One Direction fans need feminism because…

I have been home sick for the past two days – and in my weakened state, I actually watched the first 15 minutes or so of The View. For a show that is supposed to be empowering to women, I was genuinely appalled by their treatment of One Direction fans. The “ladies” of The View showed a few video posts by teenage girls live on the air, making fun of the emotion they were feeling at the imminent demise of their favorite group.

Is it silly to get so caught up in a musical group? Maybe. But when LeBron James left Cleveland to play in Miami, the network news made it a story for weeks. We heard all about the fans heartbreak. Grown men cry over who wins or loses the Super Bowl and we admire their dedication.  We compete over which city has the most devoted fans to their sports teams.

I’m not saying we should publicly humiliate sports fans – I’m just asking what makes that any less “silly” than being a One Direction fan? The answer is that one is traditionally male and one is traditionally female.

You are a feminist. Yes, YOU. Go ahead and say it proudly.

Gentlemen, please don’t stop reading. I wrote this because of a man in my life who said he wasn’t a feminist, and I think he’s wrong. I’d like to explain why. I wanted to post this for International Women’s Day, but I was a little late.

feministThere was a time in my life when I shied away from using the word “feminist”, buying into the belief that to be feminist was to be anti-male. Not only can I now recognize that I was wrong, but I fully appreciate the need to use the word feminist proudly, loudly and often. We’re allowed to continue to evolve as human beings, and for anyone out there who still doesn’t like that word, let me help you to evolve, too.

Feminism is…

  • Feminism is the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. (Per both Merriam-Webster and Beyoncé.)

Feminism is not…

  • Feminism is not a belief that women are superior to men.
  • Feminism is not a belief that men and women are the same and does not ignore differences in gender.
  • Feminism is not a liberal movement.
  • Feminism is not anti-religion or anti-tradition.

So why do we use the word Feminist instead of Humanist or Egalitarianist?  

First, Humanist means something different entirely. Please stop using it to indicate a belief in human equality. (I am also a humanist and it makes things very confusing.)

Egalitarianism is similar – in fact the definition is almost identical. Egalitarianism is a great word for the belief in equality in a broader context – race, gender, nationality, sexuality, class, and ability. I encourage you to also be an egalitarianist.

The use of the word Feminist is important, because while it means equality, it acknowledges the historical record of global oppression of women and the existence of male privilege in almost every society around the world. Right now and right here at this moment in history, we need feminism. We need to focus on raising up the rights of women so that they are equal to the rights of men.

That’s not to say that feminism is simple or that all feminists are the same.

Some aspects of feminism are so basic and so simple that I hope that they go without question. Female infanticide, child brides, and honor killings are all global epidemics are unquestionably horrific – and highlight in the most awful of ways the need for a global focus on women’s rights. We are still fighting globally for the rights of women to LIVE.

Even in much more female friendly of cultures, women are still battling for equal rights in ways that seem so basic. In the United States, women do not receive equal pay for equal work and a woman’s right to make decisions about her own health care is not guaranteed. Women are far from having equal footing with male counterparts professionally, women are under-represented in technical and scientific fields, and we live in a culture that continues to objectify women as entertainment.

We can go further with feminism to talk about the ways in which traits and characteristics that are traditionally “female” are not valued in the same ways that traditionally “male” traits are valued. Most people view physical strength, for example, as a more valued characteristic than emotional empathy. Traditionally male past times, such as being an avid sports fan, is viewed as more valuable to society than traditionally female past times, such as enjoying fashion. We encourage girls to try out for sports teams and to not get caught up in all things “pink”, but most people wouldn’t dream of encouraging their sons to play with dolls or take dance lessons.

If I started to lose you as those last three paragraphs went on, I’ve made my point about feminism not being simple. Not all feminists see the world the same way – and that’s fine. We are all still feminists – and we need all of our feminist voices (male, female and everything in between) speaking up about the need for equal rights.  We don’t have to be in perfect agreement to agree that things are far from perfect.

You are a feminist.  Say it.  Share it.  Pass it on.

I don’t usually ask my audience to share the things I write, but I’d love to see all of you fellow feminists share with your social media circles. If it’s easy to just share the blog post – go for it. Or just a note about your take on feminism.

It is not easy, but it is also not “complicated”.

michaelbrownLike so many others today, I’m sad.  Frustrated. Angry.  There’s a sense of impotence, not knowing what I can do or say that will make tomorrow better than today for the community around me.  I don’t know what else to do, so I’m going to write.

In an editorial on CNN earlier today, Safiya Simmons, a black woman married to a police officer, said that she is  conflicted on the Darren Wilson verdict.  On one hand, she is raising her son and living in a society that displays “a pattern in this country of killing black boys without care or consequences”, while on the other hand, she believes firmly that her husband should do what he needs to do to stay alive and come home to her at the end of day.  In her words, it’s “complicated”.

Being a police officer is dangerous, thankless and unbelievably self-sacrificing.  It also comes with a legal and moral obligation for discipline, objectivity and restraint when asserting your authority and in the use of your firearm.  I would guess that 99.99+% of the police force in America are great men and women with great judgement, who are worthy of our support, praise, thanks and trust.  Darren Wilson is not one of them.

