Popular Culture


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.

Mrs. Ericson used to stand solid as a rock between the rows of high school desks and compel us through the sheer force of her love of literature to love it too. I never read willingly before she was my teacher, and I never stopped devouring books after.

She popped into my head the other day, as random memories do, though accompanied by an unusually strong feeling of appreciation and love. It took me by surprise.

What followed was a meandering of memories—the people, famous and unknown, for whom I hold the deepest appreciation. In this season of thanksgiving, it seems fitting to call a few of them out.

Thank you Joseph Campbell, who with Bill Moyers shined a brilliant light on myth and the hero’s journey. I think their messages are more relevant than ever as men struggle with the purpose of violence. Though Joseph Campbell did not speak of the heroine’s journey and was decidedly a man of his time in his use of gender pronouns, I remember feeling remarkable resonance with his ideas—compelled to listen as though he were speaking directly to me.

Thank you Thich Nhat Hanh and Jack Kornfield for putting me solidly on the road to exploring what mindfulness, as the Buddha taught it, has to do with violence and the end of violence.

Thank you Norma Wong and Ellen Pence for your deep and wide understanding of domestic violence. Today I am especially aware that what the two of you have in common is, yes, brilliant minds, but also an enduring curiosity and loving engagement that helps all of us think more critically and act more courageously.

And finally thank you Mary Oliver and Rumi for poetry. A long time ago, I was driving down the road listening to a poet reading his work. It was a beautiful autumn-roadday and I was transported by the magic of the words, even as I became vaguely aware of a funny burning smell. I’d like to tell you that self-preservation trumped the ethereal moment, but it didn’t. I ended up with an expensive tow. But that experience was a reminder about the power of beauty, art, and words; as important to our humanity as food and shelter.

So hurray for the teachers, the authors, and the poets—for the bloggers and the readers. May you find joy in remembering your people. Gratitude abounds.

I spend my life working on women’s rights, so when I heard my daughters talking about the Feminist Union club at their high school I couldn’t wait to hear more!  What on earth was this? Their answers filled me with joy! Sixty-six people showed up (about 1/3 young men)—the room was overflowing into the hallway.TIWAFLL-Shirt

The first meeting was action-packed. They all answered the question: “What is the first word you think of when you hear the word feminism or feminist?” My girls said “It was actually kind of fun,” and a chorus of “Ooooh, that is hella deep” spontaneously erupted over and over again. Then they watched 50 reasons why I am a Feminist and shared their own similar experiences.

Future topics were suggested ranging from what feminism looks like in other societies to misconceptions about feminism and domestic violence. Ground rules were covered and they all agreed: you don’t have to identify as a feminist now; maybe you will eventually, but it’s okay if you don’t.

And they even made some real change. After one of their teachers overheard them discussing gender neutral language: “Try not to say guys for everyone. Try saying beings, peeps, y’all, people, beans instead,” he changed his usual “See ya later guys” to “See ya everyone” as his class ended.

I am so proud of the young people who have organized the group and are coming together. So much happened in 30 minutes. Why can’t I get this much done in a workday? Our community is in good hands with this rising group of thoughtful leaders!

Photo by Eva Rinaldi

Photo by Eva Rinaldi

The death of Robin Williams has hit me hard. I share the collective sadness and shock of it. I also feel overwhelmed by the myriad of reactions in the media and on Facebook—all this commentary about depression front and center. It’s a bit strange to have something you’ve been trying to manage for over 20 years suddenly on everyone’s lips. All I can say is: ooof.

People have got some serious misunderstandings about depression. From well-meaning folk who offer every idea under the sun as a solution with zero understanding that depression isn’t just feeling bummed or being in a rut, to those who wish depressed people would just snap out of it and move on. Here’s the thing: depression can look different for different people. It can ebb and flow, go from manageable to not in an inexplicable instant. And it can profoundly affect relationships—with ourselves, our partners, our children, our friends.

Many survivors of abuse experience depression, and regardless of if the disease was something they were dealing with before the abuse, or something that was brought on by it, survivors encounter these same misunderstandings. For those of us doing domestic violence work, we think a lot about how to stay safe from the external threat of an abusive partner. But the risk of suicide for survivors dealing with abuse and depression is real and scary too.

So, since knowledge is power, please take a moment to check out the following links. Let’s get a more well-rounded perspective on depression so that we can better support those around us.

  • Learning is fun! Especially when it’s in cartoon form. Check out this comic about depression. Yep, you read that right. (explicit language)
  • Some have said that suicide is a selfish act. I get how someone who has never experienced depression might feel that way, but here’s a different perspective.
  • And this video is about one person’s experience with depression, and his ideas for supporting someone you love who is also dealing with the disease.

Onward. Forward. Every day.

I want more men crying. On television. Particularly straight men. Not because I’m mean-spirited, but because I don’t want to be so surprised when I do see it. It bums me out that in our culture as a whole, men’s grief and other vulnerable emotions are undervalued and even mocked.

mancryingWhen something tragic happens to a male character—like their wife dying or their girlfriend breaking up with them—I want to see crying portrayed as the normal response. Think about it: when you’re watching any sort of television drama, the husband/boyfriend of a murder victim is sort of slightly sad, at most.

