Popular Culture


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.

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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