On Lingerie, Street Harassment, and Making the Connections

There is a video making the rounds right now of a woman walking through New York City. A person wearing a back pack with a hidden camera walks in front of her, recording for 10 hours. She is catcalled more than 100 times. Watching this video make my skin crawl at certain moments. It is ever so familiar. It’s so banal that it breaks my heart.

Some of the comments I’ve seen in reaction to this video are really getting me riled up. And not the most extreme of them, because I am aware that some people think women are objects and that we should all be grateful for the attention and that all women deserve to be objectified and even violated. I don’t actually have the energy to fight against that kind of misogyny, I’m tired, and hopefully those folks stay in the dank dark hovel from which they so courageously anonymously comment.

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It’s this other kind of comment. The more moderate comment, which (to paraphrase) says ‘Some of those guys are scum, but some are just saying hi and it’s no big deal. You have to be able to say hi, right?’

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And this infuriates me. Because it assumes a few things. First, it assumes that sometimes the comments are harmless. I can assure you that this is almost never true. 1% of the time, if I’m being generous. So it’s statistically not worth mentioning. It also assumes that women cannot tell the difference between a polite greeting and a greeting with an underlying  motive. Again, I can assure you that we can. All of us. We know the difference between ‘Good morning!’ and ‘Hey there (I want to put my dick in you)!’. Because we are humans, capable of reading body language and subtext and vocal tone. ALSO: If you truly wish that you could simply greet other humans without being suspected of flirting or feared, then you can place the blame squarely on the harassers who have conditioned us that responding in any way to strangers is dangerous to our bodies and our psyches.

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And you know what? Sometimes maybe we get it wrong. But can you think for a second about how much energy, emotional energy, it takes to try and vet every comment/greeting/look that you get while out in the world trying to live your fucking life? Think about having to figure out which are innocuous and which are disgusting/loaded/disrespectful. Think about having to figure out if you are in danger every few moments. Think about having your guard up non stop, about not being able to be free and vulnerable and interact with strangers because you just might put yourself in a position to be harassed or followed or touched without permission. Think about if you were physically and emotionally drained by the act of existing in public.

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So I participated in a challenge recently, to support {my lingerie play}. Check out this dope performance/mission, check out Hollaback!, check out my video and post your own photo or video to their site or donate or talk to your friends.

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You can watch the video HERE!

Awareness, hopefully, can breed empathy (I have a LOT of feelings about empathy this week!) I truly believe that if everyone had to deal with the physic onslaught of catcalls and public objectification/sexualization each day, that folks would act differently. Cat calling and street harassment are expressions of power, and they minimize the total humanity of female bodied people. They are not complimentary. These actions reduce us to our bodies, and are rooted in the longstanding myth that our bodies (and desires) are dirty and out of control and shameful. But I will not be diminished. We are all beautiful, we contain multitudes, and our bodies are our own. They are beautiful, and they are beautiful right now. It bears repeating.

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we are all golden sunflowers inside {and out}
we are all golden sunflowers inside {and out}
all day erry day
all day erry day
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On Ebola & Empathy

You may be thinking to yourself ‘WTF?! This blog is about gender issues! This chick ain’t a biology major! What the heck?!’

WTF

And I totally get that reaction. But be patient, stick with me, and I will bring it all back to feminism.

News broke this week that a man living in NYC is at Bellvue being treated for Ebola. The New York Times gives a detailed account of the situation, about how this man was a doctor who’d gone to Africa to treat patients of this deadly virus and how he’d had a check up right away upon returning to the US and about how he didn’t think his safety gear had been compromised but that he was vigilant about monitoring his temperature and that as soon as he saw a fever he reached out to the authorities and also about how the virus isn’t contagious until you are symptomatic and about how his girlfriend is also quarantined and also his friends. Mostly, it’s a sad story because viruses are scary and over 50% of people that get this disease die from it, and this guy was trying to help.

At yet. The reaction from my fellow New Yorkers has been, well, disgusting and deeply disappointing. I’ve seen folks posting things on Facebook about how they hate this man, about how he was such an asshole for going places in the city. How dare he want to do fun things with his friends after his altruistic and probably emotionally devastating trip?! I’ve also seen posts saying we all need to get hazmat suits and never go bowling ever again and OMG IT DISRUPTED CMJ THE HORROR.

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So, I’m not gonna pretend to be super knowledgable about the science, but everything I’ve heard and read assures me that this disease isn’t airborne and that in the US we have almost zero chance of being infected. Here, read this, it’s an excellent summary of the outbreak and the science of the virus. I’m not interested in debating conspiracy theories or the validity of stocking up on hand sanitizer, but if this guy didn’t spit in your mouth recently, then you are going to be fucking fine.

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UPDATE: Here is the main man himself, Barack, Mr Prez, hitting you with some fun facts about the situation. PS I could listen to this man talk all day. Swag. Science.

Em k, so how about, rather than attacking a man who left this country to go help a population that is actually being affected by the epidemic, we flex our empathy muscles. I happen to think that empathy is a radical feminist tool, that creates bridges and understanding, and has the power to undermine the ‘us/them’ worldview that creates too much distance and hate between peoples. I don’t think it’s outlandish to say that much of the coverage of this outbreak, the fear mongering and comparison to ISIS as a threat, is all thinly veiled code for racism and fear of black and brown peoples. Best internet comment on this phenomenon: ‘Which is the bigger threat, the brown people with a virus or the brown people wielding our cast off weapons? And the answer is, unsurprisingly: Brown People!’ It’s also a red herring given the other ‘threats’ to Americans that are more dangerous, more deadly, and closer to home.

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So I ask: What good does it do anyone to wring their hands and fret and say mean shit about this guy and his family? I imagine it’s devastating to the folks who love him, and to the patients he cares for. And what about the thousands who’ve died across the ocean? Is it cool for us to make jokes about the disease from leagues away, ensconced in relative safety? To yell and shout about how we should close the airports so those people stay over there. That kind of thinking does not align with the values of social justice or equality. Equality without empathy is impossible. Putting up walls between groups of people will only ever keep power in the hands of the few and not the many. It will strengthen and uphold the status quo. Only closeness, understanding, and true compassion will set us all free.

