Why Don’t We Believe Women?

My feelings about Feminism are well and widely known. My opinions are not hidden under a layer of civility or justification. On the contrary, they have, in recent months, become louder and further cemented in my belief system. Despite all that, there’s one question I circle back to time and time again.

Why don’t we believe women?

Barring extremists, and apparently Polish EU lawmakers, I’m going to assume most people don’t think women are intellectually inferior. I think most agree–at least on the surface-that women should enjoy equal rights.

Yet almost everything we do as a society undermines that basic foundation–because we continue to mistrust women. This holds true for the poor and minorities as well, but I’m a little hyper focused these days, so I’ll focus on the female.

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When it comes to sex and reproduction, we repeatedly and continually mistrust women to know what is best, to do what is right for themselves and their families, to make complex and personal decisions.

It seems the very idea of a sexual woman, one unencumbered by the weight of possible motherhood, is as terrifying now as it always has been. Smack in the 21st Century, women who have sex are still the Boogeywoman. Are we so frightened that allowing women control of their bodies will result in some sort of Vagina Dentata Spring Break? That we will unleash a secret society of Succubi? Are we really that afraid of women who have sex?

Look, a woman who was or is willing to risk death by putting her life in the hands of a back-alley abortionist, or ordering unknown pills of the internet, or mutilating herself with knitting needles solely for the purpose of ending an unwanted pregnancy is telling us something. Loudly and clearly. Why don’t we trust her? Abortion in the United States was not legalized to encourage women to have more abortions. It was legalized to regulate it. As much as it may offend some to think it, women have always and will always seek ways to end pregnancies. It was only legalized in the US because enough women were bleeding to death or dying of sepsis that someone finally took notice.

When a woman makes the very private decision to end a pregnancy why don’t we believe she made the right decision for her? Why don’t we trust she knows what she is doing?

The myth that all women are meant to be mothers, or that all women, when presented with a child will love and nurture it is not only false, it’s dangerous. Not all women should be or want to be mothers. Why do we doubt them? Why do we perpetrate the misguided notion that she can simply ‘give the child’ up for adoption, conveniently ignoring the health, financial, and psychological toll that nine months of pregnancy and birth will have upon her (while simultaneously completely ignoring the male role in that pregnancy)?

Why don’t we believe women?

When a woman tells a friend, or the media, or the police, or a judge that she has been raped, why don’t we believe her? Why do we continually search for reasons why she was raped instead of accepting the reason is simple: some men are rapists.

When a woman says she is being beaten, why don’t we believe her? Even with bruises circling her eyes, we will gratefully swallow any cheap excuse offered. She walked into a door. She fell down the stairs. We want those excuses because it means we don’t have to examine the complexity of feelings dredged up by the idea of a woman being violently beaten, including, first and foremost, the truthfulness of her claims.

We don’t believe women who report marital rape or domestic violence. Surely she must have done something wrong.

We don’t believe women who report sexual harassment on the job. Surely she’s just too sensitive, can’t take a joke.

We don’t believe women when they talk about the barriers to their success. Surely they’re just not trying hard enough.

We don’t believe women who tell us they’re treated differently than men in the same field. Surely it’s all in their head.

We don’t believe women who outline the obstacles they must overcome in order to compete in the workplace. Surely they’re just not as qualified, or don’t want it badly enough.

We don’t believe women when they speak of  the everyday sexism they face. Surely they’re just making it up to get ahead.

We don’t believe gay women really love other women. Surely they just hate men–or haven’t met the right one.

We don’t believe women when they file discrimination suits. Surely they’re just seeking revenge.

We don’t believe women of color when they tell us for every 78 cents on the dollar a white woman makes over the course of her life, she will make between 58 and 65 cents. Surely it must be something else. Certainly it is not because she’s black, Hispanic, because she’s a woman.

We don’t believe Trans women are using bathrooms in the exact same way we all do. Surely they are lying to cover some nefarious plot.

We don’t believe women when they talk about the challenges of balancing a career and a family. Surely they’re exaggerating, after all, men do it all the time.

Do we honestly think women take low paying jobs because they’re not as smart, or ambitious, or educated as men? Study after study shows the opposite. Study after study shows more women graduate college than men, but women make up a disproportionate number of minimum wage workers.

Are we honestly going to pretend it’s because they’re just dumb? Lazy? That they are un or under-qualified? That they want shitty jobs?

