Popular Culture


David Bowie died last week. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I started thinking of all the people who have listened to Bowie with me during hard times and good times. I know his legacy is unfortunately more complicated than I’d like, but today I’m focusing on how his music made me feel. David Bowie has been a huge part of the soundtrack of my life and because of that, he’s been a huge part of my domestic violence advocacy work too.

I remember that David Bowie’s music made me and the survivors of abuse I was working with in West Lafayette, Indiana feel good about ourselves―that we should be accepted just as we were and that we could dance while we were at it. I remember being a burnt-out shelter worker in Boulder, Colorado and the album Low was a salve to my soul. And more recently, I remember having an all-out sing-along dance party to Ashes to Ashes after a particularly hard week facing what felt like insurmountable obstacles to getting women the resources they need to be able to leave an abusive partner.

There have been other artists on my playlist too. Artists who make my soul come alive with funk, make my hips move with music, and make my heart regain hope and wonder. Here is my playlist this week as I celebrate life, meaningful work, and the fact that I was lucky enough to be alive on this planet at the same time as so many other greats.

Ah, the holidays. That glittery season of joy and forced togetherness with people that we both love and love to argue with. I’m preparing for my annual trip back to Atlanta where my ENTIRE Southern conservative family still lives. I love them. And we pretty much disagree about everything. (Except barbeque. We all fully support smoked meat).

I’m already feeling a bit low lately with the many bad things happening in the world, so as part of my mental preparation for enduring conversations with loved ones about Trump’s greatness, here are five things that I’m going to do before the end of 2015 to spread a little love, kindness, and cheer.

  1. I know many of us are hemorrhaging money this time of year, but I’m going to find a little bit to donate to an organization I believe is doing good. For me, I think it will be Planned Parenthood.
  2. Read the Humans of New York blog and sign the petition to bring Aya and her family to the U.S.
  3. Read this post about how to be a good non-Muslim ally. Try at least one idea and share the author’s thoughts with others.
  4. Rather than say something rude when someone I love espouses hatred, I’ll grab my phone and answer trivia at freerice.com, where each round helps end world hunger. That’s much better than calling mom racist during a shouting match.
  5. Look at and share these Emergency Kittens. For when I or someone I know needs a smidgen of cheer.

It’s true, doing these five things are not going to change the world. But when we we find ways to do good, to spread love and kindness, and behave the way we would like to see others behave we are setting examples for those who are close to us.

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RadAmericanWomenCoverThe other day I got my hands on a long-awaited alphabet book for me my kids: Rad American Women. This book is cool on so many levels—the art, the content, and the lasting impact of reading it to my daughter…

A few days after the book arrived, I was sitting in a heap of unfolded laundry and turned to my favorite laundry helper (Netflix) to get me through. So I was watching the PBS special on Billie Jean King when my daughter came in and excitedly said, “Mama, she’s from the book!!!” It took me a second to realize what connection she was making but when I did, I invited her into the fold (see what I did there?) and we watched for a while. She was thrilled to know about her and be in on something special.

We talked about how bold Billie Jean King was and all the other women and men that helped her achieve such greatness. And we dreamed. We dreamed for a future where we have pay equity—not just at Wimbledon, but everywhere. We celebrated. We talked about how I once got to see A is for Angela Davis speak and how I hoped we would continue to go to protests and marches together and live our lives in a way that exemplifies the ideals of which she spoke. And we appreciated. We took time to be grateful for all that we have because of leaders who had the guts to work for equality. And then we got up and went outside to play ball. Because we could.

Here’s to the other rad women of the book and to the rest of us still out there working for justice!

Top Ten lists are so hot right now. With David Letterman retiring and the school year ending, lists of reflections are all over the place. So I’m jumping on that band wagon.

