So, you’re a feminist

What’s the deal with so-called male feminists? You know who I’m talking about. Men who say they support women, call for equal pay and wear Pro-Choice tees and then get caught for sexual harassment. Or the guy that’s shocked by the “obvious misinterpretation” of what he’s doing and is like “But I love women! Look at my t-shirt—solidarity, sister! We’re cool, right?” WRONG.

 

Here’s the thing. There are a lot of great dudes out there. Some who truly understand feminism and act on behalf of the rights of women. What does that dude look like? Here are my thoughts:

  • He makes space to amplify the voices of the women in the room. This means consciously not talking or offering his commentary on everything the women say, even if it’s supportive. We don’t need your constant approval, dude.
  • He refrains from making sexist jokes and remarks (which means he knows what would constitute a sexist joke or remark), and he lets other dudes know that it’s not cool when they do.
  • He makes space to include women in places where they are absent in ways that are not patronizing or disrespectful.
  • He offers support to women-centered organizations, asks how he can help, and does not take the lead.

I’d like to see more dude feminists step up. And being a feminist does not mean declaring it from the mountain top—actions speak much louder than words. When men support women to be heard and respected, abuse of women will have less and less space to exist. It won’t be tolerated. It will be stopped before it gets dangerous. There will be powerful social consequences for abusers. I’m looking forward to that.

Relationship advice

This past year, domestic violence was in the news quite often. But lately, I’ve noticed the stories that have really made me stop and think about violence and relationships are the ones that didn’t set out to do so. They are just good stories, with violence woven through as it is woven into all our lives.

This Senator Saved My Love Life is an episode of the podcast Death, Sex & Money. Political reporter Anna Sale tells the odd and charming story of how former Senator Alan K. Simpson and his wife Ann Simpson became sort of relationship mentors to Anna and her boyfriend, dispensing pearls of wisdom about intimacy, sex, and commitment. In a million years, it would not have occurred to me to look to an 83-year-old Republican Senator from Wyoming for relationship advice, least of all Al Simpson. Before listening to this story, my only memory of Senator Alan Simpson was his disgraceful role on the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings. His open hostility  and dismissive attitude toward what he called “this sexual harassment crap” was typical of the all-male, all-white committee. I don’t know how many times I have heard a politician spouting some sexist garbage and wonder how that goes over with the women in his life. Who married this blowhard, and has she told him he’s a total jackass? I finally got the answer from Ann Simpson. She let her husband know what she thought of his performance at the hearings, and it’s still a sore spot for them.

 

Among the many historic moments of the Anita Hill–Clarence Thomas debacle: the first time Ann Simpson tells her husband to shut up.

 

Nonetheless, after 50 years of marriage, Al and Ann Simpson have a lot of things figured out. They are sweet together. They are clearly proud of their marriage and have worked hard at making it a good one. For me, the heart of the story is in this apparent contradiction: how could this woman be married to the ranting bully I watched on C-SPAN, yet not be bullied herself?

Ann and Al talk very frankly about struggling to find a balance of power in their relationship. They describe a defining moment, one night early in their marriage.

Al was furious with Ann after she spent the evening dancing with another man at a political event. He recalls how self-righteous he was, how sure he was that she would be wracked with guilt, and how Ann was having none of it:

Al: “She said ‘Look…I’m not going to be under a glass lid just because of your jealousy. And I love to dance. And I will do that. And I’m not going to jump in the sack with somebody, so I think you better get over it.’ Which really pissed me off.”

Al goes on to describe how the shock of realizing that Ann did not feel the least bit guilty led to a critical moment of clarity. Still stewing, he stayed up late into the night, reading Shakespeare, and suddenly recognized his own jealousy in Othello’s murderous rage.

“I thought, Jesus, this is one sick son-of-a-bitch. This is not me. This is totally destructive and has nothing to do with her.”

There are moments in this story that we might recognize as “red flags,” warning signs that point toward domestic violence. But the story does not take that path. A red flag marks one moment in time. What happens in the next moment makes a difference in how the story turns out.

