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

Una Moraleja acerca del Privilegio y la Coerción Reproductiva (A Cautionary Tale of Privilege and Reproductive Coercion)

En Junio los noticieros irrumpieron con la noticia de que 150 prisioneras fueron coaccionadas a firmar papeles de consentimiento para ser esterilizadas en unas cárceles en California desde el año 2006. A algunas mujeres se les pidió consentir a la esterilización durante el parto. Otras mujeres fueron intimidadas a dar consentimiento por doctores que repetidamente las humillaron por ser pobres o tener más de un hijo.

handcuffed-uterus

Hasta el momento todas las que han denunciado el hecho son mujeres de color. Las prácticas de esterilización forzada como este han impactado desproporcionadamente a las mujeres de color y a la mujer pobre a lo largo de la historia de los Estados Unidos. Esta forma de coerción reproductiva es solo un ejemplo de la violencia cometida por las instituciones e individuos en contra de las mujeres de color.

Las personas que perpetran esta violencia institucional en contra de las mujeres y adolecentes de color frecuentemente la disfrazan de cruzadas con intenciones de salvarlas de los errores inminentes que están condenadas a cometer. Como si ellas no pudiesen responsablemente decidir cuándo ser madres pero solamente decidir a “no serlo.” De ésta manera usamos los embarazos de las adolescentes latinas y negras como cuentos de moralejas, como fue el caso en la ciudad de Nueva York donde los mensajes claramente intentaron de humillar a las madres y padres adolescentes. Las mujeres de color encarceladas son coaccionadas a consentir a la esterilización por la creencia de que ellas no tienen la habilidad de tomar ‘buenas’ decisiones sobre sus cuerpos y sus familias.
El mensaje de que las mujeres pobres y los adolescentes de color no debieran de ser padres o madres facilita le existencia de la coerción reproductiva. Mientras que la creación de un ambiente de apoyo por los derechos de cada persona a ser padre/madre hace que la coerción institucional e individual tenga menos chances de prosperar.La prevención de la coerción reproductiva requiere que apoyemos el derecho a la reproducción de todas las personas. En el momento que nos planteamos el problema como si algunas personas se merecen ser padres más que otras quedamos atrapados en un debate de valores y asumimos el rol de Policías del Derecho a Reproducir. Muchos de nosotros podemos nombrar fácilmente las dificultades de convertirnos en padres y madres muy jóvenes o sin tener suficiente dinero para hacerlo (y muchos de nosotros pensamos que el ser madres/padres es solamente una bendición lo que es frecuentemente un valor en las culturas colectivistas). El desafío para muchos de nosotros es el de también reconocer que no debemos marginalizar a las personas que han decidido reproducirse comunicándoles que cometieron un error que no resultará en nada bueno.

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Back in June the news broke that 150 inmates were coerced to sign consent forms to be sterilized in California jails between 2006-2010. Some women were asked to consent to sterilization while in labor. Some women were bullied into signing consent forms by doctors who repeatedly shamed them for being poor or having multiple children.

So far, all the women who have come forward are women of color. Forced sterilization practices like this have disproportionally impacted women of color and low income women throughout the history of the United States. This form of reproductive coercion is just one of the many types of violence perpetrated by institutions and individuals against women of color.

The people who perpetrate this institutional violence frequently disguise it as a campaign to save women and teens of color from the impending bad choices they are doomed to make. As if they could not responsibly decide when to become parents but only not to become one. We use Latino and Black teen pregnancy as a cautionary tale like in the New York City campaign that clearly intended to shame teen parents. Women in prison are coerced into sterilization because of the belief that they do not have the ability to make “good” decisions about their bodies and their families.

Preventing reproductive coercion requires that we support everyone’s right to reproduce. The moment we approach the issue as if some deserve to be parents more than others, we are trapped in a debate about values and we assume the role of Reproductive Police. Many of us can readily name the challenges of becoming parent’s too young and/or lacking the financial resources to do it (and many of us can think of parenthood only as blessing, a prevalent view in collectivist cultures). The challenge for many of us is understanding that we shouldn’t marginalize those who choose to become parents by telling them that they made a bad choice and no good will come of it.

