I Don’t Care About the Superbowl

I don’t care about the Super Bowl.

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In general I wish we valued artists and writers and creators more than athletes and athletics, but it’s more than that. Football, the NFL, and in fact most pro sports in general are problematic to me. But the Super Bowl, the event itself, really irks me.

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I wish, instead of knowing the name of the coach and the quarterback of the winning team, that I knew the name of each and every victim of sexual assault and domestic abuse that is too afraid to come forward because their abuser is a beloved athlete or someone rich/powerful/entitled. I wish I knew the names of the women that are trafficked, sold, provided for the high rollers connected to the league, the players and the owners and the sponsors. I wish their names, not Brady’s and Belichick’s, were splashed across the news. I wish we cared as much about their fate as we do about who wins the trophy.

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I wish, instead of caring about the ridiculously expensive commercials, we all collectively gave a shit about the negative effects of advertising and our consumer culture. I wish we cared about how our self esteem, especially the self worth of women, is affected and undermined by commercials showcasing youth and a specific kind of beauty as the ultimate goal. I wish we cared about how advertisements uphold our sexism and misogyny, how they reinforce stereotypes to turn a profit.  I wish we thought about success in ways other than ‘how much stuff can I acquire’.  I wish we used our money to help one another instead of to purchase the things we think we need to be better, prettier, happier.

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I wish, instead of hearing for weeks about ‘deflate-gate’, that the news cared about the scandals that affect people in the real world. I wish people wanted to hold the NFL accountable for the violence it afflicts on it’s own players, for the concussion rate and the fact that players exit the league with head trauma, depression, and other lasting effects. I wish we cared that these players are left out in the cold, and told to keep silent. I wish we cared about the men and boys that are affected by the image of masculinity as aggression and power and dominance.  

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I wish, instead of the country tuning into a football game, that we tuned into elections and social justice movements. I wish we could take all the money that pours into the super bowl and use it for education. I wish we paid teachers as much as quarterbacks, and I wish we taught our kids that heroes are the folks that show up everyday to build the future and change the world. I wish kids were as amped about reading as they are about sports. I wish we made them believe that they can change the world, and not just make it to the big leagues. I wish we taught kids that success is about more than winning, about how using their minds is the real way they can ‘make it.’

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Here is this dude speaking my mind about this, for the assist.

Maybe this is hyperbolic. But you know what, things are dire for women and girls not just across this country but around the world. So, consider me Obama as the SOTU cause I have no fucks left to give. I will give up exactly none of my energy to pay attention to the game or the result or the player worship. None of it. Nope.

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I know we all need entertainment, and fun distractions. Just think about what you choose as your vices, think about how you spend your money, think about the thoughts that fill your head space. Think about what kind of energy you put out there. Our collective support and energy will determine the future. I wish we remembered that. I wish the voices of women, and others that are systematically oppressed and silenced, were heard as loudly as Katy Perry’s halftime show. What if our voices, our collective empathy and will to change the status quo, were the story instead of the left shark?

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I wish…

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#outwiththeoldinwiththenew #theyearofwordsbywomen #ohhey2015

Welp. I’m starting this year out in bed with a wicked hangover because I drank too much champagne in Brooklyn last night. Thank god the L train wasn’t a total disaster and thank god for my amazing friends that I danced and sang and counted down and took photo booth photos with. There is a vegan cheese and tofu hangover cure in my future (shout out to seamless.)

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Speaking of the future: lets talk about some goals for this year. I have one main goal, resolution, whatever, that I wanted to share with you guys. This year, I want to read more. And not just finish more books or up my word count. I want to make reading a priority in my life. I want to make space for it, remember how to delve into pages and get lost. I want to think about how words can fit in my day, take up some of the time I spend scrolling through feeds or watching TV.

Before you get all defensive, let me just say that I think that feeds and TV are just fine. I love TV, and sometimes TV is what I need to unwind. TV is also great when you are doing other things like writing a New Year’s blog post, or cooking, or other activities that inhibit your ability to hold a book and turn pages.

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But I want to take a step back and think about when it is possible for me to choose pages. I’ve started making it a habit to get up in time to read for 30 mins in the morning, before I do anything else. Before I get on the computer for work or check my email or the weather, I make my hot water with lemon and I get back into bed and read. Usually a half hour,  no more no less. It really has changed the whole vibe of my days. Starting with words on a page is much slower than screens, and it’s internal and it’s self centered and it’s quiet. It’s actually be quite transformative.

So not only am I going to make as much space for books as I can spare, but 2015 is going to be the year I read books by women. Only books by women. I want to explore beyond the big names, although of course that’s where I’m starting (Cheryl Strayed and Adrienne Rich, and let me tell you they are making my heart shine and my soul sing.) But I recently had this feeling in my gut, this feeling that was absolutely sick and tired of the way creative women are talked to and treated. It started when I read Heroines and it hasn’t abated. And I began searching for some of those ladies to sink my teeth into. I want to hear the stories that women live with, that they held inside of them and couldn’t live without sharing. I want to support the creativity of people whose creativity was not valued, was not allowed to flourish, was pathologized and stunted. I want to focus on the voices that were shushed and quieted. So far, it feels right. Great, actually.

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If you wanna make some exclamations at this point about reverse sexism or misandy, let me stop you right there. Take that somewhere else. I do not hate men, or male writers, nor do I think that female authors are better than their male counterparts. I grew up, like we all did, reading the wonderful works of the great men that make up the literary canon. Even though I had a pretty liberal education both in high school and college, it wasn’t until I got to grad school that my reading list became truly diverse. The work of women writer’s is still considered cursory, emotional, niche. It’s outside the canon. And I’m over that. I’m gonna make my own canon, and attempt to balance the scales of my life as a reader so far.