Surely Al could have done a lot of damage if he had chosen to tighten his grip on control, if he had resented Ann’s resistance to his demands instead of admiring her for it. And if Ann had molded herself to accommodate his ego, he may have been another man who bullies everyone in his life because bullying has always worked.

Instead, when he tries to control her, it doesn’t work. And they each play an equally important part in that:

  1. Ann stands her own ground, and does not shape her behavior around Al’s attempt to shame or control her.
  2. When Al’s bullying doesn’t get him what he wants, he decides to do something different. Ann doesn’t make him stop. He decides for himself that is not the way to get the relationship he wants. Looking back, he recognizes Ann standing up to him for the gift that it was. One piece of marriage advice he has sums this up: “The secret is, you both try to control each other, and you both fail. And it’s critical that you both fail.”

We often say we want to stop domestic violence before it starts, but what does that moment look like? The stories we most often hear take place much farther downstream, when the course is set and the stakes are high. Much earlier, somewhere around the first red flag, there are many possible endings.

There’s much more from Al and Ann. Listen to the whole podcast here.

 

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

This cartoon that’s been making the rounds this week is a great response to folks who question if women really get sexually harassed on a regular basis. (explicit language)

I’m a big fan of Amy Poehler’s Ask Amy show. This week I discovered Stephen Colbert is also candidly fielding questions from teen girls as part of the Ask a Grown Man series.

While the NFL is finally considering some actual consequences for domestic violence following the outrage over Ray Rice’s measly two game suspension, the concept of prevention—and the role coaches can play in mentoring young men—has entered the dialogue.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

A creepy customer demanded that his waitress ‘show more skin’ and the restaurant owner responded by raising money for a women’s rights organization in West Virginia with a potato-skin special. Delicious!

As you may remember, the domestic violence movement achieved a historic VAWA bill last year. Now the fruits of our labor are starting to show: The Pascua Yaqui Tribe is preparing to try non-Indians for domestic violence crimes committed on their reservation.

A historian just unearthed the story of one of the first Memorial Day events – a parade of 10,000 ex-slaves honoring Union soldiers who died in the Civil War.

“Happy workers mean happy apples”*

Do you know where your fruit is grown? Who picked that fruit? How it gets to the grocery stores?

We all know farmworkers face a tough working environment. On top of that, they often deal with labor exploitation, domestic violence, and sexual harassment―both in the fields and in the temporary housing that growers may provide.

I recently had the privilege to visit Broetje Orchards. We were given a gracious tour and educated about how they support their workers. They know that their workers are experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault on their land. So they have created a strong partnership with the YWCA of Walla Walla, inviting advocates onto their property. This is giving farmworkers and their families access to the information and support they need. We asked a Broetje employee why they go out of their way to do this. Her response was, “because it’s the right thing to do!”

So how about that? The Broetje family is changing the landscape―and not just with their apples.

*I heard this mantra repeated often during my visit to Broetje Orchards.

Egyptian women demand a voice

On February 11, Hosni Mubarak resigns and headlines blare –“This is what freedom sounds like,” “People win” and “Egypt will never be the same.”  Together, courageous women and men forced radical change. Yet, incredibly, some things remain the same. As the Egyptian people work to build a new government, women have not been invited to the table.

There are no women representatives in the Constitutional Committee that has been formed to prepare for free elections. The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights just released a statement protesting the exclusion of women experts.

Why aren’t women included? For that matter, why can’t they walk down the street without being disrespected? A 2008 poll found that 83% of Egyptian women had experienced sexual harassment. Nihal Elwan, an Egyptian who has worked on social development in the Middle East, describes the daily reality of most Egyptian women: “whether you’re rich, poor, you take public transportation, … you’re doing your shopping, whatever social class you’re from, you’re bound to get sexually harassed.”

The way I see it, both of these issues have the same cure – and it’s also at the root of my work. We have to support women’s right to self-determination. Only then will they be allowed to participate in their government, walk safely down the street, and have relationships free of violence.

Can the end of a dictatorship also lead to revolutionary change in the lives of Egyptian women? I am reminded of the words of Abigail Adams, in 1776 “if particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”