Or could it maybe, just maybe, have to do with the fact that women face obstacles which simply aren’t there for men?

We don’t believe women, either individually or as a group, when they try to tell us these things.

What’s it going to take for us to start believing women?

 

 

Behind the Scenes of a Stay at Home Parent

By now you’ve probably seen the video of Robert Kelly, the father whose children danced their way into viral stardom.…and his BBC interview. Children look for dad, mom tries to corral them out of the room, hilarity ensues. Well, for viewers anyway. I’m not sure if Professor Kelly’s wife Kim Jung A is a stay at home parent, but watching her on all fours trying to salvage her husband’s interview summed up what many stay at home parents do daily behind the scenes.

In this case, it just so happened that it took place in full view of a news camera.

Stay-at-home parents. Ridiculed, minimized, poo-poohed, satirized, parodied, endlessly mocked. A friend told me a story recently. An adult at her child’s school tried, unsuccessfully, to reach my friend on the phone. When she finally was able to take the call, she was asked, sarcastically, whether she’d been too busy at tennis or Pilates. The same was asked of her child. The answer was neither, but the anecdote illustrates the value many place on stay-at-home parents. That is, usually not much.

The truth is, the stay-at-home parents I know are running troops so that other people’s children can take part in Scouts. They are raising money for children in Syria, giving their time and skills to programs that help trafficked women. They are volunteering at school, heading up committees, ‘donating’ their professional skills in terms of expertise, experience, and time. Do some of them play tennis too? Sure thing. Pilates? Yup. But the idea of stay-at-home parents sucking on bottles of Proseco? Pfft.

That’s only on special occasions.

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You know the folks who wield the brooms in the odd sport of curling? The ones who move ahead, sweeping furiously, freeing the ice of debris and bumps so the stone can slide freely across the finish line?

Stay at home parents are those players, sweeping away all the crumbs and debris that life throws at you to help their family reach the finish line in as smooth a line as possible.

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It took me a long time to realize the value in what I do, to stop equating money in the bank with worth. Just because I’m not presented with a paycheck at the end of the month, I won’t minimize the way I am able to make my family’s life that much easier for them.

My husband wouldn’t have the job he has now unless we agreed to move overseas, which meant I gave up my job. My being a stay at home parent right now means he can travel when he needs to, stay late at work on a moment’s notice, not worry about the school calling him up when someone’s puking their lunch up, enroll in a Master’s course, and not worry about what to do with the kids during the 14 weeks a year when they don’t have school. Generally he is able to delegate most of the boring day-to-day stuff. To me. You know, the stuff everyone hates doing. The stuff which usually makes everyone’s lives immeasurably smoother.

Don’t get me wrong. I complain. Sometimes bitterly. I complain my college degree is wasted. That my kids are–right now–growing up without the role model of a mother who works outside the home (they don’t equate writing a novel or winning writing contests with work. Work to them means in an office, behind a desk). I complain about the huge portion of my day spent in the kitchen. But, my husband and I, we’re in this together. He couldn’t do what he does as smoothly if I was working outside the home. I couldn’t do what I do (right now that’s writing novel 2) if I was working. Despite the trade offs (and there are always trade offs), we make it work.

Do we miss the cushion of another salary at times? Absolutely. But just because it doesn’t result in a direct deposit into our joint account doesn’t mean my role in the family is worthless.

I am the sweeper. Rememberer of cards and buyer of birthday presents, scheduler of conferences and vaccination up-keeper. I am able to pick up the slack for those mothers I know who are earning outside the home, volunteering when they can’t, helping out on field trips and class events, things that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Stay-at-home parents are often the ones car pooling everyone else’s kids, standing in during emergencies, reading to another mother’s child at an open house because she couldn’t get the time off work. I’m not writing that to make working parents feel guilty. On the contrary, I am then able to point out that working mother as an example to my own children. Working parents have to figure out all of this stuff too, and it’s stressful. Our choice for me to stay home leads to less vacations, less dinners out, but it also leads to less stress for my husband and kids–and at times, more for me.

These are all the things going on behind the normally locked door while Mom or Dad is giving an interview to the BBC. Or going on in the house when Mum or Dad is in the office. Keeping the kids quiet, entertained, fed, healthy, play-dated, socialized, and out of the way so the working parent can do their job, do it well, do it with a little bit (or a lot) less stress.

