To the Thirteen White Male Senators Deciding the Fate of My Health Care

We have no interest in playing the games of identity politics. To reduce this to gender, race or geography misses the more important point of the diverse segments of the conference the group represents on policy — from members who support Medicaid expansion, to those opposed to it, to those who have called for long-term full repeal.”

Dear Senators,

All due respect, but I believe it’s you who are missing the important point. You cannot reduce to gender or race–but you can expand to them.

You presume, you thirteen white men, to make decisions and policies which will affect all of us, from sea to shining sea. You assume we will trust you, because until recently, we’ve had no choice but to trust you. But I don’t. I don’t trust you. You don’t represent me. I don’t mean party politics, Republican or Democrat. I mean you have never experienced the need for female driven policy, or policy that focuses on race, or centers issues unique to the LGBTQ community. Because you are none of those things.

Female driven policy is different. Race driven policy is different. LGBTQ driven policy is different. And that is a good thing. It brings diversity to the table. It’s Thai on Monday and sushi on Thursday instead of meatloaf every, single night. It means the needs of others, needs that are different from your own, are brought to the forefront. It is taking and shaping the experiences of those identities and using them, smartly, to craft broader policy.

Senator McConnell, have you ever found yourself unexpectedly pregnant, halfway through high school, unable to afford to raise a child? Have you, Senator Hatch ever been the victim of a rape? How about you, Senator Cruz? Have you ever been refused medication because a nurse perceived you to be exaggerating your pain levels simply because you’re black?

No?

Senator Alexander, have you ever had to use a breast pump at work?  Have you ever needed to limp into work with stitches holding your cervix together, Senator Thune? Senator Lee, have you left your six-week old infant at daycare while your breasts leaked with milk, because you were afraid to lose your job? How about you, Senator Enzi? Ever walk into work, bleeding due to a miscarriage, unable to take time off from work?

No?

Senator Cotton, have you ever looked at the maternal death rates for black women and worried, will that me? Senator Cornyn, have you read the infant mortality rates for black infants and worried if the child you were carrying inside you would die?

No?

How can you, thirteen white men, craft a comprehensive health care plan which must include women and people of color and LGBTQ without including them in your debate and decision-making process?

It is presumptuous and condescending and dangerous. And yet it is par for the course.

There is no identity politics. There is America. There is diversity. There is us. We are those identities, and those identities define our politics in the sense that they must be given a voice in any policy that is going to last.

You ask us to trust you, yet you routinely and rather spectacularly at times fail to earn that trust. You fail not necessarily because you are trying to punish or withhold, though certainly that is sometimes true, but often because you just don’t know any better. Why would family leave and maternity coverage and reproductive rights be at the top of your list? Why would funding to find out why black mothers die at a higher rate, and black babies die more frequently be important to you? After all, those policies, those politics, aren’t part of your identity.

But they’re part of ours.

Anyone who doesn’t fit into the narrow confine of those that will sit around your table has the word identity attached to them. Card-carrying members. Race, gender, sex. When we try to point out the ludicrousness of trying to craft policy without the representation of those groups, we are accused of playing a card. As if we were cheating at poker instead of trying to save our own lives.

We’re demanding a seat at the table. Because, to paraphrase Cecile Richards, if we do not have a seat at the table, we are on the menu.

When your surrogates claim women are using Medicaid funds for abortions to ‘travel’, or that women who want abortions can go to the zoo, you fail. You fail when you admit you don’t know why women seek abortions. You fail when you don’t demand mandatory maternity coverage. You fail when you don’t craft humane family leave policy. You fail when you don’t ensure that victims of domestic and sexual abuse will be given health care. You fail when you don’t take into account the way Americans of color and Americans in rural areas are underserved by hospitals and doctors. You fail and you fail.

But your biggest failure is insisting that you have the ability and experience to make decisions for all of us, without our input.

You fail because you are thirteen white heterosexual men…only. And you always have been. The number has changed, but the homogeny has not.

Imagine if this committee was made up of thirteen black women. Or thirteen gay men. Imagine if it were made up of thirteen members that did not include a white, hetero, cisgendered, Christian male. Would you feel like your needs were being met? The issues important to you given consideration? Yet that is what you continually ask us all to do, time and time again. To trust you to represent us.

So no, I do not expect you to come up with a bill that will do right by women, or by Americans of color. Or by the poor, or anyone else who must carry with them the tag of ‘identity’ with them wherever they go. Because anytime you have a group that is without diversity of thought and experience, you’re bound to fail.