Don’t make Ferguson about people who support cops versus people who don’t.  Doing so is to completely misunderstand and minimize the depth of the issue.  This is about justice for victims of cops who go too far and get away with it.  This is about a system that is broken. This is about respect for all lives of all colors.  This is rooted in hundreds of years of history.  This isn’t easy, but it is also not “complicated”.

If Michael Brown had been armed with a gun…  If Darren Wilson had fired only to disable or deter the unarmed teenager…  If Darren Wilson had fired only one shot…  If the fatal shot had been at close range while Michael Brown was within reaching (punching, tackling) distance of Officer Wilson… If any one of those things had been true, I might believe that Darren Wilson was doing what he needed to do to stay alive and go home at the end of the day.  But 12 gun shots – only one, non-fatal, at close range – is in no way simply what he needed to do.

12 gunshots and a body left in the street for more than 4 hours is a disregard for the life behind the skin color.  It is, at the very least, a loss of control and negligence in the use of a firearm that deserves the due process of a criminal trial by jury.

(This post fails to address so many other critical issues that the shooting death of Michael Brown and subsequent protests brought to light.  The handling of the protests, the numerous questionable decisions of the prosecutor, the violence in the midst of pleas for peace from Michael Brown’s family, and the underlying systemic racism that so many want to deny.  I’m going to try to spend some time over the upcoming weekend digging into the grand jury testimony, and I expect this will not be my last post on this topic.)

I’m ready to jump into the race conversation.

Months later, I still can’t figure out how to process the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The week after the shooting, I came close to getting in my car and driving to Missouri to participate in protests against the Ferguson police. I wanted to be there, to see with my own eyes that this was actually happening in our country, because the stories and the images seemed to be more Middle Eastern than American.

Ultimately, I didn’t get into my car, but even from a distance, the events in Ferguson opened my eyes to the realities of life in the United States in a way that only a few key events during my lifetime have done.

Just a few weeks before Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, an old college friend posted a link on Facebook to a story in the Post-Gazette about the quality of life for African American residents of Pittsburgh. I’m ashamed to say that I was shocked by the story, as I have always been proud of the diversity of the city. Having grown up in rural Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh feels diverse, open-minded, culturally progressive and, having been voted so many times, “most livable” of a city for people of all kinds. I didn’t even realize that I was seeing the world through a haze of white privilege.

racismThat article prompted me to start doing some research. Race was something that I never thought about much. If anyone had asked me, I would have insisted that I was staunchly not racist and a strong advocate of race equality. The latter was, in hindsight, an overstatement and the former…   I saw a video (which I can no longer find) from a white racial equality advocate who made a compelling case that not being racist requires more than just saying that we’re not.  We also need to acknowledge and actively fight against the prejudices that we have grown up around and see and hear all around us.   Being a strong advocate for equality is going to require a lot more advocacy on my part.

The bottom line is that I have a lot more work to do.

I plan to make race a bigger topic in upcoming blog posts. I have at least three separate blog posts floating in my head about systemic racism, white privilege and the simple need to talk about race.  There’s been more talk about race recently than I can remember in recent years, but I want to appeal to those of you who, perhaps like I did, feel like race can’t be talked about from a place of white privilege. It can – and it should be – as long as we understand where we are coming from and how that position influences our experiences.

Here’s a few videos to get us started.

For now, I want to leave you with two videos. The first is one that I found incredibly helpful for framing my thoughts on how to talk about race. If you follow the rabbit trail from this video to more from Jay Smooth or more from Race Forward, you won’t be sorry, either. Here a prominent New York radio DJ and race expert talks about how to talk about race.

The second one is a recent Daily Show segment on the lack of national statistics on how many citizens are shot by police.  This issue originally came to my attention within the week following the shooting of Michael Brown, and I am so glad to see Jon Stewart and team shining a light on the topic.

http://on.cc.com/ZdeoYV

Suicide is not selfish.

This opinion piece in The Guardian more eloquently summarizes the message that I hope comes from the tragedy of Robin Williams’ death.  Clinical depression is not about being sad.  It’s not something that you can shake yourself out of through sheer force of will.  It’s a serious and sometimes life threatening medical condition that continues to be misunderstood and misrepresented.  It’s also very often difficult for someone who is depressed to get help, because the depression puts up walls between that person and the rest of the world.  A simple phone call to a doctor can seem like an insurmountable task.

  • If you think someone you love might be battling depression, learn how you can help.  
  • If you are feeling hopeless and think you may need help with depression, please try to reach out to someone.  If it’s hard to say the words out loud, write it down.  Talk to a doctor.  If you can, ask someone you love to go with you.  Most importantly, please know that it doesn’t have to be this way.  You don’t have to just live with the darkness.  Learn more about getting help.

  • And if you are having thoughts of harming or killing yourself, PLEASE REACH OUT.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers toll free phone numbers and web chat – whatever method you feel more comfortable with.  It might not seem like it in that moment, but you don’t deserve to feel this way and it will get better.  

Rape Culture in America. This has got to stop.

