Say no to public proposals

olmypics-rings

I loved the Olympics as a kid, and they are still a big deal in my house. My husband is Greek so there’s a lot of “we invented this” pride happening (insert loving eye roll here). But these Olympics have left me deflated. It’s not that there weren’t many AH-MAZE-ING performances and stories. I mean, the US gymnastics team, Simone Manuel, Katie Ledecky, the women’s 4X400 relay team, and so many more.

WOW.

So why am I feeling a bit jaded? (That’s a rhetorical question, the answer is sexism). US women were huge winners at the Rio games, and it seemed like no one knew how to properly react. The media were atrocious in their commentary on women athletes—reducing the US women’s gymnastics team to giggly teens at the mall or focusing on athletes’ husbands or marriage proposals instead of their accomplishments.

Seriously, what’s the deal with public proposals? I mean, this one, where a Chinese diver had her Olympic metal moment upstaged by someone who supposedly loves and respects her? And then the media gushed about how getting a ring and this dude was a waaaaaay bigger prize than the silver was?  What a disaster. Even she states in an interview that her feelings about it are “complicated.” Gymnast Ali Raisman got a public proposal for a date while live on a talk show and people thought it was romantic (nope). And there was also a Brazilian rugby player who received a public marriage proposal that even gave me, your local feminist killjoy, some warm fuzzies. But then I promptly had to reevaluate my feelings because public proposals are not good.

We’ve been told over and over (mostly by cheesy movies and TV) that proclaiming your love from the mountaintop is romantic. But the thing about public proposals is that they don’t give the person a real chance to say no. And those who do say no are questioned and criticized. This is coercive behavior and an all too familiar technique used by those who abuse their partners.

I’m not saying that everyone who makes public proposals is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But I am asking that we shift how we think about this. If you are thinking about making a grand public gesture of love, think twice. Do you know how this person feels about public displays of affection? Have you previously talked about the thing you are asking? I love seeing the love, really. I want more love. Love for all! But that means having relationships that are built on respect and space to speak your truth.

News you can relate to

Some stories that caught our eye this week:

13 Questions to Ask Before Getting Married Whether because of shyness, disinterest or a desire to preserve romantic mystery, many couples do not ask each other the difficult questions that can help build the foundation for a stable marriage, according to relationship experts.

Samantha Bee has opinions about untested rape kits. (explicit language)

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Anyone who has worked with domestic violence victims has tons of stories like the ones in this New York Times op-ed.

We can’t get enough of movies and songs about male characters who won’t give up until they win the girl, but we all know that it’d be creepy if men did this in real life, right?  Robin Thicke doesn’t.

“If they find it, they’re going to play with it.” A funny take on kids and guns.

 

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

How’s your relationship?

I met a friend out for dinner the other night. We hadn’t even opened our menus, when she turned to me and asked, “How’s your marriage?” Now this is a very good friend of mine—we hang out all the time and talk about everything. And yet, I was totally caught off guard by the question.

It turns out that she had just learned a friend was getting a divorce. She was shocked because they seemed to be happy. In fact, they’d been drifting apart and unhappy with their relationship for years, but just never said anything. And why not? Well, no one ever asked and it seemed too personal to bring up. So my friend decided she’d start the conversation with all her friends.

As a domestic violence advocate, I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve been asked: “How can you tell if someone is in an abusive relationship? What are the red flags I should look for before saying something?” I can’t help but wonder, why do we spend so much time and energy trying to figure out if there’s a problem before we feel like we can ask about it? I mean, why wait?

Seems like it’d be a lot easier for our friends to turn to us when things aren’t going well, if chatting about our relationships was something we already did. So I say, don’t wait until you’re worried—just ask now.

Problem: Poverty. Solution: Marriage?

