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?

For the Greater Good

fire-bucket-brigadeI’m a parent. I’m supposed to be teaching my kids, guiding them, yet I’m continually humbled by how much I learn from them whenever I stop to watch and listen.

Recently we took a trip to the local science museum–because science is real, and fun, and interesting, and because my kids always do better in museums with hands-on experiments about centrifugal force than they do in museums with hands-off paintings on the wall. Nevertheless. Toward the end of the day we made our way to a large space dominated by a Rube Goldberg structure with balls and pulleys, chutes and ladders. More than anything, it looked like a life-size version of the game Mousetrap we used to play as kids. The true purpose of the From København to Singapore exhibit, which involved push and pull cargo ships and lots of plastic balls, was lost on me. But just by watching, I learned a lesson.

The space was packed. There were parents on the sidelines, some, like me, continually checking their phone for news about the downfall of western civilization. Ok, maybe that was just me. But those very adult worries were swallowed up by what was going on in the room. What was going on in the room was this: a room full of about forty kids–all working together–in order to make things happen.

There was a hodgepodge of languages, Danish, English, Spanish, Russian. There were toddlers pulling little cargo boats and kids in their early teens loading them up every time they ‘docked’. There were boys unloading and girls shoving more balls into the chutes to start the process all over again. And yet somehow these kids, who’d never spoken to one another or met one another, all worked together to move those balls from the København side of the room to the Singapore side. They were all working together for the greater good.

Kids seem to get this idea naturally. Never mind that the greater good in this case was a hands-on experiences in a science museum. You put a bunch of kids together in a room and give them a task, and more times than not, they’re going to figure out how to make it work. They don’t give a rat’s ass about what the kid next to them looks like or what language they’re speaking or whether they’re a boy with long hair or a girl with overalls on. You give them a job, and they figure it out. They’re not concerned with the who, only with the how.

assembly-line

The larger message wasn’t lost on me.

There used to be a lot more working together for the greater good, for a common goal. Sure, there are always those actively seeking to undermine others, just as there is always going to be the one kid who crosses his arms and refuses to budge until he gets a turn with the cargo ship. But overall, there was a sense that to keep things working the way they’re supposed to, whether it’s an exhibit in a science museum or a country, there has to be push and pull, loading and unloading toward a common goal.

After 9/11, as a New Yorker, I witnessed the real life version of that science exhibit. A city coming together for the greater good. First responders weren’t going to leave someone buried under the rubble because of their religion or because they didn’t have documentation. Blood banks weren’t going to turn away donors because they spoke a foreign language. In a time of crisis, we reverted back to the same instincts I saw in those children. We worked together for the greater good.

Something’s changed. A lot of things have changed. There’s no one thing to put your finger on, no smoking gun, no one cause and effect. But it’s impossible to deny that at the moment, we seem to have two distinct groups, both convinced they are acting for the greater good. But instead of actually moving those balls from København to Singapore, they’re actively working against one another until all we’re left with is a giant mess of balls in the middle of the room going nowhere fast.

women-wwiiI’m sure there were kids there yesterday who were tired of loading balls who wanted to steer a toy cargo ship. But the whole thing would have come to a standstill without everyone working together. Those kids instinctively knew that. They knew they couldn’t do it on their own. They couldn’t do it with only the people who looked like them or spoke the same language. If they did, the balls would stay in their chutes, on their own side. Blue with blue, orange with orange and never the twain shall meet. Going nowhere fast.

I don’t have any answers. But I’m starting to think I should just ask a room full of kids what they think we should do with this giant mess of balls we seem to be standing in the midst of.

An Open Letter to Women

christianopoulos-2Dear Women:

I didn’t choose this fight.

This fight chose me the moment I was born and the doctor announced “It’s a girl!”

Trust me, my life would have been a lot easier, my voice less hoarse, my husband less harassed if the damn ERA had passed the first time and we were done with this shit, but it seems, yet again, we are not. Old dead Phyllis Schlafly must be dancing a merry jig in her grave this week.

So here we go. Again. And again.

