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Explaining rape culture to a man named Kyle

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

 

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!

 

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Dear Kyle,

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:

 

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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.

Sincerely,

The Radical Housewife

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manuscript Monday: the myth of the mama grizzly

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

 

From the introduction:

Perhaps no recent phenomenon embodies the perceived split between feminism and family than a certain Alaskan mother of five who owes an enormous, yet unacknowledged, debt to the Second Wave—former Governor Sarah Palin.

 

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A beneficiary of Title IX as a young basketball player and a political trailblazer in the mold of Nellie Ross, the first woman elected to govern a U.S. state, Palin remains convinced that a shady feminist cabal despises her for having five children with her high school sweetheart.

There’s plenty about Palin’s politics to dislike without dragging her brood into the picture, yet the five kids are what give Palin traction and feed her mythology as a Mama Grizzly determined to “take this country back.”

She’s left open just where the country would be taken on her watch, but most agree that going “back” implies a return to tradition, which includes the very long standing tradition that the vast majority of state governors in the United States are men.

Would a truly protective mother bear in the wild yearn for the days when she didn’t have teeth?

 

 

Mothering performance anxiety

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

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The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality is NOW AVAILABLE.  I am simultaneously thrilled and terrified by this.

Thrilled because the talent in the book is staggering, including feminist writers both famous (Jennifer Baumgardner, Jessica Valenti) and really-should-be-famous (the blogging brains behind blue milk, Black Girl in Maine, The Feminist Breeder, and Raising My Boychick to name a few).

Terrified because my essay in the book contains some of the most vulnerable writing I’ve ever shared in public, and I fear that when you read it, you will judge me a BAD MOTHER.

I’m not kidding.

 

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Oh Philosoraptor!  DON’T GO THERE.

Luckily I have a dear friend who is also a mother-writer, and she thought the essay was good.  Another dear friend, a mother who is more the mathy-sciencey type, thought the essay was good too.  But as Paul Westerberg once sang, “the ones who love us least are the ones we’ll die to please.”  It’s not enough for my FRIENDS to like it: I want EVERYONE to like it.

I want everyone to like me.  To tell me that what I unloaded in the essay doesn’t make me a freak, or gawd forbid, a bad mother.

All of this anxiety from something I wrote in a book that breaks down the myth of the good mother??

Dammit!

Help a mom out, won’t you?  Pick up a copy of the book and tell me what you think.  Great reviews of it are in Literary Mama, Brain Child, Parents magazine and elsewhere: click on this link to read more.

Look at me trying to convince you that the book is actually good.  DAMMIT!  When will I ever learn?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manuscript Monday: how we became “traditional”

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

 

 

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First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Elliott in the baby carriage!  That Matt and I became the poster children for the “Traditional” (hetero) American Family was no accident.  We didn’t have to ponder our choices because many of our paths were proscribed for us years before we met.

Matt was born into an educated, upper middle class family, expected from childhood to match the level of education obtained by his parents, who started dating while pursuing advanced degrees at UC-Berkeley.  His natural aptitude for mathematics was encouraged by his parents and high school teachers, who encouraged him to college level study while still a teen.  After earning his BA, he knocked around in a skronk-punk band, earning beer money at the record store where he met me, aware all the time that dorking around after college was a choice for a man of his socioeconomic status.  When he decided to leave, he could.  He started on the bottom rung of a startup software company’s ladder, but today his salary comfortably supports himself, his wife and his two children.

As for me, I found math maddening, and I heard no objections when I decided to drop the subject after tenth grade.  My guidance counselor did not raise the notion that taking all these English and history classes might land me in a pink-collar ghetto….

Ultimately, I got an English degree that would have prepared me for graduate school, had I not been so burned out by academia after earning it that I couldn’t face another day in the classroom again. But If I’d changed my mind, and jumped in the professor pool with both feet, I still would have been paid less and been less likely to receive tenure than my male peers!  