We regularly see women on television crying or being emotional when horrible things happen. Don’t men deserve the same full range of emotion? The rare times we do see a man cry, it’s generally used to show that he is weak. The show may even go so far as to portray him as laughable, effeminate, or worthy of derision by the other characters. The end result is that when we see men crying in real life, it can make us uncomfortable.

As I was writing this, I Googled “men crying.” The results are pretty telling: the top five all reinforce the idea that a man crying is unusual at best and unnatural at worst.

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It hasn’t always been this way: tears are as influenced by culture as they are by biology. Other time periods have been much more accepting and even celebratory of men’s emoting, according to historian Tom Lutz.

When musician Pharrell recently cried during an interview, it made headlines and prompted hundreds of blog posts. And why shouldn’t he cry? He was discussing the success he’s had in his life, the importance of his grandma who helped him get there, and the impact of the song “Happy” on people all over the world. Those are a lot of complex, overwhelming emotions and I loved seeing him express them.

So here’s to more images of men crying! When we value the full range of emotion in all people and recognize that masculinity and vulnerability are not mutually exclusive, we set people up to have healthy and fulfilling relationships.

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GetAHorseHace como un mes, fuí a ver la película Frozen (Una Aventura Congelada). Antes de la película la audiencia fue entretenida con un cortometraje animado de Disney llamado, Get a Horse (Consigue un Caballo). En el corto vemos a Mickey y otros personajes cobrar vida gracias a la magia de la tecnología en 3D. Uno puede decir que la caricatura tiene cualidades artísticas excelentes, pero para muchos de nosotros que crecimos mirando caricaturas de Disney, el contenido no fue nada nuevo. ¡Eso fue lo que exactamente me hizo pensar en que @$%#^& estuvo pensando Disney cuando creo este corto en el 2013!

¡La trama va más o menos así: Mickey es felíz siendo Mickey bailando y jugando con sus amigos hasta que Minnie (la compañera de Mickey) es sexualizada y secuestrada por un villano! El despliegue visual del cuerpo de Minnie siendo mal manejado y maltratado por el secuestrador fue perturbador. La caricatura entera fue violencia sexual vendida a nosotros como arte. A pesar de aquellos presentes que estábamos conjeturando como lograr que el proyector dejase de continuar, también muchos se encontraban riendo fuertemente y golpeando los pies en el suelo con deleite.

Get a Horse (Consigue un Caballo) ha sido nominada para un Oscar, y de ganar, será más promovido, será aclamado artísticamente, y podría inclusive inspirar a la creación de otros cortos con contenido similar. Tú podrías optar por ver esta situación como algo benigno, solo una caricatura animada, y que no amerita mucha preocupación. En ocasiones yo también opto por ignorar mi radar feminista y miro cosas que son violentas o tratan a la mujer como un objeto. Sin embargo, todavía espero un nivel más elevado de responsabilidad. Espero que cuanto más educación reciba la gente acerca de cómo la violencia afecta a nuestra comunidades, ésta será erradicada o por lo menos no tolerada. Lo que me deja sintiéndome sin esperanzas es ir al cine y ver que Disney, con la ayuda de la tecnología de hoy, reintroduce la trama sexista y de violencia sexual de algunos de las caricaturas de los años 70s (setenta). Todos los comentarios que he leído acerca de Get a Horse (Consigue un Caballo) han sido positivos. La gente parece amar la idea de que sus hijos y nietos sean introducidos a los personajes animados con los que crecieron. Yo puedo entender el de gustar e inclusive amar algunos de los personajes y películas de Disney. Sin embargo,  creo que es imperativo que los adultos demanden tramas que no perpetúen o normalicen la violencia sexual a nuestros niños. Se lo debemos a ellos y a nosotros mismos.

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A month ago I went to the movies to see Frozen. Before the main movie, the audience was treated to a short film called Get a Horse. In the short we see Mickey and several other characters come to life with the magic of 3D technology. One can say it had amazing artistic qualities, but for those of us who grew up watching Disney cartoons there was nothing new about the plot. Which is exactly what made me wonder: What the @#$% was Disney thinking when they created Get a Horse in 2013?

The plot goes like this: Mickey is happy being Mickey and dancing and playing with friends until Minnie (his gal pal) gets sexualized and kidnapped by a villain! The visual of Minnie’s body being mishandled and mistreated by the kidnapper was very disturbing to me and others around me. The whole thing was sexual violence sold to us as art. Despite those of us who were wondering how to stop the projector from going any further, there were many laughing out loud and stomping their feet with delight.

Get a Horse has been nominated for an Oscar and—if it wins—will get more promotion, be artistically lauded, and may even inspire other shorts with a similar plot. You may want to choose to see this as something benign, just a cartoon, and not worth the fuss. I do sometimes turn my feminist radar off to watch things that are violent or objectify women. However, I still expect a higher level of accountability. I hope that the more educated people get about what violence does to our communities, the more it will be eradicated or at the very least become intolerable. What leaves me feeling hopeless though, is going to a movie theater to see Disney bring back the sexist and sexually violent plots of some of the 70’s cartoons with the help of today’s technology. All of the comments I have read about Get a Horse have been positive. People seem to love the idea of the characters they grew up with being introduced to their children and grandchildren. I can understand liking and even loving some of the Disney characters and movies. However, I think it is imperative for adults to demand plots that don’t perpetuate and normalize sexual violence to our children. We owe it to them and ourselves.

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