And Jesus am I tired of this shit.

To the 53% of American white women who voted for our newest President-Elect, I don’t even need to know why. I’m not going to postulate or justify or try to understand. I don’t give a damn why.

I’m not going to lie, it stung. Bad. I had high hopes. Those hopes were dashed upon the rocks like so many sailors called by Sirens. This time the Siren call was muffled: a few more percentage points and it would have been easier to ignore. To you, that 53%? You many not think this fight is for you, you may not want it to be for you, but it is anyway.

You want to marry a rich guy and spend your days playing tennis? Go right ahead. I don’t care. You want to stay at home with your kids? Don’t care. You want to play Donna Reed and make gin and tonics and wait around with slippers and the paper? I DON’T CARE.

If you think feminists are out there trying to stop you from living a certain way, you’re mistaken. There is room within feminism for traditional female roles, for conservative female roles, because feminism has no walls. That’s the whole goddamn point of it.

Even though you don’t think I am on your side, even though sometimes it makes me vomit a little in my mouth to be on your side, even though you don’t want me on your side, I’m fighting for you anyway….because I am fighting for ALL OF US.5573bf2a9b65c8ab7b507b3fc5a4d263

When I shouted and tweeted and declared I’m with her? It was all the HERS. It was you and her and that one over there. This fight is not just for me, it’s for all of us who got thrown into the ring when the doctor announced, ‘It’s a girl!”

To American women of color, I apologize. Profusely and profoundly. I apologize because a large portion of your white sisters threw you under the bus. Again. But even more, I apologize because unlike some of my white compatriots, you’re weren’t surprised. We threw you under the bus and we do it all the time. I feel like I got sucker punched in the solar plexus. I’m willing to bet that for you, that same punch was deflected, bounced off a callous built up of centuries of white women screwing you over. I’m not asking for forgiveness. I wouldn’t expect you to grant it.

I’m asking you to tell me how I can help.

To Millennial women: My hero Joss Whedon taught me that into every generation a slayer is born. Here’s the deal: You need to pull a final season Buffy. You need to invoke the potential of all the slayers because right now we don’t need a slayer, we need a whole generation of them. You need to sharpen your sticks and pierce the heart of this. Whether your stick is made of love or inclusion or righteousness, it doesn’t matter. It just needs to be sharp enough. Hone it. Carry it. Wield it. And if you haven’t watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, go and watch it right this second.

I thought we would hand the baton to you with a little bit less work to do. It appears I was wrong. It would seem that despite everything, we’re giving you even more to do. So to you too, I apologize.

To the women of the world, this fight is for you too, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now. Right now we’ve got a code red in the U.S. that’s probably gone to take some time to sort out, but don’t be fooled, the fight there is the fight for you as well.

This isn’t a with us or against us thing, even though sometimes it feels like it. It’s not us vs. them. Even if you are against me, I’m still on your side. I’m still fighting for you. Even when it makes me vomit a little in my mouth. Even if the ghost of moldy old Phyllis Schlafly haunts me until I’m dead.

There is room for you. There is room for me. There’s room for all off us. There is so much room, you guys. I will do my damnedest to carve out that room. I may need to borrow a few slayer sticks, though.

To the women I know personally and in spirit who are out there fighting for women, fighting for equality, getting up every.single.time they are knocked down….

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

yuru1Look, I am but one of many. I am loud, but I need a bigger platform. I need a bigger audience. I can shout, but I need a megaphone. I can write, but I need you to share the words. The time has passed for thinking you can sit on the fence.

I can scream, but I need you all to help me amplify the battle cry.

Love,
Me

Like a Girl

female athletesWomen seem to be at orange level alert for sexism this year. Trailing behind most of the world, we Americans are poised on the brink of electing our first female leader, and if nothing else, the ascendency of Hilary Clinton has caused an uptick of articles examining not only the way we view girls and women, but the language we use to describe them.

For this old feminist, it’s a long overdue and entirely welcome sight.

Take, for instance, the coverage being given to the way women are being reported about at the Olympics.

