Permitiendo a otros dirigir el camino (Letting others lead the way)

El año pasado, tuve la oportunidad de trabajar con un grupo de trabajadores agrícolas inmigrantes latinos para crear una novela corta para la radio que crearía conciencia sobre la violencia sexual en los campos.

Todo el proyecto fue una gran experiencia de aprendizaje para mí. Me dí cuenta de que yo estaba allí para de verdad escuchar, ser una aliada, y dejar que ellos dirigieran éste proyecto. Me volví muy consciente de que si mi organización quería hacer algo útil y eficaz, tenía que permitirle a este grupo enseñarnos lo que se necesitaba para desarrollar un buen mensaje.

Después de muchas largas conversaciones sobre las necesidades de su comunidad, éste increíble grupo de hombres creó un mensaje de solidaridad y de paz declarando que la violencia sexual no es aceptable bajo ninguna condición.

Este proyecto fue el ejemplo perfecto de una buena colaboración. Las intercesoras de varios programas rurales de violencia doméstica nos ofrecieron sus comentarios y el conocimiento para iniciar esta conversación. Después, un grupo de hombres salieron de su zona de confort, abrieron sus corazones, y nos dieron la oportunidad de aprender de ellos y con ellos.

Este es el resultado de su proyecto, su visión, y su creatividad: una novela corta de radio en español con un manual de cómo poderla utilizar para crear conciencia sobre la violencia sexual en los campos. Es también una invitación a otros trabajadores agrícolas a ser parte de poner fin a la violencia contra las mujeres.

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Last year, I had the opportunity to work with a group of Latino immigrant farmworkers to create a radio novela that would bring awareness of sexual violence in the fields.

The whole project was a great learning experience for me. I realized that I was there to really listen, be an ally, and let them lead the project. I became very aware that if my organization wanted to do something useful and powerful, I needed to step out of the way and let this group teach us what was needed to get a good message across.

After many long conversations about their community’s needs, this amazing group of men created a message of solidarity and peace that clearly conveyed that sexual violence is not acceptable under any conditions.

This project was the perfect example of collaborative work. Advocates from many different rural domestic violence programs provided their input and knowledge on how to initiate the conversation. Then, a group of men stepped out of their comfort zone, opened their hearts, and gave us the opportunity to learn from and with them.

Here is the result of their project, their vision, and their creativity: a radio novela in Spanish with a manual on how it can be used to create awareness of sexual violence in the fields. It is also an invitation to other male farmworkers to be a part of ending violence against women.

Boys do cry

I want more men crying. On television. Particularly straight men. Not because I’m mean-spirited, but because I don’t want to be so surprised when I do see it. It bums me out that in our culture as a whole, men’s grief and other vulnerable emotions are undervalued and even mocked.

mancryingWhen something tragic happens to a male character—like their wife dying or their girlfriend breaking up with them—I want to see crying portrayed as the normal response. Think about it: when you’re watching any sort of television drama, the husband/boyfriend of a murder victim is sort of slightly sad, at most.

We regularly see women on television crying or being emotional when horrible things happen. Don’t men deserve the same full range of emotion? The rare times we do see a man cry, it’s generally used to show that he is weak. The show may even go so far as to portray him as laughable, effeminate, or worthy of derision by the other characters. The end result is that when we see men crying in real life, it can make us uncomfortable.

As I was writing this, I Googled “men crying.” The results are pretty telling: the top five all reinforce the idea that a man crying is unusual at best and unnatural at worst.

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It hasn’t always been this way: tears are as influenced by culture as they are by biology. Other time periods have been much more accepting and even celebratory of men’s emoting, according to historian Tom Lutz.

When musician Pharrell recently cried during an interview, it made headlines and prompted hundreds of blog posts. And why shouldn’t he cry? He was discussing the success he’s had in his life, the importance of his grandma who helped him get there, and the impact of the song “Happy” on people all over the world. Those are a lot of complex, overwhelming emotions and I loved seeing him express them.

So here’s to more images of men crying! When we value the full range of emotion in all people and recognize that masculinity and vulnerability are not mutually exclusive, we set people up to have healthy and fulfilling relationships.

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Equal Pay Day is no holiday

Design by Andria Waclawski
Design by Andria Waclawski

Last week we marked Equal Pay Day. It is the day that represents how many days into 2014 women must work to make as much as their male counterparts did in 2013. And as this day came around again, I just had to say: sigh.

In 1963 we passed the Equal Pay Act. Then, women were making on average 59 cents for every dollar a man earned. I’m here to tell you that we have made progress. Today a woman earns on average 77 cents for every man-dollar. So it’s taken over 50 years to close the gap by $0.18! Wow. We MUST do better.

