I received my first blank book as a Christmas present in 1982. Prior to then I scribbled my thoughts and various Archie fanfics (though in those days we didn’t call them fanfics, we called them silly stories about comic book characters) in notebooks and scratch pads around the house. My mother believed me when I said I wanted to be a Writer When I Grew Up, so she thought I finally needed something Fancy to Write In.
And write in it I did. I was a faithful correspondent in that book for months, pushing myself to write something every day, including what I had for dinner (Green Mill pizza) what I watched on TV (Powerhouse) and whose family got a mysterious machine called a VCR that showed movies you actually wanted to watch (Rachel’s, the lucky girl). Then I realized that my fifth grade existence was actually pretty boring and I gave it up.
In 8th grade I was given a new book, perhaps to sort out my complicated feelings about my parents’ yearlong separation, but family problems barely made its pages, devoted as they were to my single-minded pursuit of the cute boy who sat in front of me in math class. Oh sweet heavens, he was adorable. Even the sudden death of a classmate gets only a page of reflection before devolving into a navel-gazing meditation on how important it was to make that cute boy like me before I, like Lisa, got run over by a car on my way home from school.
After reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones in high school (another gift from my mother, who still believed me when I said I wanted to be a Writer When I Grew Up), I ditched the B. Dalton brand blank books and returned to notebooks. Goldberg swore by the unassuming nature of the lowly school notebook, believing that fancy books deterred creativity instead of inspiring it. I kept a journal only sporadically, however, as I was more interested in writing teenage angst fiction based on the skaters and McPunks who hung out at the Uptown McDonald’s.
After graduation, I decided to take up the journaling habit again, this time in a series of beat-up notebooks covered in random stickers, including one from my place of employment. I wrote constantly. I wrote at home, in coffee shops, at bars. I wrote so much I gave myself cramps in my hands. In 1997, I fell head over heels for the cute boy at the record store–but this time, I was so busy being loved in return that I didn’t have to pine about it. Requited love is a great productivity killer. I stopped journaling for a very long time.
Until I started a blog.
Of course I wasn’t nearly as candid in a blog as I was with my blank books or journals, but I was still pretty honest when I wrote about my children, my family of origin, my best friend, the parents at my kids’ school.
Surprise! The only people who weren’t pissed off were my kids–because they were too young to have MySpace accounts.
About a month ago I wrote another personal blog post in which I reflected on the end of a friendship. I received a swift and brutal response from the person I wrote about, in the form of a comment that hit me so hard I felt dizzy and unsettled for days (last week I finally removed it). Again, I had to wonder why I ever thought to make the jump from easily hidden packs of paper to digital diaries that are open to the whole goddamn world. Why?
Why do I write a blog? These days I could say that I do it to push the soon-to-be-published book that shares the blog’s name. But we’re going to go deeper and REALLY WONDER WHY:
To make friends? To make enemies? To make manifest the promised Writer When I Grew Up? To feed my penchant for narcissistic navel-gazing? To make sense of what Mary Oliver called my one wild and precious life? To embarrass myself? To make myself happy?
All of the above?
I’m sure I’ll post something here when I’ve figured it out.
I’ve written that health care discrimination is wrong.
I’ve written that we need a goddamn Equal Rights Amendment already.
I just can’t bring myself to write anything more, so the Official Radical Housewife™ reaction to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. will be brought to you by people and organizations with the ability to react while in the throes of a massive, never-ending headache.
I am grateful to them.
I’m sorry because I’m pretty sure I know why you did it–to spare yourself pain that I caused you.
I am not writing now to ask you to reconsider your decision. I’ve been unfriended by people before (including members of my own family) and I will be again. I respect that unfriending can be an act of self-care, and I know you believe, as I do, that…
You warned me, though, that my ardent, passionate love for the show RuPaul’s Drag Race was irritating to you. You said you just didn’t get why so many straight women like me were so enamored of drag queens, especially a cis-male queen like RuPaul who casually used words that you found hateful and transphobic.
For the record, I have never used those words, but I do have an alarming tendency to repeat other Ru-isms from the show. I use “WERRK” and “GUUURRL” so often so that now my kids use them to express great approval.
Is this okay? Can I co-opt the language of a culture I admire for my own entertainment?
I am a cis-gendered straight white woman, oozing with all kinds of privilege. In fact, I have the privilege to wear neither makeup nor dresses in my day to day life. I don’t get crap for dressing like what presents as “BOY,” unlike boys who get crap for dressing in what codes as “GIRL.” Sexism rewards me for my Chuck Taylors and jeans.
