Many people equate BDSM with abuse, but in fact that community can teach us a lot of great lessons about healthy relationships. You might be shaking your head in consternation right about now. But playing with power dynamics or intense bdsmphysical sensation is not the same as being abusive, violent, or controlling.

In one of my previous lives, I worked for several years as a sex educator for a feminist sex shop. While I was relatively open-minded, I had a lot to learn. Because even if I wasn’t particularly interested in something for myself, I had to be able to speak knowledgably and non-judgmentally with customers, many of whom were trusting me with vulnerable information. In any given week, I might help a 70-year-old woman who’d never had an orgasm or a 40-year-old man struggling to open up to his partner about his desires to explore role play.

I learned a lot, not just about sex but about communication and boundaries and consent and exploration and healthy relationships. All things that you need to engage successfully in BDSM.

Most people, especially when playing with a new partner, have a get-together where they chat about their yes/no/maybe list. The “yes” list is filled with all the activities you know you enjoy, the “no” list is all about the things you do not want under any circumstances. And the “maybe” list can include things you haven’t tried yet but might be interested in or things that might be okay in certain situations.

This list is one of my favorite tools, and anyone—any gender, any sexuality—can use it, regardless of what kinds of sex they like to have. It’s a great way to think about what your own desires are. And when you do it with a partner, you get to see where your interests overlap, where you might do some new exploration, and where the hard boundaries are. This is just one way to get to that “enthusiastic consent” that so many people are talking about right now.

Or you can do a yes/no/maybe list about other kinds of physical and emotional affection. “Holding hands in public—yes! Hand on my neck—nope. Deep kisses—maybe, but only if we’re in a private place.” For survivors of abuse, this can be a useful bridge to regaining ownership of their bodies and their desires. Being explicit about what is and isn’t okay can help avoid triggering incidents and make them feel safer.

Using the list might seem a little silly or even boring, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. If you find yourself tongue-tied when talking about what you want, it can be a great way to lay your cards on the table ahead of time, when you’re more able to think clearly. Give it a try!

Over my shoulder, I call towards the back of the car, “Why do you think men yell out at women on the street?” “Because they can,” came the lightning quick response from one of my twin 16-year-old daughters. We were talking about Stop Telling Women to Smile, the public art project by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh who interviews women about their experience of street harassment, draws their portrait, and uses their words to create posters for buildings and outdoor walls. Both of my daughters said they liked Fazlalizadeh’s posters because they had short, clear messages that anyone could understand.

Last year I blogged about my daughters initiation with street harassment. They were scared and tentative about taking public transportation for a while. Now, only ten months later, I feel like I am talking to experienced and disgusted young women who still don’t understand why men feel like they are entitled to their time and attention, and why they face anger and ugliness if they ignore the catcalls. They wonder how to respond and when is it the right time to say “leave me alone.” All of this feels exhausting for them, and for me knowing that so much can happen out of my sight.

Our conversation transitions to talking about how street harassment is connected to dating relationships. Do guys just turn off this behavior with a girlfriend? Do all guys do it and just not talk about it? I explain that not every guy engages in street harassment, but the fact that it goes on undermines the things you need for a loving and equitable relationship. Street harassment is not just about individual behavior. It is a part of our culture that uses fear, intimidation, or violence to give women and girls the message that they are not in control of their lives. These public art posters are so powerful because they are making women’s experiences of street harassment visible and public rather than a fleeting remark that is too often dismissed and trivialized.

We bring you this post from Sarah LaGrange, our Policy and Prevention intern.

collageLately I have been thinking about adultism. It is one of the most common forms of oppression and I would venture to say that every single person who is reading this has experienced it. And yet it is the least talked about “ism” that I know of. You probably haven’t ever heard the term.

At our Teen Leadership Council (TLC), they had never heard of it either. But once I started giving examples, every teen there knew what I was talking about. At the end of the day we asked: What do you want adults to know about teens? Almost every single answer was about wanting adults to treat them with kindness and respect. One youth wrote “I only talk back when you talk back to me.” Is that actually what we want kids to learn, not to talk back? Would we ever say this to an adult? What we really want is for kids to take some responsibility for their actions.

Another TLC member said “You don’t have to yell to get our attention.” Who actually responds well to being yelled at? No one. So why do we yell so much at kids? Because we are allowed to, perhaps even expected to. This starts sounding eerily like why men so often treat women with violence and control, because they have historically been allowed to and even expected to control the women in their lives.