This year on Equal Pay Day, President Obama signed two executive orders to help expose wage discrimination. That’s a step in the right direction. But the very next day the Senate failed (again) to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, with some claiming unequal pay is a myth and political tactic. It’s true that lower wage jobs often employ more women, and women’s pay—more often than men’s—is affected by taking leave for the care of children. This accounts for some of the gap, but not all of it. Even in occupations where women are the majority of employees, the men in those occupations Make. More. Money. What?! Gender discrimination happens on the job, whether it’s about wages or hiring and promotion practices.

I’d like to live in a world where women can make decisions about their relationships without regard to the financial impact of those decisions. A world where no one must choose to stay in a relationship they would otherwise end because staying means having a warm place to sleep and food for their kids. When we ensure that women have equal pay, are treated fairly at their jobs, and have opportunities to compete for higher paying jobs we create safe and peaceful communities.

I’m in

My Super Bowl streak is broken. Up ‘til now I spent every February perfectly oblivious to which teams were playing, or even what day the game was played. With my entire city swept up in Seahawks fever, this year was different. Love it or love to hate it (and I have a foot in each camp), unaware was not an option.

photo by Trevor Dykstra
photo by Trevor Dykstra

Over the last few weeks, Seattle turned into one big pep rally. The collective enthusiasm was contagious. Smiling at strangers increased by 400%. The city was united in encouragement and hope. We were all in, and it was a beautiful feeling. For most sports fans I know, this is the best part. The athletics are okay too, but it’s the team spirit that keeps us coming back.

A staple of the Seahawks media coverage has been long suffering Seattle, deprived of a professional sports championship for 35 years. Sorrowful fans lamenting that the city has had nothing “NOTHING” to unite us since the Sonics 1979 NBA title.

Sunday night, Seattle Storm fans jumped in to correct the record.

(What’s that? The Storm brought home not one but two national titles since 1979? No, silly, we meant sports, not women’s sports.)

The omission makes a point. Women’s sports  don’t have the power to unite an entire region that men’s teams command. We cheer them on, but—with exceptions for a few high school and college teams— men don’t identify with women’s teams. The men’s team is the Team. It’s universal. The women’s team is the women’s team.

That difference is the sexist iceberg below the surface. The massive, invisible assumption that men are people and women are women. The halftime shows that objectify women’s bodies and all the sexist commercials are just the shiny frozen tip.

Now picture this. What would it be like if the whole city lit up because a group of women achieved something together? If 100 million people simultaneously paid attention to a woman doing something excellently? Can we imagine staking our collective pride and identity on women’s victory? What if we did?

Dependence, independence, interdependence

A fascinating article in the New York Times describes how some single mothers identify as Republican. Here are people who have not created traditional families, or for whom the traditional family structure has failed, and who are disproportionately in need of government supports like food stamps. And yet, about 25% align themselves with the party of “traditional family values” and small government. singlemom

Why? As a single mother friend of mine says “I am not looking for more independence” as she raises her young son; and sometimes it seems like that’s what progressives/Democrats have to offer. The emphasis on equality in work and educational opportunities leaves some of us feeling as if we should achieve economic success while at the same time providing a fulfilling family life for our kids, too—all by our liberated selves. The bar is just higher and higher, and that does not feel liberating.

My friend knows she needs interdependence—neighbors she can count on to watch her child so she can run to the store or work late (and vice versa); people to bring her food and help care for her little one when she is sick; involved grandparents who will help nurture a strong sense of family. The fact that she has someone dependent on her makes interdependence necessary, and more that that, attractive.

I think mainstream feminism has missed the boat on this point. The emphasis on equality in public life: politics, workplace, finances, on women having access to the social goods and opportunities men have has put the movement at risk of devaluing the work traditionally done by women: nurturing children, caring for the frail and elderly, building community networks. Too often, progressives and feminists have let conservatives “own” these issues in public debates, or make it sound as if prioritizing caregiving and prioritizing women’s liberation are at odds with each other.

A lot of social policy is based on the idea that everyone is an independent, rational adult who can choose whether or when to connect with other people. What a fascinating fantasy. This assumes no pregnancy, no children, no frail elders, no dependents, no dependency. Just as medical research that assumes everyone is a male aged 18-40 isn’t particularly useful to women, social policy constructed on the assumption that we are all independent atomistic individuals doesn’t tend to work too well for infants, single mothers, parents, adult children taking care of elderly parents, and those who need assistance from others to live their lives.

The fact is everyone starts out a very fragile, vulnerable baby. And as parents know, carrying a pregnancy and giving birth is exhausting, challenging and even dangerous, and just about everyone needs help with the process in order to live and have the baby live. And most of us are going to spend the end of our lives in need of profound assistance from the people around us. In between, we may have periods of illness or injury where our survival depends on others.

