Scorched Earth

I was thinking about a man I know. He’s a bully and on a scale of one to ten, he’s a solid ten jerk. You know him too.

He’s been married four times. Has many, many children—mostly boys. And now his children are having children and carrying on their dad’s tradition of being irresponsible fathers.

This man is marching through life burning everything in his path. His reach and influence are deadening to those in his inner circle, maddening to those of us sitting a few rings out—and legendary in the community. This man’s thousands of twins (including his brothers in the NFL) have the same impact.

© photo by Johsel Namkung
© photo by Johsel Namkung

I’m tempted to focus on the amazing resilience of this man’s families and the others he has impacted, and broaden that to the resilience of the human body and spirit. After all, what happens after a fire? The wildflowers sprout and the trees re-emerge. Right?

But I’m not going there.

Life calls upon us to be resilient enough with unavoidable  illness, loss, and death. What I’m calling out is all the avoidable illness, loss, and death. All the damage done by bullies, rapists, batterers is damage of their own making—it is all under their control and therefore they can prevent it from happening. So, why don’t they?

In trying to make some sense out of this, I revisited a “fireside chat” that my boss Nan Stoops gave earlier this year. It’s long, but if you skip to 16:30 you get to the meat of a pretty darned brilliant commentary that sheds some light on why the bully in my circle keeps on destroying.

Briefly, I believe Nan’s view is that for better or worse, the gigantic movement of mostly women working to end violence against women developed ideas that focused on women’s victimization, and not on men’s violence. And we placed the responsibility for ending violence on individuals and families, not on communities.

Imagine what would have happened if my bully was required to go to a shelter, rather than his wives and children fleeing. What if rather than putting him in jail, we had every institution guide—and if necessary shame—him when he behaved in arrogant and mean ways? What if everyone, everywhere just said “don’t talk to her that way.” And “How about you join this group and take this class on being a great dad?” What if my bully had to answer for himself over and over again?

Don’t overthink it, $15 an hour could fix a lot

There is something afoot in the fight to raise the minimum wage—the increasingly visible voices of low-wage workers. The Fight for 15 started in Chicago and has spread to 50 cities including Seattle. At SeaTac Airport, baggage handlers, shop workers, and folks transporting people using wheelchairs, are all asking for a $15 minimum wage to provide for their families.

American_Flag_&_SloganAs a country, we say that all work is honorable, no job is beneath anyone, and that if you show up and do your best, you will be rewarded. Not if you are a low wage worker. Nancy Salgado confronted the U.S. president of McDonald’s and asked “It’s really hard for me to feed my two kids and struggle day to day. Do you think this is fair, that I have to be making $8.25 when I’ve worked for McDonald’s for ten years?” She was ticketed for trespassing.

McDonald’s minimum wage employees recently received a Practical Money Skills Budget Journal. Perhaps this is their answer to Nancy’s question. But it’s not exactly going to help her situation. To begin with, the sample income is NOT based on a full-time minimum wage (more like 2 minimum wage incomes). Their example doesn’t include groceries or childcare, and healthcare is a hilarious $20 monthly expense. Rent is only $600 a month. Where is this city? The smiling teenager on the front of the budget journal does not represent the vast majority of people working minimum wage jobs. It is adults (and more women than men) who are trying to make a living and care for children on minimum wage. $15 an hour is closer to what it actually takes to support a working family.

When you support a $15 minimum wage, you are also helping women and children live violence-free lives. People are always telling women who are in abusive relationships to leave—don’t stay for money, leave because your life will improve and you will be a better parent. But that’s not true if you walk out the door into homelessness. So they tell them: go get a job, find an apartment, find childcare, get new credit cards, open another bank account. Oh, your partner trashed your credit? You must not be trying hard enough.

$15 an hour means you can take care of yourself and your children and you won’t have to face the decision of either returning to an abusive relationship or becoming homeless. We all benefit when everyone around us can go to bed each night knowing that they can provide a loving home and have the resources to face whatever lies ahead.

Caring about Obamacare

I’ve had the government shutdown on my mind for the last couple of weeks (like many of you, I’m sure). As I’m writing this, it looks like there is an agreement in the works, and just in the nick of time because it was about to get even uglier for women. But I don’t want to get into that. Let’s think happy thoughts…thoughts of Obamacare.obamacare-logo

What?

Obamacare doesn’t stir warm fuzzy feelings in your heart? It’s actually called the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Better? No? OK, full disclosure; I have mixed feelings about it as well. But something that does warm my heart is to know that many folks who were unable to afford health insurance before will be able to get it now. This will undoubtedly include people who are dealing with abuse in their lives. Access to healthcare for survivors of domestic violence is key to getting and staying healthy, healing from the physical and emotional wounds of abuse, keeping a job and income flowing…I could go on.

