Fire Drill

I am going to interrupt the first paragraph of this blog to tell you the aftermath of writing it. This is simple too ironically delicious to pass up.

Go to Google images and search “Fire Drill 1960s.” I mean, really.

I went looking for a good picture idea to illustrate a story of growing up in the 1960s and doing fire drills at my little rural school. A story I don’t need to tell you now.

What I found was NOT a fire drill 1960s style, but rather an atomic bomb drill 1960s style.

duck-and-coverWhat tickled me so much about these pictures of children huddling under their desks (which, by the way I did not experience as funny at the time) is that how we prepare our children these days for the actual threats they face is very much like this google-search-gone-sideways result: we are leaving our children huddled under their desks when the real problem is that the building is on fire.

I thought of a couple stories to illustrate how we can use the notion of the fire drill to practice things with our beloved kids before it is an actual emergency. And to show how weirdly odd we grownups behave in the face of actual emergencies.

Fire drill: unintended pregnancy

I once asked a young woman friend of mine who was headed off to college what kind of birth control she was using or thinking about using. She’d had a serious boyfriend in recent months and I was thinking they were likely sexually active so I was just curious. She looked at me with a stricken look on her face and didn’t say anything for a long moment. Then she blurted out, “I’m not opposed to abortion.”

“Um, sweetie” I replied “you know there are ways to avoid getting pregnant if you don’t want to be right?”  And the conversation unfolded from there.

We grownups waste unimaginable quantities of energy and money arguing about whether abortion should be illegal or legal. Available or unavailable. In the meantime this is the stupidity our children are saddled with. By losing our focus on what is actually happening with our kids, we outright deprive them of meaningful access to the information they need. Metaphorically, we leave our teens huddled under their desks. Come on. We can do better than this.

Another time, some friends and I were talking about Plan B (the emergency contraceptive) when their teenaged son walked in. It struck me suddenly that teenagers may not even have any idea what the concept of a plan B is. I mean, do you? Plan A is we meet at the corner to walk together to lunch. Plan B, we meet at the restaurant and I’ll save us a table. Right?

No surprise, the young man didn’t have any idea what plan A and plan B meant. But then, poor thing, I subjected him to some questions about the contraceptive Plan B. What followed was a wildly entertaining conversation which I will leave for another time.

Back to Plan B which is, after all, the fallback. It is not the first line of action for young heterosexual sexually-active people. And yet we adults leave our children huddled under their desks while we argue about regulating the actual drug of Plan B–in fact, all the way to the Supreme Court. The building is on fire people. Grownups get your act together and help kids with Plan A for sexual health and wellbeing, contraceptive and otherwise!

Fire drill: gun violence

I don’t own a gun, but I got a free gun lock at a recent event and gave it to a friend of mine who has school-aged kids. She doesn’t have guns either, but we gabbed about if and how she asks about guns when her kids go to play in their friends’ homes. She said she has struggled with this in a mighty way but has not yet figured out how to ask. It is just so hard to talk about it.

And this is completely understandable. We have locked down the conversation around guns rather than the guns themselves. Even the most basic common sense actions are taboo because any mention of guns leads straight to the second amendment. Even when all we’re talking about is keeping our children from accidentally shooting themselves or someone else. Children have a natural curiosity around guns, secured or not. Again, we leave them huddled under their desks while we argue about politics.

Fire drill: rape and domestic violence

Let’s face it. Even approaching thoughts about a beloved child raping or being raped—being battered or battering is more than most of us can endure.

And yet, no victim or rapist, no victim or batterer comes into this world as such. We unintentionally put our children on a path the moment they are born with our ideas about what it means to be a boy or a girl. And we follow that up with a million actions, individually and culturally.

But we do not need to fix all of our million transgressions against our children at once. One at a time works. Each one of us doing one at a time.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Action Month. And I’m here to tell you that in the same way that we don’t have to wait until our daughter or son is accidentally pregnant or our child shot to do something, there are simple ways to help kids learn about and navigate healthy and unhealthy relationships. You may never know if something very simple that you say or do plants a seed for a child or young person and helps them avoid a small problem or a large catastrophe.