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 I wonder if instead it would be possible to actually imagine what it would be like, if your family and your community was ravaged by this plague. What if you had to care for those you loved, with near certainty that they would die and that you would get sick in the process. I wonder if we could all take a moment to remember a time that we were scared for ourselves or a loved one, and use that memory to generate some compassion for the people that this is truly affecting. Because shrugging it off as a problem that only affects those people over there is really not the best use of your humanity. That thinking creates distance. It keeps a large space between us and them, when really this experience is one that all people can relate to in some way. If your first thought is ‘OMG I hope they close all the borders so it doesn’t spread to America’ and not ‘I hope all parties involved can work together to stem this disaster so no more families must be torn apart’, if you don’t give a shit unless and only if it might affect you, then I’d suggest recallibrating your compassion-meter.

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It is only by extreme and random luck that we live in a time and place that is largely safe from these kinds of communicable diseases. I don’t think America is super great or superior, but I grew up in a beautiful home with plenty to eat and lots of technology and opportunities to learn, and now I live in my favorite city, and I know that I’ve had help and opportunities that folks born in other places simply do not have access to. This doesn’t make me better than them, and it doesn’t make any of us immune to heartache or disaster. The chances of Ebola spreading outside of Africa, of it actually affecting the life of anyone here, are very very slim. Let’s reroute that hateful energy to send light and love to the folks who are actually living amongst those who are sick, and if you have the resources maybe even give a few bucks to Doctor’s Without Borders or whoever else is doing the real work over there. Blaming Obama, wondering what the CDC is doing, or condemning one of New York’s resident MDs is truly a waste of time and energy. What this crisis needs, and indeed what the world needs, is more empathy generated, more understanding and closeness. Dare to put yourself in their shoes. Dare to care about strangers you have not and will not ever meet. Dare to relate to families that are an ocean away. Dare to give an actual fuck.

Celebrity Nude Photo Leak: Scandal or SEX CRIME OBVIOUSLY UGH

Some low life leaked photos of female celebrities this weekend, notably the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Ariana Grande. And it’s being covered as a ‘scandal’.

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It’s not a scandal. It’s a sex crime.

Lena Duhnam succinctely sums up my feelings about the most oft used excuse for viewing the leaked shots:

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You shouldn’t be viewing these photos because you don’t have permission. They were not taken for you. These actresses have not chosen to share the images, they were not shot in a professional setting, no one was compensated. They are not ‘for sale’. They are private. Say it with me: PRIVATE.

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Listen, real talk: obviously I would love to see Jennifer Lawrence naked. I think she is beautiful, and bodies are beautiful, and that would be dope. But I won’t go find those pics, and I won’t link to where to find them, because this incident is a part of a clear pattern of misogyny and the policing of female sexuality and bodies. Celebrities give up a lot of privacy to have a career. Some of that I believe is part of their job, but some of it is a clear invasion. Women in particular, models and actresses and pop stars, are policed at a very high level. We speculate about their romantic lives ad nauseum (Jennifer Aniston etc) and we obsess over their bodies, circling supposed problem areas if they get too large (Jessica Simpson etc) or speculating about their health if they become too skinny (Nicole Richie, Angelina Jolie etc). This level of scrutiny is cruel, and it serves no one. We expect these women to hold to the standards we’ve all set for them, otherwise they face the wrath of tabloids and fans who will withhold their adoration until the standards are once again achieved. We hold them up as goddesses, but are quick to snatch them back down to earth if they ‘let themselves go.’

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But talent is not linked with a particular body type. This is why Christina Aguilera can belt at any size, and why Adele is effing glorious. The same applies to actresses, who needn’t be under 120 lbs to give a performance that is moving, convincing, funny or deep. Our adoration should be about performance, about the ability to consistently BRING IT. And yet instead of pledging our alegiance to those that move us, we worship goddesses of beauty and glamour. And I get it, because beauty and glamour are extremely appealing and alluring. But the standards are too rigid. The definitions of beauty of too strict and too immobilizing. The demands can never be maintained. And we are all just waiting for the slip up, so we can point out the flaws and I suppose feel some kind of catharsis or redemption because they are like us? Because perfection is an illusion, and we need them to prove it to us?

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This instance, though, can be spun as part of that worship. Which is gross. Because the naked body is private. It is for sharing only with those that you wish to share it with. This is not the same thing as to say it is shameful. It’s not shameful. Bodies are beautiful. The difference between what is private and what is shameful is not well articulated in our culture, and so we mostly teach girls that their bodies and their sexuality and their periods and their desires are shameful, when really those things are just private. Shaping them as private things has a much different connotation, because it is up to you to decide the boundaries of your personal privacy. Things are are private are under the purview of your own agency, subject to decisions that you are empowered to make for yourself. Shameful things have already been decided on for you, by someone else (your mother, your peers, the culture at large.) These photos were stolen and released without consent to shame these women. And the most common response is ‘Well if they don’t want them seen, then they shouldn’t take them’ which is indeed victim blaming akin to the ‘she was dressed provocatively’ or ‘don’t drink so much’ defense hurled at rape victims. The assumption is that if you take naked photos you are acting as a sexual being and if you are a woman that makes you a slut and you deserve to be exposed for what you are. She was asking for it. The only people responsible for crimes are those that commit them. In what realm of reality would it be unreasonable for a person to take intimate photos for themselves or a partner, and expect that only the person intended to see those photos would see them? Why wouldn’t a person imagine that their privacy be respected? If you believe that celebrities owe us even this, even their most intimate moments, then I think you are a delusional and unreasonable and not nice and unclear about what consent is and means. (Also: What are you hoping to find in those photos? Cause I’m pretty sure the fact that celebrities are naked under their clothes is not exactly revelatory information….)

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Women do not owe anyone access to their bodies. Famous women don’t owe you access to their nudity. Women in public don’t owe you access to touch them, to comment on their appearance, and they don’t owe you a smile. This incident highlights the way in which our culture functions to remind women that their bodies are not their own. It’s all connected friends, from street harassment to reproductive rights to the constant scrutiny and hunger for ever more provocative and revealing images. Don’t look at those pictures. They don’t belong to us.

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My Totally Not Serious Pregnancy Scare (and the overblown feelings that followed)

There was never an actual moment where I might have been pregnant.

