avoid raping.

Don’t drink too much.

Don’t go out at night.

Don’t go to an area you’re unfamiliar with.

Don’t go out alone.

Don’t go out for a run.

Don’t wear suggestive clothing.

Don’t wear skirts.

You may as well just issue a blanket statement: Don’t be a woman.

No matter the intention, when you give women a list of dos and don’ts to follow like a checklist of rape avoidance, you’re reinforcing the notion that it is somehow IN THEIR CONTROL, that rape or sexual assault can be avoided if they’re careful and follow all the rules. The corollary is that if it happens, it must mean it was their fault, something they did wrong.

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Not only is it damaging and insulting, it’s flat out wrong. There are plenty of women who are assaulted and/or raped who are wearing pants, or sober, or at a party with others. There are plenty of women raped in broad daylight, in their homes, by men they know.

There is one commonality. They are women.

We still haven’t truly changed the way we look at sexual assault and rape. We still haven’t changed the way we talk to boys and men about it. And we still haven’t come up with solutions to stop men from doing it in the first place.

Again, women don’t need to avoid being assaulted and raped. Men need to avoid assaulting and raping.

How do we do that? Education. Training. Punitive consequences. Zero tolerance for sexual assaults. More education. More training.

A friend told me this morning about a college in Canada which suspended their entire hockey program because two of the players were involved in a sexual assault and several more were complicit. Suspending an entire hockey program sounds harsh, right? Especially for the ones who weren’t involved at all. But…

The school put its foot down and took a zero tolerance approach. The school actually put the welfare of women above its hockey team. Imagine that. By taking a resolutely punitive stand on the issue, perhaps the next generation of hockey players will think about the consequences, because the consequences will actually have meaning to them. Maybe it will stop someone in their tracks. Maybe a friend will stop a teammate from committing an assault. 

But in order to have that work, the consequences must be real. We must reach a social and judicial point where raping or assaulting a woman just isn’t worth it.

Until we do, assaults and rapes will keep happening. Two recent cases of young, white men convicted of sexual assault who walked with a slap on the wrist are just one example of why the justice system needs to look at the way they sentence men convicted of sexual assault.

Harsher sentencing and stricter consequences for assault and rape isn’t about an eye for an eye. I’m not arguing that a woman’s life is irreparably changed and therefore a man’s should be as well.

It’s about changing the way we look at assault and rape. It’s about putting the burden on the potential rapists, not potential victims. It’s about making sure that assault and rape are not viewed as ‘youthful mistakes’ or indiscretions that can be overlooked or forgiven, but crimes. With sentencing that means something.

Instead of ‘don’t wear a skirt’, we need ‘if you rape, you’re going to jail.’

Instead of ‘dont’ drink too much at a college party, we need ‘this university has a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault and should you be found guilty of such, you will be expelled in addition to legal consequences.’

Instead of ‘don’t wear suggestive clothing’ we need ‘clothing never equals equal consent’

Instead of ‘what have I got to lose?, we need ‘here is exactly what is at stake’

skirtWe need to change the entire mindset. And that starts with the way we talk to our kids. Both girls and boys. Yes, we need to teach our kids to be safe. We need to teach them to use common sense. But we need to hammer home the difference between right and wrong when it comes to sexual assaults and rape.

We need to shift the burden.

Otherwise, all we are doing is skirting the issue.

34 Things Women do to Feel Safe: The Burden of Being Careful--how many have you done?

Hold The Door

door 4Between drop offs and pick ups, volunteering, and just generally mucking about, I’m at my kids’ school a lot. Each time I watch as students rush through doors with no regard whatsoever as to whether it might slam in the face of the person behind them. I don’t fault them–they’re kids, I’m glad to see them hurling themselves head first into life–but during the times I’m responsible for the care of these magical creatures, I’ve been testing my newest principle.

It goes a little something like this: If everyone holds the door for the person behind them, we all take on just a little bit of responsibility for the well-being of someone else.

It’s pretty simple right? By holding the door until the person behind you takes over, you’re making sure that person doesn’t get a nose full of glass. It’s courtesy 101.

That’s the literal principle. It works just as well metaphorically.

When I was a young and relatively penniless student in NYC, I frequented the many museums which suggest a donation in lieu of charging an admission fee. It was common knowledge that you could roam the Metropolitan Museum of Art like the kids in Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler for next to nothing. A quarter in the pot would do. It meant I could skip through the statuary and meander by the Monets and still afford a pot of Ramen Noodles at the end of the day.

Later, when my not-yet husband and I were not quite penniless but still relatively dollar-less, we started to donate a little bit more, a few dollars here and there. A fiver each.

Now, as adults with children of our own, we’re able to afford the full suggested donation. We don’t have to, we could still walk like Egyptians through the sarcophagi for free, but we do. Because we can afford it. And because for every time we fork over the suggested donation, it means the next young woman who is contemplating Ramen noodles vs. a night at the museum can do both.

