Friday, September 12, 2014

No Two are the Same

 I've started this blog post two or three times and haven't written it yet. Articulating my thoughts on this topic is often hard, because when you're writing about things you've experienced first hand, it's difficult to sound objective.

When the news of the Ray Rice domestic violence videotape hit the internet, I didn't pay much attention at first. I'm guilty of it as much as anyone – I often turn a blind eye to these type of stories, at least at first. Until I'm forced to confront it and bear witness to it. Not because I'm ambivalent, or devoid of compassion, but because these stories happen so often, so frequently, that they have become background noise for everyday life. Just one more domestic violence story, just one more story that will not have a happy ending. I grow tired of the victim blaming, the misogyny, the utter lack of sympathy and compassion that abounds after these things happen. I grow so tired of it that I pretend I don't see it sometimes.

It just feels never-ending, and it's disheartening.

But, you might say, the NFL has suspended Ray Rice! People are trading in their jerseys, people are looking at him for what he is, people have turned against him. That's justice, you might say.

It's too little too late, if you ask me.

I don't want to focus on Ray Rice, though. His story is one of thousands, just one blurb in an endless anthology of of men who are coddled and forgiven, and women who are silenced, manipulated, and hidden.

Yesterday I read that Rihanna – one of the most recognizable and subversive former victims of domestic violence – had been pulled from a scheduled performance at a Ravens game. The decision was made to cancel her performance because promoters thought that her presence, as someone so closely tied into the issue of partner violence/abuse, would be inappropriate.

Well, you guys failed. You majorly fucking failed. You took a teachable moment, an empowering moment, and you put the kibosh on it. Way to go. You just validated every abuser out there, by once again silencing and hiding a former victim.

Guess what the perfect title is for this Rihanna album?

I'm sure the guys at the NFL weren't thinking about it this way – they probably thought they were avoiding a difficult, awkward situation and saving Rihanna and all victims of domestic violence the pain associated with it. But here's the thing: having Rihanna there to sing and perform would have been the perfect balm for the festering, raw would so many of us are feeling. Why? Because Rihanna, and others like her (Madonna also comes to mind) is the type of former victim we should be looking toward. She is unapologetic, fierce, and absolutely in control of her art and her image.

When Rihanna was abused by Chris Brown a few years ago, the internet reached mass hysteria, making public the pictures of her private pain, sharing the details of the beating she took with an almost fervent glee, mothering her, fetishizing her. We speculated about how weak she must be when she was seen with Brown soon after. We were disappointed when she didn't want to talk about it, to get her feelings out. We felt sorry for her, we pitied her, and when she didn't act the way we wanted her to – instead of hiding away to cry and drown her sorrows, she appeared like a butterfly from a cocoon, refreshed, getting tattoos, a new hair do, releasing new songs, being unapologetic and fearless – we started to hate her.

Rihanna told us herself that she was not a role model for victims. She did not want to be that. She was beaten by someone she loved, but that did not automatically sign her up as a spokesperson. But! But! But! We cried. We felt shocked, scandalized. Here was a woman who had been beaten by someone she loved, the pictures shared with the world, the story known to everyone – and she wasn't in hiding? She wasn't even sorry? She didn't want to dedicate herself to her victimhood, become the voice for those like her? How dare she?

A part of me can't help but wonder, knowing this, if the NFL removed Rihanna from that performance because she's not the face of domestic violence that they (and we) want her to be. She's defiant, she's a little selfish, she's uninterested in our pity or sympathy. She doesn't fit the mold, and she won't play the game.

Most women who are victims or former victims of domestic violence are ignored, belittled, invalidated and misunderstood. Society has a very specific checklist of things a victim must do or say to win the token sympathy – if they fail on even one or two, well then, “they deserve what they get and I don't feel sorry for her.”

Our victims must be beautiful, frail, quietly reserved (reflecting on that inner pain), never angry, always forgiving and understanding of their abuser (after all, deep inside him is a little boy who suffered once) all the while distancing yourself from him, appreciative of the nuggets of sympathy and pity they receive, thrown to them like scraps to a dog, always submissive, always a little bit off-guard, gun shy, damaged. Beautiful. Frail. Beautiful. Frail. Redeemable. Forgiving. Frail.

