I showed my friend a picture of this billboard and asked her “What do you think about this?”

PLU-billboard

I had actually passed the billboard on my way to do an errand and it just nagged at me. On my way home, I pulled over and took the picture. I kept wondering, why is this black woman responsible for ending hate speech?

My friend struggled to put into words why she thought the message was off kilter. Another friend walked by and commented, “But look, what do you expect? This is the Lutherans.”

Hey, hey, hey. I was born into a Lutheran household. And probably would have been raised Lutheran except the (married) pastor came onto my (married) mom, and she wasn’t having it.

No. I was raised Unitarian which instilled a world view that nobody, not even the Lutherans, but  especially not the Unitarians, are off the hook in the daily grind to end racism.

And clearly, Pacific Lutheran University does not want to be off the hook. Good on them for getting out there and splashing a message on a billboard. This takes a lot of courage, because you have to know that (a) you are going to draw out the haters; (b) the chances that you are going to get the solution to racism right on a billboard hover somewhere around zero; and (c) since you can’t get it right, you are going to hear about it.

In a nutshell (which is almost as bad as a billboard) here’s what I think about it. Individual black women can stop saying hateful things to one another, but they do not (as just one example) set the salary scale. White people do. So it’s really a matter of figuring out how to get white people to stop saying hateful things to people of color—and then get white people to stop thinking hateful things about people of color—and then get white people to stop paying black women a lower wage than white men for doing the exact same job.

PLU is educating a lot of white people who are going to graduate into a whole lot of power to actually DO something if they understand what the real solutions are. It would be amazing to give every student a sophisticated, multi-year, down and dirty academic challenge to understand the roots, trunk, and branches of racism.

I set out to critique the critique—meaning the overabundance and corrosive nature of the criticism that flies through the internet when any individual or institution tries to say something to oppose racism, sexism, and homophobia.

And look what I did. I criticized.

I’m left wondering what the role of honest and kind criticism is. How do we fan the flames of understanding and creativity? How do we say “Hey, PLU, excellent effort. Keep going.”

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Check out this powerful PSA on teen dating violence. It was made by a group of middle school girls from East Texas. Jezebel interviews them about this, their other activism, and their dreams for the future.

 

Mass incarceration in the US is disturbing for many reasons, but a new book focuses specifically on the negative impact of parental imprisonment on children. The authors point out that even if we can change current practices there is already a “lost generation of kids” deprived of their parents, which is exacerbating the already deep race and class differences in America.

Beloved icon Leonard Nimoy passed away today. Though most people knew him only as Spock, he was a bold, multi-talented artist and activist. Bustle pays tribute to his commitment to feminism throughout his career.

Lately my internet life has been inundated with debate over 50 Shades of Grey. So far, I’ve heard that the movie perpetuates violence against women, that it’s empowering for women, that it reinforces negative stereotypes around BDSM, that it’s an appealing fantasy. I haven’t read the books or seen the movie but 50 Shades of Grey has become a cultural phenomenon that is hard to ignore.

"50ShadesofGreyCoverArt" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:50ShadesofGreyCoverArt.jpg#mediaviewer/File:50ShadesofGreyCoverArt.jpgI just want to start out acknowledging that there is no lack of movies (or books) that glamorize controlling, abusive, and unhealthy relationships. Have you ever seen a movie that follows the story of a young, naïve women who meets a wealthy, powerful, and troubled man who uses manipulative, controlling tactics, and then claims it as true love? Does Beauty and the Beast come to mind? How about Twilight?

So, why is this story the one to spark a debate? I don’t know. But whether you like it or hate it, it has launched people into a dialogue around topics our culture largely ignores and thinks of as taboo—what healthy sex looks like, women’s sexuality, domestic violence, and emotional abuse. I wish these conversations had been happening when I was younger. Instead of being taught that my sexuality was to be guarded, shameful, or simply not important, I wish I had been told that women have the freedom and agency to choose and explore. I wish I had been told that abuse can be emotional, not just physical.

Everyone deserves to be in a good relationship. Everyone deserves the freedom to choose what their relationship looks like, what their sexuality looks like and what their love looks like. Whether you see or read 50 Shades of Gray or not, I encourage you to use it as  a way to talk to your kids, your partner, and your friends about the dynamics of domestic violence, about what a good relationship is (and is not), and what healthy, consensual sex looks like.

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Another Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is at your grocery store. Here’s some great practical suggestions for how to talk about its objectification and sexism with your kids.

Why have I never heard of Dr. Pauli Murray?  A queer black woman who graduated at the top of her class from law school in 1944, she wrote “the Bible for civil rights lawyers”, co-founded the National Organization for Women, and was the first African-American woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest. Wow.

Jessica Williams is hilarious… and seriously smart. Check out her clear and level-headed response to “supportive” advice on her next career move.

This past year, domestic violence was in the news quite often. But lately, I’ve noticed the stories that have really made me stop and think about violence and relationships are the ones that didn’t set out to do so. They are just good stories, with violence woven through as it is woven into all our lives.