Good news! Word is that all that single mothers need to do to ensure that their children are happy, healthy, and successful is to get married. Wait…what? According to the New York Times, poverty is the result of marriage choices. Now come on, we’ve been here before. Several years ago there was a federal initiative that gave states funding for programs that promoted marriage to people on welfare. The goal was to move families off of welfare and on to economic stability. These programs were by and large unsuccessful. Why? Because a man is not a financial plan. And what children need (besides the basics like love, full bellies, and a place to live) is parents who are respected, happy, and safe. Marriage is not the thing that will necessarily make this happen.

It’s myopic to conclude that children living in a home with two parents do better because of two paychecks. Yes, more income certainly makes it easier to afford the necessities, but (especially for moms who have been dealing with abusive relationships) marrying for an additional income just doesn’t seem like a wise choice. Let’s find some solutions that work for single moms and don’t insult their life choices. Let’s support funding for childcare, equal pay for women, and living wages for all. Fortunately, the New York Times also lets people like Katie Roiphe speak her mind: “The real menace to America’s children is not single mothers, or unmarried or gay parents, but an economy that stokes an unconscionable divide between the rich and the not rich.” Exactly!

Honoring Adrienne Rich

Photo by Léna

When Adrienne Rich died last month, it made me think back to my twenties when she rocked my world. Ms. Rich wrote incisively and shockingly about the complexities of women’s lives. She dared us to use our power (personal and political) to upend everything that was understood or accepted as ‘for women.’ It was the early 1980’s and I was trying to figure out the mundane stuff like how I was going to pay the bills. I wanted to do it on my own terms. I wanted a future that was rich in creativity and productivity―not just marriage and motherhood.

I wanted to live a ‘feminist worthy’ life but I wasn’t sure what that meant. Adrienne Rich is one of the women’s voices that made a searing impression. The essay titles in her book of nonfiction, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence were provocative : “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying;” “Motherhood in Bondage;” “Conditions for Work: The Common World of Women.”

She held up a vision of a social movement that I wanted to be a part of “a politics of asking women’s questions, demanding a world in which the integrity of all women―not a chosen few—shall be honored and validated in every aspect of culture.” I wanted to find a community of women (and later men) who shared my aspirations. Without the dreaming and writing of women like Adrienne Rich, I would not have known what I was missing or what was possible.

I and all the women and girls I hold most dear owe a debt of gratitude to Adrienne Rich because she made me brave, and encouraged me to question and think. And now I’m teaching my girls to do the same; Ms. Rich would expect nothing less.

Unplanned Parenthood

I was an accident.

My mother would never say that, but let’s face it. My older brother was hell on wheels as an infant and when he turned 6 months, I can’t imagine my mother thinking “oh, wow, I’m getting good at this―I think I’ll have another!”

But 9 months later … ta-da!

That was 1953. I know that unplanned pregnancies were a big part of my parents’ generation, but I kind of assumed by now they were ancient history. Wrong. I just read that 65% of pregnant women surveyed said their pregnancy was unplanned.

What sparks my interest in this whole thing is Traci’s great post from last week and, serendipitously, a visit from a dear friend. I’ll call her Suzie.

She’d just been to visit her niece―let’s call her Kelsey. Kelsey is in her mid-20’s and lives with her fiancé who’s in his late 30’s. Things sound bleak. Kelsey slapped her boyfriend on the butt and he “spanked” her in retaliation leaving bruises and mass confusion. Another time he choked her when they were arguing. Kelsey was asking Aunt Suzie if she should stick with the plan to get married.

Um ….. NO!

Even if Aunt Suzie can’t persuade Kelsey to call off the wedding, they have got to have a heart to heart about the pregnancies. Kelsey has been pregnant twice―neither one intended (at least on her part). She miscarried the first, and terminated the second. It sounds like it’s time for some Aunty-strength advice about getting stealth birth control.

There are countless private battles going on behind closed doors where women are fighting for their sexual health and reproductive autonomy. But each battle is part of the larger war on women’s sexuality, family planning, and access to contraceptives. At least we’ve had one win: the Obama administration just decided to require health insurance companies to cover birth control.

But WE have a lot more work to do. Luckily, the accident of my birth has me here now doing just that.