As an ally of social justice movements, being called out for my privilege hurts. Like I’ve written before, my natural impulse is to yell “NOT ALL [insert privilege here]!” With a little help from the Twittersphere, blogosphere, whatever you want to call it, I work on shutting my damn mouth and listening to what the call-outers are saying.
You never accused me of being transphobic, but I suspect you had enough when I posted how excited I was to hear RuPaul was a guest on my favorite podcast, WTF with Marc Maron. I hadn’t heard the episode yet, but I am such a big fan of both the guest and the show that I couldn’t help but announce my glee on social media. I didn’t have a clue that this show would be where Ru unloaded all of his frustration with those who object to some of his show’s content. As Ru put it:
Don’t you dare tell me what I can do or what I can say. It’s just words. Yeah, words do hurt. ‘Words hurt me.’ You know what? Bitch, you need to get stronger. You really do. Because you know what? If you think, if you’re upset by something I said, you have bigger problems than you think. I’m telling you this.
I listened to the podcast but I did not comment on it. It is not my business to offer an opinion on whether or not it is okay to use problematic words that don’t apply to me.
I did watch the discussion unfold on Twitter, where RuPaul posted:
…and where trans Drag Race contestant Carmen Carrera responded:
There is so much pain out there, and I know you have endured more than your fair share. That word is just one of many painful things you’ve endured since you transitioned. We didn’t talk about it all that much, but you mentioned that you lost a partner you loved. Your family isn’t supportive. You have trouble holding a steady job because of the harassment. Public bathrooms, which cis-folks like me take for granted, can be a nightmare.
I tried to show you how much I care about you and your journey when I asked Kate Bornstein to sign a copy of her memoir A Queer and Pleasant Danger to you. I guess I should have TOLD you myself, but (ironically in this case) words got in the way. How do you say to someone who is just living their goddamn life that you admire them like hell for doing it? For having the guts to be their authentic self? How?!
Is it transphobic of me to like RuPaul and his body of work? I don’t think so. I think it would be much worse for me to insert myself in a debate over whether or not it’s okay for someone to self-identify with a word that others find distasteful. That’s why I did nothing.
I’m sorry if you interpreted my RuPaul fandom and my silence on the controversy around the word as an endorsement of that word being used.
You didn’t need my admiration or a stupid hashtag–you just needed to know that I had your back. And in that moment on Facebook, you felt that I didn’t.
Whether you extend a Facebook friend request to me in the future is not as important to me as the fact that you know, via this blog post/open letter, that I care about you and that I regret the hurt I caused. We may never cross paths in real or virtual spaces again, and that’s okay. I’ll always be glad that I knew you, the WHOLE you, a smart and funny and talented and compassionate person.
Continue to take care.
Last week my firstborn, 14-year-old Elliott, informed me that a group of girls at his middle school were (and I am quoting him directly here) “causing a fuss about #YesAllWomen.”
I was delighted, shocked and confused at the same time. Ever since the Isla Vista killings on May 23rd, I’d been mulling over how I was going to talk to my children about the latest mass murder to occur in the good old USA. I even started a blog post about it that bore the long-winded title “I know I should talk to my kids about Isla Vista but I don’t know if I can.”
Why the hangup? You try telling your third grade daughter about the ubiquity of gender-based violence. You try telling your keenly logical Asperger’s son about the misogyny that fuels so much of said violence–because this is what he will say:
And that is exactly what came out of Elliott’s mouth when he explained how uncomfortable the girls’ fuss made him.
Asperger’s tends to produce thinking that is black/white, good/bad, wrong/right. To him, the fact that HE has never committed an atrocity against women or girls in his life PROVES that “not all men.” If that is a FACT, and really and truly a FACT, then it MUST be brought to everyone’s attention.
Please do not read the above and think that my son is an unfeeling robot on autopilot, as current stereotypes might lead you to believe. In fact, he has an extremely tender heart, a characteristic not usually attributed to Aspies but should be; the Aspies in my acquaintance (and there are many) may flounder with the finer points of social etiquette but they are loyal and loving when it counts. I remember well how Elliott’s already pale cheeks whitened several shades when I explained the Newtown shootings over a year ago.* CHILDREN WERE NOT TO BE SHOT AT IN SCHOOL, his mind raced. CHILDREN WERE NOT TO BE SHOT AT. WRONG WRONG WRONG. I think that the detachment some see in spectrum people is really just terrible confusion and anxiety at a world that isn’t easily categorized as they would like.