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I was basically 24 hours late. My body was doing kind of pre-period stuff, but it wasn’t happening in full force. I know that your body changes over time and reacts to what’s happening in your life now and that one day late isn’t cause for alarm. The thing is, I haven’t been late since I started the pill, years ago. So I just had the briefest of thoughts yesterday morning: man, it’d be real crazy if I were pregnant. I didn’t panic, or obsess. It wasn’t a real possibility.

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But once I thought it, I couldn’t un-think it.

I didn’t tell my partner because it wasn’t a situation, it was just a thought. And probably also because we are both excited to make a new human one day in the future and I didn’t wanna burden him with this brief and crazy and unfeasible notion. So I didn’t say anything.

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I called one of my very best-est friends on my way home from work and said ‘This isn’t a real situation but like can you just remind me that it’s not possible’ and she did because she is wonderful and that’s what friends do. And we talked about all the reasons I couldn’t be (I’m on the pill, I almost always use condoms, periods can change as we get older so this isn’t a reliable sign) and also the reasons that now would be not the best time (I’m applying to go to grad school and PhDs take like 5 years, I have very little money and lots of student debt, I’m going to move in a few months to go to aforementioned school, I’m really just a pseud-adult and not a real grown up so caring for another human would be a stretch.) She is a good friend for dealing with the craziness of a ‘situation’ that is really just a crazy thought/wish, and for telling me what I already know.

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Now you may be thinking: Alex, you needn’t have a baby right now if you don’t wanna have one, even if you did find yourself pregnant. And you’d be right. I am lucky enough to live in a state where I could become not-pregnant fairly easily. And I believe with every fiber of my being that a woman should be able to make that choice if it’s right for her, and I detest the men (and yes, it’s men) who are attempting to strip women of that right using furtive, deceptive measures. But if we’re being honest here (and I’d like to think that we are), I would have a baby this minute if I became pregnant. Because I very much want to be a mom. And because I am lucky enough to have a partner that I think would make an incredible dad, and we are both excited for that journey. And I very much want my own mother to be a part of my pregnancy, and then my child’s life. And so if it happened, I wouldn’t have the heart to un-do it.

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So, not to bury the lead (already did that in the title I guess) but I’m not pregnant. Proof appeared last night, at which time I informed my partner that even though I hadn’t ever really thought I was or been worried, I wasn’t. And then I felt something weird: disappointment, and relief.

Neither of those feelings really seemed appropriate given the parameters of the situation. I was never really scared about it, because I haven’t ovulated in almost a decade so it was never a thing that was really happening. So why would I feel relieved? Except that we put much of the burden of sexually responsibility on girls, and I’ve always felt that it was my job to be responsible with my body. And along with this responsibility we instill a great amount of fear. And so even though I knew the facts, I was scared that somehow I had messed up, that I had slipped, that somehow my body had betrayed me because it knows how badly I want to have a baby someday and maybe it decided to take matters into it’s own hands. Maybe my uterus staged a coup.

vive la revolution!
vive la revolution!

So yea, I was relieved that I was still responsible, that my life was still going the way I’ve been planning. But then, I was also palpably disappointed. And I told my friend later ‘I’d never get pregnant right now on purpose because that would be an insane choice, but if it happened on accident I could justify the choice. I could get away with it.’ So I felt simultaneously like I’d dodged a bullet, and missed the chance to use an accident to get away with starting a journey I really do want to take.

Which is why I take what amounts to all the possible precautions to ensure this doesn’t happen. Because, while there may never be a perfect time to have a kid, there are better and less good times. And this time would be less good. And I want to feel like I am capable, like I have the resources, like I am ready to focus on a small human and not myself for the foreseeable future. And I am not ready to do that now. I need to focus on school, on my own path, on my own relationships. And as much as I am amped to get pregnant and create new life one day and would like to start immediately, I can’t make time go faster and I can’t deny that the best decision is to wait.

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I’m pretty surprised by the intensity of my feelings about this not actual scare. I’m totally aware of my own desire to be a mom, but I didn’t know I’d react so strongly to such a none-situation. I know everyone has complicated thoughts and feelings about being a parent. It’s not for everyone (although we assume that all women are nurturing and want to be moms and are probably bad/wrong if they don’t) and it doesn’t always work out and sometimes the timing is off and also sometimes it’s great and kids are a joy and fun and add a wild new dimension to your life. I have a bestie who never wants kids and that’s fine and I don’t tell her ‘you’ll change your mind’ because maybe she won’t and she is still wonderful, obviously. Another bestie just had a precious nugget 7 weeks ago and she adores her but also it’s hard and there are lots of conflicting emotions and very little sleep, for her and her hubby, and that family is officially a work in progress for basically ever. Getting pregnant is a big deal, for your body and your relationships and your future. It’s not a solution to a problem or a babysitting job or a vacation. Becoming a parent is a choice, and if you choose yes that choice lasts forever (God knows Ken & Patricia are still parenting me, also they’re awesome/supportive/loving/hip/the best.)

the.best.
the best parents a girl could ask for ❤

 

For now, I’ll just be over here feeling the feels and continuing to make moves towards the blurry future. One day I’ll have the thought ‘What if I’m pregnant?’ and I will feel joy and I will tell my partner right away and I hope that day is right after school is finished and we aren’t moving and we have jobs and my parents will be excited and they’ll help and….

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Who knows really. But I’m not pregnant. Not today.

Sex Spreadsheets are Bullshit. Grow Up.

So recently this spreadsheet went viral. A spreadsheet.

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I’m already annoyed.

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First of all, what kind of passive aggressive bull shit is this? Are we 12?

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Here’s a newsflash: if there is something going on in your relationship, the quickest way to make it worse is to place the blame entirely on your partner and then EMAIL them a document you made specifically to shame them. How about being an adult and having an actual conversation with your partner about why you’ve been going through a dry spell? Because here’s another newsflash: your partner doesn’t owe you regular sex. Sex is a collaborative, cooperative experience. Your sex life is not static and it is not guaranteed. Just like other aspects of your relationship, it changes and evolves  and will require effort to be maintained. It’s an important aspect of any relationship, sure, but it’s not the only one. And given that the sex is dwindling and their communication obviously stinks, I’d venture to say that this couple has lots of other issues. I’m just so freakin’ annoyed by this guy I can hardly stand it! Have a conversation! Think seriously about why this may be occurring, including how you yourself may be contributing. Grow the fuck up. (Note: this goes for all people creating sex spreadsheets, cause apparently it’s a trend happening now ew gross come on guys, seriously.)

one more eye roll. cause ugh.
one more eye roll. cause ugh.

