Potty talk

Last week, I spent some time on the campus of Washington State University in Pullman. I was invited to deliver the keynote address at the annual Women of Distinction luncheon, the theme of which was “Forming a More Perfect Union: Women in Public Service and Government.”

Believe it or not, I don’t talk about politics very much. It’s not in my wheelhouse to convert intuition and passion into the law of the land. I wish it was, but I know I would worry about losing my way, my self, to the process. As I prepared for the WSU event, my mind was buzzing and my heart ached with the political crises we face here and around the world.

I thought about my travels in India 5 years ago. There I had the opportunity to meet with activists whose strategic approach to political organizing I will never forget. Their belief that access to a toilet is central to a woman’s dignity was the centerpiece of the “water taps and toilets” campaign, in which they visited rural, impoverished, unplumbed communities and installed water wells and toilets. They also educated women about civics, registered them to vote, and encouraged them to bring their voices to the demand for women’s rights and equality.

Toilet-paper-roll-patentHere in the U.S. the relationship between politics and access to toilets appears to be heading in the opposite direction. Here we have a political system being used to control and restrict access, to deny what should be a fundamental right, to violate the dignity and privacy of transgender people, and to undermine our collective humanity. Witness what happened last week in North Carolina and Kansas. We must ask ourselves not only about the content of these policies, but also about the political maneuvering that produced them.

It’s easy to say that’s North Carolina and that’s Kansas and that’s NOT Washington. But the only way to be sure is to be vigilant. Our political muscle can be flexed with more than voting. We can make sure that our elected officials remember that WE elected them and they represent US, and we can do everything in our power to make sure that what they do is who we are.

I never imagined my work would lead me to think so much about toilets. I didn’t know they could be so inspiring or so troubling—either way a source of political organizing and, for me, irony.

I didn’t talk about toilets at WSU—people were eating lunch—but I did talk about politics. Here is some of what I said:

“I hope we will form a more perfect union, and deliver on the constitutional vision of justice, domestic tranquility, a common defence, general welfare, and the blessings of liberty for ourselves and for the generations to come. In the formation of this union, we should heed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  that begins with “the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” We have the power to refashion our union. We do. There’s no doubt it’s a heavy lift, and I know it will not happen in my lifetime. But for the granddaughters of my grandchildren, I keep this union in front of me every day.”

News you can relate to

Some stories that caught our eye this week:

What does it take for a woman to succeed in science? Evelyn M. Witkin, who was recently awarded the Lasker Award for groundbreaking work on DNA, has this to say:

When I was pregnant with my first child, [my boss] came to my lab and said it was important to make scientific careers possible for women. What did I need? I told him, maternity leave and to return only part time. He said, “Done, and we’re not going to cut your salary because I know you’re going to do a full-time job.” That act alone made it possible for me to stay with my research.

An NFL star gives a brutally honest account of the abuse he endured daily from his father as a child and, even worse, how no one around him tried to help.

I’ll never forget this moment when I was 10 years old…when my mother pulled me aside and whispered, “You better play well out there today, because if you don’t, it’s going to be bad tonight.” Right then, it dawned on me that my mother was never going to do anything about it. Our neighbors weren’t going to do anything about it. The other hockey parents weren’t going to do anything about it. I was going to have to stop it myself.

The Marshall Project has an in-depth look at a story we’ve talked about before: a young woman is raped and instead of believing her, the police convict her of the crime of false reporting. Years later, proof of her rape comes to light.

Recently, Marie was asked if she had considered not reporting the rape. “No,” she said….She wanted to help the police. “So nobody else would get hurt,” she said. “[So] they’d be out there searching for this person who had done this to me.”

And lastly, the story of Las Patronas, the women who feed immigrants on their way to the border:

End violence. Start today! Five simple things you can do in 2014.

1. Resolve to be generous with your time and money, but never ever give to charity.

You can practically hear the sinews of humanity ripping apart when we think of people as charity cases. We scroll or stroll by and throw money at them.