You have failed us enough. Why should this time be any different?

A Word to Progressives

There’s a story I’ve been telling recently I think bears repeating.

A year or two before my son started school, there was a buzz. Word on the playground was that a momentum was building. A group of neighborhood parents, priced out of NYC private schools and frustrated at the lackluster performance of the local public schools, were starting to mobilize. Fantastic, right? These parents started getting involved, going to town halls and attending district and zone meetings. They organized and advocated. They had binders full great ideas that would benefit not only their own kids, but everyone’s kids. Win/win.

In their passion to improve what was already there they neglected one important thing: the people who already called that school home. And those folks were understandably wary and resentful of a group of newcomers rushing in demanding change while liberally pointing out fault and failure.

I’m watching the same thing happen now with the progressive movement in the US. A fired-up grass-roots movement which wants to overhaul the Democratic Party for the betterment of all. Fantastic, right? But as I’m watching, I’m shaking my head. Because many are making the same mistake those neighborhood parents made: they’re not taking into account the people who actually make up the Democratic party.

The Democrats lost the last election. Bigly. They’ve lost countless seats and governorships in the last few election years. We can autopsy the whys until we’re covered in the gore of yesterday. We can place blame from here until Tuesday. None of that changes the fact that when you march into someone else’s school–or house, or political party–expecting to radically change the structure, you must take into account the needs, wants, and desires of the people who actually live there. Or, as the case may be, vote there.

Even if your ideas are great. Even if your ideas will help the people already there.

No one likes to be told they’re doing things wrong. No one likes to be told if only. Never mind if you’re right or not. Everyone’s well-versed in hindsight and its eagle-eyed vision. Would you march into someone else’s house and start shouting “You chose the wrong carpet! Your decor sucks! What were you thinking? Oh by the way, can I come stay with you for a while until I get my own place?”

If you expect them to say “Well sure, here are the keys!”, I want some of what you’re smoking.

What are they likely to do? The same thing any human being does when told they’re wrong, or stupid, or not good enough. They bristle. They resent the hell out of you. And they probably try to block every single attempt to change because hey, maybe the school/house/party is failing, but damn if it’s not our school and who are you to tell us how to do things? 

It makes my heart swell to see millions striving to make the world a more equitable place. But….you need to remember that there are millions of Democrats who’ve been living in their blue house for decades. Maybe it is falling down around them (and that point is arguable in and of itself). But remember, even if it is, it’s their damn house and they’ve been paying the mortgage on it for years. And despite what you may think, they’ve had a lot of good times in that house. There are some good memories there. They’re not going to let someone they don’t know come in and start tearing up the linoleum to see if there’s hardwood underneath, all the while berating them for every decorating choice they’ve made since 1960.

Most people don’t like change. It’s uncomfortable. Even when that change is going to benefit them. The reasons why so many old school Democrats are committed now to a resistance movement is that the change is threatening to go too far in one direction. But remember, for millions of Democrats–the people who have been living in that house, the ones who have been showing up and voting–change too far in the other direction is just as frightening. And they’ll fight it just as much.

Right now, Progressives need to rent some room in the Democrat’s house. Sure, you could declare it condemned. You could burn it and build something new. You could find another house on another street. But that all takes time, and by the time all is said and done, it could be too late.

Or…you could work with the people already living there. And, chances are, when you start looking around, you’re going to find a pretty decent bone structure to work with. In fact, the place may not be in as much disarray as you thought it was when you dragged your sleeping bag in looking for a place to squat.

Smart Progressives will approach coalition building with courtesy, caution, and yes, compromise. Maybe you reach an agreement to live together until your own house is ready. Great! After all, help with the bills is always welcomed. Until it’s ready it would be wise to remember that if you need a place to stay, it’s probably not the smartest move to go around  knocking holes in the walls and incessantly bringing up that time in 1992 when they let the pipes freeze. Or else you may just find your ass on the street. Noble intentions, passion, and good ideas go a long way, but when there’s a hurricane bearing down upon you, and there’s a big old blue house on the corner inviting you in, it would be dumb not to take shelter. Even if the roof is leaky and it stinks like mothballs. 

Eventually the new parents in my Brooklyn hood worked with the long-time neighborhood residents, wisely realizing that even if the school wasn’t winning any awards, it wasn’t really their school to criticize. The need for underlying change and improvement hadn’t gone away, but any forward motion had to take the old into account as well as the new.

Resistance is necessary. But the last thing a resistance movement needs is resistance within itself.

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.