We love to take care of pretty, damaged women. If you rob us of that, well, we can't really help you.

But the thing is, you have to do all of the above and do it on your own.

Nobody likes a drain on society. Don't ask us for our sympathy, our money, or our support. If you go back to him, (once, twice or seven times) it's your own damn fault and you deserve what happens to you. But if you can't leave on your own, and you ask for help, well, sorry. He's blocking the door with a baseball bat? Climb out the window. He's threatening to kill your pets? It's just a cat. He froze your bank account? Ask a friend for some cash. He siphoned the gas out of your car? Take the bus. He's threatening to kill himself? Call the cops. The cops don't take you seriously? Sounds like a load of feminist bullshit to me. For every excuse you have, we've got a reason to ignore it. Just leave him. It's that easy. It's that easy. It's that easy.

But be beautiful and frail, yet full of resolve, while you do it. We want that quiet pride, the surging of violins behind your beautiful eyes as they raise upward to the sky to show that you made it! You pulled up your bootstraps and you left him! You have to give us something to love, after all. We need a feel-good story.

God forbid you be angry. Never use your experience, your voice, to educate others or speak out against injustice. Nobody likes a nag. Nobody likes to be reminded of unpleasant things. We want your pretty tears, not your unbridled rage.

Here's the problem. I'm in the latter group, the Rihanna group. Yes, I'm a former victim of domestic violence. Emphasis on FORMER. I am not a victim forever; I am not defined by my victimhood. I am not forever marred, I'm not weak, I'm not fragile or frail. I don't need protecting. I don't want sympathy from the masses.

If I had to ask for anything I'd ask for a little basic compassion, support when I need it, but most importantly, understanding. I'd ask for anyone to thinks to raise their voice in judgment against someone who has been battered, to just take a moment and read some resources about domestic violence. Take the time to educate yourself about violence against partners and children. Read about the cycle, about how someone makes the transition from a one-time victim to a battered person. Read about the average number of times it takes for a woman to successfully leave her abuser. Read about the financial, spiritual, physical, sexual and moral repercussions involved with leaving an abusive partner. Read the statistics, the percentages, the utterly staggering numbers relating to the abuse, rape and murder of women in this country. Read, and read some more. Educate yourself. Before you spout off the victim-blaming, with the navel gazing excuses you spew out every time, just stop. Stop and think.

Not every victim of violence is like Rihanna. Many of us suffer silently, never telling about our abuse. Some of us require therapy, counseling, medication. Some of us never leave, some of us are killed. Some forever bear the scars. Every experience is valid.

But maybe, just once, we should have let Rihanna sing. She doesn't want to be the voice of domestic violence, and that's fair. But she could have been the voice of female empowerment, a living testament that you don't have to be reduced by your circumstances, that you can come out on the other side loving yourself, loving your life, in control and happily defiant. We are strong and we are here. No matter what mistakes we've made, we're never deserving of abuse. We don't have to fit the mold. It is never our fault. We're not going to sit down or stay hidden. We are unapologetic. That's a message I can get behind.

For that, I am happy. For that, I smile.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

It Starts With Us.

You're probably wondering what else could possibly be said about the recent shootings at UCSB and the #YesAllWomen movement that has followed. It seems that the internet has blown up with it – for the past few days, women have been taking to Twitter and Facebook to lay bare their stories, bloggers on both side of the argument have been writing opinion pieces, and news outlets are picking out every nugget of a story they can about Eliot Rodgers and the women (and men) who had the misfortune of crossing his path. 

