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?

News you can relate to

Some stories that caught our eye this week:

For Domestic Violence Survivors, Family Court Becomes Site of Continued Abuse Three years after Kate and her children initially fled her ex, the judge terminated his visits. By then, Kate had been in court every six weeks for three years and spent over $500,000 in legal costs.

We don’t do sex work because we are poor, we do sex work to end our poverty “Anti- trafficking law does not improve our working conditions, increase our options, or end our poverty. It does not reduce armed conflict in our homelands. It does not reduce corruption. It does not increase support for children and minors. It does not demand governments or society respect us or our basic human rights.”

Michelle Obama on why educating girls is vital “The barriers to girls’ education isn’t just resources. It’s not just about access to scholarships or transportation or school bathrooms,” she said. “It’s also about attitudes and beliefs — the belief that girls simply aren’t worthy of an education, that women should have no role outside the home, that their bodies aren’t their own, their minds don’t really matter and their voices simply shouldn’t be heard.”

Why I’m not giving my son advice on how to talk to girls

Arguably one of the perks of being a dad is the constant stream of opportunities to give fatherly advice.

Advice columns are one of my favorite guilty pleasures. The best ones are like miniature ethical treatises—perfect for a lapsed philosophy major with a short attention span. And who doesn’t like giving advice? To be human is to be full of opinions about what other people should do.

So my son’s first attempts to talk to the girl he has a crush on? A golden opportunity for an advice enthusiast. But I’m passing it up, at least for now. Here’s why.

It turns out that 99% of what I want him to know before his first date isn’t anything new. It’s the same stuff we have been practicing since he was a baby. Love yourself and be open to loving other people. Be kind. Respect people’s boundaries. Pay attention. Use your words.

If I were to make a list of the absolutely critical information straight boys need about dating and relationships, you could boil it down to one feminist principle: Girls are people. (There are lots of variations on the theme: Girls are people, not prizes. Girls are people, not shiny objects.) Special coaching on “talking to girls” seems to me to violate this principle. Girls are people, not aliens.

Of course, that doesn’t make telling a girl you like her for the first time any less excruciating. My palms get sweaty for him just thinking about it. But that isn’t because girls are “girls.” It’s because liking someone and wanting them to like you back is intensely vulnerable. In this TED talk, Brene Brown talks about vulnerability as risking connection, and the courage to take that risk as the key to intimacy and joy.

The awkwardness is essential, and there is nothing I can say to guide him around it. Even worse, there is no advice he can follow to protect himself against heartbreak. Like all the other times I have watched him leap into the unknown, the best I can do is admire his courage and offer him a place to land.

Today is my birthday

Day one of my 60th swing around the sun. I’m pretty excited about it.

So I hope you will forgive me as I indulge in a brief feminist retrospective of my first six decades. I was thinking about it on my way to work today, specifically about:

SPORTS. Huge progress.

I missed Title IX by only a smidge. This is a great sadness to me. People often mistake me for a coordinated person (and a vegetarian). Sadly, I am neither, but I often think that I would have benefitted enormously from playing full court basketball, hanging in the outfield, diving headfirst, slaloming a steep course, running fast. I live vicariously through my friends’ daughters who joyfully play, experiencing the rough and tumble, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. This is no idle nostalgia or longing. Girls today are healthier, safer, and more self-possessed because they play sports. And it was not an accident. It was not an idea whose time had come. Women fought for and won the right to play.

JOBS. Pretty good progress.

Della Street, secretary, Perry Mason - Jessie Brewer, nurse to Dr. Hardy, General Hospital – Victoria Winters, vampire victim to Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows
Della Street, secretary, Perry Mason – Jessie Brewer, nurse to Dr. Hardy, General Hospital – Victoria Winters, vampire victim to Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows

In the 1960s, my dad encouraged me to be an oceanographer. I thought he was nuts. I knew my only real options were secretary, nurse, or vampire victim. An enduring love of office supply stores is all that remains of this particular personal legacy, because the women’s movement flung hundreds of doors wide open to us. It’s not all roses. We know that, but oh, what a difference half a century makes.

RAPE. Standing still.

I am sure people are going to disagree with me here, because we have so many laws on the books now about rape. Right? But functionally? How much have things really changed? When I was a young teen, my dad’s lone foray into sex ed was an off-hand warning—something like “once a man gets started, he can’t stop.” Start? Stop? What? I didn’t have the foggiest idea what he was talking about. But he was very much speaking from fear for his daughter, and the social norms of his day. These norms have not changed in significant enough ways. There may be more talk, but there is also a wider variety of fail. That we have made so little progress in ending rape is the biggest disappointment of my feminist career.

And finally PINK AND BLUE. Going backwards.

Come on now. This is ridiculous. This whole pink and blue genderfication thing is just plain wrong-headed. Two good books make this point. Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America and Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps—and What We Can Do About It. As gender becomes more nuanced, more complex, we get nervous and try to get all binary again. This is not good for girls and women. It’s not good for boys and men. It’s not good for intersex and trans people. It does not help us express our humanity as individuals and it’s not good for our relationships.