Grownups. We can do this. It is not hard. It is actually really fun and, I have found, often hilarious. Try these ideas and let us know what happens. Write about your stories in the comment section below, or on our Twitter or Facebook page. We can help each other learn how to safely usher our kids out to the playground!

Bras, birth control, and Benjamins!

You know that moment when you read an article and you’re like, “Aaagh, everything is terrible!” but then you realize that there is a solution and it is surprisingly simple? Well that just happened to me while reading how breast and body changes drive teen girls out of sports. I love a simple solution. They are not always easy to find but when they are, I hold onto them and dream big. Such is the case for my new 3B Plan for world domination empowered, happy, and safe women. Here goes: bras, birth control, and Benjamins for us all!

Let’s break it down. It turns out that “research shows that girls tend to start dropping out of sports and skipping gym classes around the onset of puberty” and one reason for that is ill-fitting or non-existent sports bras. We know that participation in sports can help young women feel powerful and proud of their bodies so it just makes sense to help them stay active. And if bras are the way to do that, then let’s make good sports bras a priority, people! Now imagine me in my Oprah voice yelling, “You get a bra! You get a bra! EVERYONE GETS A BRA!”

Next up: birth control. Access to birth control helps women choose if, when, and with whom they have children, thus enabling them to write their own futures! I say YAAAS to autonomy and power! You want the pill? You got it. You want an IUD? Ok. You want rainbow condoms? Sure. You need emergency contraception. Here, let me get it for you. For reals. Let’s make this happen.

It's all about the benjamins, baby!And finally, you don’t need me to tell you that it’s all about the Benjamins, baby. We know that access to money is THE thing that helps people escape and recover from abuse. And it can help women to walk away from relationships that give them the uh-ohs before things get worse. So I say, let’s increase wages to a meaningful living wage. Let’s increase our welfare grants (at least back up to 2010 levels―sheesh!) and let’s encourage young women to have careers that make bank AND do good for the world.

It’s my 3B Plan. Are you in?

Living in a state of freedom

You may wonder why I’m always blogging about emergency contraception (EC) and birth control. What does it have to do with domestic violence? Why would an advocate need to talk about this with a survivor of abuse? And why should domestic violence programs have EC, pregnancy tests, and condoms available on site?

If you have never experienced it, it might be hard to understand how birth control sabotage, or reproductive or sexual coercion, is an incredibly powerful way to exert power and control over someone. Imagine someone flushing your pills down the toilet or poking holes in a condom. What about stopping you from getting to the clinic to get your Depo shot? Or forcibly pulling out your IUD by the strings? If you’re in an abusive relationship, negotiations around birth control and whether to have—or not have—children might happen without your opinion being respected or even considered. The harm of this may be invisible to an outsider, but when survivors of abuse are not allowed to make their own decisions about pregnancy, they lose control over the trajectory of their life and their connection to the abuser. And they have to constantly weigh the risks of any act of resistance, any attempt at independence.

Domestic violence advocates know that survivors coming to their programs are experiencing a range of abusive behaviors. But even if they are experiencing reproductive or sexual coercion, it is usually not something they bring up. If we want long-term solutions for survivors and their children, then we need to bring it up. Offering EC and birth control information, and having it available on site, is a liberatory act.

We need to offer it because Plan B or Levonorgestrel (emergency contraception) is effective within five days after unprotected intercourse and is available to anyone, no matter age or gender, without a prescription. We need to offer it so that survivors know we are comfortable talking about sex, birth control (especially forms that are less likely to be felt by a partner), and reproductive health. We need to offer it because access to timely information and practical help can change the circumstances of someone’s life. And we need to offer it because advocacy is about supporting someone to determine their own life—to live in a state of freedom.

A flock of birds and the words "I'm Free"

A feminist killjoy’s Top Ten list

Top Ten lists are so hot right now. With David Letterman retiring and the school year ending, lists of reflections are all over the place. So I’m jumping on that band wagon.