Speaking of how you may be contributing: some responses to this story have tried to maintain the pernicious myth that women are less interested in sex than men. I’m here to tell you that this is nonsense. Many have pointed to the orgasm gap to help explain women’s perceived disinterest. The orgasm gap, according to a recent study, is the fact that women are having 1 orgasm for every 3 that men have. Which just makes me so sad. And before you start with me, let’s clear some things up. Women are not ‘more complicated’ than men, anatomically speaking. Women are able to achieve orgasm at the same rate as men when they masturbate, and indeed women in same sex relationships have orgasms at the same rate as heterosexual men. It’s also not true that it takes women longer to achieve orgasm, because when masturbating it takes women and men the same time on average: 4 minutes. All it takes to make a woman cum is willingness, and basic understanding of female anatomy (because the clit isn’t hard to find, but it is absolutely necessary.)

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translation

Alright so we’ve cleared up the myth that women are harder to please sexually. So the orgasm gap isn’t natural and it’s not acceptable (or is shouldn’t be!)  As it stands, this gap can explain part of why women may seem less interested in sex than men. But another important factor is how we raise men and women differently when it comes to sexual self expression. Boys are allowed to be outward in their expressions of sexuality, and in fact expressing sexual desire is seen as a sign of a healthy young man. Men can brag about their sexual encounters, and their orgasms are an assumed part of ‘sex’ in the accepted cultural narrative. Girls, on the other hand, are raised knowing that for them, sexuality is shameful. Not only is too much desire or too many partners evidence that they are slutty, it can also be used to justify sexual violence. For women, one of the first ways they learn about sex is to fear rape. And it is crystal clear that they are partly responsible for preventing rape, by controlling their own behavior; not dressing too provocatively or getting drunk or “leading men on”.  All of this adds up to confusion, because we also teach girls that their worth can be measured by their perceived ‘fuck-ability.’ They must be available to give pleasure, but they must not want or seek pleasure too obviously. And there is not a single piece of sex education that teaches about women’s pleasure, so we don’t learn to make our pleasure a real priority. Add that to the lack of value we place on women’s bodies overall, and the picture is bleak.

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Listen guys. Sex doesn’t happen like in the movies. Two people, even if the chemistry is great, don’t always hit a home run the first time. Or the second, third, etc. And sometimes, if you’ve had the same partner for awhile, your sex life can hit a slump or a drought or whatever. Because sex is about more than just orgasms, it’s also about intimacy and communication and closeness. And your sex life doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and real life can get crazy. Awhile back I was working 2 retail jobs and my schedule was insane. I was working 6 or 7 days a week, often 10 or 12 hour days. And indeed, my sex life with my partner took a hit. I was exhausted, and I also didn’t feel good about myself (no yoga, crappy eating, no sleep, you get it.)

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How did my partner respond? (HINT: it wasn’t by blaming me passive aggressively with a spread sheet of entitled anger.) He asked a simple question, over drinks: What’s up with our sex life? And I’m not saying that was an easy conversation, but we kept drinking and throwing out ideas, we laughed a lot, and we were willing and honest. We didn’t yell, or blame each other, we didn’t take ourselves to seriously and we never for one moment assumed that it should be easier. It meant a great deal to me that he was able to be vulnerable about how he was feeling, and that he wanted to work together to keep this part of our relationship vital. That conversation was the first big one we had about sex, but it wasn’t the last, and we will need to keep talking and laughing over drinks from time to time so we can keep the spark alive. And hopefully we won’t only check in when things get rough, because even when things are good there is room for improvement (*wink*), and when times are good the pressure is off. It shouldn’t feel like torture. Communication can even be sexy! Take a deep breath, retain your sense of humor, and remember that you’re on the same team.

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It’s true there should be magic, but the magic can’t be taken for granted. You need to work to maintain it. And nothing kills the magic like taking your partners body for granted, or feeling like they ‘owe’ you more than they’re giving. Sexual pleasure isn’t a right you automatically have in a relationship. It’s a gift that partners give to one another, through practice and empathy and consideration and enthusiasm and vulnerability and creativity and collaboration. If you aren’t getting it, you might wanna reflect on whether or not you are giving it.

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it takes effort. nick names. lingerie. whatever works for you, plus enthusiasm. get ’em Bey.

Street Harassment: Biking Edition

I’m pretty rattled about this incident, so bear with me.

I was coming north on Ave B, just passing the Williamsburg bridge. A fellow cyclist went ahead of me in the bike lane. For about a block we did this awkward thing where we were sort of going the same speed, but then he’d slow down and I’d go outside to pass him, but then he’d speed up again so I’d back off. This happened 3 or 4 times. At the intersection I made a move to pass him and he yelled at me ‘Watch it, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?!’ I hadn’t passed him closely at all, everyone had plenty of safe space. Now we were sort of next to one another so I said ‘I’m just trying to maintain my speed.’ He replied ‘Why the fuck are you trying to pass me?’ This sounded arrogant and completely illogical and I was starting to feel angry so I said ‘Just mind your own fucking business and keep your eyes on the road.’ I tried to speed up. He sped up next to me and unleashed a torrent of hateful language. I remember fucking bitch and who the fuck do you think you are and something about what a slut I was for biking around in a skirt and how I should cover up my filthy cunt. I tried to slow down to let him go ahead, but he slowed down and wouldn’t proceed without me. He even insulted my bike, and her fucking sparkles.

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this is my sparkly bike, sparkle pony.