In reality, dependence and taking care of those who are vulnerable are deeply integral to the human experience and should be finely woven into everything about how we think of organizing every part of our society. For example, this hospital emergency room.

Conservatives claim ownership of “family values” yet their vision involves enforcing traditional gender roles. But liberalism and feminism leave some feeling like they have to do it all on their own, and they are not measuring up if they can’t. So here is the challenge for all of us as we shape public policy:

  • To always keep in mind dependents and the people who care for them. Whatever choices we make or aspirations we hold must take into account and work for them.
  • To find ways to support caregiving that do not rely on oppressive gender roles and do not require caretakers to sacrifice their economic well being, social connections, or status.
  • To realize the deeply human task of caretaking requires qualities and skills our public lives sorely need: patience, thoughtful observation, empathy, and respect for the dignity and value of those whose abilities differ from our own.
  • To keep in mind that liberation actually means that everyone, men included, gets to participate in the important task of caregiving—because it is only then that the full range of humanity is available to them.
  • Not all equality has economic measures—some of it happens in places where the rewards and challenges are immeasurable, yet profound, like parenting or helping an elder die with dignity.

The most recent wave of feminism had many tasks. Two big ones were to secure equality in the public sphere and to redefine the very nature of what it means to be human. To do the latter, we must embrace and affirm the fact that we are all dependent at different points in our lives, and the profound and loving work of taking care of dependents (traditionally women’s work) should be valued and shared among men and women.

To create beloved community, our vision must include non-oppressive, liberatory ways of maintaining connection, dependence, and interdependence.

Another tough question from my mother

The other day, my mom asked me in a super slow and emphatic way “Are you a practicing Buddhist?

photo by Luca Galuzzi - www.galuzzi.it  "Don't try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist;  use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are."  His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
photo by Luca Galuzzi – http://www.galuzzi.it
“Don’t try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist;
use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.”
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Whoa. She didn’t even sound this shocked when I came out to her.

I did a little grimace, suddenly self-conscious. “Well, mom, I wouldn’t say that exactly.” I stammered on “I mean I’m not sure the Buddha would have called himself a Buddhist. He was this guy who just kind of woke up to experience his own life, and went around teaching about it. But I don’t think of it really as, like a religion that I could belong to or anything.”

Though I’ve been studying, and (yes mom) practicing, Buddhist philosophy for four years now, I’ve been loath to talk or write about it.

Until now.

I’m coming out of the closet. Truth is, I think about it all the time. Especially in relation to my work to end violence against women and children.

I think about it in relation to our satirical rape prevention tips post which begins “1) Don’t put drugs into women’s drinks. 2) When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone. 3) If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to rape her.” and goes on from there. I find it amazing that this post has been viewed 180,001 times.

I can’t help but think, that of all those people, it is statistically likely that at least a few readers were men who have raped someone. Or who have done other terrible things to women and children.

Back to the Buddha and what his enlightenment might have to do with rapists reading this post. The Buddha was just an ordinary man, who woke up. That’s all. He wasn’t visited by angels. He wasn’t struck by lightning. So I wonder, can these other men wake up?

Could reading a blog post that posits that rapists are responsible for not raping—instead of making women responsible for not getting raped—help these guys realize what they’ve done? Could they wake up to the oh-so-human experience of doing terrible things to others? Could they wake up to the oh-so-human capacity to stop doing those terrible things? Could they make amends by helping other men wake up and stop raping women?

I knew this day would come

My 15-year-old daughters reached another milestone yesterday. Experiencing street harassment at the bus stop is not something I wanted to commemorate. I knew this day would come, and I dreaded it. If someone we knew demeaned their spirit or sense of safety, he or she would not be welcome in our lives. But how do you take on the commonplace attitude that men are entitled to comment on women’s looks at a bus stop or during a presidential speech? One of the men said, among other salacious remarks, “oh, if I was 25 years younger, I would have you.” I hate that ownership language. And besides, why would he assume that my daughter would have him? It is one thing to have a theoretical discussion about the objectification of women, but it is quite another to have your kids wondering if it is more risky to get on the bus or to walk back home.

My twin daughters, raised in the same environment, reacted very differently to the harassment. One said “you can’t show them that you are scared.” The other was more unnerved. Another woman at the bus stop yelled out “What did you say?” which made my daughters feel less alone. (Bless you bus stop ally.) teen-girls

I didn’t want to end the conversation with my daughters feeling powerless. We talked about noticing people around you, hanging back if you are uncomfortable, going into a store—really trusting your gut if something feels off. Don’t be afraid to yell out that someone is bothering you. I also had to tell them that this will probably happen again, and it is not about what you are wearing, how old you are, or what you look like, it is about being seen as less than a whole person.