Top Ten list of things I’m thinking about:

  1. Dress codes—This again? Really? Can we just all agree that it is not young women’s responsibility to hide their bodies from men and that perhaps the responsibility of not sexualizing girls lies on the rest of us, rather than her $#@%^& leggings?
  2. Indiana—I am proud of my Hoosier roots, but my home state is really on a roll lately, and not in a good way. First the discriminatory religious freedom law (which, spoiler alert, was really a way to legalize homophobia), then this. Please do better Hoosiers.
  3. Young women’s activism—My optimism for the future is constantly restored by young radvocates’ work to undo sexism, promote peace, and dismantle rape culture.
  4. Amy Schumer—She is on feminist fire right now. Sketches on birth control, sexism in Hollywood, and spoofs that point out double standards galore are warming this feminist killjoy’s heart.
  1. Weight-loss shows—Ugh. I recently saw an ad for some show that was probably called “Extreme ways to shame and stigmatize your body.” I’m so ready to stop body policing and celebrate health in a new way.
  2. PG-13 movies—This is really for my eight-year-old son who is sad that many of the movies that are aimed at kids contain so much graphic violence that even in our violence-tolerant culture they are rated PG-13. I’m looking at you Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers.
  3. Purity culture—Recent events have brought this one to light, but yuck, just yuck. How about we acknowledge that all of us are sexual beings and need tools and information to help us make the best decisions for ourselves.
  4. Police shootings—This one hits home. Olympia recently joined the many other cities in the country where unarmed black men were shot by a white police officer. There are still many unknowns, but the one thing we do know is that even if there was no malice, racism is part of the air we breathe and to deny that we all are impacted by it is disingenuous at least and dangerous at worst.
  5. Mattresses—Rape culture had a powerful opponent with the courageous Emma Sulkowicz. Cheers.
  6. Eleanor and Park—I love young adult lit and this book sparked so much joy and angst in me. If you want to remember what it is to be young and in love, read this book.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

I’m having a good chuckle over Caitlyn Cannon’s funny, feminist, and fabulous senior year book quote.

Great interview with three Seattle-area high schoolers who got free IUDs and birth control implants through their school health clinic.

And check out this moving trailer for a documentary on the first high school in the country to integrate trauma-informed and resilience-building practices.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Is your insurance company lying to you about birth control? If you’re paying any money out of pocket, they probably are.

There’s some really absurd sexism in this history of women’s boxing. Did you know that California only allowed a woman to box if she certified that she didn’t have her period?

Intersectionality is a new concept for many. Comedian Akilah Hughes breaks it down for you in this entertaining pizza-themed video.

What does it take to believe a woman?

We bring you this post from the Executive Director of a domestic violence program in rural Washington.

The domestic violence agency I work at often buys supplies that our clients need but can’t always afford, like diapers, toiletries, and contraceptives. Easy access to birth control supports a survivor’s control over their body, and promotes their safety and independence. Recently, I walked into our community’s only pharmacy to buy some Plan B. The young woman behind the counter asked me for ID and went into the back room.

planb2Her: Here you go, all set.

Me: What did you do with my ID?

Her: Checked to see if you are over 18.  (I think this is funny – I’m 39.)

Me: There are no restrictions on buying Plan B, so you don’t need to know my age. I work at the local domestic violence agency and for my clients, being asked to show ID can be scary if their abuser monitors what they are doing and checks public records. It is also scary for people who are worried about their immigration status.

Now the pharmacist comes out and joins the conversation.

Pharmacist: That’s not true. On the Plan B package it says “For Women Over 17 Years of Age.”

Me: It’s old packaging (wondering just how old the packaging is). The law has changed. Plan B should be able to be purchased as over-the-counter medication. I don’t have to show identification.

Pharmacist: That’s not true and it is my choice how to dispense it.

This same conversation continued over a few more visits. I brought in articles and the new federal regulations—none of it seemed to matter to the pharmacist. Then my town gathered a small team of community members interested in women’s reproductive health services that were available locally. One community member went back to the pharmacy, and while the same “it’s just not true” argument ensued, another visiting pharmacist broke into the conversation and said we were right. He confirmed the changes in law we had already shown the local pharmacist.

This pharmacy—the only place in town to buy Plan B—is now in compliance with the law. And while I’m very happy about that, I still find it frustrating that my local pharmacist would not listen to what we were saying (read: what we women were saying) and would not change the pharmacy’s practice until a man said our information was correct. How many laws that affect women’s health are ignored when women are telling the truth?

Call of the wild

Survive, reproduce. Survive, reproduce. For 3.5 billion years.