I was starting to feel threatened, and unsafe. His tone was not joking, he was purposely staying with me, and he’d noticed my totally noticeable and not at all commonplace bike, which he could certainly see again in the future and remember. I wondered if I should try and get my phone to take a picture, but my phone wasn’t accessible and I’m always at yelling people holding their phones while riding. I wished I could magically manifest some of the cards this dope chick has been making, so I could throw up a whole handful and make it rain on him and hopefully distract him long enough to pedal to safety.  As we were approaching Houston Street I sped up like I was going to fly through the intersection, and so did he. Just before getting 1/2 way across I abruptly stopped, which PS was probably super dangerous, and I turned my bike to head east towards Ave C. He was ahead of me and didn’t see me right away so he was through the intersection and he didn’t turn around. His rants faded as I pedaled east, looking behind me every few minutes and hoping he didn’t turn east ahead of me to meet back up. He didn’t.

this is my awesome dad, ken dill, instilling a love of bikes in me at a tender young age
this is my awesome dad, ken dill, instilling a love of bikes in me at a tender young age

So, what is it, I wondered, that set him off? I pedaled all the way home, unsteady, turning over in my head what had occurred. Was it that I deigned to pass him? Because dudes are always stronger and faster than girls? Does he have something against lady riders in general? Too much freedom and autonomy? Too much joy? Too much leg? I couldn’t figure it out.

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But it doesn’t matter. Not one bit. Because I’m allowed to ride a bike. It’s fun, it’s economical, and it’s good for the environment. And I’m allowed to bike in dresses. If my thighs offend you, look at something else. And I’m allowed to pass you. I’m allowed to ride at whatever speed I judge to be appropriate, so long as I am not putting other riders/cars/pedestrians in danger. But isn’t it fascinating how quickly this conversation went from urban cycling to what a bitch/slut/cunt I am? I mean, he could have insulted my riding skills, or continued to claim I wasn’t practicing good bike safety etiquette. He could have just called me a jerk or a butt head. Alas, it was straight to bitch. That ubiquitous insult with no male equivalent (except for bitch, which is insulting because it implies you are acting like a woman.) How quickly he leapt to assume that I was a wanton harlot due to the fact that I had a bike seat between my legs and there was skin visible above my knees.

sparkle with one of her friends, my besties claire bear's bike from back in the day
sparkle with one of her friends, my besties claire bear’s bike from back in the day

Also: if you are reading this and thinking in horror ‘god that dude is an asshole and terrible and I wish things like that never happened’, but you don’t get why women complain about cat calling, please take my hand and allow me to show you the connection. In this case, the original exchange between us was unpleasant, however the scariest moment was when he escalated. It took a turn from a cycling disagreement to what a bitch/slut I was, and then he physically wouldn’t leave. This pattern also happens when the conversation starts with a ‘hey baby’ or ‘damn girl you look good’ etc. You can never tell when an innocuous compliment is going to to turn lewd, vulgar, or aggressive depending on how you do or do not react. This is why ‘compliments’ are not fun to receive, because they feel like ticking time bombs. So spread the word about how it really feels to be cat called or harassed on the street, and don’t do it yourself (unless there is an obvious vibe and eye contact and you’re a grown up I know you can figure it out on your own) and also check out these great folks and their work: SSH & Hollaback!

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I was coming home with a small token of celebration for my partner last night. Nothing extravagant, just wanted to take a moment to point out an accomplishment I think is pretty cool. And instead I came home upset, shaken, and thoroughly un-joyful. I showered and shook off the encounter. But I will never forget his face, or the feeling in the pit of my stomach, or the fact that our interaction is part of a web of similar interactions between men and the women they harass (#YesAllWomen). These interactions create a ubiquitous feeling of danger in public places. And instead of jumping to protect the right of women to do whatever the fuck they want to the same degree as men, as a culture we say things like ‘well maybe you shouldn’t bike in that skirt‘ and ‘what do you expect when you dress that way‘ and ‘you shouldn’t be going out alone at night‘ and ‘are you sure you didn’t do anything to lead him on‘ and ‘gosh, can’t you just take a compliment.’

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And I said the same thing to myself. You shouldn’t have engaged with him, you shouldn’t have cursed at him. But fuck that. I did what any reasonable person would have done when they were shouted at. I’m not going to stay quiet because you have some ego-maniacle malfunction. Fuck you bro. I am still gonna bike and sing up and down the east side of this island. I’m gonna go to yoga, run errands, meet up with friends and commute to my fucking big girl job. And I’m going to always wear a helmet because fucking safety. More and more women are biking, so you’ll have to get used to us, or relinquish the road. Sparkle and I aren’t going anywhere. And neither are my thighs. Grow up. Shut up. Get a helmet, and while you’re at it try seeing women as actual human beings. Maybe then we can all get where we are going a little more safely.

What’s Actually Annoying About ‘Women Against Feminism’

Maybe you’ve seen it by now. There is a tumblr happening with women holding up signs about why they don’t need feminism. A lot of the signs talk about not hating men. And a lot are about opening jars. But most importantly, the majority of the signs are confused. Confused about what feminism is and what feminism does. And I am just so frustrated.

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My initial response is to make a counter list about what I don’t need, and make up confusing reasons why. Here are some fun examples:

I don’t need water because it can be a liquid, gas, or solid and that means it’s tricky and can’t be trusted!

I don’t wanna go to school because you know who went to school?! The person who is responsible for making the atomic bomb (whose name I don’t know because school is for destroyers of the world!)

I don’t watch TV because they have TV in prison and prison is for reflection and reform, not free cable!

I don’t ride bikes because bikes are slutty and also they are for hipsters and cars are way safer!

I could go on. But being snarky is only half the battle. Because what is happening here is both a profound disconnect, as well as a deeply embedded self-hatred resulting from being born and raised in a culture that profoundly controls, disrespects, and abuses women’s bodies. Let’s look at just a few examples.

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I almost can’t even start with this one. First of all, feminism doesn’t look down at women who choose to stay at home. Feminism advocates for choices, and support for all those choices. At one point, not staying at home was not a choice for some* (*white, middle/upper class) women, and thus expanding those choices was the goal. If something is already an option, you don’t need to fight for it. This particular argument is a little tired at this point, and yet it persists. This woman has been a victim of abuse and assault not once, but twice, and yet cannot see how her abuse is part of a pattern, indeed a crisis, happening worldwide. Violence against women is not random, it is systematic, and pervasive, and one of the greatest clues to how patriarchy functions. Feminism doesn’t set out to vilify men, who in fact also experience sexual assault and abuse. Also some feminists really like penises. And some don’t. But I don’t really think that’s a ground breaking truth.