As a warning, this blog post is not for the faint of heart.  Trigger warnings in advance for discussion of sexual assault.  Still reading?  Good, because this is important.

I have a number of issues and causes about which I feel passionate.  And on those topics, I make a point to stay educated.  I’m ashamed to admit that the topic of sexual assault and “rape culture” has not been one of those topics.  It is not that I was apathetic – sexual assault is a horrific crime – but it was never a topic that seemed to need my urgent attention.

UV_RapeCulture_V4

Infographic by UltraViolet

Over the past few years, that perspective has changed.  I’ve never been the victim of sexual assault.  I’d like to say that no one in my close circle of friends and family has been the victim of sexual assault, but the numbers make that hard to believe.  I have to say that I don’t know of anyone in my close circle that has been the victim of sexual assault.

A study by the US Center of Disease Control found that 1 in 5 female college students had been raped or the victim of attempted rape at some point in their lives.  A similar study found the same number – 20% – of girls in high school had experienced “forced sex” or sexual assualt.  One in five.  Over half of the victims never told anyone.  Please note the language.  Over half never told anyone.  A much higher percentage was never reported to law enforcement.

One in Five.  20%.  The numbers are staggering.

(There are also studies regarding the sexual assault of men, finding 1 in 71 men are the victim of sexual assault during their lifetime.  That is also not a small number.)

What is Rape Culture?

If you’re not familiar with the term “Rape Culture”, this article on BuzzFeed is actually a really great overview of the term and the various areas that it covers.  I’ll sum it up for those that don’t have time to dig into the details – Rape Culture is an cultural atmosphere that makes sexual assault a societal norm.  Rape Culture provides an environment that is forgiving to – or understanding of – rapists, while judging victims for the circumstances of their assault.

And if you don’t think that we live in a Rape Culture, you haven’t been paying attention.

I’m certainly paying attention now.

For a long time, I wasn’t paying attention.  My awareness peaked with the now infamous Steubenville rape case in which high school football stars raped an unconscious girl after a night of heavy drinking.   There were so many things about that case in particular that represent the very worst of our society – the crime itself, the social media posts of the crime, and the cover ups after the crime occurred; but the treatment that the victim and the rapists received by many media outlets is the prime example of rape culture.  The rapists were portrayed as promising young men who were now facing convictions and a life ruined by being labelled as sex offenders.  Statements floated around to indicate that the tragic mistakes that they made will haunt them forever.  The victim was drunk and passed out at a party.  Why did she let that happen?  That is rape culture and if it doesn’t infuriate you, I question your humanity.

This past week, I read another article about a popular artist, David Choe, who admitted to “rapey behavior” on his podcast.  The podcast is still available – but I would suggest that you don’t listen to it.  The article I read was posted on xoxojane.com (written by Melissa Stetten), and the details shared there are plenty graphic and abhorrent.  Sharing as few graphic details as I can, the bottom line is that Mr. Choe talks about forcing a masseuse to perform oral sex.  She said no, but – according to him – she really wanted it.  He admits that it was “rapey behavior”, but he’s “not a rapist”.  The comments posted on his podcast have many questioning the validity of his story, because it sounds like an adolescent fantasy that few believe is really true.  And THAT is rape culture.  When a man admits to rape – and “rapey behavior” is forcing a women to perform a sexual act that she has not consented to – his audience is not appalled by the admission.  They simply don’t believe it is true.

These are two tiny examples of an epidemic.  And it IS an epidemic, despite a recent opinion piece in Time Magazine calling for the end of the “rape culture hysteria”.

What do we do about it?

The frustrating part is that the solution seems so obvious and so simple.  Actually, that’s a reductive conclusion.  The solution isn’t simple and changing cultural norms is a battle – but there are some obvious steps that we can take.

– Stop laughing at rape jokes and stop listening to songs, podcasts and media that glorify non-consensual sexual activity.

– Never use the phrase “boys will be boys” when referring to sexual behavior.

– Prosecute rapists.  Actually process the rape kits sitting in evidence.  Don’t accept that a rapist didn’t know what he was doing was wrong because he’s young or because “that’s just the way men behave.

– TEACH CONSENT IN HIGH SCHOOL SEX-ED – and teach it to BOYS as well as girls.  And it goes way beyond “no means no”.  Anything less than an enthusiastic “yes” means “no”.  If your partner isn’t coherent enough to consent, it’s rape.  If your partner isn’t sure, it’s rape.  If you classify something as “rapey behavior”, you are a rapist.

Here’s another great list of ways to battle rape culture from Marshall University.

I didn’t think I had to write that one down for you.

I read a quote somewhere – and I’m sorry for whomever I’m stealing this from – that expressed frustration at the people who say, “Think about your daughter, your sister, your mother…”  Because do you have to actually think about your own daughter, sister or mother to understand that rape isn’t okay?  Do you have to have a woman in your life to understand that one in five women being the victim of sexual assault is horrifying?  Think like a human being.

I’m going to leave this on a light-hearted note, which might be inappropriate.  (I’ve debated whether to include this.)  This is a song by comedian Bo Burnham from “God’s Perspective”.  This may be the only rape joke ever written that seems okay to laugh at.  And only because it makes you want to cry a little.