The narrative that poor women and teens of color should never become parents makes reproductive coercion more likely to happen. Creating an environment of support for the rights of anyone to become a parent makes institutional and individual coercion less likely to thrive.

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:

  • Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day. As he is released on bail today, let’s take a moment to think of Reeva and her family, and get some important perspective from our friends at Shakesville.
  • I’m not a fan of all the crime shows on TV, but maybe I should be. A new study shows that people who watch these shows may be more likely to help victims of sexual assault.

Grinding at the homecoming dance

My newly minted high school teenagers just attended their first homecoming dance and complained grinding was the dominant form of dancing (video spoiler alert—parents prepare to be perplexed or horrified). I’m glad to know there are some good suggestions out there of how schools can prohibit grinding and promote equitable relationships among teens. Yet, as a parent, talking to teenagers about grinding is difficult and frustrating.

I do it because I want to them to believe in their own power and know that they deserve respect. But talking about grinding with your mom is gross, awkward, and not appreciated. I want to yell “No, no, no! Those boys do not deserve to touch you in that meaningless way!” or something equally unhelpful. Instead, I say things like, “Grinding treats you like a body part, not a person; and he doesn’t even have to look you in the eye.”

While I can’t protect my children—gone are the days I could literally lift them out of harm’s way—I can have influence. I can ask the school why they don’t have a no grinding policy, instruct the DJ to play a variety of music, ask kids who are grinding to leave (not just momentarily separate them with a beam of a flashlight), and openly talk about the policy at school.

I think the attitude “kids will be kids” is an excuse for parents to avoid the whole issue. Yes, you do have to talk to boys about their power, objectifying girls, curiosity and arousal, and the best ways to build friendship and intimacy. Yes, you do have to talk to girls about all of these same things. Oh, so much easier said than done. But if we are willing to initiate a conversation about grinding then hopefully our kids will continue to talk to us about things that make them uncomfortable.

Start talking

Our friends at the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence  are doing some incredible work on promoting healthy teen relationships and are featured in an article in THE New York Times!!! I’m thrilled for them and moreover I’m thrilled for the teens (and all of us!) who are benefitting from their work.

Start Strong and other programs dedicated to promoting respectful and loving relationships are all doing something great. And surprisingly easy. They’re starting conversations with young people. We can all do this! And you know what? We all should.

It’s as easy as checking in with the young people you know. Start by asking if they or any of their friends are dating. (Now, I know kids don’t say dating anymore, and dating isn’t the same as when you and I were young…but here’s the scoop – brace yourselves – we’re old. And most likely anything we say that isn’t a word we would typically use to talk about dating will make us sound, well, old. So just go for it. They’ll know what we mean.) Go from there. Ask them what kind of person they’d like to go out with. Or if they are dating, “How’s it going?” “Do you have fun/feel good about yourself when you’re with this person?”

Ultimately just keep the conversation open. Keep checking in. If we all do this, just think of all the opportunities we’ll be opening up for when the first “uh-oh” happens, or even better when the first “OMG, I’m so in love” happens. Either way, let’s start talking.

Rush – you’re really making my job as a mom hard!

Photo by Gage Skidmore

It’s 6:45 am and the morning hilarity is on. My back is to my teenage daughters as I scramble eggs, yell out reminders about packing up homework, and try to listen to the morning news on NPR. Wait a minute, what are they talking about? Who is a prostitute, who is a slut? My girls are both talking at once, reacting to a snippet of the morning news roundup. They want to know why Rush Limbaugh is apologizing for calling a college student names and wanting to watch her have sex. They’re confused. Isn’t contraception a good thing? Isn’t it smart to prevent a pregnancy that you’re not ready for?

Thanks Rush, really. I spend lots of time with my daughters trying to untangle the double messages they receive. Like, what is considered beautiful and sexy; when is having sex appropriate; who controls their body; and what is a healthy and respectful relationship. And now this.