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Em k, well that’s cool. Compliments are nice. Feminism isn’t anti-compliments. It’s anti-harassment. And not all people feel appreciative or happy when they’re being ‘complimented’ by strangers. So their feelings are also valid, and everyone should respect the right of everyone else to walk to work/the store/a party etc without feeling like they are on display. Cause not everyone wants to be only display all the time. And also sometimes ‘compliments’ are actually about a pervasive system of violence and control. And also not everyone is nailing lipstick the way you are so maybe they’d rather just go on about their day?

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This is another weird trend. That people want to take responsibility for their own actions. That sounds super honorable. But we don’t live our lives in a vacuum. All of us are affected by culture, and by each other, each and every day we are alive. And sometimes, we make big mistakes and we need to own up. But sometimes, actions have root causes that are out of our control. (For example: the only people responsible for rapes are rapists.) This picture makes me kinda sad because this person is choosing to be vulnerable and own up to some insecurities, which is brave. And we all have insecurities. But to claim that some of those insecurities aren’t fed/encouraged/created by the patriarchal capitalist monster machine that is the beauty industry, and also celebrity culture at large, is just silly.

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This is another interesting point of logic for these folks. Feminism doesn’t believe that all women are victims, and it doesn’t believe that all men are rapists. At no time does it attempt to paint all women one way and all men one way. Feminism does shed light on the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault happening nation wide (and indeed world wide), and it names this epidemic a political problem. Women make up the majority of the victims (1 in 6 will be assaulted in their lifetime), but not all women are victims and not all victims are women. Feminism advocates for those that are raped, so that their rights are guaranteed and their attackers brought to justice. Victims did not always have a voice, nor was justice often found (and actually, I’d hesitate to use the word often now…) Not all men perpetrate violence, but most women who experience violence experience it at the hands of a man. But this itself is a feminist issue! Indeed, we do live in a culture that conditions boys to suppress their emotions, unless those emotions are aggressive. Our culture does glorify violence, especially as an essential part of masculinity. This is bad for men and women, and it is the fault of patriarchy, not feminists.

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Ah yes, this one is a real gem. Check out how she ‘subtly’ slut shames women she has never even met while defending the entire male population but also talking about ‘real feminism’ which is really just, well, feminism. It’s quite a feat. First of all, I would argue that respect and equal opportunity for women does actually involve access to safe abortion, contraception, and sexual empowerment/autonomy. Just saying. Additionally, and this is important: feminism doesn’t damn men. It points out systematic oppression. It highlights how issues that were once deemed ‘personal’ are actually political. It advocates for women to have a full breadth of choices about their bodies and their life paths.

Plus men can also be feminists! See below for one of my fav examples:

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Look, if you don’t want to claim the feminist label, that’s fine. Labels can be a real bummer. But please don’t disavow what you don’t understand.  At it’s heart, feminism is about equality and justice. It’s not perfect. We have a lot of work to do to make sure that the movement is inclusive of all issues across the lines of race, class, and sexuality. We’ve gotten better as the journey has continued, but feminism is a group of humans and humans are not perfect. It will take diligent work within the feminist community, and with our allies, to ensure that the movement continues to grow along an inclusive, empathetic and justice driven path. But you could be helping! Instead of holding these weird signs that mostly promote outdated or plain old incorrect misconceptions about feminism. Considering it, but still skeptical? Allow me to help clear things up:

Not all feminists choose to grow their natural body hair. Some do. If you don’t wanna grow your body hair, you can still be a feminist. Not all feminists think being a stay at home mom is wrong (most, I’d argue, don’t.) You can be a stay at home mom and be a feminist, although you should also advocate for mom’s that work because all mom’s are great and because not all mom’s have the option to stay home and because women’s work both in and out of the home has been undervalued for a really long time and that should stop. Not all feminists are humorless bitches. I’m sure some are. But some are wildly hilarious. If you have a sense of humor, you can still be a feminist. And not all feminists hate men. Some might. And maybe you are uncomfortable with their anger. But if some folks have been harassed and abused and assaulted, is their anger not warranted? Just because you would, or have, responded differently, does that mean that their voices should not be heard? Frankly, feminists are angry because by no fault of their own they live in a culture that values their humanity less than the humanity of men. This isn’t all men’s fault. It’s patriarchy’s fault. But sometimes men take advantage of their advantages and sometimes the appropriate response is righteous anger. I don’t advocate that we come from a place of righteous anger all the time, because it is exhausting and because I think that love and inclusion and empathy will bring us closer to our goals. But if you don’t hate men, congratulations, I don’t either, and we can still be  feminists.

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I’ll just leave this here at the end and say that feminism is responsible for the fact that women vote, for the fact that marital rape is illegal, for equal rights regarding access to school and the resources there-in, for birth control, and for Beyonce. Any young woman living in this moment in America is a product of feminists efforts in some way. You may think you don’t need it, but it has already positively shaped your life in one way or another. And maybe you aren’t down with the complete agenda, but denying it entirely is ungrateful and disingenuous, and ultimately it hurts us all.

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Let’s Take a Break from Apocolytpic Emo Breakdowns and Talk Natural Body Care

Let’s talk about hair cuts and natural body care products cause the rest of the world is exhausting and it’s just too hot to keep raging!

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This is an update on my natural body care journey (for a full breakdown on ‘why the hell am I doing this?’, see here and here.) First of all, I cut my hair. My fears, it turns out, were unwarranted. I love it. I don’t feel less pretty, I feel light and free and cute. Since I provided photos before, here is my new ‘do, shout out to Marika in Delaware who is the best and always does what I want but better than I imagined:

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Also, I have been washing with honey and it’s been great. Honey is moisturizing for the hair, slightly acidic to balance the PH of your scalp, and it’s also anti microbial and anti fungal. The recipe I used is 3 parts water and 1 part raw honey (raw is important, but it’s not wildly expensive and you don’t use a lot of this mixture per wash so it will last.) I warmed the mixture over low heat to make sure the honey was fully dissolved. I let it cool down, and then put it all in an empty hair product bottle I’d cleaned out (reduce reuse recycle!), and I’m keeping it in the fridge to avoid spoiling. Not that I have hair to really focus on, but this mixture should be massaged into the scalp rather used to saturate your hair. It smells great, my hair is soft, and I don’t have to wash everyday. Additionally, I now have way less stuff in my bathroom. Less plastic bottles, less products, less clutter. It feels great to clear the medicine cabinet and shower caddy, and to know exactly what is coming into contact with my body. Plus I haven’t had to sacrifice any quality in terms of how clean I feel! My skin and hair aren’t oily, I’m not breaking out, and actually my showers are quicker. So far, oil cleansing and honey shampoo are a success.

