Design by Andria Waclawski

Design by Andria Waclawski

Last week we marked Equal Pay Day. It is the day that represents how many days into 2014 women must work to make as much as their male counterparts did in 2013. And as this day came around again, I just had to say: sigh.

In 1963 we passed the Equal Pay Act. Then, women were making on average 59 cents for every dollar a man earned. I’m here to tell you that we have made progress. Today a woman earns on average 77 cents for every man-dollar. So it’s taken over 50 years to close the gap by $0.18! Wow. We MUST do better.

This year on Equal Pay Day, President Obama signed two executive orders to help expose wage discrimination. That’s a step in the right direction. But the very next day the Senate failed (again) to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, with some claiming unequal pay is a myth and political tactic. It’s true that lower wage jobs often employ more women, and women’s pay—more often than men’s—is affected by taking leave for the care of children. This accounts for some of the gap, but not all of it. Even in occupations where women are the majority of employees, the men in those occupations Make. More. Money. What?! Gender discrimination happens on the job, whether it’s about wages or hiring and promotion practices.

I’d like to live in a world where women can make decisions about their relationships without regard to the financial impact of those decisions. A world where no one must choose to stay in a relationship they would otherwise end because staying means having a warm place to sleep and food for their kids. When we ensure that women have equal pay, are treated fairly at their jobs, and have opportunities to compete for higher paying jobs we create safe and peaceful communities.

“At present, our country needs women’s idealism and determination, perhaps more in politics than anywhere else.” – Shirley Chisholm

471604-01-main-270x350The late, great Shirley Chisholm was recently commemorated with a stamp, so I decided an in-person trip to the Post Office was in order. As I placed my order at the counter, the woman next to me asked who this Shirley Chisholm was. I’m always surprised at how few people seem to know about her. So I’m taking the opportunity to spread the word here.

It is often hard to wholeheartedly admire a politician, but Chisholm is one that I do. When I watched the 2005 documentary Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed, I was captivated by her dynamic presence and unwavering vision. As I learned more about her, I couldn’t help but wish that we had more politicians and leaders like her.

She represented New York’s 12th Congressional district for fourteen years, prioritizing issues of poverty, education, and women’s health and reproductive freedom. She deliberately hired women for all of her office positions, half of whom were black women. She was whip smart and had the ability to incisively cut to the heart of the matter; at the same time, she was also known for being warm and kind, with a great sense of humor.

Among her many notable accomplishments:

  • She served on the Education and Labor Committee. She worked on a bill to give domestic workers the right to minimum wage, worked to revoke the Internal Security Act of 1950 (a McCarthy-era holdover), and pushed for increased spending on social services, education, and health care. She authored the Comprehensive Child Development Bill of 1972, which would have implemented a national childcare system; it passed the House and the Senate but was unfortunately vetoed by Nixon.
  • She taught politics and women’s studies at Mount Holyoke and Spelman, after her retirement from Congress.

In her own words, “I want history to remember me not just as the first black woman to be elected to Congress, not as the first black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself.”

It’s State Legislative Session season! While we are working here in Washington to strengthen Protection Orders and secure paid sick and safe leave, others are dealing with something entirely different: Bills that codify discrimination. From Arizona to Georgia to Missouri, states are introducing legislation that would allow businesses and employees to refuse goods and services to those they feel live contrary to their religious beliefs.capitol-building

My dear home state of Georgia is trying to pass a bill with one of the broadest scopes of any of its counterparts. It could not only mean state sanctioned discrimination for the LGBTQ community, but also that women would have a tougher time accessing contraceptives and other family planning services.

Growing up in the South, even 20 years after Jim Crow laws, the lasting effect of these laws was palpable. I can still see today how the rhetoric and treatment of African Americans during that time influences my parents (and many others). Wasn’t that a lesson learned, America? Can we take a moment to reflect on how discrimination breeds hate and violence, and then choose to not go there again?

But what about religious freedoms? After all, the justification behind most of these bills is an outcry about religious liberties being infringed upon. Freedom of religion is an extremely important value to protect. But I don’t buy the argument that it justifies denying someone else their rights or basic dignity. Rev. Emily C. Heath outlines how we can determine if our religious liberties are actually at stake.

To me, these bills feel like a call for superiority for a particular group—not freedom. The messages they send, if they become law, will seep into our communities. Harmful messages about LGBTQ individuals, women, and any other group that might face discrimination because of them. They will worm their way into our lives and our relationships eating away at love, respect, and understanding. It’s one (bad) thing when our lives are invalidated and demonized by individuals. It’s another (even worse) thing when our government says that they think that discriminatory behavior is totally cool.

Love, respect, understanding. These are the things that will strengthen our relationships and dissolve violence. Part of me becomes deflated when I think about these discriminatory bills, but a bigger part of me is actually hopeful. I think they are an indicator of change and are the growing pains that happen before something beautiful emerges.