 

Dancing With My Angry Self

pasdedeuxI’ve been dancing with anger for some time now. Perhaps it’s been on simmer for years, finally coming to a boil after a contentious election cycle. Maybe my hormones are shifting. Perhaps it’s an awakening. The why isn’t important.

Whatever the reason, my anger and I have gotten to know each other very well over the past few months, an intimate pas de deux.

What are you so angry at? People ask. Why is your daughter so angry? People ask my mother. Why is your wife so angry? People ask my husband.

The short answer? I’m angry at men.

I know it’s not fair to lump an entire sex into that sentence and that is one of the more complex movements of this dance. But I’m attempting to be as open and honest as I can–because I know I’m not alone in this.

There will be men who are offended by this bluntness, or perhaps surprised by it. I know because I had the same reaction when I started reading articles by feminists of color expressing their anger toward white women. But I”m not that woman! was my immediate response. And maybe I’m not. But I probably am, because regardless of who I think I am, I am the beneficiary and heir of a movement which has systematically left women of color behind. I cannot claim the successes without acknowledging the failures.

The same way men, in particular white men, are the beneficiary of centuries of patriarchal structure, whether they participate in it, uphold it, applaud it or try to change it. Men bear the weight of that structure on their shoulders. You can’t escape it simply because you know it’s wrong, it is too entwined with who you are.

And it pisses me off.

You hear a lot these days about being ‘woke’.  Woke to privilege, to racism, to sexism. Accepting you are part of the problem is a big part of waking up, scraping the crust of a lifetime of sleep away from the corners of your eyes. It’s uncomfortable. Yet as uncomfortable as it was and still is, I must keep acknowledging how I am part of the problem–even when all I want to be is part of the solution.

So I get it. I know there are men who want to be part of the solution, but in order to do that, you must realize you play a bigger part in the problem, whether it’s intentional or not.

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Being spitting mad with an entire sex has its downside of course. The biggest is that I’m married to one of those ‘men’. I’m raising two more. Nothing bitch slaps you in the face like expecting to smash the patriarchy and instead realizing you are raising the next installment of it. The rational woman within me recognizes that my husband is the best man I know. I know my sons are growing up with a sense of equality that didn’t even exist when I was a girl. I know many men who are allies, are compassionate, are feminists.

And yet, I”m still angry. For better or worse, I’m unapologetically angry with men. Fair or un, it’s there, pulsing like a metronome. And me and my angry self keep dancing.

The last year has felt like one big sucker-punch, kick in the teeth and stab in the back–with a “fuck you” thrown in for good measure. This is not just about election results, it’s also about the resurgence of anti-feminist hate groups. It’s about GamerGate and Breitbart headlines. It’s about male politicians introducing bogus legislation and men who have no clue what it is like to be a woman explaining to women what their problems are. It’s mansplaining and insulting. The casualness with which the demands of women are forever dismissed. The brush offs. And yes, the hate. Because there it is, at the core. And hate is what is coming through to my woke-ass ears loud and clear.

You see, it’s a pretty devastating thing to wake up one day, remove that last layer of crust from your eyes, and realize how hated you are by some. Simply by virtue of being a girl or  woman. It’s a harsh truth to stomach. There are men who hate women. There are men who simply don’t care. There are men who want to kill women just for being women. Or who use them as punching bags or live sex toys. There are men who think women are stupid, incapable, in possession of an emotion and intellect less than a man’s. Even if none of those things affects me personally, I cannot escape the fact that I am a woman, and these things are out there. They are the discordant notes I am dancing to.

Grappling with that leaves little time to stop and ask every man I see, “hey, are you one of those men who hate women?” And so generalization steps in to fill the gap.

I knew all of this of course. I’ve known it since I was a girl kneeling on a pew when someone told me there were no altar girls. But something about the past year has driven all of this home with a ferocity and clarity that’s left me breathless.

Sucker punch, kick in the teeth, dagger in the kidney.

I’ve come some way. I no longer vibrate with fury every time I see a male. I no longer want to smash things or spit in their face. Progress, right?

145Did you think only men got that angry? Only Fatal Attraction level crazy ex girlfriends? No. White middle-aged women get that angry. I am that angry.

Are you friend or foe? Adversary or ally? I don’t have the time or head space to ask. It is up to men to show me which they are. I’ve been giving most men the benefit of the doubt my whole life. I can’t afford those benefits anymore. The well is tapped.

If this post makes me sound like an angry woman, good. That’s the point. There is a time and a place for anger. The time and place are here and now.