 

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Manuscript Monday: Building my brand, losing my mind

Monday, November 18th, 2013

 An excerpt from chapter 12, “Burnout”:

 

I clicked to open a browser and loaded up the dashboard of my fancy new site, theradicalhousewife.com.  After MySpace tanked, I wrote for a while on a Blogger platform before determining that it was time to bite the bullet and, in the parlance of mommybloggers across the country, “build my brand.”

 

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The dashboard stared at me.  I knew I ought to write a new post, but instead I loaded up the fancy statistics widget that revealed my total number of page views, incoming search terms, referring sites, and the like.  Reading that stats widget was like swallowing a Krispy Kreme in one gulp every morning—addictively sweet, but never truly fulfilling or even satisfying.  If I had a hundred page views, I wanted a thousand.  If I had a thousand, it was usually because a blogger with a much larger following, like Gina Crosley-Corcoran of The Feminist Breeder, had linked to me, and I felt pangs of jealousy that I wasn’t yet in her league.

I couldn’t feel grateful or humbled that my blogging peers seemed to enjoy my work; instead, I wondered why I wasn’t being asked to appear on Ricki Lake.

 

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In another attempt at brand-building, I appeared at a local Netroots conference, suffering a lonely panic attack in the women’s bathroom before shakily convening a panel called “Feminist Activism in a Gone-Rogue Age.”  When I submitted the (surprisingly successful!) panel to the national conference, I was told that I didn’t have enough name recognition yet—The Radical Housewife was not yet a brand.

 

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I stared at the keyboard, the mouse, the monitor, blank screen with NEW POST at the top.  What exactly did a brand write about, anyway?  Shannon Drury once wrote about any old crap that came into her head, hiding behind a goofy moniker as a joke that she thought would make Erin and Christine laugh.  Then Erin moved to DC, Christine moved to San Diego, and The Radical Housewife moved to her own URL address.

I stared at the blinking cursor.  There wasn’t a shortage of topics to write about; thanks to global patriarchy, half a million ideas buzzed through my mind through any given day.  I could take a controversial position.  I could repost on Daily Kos, Minnesota Progressive Project, orFeministing.  A writing friend gave me the contact information for an editor at the Huffington Post, the site around which gone-viral careers were being made, but I couldn’t type her a sentence, much less pitch her an article that might build my brand.

I couldn’t write.  I didn’t want to write.  This scared me back into talk therapy.

 

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….with [the therapist’s] help I began the process of untangling the knot of my many identities: feminist, activist, writer, mom, even “radical housewife.”  I’d worked myself into a this/that, us/them, either/or box just like the one I thought I was fighting against years before.

Instead of me naming a MySpace page back in 2006, my MySpace page named me!

 

 

Manuscript Monday: “Are you doing the right thing?”

Monday, September 9th, 2013

 

 

Hey y’all!  Remember that I’m writing a book?  (I think even I forgot for a while.) This excerpt is from Chapter 8, “Welcome to the Mommy Wars.”

 

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Like most cultural debates, the “Mommy Wars” are a wholly-media manufactured phenomenon, a solution in search of a problem.  Sure, there are moms who were jealous of other moms’ ability to stay home, their ability to keep working, their ability to dress their babies in Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons, but hey, this is AMERICA, a nation built on jealousy.  The cult of manifest destiny rested upon the notion that indigenous tribes were hogging all the good stuff for themselves.  Why the Trail of Tears?  Andrew Jackson saw some tasty, arable land and felt deeply envious of the Seminoles and Cherokees living there.  In our century, the Lancome cosmetics company puts Julia Roberts in its advertising to inspire envy, not amiability.  You want to buy the product to steal a little bit of her beauty for yourself.

 

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The way the Mommy Wars work their magic is to demand the following of mothers: are you doing the right thing?  What if your baby loses out?  What if you lose out?  Will my children hate me?  What if this has all been a terrible mistake?  Then you’re so incredibly confused that the tragedy of child hunger in America feels not nearly as important as whether Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge is nursing the heir to the British crown.