Perhaps if I live to be 70, or even 80, I’ll be able to shop for baby presents in all colors of the rainbow. Maybe all genders will give and get consent. Maybe there will be a Madame President. Maybe I’ll get my knees replaced and run a marathon (just kidding).

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Why aren’t they restricting condoms?

Not exactly on point, but I got what my teenager was asking. Even she gets the double-standard of the Obama administration’s position on emergency contraception. She asked, “If they think that making it easy for girls to get emergency contraception means that they are going to have more sex, then why do boys get to buy condoms without any problems?” This is mind-boggling coming after President Obama’s speech at the Planned Parenthood Conference: “When it comes to a woman’s health, no politician should get to decide what’s best for you.”condoms

Why do I have a problem with the government policy? Because of all the barriers: you must be 15, you must have a government-issued or photo id (not something all schools provide), you must purchase it in a store that has a stand-alone pharmacy (rare in rural and remote communities), and it is expensive—even though Medicaid covers other over-the-counter medicines like condoms.

We have plenty of evidence-based scientific studies proving that emergency contraception is safe, prevents ovulation, and cannot terminate an existing pregnancy. We have research that shows the dramatic decline in unintended teen pregnancy and abortion rates when teens learn how to use contraception more effectively.

We also know that teens who are abused experience birth control sabotage, pressure to get pregnant, and significantly higher rates of unintended pregnancy. Emergency contraception is important because negotiating birth control methods is awkward in any relationship, but it’s nearly impossible if you’ve got an abusive partner who wants control.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

  • Your partner is assualting you. You call the police for help. And you get evicted for it. Could that possibly be happening? Yup. And the ACLU is taking it on.

Emergency Contraception is the breakfast rush conversation

Eggs, toast, and a side of emergency contraception. Not exactly like that but pretty close. My girls and I were listening to a morning radio story about a pharmacist who refused to sell EC to a man whose condom broke while having sex with his girlfriend (who happened to be a law student). The pharmacist said “I can’t sell it to men. Who knows what they could be doing with it?” The law student girlfriend told the pharmacist that her boyfriend waspharmacist allowed to purchase EC under the law—actually, any male or female 17 or older can purchase it without a prescription.

My girls were confused. “Isn’t that the pill you take right after sex if you don’t want to get pregnant?” (How do they know about this??) My exterior demeanor was calm but my insides were sweaty. Try giving clear and simple information in 5 minutes while flipping eggs over easy. The girls asked why the pharmacist would not give the boyfriend medicine that was legal? I explained that some people think that taking emergency contraception was like having an abortion.

The truth is that the  EC pill slows down ovulation and prevents the egg and sperm from fertilizing. If you wait too long to take it and fertilization happens, it can’t undo the pregnancy and it won’t hurt the person taking it.

After my mini-medical lecture, it turned out what the girls really wanted to know was, why was I so upset about the pharmacist’s response? I tell them (with just a little passion) that I want them to have control over their bodies and be able to make their own decisions without any additional barriers—like a pharmacist who won’t follow the law. I say that I want them to have accurate information (which I hope they will share with their friends).

“Yeah,” they say, “I bet that boyfriend felt weird.” Okay, don’t forget your lunch bag, give me a kiss. Hustle, you’re gonna be late to school.

Leadership

women-graduatingFrom an early age, I always thought to myself that education was “my way out.” I thought it would give me a voice, power over my choices, and freedom. I saw it as a way to equalize myself to boys and men. For the most part, things pretty much worked out how I imagined—I found my voice, I have more power over my choices, and I have the experience of freedom.

But lately I’ve been wondering, what if I focused less on trying to achieve what men have and more on how to develop myself to achieve what is most important to me? What if every girl and every woman did the same? What if each and every community valued educating girls to fulfill their goals?

What would women, as leaders, achieve? How would our communities be different? I imagine a whole new world of possibilities. And I am interested in hearing what you think!

Misrepresentation

Have you heard about the documentary Miss Representation? It’s a film about how women are portrayed in the media and the effect it has on every last one of us. This is not news to me. Probably not news to any woman out there. But I watched the film anyway, because I was wondering how it might inform my work on behalf of battered women.

I was not prepared for its emotional impact. Like I said, this is OLD NEWS. I thought I had moved beyond the hurt and into a place of toughness, channeling my feelings into productive work for women! WRONG. The way the film so clearly illuminates the media’s systematic degrading of strong, intelligent, powerful women in our society hit me like a freight train. This is hurting all of us. Women and men. Girls and boys.

I also just saw Tony Porter’s TED talk about the “Man Box,” his term for the collective socialization of men. Take a few minutes to watch this video. It’s 12 minutes very well spent. He explains that forcing boys to fit in to the “Man Box” (boys don’t cry, boys are in charge, boys don’t act like girls) creates the conditions that make violence against women acceptable. The media’s incessant barrage of negative images and remarks about women do the same. So the bad news is—this stuff still makes me sad and angry. The good news is—it still makes me sad and angry!

And here’s what I want you to do about it. What makes Tony Porter so powerful is that he tells stories. Relatable stories. And it really challenges the way people think about things. So go on Facebook and tell a story about how the media’s take on women or the “Man Box” has affected your life in a concrete way. We’re not going to start any revolutions talking about things in the abstract.