This Senator Saved My Love Life is an episode of the podcast Death, Sex & Money. Political reporter Anna Sale tells the odd and charming story of how former Senator Alan K. Simpson and his wife Ann Simpson became sort of relationship mentors to Anna and her boyfriend, dispensing pearls of wisdom about intimacy, sex, and commitment. In a million years, it would not have occurred to me to look to an 83-year-old Republican Senator from Wyoming for relationship advice, least of all Al Simpson. Before listening to this story, my only memory of Senator Alan Simpson was his disgraceful role on the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings. His open hostility  and dismissive attitude toward what he called “this sexual harassment crap” was typical of the all-male, all-white committee. I don’t know how many times I have heard a politician spouting some sexist garbage and wonder how that goes over with the women in his life. Who married this blowhard, and has she told him he’s a total jackass? I finally got the answer from Ann Simpson. She let her husband know what she thought of his performance at the hearings, and it’s still a sore spot for them.

 

Among the many historic moments of the Anita Hill–Clarence Thomas debacle: the first time Ann Simpson tells her husband to shut up.

 

Nonetheless, after 50 years of marriage, Al and Ann Simpson have a lot of things figured out. They are sweet together. They are clearly proud of their marriage and have worked hard at making it a good one. For me, the heart of the story is in this apparent contradiction: how could this woman be married to the ranting bully I watched on C-SPAN, yet not be bullied herself?

Ann and Al talk very frankly about struggling to find a balance of power in their relationship. They describe a defining moment, one night early in their marriage.

Al was furious with Ann after she spent the evening dancing with another man at a political event. He recalls how self-righteous he was, how sure he was that she would be wracked with guilt, and how Ann was having none of it:

Al: “She said ‘Look…I’m not going to be under a glass lid just because of your jealousy. And I love to dance. And I will do that. And I’m not going to jump in the sack with somebody, so I think you better get over it.’ Which really pissed me off.”

Al goes on to describe how the shock of realizing that Ann did not feel the least bit guilty led to a critical moment of clarity. Still stewing, he stayed up late into the night, reading Shakespeare, and suddenly recognized his own jealousy in Othello’s murderous rage.

“I thought, Jesus, this is one sick son-of-a-bitch. This is not me. This is totally destructive and has nothing to do with her.”

There are moments in this story that we might recognize as “red flags,” warning signs that point toward domestic violence. But the story does not take that path. A red flag marks one moment in time. What happens in the next moment makes a difference in how the story turns out.

Surely Al could have done a lot of damage if he had chosen to tighten his grip on control, if he had resented Ann’s resistance to his demands instead of admiring her for it. And if Ann had molded herself to accommodate his ego, he may have been another man who bullies everyone in his life because bullying has always worked.

Instead, when he tries to control her, it doesn’t work. And they each play an equally important part in that:

  1. Ann stands her own ground, and does not shape her behavior around Al’s attempt to shame or control her.
  2. When Al’s bullying doesn’t get him what he wants, he decides to do something different. Ann doesn’t make him stop. He decides for himself that is not the way to get the relationship he wants. Looking back, he recognizes Ann standing up to him for the gift that it was. One piece of marriage advice he has sums this up: “The secret is, you both try to control each other, and you both fail. And it’s critical that you both fail.”

We often say we want to stop domestic violence before it starts, but what does that moment look like? The stories we most often hear take place much farther downstream, when the course is set and the stakes are high. Much earlier, somewhere around the first red flag, there are many possible endings.

There’s much more from Al and Ann. Listen to the whole podcast here.

 

We bring you this post from the Executive Director of a domestic violence program in rural Washington.

The domestic violence agency I work at often buys supplies that our clients need but can’t always afford, like diapers, toiletries, and contraceptives. Easy access to birth control supports a survivor’s control over their body, and promotes their safety and independence. Recently, I walked into our community’s only pharmacy to buy some Plan B. The young woman behind the counter asked me for ID and went into the back room.

planb2Her: Here you go, all set.

Me: What did you do with my ID?

Her: Checked to see if you are over 18.  (I think this is funny – I’m 39.)

Me: There are no restrictions on buying Plan B, so you don’t need to know my age. I work at the local domestic violence agency and for my clients, being asked to show ID can be scary if their abuser monitors what they are doing and checks public records. It is also scary for people who are worried about their immigration status.

Now the pharmacist comes out and joins the conversation.

Pharmacist: That’s not true. On the Plan B package it says “For Women Over 17 Years of Age.”

Me: It’s old packaging (wondering just how old the packaging is). The law has changed. Plan B should be able to be purchased as over-the-counter medication. I don’t have to show identification.

Pharmacist: That’s not true and it is my choice how to dispense it.

This same conversation continued over a few more visits. I brought in articles and the new federal regulations—none of it seemed to matter to the pharmacist. Then my town gathered a small team of community members interested in women’s reproductive health services that were available locally. One community member went back to the pharmacy, and while the same “it’s just not true” argument ensued, another visiting pharmacist broke into the conversation and said we were right. He confirmed the changes in law we had already shown the local pharmacist.

This pharmacy—the only place in town to buy Plan B—is now in compliance with the law. And while I’m very happy about that, I still find it frustrating that my local pharmacist would not listen to what we were saying (read: what we women were saying) and would not change the pharmacy’s practice until a man said our information was correct. How many laws that affect women’s health are ignored when women are telling the truth?

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

It’s great to have laws that protect victims of abuse, but how can we make sure those laws are being enforced? KIRO 7 looks into two domestic violence murders that could have been prevented.

An op-ed in the New York Times highlights research that “suggests that a felony domestic violence conviction is the single greatest predictor of future violent crime among men.” If we took domestic violence more seriously, perhaps these men would have lost their guns or their freedom before moving from terrorizing their partners to assaulting others.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to participate in the Refuse To Abuse 5k? Andrew Rice shares the inside scoop on his experiences. Spoiler—he had a great time!

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