The Mommy Wars, as they stand today, serve as an effective check on the ambitions of the American mother.  The phenomenon keeps women in a perpetual state of guilt, shame, and inadequacy–and does so without involving anyone but wealthy white women!  Behind the punditry, the blog posts, the endless shaming of individuals who are making individual choices is a quiet but urgent message: I care about me. The rest of you can go fuck yourselves. 

 

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I asked this back in chapter one: when is a choice not a choice?  When you understand that many of your “decisions” are based on circumstances set in motion before you got out of diapers yourself, let alone changed one on a baby of your own.  Do working class women of color have the choices that Linda Hirshman and I do?  No.  It’s very unlikely that a garbageman’s daughter will become CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  Hell, it’s unlikely that an upper class woman of color will do that!  The playing field remains uneven to a disorienting degree.

Carping about what women “should” do avoids serious debate about the consequences of entrenched economic inequality.  Women of all races earn less than men, but they receive no proportional discount on food, rent, clothing, utility bills, health care, child care, or college tuition.

Just IMAGINE what we could accomplish if we redirected all that Mommy Wars energy…..!

 

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Wow.

 

 

Fed by love

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

 

A common theme in my writing about parenting is my overwhelming need to untangle generational parenting styles to figure out what will benefit my own children the most.  In plainer language, I want to do better than my mom, whom I understand wanted to do better than her mom, et cetera.

Rationally, I expect that my own kids will do the same thing, should they decide to become parents.  Emotionally, I wonder how I will react when that time comes.  Will I freak out?  Will I respect their choices?  Will I assume that they are rejecting my way when they strike out on their own?

This month’s Minnesota Women’s Press is food-themed, a loaded subject for women, mothers most of all.  When we feed our children’s bodies, we imagine ourselves filling their hearts and souls.  Which we’re not, but tell that to the Paula Deen, Rachael Ray, and whoever else the Food Network is pushing.

When my maternal grandmother died in 2003, I opened her eulogy with the following words: “my grandmother is the smell of butter.”  When I wrote about her for the Women’s Press in 2009, I declared: “butter was the woman’s natural milieu; I think she probably dabbed it behind her ears.”

She loved butter, and she probably loved us too, but she never said so.  If she declared her love for anything, it was probably for Johnny Carson and the Marlboro Light 100s she chain smoked.  That was much less embarrassing and vulnerable than admitting to loving a person.  Sheesh.

 

 

My current column is titled “When food means ‘I love you.’”  I would very much like for my children to see food as a source of nourishment and/or delight, not as a conduit of my affection for them.  Already, however, I am touchy when my hard work is sniffed at or spat out.  If Elliott dislikes my chicken fried rice then he must not love me.  If my coffee cake is burned I must be a failure.  ALL LESSONS LEARNED AT MY FOREMOTHERS’ KNEES!  That they, in turn, learned from the women before them!  At least they could do it in an age before Pinterest and mothering as an Olympic-level sport.  From the column:

I follow a number of so-called “mom blogs,” and you’d think to read them that not even abortion is as loaded a topic as whether children ought to eat yogurt that contains high-fructose corn syrup. Even though we 21st-century moms aren’t shy about telling our little darlings we love them, our culture compels us to express our care and concern through cookery.

Here I must cop to the fact that the chicken I put in that fried rice recipe was not a free-wheeling hippy-dippy bird that I picked up at Seward Co-op.  Elliott could taste it!   I just hope I can handle the grief when my future grandchildren are organic vegan gourmets who turn up their noses at the kind of nut cheeses I bring for Christmas.

Oh my.

 

 

Right now is a difficult time of year to strive for balance, emotionally or nutritionally, for bizarre schedules and hot weather lead to nights where ice cream is the only thing on the menu, and carrot-spinach ripple it ain’t.  I am trying very hard to let myself off the guilt roller coaster so I can enjoy it.

And I also committed to say “I LOVE YOU” with words and smooches several hundred times a day without fail…but I do that anyway.

 

 

YUMMY!