The “fuss” that the girls were causing involved writing down some of their favorite #YesAllWomen tweets and posting them on the walls of their school. I thought this was fan-freaking-tastic and told him so.
“But it made me feel bad,” Elliott said.
“Why?” I said.
“Because I don’t do that stuff,” he said.
“I know that,” I said.
“But posting all that makes me think that I’m like that, but I’m really not,” he said.
I sighed. “And you felt like you had to tell those girls that you were NOT ALL MEN, right?”
He looked bewildered and more than a little embarrassed: did his mother actually know what happened on the internet?!!
I found an excuse to take him for a walk around the neighborhood, as I’ve found my kids do their best thinking when active. We must have gone back and forth for at least 30 minutes before I stopped him on Park Avenue and asked, “Elliott, have you ever made fun of someone just because she was a girl?”
“No,” he said immediately.
“Have you ever made fun of a girl’s clothes?”
“Why would I do that?” he asked.
“Have you ever called a girl a slut?”
He looked like he was going to throw up. “No way,” he said.
“Have you ever hurt a girl? Physically or mentally? Have you? HAVE YOU?” By now I had my hands on his shoulders and I was staring directly into his adorable hazel eyes.**
“NO!” he shouted, so loudly that I’m sure the neighbors heard.
“THEN YOU DON’T NEED TO WORRY,” I announced, “BECAUSE THE GIRLS IN SCHOOL ARE NOT TALKING TO YOU.”
He made a face like the one above (taken in response to the lousy defense in the first quarter of the Minnesota Lynx home opener), took a deep breath, and….
We hugged. It was amazing. It was beautiful. I have a feeling it will go down as one of my favorite parenting moments, ever.
Which is why I am blogging it and sharing it with you, and with the Elliott of the future when he Googles his mother’s name.
Elliott, if you are reading this, know that I love you and I am so proud of the boy you are and the man you will become.
*it sickens me that I must have this conversation every few months. GUN SENSE NOW!
**seriously, he’s the cutest boy in the world
This clip is one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, White Christmas:
My own sister and I love to sing it whenever the opportunity strikes–and strike they do, for she and I have the typically complicated relationship that the song describes.* We love each other as much as we hate each other, and we are as alike as we are different.
Here we are on Good Friday 2012, with my kids and her daughter. Our expressions are EXACTLY THE SAME. My son has her green eyes. Her brunette daughter looks like I did when I was a first grader, right down to the banged haircut.
Yet we are so different sometimes it’s hard to believe we can relate, much less be relatives. As I write in my new Minnesota Women’s Press column:
My sister and I look so much alike that often people can’t tell who’s younger and who’s older. They assume that my elegant and fashionable sister, who looks like she stepped out of InStyle magazine, must be more mature than the woman who’s wearing scuffed Doc Martens well into her 40s. As a born introvert…the idea of joining a group called Women in Networking makes me break out in a rash, but my gregarious sister has built a thriving real estate business on the connections she’s made there.
I can’t tell you how horrible I would be at selling real estate, as it requires smiling at and talking to strange people all day. The only strange people I like are my husband and children. But as her sister, I am very proud of her and her work, so if you’re in the Twin Cities and need a good realtor, call her up. She’s good!
Now, let’s talk about that OTHER sisterhood of ours…
Above is the graphic that was created by the Nation for their infamous piece “Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars.” If you didn’t read it in January, I will summarize it for you: “feminism is supposed to be a sisterhood where we all get along in our pursuit of a common goal, and if you don’t agree with me, it not only hurts my feelings, it hurts The Movement!!”
I am really tired of people acting like it’s a BFD when self-identified feminists don’t get along beautifully. Again, from my column:
The relationship I have with my biological sister is among the most complicated in my life; why should the sisterhood of feminists be any different?
I admit that I’m more than a little glad that my children are different genders, born five years apart: there isn’t an automatic cultural assumption that they will get along, nor is there the belief that if they don’t then there is something TERRIBLY WRONG with them.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on a couple of people in a family, let alone a few million in a social movement.
But there’s hope!
When I realized how different my sister and I really were, I had to relax many of my expectations about our relationship, but I didn’t love her any less. I learned that sisterhood is strengthened when it has the opportunity to prove its resilience.
*”when a certain gentleman arrived from Rome, Leah wore the dress and Shannon stayed home!”
TW: rape culture, victim-blaming
Today’s post is dedicated to Kyle, a fellow who recently left a comment on a SlutWalk themed-post that was first published in 2011. That piece was called “To our male allies: a challenge,” and if you follow the link you may read his thoughts in their entirety; I will only quote from it here. Be warned that the original post is triggering as hell!