Jody Wright points out, “When we talk of kids being ‘disciplined,’ we mean that they follow what others say or want. When we talk of an adult being disciplined, we mean that they are following inner motivation to do something.” How do we expect children to learn self-discipline and internal motivation when we raise them to do what they are told and not talk back? The problem is, we are teaching them to perpetuate oppression and inequality. If we want kids to resist oppression we have to teach them how to talk back and that they deserve the same respect we give other adults.

MLKpinI am not talking about exercise or turning off the electronics—both good ideas—but about social justice work. Last week, the speaker at our Shabbat service to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Alexes Harris, grabbed my daughters’ attention. Instead of leaving them feeling like the world’s problems are too big to fix, she inspired them to be actors in their own lives and community. WOW! Anyone who gets my kids as excited about justice as the latest beauty blog is someone I need to pay attention to.

One of my daughters said, “This speech was not just about Dr. King’s legacy, but what I can do today, with attainable ideas, small things that are acts of social justice.” Yes, she really said that. Here is a shortened version of the speech that got her there:

I am a mother, wife, daughter, friend, professor and social activist…. I am a person, who was raised in a community that stressed the importance of caring for my family members, my neighbors, and people around me. I am a sociologist who conducts research on social stratification and inequality in the United States…. I was asked to speak about Dr. King’s legacy, what this might mean to us today and how we can become more engaged in social justice work. I would like for you first to picture Dr. King in your mind. Visualize his picture in a frame on the wall in your living room. Then picture a portrait of yourself on the same wall right next to his picture. And envision a square frame around your face. There are four sides. Think of each theme I raise as one part of this frame. With each part of my discussion, I hope I help you think of your role as a social activist—your part to play in Dr. King’s legacy. How do you fit in as an individual in the broader discourse about Dr. King and social justice? My aim is for you not to be passive in the celebration of Dr. King’s life, but someone who celebrates his legacy by taking action all year round.

FRAME #1

For the first part of our frame, the right part, I will begin by discussing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy…. Dr. King spoke and wrote about poverty, inequality, and racial injustice in the United States, he fought for the right for all people to vote, he eloquently spoke about the insidious effects of poverty, state oppression, and violence. He spoke out against the Vietnam War; he fought for workers’ rights, equality in living wages, and the right for unions to organize.

“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.… I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land (Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance speech).”

He was arrested over 20 times, had his home bombed, and gave over 2,500 speeches. His legacy is that everyone who says his name respects him and that we have the right to vote and we have a social justice vision to strive for: three meals a day, education, culture, dignity, equality, and freedom. For everyone regardless of our race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, pay grade, nationality, immigration status, and age. This is Dr. King’s legacy and this is social justice.

FRAME #2

The second piece to our frame, the top part, is the connection to current issues today—pressing down on us…. Many people note that we have a president of African American decent and suggest that we are “post-racial” that racism is no longer a problem. Unfortunately, many of the same issues that Dr. King spoke about we still struggle with today…. We see in every arena from education, to poverty, to homelessness, to incarceration rates, to HIV transmission, people of color and poor people continue to suffer in this country. Whether it is from direct racism, color blind racism, or inattention to or lack of caring and love, we have several problems in our society that need attention.

We need to continue to make changes in our criminal justice system—we need to tackle the racial and ethnic disproportionality. We need to tackle the criminalization of our mentally ill, of our poor, and of our children. Washington’s incarceration rate has roughly tripled since the 1970s, and is estimated to increase by 23% in 2019. Partly due to the war on drugs we have over 16 million people with felonies (7.5% of the U.S. population), and over 2 million living behind bars. Nationally, 1 in 3 adult Black men have a felony conviction. In Washington, studies show that among felony drug offenders, Black defendants have higher odds of being sentenced to prison than similarly situated White defendants. Criminal conviction leads to limited housing and employment opportunities, legal debt, political disenfranchisement, and a host of problems experienced by families and communities….

FRAME #3

Third side of our frame, the left side, what is social justice and what does it mean to you personally?… Dr. King said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” What does your conscience tell you? I can’t write this frame for you. But, in Dr. King’s words we can find encouragement. Dr. King outlined common goals for social justice—beliefs that are common across all faiths and societies. Speaking on poverty and inequality he said, “In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied in a single garment of destiny … We are inevitably our brothers’ keeper because of the interrelated structure of reality.”