 

 

Manuscript Monday: “A whole world of moms needing to connect with one another”

Monday, April 8th, 2013

This week’s excerpt is from Chapter Two.

I needed to snap out of my isolation and get out into the world again, this time with a stroller in tow.

My liberal arts background prepared me to tackle each and every problem in one place: the library.  Deep in the stacks, past the What to Expect When You’re Expecting volumes and The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, I spied a book called The Hip Mama Survival Guide.  This was it: a book that acknowledged the dirty truth that parenthood is something to survive, like middle school, meningitis, or the Vietnam War.  I wanted to be surrounded by mamas as salty-smart as the book’s author, Ariel Gore.  Unfortunately, Ariel lived on the West Coast and had given birth as a naïve teenager; much of her mothering spunk derived from the fact that she was still in the midst of her own bratty youth.

We had a teenage mom on our own block, Matt and I discovered.  The homeowner directly across the street from us was Clinton Avenue’s designated loonball (there’s always one), the furious type who believed that the ten feet of curb outside of her house was a valuable piece of real estate and no one, NO ONE, but her was allowed to park anywhere near it.  When Matt and I spotted her daughter clutching a bundle that looked more like a baby than a stack of algebra books, we wondered if all of that energy protecting a cement slab might have been put to better use.

This girl cornered Matt on the street one evening, offering him use of her son’s old bassinet if we needed it.  Matt said she seemed eager to bond with me about our babies, but I found this horrifying.  We were both mothers, this sixteen-year-old and I, but she was not my peer.  I wanted to shake her by her shoulders and yell, “You’re sixteen!  You should go to the mall to gorge on Cinnabons and buy earrings at Claire’s with your friends, not going to Bob the Builder at Toddler Tuesdays with your kid!”

Our friendship, though imaginary, was over before it could begin.

I clicked through some postings on the forums of HipMama.com, where I found others eager to connect, so much so that the profiles were coded as strenuously as any on eHarmony or OKCupid.  SAHM (we know what that means), BFOD (breastfeeding on demand), VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), AP (attachment parenting or advanced placement? Did they want to know my scores?) DS (darling son?), DH (does that mean she lives with a dickhead?), et cetera.  The acronyms tacked onto each blog post made me cross-eyed, though they were all Very Important in the virtual world, for like a pair of Louboutins in the real world, they broadcast to the world exactly Who You Are.

The listings’ very existence spoke to a whole world of moms needing to connect with one another—yet the coded language was so mysterious and ultimately alienating that I abandoned the site without completing a profile.

 

To find out what happens next, keep me motivated by telling me how much you want to read The Radical Housewife: Redefining Family Values for the 21st Century, coming sometime soon (!) from Medusa’s Muse Press

Manuscript Monday: “Bitch”

Monday, March 18th, 2013

Readers!  Welcome to a new feature on the blog I’m calling Manuscript Monday.  It’s a chance for you to get a preview of my book during the editing process as well as an opportunity for me to hold my procrastinatin’ ass accountable to the three of you who are still reading my blog on a regular basis.  Enjoy!

 

I can’t remember the moment I was labeled bitch for the first time, but it sure wasn’t in the blogosphere of 2008.   It was well before the blogosphere, let alone the World Wide Web, even existed.  The first time I was called a bitch, the home computer of choice was a Vic 20, capable of playing Pong and calculating to eight decimal points but not much else.

Boys called me bitch.  Girls called me bitch.  I remain, as always, an equal opportunity threat.

What they call rage, I recognize as power.  The constant challenge is to prevent this force from turning within, for those who keep their truths to themselves self-destruct at an alarming rate.  Lady Lazarus may have had nine times to die, but Sylvia Plath didn’t.

Honesty is a weapon.  It threatens the dominant, it questions authority, and it upends embedded systems, even systems as relatively benign as the typical suburban high school, which is why I couldn’t get a date until I was eighteen.

Male honesty is intrepid.  Female honesty is hostile.