Thank you for your interest in my blog. I don’t know what brought you here, but it’s obvious that you are exactly the sort of man that feminists like myself are trying to reach when we talk about rape culture.
“This is one thing about feminism that rubs me the wrong way,” you wrote, “what do you all mean when you say that you want the right to ‘walk down the street and exist and not have to fear assault? I really don’t understand that.What are you saying? Do you not feel safe when you walk down the street?”
From your defensive, almost unbelievably naive viewpoint, I assume that you are the sort of person who has led a pretty charmed life. I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet my Replacements tickets that you are a cis-gendered straight white male who is about to run to Google to research what the hell “cis-gendered” means. You haven’t met many people likely to challenge you on your rosy view of the world, but when you do, you say what you wrote in your comment to me:
“That sucks, but what exactly do you want me to do about it?”
This is such a common reaction that it has its own meme. Several, actually. I like this one:
You continue: “What do you want? More police on the street? Ankle tracking bracelets on all men? Is this even that big of a problem? Is there really an epidemic of rape going on, or are you all just sensationalizing a story and getting worked up into an irrational fear of the outside world?”
Kyle, this is the part of your comment that really breaks my heart. I’m totally serious. You can sit at a computer screen, with THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD at your fingertips, and still believe that rape and sexual assault might not be “even that big of a problem.” But let me be clear: my heart does not break for you, Kyle, but for the women in your life.
Because, Kyle, you know women who have experienced rape and sexual assault. The Joyful Heart Foundation quotes a 2010 CDC study that found one in five American women are raped in their lifetime.
Think about the last time you gathered with your family, Kyle. Maybe it was for Easter, for a Passover seder, or just a birthday party. Were there five women in the room? Grandma, aunts, cousins, nieces? Maybe you were there with your wife and your daughters. One in five of those women is keeping a secret from you.
Why? Because you are an insensitive creep who would dare suggest that rape is not “even that big of a problem.” It’s not a problem to you, Kyle, because the stigmatization of survivors prevents them from telling you that they are part of you family, part of your community, part of your world. That’s what we mean by rape culture. If your daughter were robbed, no one would tell her that the theft was her fault, but the same would not be said if she were raped, especially if she were raped by someone she knows, which happens in 60 percent of cases.
You end your comment with this statement, the caps yours:
“If you want to feel safe, then YOU NEED TO STOP FEELING AFRAID.”
This is rape culture, Kyle. A statement like this makes sexual assault an issue to be resolved by victims, not perpetrators.
You say you don’t rape. That’s great. Now allow me to quote MYSELF from the 2011 post, the point of which you totally missed in your clumsy attempt to absolve yourself of any blame for sexism in America:
Help us end [rape culture], guys. We can’t do it without your help. We need you to speak out against this warped view of the world. You are not dogs, and we are not meat. We are all human beings who deserve respect, safety, and freedom.
I hope you’re listening, Kyle, and that you’ll allow compassion for the survivors in your life to soften your angry, defensive heart.
The Radical Housewife
Minnesotans, this post is for you. If you live in the other 49, though, don’t worry: the economic security of women, especially mothers and caregivers, is a big deal for you too! Study the work of the Minnesota Coalition for Women’s Economic Security and see how its strategies can be applied in your state.
The Minnesota Women’s Economic Security Act (MNWESA), which I have written about before, needs to clear one more legislative hurdle before it can be signed into law. After being hashed out in conference committee, the bill needs a new vote in both the House and Senate.
If you’re like me, you’re thinking: “Big deal! They passed it once, they can pass it again, right?” WRONG.
Today one of my colleagues in Minnesota NOW sent me a dire e-mail: “[Senate DFLers] are getting pressure from the business community to oppose the provision protecting caregivers from workplace discrimination. Without their vote, the bill might not pass the Senate. Please….CALL OR E-MAIL NOW, even if it’s not your particular Senator! They need to hear from MN Constituents. They need to hear from YOU!”
I am happy to report that my own senator is firmly in the YES column, so today I emailed ten others:
Tom Bakk: via email form
Terri Bonoff: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bobby Joe Champion: email@example.com
Melisa Franzen: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vicki Jensen via email form
Lyle Koenen: email@example.com
Ron Latz: via email form
James Metzen: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ann Rest: via email form
Dan Sparks: email@example.com
The good people behind the coalition to pass MNWESA provided a template which I amended for Radical Housewife readers. Since many of you are mothers, I know you need protection from workplace discrimination more than you need a bouquet of tulips on Sunday morning. By putting in just a few minutes of work today, you might get both!