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As for reverse sexism, that doesn’t exist. Because like reverse racism, it’s impossible. Sexism and racism are not just about the personal feelings of people who judge, dislike, or outright hate another group of people. They are about systems of oppression that are enacted by entire groups in power, by the state, and by ideas and emotions that we are taught as part of our culture and world view. The largeness of these things combined cannot be overstated, and the people with the power cannot be truly discriminated against in the way the marginalized groups are. Now if we think intersectionally then we must think critically about the ways in which we all have some privilege, and the ways we don’t, and how that plays out in our lives. But what I really want to say is that my desire to read the words of women is not an attack on men and if you feel that way I urge you to consider the fact that men have never had to question if they can write, if they should write. Almost all the great works that are held up in the light are by men. The ancient, the classic and the contemporary, all by dudes. But what about little girls who have a story inside them they are dying to tell? Where can they find examples of other women who wrote and were great? How can they feel as though they have the right? How do they learn to trust their voices?

This is a fight that is, still, in 20 freakin’ 15, happening. I know for sure that to be a good writer I must be a good reader, and I know that I have neglected that. I want to make myself better, as a writer and as a human, and I want to support the voices of other women with a story to tell. I think reading books is a great way to learn about the world and to evoke empathy. And radical empathy, self love and compassion, are what I believe truly will save us all and remake the world into a safe space of social justice and community.

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Cheers to that, and cheers to your all. Be safe, stay fly, and spread love.

Happy to be alive, 20-1-5❤

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The Blogger Who Cried Sexism: A Cautionary Tale

I don’t usually directly respond to articles written by other women who write from a place of feminism. I don’t like a lot of the infighting that goes on amongst feminists, the ‘is she a good feminist‘ and ‘can she be feminist even if she says she isn’t‘ and ‘can she be a feminist and also sexy‘ etc etc blah blah blah.  I disagree very much with the article I am about to discuss, but this will not be an indictment of the writer. Instead I just wanna tell a sort of cautionary tale, in the hopes that we can continue to have thoughtful discussions that go deeper than a click bait headline.

That being said, the title of the article in question is:

Dave Grohl’s Sonic Highways Systematically Erases Women in Music

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Ok. So. That’s a lot. It’s a big claim. And our author tries hard to back it up. Reading it, however, gave me the distinct impression that she had a pretty big issue with Grohl to begin with (“Grohl has shown himself increasingly to be not much more than a rock and roll formalist, the type of man who is a dying breed”), and wanted to write about her dislike of both the series and the director in a way that seemed important. She claims, “Sonic Highways is meant to reflect Grohl’s own fandom and musical upbringing—but it also positions itself as a type of definitive oral history of each city’s music scene.” I object! Sonic Highways is Grohl’s pet project, an obviously self serving adventure that he wanted to take his band on, and film and sell to HBO. Each episode ends with a Foo Fighters music video, with the lyrics displayed on the screen. It’s not exactly Ken Burns, but I’ve found it pretty entertaining. I don’t think he makes any claims that it serves as a Definitive Oral History. It’s just him talking to people he thinks are cool, and allowing the places he visits to directly influence his new songs.

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But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that it is a history of sorts. I have only watched 3 of the 8 episodes, but I can remember women in each episode. The last episode I watched, set in Nashville, shows women ruling the day. He talks at length to Carrie Underwood, Emmylou Harris, and motha fuckin’ DOLLY PARTON herself. The 2nd episode in DC features Amy Pickering, and our author does acknowledge that: “Amy Pickering, who headed up punk band Fire Party and started the scene’s legendary “Revolution Summer” essentially in solidarity with apartheid protesters, gets a decent amount of airtime, but mostly about politics (and, at one point, the camera cuts in to her convo with Grohl for the sole purpose of showing her laugh at a joke Grohl makes).” Is it just me, or does that parenthetical aside just reek of disdain. That aside is also a pretty big assumption about a directorial choice, meant to undercut the presence of a woman when she claims there are none. She goes on to mention female bands, mostly from Seattle, that she feels Grohl was remiss in leaving out. But it’s his show, for his personal fun. He interviewed who he wanted. I mean, sure, he could have tried to pick a few more ladies, I guess. But not only are there enough that I myself didn’t notice any dearth (and I love finding and pointing out misogyny/gender issues/sexism, let me tell you, I basically live for it), but the project just isn’t about that and I don’t think it needs to be. She also says: “As Sonic Highways tells it, women’s involvement in American music has been cursory, at best, with a the amount of women musicians allowed to speak in any given episode topping out at around three, regardless of how prominent these women might be. Furthermore, no women of color have a chance to speak in any of the seven episodes that have aired (the eighth and final episode, set in New York City and at least touching on hip-hop, airs Sunday, and will hopefully remedy that).”  I do not concur. I do not feel he portrays the women he includes as cursory to the main story, and 3 in an episode may be enough if you know how many men there are by comparison and how the screen time divides (I don’t, but if you need to delve this deeply and use math to prove your point then the phrase ‘Systematically Erases’ doesn’t apply. Also Dolly Parton counts as like 10 women cause she is effing amazing so in that episode there are like, 13.) I do agree with her observation about racial diversity; the majority of the folks interviewed on screen are white. But not everything is going to be a bastion of diversity when someone has their own agenda. So yea, he is choosing these specific stories, because his experience has been informed by these folks. And again, since he isn’t making claims about this documentary being all encompassing, I think the observation ‘diversity is scarce’ is fair, but find the vitriol confusing.