My Super Bowl streak is broken. Up ‘til now I spent every February perfectly oblivious to which teams were playing, or even what day the game was played. With my entire city swept up in Seahawks fever, this year was different. Love it or love to hate it (and I have a foot in each camp), unaware was not an option.

photo by Trevor Dykstra

photo by Trevor Dykstra

Over the last few weeks, Seattle turned into one big pep rally. The collective enthusiasm was contagious. Smiling at strangers increased by 400%. The city was united in encouragement and hope. We were all in, and it was a beautiful feeling. For most sports fans I know, this is the best part. The athletics are okay too, but it’s the team spirit that keeps us coming back.

A staple of the Seahawks media coverage has been long suffering Seattle, deprived of a professional sports championship for 35 years. Sorrowful fans lamenting that the city has had nothing “NOTHING” to unite us since the Sonics 1979 NBA title.

Sunday night, Seattle Storm fans jumped in to correct the record.

(What’s that? The Storm brought home not one but two national titles since 1979? No, silly, we meant sports, not women’s sports.)

The omission makes a point. Women’s sports  don’t have the power to unite an entire region that men’s teams command. We cheer them on, but—with exceptions for a few high school and college teams— men don’t identify with women’s teams. The men’s team is the Team. It’s universal. The women’s team is the women’s team.

That difference is the sexist iceberg below the surface. The massive, invisible assumption that men are people and women are women. The halftime shows that objectify women’s bodies and all the sexist commercials are just the shiny frozen tip.

Now picture this. What would it be like if the whole city lit up because a group of women achieved something together? If 100 million people simultaneously paid attention to a woman doing something excellently? Can we imagine staking our collective pride and identity on women’s victory? What if we did?

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Many powerful tributes have been written this week on Nelson Mandela’s leadership and legacy. This one discusses what he did for South African women’s freedom and equality.

Sexual assault is so common that we all need to know what’s helpful (and not helpful) to say. This article gives some important insights into what people who have been sexually assaulted go through.

In money news, voters have approved a raise in the minimum wage to $15/hour for workers at the Seattle-Tacoma airport.

I was thinking about a man I know. He’s a bully and on a scale of one to ten, he’s a solid ten jerk. You know him too.

He’s been married four times. Has many, many children—mostly boys. And now his children are having children and carrying on their dad’s tradition of being irresponsible fathers.

This man is marching through life burning everything in his path. His reach and influence are deadening to those in his inner circle, maddening to those of us sitting a few rings out—and legendary in the community. This man’s thousands of twins (including his brothers in the NFL) have the same impact.

© photo by Johsel Namkung

© photo by Johsel Namkung

I’m tempted to focus on the amazing resilience of this man’s families and the others he has impacted, and broaden that to the resilience of the human body and spirit. After all, what happens after a fire? The wildflowers sprout and the trees re-emerge. Right?

But I’m not going there.

Life calls upon us to be resilient enough with unavoidable  illness, loss, and death. What I’m calling out is all the avoidable illness, loss, and death. All the damage done by bullies, rapists, batterers is damage of their own making—it is all under their control and therefore they can prevent it from happening. So, why don’t they?

In trying to make some sense out of this, I revisited a “fireside chat” that my boss Nan Stoops gave earlier this year. It’s long, but if you skip to 16:30 you get to the meat of a pretty darned brilliant commentary that sheds some light on why the bully in my circle keeps on destroying.

Briefly, I believe Nan’s view is that for better or worse, the gigantic movement of mostly women working to end violence against women developed ideas that focused on women’s victimization, and not on men’s violence. And we placed the responsibility for ending violence on individuals and families, not on communities.

Imagine what would have happened if my bully was required to go to a shelter, rather than his wives and children fleeing. What if rather than putting him in jail, we had every institution guide—and if necessary shame—him when he behaved in arrogant and mean ways? What if everyone, everywhere just said “don’t talk to her that way.” And “How about you join this group and take this class on being a great dad?” What if my bully had to answer for himself over and over again?

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.

I’ve had the government shutdown on my mind for the last couple of weeks (like many of you, I’m sure). As I’m writing this, it looks like there is an agreement in the works, and just in the nick of time because it was about to get even uglier for women. But I don’t want to get into that. Let’s think happy thoughts…thoughts of Obamacare.obamacare-logo

What?

Obamacare doesn’t stir warm fuzzy feelings in your heart? It’s actually called the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Better? No? OK, full disclosure; I have mixed feelings about it as well. But something that does warm my heart is to know that many folks who were unable to afford health insurance before will be able to get it now. This will undoubtedly include people who are dealing with abuse in their lives. Access to healthcare for survivors of domestic violence is key to getting and staying healthy, healing from the physical and emotional wounds of abuse, keeping a job and income flowing…I could go on.