It’s part of my job to think about the implementation of Obamacare and how it affects those who are experiencing abuse. Here’s what I know:

  • Washington State, after a rocky opening day, has one of the best working systems for implementing the ACA in the country right now.
  • The ACA gives financial incentives for health care professionals to screen patients for domestic violence and refer them to local supportive services.

This is all really good news for survivors of abuse in Washington. But, there is still a lot we don’t know about the system and how it will (or won’t) work for those dealing with abuse, like:

  • Tax credits are awesome, when you can get them. To get this one you have to file jointly if you are married. That’s going to be a problem for many married survivors.
  • What exactly happens to the information entered into the Health Benefits Exchange, the marketplace for those purchasing private coverage? As an advocate, I know how important it can be to keep information confidential if someone’s abuser is stalking them.
  • How safe is this system for undocumented mothers trying to get healthcare for their children? Can the feds access and use information from this process to track immigration status?
  • Who is teaching medical professionals how to screen for domestic violence? Are they considering a person’s safety when asking these questions (like not asking in front of their partner)?

Sigh. So many questions and only 24 hours in the day. There is still a lot that remains to be seen about how Obamacare will ultimately fare, but I’m optimistic. And overwhelmed. But mostly, optimistic.

Summer reading

It’s summertime. Bye-bye, I’m heading to the beach.

It is inconceivable to me to go without a book. On my list this year: Zippy by Haven Kimmel, which I borrowed from my library and devoured in a few laugh-out-loud sessions. Truly a funny, poignant tale.

A particularly explosive guffaw of relief flew out of me as Kimmel recalled a violent episode in her childhood home when things could have gone terribly wrong, but didn’t. Her dad did not beat up her mother. She writes:

Mom told me, when I was old enough to ask, that she had learned the lesson from Mom Mary, Dad’s mother, who took her future daughter-in-law aside and told her that a woman has got to make herself absolutely clear, and early on. In Mom Mary’s own case, she waited until she and my grandfather Anthel were just home from their honeymoon, and then sat him down and told him this: “Honey, I know you like to take a drink, and that’s all right, but be forewarned that I ain’t your maid and I ain’t your punching-bag, and if you ever raise your hand to me you’d best kill me. Because otherwise, I’ll wait till you’re asleep; sew you into the bed; and beat you to death with a frying pan.” Until he died, I am told, my grandfather was a gentle man.

It reminded me of Mette’s mom’s theory about ending domestic violence—that women just need to get scarier than men. I asked Mette to ask her mother if it would be okay to share her theory. Her mom replied “Hell, yes. And I might add, I would be happy to teach classes on how to be scarier than anyone!”

In reality, there is nobody less scary than Mette’s mom Cindy. Though I have never given her cause to be fierce with me, I do believe she has that capacity.

And hence to the point. Fierce is different from scary.frying-pan

I mean, I really do not want to be reduced to simply scary—to beating my chest louder and harder than the primate squatting next to me.

But to warn someone off with a metaphorical frying pan—with a “Don’t you dare disrespect or threaten me or our children”—is the essence of the fierceness Cindy could give lessons about.

Historically, we have turned to the police, courts, and prisons—institutions designed to simply scare people—to deal with domestic and sexual violence. It hasn’t worked.

A smattering of people are coming up with different approaches. Ideas for engaging men coming out of prison, using technology so abusive dads can have safe contact with their kids, and creating alternatives for batterers to seek help themselves, before police and courts get involved.

I am feeling very optimistic that we are on the cusp of making an evolutionary leap—from scary to fierce. From having only fear-based approaches that at best impose an unstable peace, to becoming resolutely fierce in defending the foundational worth and dignity of women and children. It’s time.

Que tienen en común Gwyneth Paltrow y Jennifer Lopez? (What do Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez have in common?)

Lopez photo public domain; Paltrow photo by Andrea Raffin
Lopez photo public domain; Paltrow photo by Andrea Raffin

Tal vez estás pensando dinero, fama, o quizás que las dos fueron novias de Ben Affleck. Todas estas respuestas son correctas, pero aún tienen algo más. Durante el pasado mes de Abril Gwyneth Paltrow fue la más buscada en todas la páginas web debido a lucir un vestido súper transparente. Por esta misma razón Jennifer López fue la más buscada en el 2000. Era prácticamente imposible navegar el intranet sin ver todo el comentario y furor acerca del vestido transparente de Paltrow. ¿A este punto tal vez te estas preguntando, porqué debiera de importarme esto a mí? ¡Esa fue exactamente mi primera reacción! Yo me encontré molesta con toda la atención que los medios de comunicación le estaban prestando a la estrella de Hollywood y sus piernas largas, para más tarde darme cuenta cuál era la razón por la me encontraba tan molesta Todo el comentario de la media era acerca de que tan perfecta era “ Paltrow. ” Perfecta de acuerdo a los estándares de bellezas impuestos por los medios de comunicación. Inclusive Paltrow hizo broma de su situación contando que para poder lucir el vestido transparente su asistente tuvo que salir a las apuradas a conseguir una afeitadora. También Paltrow comento que se sintió avergonzada por no haberse afeitado el día anterior (no solamente se refirió a sus piernas).