Corey Cogdell-Unrein, a three-time Olympic medalist was identified in The Chicago Tribune not by her name, but as  ‘the wife of…’

Right after Katinka Hosszu broke a world record and won gold, a commentator suggested her husband and coach was the one responsible for her win.

Katie Ledecky, a record-breaking swimmer is referred to as a “female Michael Phelps” and comparisons are being made to how she ‘swims like a man’.

A commentator said The US Women’s Gymnastic team looked as if they were ‘standing in the middle of a mall’.

Language, and the way we use it, is ingrained and entwined with the way we see girls and boys, men and women. Girls and women who achieve, whether in sports or business or politics, are almost constantly compared and contrasted with the boys and men who achieved those things before them. Women are rated, marked, and judged against the same criteria as men–but more often than not, the traits which are seen as worthy and admirable in males (ambition, assertiveness, confidence) are seen as unattractive and undesirable in females (gold-digging, bitchiness, arrogance).

runners

When the majority of achievements have been male, it may seem natural and innocuous to compare a woman’s performance to one that came before. But by doing that, we’re taking away from HER achievement by bringing in the HIM. We are validating the female achievement only in comparison to the male’s. If Katie Ledecky goes on to win more lifetime gold medals than Michael Phelps, do you think the media will refer to the next great swimmer as the “male Katie Ledecky”?

Doubtful.

Lots of folks will claim mountains out of mole hills, but the way we talk to girls AND boys, the way we compare them, it makes a difference. Over years and childhoods, girls internalize those comments and comparisons. Girls are told they must act a certain way in order to achieve (tough, grit, perseverance) yet when they absorb those qualities, they are shunned, demeaned, and negatively compared to males.

(Think of the comparison of Hilary Clinton to Lady Macbeth–her personal and political ambitions must be nefarious and solely for personal gain, whereby the ambitions of her male challengers are alternately forgiven or seen as altruistic.)

The kicker? Both men and women do it. Even someone as staunchly feminist as myself has found myself on the verge of saying ‘like a girl’ from time to time.

I’ve found that when you’re thinking of how we use comparative language with girls and boys, ‘like a girl’ is a great litmus test.

Every time someone says ‘don’t cry like a girl’, we’re insinuating that girls cry more than boys, that it’s wrong to cry, and therefore it’s insulting to be likened to a girl.

Every time someone says ‘you throw like a girl’, we’re saying boys throw better and you don’t want to throw ‘like a girl’ because it’s not as good.

Every time someone says ‘you’re acting like a girl’, the girl part of that is negative. No one ever says you’re acting like a girl when they are talking about empathy or compromise do they? No, they use ‘you’re acting like a girl” when they perceive someone is doing something wrong, faulty, or cowardly.

Alternately, when we say Katie Ledecky swims ‘like a man’, that is considered a good thing. Until she starts getting shit for not being feminine enough, that is–or, until she becomes a threat.

Over time, ‘like a girl’ become synonymous with the negative aspect, ‘like a boy’, the positive.

Now, imagine you’re a girl who has heard that over and over. You hear it over and over because it’s the norm. You see it in print, in movies, in media. You see it and hear it so much you don’t even question it. Over time, you become numb to it, as if someone has applied Novocaine to your psyche. But it’s there, and each time young girls hear it, they assume that negative aspect. And each time we contrast a girl’s achievement by holding it up to a male one, or validate it against a male’s, a thin layer hardens. Eventually the layers are thick enough that the result is the inevitable chip women carry on our shoulders–the one which weighs us down with ‘no matter what we do, we’re never going to be as good as’.

runners 2So–it may seem silly to make a big deal out of making sure the media knows that calling Katie Ledecky the ‘female Michael Phelps’ is wrong. It may seem silly to insist that it was wrong from the Chicago Tribune to refer to a Corey Cogell-Unrein as “wife of xy”.

But for all the women out there bearing that weight, shining a spotlight on those little things can chip away at it a little at a time. And for those girls just starting out, looking up to the girls and women who shrugged that weight through life plowing a path for them, hopefully it will lighten the load.