I don't want to focus on Eliot Rodgers at the moment. The lives he took and his heinous manifesto looms over our heads, of course, and colors the discussion, but the shooting at UCSB is only the most recent in a long list of crimes against women at the hands of men. So many of them got precious little coverage, if any at all. UCSB was the straw that broke the camel's back for most of us, because it isn't an isolated incident. A scan of the past couple of years brings scores of stories of women who have been raped, abused, beaten, harassed, bullied, and killed. These are literally just a tiny handful of the ones I saw this morning after a quick Google search: 

These are literally just a tiny handful. A TINY handful. Just a small sliver of the reality that women face not only in this country, but everywhere in the world. This excellent post on Kinja talks about how so many women don't share their stories, or don't feel justified in talking about them, because "so many women have it worse". Society loves to reinforce that, too, because it keeps us from talking about what happens to us. It keeps us bottling it up inside, not confronting it, not making our abusers and attackers and harassers responsible for the way they treat us. It isn't always just fear that keeps us quiet. Sometimes it's survivor's guilt, sometimes shame, sometimes just the overwhelming fatigue of knowing you're fighting a losing battle. 

For my own part, I've experienced enough of this shit to write a hundred tweets. At my first job I was propositioned (at fifteen years old!) by my manager. He reprimanded me for a huge mistake I made and then suggested he'd "let it go" if I agreed to date him. I quit on the spot. At my next job at a big box store, I had a stalker. He came through my line multiple times per day and took my picture with a polaroid camera. Some days he'd give me the pictures. Other days he'd just make vulgar gestures. My own friends and family had to stand guard for me sometimes because my bosses didn't take it seriously. It was only after another customer saw him harassing me and called the police that they decided to take action. I was in an abusive relationship for years, and suffered horrendous mental and physical abuse by a partner I loved and trusted, who manipulated me into staying with him because he was mentally ill and "nobody else cares what I'm going through". After I finally wrenched myself free from him, I suffered from major depression for months because I felt so guilty for leaving him. Ten years later, that guilt still rears its ugly head from time to time. 

Those are just a few examples of my own reality, and honestly, they pale in comparison to so many other women. I'm just your average slice of the daily experience of being a woman. 

Enough has been written about MRAs and the Red Pill Movement and the new, dangerous #NotAllMen countermovement. I don't have anything to add to that discussion, except to throw my voice in with the chorus of people condemning it. It is ludicrous postulating, if you ask me. Yeah, guys, we know it isn't ALL men. We KNOW. Instead of trying to convince us that you aren't the big bad baddie we're talking about, why not instead take some time to educate yourself, and explore the reasons why these things happen to women. If you're a good guy, which I'm sure you are, then throw your voice in with ours and start helping us. Start condemning your fellow men for the rapes and beatings and murders they commit. Stop turning your head and pretending you don't see it. Stop making our stories about you. They aren't about you. 

That's where I stand on "not all men". But let's talk about women for a minute.

Women make up 51% of the population. We aren't the minority anymore, despite still being treated as such. We participate, whether we realize it or not, in the patriarchal culture that allows these travesties to happen. You do, and I do. We are brought up from little girls to actively participate in our own subjugation. 

Found this on Pinterest. Love it. 

Have you ever called a woman a slut or a whore? Have you ever judged a fellow woman for the way she dresses or behaves around men? Have you ever scoffed at an abused woman and wondered why she stays with that guy? Have you ever judged a parent for the way they allow their daughter to dress? Have you ever joked about getting out a shotgun when your daughter starts dating? Have you ever made fun of a friend's weight gain, or told her she was "too skinny"? Have you ever automatically assumed a woman "trapped" a man when she became pregnant? Have you ever blamed "the other woman" when a man was cheating? We don't even think twice about these behaviors, but they all contribute to misogynist culture, and we participate in it just as actively as men do. 

When I was in high school, I had a close friend who was a little more dating-savvy than my other friends and I. We were kind of in awe of her, because she was dating regularly and having sex and seemed to draw guys in like a magnet. We were envious of her, and it wasn't always pretty. I can still remember certain friends who would call her a "ho" behind her back, or joke with guys she had slept with about how she was "loose". I never participated in making fun of her, because she was a closer friend to me than she was to the others. But I was still complicit because I never spoke up for her, I never defended her. I stayed quiet and conflicted, because I didn't want the vitriol to be aimed at me. 