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I don’t want to be an apologist for stories that lack diversity, and that is not my intent. Here is my issue: There are lots of super real and present issues that women continue to battle against on a daily basis. Sexual violence, the wage gap, reproductive rights and more are pressing and current and painful, and they are systematically supported by a culture that still doesn’t truly believe that sexism is real. And you know what, the erasure of women from history and culture is also real and painful, and in it’s own way a form of violence. I completely acknowledge that. And if Grohl had said ‘I am making a documentary about all the most important people in music organized geographically’, then the conversation would be different. But this is just some fan shit he’s doing. He wants to talk to people he thinks are cool. And some of those people, I would argue a fair amount, are women. I think we also have to remember that he grew up in a culture that downplayed women’s role in the culture, and downplayed their talents beyond beauty. So if his influences are mostly male, this is not entirely his fault because his experiences don’t happen in a vacuum. Neither do our own. And this article with it’s sensational title is NOT HELPING the cause.

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This headline, and her whole tone, I just feel they don’t create a productive piece. While sexism and misogyny continue to be pervasive and harmful, we must be mindful of the claims we make. It’s not fair, but it’s true. If we cry wolf, or get our facts wrong, then we leave ourselves open to criticism from folks who don’t want the world to change (Jon Stewart addressed this brilliantly last night, after he himself made an on-air mistake #worththewatch). If we blow our righteous anger load on stories that aren’t deserving of it, then our righteous anger becomes a joke. We become caricatures, the silly/emotional/hairy/angry feminazis they claim we are. The burden of proof is still, unfairly, on us. And this article doesn’t meet it.

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But this isn’t a trial, and if this author sincerely feels this way about Sonic Highways, then she has every right to express those feelings. I still think the headline is over the top, but maybe that’s the editor, and indeed that’s how the internet journalism game is played. In this case, I agree that we disagree. I urge you to check out the docu-series and judge for yourself. Are women given enough camera time? Does it matter in the context of this project? Are you inspired to create your own series dedicated to women in these places, in these historical spaces? Because I wish, rather than yell at Dave for being a “rockist-Dad”, that she’d just told us more about the bands she wished were chosen and why. Why be so antagonistic about a pet project that is not meant to cover the entire music history of each city it visits? Why not try to start a discussion instead of scold the front man of a band you so obviously find repulsive and dated? For example, lets talk about why there aren’t more documentaries directed by women or minorities, specifically telling stories that have been left out of the mainstream canon? I would love to see more women helmed projects about women in music, or more black directors telling stories about black music culture. If we diversify the people in charge, the resulting stories will be ever more unique and diverse, and more voices will be heard. Why isn’t this happening more? Is it happening at all? How can we help these story tellers to create and release their projects? Sometimes, I think it can be helpful to tone down the rage and just ask some questions.

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**Sometimes rage is completely the acceptable response, and women are completely capable of feeling and harnessing anger, and we should when it’s needed. I just want us to use all the tools we have, thoughtfully, with an eye towards education and inclusion.

Making Babies and Making Money: Pregnancy and Worker’s Rights

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a case that I find completely fascinating, and super important for all families. The case is brought by Peggy Young, a UPS employee that was denied her request to change work duties after being advised that she should not lift over 20 lbs. She was pregnant.

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The details of her case can be found here, but in a nutshell there is a Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978) that requires that employers give the same accommodations to women affected by pregnancy or child birth that it would give to employees that are temporarily disabled/injured. To be clear, the UPS will allow a change of duty not only for workers injured on the job, but also for workers who lose their license because they are convicted of a DUI. So drunk drivers can switch roles and continue to earn a living, but pregnant women made a choice and so they are shit out of luck. (Actual comment from NY Times op-ed: “Pregnancy isn’t a disease. In fact as I understand it, it is a choice. These women became pregnant due to their own actions. They can no longer do the work they were hired to do. Why is that such a big deal. It isn’t an injury.”)

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I had a fascinating chat with my coworker about this case. She claimed that if what feminism fights for is gender equality, then you must err on the side of UPS. Because men cannot get pregnant, accommodating pregnant women is giving them preferential treatment. And she was hung up on that word, equal. As if equal here meant equivalent. But I don’t think equality means we all must be the same. And in my dream world where the patriarchy is dismantled, I do not imagine a world where men and women are alike. I imagine a world where your personality and your physical characteristics aren’t policed by societal gender norms. I imagine a world where everyone is free to express themselves compassionately, and explore interests that are close to their heart without any thought to what girls and boys are supposed to like or do. I don’t claim that men and women are the same, but it’s important to remember that making statements like “women can get pregnant and men can’t” as proof that we will always remain different/unequal erases women who are unable to conceive, or women who do not want to bear children, as well as a range of trans experiences. Not all women are able to bear children, not all women menstruate, and plenty of folks live outside of the bodily gendered binaries we assume. We mustn’t be biologically reductive.

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i imagine the dude she kills is the embodiment of misogyny. so satisfying.

 

And equality has never been about equivalency. Separate but equal was ruled unconstitutional for education, because being equivalent doesn’t always mean that the spirit of equality is being honored. I do not think that being injured or disabled is the same as getting pregnant, however in both cases the ableness of one’s body is compromised. We have determined that folks that are injured or disabled have a right to work, and that right should be extended to those who are pregnant.

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And what is so interesting to me, is that this is actually a conservative issue. The state has a vested interest in regulating families, and in encouraging its citizens to procreate so that there are evermore citizens. It’s similar to gay marriage, an issue I am always confounded by. Marriage is a conservative value, and if you truly value the nuclear family and two parent home, then you should be an advocate for gay marriage. The more people creating those kinds of unions, the more those values continue to guide our society and the more regulated sex and the family continues to be by the state. The same with this issue. Encouraging women to become mothers by assuring that their jobs will be safe and they will be able to work and earn is not exactly a liberal fantasy. In this case, the state should recognize it’s interest both in regulating the family and encouraging the work force. It should be a no brainer.