My Mother’s Day gift to you is giving you the names and addresses above and the message below, one that can be easily cut, pasted & customized. And that darned header is so cute!
Dear Sen. [HIS OR HER NAME HERE!] ,
Sunday is Mother’s Day, that day when Minnesota moms like me are honored for the hard work we do for our families 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
This year you have the opportunity to honor us with a gift that will last longer than brunch and flowers!
Moms, and the people who love them, want equal pay and equal opportunities to contribute to Minnesota’s economic prosperity.
As a Minnesota mom, I urge you to support the common sense provisions included in the Women’s Economic Security Act:
• Expansion of unpaid family leave and reasonable accommodations for pregnant and nursing employees
• Greater participation of women in high-wage, high-demand nontraditional work
• Improved enforcement of equal pay laws
• Protections from workplace discrimination based on being a mother
• Support for women dealing with the economic consequences of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault
• Expanded opportunities for grandparents to pitch in and use earned sick time to help care for grandchildren
• Serious consideration of more options for increased retirement security
We moms hear every Mother’s Day that mothering is the most important job in the world—here is your chance to prove that you agree! Minnesota moms need you to vote “yes” on the Women’s Economic Security Act!
[YOUR NAME HERE!]
Mom of [KID COUNT HERE!]
Your Mother’s Day gift to me? Posting in the comments that you did it!
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know my love-hate relationship with the Democratic Party. Though the party tends to be where those on the liberal end of the political spectrum end up, there are far too many in the party whose loyalty lies with power and influence, not actual, honest-to-gawd ideological principles. Heck, back in the Obamacare Battles of 2011, I wrote not one, not two, but THREE posts in a row raging against the colossal idiocy of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
But I am veering away from my point, which is this: Democrats who actually vote for LIBERAL social and economic policies are giving me hope! HOPE, DAMMIT! It’s like they read my aforementioned blog posts and pondered the question I posed, namely:
WHAT WOULD SHIRLEY CHISHOLM DO?
Here is what they are doing: last week, my state Senate passed the Minnesota Women’s Economic Security Act (MNWESA), a kickass package of bills that take on some of the biggest barriers to women’s physical and economic safety. Among other things, the bill would (and I’m quoting directly from the MNWESA website here):
- Increase the minimum wage to $9.50
- Expand unpaid leave under the Minnesota Parental Leave Act from 6 to 12 weeks
- Add pregnancy to the Minnesota Parental Leave Act
- Allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to use paid leave to obtain services
- Expand unemployment insurance eligibility currently available to victims of domestic violence to include victims of stalking and sexual assault
- Require private businesses with more than 40 employees that have contracts with the state of $500,000 or more to ensure and state compliance with equal pay laws
- Increase reimbursement rates for child care providers participating in the Child Care Assistance Program
That is some serious family values in action there. That’s going to immediately affect sick kids, poor kids, vulnerable kids, endangered kids. It’s a huge start towards making workplaces more family-friendly. And friendly families create healthy, functional kids. And happy, safe kids make our communities better places. WIN-WIN-WIN!
Meanwhile, three years ago, the first Republican-controlled Minnesota Legislature in two generations spent all of its political capitol on amendments attempting to ban same-sex marriage and restrict people from being able to vote.
What’s next? The House and Senate need to hash out a few differences in their versions of the bill, which they’re doing in conference committee today. I wonder if our governor will sign it?
I’ll give you a hint: here’s what happened in 2013 when the NEWLY Democratic Minnesota legislature gave him a bill THEY wrote that would legalize same-sex marriage:
He not only signed that bill, he did so in the middle of a big ol’ PARTY!
THIS is what happens when liberals LEGISLATE like liberals–just like Shirley Chisholm did.
Where were YOU on April 25, 2004?
I was in Washington DC with my mom, my sister, and over a million of my friends.
In case you can’t see me in the crowd, here’s what I looked like ten years ago:
My hair was shorter and my middle was smaller, but I was just as passionate about reproductive justice as I am today.
Actually, I may be even MORE passionate, as almost exactly one year after this picture was taken I gave birth to my second child, a girl. It crushes me a little bit that our massive march didn’t make it possible for Miriam to be born under a Kerry administration, but I do know that day made a difference. As Zoe Nicholson has discussed in her books and speeches (much more eloquently than I ever could), no one who attends a march like this comes away untouched by it.
I can’t wait for the next March for Women’s Lives, whenever it may be, for I know that I will be there with my own daughter. And with my son! And maybe with you and your kids.
Should we start making plans?