Our senior year, my friend went to a party with her ex-boyfriend, who she was still on friendly terms with. She trusted him and felt comfortable around his friends, all of whom were guys and girls she knew well. She told me she was going to the party with him because she was hoping they might get back together. She drank too much because she was nervous. At some point her drink was spiked. Her ex-boyfriend led her, stumbling and barely coherent, into a bedroom and placed her face down on the bed. She was then gang raped by him and several of his friends while unconscious. Witnesses at the party said that several girls were present, and stood around laughing while it happened. After it was over, they stole all her clothes and left her lying in filth on the bed by herself, while they all went out to another party. She woke up alone, drugged, with only a vague idea of the violence that had been done to her. She had to drive herself home at 3 a.m. wrapped in a bed sheet. Her parents punished her for going out. 

As for my friends? They weren't horrified as you would imagine. They scoffed. "What did she expect?" One of them said to me. "You act like a slut, you get treated like a slut."

Still, I stayed quiet. Because I was a coward. 

You may not have a story like this, but undoubtedly you have a story about a woman you've slut-shamed, maybe without meaning to. Someone you've made fun of, someone you've judged or criticized for her choices. Someone you've blamed for her own abuse, or someone you've looked down on for her circumstances. It would be a challenge to find a woman who hasn't done this at one time or another. It doesn't mean we're bad people. It just means we're victims in another way - victims of our own conditioning. 

I once ran into an old friend at a bar, and asked her how her best friend was doing. "She's dating some guy," she told me over drinks. "But it won't last, because she's such a whore. She fucks guys to get love and then they don't love her and she's single again." She was talking about her own best friend. This is the way we talk about each other. This is the way we view each other. 

We aren't responsible for our own rapes, our own abuse at the hands of our partners, or the way society treats us. It isn't our fault that we get paid less, or are expected to handle all the domestic duties, or have to keep up with an impossible standard of beauty and fitness to "keep a man". It isn't our fault that the second we come into the world in possession of a vagina, we're viewed as "lesser". That is not our fault, and I would never suggest it is. 

But we can do something. While taking charge of this movement, while breaking off our chains, we can also break off the chains of other women. The women who might not be strong enough to do it themselves. The women who may not realize they are imprisoned. The women who we've written off, "othered", looked down upon for their choices. 

Tina Fey said it best in the movie Mean Girls. 

Let's keep having the #YesAllWomen conversation. I hope it continues on forever. I hope we never go back to sitting complacent while these atrocities continue. The time has come for us to all stand up and say "No, I do not accept this. I will not be a casualty anymore." 

Let's remember, though, as we fight the good fight, that "charity begins at home", so to speak. We have to be good to our sisters. We have to be inclusive of their needs, open to their truths, and willing to embrace their differences. No two experiences are alike, and nobody is better or worse than another. A unified front is so much more likely to succeed than a divided one. It starts with us. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Hard Pill to Swallow

The following is a guest post by my friend and fellow writer Rebekah Kelley-Moore. 

I started this editorial two weeks ago after a late, sleepless night on Reddit. If you haven't been to Reddit (aka the “Front Page of the Internet”), I highly recommend you check it out. But be forewarned, you will not like everything you see there. They have what are called “subreddits”. There is a subreddit for everything. You like to indulge in Chocolate? Anime? Watercolor paintings? Or want to have your picture drawn by an amateur artist for free? There's a sub for that. I had looked through everything that peaked my interest and happened upon the “random subreddit” button. It was here, at 3 in the morning that I discovered a darker side to Reddit. “The Red Pill” Movement. Let the misogyny begin.
Before I go any farther, I feel a need to explain a bit about me. I am 35, and happily married. I have 3 crazy kids and a house full of animals. I was in the Army from ages 18 to 28. I can say with confidence that I understand and have experienced misogyny firsthand. As I am sure many of you Dear Readers have, too.
But this...this Red Pill movement...I was blown away. The “movement” is all about becoming an “alpha” male. How to trick “bitches” into bed with you. How women who DO sleep around are whores. How mistreating a women will make her want to jump into bed with you. How gender studies is useless. How feminists are “feminazis”. I am not kidding. I thought it was parody. It isn't. It's absolute bullshit. Rage inducing bullshit. It sounds like something some college fraternity kid came up with one drunk night after hitting on girls and getting nowhere. It was, frankly, laughable. I have linked to the sub. Be prepared :
And then it happened.
Saturday, May 24th, Elliot Rodgers shot and killed 7 people, himself included. He also stabbed three people in his apartment. All of his reasons were lined out in his manifesto. It was his “Day of Retribution”.
Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my revenge. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it."
Rogers frequented TRP and his videos, filmed days before his killing spree, touted Red Pill ideas. His manifesto titled “My Twisted Life” was 141 pages of his explaining how worthy he was of sex, how women are degenerates, of how he is everything any woman should have wanted. It was Red Pill garbage. I read the entire thing. There was something wrong with Eliot Rogers and it is my opinion that communities like TRP are enabling the behavior that leads to things like this.
So the question is: how do we combat this? Where does misogyny start? Those of us who are mothers, how do we explain this to our children, especially the boys about to go out into the world? How do we prevent this from happening again?
I feel so bad for the families of all these murdered kids. All over one boy's selfish inclination of entitlement. He thought that women ruined him. He thought he was owed sex and a beautiful women for simply being an “alpha” male. I pray these families, his included, find peace soon. No one deserved this. Even Rodgers himself, who was shaped by our misogynist culture into the violent man he became. 