It’s part of my job to think about the implementation of Obamacare and how it affects those who are experiencing abuse. Here’s what I know:

  • Washington State, after a rocky opening day, has one of the best working systems for implementing the ACA in the country right now.
  • The ACA gives financial incentives for health care professionals to screen patients for domestic violence and refer them to local supportive services.

This is all really good news for survivors of abuse in Washington. But, there is still a lot we don’t know about the system and how it will (or won’t) work for those dealing with abuse, like:

  • Tax credits are awesome, when you can get them. To get this one you have to file jointly if you are married. That’s going to be a problem for many married survivors.
  • What exactly happens to the information entered into the Health Benefits Exchange, the marketplace for those purchasing private coverage? As an advocate, I know how important it can be to keep information confidential if someone’s abuser is stalking them.
  • How safe is this system for undocumented mothers trying to get healthcare for their children? Can the feds access and use information from this process to track immigration status?
  • Who is teaching medical professionals how to screen for domestic violence? Are they considering a person’s safety when asking these questions (like not asking in front of their partner)?

Sigh. So many questions and only 24 hours in the day. There is still a lot that remains to be seen about how Obamacare will ultimately fare, but I’m optimistic. And overwhelmed. But mostly, optimistic.

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.

Lopez photo public domain; Paltrow photo by Andrea Raffin

Lopez photo public domain; Paltrow photo by Andrea Raffin

Tal vez estás pensando dinero, fama, o quizás que las dos fueron novias de Ben Affleck. Todas estas respuestas son correctas, pero aún tienen algo más. Durante el pasado mes de Abril Gwyneth Paltrow fue la más buscada en todas la páginas web debido a lucir un vestido súper transparente. Por esta misma razón Jennifer López fue la más buscada en el 2000. Era prácticamente imposible navegar el intranet sin ver todo el comentario y furor acerca del vestido transparente de Paltrow. ¿A este punto tal vez te estas preguntando, porqué debiera de importarme esto a mí? ¡Esa fue exactamente mi primera reacción! Yo me encontré molesta con toda la atención que los medios de comunicación le estaban prestando a la estrella de Hollywood y sus piernas largas, para más tarde darme cuenta cuál era la razón por la me encontraba tan molesta Todo el comentario de la media era acerca de que tan perfecta era “ Paltrow. ” Perfecta de acuerdo a los estándares de bellezas impuestos por los medios de comunicación. Inclusive Paltrow hizo broma de su situación contando que para poder lucir el vestido transparente su asistente tuvo que salir a las apuradas a conseguir una afeitadora. También Paltrow comento que se sintió avergonzada por no haberse afeitado el día anterior (no solamente se refirió a sus piernas).

Habiendo sufrido horas de dolor por vestir unos tacones altos en mi boda y solamente porque lucia bien con mi vestido, me puedo identificar con  el deseo  de satisfacer las expectativas. ¡Mejor dicho… las expectativas de presentarnos  convencionalmente femeninas! Algunos pueden decir que ésta manera de conformarse a estos estándares de belleza son opcionales para las mujeres en el 2013. ¿Pero es esto verdad? Las bromas acerca de las mujeres que no se afeitan las piernas o las axilas continúan siendo muy comunes. ¿No te preguntas que tan larga y que tan profunda es la lista de expectativas que nos acompaña por el hecho de ser mujer? Cosas que van desde afeitarse las piernas hasta dejar que tu pareja tome control de la relación. Yo trato de transformar mi relación con esa lista de expectativas cada vez que algo interfiere con mi capacidad de ser un ser humano completo. ¿Cuál es la expectativa de roles de género que afecta tu vida que te gustaría cambiar empanzando hoy?

****

You may be thinking money, fame, or even Ben Affleck as an ex. These are all true, but there is more. Last April Gwyneth Paltrow made the top of every search engine with her see-through dress, just like Jennifer Lopez did back in 2000. It was practically impossible to go online without seeing the uproar about Paltrow’s dress. You may be asking, “Why should I care?” That was my exact reaction! I was really annoyed by all the media attention to the Hollywood star and her long legs. Then I realized why I was so annoyed: all the commentary was on how ‘perfect’ she was, according to conventional standards of beauty imposed by the media. In fact, Paltrow made a joke about her assistant running to get a razor to eliminate the unwanted body hair and how she felt ashamed for not having shaved the day before (hint: she was not just referring to her legs).

Having experienced hours of pain myself standing in tall heels during my wedding just because it looked good, I can totally relate to feeling like you have to live up to certain expectations. Specifically, a conventional feminine look! One can argue that this is optional for women in 2013, but is it really? Jokes about women who don’t shave their underarms or legs are still common. Doesn’t it make you wonder how long and ingrained the list of expectations is that we carry through our lives as women? Things that range from shaving your legs to letting your partner take control of the relationship. In my life, I try to challenge those expectations whenever they interfere with my ability to be a complete human being. What is one gender expectation that you want to challenge starting today?

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