Medusa and Medea.  The Sirens.  Salome, rewarded for her sensuality with John the Baptist’s head on a platter (a mistake—she should have demanded his saintly balls).  Eve and the sweet-tasting apple.  Delilah and her lover’s soft hair.  Madonna once said, “I’m tough and I know exactly what I want.  If that makes me a bitch, okay.”  OKAY!

Assertive men are admired.  Assertive women are unpleasant, unattractive, unsympathetic. As Barack Obama said to Hillary Clinton: “you’re likeable enough.”

Some feminist softies tried to divert our attention with a celebration of something called the “uppity woman.”  Derived, perhaps, from the legendary Laurel Thatcher Ulrich quote that “well behaved women rarely make history.”  I like this idea, but not as much as I like the word BITCH.  The word tears out of your mouth like a dog ripping the flesh off a bone—and not just any dog, either.  A female one.

A briskly selling gift item over the winter holidays of 2007 was a nutcracker in the shape of Hillary Clinton’s pantsuited thighs.  Between her legs was the fulcrum of her power, her Cunt as Destroyer.  How obvious could you get?

By the way, a lot of feminists get very upset when anyone, male or female, uses the word “cunt.”  I have also been tut-tutted for using “bitch,” though by now most folks agree that the B-word, when used by women, has a similar defanging effect as when gay folks call themselves “queer.”  I have trouble explaining this nuance to my young son, however, who knows I had an essay published in Bitch magazine but is surprised when I ask him not to share this information with anybody.

 

 

Role model musical chairs

Monday, March 11th, 2013

 

While most feminist writers these days are busily taking sides re: Sheryl Sandberg v. Maureen Dowd, I’ve been mulling a completely different front in the ongoing debate over “Who’s More Empowering Than Whom.”*

My Women’s Press editors are putting out an issue in April dedicated to music, and I get to weigh in.  I love pop culture, and I love pop music.  I also love feminism, and most of all I love my daughter, and these latter loves rarely peacefully coexist with the former.

I could have written a PhD thesis on single-monikered popstresses , but my column is too short to take on more than two.

In this corner, Her Royal Madgesty, the Queen of Pop: MADONNA!

 

 

In this corner, the tough young upstart, the Barbadian Babe, and the star whom my children vastly prefer: RIHANNA!

 

 

Who’s More Empowering Than Whom, faithful feminist fans?

I grew up with Madonna, so to me this isn’t a fair fight.  I also stacked the deck for the Queen with a song that’s among the top girl power anthems of all time.  And though I try not to pass judgment on women who remain with their abusers, for myriad reasons, still….eeeruygh.

This is not to say that a Madonna obsession is not problematic.  Would it be nicer if she weren’t prone to ridiculous publicity stunts, many of which involve her crotch & boobs?  Could she have a lighter hand with the plastic surgery and/or upper body weights?  The Malawi “orphans” with living parents?

This would be easier if I liked Ani DiFranco.

 

 

And I’ve tried.  Really tried.  I went to a hippy-dippy liberal arts college that brought her to campus as part of Take Back the Night festivities, but I lasted only a song or two before heading home to play THIS:

 

 

My kids’ reaction to anything remotely Riot Grrrrlish?  “THIS HURTS MY EARS, MOM! TURN IT OFF!”

Your picks are welcome in the comments.

Have Madonna, RiRi, Ani and/or Kathleen gone on the record about “Lean In”?  Since Madonna and Ani are mothers as well as artists and business owners, it’s probably only a matter of time.

 

 

 

*This is what we do instead of March Madness.  Pass the popcorn & wine!

 


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"With The Radical Housewife, Shannon Drury shares her journey as a stay-at-home mother and activist, filling in a wide gap within the feminist sphere. Drury not only takes the reader through her own feminist awakening and activist career, but also provides a bit of Feminist 101, reviewing the history of US feminism in an easily accessible way. A mixture of unflinching honesty and snarky humor, this book serves as a necessary reminder that mothers are an integral part of the feminist movement, despite not always being recognized as such." --Avital Norman Nathman, editor of The Good Mother Myth