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But it hasn’t all been hunky dory. My natural oral care experiments have been…. less than wonderful.

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I did not like the toothpaste recipe I tried, which consisted of coconut oil, baking soda, vegetable glycerin and peppermint essential oil. The texture is kind of grainy, and you cannot honestly describe it as ‘minty’. It didn’t leave my mouth feeling fresh, however I suspect I will have to try and re-calibrate my taste going forward so that ‘fresh’ isn’t automatically ‘minty.’ In any case, I haven’t given up on toothpaste, but I will be trying some different recipes and maybe different essential oils for flavor. Lemon or orange oil would be nice, and also help with whitening. For now I’ve gotten a fluoride-free toothpaste from Tom’s, and I’m psyched to have a minty mouth again!

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Additionally I’ve been oil pulling and… well… I’m not crazy about it. Full disclosure: the time ranges people suggest vary, and I’ve been shooting for 10 whole minutes, but honestly I’ve never hit a full ten (I get close, like 8 and 1/2 or 9 ish and bail.) I will keep practicing and try to keep my eyes off the clock, but that’s a long time to keep swishing. Even so, I am going to continue with this, because I think it’s a mindful practice and I’m kind of into that. But again, it doesn’t leave my mouth feeling super clean (no mint…), although I do not mind the over all taste. It does, however, help with morning breath and whitening, and like I said you have to kind of slow down and focus. So this gets a reserved thumbs up. You can read up on it here, here, here, and here.

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That’s all the news for now. I have to say that it’s been fun trying all these new things, as it is all moving me in what I feel is a positive direction where I have less extraneous and potentially poisonous stuff, not to mention more time. Having less hair has been amazing in this heat, and actually I think it’s the best thing I’ve done for my yoga practice since… going to yoga. I’m less distracted, I still feel sassy, and the lack of maintenance is super empowering. Next up to try is homemade deodorant, and I am hoping that this works as well as folks claim because I am a very active human and it is really very hot in NYC right now and I don’t mind sweating but I sure don’t wanna stink. Have any of you guys tried any natural body care stuff, with or without success? Please share any stories, insights or resources in the comments!

he (and i) really wanna know! <3
he (and i) really wanna know! ❤

Real Talk: I’m having an existential crisis about hatred for women’s bodies, and it’s storming, and the struggle is too real

I know that a lot of what is written in the feminist blogosphere is done with a certain amount of humor, and snark. Sarcasm. Because we want to believe that what we are writing about is so obvious, that sarcasm is the perfect tool to reveal it for what is truly is. But honestly, I’m not sure I have a lot of snark left after this week, so I hope you will forgive this rather sincere and earnest post.

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I’m disheartened this week, by the recent Supreme Court rulings, but more so by the lack of outrage I feel. I know there is a lot written in anger, and that lots of my peers are upset. But outside of that rage bubble there is a collective shrug. An overall ambivalence, that this decision isn’t a big deal. The limitations aren’t very strong. Sincere religious beliefs are a fair enough claim for exception. This is about insurance, not about women.

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I don’t understand how people cannot see with certainty that this is about hatred for women’s bodies. How the very fact that contraception is controversial is irrefutable evidence that we live in a toxic, misogynist culture that values any life (hypothetical, corporate) over the life of a woman. And with other marginalized groups making strides, the rights of women are being legally thwarted at every turn. The law of the land was just altered so that folks who believe that women’s bodies belong to something or someone else can assert their beliefs at the expense of real people. And now the floor is open for companies to use their ‘sincerely held religious beliefs’ to discriminate against women. And it is discrimination, which is made even more obvious by the fact that no other religious exemptions were granted. If you believe the blood transfusions, vaccines, or anti-depressants are immoral or sinful or whatever, well tough cookies. It’s only women’s bodies that can be sacrificed in the name of ‘Christian’ values. (Unless of course they allow this ruling to set a precedent for discrimination against LGBTQ folks, which is already trying to happen, FYI.)

Contraception isn’t magic, and it isn’t evil. And it shouldn’t just be liberals or self-proclaimed feminists getting upset about this ruling. Corporations being granted the rights of people should, frankly, upset everyone. And folks who are anti-abortion should be outraged as well, for indeed the best way to bring down the abortion rate is by providing comprehensive sex education and unfettered access to birth control. And yet, they’ve managed to trick many into believing that to be against one should automatically make you against both. Such a clever tactic. I believe that women’s health choices regarding her body should be her own, whether that choice be in avoiding a pregnancy or ending one. But for those who oppose the elective ending of pregnancy, this birth control exemption should feel like a huge disappointment.

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I want to know why they hate our bodies so much. Why, everywhere I look, control of our bodies is being taken from women and put in the hands of others. Into the hands of the Supreme Court, those 5 men who ruled that corporations have more rights as people under the law then women. Into in the hands of employers, who can now decide which kind of contraception, basic care in the eyes of the medical establishment and federal government, are acceptable for coverage. It’s in the hands of advertisers, the media, and internet trolls, who decide and proclaim which of us is beautiful, appropriate, feminine, and worthy. It’s in the hands of men on the street, who can comment and harass without fear because they are just complimenting you. It’s in the hands of rapists, who will claim that you were asking for it, and be justified when the police and the judge and even your friends and family ask ‘what were you wearing’ and ‘were you flirting’ and ‘how much were you drinking’. All these ways, the insidious and the obvious, are part of the reality of this culture. They are overt and subtle, they are accepted and sometimes frowned upon, but mostly they are tolerated. For now, we would rather uphold the power system of patriarchy that truly dismantle it.

