50 different opinions and counting…

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.

Practicing healthy relationships

We talk a lot about healthy relationships, we memorize the do’s and the don’ts, we vow to do it right. But even when we know what we are supposed to do, when it comes to real-life circumstances with real people it can get complicated and messy.

For many years, whenever I would visit my family it was inevitable that my father and I would get into a massive disagreement, mostly over politics. I’d take the liberal side, he’d take the Aruging-Family-Membersconservative side, we’d dig in our heels and try to convince the other person that they had it all wrong. Obviously, this didn’t work out well; usually it would end with me leaving the room in tears. It reached a point where I just wanted to shut down and not engage at all. I give my father a lot of credit, he realized I was checking out and decided that things had to change. He didn’t want our differences to get in the way of our relationship. And I wanted to share who I was as a whole person with my own thoughts and opinions. So we made some ground rules. We agreed to listen to each other, to respectfully disagree, to find common ground. We put love and respect for each other first.

I’m the first to say that our system isn’t perfect, we’ve had to revise and revisit. But we always go back to the ground rules and remind ourselves that a good relationship is our top priority. Because of our efforts my relationship with my father is better and—to the shock of my entire family—we can have tough conversations and still be smiling after.

I believe this strategy is applicable across situations; I’ve applied it to my relationship with my partner. I’ve made a commitment to resolving conflict, creating a system that works for both parties, and making sure each person is being heard and respected, despite differences. It isn’t simple or easy, but it’s doable.

#WhyImVoting

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I have a confession; I don’t have a perfect voting record. I looked it up and there it was, in my face, elections in which I simply did not cast my ballot. This sent me down a spiral of self-criticism, I mean, what was wrong with past me!?

But today is Election Day and I have another chance. Women have a lot of reasons for why they are voting and guess what? Voter turnout for women is high, and it’s no wonder. Reproductive rights, equal pay, access to quality education—there is a lot at stake.

Here in Washington State we have dueling gun safety initiatives and key state legislative and congressional seats that are up for election. By voting I participate in making sure dangerous people are prevented from accessing guns, and I get to choose representatives who will fight for essential services for struggling families and survivors of domestic violence. I get to actively influence the political structure and decision making, all of which impacts my current life, my future, and my beloved community.

I’m sure I had a lot of excuses for not voting in the past, but really what matters is that I voted today. I voted because I believe we should be paid the same as men, that we should be able to make decisions about our own bodies, that survivors of violence shouldn’t be more vulnerable because it’s too easy for their abuser to illegally get a gun, and that services are available to those who need them the most. This is #WhyImVoting. So get out there and vote too, because your voice matters!

Times have changed. Or have they?

“It’s okay, honey, you can say you’re a housewife,” said the county clerk when I was applying for my marriage license. It’s hard to explain the work I do and I’m often stumped when I have to fill in the “occupation” section of a form. Irked by the clerk’s assumption that I was a housewife, I was even more put off that she thought I would be ashamed of it.grandmagritschcropped

Standing in that courthouse this summer, I was aware that I had walked through the same doors my grandparents did in 1949 and my parents in 1974. I thought about how much things had changed over the past 65 years. But really, how different are they?

My grandmother got married during a time that being a housewife was considered a woman’s ultimate calling. Near the end of her life she told me (with a bitter undertone), “I did my duty. I had three kids. I washed socks.” In her eyes, being a housewife was not a choice, but an obligation.

Then came the era of the Do It All woman which sounds impossible and exhausting. Today, things are different but the same sexist expectations exist. My partner and I share household and financial responsibilities, but I know I would be judged if I chose to stop working. And when people come to my home it’s clear the judgment is on me as well. Many women in my generation are trying to figure out what works best for them, even if that means choosing to return to traditional gender roles. It seems whatever we choose, we are criticized.

I want us to stop judging each other and turn our focus on making sure women have options and the freedom to choose what’s best for them. Instead of shaming, let’s encourage each other to make healthy decisions, talk about how to communicate effectively with our partners, and support each other to have relationships that are supportive, caring, and equal.