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And yet. I wonder how the justices will see this. They have seriously let me down recently, and I fear that people will conflate the issue of pregnancy advocacy, which is a feminist issue, with leftist liberalism and dismiss it. But it’s important to remember that feminism isn’t liberal or conservative, and that the interests of women across race and class lines span a broad array of values and belief systems. Reproductive rights don’t begin and end with abortion. Folks should be able to get or not get pregnant, to access the full range of care they need, to determine the state of their bodies, and to do so while pursuing their economic and personal goals. Peggy should not have been forced into unpaid leave because she was temporarily limited, while ‘light duty’ remains available for other workers. If the choice to drink and drive is accommodated, then the choice to create new life should also be accommodated. And yet, misogyny runs so deep that for some, any chance to demean or limit women must be taken. We do indeed treat pregnant women poorly, often limiting their autonomy and assuming they must be protected (or assuming they must be protected against.) It astounds me that some parties will vote against their own interests because something is seen as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’. Those two sides, they are made up, they are socially upheld and constructed. Kind of like gender (ZING!)

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Separate but equal is bullshit, and thinking about equality and social justice in terms of equivalency and sameness  misses the point entirely. Social justice is freedom from sameness, it is permission to be different and live on your own terms. It is a world where your choices aren’t determined by your gender, or your race, or your ability to participate as a cog in the capitalist machine. It’s a world where pregnant women can continue to work, where both families and single folks are supported. How hard is that to understand?

On Ferguson

I’ve hesitated to write about the events in Ferguson, MO for a few reasons. The first is that I have a lot of emotions, and that can be hard to sort through to write something clear and concise. But the feels are real, and I keep starting to compose this in my head, so obviously it needs to come out. The second reason is that this is not my story to tell, and I hesitate to make my voice heard over the folks that are truly affected, both in Ferguson and all over the country every day. So let me start by saying that I am writing about this topic as a white feminist ally. My experiences with gender discrimination make me empathetic, but they do not afford me authority to speak about racial discrimination. I cannot know the true depths of pain and anger that communities of color live with. Their words are paramount, and you should 100% go read this, this, this, and especially this, this and this.

The day after they announced there would be no trial I sat in my office, reading. I have read quite a bit about the shooting, the aftermath, and the effect it all has had. From my office in the Financial District, I read about the emotional and psychic pain felt in the community and I read about the callousness that some folks feel towards those people. From my office, overlooking the new World Trade Center, I thought bitterly about how lucky I am and about how uncaring and cruel the world can be. And even as I continued to read, becoming evermore angry and sad, I knew that my pain was nothing compared to the folks on the ground in that community, grieving their slain child and fighting against a system that was never meant for them, that was built on the very idea of their inhumanity.

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Black Lives Matter. You shouldn’t say ‘All Lives Matter’ because some lives, particularly white lives (and more specifically hetero-white-male lives) already matter and everyone knows they matter. It’s important to specifically say Black Lives Matter because black bodies are seen, by the state, as more expendable and dangerous than other bodies. Replacing Black with All is like saying that you think all lives are devalued in the same way, and this is not the case.

Privilege is a hard thing for a lot of people to comfortably grasp. It is hard for me to talk about my white privilege because I hate that it’s real, and because (obviously) I love a number of incredible black and brown people and it makes me ill to think about the personal and institutional ways they’ve been hurt because of racism. But acknowledging my privilege is essential. It allows me to better empathize, and without acknowledgment and empathy the conversation is not honest. Here is a classic and wonderful essay on privilege that we all should read and reflect upon.

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Racism is a feminist issue not only because it affects women of color. It is a feminist issue because structural violence and oppression must be dismantled in all forms. Racism, patriarchy and misogyny, classism and corporate greed, they are all interwoven. We must fight them all if we indeed believe in social justice. Black women are leading the protests in Ferguson, on the front lines and keeping this movement alive. Black women have always been an integral part of the civil rights movement, despite being overwritten by their male counterparts. Another example of how racism and patriarchy overlap and entwine.

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And we must believe that these issues are both structural and personal. If you do not believe that racism exists in the very foundation and fibers of our country, then you need to wake up and read more. This country was founded on stolen land and the death of an indigenous culture, and then built on the backs of black bodies that were enslaved, degraded, and hated. This hatred did not end with emancipation, and our educational system, housing laws, pop culture and police tactics are still laden with racist policies and attitudes. Not to mention the mass incarceration of black bodies. The deck is stacked. To say otherwise is to uphold the idea that if black folks just worked hard enough they could have the American dream, and that their communities are violent and impoverished because they as a people are inherently violent and impoverished. Those lies are gross, and perpetuated by white culture to relieve our own guilt and justify our discrimination.

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I do not believe that a kid deserves to be shot down in the streets for petty theft, for being tall and ‘threatening’, or for being black. Michael Brown was 18, still full of youth and potential. The loss of that potential is tragic, especially when taken in alongside the lost potential of other black folks who were murdered as part of our racist American history. I believe that any police officer who uses lethal force should always be subject to a trial. Fuck a grand jury. Police should be held to a higher standard, as they are acting as attendants of their communities, sworn to protect and serve. And if you yourself, as a white person, have never had a negative experience with cops or the justice system, I urge you to consider that as evidence that the system is not only racist, but working as designed.

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

Furthermore I believe that the militarization of the police is an act of war against the American people. I believe that our state perpetrates violence on its own people each and every day under the guise of ‘protect and serve’ and also under the guise of state sanctioned war. I believe that guns have no place in homes or on our streets, and the police shouldn’t have them. Other countries manage just fine without them. The continued killing of children, of people of color, and yes even of criminals (who deserve a trial at the very least) disgusts and disturbs me. Even when a whole group of white children, and they were rich white children, were gunned down in their elementary school, we did nothing. That level of apathy, the fact that we’ve allowed our elected representatives to be bought so fully, leaves me speechless.