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Ok ok, I’m using ‘we’ there loosely. In fact, I myself would really really like to dismantle the patriarchy, and I know many other capable adults who would as well. I don’t know why these things aren’t more obvious. I don’t know why folks can’t see the hate that is at work in this ruling, and indeed that is at work every day in large and small ways. I sincerely hope that all of the marginalized groups, all those that feel the weight of a culture that wants to keep them in a certain box (or cage), will come together. We have a black president, half of all states have legalized gay marriage, and women are over 1/2 the population. Let’s rally the troops and tell the establishment, the folks in power, the old white guys and all their allies, that their reign is over. That there is room for everyone’s voice, for everyone’s unique gifts, and for everyone’s love. So long as you are speaking about inclusion, empathy, true democracy and community. Equality. Creation instead of war. Love in the place of fear. ‘Yes we can’ instead of ‘No you can’t.’ True justice. Right now, I do not see justice for women. Only manipulation and control passed off as controversy and the protection of some freedoms at the expense of others. But maybe I’m the crazy one. Maybe it’s just about paying for some medicines, and not others.

Here is something that will make you smile instead of sigh, just so we don’t end on a note of despair: 18 Empowering Illustrations, to remind us that our bodies are our own to create and control in whatever image we choose. Namaste. Have a good weekend.

Sebelius v Hobby Lobby UPDATE: It’s worse than you think

“It’s not that bad!” you might wanna believe. “It’s only a few kinds of birth control, and if they don’t want to pay for it they shouldn’t have to, and women can probably still get it covered from the government, and not paying for it isn’t really restricting access!!”

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Lets address these one by one:

First of all, I maintain that corporations shouldn’t be able to have sincerely held religious beliefs in the eyes of the law. They should not be able to get around the law of the land in this manner. And this whole ‘not wanting to pay for things’ argument is really just tough shit. Because there are lots of things we all pay for that we could reasonably object to, particularly with regards to health insurance. For example, I sincerely believe that the American diet causes heart disease, diabetes, and many types of cancer. So I don’t want to cover treatment for any of those issues. People should eat more kale and less hamburgers, or pay for their drugs themselves (Sound familiar? Be less slutty, or pony up for your slut medication yourself? Yea, that’s a real thing people argue.) Or the classic Viagra argument. That shit isn’t strictly necessary, and men should deal with their own penis/heart disease issues, why should I subsidize their erections? But also, what is the real difference between paying for it via insurance coverage and paying wages with which employees purchase contraception? Both are technically benefits earned by working. So to me, not including contraception in a benefits package is akin to an employer deciding what you can buy with your hard earned wages. Which is scary, and wrong.

But Alex, you say, it’s only some BC they don’t wanna cover. There are still lots of options!

1) If the options are legal and FDA approved, there shouldn’t be limits imposed by your employer because they aren’t a doctor and their ‘sincerely held beliefs’ aren’t backed by science and they don’t know what’s best for your body and health. Full Stop.

2) This ruling is limited to only contraception, however it is not limited to only the 4 kinds that Hobby Lobby opposes. I repeat: Companies that wish to are able to stop covering any type of contraception they have a ‘sincerely held religious’ objection to. Here are the 82 companies that currently have cases pending. Not all object only to EC and IUDs.

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Additionally, I’d like to point out that not covering something is indeed restricting access for many many families. Contraception isn’t cheap. The reason that coverage was mandated when the ACA was passed is because the medical community widely recognized that contraception comprises basic care for women and families, and that it should be universally covered like other forms of necessary and preventative care. When it isn’t covered, women and families are forced to make tough decisions. It’s like if health insurance didn’t cover mammograms or prostate exams. These kinds of procedures are covered because they save lives, and often prevent more expensive and harmful issues from occurring. Contraception has the same effect on the lives of women and families.

Finally, the work around. Remember, this work around currently only applies to non-profits that are exempt, so they will need to extend it to for-profit closely held companies. They most likely will, but as of now it’s hypothetical. Regardless of the fact that women shouldn’t have to endure extra steps to get the basic care they need, the federal work around isn’t working smoothly for the non-profit employees. Because companies are assholes. In order for employees to seek coverage from the government, the employer must put in writing that they object to providing coverage. But employers don’t want to put it in writing, because that would allow access which obviously they are against. Erin over at Jezebel explains, complete with sass:

If your company objects, the workaround as it exists as of yesterday requires them to register their objection in writing. This will allow employees of said companies to obtain BC through the government rather than through their employers. Problem is, nonprofits that have been offered that workaround have said that signing a slip of paper objecting to birth control, thus enabling their employees to obtain birth control via other means, violates their religious freedom because it’s a tacit endorsement of birth control/murder/sluts/slutmurder.

It’s a real clusterfuck.

So then, what does this really mean. Is it about upholding your own values? Or forcing your values onto those around you? Is it about personal integrity, or controlling women’s bodies?

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Nope. I call bullshit. We cannot live in a religiously diverse nation if part of what it means to act religiously is to impose your beliefs on others. That’s a catch 22. And it’s really insidious and toxic that this ruling encourages the parts of religious exercise that seek to control women. Only contraception is covered under the exemption. Only the kinds of medicine that help empower women to have control over their bodies and their sex lives. Some women need this medicine for reasons other than preventing pregnancy, and some women cannot safely become pregnant, and those are really compelling points. But the real issue is that women should be able to not get pregnant if that’s what they choose, and they should have access to the medicine needed to safely have sex with their chosen partner(s). That is not radical, and it’s not anyone else’s business. We have all kinds of medicine that, it could be argued, allow people to act recklessly without consequences. People are allowed to smoke cigarettes despite the myriad health risks, and their eventual treatment is covered. We have drugs for constipation, gas, weight loss, diabetes, and heart disease, despite the fact that those issues are largely caused by poor diet and could be remedied with the proper nutrition shift. But controlling what people eat is crazy! They can eat what they want, and how much. Fine. So why is sex different?

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Employers who find contraception morally reprehensible should figure out how to make money without female employees, or perhaps it would be easier if they accepted the full humanity of all women and all people and worried about the state of their own soul instead of forcing their will on other folks who are just trying to live life. I can’t help but think a lot of this would be a non issue if folks learned how to mind their own fucking business.

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Yea but, they don’t. And the justices are whack. And lots of companies could potentially stop coverage and refuse the work around, legally. I hope Obams is working furiously to figure this out, hopefully maybe by mandating that if you don’t provide coverage you MUST put your objection in writing, thus allowing employees to seek full coverage else where. But it shouldn’t require this much thought or effort. Women shouldn’t be forced to work this hard to get basic care coverage.