Dr. King told us that we must care about each other, we must care about those less fortunate than ourselves…. This is our common bond across faiths, cultures, and age groups. I encourage you to reflect on what social justice means to you personally. What does your faith, your education, and your experiences tell you are unjust and that you must change? Even if we are afraid, or feel overwhelmed? What can we do to make a difference?

FRAME #4

Finally, for the fourth part of our frame, the bottom, I ask you how can you become engaged and take action?… I suggest that we start within our families and among our loved ones. How can we make their lives better?… We can talk about our values, what our Rabbis, Priests, Imams, and teachers say. We can reinforce to our children that what they read in the Torah or learn in school is not just about words or ideas but about action and interaction. It only means so much if we don’t live by example.

We can make sure our children look out for other children who may be different from them, who may be new to their school, or may not have as many friends…. We can acknowledge our own mistakes, that we are not perfect, we have limitations, but tomorrow is a new day to try again.

We can call others into question when they make racist or homophobic statements in our presence. We can simply say, “Your words are inappropriate and hurtful.” We need to be mindful, as Dr. King said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” When we are at work we can say that that joke is not funny, in fact it is offensive. We can stand up in little, but immense ways for ourselves and others.

In sum, if you think about our four frames for social justice:

  • To our right, we have Dr. King’s legacy—and Mandela’s—and so many others who have come before us who have given their lives for social justice: freedom, equality, and improved quality of life for others;
  • Above our heads we have—pressing on us—contemporary social problems: poverty, homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, inequality in terms of living wages, health care, access to quality education. Problems that can weigh us down but we are reminded that our fear, our sadness, is our fuel to push on…. Let whatever you are afraid of be your courage to fight for change. Only you can figure this out;
  • To our left we have our personal definition of social justice—issues we personally care about and want to make a difference in; and
  • Below us, guiding us, we have our action steps: every day actions, short-term and long-term actions we can take to make bigger strides towards social justice.

You have your personal frame for social justice. Now, you can no longer wake up and ignore social justice. You can no longer only remember Dr. King on his birthday or our national holiday. You have a personal reminder of his legacy—a personal frame—that should remind you of the work you have ahead of you…. I leave you with Dr. King’s words, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Want to hear more from Dr. Harris? She has a book coming out, A Pound of Flesh:  Monetary Sanctions as a Permanent Punishment for the Poor where she talks about how the system extracts money from criminals as further punishment, even after they completed their incarceration, and how this stops them from ever returning to society as contributing individuals.

There is something afoot in the fight to raise the minimum wage—the increasingly visible voices of low-wage workers. The Fight for 15 started in Chicago and has spread to 50 cities including Seattle. At SeaTac Airport, baggage handlers, shop workers, and folks transporting people using wheelchairs, are all asking for a $15 minimum wage to provide for their families.

American_Flag_&_SloganAs a country, we say that all work is honorable, no job is beneath anyone, and that if you show up and do your best, you will be rewarded. Not if you are a low wage worker. Nancy Salgado confronted the U.S. president of McDonald’s and asked “It’s really hard for me to feed my two kids and struggle day to day. Do you think this is fair, that I have to be making $8.25 when I’ve worked for McDonald’s for ten years?” She was ticketed for trespassing.

McDonald’s minimum wage employees recently received a Practical Money Skills Budget Journal. Perhaps this is their answer to Nancy’s question. But it’s not exactly going to help her situation. To begin with, the sample income is NOT based on a full-time minimum wage (more like 2 minimum wage incomes). Their example doesn’t include groceries or childcare, and healthcare is a hilarious $20 monthly expense. Rent is only $600 a month. Where is this city? The smiling teenager on the front of the budget journal does not represent the vast majority of people working minimum wage jobs. It is adults (and more women than men) who are trying to make a living and care for children on minimum wage. $15 an hour is closer to what it actually takes to support a working family.

When you support a $15 minimum wage, you are also helping women and children live violence-free lives. People are always telling women who are in abusive relationships to leave—don’t stay for money, leave because your life will improve and you will be a better parent. But that’s not true if you walk out the door into homelessness. So they tell them: go get a job, find an apartment, find childcare, get new credit cards, open another bank account. Oh, your partner trashed your credit? You must not be trying hard enough.