Top Ten list of things I’m thinking about:

  1. Dress codes—This again? Really? Can we just all agree that it is not young women’s responsibility to hide their bodies from men and that perhaps the responsibility of not sexualizing girls lies on the rest of us, rather than her $#@%^& leggings?
  2. Indiana—I am proud of my Hoosier roots, but my home state is really on a roll lately, and not in a good way. First the discriminatory religious freedom law (which, spoiler alert, was really a way to legalize homophobia), then this. Please do better Hoosiers.
  3. Young women’s activism—My optimism for the future is constantly restored by young radvocates’ work to undo sexism, promote peace, and dismantle rape culture.
  4. Amy Schumer—She is on feminist fire right now. Sketches on birth control, sexism in Hollywood, and spoofs that point out double standards galore are warming this feminist killjoy’s heart.

  1. Weight-loss shows—Ugh. I recently saw an ad for some show that was probably called “Extreme ways to shame and stigmatize your body.” I’m so ready to stop body policing and celebrate health in a new way.
  2. PG-13 movies—This is really for my eight-year-old son who is sad that many of the movies that are aimed at kids contain so much graphic violence that even in our violence-tolerant culture they are rated PG-13. I’m looking at you Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers.
  3. Purity culture—Recent events have brought this one to light, but yuck, just yuck. How about we acknowledge that all of us are sexual beings and need tools and information to help us make the best decisions for ourselves.
  4. Police shootings—This one hits home. Olympia recently joined the many other cities in the country where unarmed black men were shot by a white police officer. There are still many unknowns, but the one thing we do know is that even if there was no malice, racism is part of the air we breathe and to deny that we all are impacted by it is disingenuous at least and dangerous at worst.
  5. Mattresses—Rape culture had a powerful opponent with the courageous Emma Sulkowicz. Cheers.
  6. Eleanor and Park—I love young adult lit and this book sparked so much joy and angst in me. If you want to remember what it is to be young and in love, read this book.

What’s the deal with so-called male feminists? You know who I’m talking about. Men who say they support women, call for equal pay and wear Pro-Choice tees and then get caught for sexual harassment. Or the guy that’s shocked by the “obvious misinterpretation” of what he’s doing and is like “But I love women! Look at my t-shirt—solidarity, sister! We’re cool, right?” WRONG.

 

Here’s the thing. There are a lot of great dudes out there. Some who truly understand feminism and act on behalf of the rights of women. What does that dude look like? Here are my thoughts:

  • He makes space to amplify the voices of the women in the room. This means consciously not talking or offering his commentary on everything the women say, even if it’s supportive. We don’t need your constant approval, dude.
  • He refrains from making sexist jokes and remarks (which means he knows what would constitute a sexist joke or remark), and he lets other dudes know that it’s not cool when they do.
  • He makes space to include women in places where they are absent in ways that are not patronizing or disrespectful.
  • He offers support to women-centered organizations, asks how he can help, and does not take the lead.

I’d like to see more dude feminists step up. And being a feminist does not mean declaring it from the mountain top—actions speak much louder than words. When men support women to be heard and respected, abuse of women will have less and less space to exist. It won’t be tolerated. It will be stopped before it gets dangerous. There will be powerful social consequences for abusers. I’m looking forward to that.

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.

When I was a child, every year at about this time I would wait for the “World Book Encyclopedia Year Book” to be delivered to our house. When it arrived, I would skim it cover to cover, examine the pictures, and read the chapters on sports and science. For me, it was an annual crash course in world events. Once I closed the book, I was ready for the next year. I miss that Year Book. I miss the pictures. I miss the ritual of considering what it means to be human.

Everything happens now in real time. See it, post it, comment, move on. On January 1st, we were already looking at what happened on January 1st. But I want to go back to 2014…

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This picture grabbed me, as did the story. It is a heartwarming, heart-tugging, snapshot of humanity. It also begs us to reconcile a most discomfiting combination of rage, hope, resistance, trust, cynicism, and love. Shortly after I saw it, I had the opportunity to join in #BlackLivesMatter, which lifts up, again, this complexity of emotions.

No mother wants to bury her son. Not Trina Greene. And not the mothers of Devonte Hart. Instead of spending the next few minutes reading more about what I think, please just look at the picture and watch the video again. And then consider what it means to be human.

In 2014 we said that Black Lives Matter. In 2015, let’s make sure they do.

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