I’m aware how lucky we are for me to stay home and be that sweeper. I know that for many, many families, they are playing all the roles at once. Sweeper, curler, coach, referee, stone, and hell, even the ice. I’m grateful for the opportunity, to stay at home, to volunteer, to write; grateful we’ve been afforded, quite literally, this chance.

But I also expect my family to be grateful for what I provide as well, both behind the scenes and out in front where everyone can see.

 

 

Do We Still Need Buffy?

Twenty years ago, Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered. A blond assassin of the undead, an older white guy who wasn’t in charge, crushes, bullying, inter-species romance. Buffy had it all. Two decades on, the show is still a go-to reference when you find yourself looking around at the intersection of feminism and pop culture.

Today’s young girls, a full generation behind the vampire slayer’s fans, have grown up in a post-Buffy world. A world in which the Hell Mouth is sealed and all the demons are safely tucked away in their graves.

So twenty years on, do we still need Buffy?

I was an adult when the series premiered back in 1997, well past the age of breakouts and quarterback crushes, yet I loved it from the start. It was clever and bitingly funny. Many of the issues tackled were problems which follow you from the hell of high school hallways right into the abyss of adulthood. Plus, you know, Angel was a good looking guy. And if nothing else, I’m a sucker for a slayer-vampire Romeo and Juliet story arc.

The show blew a Buffy shaped hole in pop culture and through that opening, a slew of female protagonists marched. Xena, Katniss, Tris, Rey, Jin. Today’s girls have grown up never questioning strong female protagonists–slayers of the undead, leaders of rebellions, warrior princesses. Today’s girls are living in a post-Buffy bubble.

But that bubble? It’s in a world which is most decidedly not post-Buffy.

Girls may take strong female leads for granted nowadays. Princesses who insist upon saving themselves. Star Wars heroines who tell the guy to let go of her hand. Teenagers like Buffy and Katniss who are doing the saving, the sacrifice, and still finding time to fall in love on the side. A steady diet of girl power, fed to them by mothers who have often witnessed the double standards women face in the world themselves and are determined to show their daughters something different, and by fathers who are woke enough to realize how much representation matters.

But I worry that some of these young women, many of whom have yet to face workplace discrimination, the unfair burden that parenthood places on one parent, the systematic drip-drip of micro-aggressions that eventually wear a groove in your soul–those young women may think they are living in a world in which all the problems of sexism have already been slayed with a sharpened stake and biting wit. A world in which the Hell Mouth stays sealed and life is sunny in Sunny Dale once again.

But just because there was a Buffy doesn’t mean all the monsters are gone. All those nasties? They are still sulking around just under the surface. The vampires? It’s things like harassment, all the indignities which can suck the life out of many working women, everything from being overlooked for promotions, to being groped at the water cooler, to being talked over and interrupted. The demons? There’s the motherhood penalty, in which even women who aren’t mothers often make less money than their male peers, regardless of the male’s parenthood status. The Gentlemen? Well, several of them occupy the current White House administration. The ghouls and devils and masters? Double standards, double binds, the lock-step of a patriarchal system.

A sharp stick is only going to go so far. A biting wit is great for Facebook, but it’s not going to do much to slay years of ingrained attitude. We still need Buffy, or the idea of her anyway. We still need someone to show us how to slay the monsters with a roundhouse kick and a chair leg, how to be vulnerable but not allow that vulnerability to get in the way of taking action when action is needed. What we really need is a whole generation of Buffys. Forget the ‘into every generation a slayer is born’ stuff. Right now, the Hell Mouth is yawning and the Capitol from the Hunger Games is staring up at us.

I don’t know what’s coming, but I can tell you that in my many years, I’ve never seen so much focus on women, women’s lives, and women’s issues as I have in the last year. I’ve never seen the coordinated resistance, the anger and organization, the push back–from women–that I’m seeing now. And if something big is in the air, a seismic cultural shift, we’re going to need all the Buffys we can get.

The show may have ended thirteen years ago, but the need for a slayer never really goes away. Not really.

So, do we still need Buffy?

Hell Mouth yeah.

 

Dear World, Don’t Sell My Sons Short

Dear World,

Do me a favor, will you?

Don’t sell my sons short.

Let me ‘splain. No, no time to ‘splain, let me sum up….