At home, I talk about building a beloved community with each other, among our friends and neighbors, and in my work. How do we build a beloved community that is a big enough tent that this wouldn’t happen again? Emily May, co-founder of Hollaback, thinks we can end street harassment by  documenting each incident and sharing it with the world to shame harassers and build public understanding about the harms of it.

One of my daughters asked for a ride today instead of taking the bus. I gave her a ride, but I also told her that I don’t want her to be afraid to take the bus. I still have some work to do to help repair her sense of self.

Men, you have the bridge

patrickstewartStar Trek: The Next Generation began when I was twelve; always a sucker for fantasy and sci-fi, I remember watching it, and the spin-offs, avidly. Twenty-five years later, the writing can often feel heavy-handed and stiff (not to mention sometimes downright offensive), but I still enjoy the shows—and Sir Patrick Stewart’s acting chops (especially as compared to most of his cast mates, bless ’em) as the fearless and capable Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

I’ve known for a few years now that Stewart identifies as a feminist, and that he has spoken out about issues of domestic violence, due in part to his own family history. I’ve written before about the role of men in ending domestic violence, and Stewart is an outstanding example of this. He is not just talking the talk, he is walking the walk. He uses his considerable celebrity in service to domestic violence organizations in his own country, and he doesn’t hold back when it comes to discussing the issues publicly whenever he can.

With this video, my sci-fi-world and my domestic-violence-movement-world collided, in the best way. At the Comicpalooza convention in May, an audience member commended him for his work on domestic violence and asked him what he was most proud of achieving, other than acting. In his response, he eloquently makes connections between his personal experiences, the need for safety for survivors of domestic violence, the role men must play in ending violence, and the lasting impacts of war and PTSD on soldiers. It’s well worth the seven minutes—if you’re anything like me, you may find there’s something in your eye, probably more than once. Sniff. And big kudos to the survivor who asked him the question and shared her story!

Bring your gay game

Jason Collins made history when he became the first male player of a U.S. major league team to come out as gay. Cue media blitz. Some reactions were, of course, angry and hateful. Some said, what’s the big deal? Women Jason_Collins_2012_3athletes have been coming out for years. And a great many others, including a lot of straight men, showed lots of love and support for Jason.

And THAT, my friends, is why this is such a big deal.

Yes, it’s true that women athletes have been coming out for years. Martina Navratilova came out in the middle of her career in 1981(!). This year’s top WNBA draft pick, Brittney Griner, came out with barely a media mention (which is enough for a whole other post on sexism). The Atlantic writer Garance Franke-Ruta nailed it when she said “Female professional athletes are already gender non-conforming. Male ones are still worshiped as exemplars of traditional masculinity.” Ah, yes. That ‘traditional masculinity’ which dictates that men are tough, rugged, strong, (which of course implies that women are not) and like their intimate relationships to be with women. I think much of how we’ve defined traditional masculinity is harmful to our relationships, gay or straight.

There have been remarks about how inspirational Jason Collins must be to kids out there struggling with their own sexual orientation, but I think his action does so much more. He has given us the opportunity to shift our perceptions of what it means to be manly. Posts like 17 Moments When Jason Collins was Super Gay do just that. He has helped us acknowledge that we can love who we want to love and be who we want to be without the pressure to fit into a box that is not at all the right shape. And when our communities support us to be comfortable in our own skins, we are better equipped to forge happy, healthy relationships.

Equal pay (and dinosaurs and robots) are cool

Yesterday was Equal Pay Day—the day symbolizing how far into 2013 women must work to earn what men earned in 2012.

Oh for crying out loud. This is still a thing? Yes, it is!

Over dinner I was telling my 6-year-old son about it. I asked him to imagine that he and his sister were doing the same job for a day and that at the end of the day I paid him more than her for the same work just because he was a boy. I asked him what he thought about that. At first he said, “Well, that doesn’t seem fair.” And then he said quietly, “I wish Martin Luther King, Jr. was still alive.” When I asked why, he said “because he would do something about it, and change it.”

Well then we started talking about legacies, and after I explained that a legacy was something you leave behind, I asked, “Do you know what Dr. King’s legacy is?” I explained that it’s that we all could realize that we are somebodies who can do something about injustices. And that I was somebody. And that he was somebody. And that his sister was somebody. And that we could all work to change things. After a pause and some deep thinking he responded, “Cool.”

And then we moved on to how cool robots and dinosaurs are. Because they are. And wouldn’t equal pay for equal work be cool too? Let’s get on it!

equalpay