Gun control activists march on the NRA offices on Capitol Hill on Tuesday

I think about how women’s bodies are written as a site of out-of-control sexuality, and how we locate the shame and guilt of sex in all female-bodied persons. And then I think about how we criminalize the black body, and locate the fear of violence and chaos there. And I want to stop labeling bodies, and stop criminalizing and dehumanizing bodies. I condemn violence in all forms but do not and cannot condemn this community’s actions. I will never know how it feels to live my entire life with the burden of state mandated racism. I will never hear the daily comments, never live with a police force that targets my body and my family. I will never live with the fear of an authority that claims to protect you, and I have never watched my son/friend/brother/neighbor lie in the street for 4 hours in the late afternoon, shot dead for no good reason, knowing that justice was an unlikely ending to the story. If you are more outraged by the ‘riots’ and property damage than by the violence enacted each and every day by the state, and by the history of pillaging and plundering and slavery and lynching and rape that is our nation’s story, then I think you need a priority check.

I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non­-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.- Martin Luther King Jr

I suppose this is getting rambling, and I hope I’ve remember all the things I want to say. I want to say that my thoughts and feelings as an ally to oppressed people’s everywhere are tangential to the real story, which should be told by folks who live this everyday. My place is to march silently in the streets when I can, and to use my voice in harmony with theirs but never to speak over them. The story of racism should be told by black, brown and non-white folks, and their stories deserve to be heard and believed. And then we must all use our collective voices and our collective power to undo the structures that support our racist history and limit the potential and humanity of black bodies. I vow my solidarity and my support, as a feminist and social justice warrior. I wish I could do more.

S-E-X (Americans are stunted adolescents)

This country has a sex problem. Our culture doesn’t have a healthy relationship with sex. We are obsessed with it, but ashamed of it, and only certain people (white men) are allowed to express their sexuality without an array of consequences. In the name of ‘decency’ we censor, and for the children we slut shame (meanwhile we leave our kids in the dark with abstinence only education that leaves them completely unprepared to deal with sex or intimacy.) We are not honest  about the realities of human sexuality in the 21st century.

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Unfortuately while we are all yelling about how shocked and offended we are, we are also watching an unbelievable amount of porn and demanding that celebrities give us salacious details about their sex lives. The latest example of this is a story that just broke: Nick Jonas ‘I’m no Virgin’.

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Stop the presses! This 22 year old dude with a rocking body and lots of money is sexually active?! How can this be?! Why do we cccccaaaarrrrreeee?

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We care because we forced him and his bandmate brothers to say they had purity rings when they were The Jonas Brothers because of the widespread assumption that Christian morality is the best/only morality. We really do love to sexualize teenagers as much as we love to make them tell us they aren’t having sex (Brit Brit, Timberlake, Miley, etc.) So now that (obviously) that purity ring nonsense is over, we feel entitled to an update. But we aren’t entitled to an update. The sex life of Nick Jonas does not belong to us, it is not ours to know or comment on. I know that sex is exciting and fun, and I don’t think we should never discuss it. But we discuss it in such adolescent, immature ways. The very idea that this is news reveals how very middle school our cultural conversations about sex truly are.

Now, lest we think this issue is too straightforward, it is also worth pointing out that we don’t talk about sex in the same ways when we talk about male and female celebrities. Nick Jonas is having a sex symbol moment right now (remember these), and this news will not result in any back lash (maybe some religious nuts, but his career won’t be damaged in any lasting way.) Let’s contrast that with another star who is having a pretty successful moment: Tay Tay. Ms Swift has the only platinum album of 2014, and just became the first women ever to replace herself at #1 on the Billboard charts.

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But Taylor’s career has consistently been undermined by a media who is obsessed with her love life. She draws from her life to write songs, as most folks do, but in Tay Tay’s case this results in constant speculation about who she wrote about and who’s she is with. She has even been ridiculed, called a man-eater. And most disturbingly, some religious conservative a-holes have denounced her as a slut and a harlot, saying she is a bad example for young girls.

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First of all, Taylor is an adult that can do whatever the fuck she wants with her body. So keep your slut shaming judgements to yourself. But what is even worse is that these out spoken fanatics are assuming that they know intimate details of her sex life. Being linked to someone in the tabloids doesn’t mean you are sleeping with them. Dating someone doesn’t mean you’re sleeping with them. Kissing someone doesn’t mean you are sleeping with them. Hell, even sleeping with someone doesn’t mean you are sleeping with them. So I wish these folks would actually get their minds outta the gutter (isn’t it ironic that those who rail against something the loudest are usually also doing that thing behind closed doors?) and stop assuming that they know Tay Tay’s life.

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I’m just over the media prying into the sex lives of stars and reporting all the salacious details. It’s like trying to peep through a locker room window. It’s not shocking or surprising that grown ass really beautiful people have sex. It’s not a surprise that underneath their clothes, celebrities are naked. They have bodies. Whoa! There is no way that we are going to be able to teach ourselves and the next generation how to have a healthy and positive relationship with our bodies and sexuality if we don’t cool it with this kind of journalism. It may be fun to watch Nick go from curly-headed boy band teen to uber-hottie, but we don’t need to pry into his love life to enjoy his music (or his abs.) Taylor’s romantic life may inform her music, but the real story is her catchy songs and her record breaking new album, not her past paramours. Luckily, she knows how to one up that haters and make an amazing video for her record breaking single that shows you exactly what you want. Enjoy, and stop being such a perv.