You, world, you sell them short each time you assume they’re going to act like Neanderthals  simply because they are in possession of testicles and a willy. You do it every time you insist they’ll be distracted by the first spaghetti strap that crosses their line of vision, or an extra inch of thigh skin. You do it every time you restrict someone else in response to an embarrassing pubescent erection, which, let’s be honest, is just as likely the result of the wind blowing the wrong way as it is to an object of affection walking by.

You keep selling them short. You presume that somewhere, embedded into the XY chromosomes my sons carry, is a short-circuit which prevents them from telling right from wrong, from conscious choice and decision making, from weighing the options and coming down firmly on the side of acceptable.

But the animal kingdom! You cry. But biology! Precedent! You cry, cry, cry me a river as if human beings and society has not been a constantly evolving game of hit or miss all along.

So please, don’t use elephants in the wild to assume that my sons won’t be able to appreciate the sexuality of a peer without losing their shit and flunking algebra.

They are boys, not single-celled organisms. They are eminently capable of reason and ability, in possession of a morality and a conscience. Don’t give them an easy out or a ready excuse by claiming, repeatedly, they can’t help it.

They are capable of so much more than that. Let them show you.

The US Marine Corps. is smack in the midst of a scandal at the moment. Photos of female Marines, many to them explicit, were hacked, uploaded, taken and shared among a group of 30,000 male Marines.

Cue the tried and trite excuses:

“Well, what do you expect?”
“This is what happens when you have men and women serving together.”
“Men are lusty/animals/biologically programmed”
“All men do stuff like this. It’s locker-room talk.”

Don’t.Do.That.

Men are not static creatures. My boys are not static. They are dynamic. Society changes, we progress. What do I expect, world?

I expect that as a whole, we have moved beyond “well, what do you expect?” and on to “I expect better.”

Don’t tell them not to cry. Don’t tell them to man up. Don’t tell them to grow a set. The need to cry, to empathize and emote–it is not shameful or womanly, it is human. They’ll be men by virtue of growing and maturing into larger, hairier versions of themselves. Don’t sell them short by handing over a definitive list of rules and regulations they need to meet in order to be men. Allow them the freedom to define themselves.

The majority of men don’t rape, don’t grope, don’t assault or assume. The majority of men understand consent. The vast majority of boys and men manage entire lives without uploading nude photos because they have been taught it is not right, or something inside them realizes it is not. If men truly were programmed to do those things, if that’s just what men ‘do’, does that mean all the men who don’t aren’t real men but imposters, traitors to their DNA?

Don’t sell my kids short just because they happen to be boys. Don’t assume they don’t know their way around a conscience.

Don’t give them the easy out of ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘men will be men’. Not only are you excusing behavior, you’re excusing me from my job of parenting them to know right from wrong.

And in case you need a list to put on your refrigerator, here’s a starter. Feel free to add to it as you go along.

 

It is not right to ask a girl to take, send, upload or share nude photos of herself or other females.

It is not right, if a compromising picture exists, to assume you have permission to share that picture. Its existence does not absolve you of wrongdoing.

It is not right to force yourself on a girl or woman who has not given her consent. And yes, that means if you’re unsure, you explicitly ask. And if you’re still unsure, you walk away. Even if it would have meant getting your rocks off.

It is not right to have sex with a girl or woman who is drunk, on drugs, or in any other way mentally incapable of giving informed consent. Having sex with an unconscious girl is rape. Even if she was flirting with you an hour before. Even if her skirt rode up. Even if she’s lying naked on your bed. Why? Because women who cannot speak can’t give consent. And consent should never be assumed.

It is not right to expect girls and women to manage the way they dress, or act, or speak or behave because it makes a man uncomfortable. Boys and men capable of managing their own emotions. Let them. If a girl walks by and her spaghetti strap distracts a boy or man? It’s up to the boy or man to change their behavior, not to force the girl to widen her straps. Every time you assume a boy or man can’t manage those feelings, you are not only taking something away from a girl or woman, you’re taking away something from a boy too. The ability to manage his own emotions and actions.

Don’t sell my boys short. I have taught them, I am teaching them, to tell right from wrong, that respect is not limited to sex or gender, that just because someone else does it it’s not ok, that if it makes them question the devil standing on one shoulder, it’s most likely wrong.

We all make mistakes. We all utilize poor judgment from time to time–girls, boys, men and women. But don’t sell my boys short by excusing that capacity for judgment in the first place.

I hold my sons to incredibly high standards. You should too. Not just my sons. All the sons.

Love,
Me