Habiendo sufrido horas de dolor por vestir unos tacones altos en mi boda y solamente porque lucia bien con mi vestido, me puedo identificar con  el deseo  de satisfacer las expectativas. ¡Mejor dicho… las expectativas de presentarnos  convencionalmente femeninas! Algunos pueden decir que ésta manera de conformarse a estos estándares de belleza son opcionales para las mujeres en el 2013. ¿Pero es esto verdad? Las bromas acerca de las mujeres que no se afeitan las piernas o las axilas continúan siendo muy comunes. ¿No te preguntas que tan larga y que tan profunda es la lista de expectativas que nos acompaña por el hecho de ser mujer? Cosas que van desde afeitarse las piernas hasta dejar que tu pareja tome control de la relación. Yo trato de transformar mi relación con esa lista de expectativas cada vez que algo interfiere con mi capacidad de ser un ser humano completo. ¿Cuál es la expectativa de roles de género que afecta tu vida que te gustaría cambiar empanzando hoy?

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You may be thinking money, fame, or even Ben Affleck as an ex. These are all true, but there is more. Last April Gwyneth Paltrow made the top of every search engine with her see-through dress, just like Jennifer Lopez did back in 2000. It was practically impossible to go online without seeing the uproar about Paltrow’s dress. You may be asking, “Why should I care?” That was my exact reaction! I was really annoyed by all the media attention to the Hollywood star and her long legs. Then I realized why I was so annoyed: all the commentary was on how ‘perfect’ she was, according to conventional standards of beauty imposed by the media. In fact, Paltrow made a joke about her assistant running to get a razor to eliminate the unwanted body hair and how she felt ashamed for not having shaved the day before (hint: she was not just referring to her legs).

Having experienced hours of pain myself standing in tall heels during my wedding just because it looked good, I can totally relate to feeling like you have to live up to certain expectations. Specifically, a conventional feminine look! One can argue that this is optional for women in 2013, but is it really? Jokes about women who don’t shave their underarms or legs are still common. Doesn’t it make you wonder how long and ingrained the list of expectations is that we carry through our lives as women? Things that range from shaving your legs to letting your partner take control of the relationship. In my life, I try to challenge those expectations whenever they interfere with my ability to be a complete human being. What is one gender expectation that you want to challenge starting today?

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).

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.

Preventing homelessness

We bring you this post from Kendra Gritsch, our Domestic Violence Housing First program specialist.

Did you know that domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women and children? Women often face isolation, discrimination, and limited resources when leaving an abusive home. Because of this, many survivors are forced to choose between stable housing and safety.

To eliminate housing as a reason to stay in an abusive relationship, WSCADV and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partnered to pilot Domestic Violence Housing First (DVHF). Our partner programs across Washington State are helping survivors get and stay in safe, permanent housing by providing things like flexible financial assistance. Then, advocates have the flexibility to provide whatever kind of support the person needs to be self-sufficient.

After three years of doing and learning, we are beginning to capture the impact of this approach. The YWCA of Kitsap County found: “we had to learn how to listen … and how to celebrate who they (survivors) were and maybe back up a little about what the YWCA is.”

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

Leaning in

I cried at work yesterday. I found myself overwhelmed, feeling like a failure. Turns out I’m not the only one who had this kind of day. I came across a post about Sheryl Sandberg—who says it’s OK to cry at work—and her new book Lean In. I haven’t lean-in-coverread the book, but am so fascinated by the media blitz that I’ve been clicking from one article to the next. Some are hailing “Lean In Circles” as feminism, revitalized. It’s Girl Power, grown up.

But others say that she is blaming women for not being better at climbing the ladder. Sandberg responds that she is simply identifying behaviors that typically hold women back so that we can recognize and change not only the behaviors but the reasons why they exist. OK, that doesn’t sound so bad…

Maureen Dowd criticizes her for not knowing the difference between a social movement and a social marketing campaign. She claims Sandberg’s elitist approach is not going to reach those women workers who are in low wage jobs. CNN ran an article on how Sandberg’s framework completely disregards the working experiences of single mothers, who “couldn’t lean out if they wanted.” OK, also a lot of truth there.

There is little agreement on how to take Lean In. But I’m not sure the top is the only place we should set our gaze. I’d like to see a system that supports and honors women in all levels of employment by offering adequate paid family and sick leave. I’d like to see employers create good policies and protocol for supporting employees who are experiencing domestic violence. If “Lean In Circles” can contribute to that kind of change, that would be a success.