 

Feminist: It’s Not a Buzz Word

There has already been much written about the Time magazine decision to include feminist as a choice in it’s poll for what word should be banned in 2015, as well as the apology issued after the initial outcry.  I personally think that the whole point of this ‘poll’ is stupid, considering it pokes fun at/dismisses slang language which is largely used by a young and diverse population (“The list is supposed to be funny, but it is largely a policing of the vernacular of anyone who isn’t a white, heterosexual man.~ Roxanne Gay“). Here is the description from the actual poll site:

If you hear that word one more time, you will definitely cringe. You may exhale pointedly. And you might even seek out the nearest the pair of chopsticks and thrust them through your own eardrums like straws through plastic lids. What word is this? You tell us. ~ Time

I personally think that part of what makes language so cool is the way that it can change over time, the way expressions can be created out of nothing and the way that different groups can create their own vernacular. It is always changing, through both the addition of new words and through the evolution of the meaning of known words. Language is not static. It’s a beast of our own making, and it grows and changes along with our cultural shifts and revelations (revolutions). It transforms as the world transforms, it is remade and recreated as we remake and recreate the world around us. Language can be empowering and affirming. It can help shape our culture and our identity.

TimeList
the full list.

That being said, language can also limit our world view. Gendered pronouns, for example (she/he, his/her) and also words like husband and wife, do more than just describe a person or their marital status. They can create a world that is seen is distinct binary opposites, when in fact our world includes lots of grays and queers and inbetweens. Words  have subtext, and meanings outside of strict definitions that are culturally confirmed, and words can be used to condescend or confine.  The history of a word can never be erased, and reclamation attempts can fall short if that history is full of hate (bitch, the n word, dyke… I’m not of the belief that words can be totally ‘reclaimed’.) And this fact, the very idea that the construction and use of the English language continues to be a tool of patriarchy, is an excellent example of why the word feminism is (still) a vital word in need of broader understanding and utilization.

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And I get it, it’s supposed to be a joke. Like ‘OMG people keep talking about this, enough already.’ And I agree, enough already. Enough with pay inequality and the epidemic of sexual violence. Enough of the objectification of the female body, enough of the over-sexualization of girls and of slut shaming and of the fight against basic health care for women and families. Enough of a culture that caters to white men and attempts to silence other voices through ridicule or outright lies. Enough of the beauty industry and the impossible standards foisted on women and girls. Enough of the interrogation of ‘whose a feminist’ and ‘is she a good feminist’ and ‘is she a good mother’ and ‘is she pretty enough’ and ‘is she young enough’ (shout out to Hillary) and ‘who is she sleeping with’ and ‘should she be doing that’. Enough.

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Feminist, believe it or not, is not a buzz word. Feminism is a movement that has been around for more than 100 years, and, as Robin Morgan points out, feminists have been at the forefront of almost every social justice movement in American history. The fight for equality in all aspects of daily life is not a fad. The issues that feminism seeks to untangle are complicated, deeply rooted, and backed by a couple thousand years of patriarchal and misogynistic cultures. The fight cannot be won by laws or politics alone, as indeed all social justice movements require both the support of governing bodies and the hearts and minds of citizens. Women are half of the population for fuck’s sake. This movement is not a trend. It has a storied history as part of not only American, but global culture. And on my more optimistic days I believe that the internet will prove to be a tool of social justice and empathy and global momentum, and I think that one day our collective voices that proclaim ‘Women matter‘ or ‘We woke up like this‘ or ‘I am woman, hear me roar‘ will drown out the backwards thinking miscreants who would agree that this word (along with the movement and peoples it describes) should be banned.

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I’ll leave you with another quote from Robin, because frankly, I couldn’t have said it any better:

But I confess that for me feminism means something more profound. It means freeing a political force: the power, energy and intelligence of half the human species hitherto ignored or silenced. More than any other time in history, that force is needed to save this imperiled blue planet. Feminism, for me, is the politics of the 21st century. ~ Robin Morgan

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You Should Never Meet Your Heros (esp. if they’re famous men)

You know what’s exhausting? When you think you know someone, and then it turns out that they were kind of terrible. This is particularly exhausting if they were famous, and talented, and everyone considers them beloved and wonderful and then BOOM, something changes and you have to rethink your whole portrait of them.

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Recently it’s occurred to me that since patriarchy has been happening for centuries, I have been recalibrating my images of ‘great men’ a lot more often than great women. Because the rules for men, especially the most talented and famous, have always been ‘do whatever the fuck you want.’ As a matter of fact, we shower them with ego-inflating praise and also with things. And some of the things we shower them with are access to women, who are part of the whole package of things you get for being brilliant/pretty/famous whatever. Here now are some examples of men who, it turns out, are huge disappointments.

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Exhibit A: Breezy. He was so cute when he was young, he has the great dance moves. I used to groove rul hard to Run It. And now it’s ruined. And we didn’t even have to wait until he was old and almost forgotten for his bad behavior to come to light. It turns out he is an extremely violent young man, and a batterer to boot. And this guy has the nerve to release a song with the lyrics ‘these hoes ain’t loyal’ after publicly kicking the shit out of his also-famous girlfriend. He’s despicable.

JFK

A more historical example: God Jack Kennedy was beautiful. I mean seriously. And I know we have a soft spot for icons that are taken too soon. And I do have a soft spot. But then I remember the extent to which this man was a womanizer, and the extent to which the people around him went to enable his behavior and keep it a secret and I think: how was it possible that he was the most powerful man in the world in a country that was still so vanilla and prudish and yet he managed to have almost continuous extramarital affairs? He managed to carry on with Marilyn for fuck’s sake! And now it’s a considered just an anecdote, a small part of who he was. It’s even considered charming, part of why he is so roguish and handsome and desirable. Sigh.

cosby

A disruptive piece of breaking (sort of) news: It turns out silly old comedy icon Billy Cosby has been a sexual predator for decades. And this isn’t new news. Lawsuits have been filed, he’s settled out of court, and his victims are speaking out. And his MO, for the record, includes drugging his victims. Which just, I don’t know, is extra infuriating. Think about Dr Huxtable slipping a roofie is some young girls drink. I don’t want to have to feel this way about a man who elevated the image of black America with laughter, who was TV married to the indomitable Phylicia Rashād, who wore those great sweaters. God dammit God dammit!

