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.

One Day at a Time, One Woman at Time

I have a challenge for you. Every day for the next week, compliment a woman.

To be sure your wife, your best friend, your mother or daughter–they should be complimented freely and frequently, but for now, go a bit further afield. A co-worker or colleague, perhaps. Maybe the woman who gets your coffee order right every day. Hell, send a tweet to a woman in public office you admire, an artist whose work you love, an activist who inspires you. Say something nice to the small, elderly lady you see going to the shop every day by herself.

Compliment a woman every day for a week.

That’s it.

As far as challenges go, pretty simple right? I mean I’m not asking you to sell Girl Scout cookies or shove two dozen hot dogs down your throat. I’m not even asking you to give up sugar or alcohol. Easy peasy.

Ok, ok, there’s one, small catch. Your compliment can’t rely on a woman’s physical appearance or what she’s wearing.

Did that make it more difficult? After all, appearance is our go-to with women, our fail-safe.

You look nice today. Your hair looks beautiful. You look good. You’re looking well. I love the way that dress looks on you. That color looks great on you.**
Look, look, look.

Look: There are tens of millions of women who are doing hundreds of millions of admirable, compliment-worthy things each and every day. Single moms who are raising amazing kids in difficult circumstances. Women who donate their time to help others. Women who work to cure cancer. Women who teach your kids and care for your elderly mother, who do a million shitty jobs with a smile. Girls who are acing AP chemistry exams and breaking sports records. How often do we actually see these women, the ones who aren’t our wives or daughters or friends? And, when we do see them, how often do we see beyond the shade of their hair or the clothes they’re wearing?

How often do we tell them that we see them, see what they’re doing?

**************

If the patriarchy was set up by men, the mechanisms which keep it running are lubricated by women. And most of the time we aren’t even aware we’re dutifully oiling the cogs.

Some women like the protection and order a hierarchical structure offers them. There are plenty of women who benefit from patriarchy. Think Serena Joy in The Handmaid’s Tale, or the Aunts, clinging to whatever crumb of power over others they are allowed. As long as a human being has power over another, they are going to question dismantling the structure that allows them that power–even if it’s hurting them in other ways. Some women bristle against the idea of inequality-perhaps because they haven’t faced any situation or scenario in which they’ve felt unequal. Others bristle against it because it’s a painful thing to come up against, the idea that there is a structure in place which fundamentally views a category of people as inferior.

So we fight. Not against the power structure itself though. We fight with each other.

Frankly, women are often awful to other women. Instead of working together to form a bridge so we can move forward as a whole, we’re hurling one another off at the closest checkpoint, burning it behind us, in front of us, making sure that no one can get across.

The structure’s already there. It only needs an occasional tweak. And we’re doing most of the maintenance ourselves.

**************

A while ago I made a conscious decision to stop judging other woman on the way they look. I try not to disparage women for the choices they make. I try. It’s not always easy. There are plenty of women in the world who disagree with me, and I them. Forcefully. There are women who believe that the role of women is to be subservient, behind the scenes, best supporting role in a male society category. As much as that makes me go all funny in the head and want to stage a full-scale intervention, if my definition of sisterhood does not have room for their personal choices, then I’m really no better. We don’t have to agree. But neither one of us is ever going to get anywhere if we’re dueling it out in the middle of the bridge while other women dismantle the support struts.

I refuse to support a system which encourages me to view other women as my enemy (except for Ann Coulter. I will make an exception for Ann Coulter). I am not going to keep oiling the gears. If a system of a down is going to keep me down, I’m going to make the fuckers who are benefitting from it work to keep it running.

I’ll be damned if I’m going to do the work for them.

So I stopped. I make a conscious effort every day to support other women. I pay more attention to the way I treat other women. And I, who write about it, who is so focused on it that I miss the forest for the trees at times, I have a long way to go.

So I’m on a mission, to lift one woman at a time, one day at a time. And the easiest way to do that is to actually see other women. To look at them. To listen and support. And to let them know I see them and hear them.

That’s it.

I can’t swoop in and change the world, even though there are times I desperately want to. I can’t beat people over the head, though some times I desperately want to do that too. I can’t control what is out of my hands, but I can control how I react to the world around me. And I can control how I live my life.

And for now, I choose this.

One woman at a time. One day at a time.

I’m not saying it’s going to change the world. But it will change me. And isn’t that a good enough place to start?

 

 

 

**In Darling, You Look Marvelous, I wrote about the importance of women complimenting other women, particulary their physical attributes, as a way to get over viweing other women as competition. Viewing women as ‘other’, as competition, is simply anohter cog in the machine we’re continaully greasing up.

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.

**************

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?