We’re holding the door open.

My husband and I both benefitted greatly from the social stepping-stones in our lives: Free public education, Pell Grants and student loans, mortgage credits, tax credits, public transportation, a rent subsidized apartment in Brooklyn. Those stepping-stones got us to where we are now. And now? Now it’s our turn to hold the door open for the next group to come along and take advantage of those opportunities.

Ah, but Dina! I can hear some of you saying. Haven’t you ever held the door and watched people march right through without even saying thank you?? Haven’t you ever gotten stuck holding the door because people stroll right through without a second thought, totally taking advantage of you standing there like a chump?

Sure. And sometimes I even flip them off behind their backs. Sometimes I like to hiss at them. I may even passive aggressively mutter “You’re Welcome!” at their backs. But, in all my forty-some odd years, I’ve never let the door slam in someone’s face. At the end of the day, it’s not worth it just to prove a point.door 5

Literally.

And metaphorically.

Sometimes you might get stuck holding the door longer than you think is fair. You pay the  suggested donation while someone else who could easily afford it waltzes by the Water Lilies after dropping a buck in the bin. But most of the time–this is important–most of the time the reason you feel like you are stuck holding the door is because it takes some folks a lot longer to get there. Maybe they tripped on the way. Maybe they need help catching up. Maybe they can’t hold the door themselves or for the person behind them.

The young, the poor, the ones just starting out. The ones who need a little help getting there and the ones who need help holding it open. The ones who need a little more time. The ones who need a lot more.

There are always going to be people who take advantage of an open door. There are always going to be folks who feel entitled to walk on through without assuming their little share of social responsibility. But most of the time you release the door to a thank you and the person behind takes over.

You hold the door because someone held it open for you once upon a time. You hold the door because by assuming a little responsibility for the person coming up behind you is how societies function at their best. You hold doors because it’s the right thing to do.

When we pay our fair share–even if that share is more because there is more to begin with–we’re holding a door.

When we invest–in education, in health, in infrastructure for all–we’re holding a door.

door 3So hold the door. Hold it for the young woman who can go home and eat her Ramen Noodles after a day contemplating Van Gogh. Hold it for the young guy who need a little longer catching you up. Hold it for all the people who are coming up behind you, who deserve, just as much as you, whatever is on the other side. Whether it’s freedom or equality, opportunity or just the sky outside.

Hold the door.

Because some day, you’ll appreciate someone holding it for you once again.

An Open Letter to Mothers of Girls

Would you give me a lift to the glass ceiling, please?
Would you give me a lift to the glass ceiling, please?

Dear Moms of Girls,

I always figured I would have daughters. I won’t go so far as to say I envisioned myself holding bundles of pink and sparkle, but in the back of my head I looked forward to raising kick-ass girls who would rock and roll; girls who would build on the momentum of a righteously feminist mother and hopefully one day, leave me sputtering in the dust.

Then I went and had boys. And I’m here to tell you I am THAT mom of boys.

You know the one I mean, right? (Don’t lie. I can see you rolling your eyes from my couch.)

I’m the boring mother who insists that if they’re talking about a female over the age of eighteen, they use the word woman, the one that jumps on any chance to point out how we use words differently when we talk about boys and girls–and yeah, I stretch it a bit far sometimes to make a point. Usually it snaps back and hits me in the ass, but there you go.

I’m the one who lectures them until I’m sick of the sound of my own voice about listening when people say “I don’t like that” or “Stop touching me.” Even though my youngest is only 8 and has no interest in girls. Or boys. Or animals for that matter. But over and over. Look at me when I’m talking to you, this is important. When someone says not to touch them, you must.stop.touching.them.right.away.

I’m that boring-ass mother who’s constantly bringing up the achievements of girls and women. The one who’s teaching my sons to hold the door open for everyone, not just girls because it’s not about being a gentlemen, it’s about not being an asshole.

I’m the one who’s constantly harping on about how even though boys and girls are different, men and women are different, one is not better than another. The one always reminding them you can’t tell if someone is a boy or a girl by the length of their hair or the color of their shirt, what they like or don’t like, what they do or don’t do.

I’m the over-the-top mom, the one continuously pointing out stereotypes.

Great, thanks. Now let's talk about wage equality
Great, thanks. Now let’s talk about wage equality

I’m the one who doesn’t let my kids play video games that objectify women. The one who made sure they knows what a period is, what tampons are for, where babies come from, what boobs are for. The one who taught them the word vagina. The one who, when they’re ready, will be explaining that yes, women like sex because it feels good.

I’m the over-zealous mom who sat down with her 2nd grade son when he started going to school dances about how to respect girls, and what to do if a girl asked him to dance and he didn’t want to. That is wasn’t ok to laugh or make fun or disrespect, even if he wasn’t interested. Or in his case, terrified at the thought.