I love science. I love how Neil deGrasse Tyson from Cosmos has become a superstar, and how he has lead people to gasp at galaxies. I like astrophysics okay, but mostly because it serves to put my true love—biology—into that bigger context.

Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife
Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife

Yesterday, I hung out with 100 people who work in schools, health care, and social services on projects that support pregnant and parenting teenagers. We’ve been getting together with folks in this field because domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are all too common experiences for teens who are pregnant or have recently had a baby. We were all there to learn about the impact of trauma on the brain (more science) and what we can do to promote healing and resilience.

I eavesdropped on the conversations around me and heard people discussing the teens and babies they help, and the circumstances of their own pregnancies and the pregnancies of people they know. It made me wonder: How it is that we have birth control but still don’t use it all that intentionally? Regardless of our big brains, many of us are relying on the same biological laws that dictate the offspring of the mosquito, otter, and orca.

Sexual reproduction evolved 1.2 billion years ago. Contraceptive technologies were invented in the 20th century. Let’s be generous, round up, and say we have been able to have sex without reproducing for 100 years. Put in this perspective, I’m surprised that I’m surprised. I mean, we haven’t really been at this deciding to have babies for very long, so how could we expect to have a smoothly running social machine around it?

One reason we aren’t being as smart as we can be about reproductive decisions is that sexism is still a thing. Men still control and attempt to control women’s reproductive rights. This goes on politically and in intimate relationships.

Ageism is also still a thing. What other than ageism—and let’s be honest, fear—has us withholding information about reproduction and all forms of birth control from teens?  Some teens struggle (mostly alone) with their deeply held desires to have a child.  While other teens, once pregnant, reject adults shaming them—and rightly so.  Teens in general are suffering as a result of our not trusting them with information about sexuality and reproduction. Ageism and fear are both terrible excuses for our behavior.

Is there any way to speed up our social evolution so that we can all have control over our decisions? Or are we destined to remain . . . wild?

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

These puppets explain to the Supreme Court why your boss shouldn’t make decisions about your birth control.

There’s been a strong negative reaction to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network’s (RAINN) recommendation to focus on the criminal justice response to rape on college campuses. Wagatwe Wanjuki does a great job of explaining why this approach is so problematic.

In a recent interview, the director of Girl Rising talks about the story and strategy behind this amazing film.

Teens want to talk

“It might be easier if you talk to my teenagers and I talk to yours.” That’s where a chat with a good friend went when we realized our teenagers no longer wanted to discuss sex with us or their dads. Even though I have had pretty frank conversations with them in the past about emergency contraception, responses to street harassment, and grinding at dances, I understand that I’m not their only source of information. Most teenagers I know think that conversations at home, school health class, and with their friends are all they need. Maybe so, but I know my daughters forget things and don’t always have the most current information. Sometimes they are just plain wrong. And I’m sure they’ve never practiced telling someone they care about “No, I don’t feel comfortable doing that.” Whatever that is—sex acts, drugs, drinking, or anything else.

Some of the complicated conversations I want someone to have with my kids:

  1. Medically accurate information about all available forms of birth control
  2. Knowing how to respond when a friend or potential partner oversteps their boundaries
  3. Deciding when is the right time to have sex
  4. Knowing how to freely say yes or no to anything involving your sexuality
  5. What to do or say if a friend has difficult questions or secrets they don’t feel comfortable keeping
  6. Knowing where to get good information and help—online or in-person
  7. Strategies for stepping in to help someone else
  8. Knowing the qualities of a healthy relationship and believing they deserve it
  9. Knowing how to talk to a friend about his or her relationship

teens-talkingI think teenagers want lots of chances to talk about these things. As a parent, your best bet may be to find the right person to initiate those conversations. Think about a terrific woman or man that you trust who could engage your teenager. It might be a relative, friend, or an educator from Planned Parenthood. You could set up one or several conversations with this trusted adult, add some food, a couple of your teenager’s close friends and leave for a few hours. I did this with my daughters. I know it was a success because one of my daughters said to me “we talked about a lot of things that I wouldn’t want to talk about with you.” I understood what she meant. With me, she has to worry about my judgment or if I’ll ask too many follow-up questions. This way, we can pick up the conversation whenever they want and I sleep a little better at night.