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And, finally, my most personal of these struggles: F Scott Fitzgerald. I just finished a wonderful and searing book by Kate Zambreno, Heroines. It’s a retelling of the great men of literature in the early 20th century, and of the women who surrounded them. These women were merely plus ones to their men. They lived in service of their partner’s genius, never being allowed to flourish or explore their own talent. And the most interesting among them was Zelda. Zelda, who wanted to be a real writer. Zelda who wrote in diaries and letters, and whose words her husband generously borrowed. Zelda who also painted, and later threw herself into ballet. And her spunk, her desire to be creative, was remade as mental illness. And she has been posthumously diagnosed and written over as the crazy wife of the genius. And he helped in this. He discouraged her, he actively worked to stunt her writing career, he forbid her from using their own lives as subject matter because that was his material. And he drank and drank and shut her away, and she died in a fire in a mental hospital. She deserved more, at the very least the same encouragement and opportunity given to him. And I love Gatsby, I still love it and those words still inspire me. And I completely resent having to rethink the man who wrote some of my favorite sentences to ever have existed. I hate it.

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Why? Why do we make the world a playground for these talented men? We tell them to take whatever they want, especially if it will help their art or whatever. Like fucking Picasso who emotionally abused all the women in his life and then painted them as monsters, and we told him he was great and hung those pictures in museums. We enable these guys, all of us with our accolades and praise. And we provide countless pretty young things for them to play with. But women aren’t things. They aren’t prizes in the world wide talent competition that is pop/celebrity/literary/art culture. This won’t stop until we deal seriously with rape culture, and until we hold men accountable for their actions. All those guys up there that I mentioned, their stories are not defined by the women they hurt. Their careers aren’t suffering. C Brown fans are insane on Twitter and will defend him unendingly. A convicted violent criminal, and his fans will say they’d let him abuse them and insult anyone who dares speak against him. JKF’s habits are just a footnote, Cosby is getting a new show and Fitzgerald remains a Great American Writer while Zelda’s novel is no where to be found (actually I found it, so you can find it in my apartment, but I had to special order it cause it’s out of print.) These guys continue to demand respect and inspire awe. It’s only women who are defined by their sexuality or sexual partners (Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Monica Lewinsky.)

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I’m fucking over it. I’m sick of having to compartmentalize with these guys. I know that people are complicated and no one is perfect and I know that not all great talents are predators. But we should be demanding a world where talent is appreciated without being overly idolized, where women aren’t prizes to be won, where sex isn’t a weapon used against the female body. I have no more patience for this shit. We need to stop excusing this behavior, we need to stop devaluing the female body and dismissing this as adolescent/harmless shenanigans. Sexual violence is not shenanigans. We all need to grow up and get serious and make culture a place of accountability and inclusion. We need to have icons that don’t require excuses.

Female Bodies: Endlessly Contested Obsessions

There have been a few things on the internet this week that made my spidey senses tingle, reminding me that women are first and foremost things for people to judge and argue about. Never mind that they are also humans that work and breathe and make completely autonomous decisions on the reg. As far as our culture, especially digital internet culture is concerned, they should always be pretty and ready to be appraised.

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This week Calvin Klien launched a new campaign. It’s typical for them, black and white and slick. But there is something different, although when I first saw the photo I myself didn’t notice it.

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That’s Myla Dalbesio. She’s a model. She looks pretty great in that simple black lingerie. NBD.

A Twitter-storm erupted when Elle tweeted:

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Because some people think that a size 10 isn’t plus size. I would agree. And some people say ‘Well it’s fashion and for the fashion industry she is large.’ And yea, I guess. But ew. And of course there were a range of other lewd and vapid comments, but what stuck out to me is this need to define what she is. I mean, can’t she just be a model? Like, a beautiful model? I of course agree that we need to see a wider range of body types in the media, but it’s about so much more than that. Because redefining beauty is not just about expanding the range of sizes a woman can be while still being hot.

And then, well, then there was Kim.

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She ‘broke the internet’. She ‘did it again.’ Kayne tweeted his support:

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And everyone has an opinion. Some shamed her, because she ‘is someone’s mother’. Which is ridiculous cause babies are made with sex. Right? That’s not new news, is it? And some people are sick of her, and I’ll admit I am sick of her. And I’m sick of how her butt is always emphasized, and I’m uncomfortable with the racialized history of this type of photo. And the amount of photo shopping that I’m guessing happened here, to tip this photo over the top, is also problematic.

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But it’s not new. Is it? I mean, the whole shoot was recycled ideas the photographer already did. And haven’t we seen this before, in general? Is this so shocking? Is it really necessary to argue about what she should be doing with her body, if mom’s can be sexy (duh), if she has no talent (duh), etc? Why can’t we look right past her (I know, I know, ‘that ass tho’) and talk about the culture we all perpetuate that allows this photo of this actual famous person to exist? Because this photo, of a sexualized backside and a shiny shiny white-ish woman, this is what we push as an ideal of beauty. This is what we encourage young woman to aspire to.

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Quick, name a female scientist (that is alive, not Marie Curie.)

I’m gonna go with Emily Graslie, seen here reading her mail and talking about gender gaps in STEM fields.

Now name a female novelist (again, who is alive.)

Here are two dope women writers, chatting with each other and positively thrilling me. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian American novelist, and Zadie Smith is British and too smart for me.

Quick, think of 3 female role models that aren’t role models because they always look perfect and seem to have it all (this unfortunately leaves out Beyonce although her work ethic makes her worthy of role model status in my humble opinion.) Feel free to leave your pics in the comments.