If Sandra Fluke, a smart, thoughtful, law student advocating for women’s access to contraception is publically called hateful names historically used to silence women’s voices, what does it mean for my girls? What will they think about the next time they want to speak up for themselves? What will they think about the role of women in the public discourse? I don’t want them to believe or even think for a minute that because they are female their opinions, experiences, and actions are in any way diminished.

Come on, can’t we have a discussion about access to health care and contraception without vilifying women and girls’ choices? After all, last I heard, the use of Viagra was a legitimate medical option for people without ovaries.

Rihanna and Chris

My recent discovery of Spotify has me wading back into the world of pop music for the first time since Salt-N-Pepa were on MTV (does MTV still exist?) With the recent sparks flying around Chris Brown and Rihanna’s latest collaborations, I thought I would take a listen to their music. I discovered that I’m not a fan, but you certainly can’t miss the passion in their songs. And yet it’s alarming that this passion sounds a lot like violence. Blogger Yolo Akili is right on when he says “Pop songs about love sound more and more like war every day. And that should be frightening to us all.” Pop music has often been criticized for its portrayal of women and relationships, and most of the time for good reason—but that’s another post entirely.

Today I’m talking about Rihanna and Chris Brown. Maybe it’s just industry smoke and mirrors, or maybe there is still passion and even affection between these two. Either way, I was struck by the lack of compassion for Rihanna as the public opinion swirled around their new collaborations. Here’s a newsflash: people who have been abused often have contact with their abusers after they leave. Sometimes it’s about kids, but often it’s about reconnecting, giving a second chance, knowing the good in a person and hoping for a better outcome.

I’m not in any way minimizing what Chris Brown did. That was despicable. But Rihanna reconnecting with him, whether personally or professionally, does not equal her accepting or condoning the abuse. I’ve heard the outcry that she’s a role model for young women… what is she thinking? What are we thinking that we are holding her responsible for exemplifying the kind of relationship we want for our kids? Why aren’t we saying that it’s Chris Brown’s responsibility as a role model to not use violence to control his partner?

Although I am alarmed by a lot of what is being said, I’m glad people are talking about it. Let’s keep the conversation going. Reese Witherspoon is talking to her kids about it. Talk with the young people in your life and ask them what they think. Did you know a recent study found that most teens said they knew what a healthy relationship looked like, but didn’t expect to be in one? Come on, we can do better than that!

Are my daughters safe online?

As a parent of teenage daughters, I worry that being on the internet itself, and especially Facebook, is leading them to make unwise decisions. Like other parents I know, I said “If you want Facebook, I need the password.” But I often wonder―am I understanding what I read? Do I know what is really going on? And when do I talk to them about what I see? I know my daughters crave their privacy even on Facebook, and don’t want any reminders that I am hovering. I want them to have safe, respectful and positive relationships―everywhere they go―is that too much to ask for?

Dr. Danah Boyd studies how youth use social media. I found her recent article “Cracking Teenagers Online Codes” to be both troubling and reassuring. Using social media in and of itself does not put kids at risk — “Teenagers at risk offline are the same ones who are at risk online.” There is a strong fear of sexual predators online, but the reality is that most sexual abuse involves someone our children know, trust, or love. Issues of bullying, homophobia, teen dating violence, suicide, and substance abuse are around, and we need to talk to our children when we see it on Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere else.

Here is what I found to be most reassuring in the article: “Teenagers absolutely care about privacy . . . like adults, they share things to feel loved, connected and supported . . . teenagers are the same as they always were.” They are using the internet to check out new ideas, see what other kids are thinking about, find someone to relate to. They are trying to relieve the alien teenager feeling. Okay, so even if my daughters’ online lives sometimes feel like a barrier to our connection, I just have to be brave and ask about what concerns me―and keep asking. If I listen with a lot of patience and silence, maybe one or two questions or concerns will slip out, and I will be there ready with love.