I’m the one who has told them if I ever find out they’re making fun of a way a girl looks I’ll take them down. If I ever find out they’re demeaning a girl, I’ll take them down. If I find out they’re using sexually charged insults I’ll be over them like white on rice. I’m the one that sounds like a whining drill that when I keep saying things like “cry like a girl” it is insulting, unfair and untrue.

I’m that annoying mom who doesn’t excuse aggression just because my kids are boys.

I’m the slight nut-case who has endless dinner table conversations about how women are under represented, how history only tells the story from one point, the one who quizzes them on  history facts about women and voting rights. (Yes. I really am that mom)

I’m the one that will sit their asses down and give them talk after talk about sex and consent and how if they are ever unsure, the answer is no.

I’m the one who is boring them to tears with conversations about the roles women have played in history.

I’m the one who is passionately ranting about how to make things equal. How it is important to value people for who they are and not assume they’re better just because they are a boy or a girl.

I’m the one who’s not worried so much about raising my sons to be gentlemen. Your daughters don’t need gentlemen. They deserve boys and men who view them as equals.

Math, science, computers. You?
Math, science, computers. You?

I’m the pain in the ass, you-are-sick-of-hearing mom who is continually pointing out that not only can girls do anything boys can do, but boys can do anything girls can do–well, except for the birth thing.

Yes, I’m THAT mom.

I’m a pain in the ass. I go on and on. I am a record stuck in a groove. I’m THAT mom.

The one who is raising boys to view your daughters as equals, as partners, as people.  The one who’s doing her damnedest to raise men who don’t worry as much about holding open doors as they do about making the world a more equal–and thereby better–place for us all.

I’m willing to take the fall, be the patsy, ignore the rolling eyes and huffing sighs…if it works.

I’m THAT mom.

Love,
Me

Both Sides Now

Death and LifeYesterday, as competitors in the Ironman Challenge raced past our apartment, pushing their bodies to the limit of endurance, I was slowly cycling toward an afternoon meant to celebrate the life of a woman who endured in a different way, who pushed her body to a different limit.

I knew about her long before we met. When she first got sick, she was the center of a buzz of activity: meals were cooked and delivered, the dog walked, company provided, magazines collected. I’ve seen this hive at work before, women swooping in and taking a slice of another woman’s burden as her own. It amazes me every time, and makes me grateful to be a part of this womanhood.

Over time, as her illness ebbed and flowed I met her in person, but it was through these pages she got to know me, and I her. Somehow these words and sentences reached out and connected us in the way that stories have been connecting humans since the beginning of time. Our shared experiences became the thread that tied us together. The knots were newer and looser than the ones which connected her to others, but no matter. Once tied, you’re forever knotted into the fabric of a life, no matter how loosely.

Recently her body reached its limit. All those binds and ties and knots were teased apart and released, but not before they came together one final time to weave a rich and colorful tapestry. Yesterday was meant to be a celebration of that tapestry–of that life–and I was honored to be included.

Yet as her husband talked to us about her wishes after death, I felt sightly fraudulent. Surely all of these people knew her so much better than I had, surely they were more deserving of this celebration. He continued, shifting between Danish and English, and I caught the song playing in the background.

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
from up and down, and still somehow
it’s cloud illusions I recall.
I really don’t know clouds at all.

It’s impossible for me to associate Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now with anything other than the moment Emma Thompson faces the truth of her husband’s infidelity in Love, Actually. It’s one of those snapshots of everyday life which make you question if love–and fear and happiness and anger–all the emotions that boil and bubble together to make a life, are worth the pain of loss. The soundtrack to that scene is part funeral dirge, part broken heart. It is mournful, haunting, and rueful, the warble of a woman who has seen, lived, loved. And lost.

We’re allowed merely a glimpse of pain before the character swipes at her eyes, straightens the bed sheet, and throws open the door with a forced smile. Endurance of a completely different kind than those athletes hurtling toward a finish line.

Those sixty or so seconds of music and emotion get me every, single time. Yesterday was no exception.

Yet the day was not about mourning a death, but celebrating a life. There was food and wine, music, bright colors and funny quotes. No one seemed to be weighed down by the mantle of her death, what there was instead, present in every breath, was life. Hers, and ours, and in that moment, the culmination of the two.

Both sides now. Life and death, before and after, with and without.

At the end of the afternoon I cycled back home. The athletes were still going, doggedly pedaling by, pushing their bodies to the max. Most of them had a literal marathon still in front of them. It is a stamina I don’t possess, but then perhaps, none of us realize the strength we have until we are tested. Endurance, after all, comes in many forms.

fly free

To swipe at your eyes, straighten your bed sheets, and throw open the door to the unknown.

Is it worth it? How can it not be? I hope that when she threw open that last door it was not with a forced smile, but with the knowledge that her life, though ended, will still live on in the knots of ours., in the stories we tell to connect to one another.

I hope that as she crossed that finish line, the promise of both sides beckoned.

Fly free, Trish. May you look at clouds from both sides now.