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Because one of the important things to remember is that no matter what else we require of women, we require them to be beautiful. And I get it, we all like to look at beautiful things. But people aren’t things. And men don’t have these same kinds of standards. They can be professional or smart or powerful or parents or hardworking or famous or entrepreneurial, without also having to look flawless all day every day. But women must always exist in these contested spaces. Is she pretty enough? Is she a good mother? Can she be a feminist icon while also being sexy? Is she too sexy? Too crude? Can women be funny?

The topic of ‘is she good enough’ is always up for debate.

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All of this chips away at women’s humanity. We are not objects to be argued over. Our bodies are our own. So too are the choices we make. If Kim wants to get lathered up with baby oil and let them photo shop her waist so she can continue to make money off her ass, that’s her choice. I don’t wanna talk about it, but she’s allowed. And she should be allowed without all the subsequent chatter. Like the photo or don’t, but remember that she is an actual human, with a family, with friends, with a real life. Same goes for Myla. Why should she have to deal with the ‘is she or isn’t she plus sized’ conversation? Plus sized is a made up thing. It’s not real. People are just people, with bodies of different shapes. Who. Cares.

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And before the ‘they put themselves out there to be judged’ brigade starts in, I will remind you that these kinds of arguments do not happen around men. Even male models, who make money off of their body and image do not occupy the contested spaces their female counterparts do. We do not pick apart male actors or celebrities in the same way. Because we don’t feel ownership over male bodies. We don’t feel entitled to enjoy or critique male bodies in the same way we do with female bodies. This entitlement contributes to the endless arguments, it contributes to internet harassment and street harassment and rape culture. And I’m sick of it. It’s exhausting.

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Here is a newsflash: adding your voice to the endless debate over who is beautiful and who is worthy will not end the centuries of violence and control enacted on the female body. If we spent half the energy we expend on judging women on thinking about how we could change the conversation and change the world, then we could actually get down to the work of making this world a better, safer place for  all those that are currently being disenfranchised by ‘the man’. Stop staring at Kim’s ass and arguing over which number size is too big for models, and let’s make our voices heard about the stuff that matters.

Facebook Engagement Fatigue

I’m not sure what it is about chilly weather, but all the sudden diamond rings abound on my Newsfeed.

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I should start this by saying that I am happy for people who want to get married and then get asked to be married, and that I hope everyone is successful in their relationships, and anything else they put their mind to for that matter. I always feel defensive when I talk about being irritated or annoyed or uncomfortable with this stuff, because folks assume that I am man-hating/bitter/hate love/unromantic, etc. But that’s categorically untrue.

That being said, all the hand photos, to show off the ring, and the #isaidyes hashtag and the really large bridal parties and the floofy dresses and the stuff… I don’t know guys. It has me feeling…. itchy.

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I think my itchiness comes from the fact that so much of what is shared is steeped in traditions that I find deeply problematic. Rather than coming up with new traditions, making room for alternative partnerships and lifestyles, we are creating hashtags and crafting cute announcements that show just how pretty and fabulous and romantic the whole event it using our iPhones and social media presences. But it’s the same old story (emphasis on old). I think most people’s journey is a lot more interesting than a photo of your hand with a new ring, or a new hashtag, or a new name…

a smattering of results from an #isaidyes search
a smattering of results from an #isaidyes search

Ah yes, the issue of names. On Facebook this is particularly apparent, because all of the sudden your friend from high school that you used to skip class with and drive around with and yearn for college with isn’t searchable under their name. Same with the girls who lived on your dorm floor in college. They have a new name. I can never think about these old friends as anyone other than the name I met them with. I can’t be the only one for whom this is disconcerting (can I?). It feels so retro, so abrupt. It seems so serious, so fundamental. And I guess maybe that’s the point, but who the fuck can keep track of all these old girlfriends, with their new names?

who?

I know people who are excited about changing their name, and that’s fine. But when you look at it in cultural context, I think this tradition sucks. I know this question isn’t exactly earth shattering, but why should women have to change their identifying name, their family name? Think about growing up, being part of your family, but knowing that one day your last name would be different and that you would, symbolically, be part of a different family and no longer your own. That’s fucking weird. I can’t imagine having a name that is different then my name now. It feels right, my name. It has a rhythm, I have a catchphrase, and I’d never wanna be anyone else. I think your name is a large part of your identity and personality, and like it or not this tradition places women in a cycle of having first their fathers and then their husbands determine this identity marker. Oddly enough, I don’t feel strongly about my own future child having my name because they will be their own person, a little monster with their own identity and personality. But I do feel strongly about my name, my ties to my own 3 person original family unit, and no matter what my family looks like moving forward I wish to always have my name to bond me to them and to my memories.

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I know people like tradition. And I’m not really against a person changing their name to symbolize a new union. But why not have both parties change it, to maybe a hyphenated name (ugh, I hate hyphenating) or some kind of hybrid, or I mean it could be anything at all! Your drag queen name or an allusion to your favorite poet/character/musician or the street your grew up on or that you met or WHATEVER. Why does it have to be so literal, so patriarchal? And all those other traditions that are played out too, like why are all my girlfriends waiting for a ring presentation when these kinds of decision can (and arguably should) be made together? Why a diamond ring when we all know that tradition was invented and sold to consumers by the diamond industry itself? Why a white wedding dress when that color upholds virginity as the ultimate female virtue, and anyway not everyone looks good in white? Why not rethink all of it? I wish we could all think outside the box more when it comes to unions and love and partnerships.

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Homoerotic, but heteronormative. #justsayin

So yea anyway, love is great and I’m glad people are finding it. But just a heads up, no one’s hand looks pretty in those ring photos. It’s weird. Post a photo of you and your partner and your smiling, joyful faces. That’s what it’s really about anyway, right?