$15 an hour means you can take care of yourself and your children and you won’t have to face the decision of either returning to an abusive relationship or becoming homeless. We all benefit when everyone around us can go to bed each night knowing that they can provide a loving home and have the resources to face whatever lies ahead.

In the wake of last week’s Navy Yard shooting, we enter another round of the now familiar national conversation about gun violence in America.

Image from Demand Action To End Gun Violence

Image from Demand Action To End Gun Violence

Mother Jones has an in depth analysis of mass shootings since 1982. According to their criteria, the Navy Yard shooting is the fifth such incident in 2013.

According to another compilation of gun violence incidents by reddit users, the fifth mass shooting of this year happened back in January, and the Navy Yard shooting was #247.

Why the huge discrepancy? Whether there have been 5 mass shootings this year or 247 depends on how you define the terms.

Most of the time, “mass shootings” and “gun violence” are defined by the stories that get the most attention and that get under our skin. The stories that are hard to shake because the randomness makes it feel like any one of us could be a target. Studying domestic violence homicides, I am used to thinking about violence as anything but random. But even I was surprised to find out that 57% of mass shootings (defined as 4 or more people killed) involve domestic violence. More than half.

When I heard that number, I thought how is it I have never heard this before? Domestic violence is actually behind most mass shooting deaths in America and yet it is almost never part of the conversation. Until just recently, most analysis of mass shootings doesn’t include domestic violence. Mother Jones defines the term in a way that excludes shootings that happen at home, even if the same shooting in a public place would count.

The media coverage is different too. We read about the deeper social significance of random, public violence. What it says about our society. Domestic violence rarely prompts the same soul searching. That double standard reinforces old myths. That the “real” danger is outside your home, not inside. That men’s violence against their families is a private tragedy, not a social injustice, not a matter for collective action and public policy.

Focusing on men’s violence against women won’t make the solutions to gun violence easy or obvious. But at least it will help us see the problems more clearly.

It’s summertime. Bye-bye, I’m heading to the beach.

It is inconceivable to me to go without a book. On my list this year: Zippy by Haven Kimmel, which I borrowed from my library and devoured in a few laugh-out-loud sessions. Truly a funny, poignant tale.

A particularly explosive guffaw of relief flew out of me as Kimmel recalled a violent episode in her childhood home when things could have gone terribly wrong, but didn’t. Her dad did not beat up her mother. She writes:

Mom told me, when I was old enough to ask, that she had learned the lesson from Mom Mary, Dad’s mother, who took her future daughter-in-law aside and told her that a woman has got to make herself absolutely clear, and early on. In Mom Mary’s own case, she waited until she and my grandfather Anthel were just home from their honeymoon, and then sat him down and told him this: “Honey, I know you like to take a drink, and that’s all right, but be forewarned that I ain’t your maid and I ain’t your punching-bag, and if you ever raise your hand to me you’d best kill me. Because otherwise, I’ll wait till you’re asleep; sew you into the bed; and beat you to death with a frying pan.” Until he died, I am told, my grandfather was a gentle man.

It reminded me of Mette’s mom’s theory about ending domestic violence—that women just need to get scarier than men. I asked Mette to ask her mother if it would be okay to share her theory. Her mom replied “Hell, yes. And I might add, I would be happy to teach classes on how to be scarier than anyone!”

In reality, there is nobody less scary than Mette’s mom Cindy. Though I have never given her cause to be fierce with me, I do believe she has that capacity.

And hence to the point. Fierce is different from scary.frying-pan

I mean, I really do not want to be reduced to simply scary—to beating my chest louder and harder than the primate squatting next to me.

But to warn someone off with a metaphorical frying pan—with a “Don’t you dare disrespect or threaten me or our children”—is the essence of the fierceness Cindy could give lessons about.

Historically, we have turned to the police, courts, and prisons—institutions designed to simply scare people—to deal with domestic and sexual violence. It hasn’t worked.

A smattering of people are coming up with different approaches. Ideas for engaging men coming out of prison, using technology so abusive dads can have safe contact with their kids, and creating alternatives for batterers to seek help themselves, before police and courts get involved.

I am feeling very optimistic that we are on the cusp of making an evolutionary leap—from scary to fierce. From having only fear-based approaches that at best impose an unstable peace, to becoming resolutely fierce in defending the foundational worth and dignity of women and children. It’s time.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,270 other followers