If it weren’t for the most microscopic twist of genetics or timing, you might be the one paralyzed from the neck down, or the person sleeping in the doorway.

I know it’s terrifying, but always give to others knowing we’re all in the same lifeboat.

2. Whether you can give time and money or not, be generous with your spirit. For New Year’s, give up pity.

I do not mean sympathy or empathy. I mean pity.

I have only been pitied a few times, but ouch did it sting. I’ve written about having breast cancer, and I’ve had people pity me. There is just nothing worse than having another person not see your whole feisty strong self and only see your disease.

That woman at the shelter? No pity allowed! She deserves justice and respect—not pity. Remember that.

3. Do not leave healthy relationships to chance. Talk to your kids.

Talk to them. Don’t think about talking to them. Don’t plan to talk to them. Don’t hope that someone else will talk to them. Infant to teen. Maybe especially teens—as hard as they are to approach sometimes. Right? Start (or continue) today.

4. Promote love.

Surprise! I got married. On New Year’s Day. To my sweetie of 27+ years. We could partake of marriage and the multitude of rights it brings because we live in the great state of Washington. Thank you citizenry.

Check out this cool map and see how the face of our nation is being transformed by debate and political action around who can love whom. And listen to this cool podcast with two guys who have been engaged in a multi-year conversation about the merits of love and marriage (skip to minute 27 for the part that convinced me to take the plunge).

And lastly,

5. Help end violence in relationships by ending violence against yourself.

Bring all the negative and cynical self-talk into sharp focus and then kindly and gently let go. Over and over again. Stop beating yourself up about beating yourself up. Stop beating yourself up about beating yourself up about beating yourself up. And so on, until you start to find it funny. Know that you are not alone. Feeling bad about ourselves seems to be one of our national pastimes. It is hard to be a generous, sympathetic, creative activist if you feel like crap. Take care of yourself for the sheer joy of doing so and enjoy this glorious year of 2014 on this glorious planet earth.

To review: earth

1. Give up charity—seek connection

2. Give up pity—seek connection

3. Do not leave healthy relationships to chance—seek connection

4. Promote equality in love everywhere you can—seek connection

5. Stop beating yourself up—seek connection

Battle vs. Love

Want to see, at a glance, a summary of the messages boys and girls get every day about our expectations for them? Crystal Smith at The Achilles Effect analyzed the words used in television ads marketing toys to boys vs. the words used to market toys to girls. It won’t take more than one look to figure out which is which.

Battle vs. love. Competition and violence for boys vs. cooperation for girls. Competence for boys vs. style for girls.

Marketers are not just selling toys; they are selling a world where boys are strong and forceful, and girlhood is much more about how you look than what you do. Whether toy manufacturers create these gendered expectations or simply reflect the values of the broader culture, the messages are powerful. The average kid watches hundreds of television ads every week, from toddlerhood through teen years.

So, how many dating violence prevention campaigns do you think we have to run to balance this out? How many posters in high schools about equality in relationships will it take? Is there any way we can prevent domestic violence when this is the landscape we’re working with?

1-2 sucker punch

Another domestic violence awareness month is upon us. Oh yeah, and another breast cancer awareness month.

I cannot name two issues that strike more directly at the heart of every woman … and anyone who’s ever loved a woman.

But I mean, really? Who wants to be more aware of disease and violence? Personally, I am all too aware of these dismal, depressing things.

Cancer and domestic violence have flattened me with a 1-2 sucker punch. Unless you are a really good friend of mine, I don’t think you want to hear about the ravages of being bald, ashen, and exhausted from chemotherapy. And honest, you don’t want to know the horrific details about the domestic violence murder suicide in my family.

Trust me. You do not.

And I don’t blame you.

But how about the flip side? What if we focused on what could be and how to make that happen?

What if I came to you and said: “October is Women’s Health and Liberation Month?” How about we spend at least 31 days each year being aware of the possibilities?

The prospect of equality.

The dream of universal healthcare.

The vision of prevention (not early detection or intervention) for both cancer and domestic violence?

How about that?