Note from Tie Dyed Feminist:
It has been really heartening to see a small sliver of light come out of this tragedy. The #YesAllWomen movement has blown up into a force of nature in less than a day. If you haven't already, hop on Facebook, Twitter or Google and check out the hashtag to read enlightening, inspiring and often terrifying accounts of women who have experienced misogyny firsthand. Learn their truths and set your own truth free. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Winding Path from Religion to Spirituality

Today I have a rambling collection of thoughts (which are not very concise at all) to share about religion, spirituality, science and the labels we attach to them. 

I'm an agnostic atheist. It isn't a label that I bring up in many conversations, unless I'm asked, because I still adhere to the belief that it's impolite to push your religion (or lack thereof) on others. I'm well aware that I'm a dying breed in this regard - today, most people are pretty in-your-face about their belief systems; aggressively so. Not me. 

I actually have a pretty strong background when it comes to religion, though. I've never been ambivalent to it. I obtained my degree in World Religions (minor in Women's Studies, which will surprise nobody) in college, and even before that I was always interested - no, fascinated - by religion. I was born and raised Southern Methodist, but also exposed to Catholicism pretty regularly, as well as attending many Kingdom Hall meetings with Jehovah's Witnesses in our family. I participated in all of them with eager, wide-eyed fascination. In high school I became obsessed with Jesus (full disclosure: I think became enamored with the look of white, blue-eyed, bearded Jesus with a slightly lusty fervor that I find embarrassing now) and I devoured every book on Christianity and Christ that I could get my hands on. I collected Bibles (and read the "good book" three times from cover to cover during that period), wore a silver crucifix, attended Church regularly, wrote poetry and short stories about Christ and his disciples, and watched every movie and documentary I could get my hands on (the glorious irony of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, which I loved unabashedly and still do, totally went over my head at the time). I was pretty fervent for a 16 year old. I was also impossibly flighty and dying to find some meaning, and once I'd bled all I could out of that faith, I quickly moved onto the next thing. Which was Buddhism. I threw myself into learning about the Buddha, and then when I realized I'd gleaned all of the truths I could from that, it was on to paganism. 

By the time I started attending college, and was eagerly sinking my teeth into the first of many religious lectures, I had become a Baha'i, which I remained for almost a decade. Baha'ism is rooted in the belief that all religions are valid - in the simplest of nutshells, most Baha'i believe that every prophet - Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Muhammad and so on - are legit, so to speak. They believe that these men were all incantations of the same prophet, just appearing at different times and different places to bring the message to their various followers. They are all prophets of the same God, and therefore all religions are actually one. If only everyone in the world who believes in God would accept this truth, how many conflicts might be avoided? My idealistic mind clung to this. I accepted Baha'ism as my truth for a very long time, and if I were still a religious person, I'd most likely still be a Baha'i. 

Somewhere along the way, though, I lost my faith totally. Well, I didn't so much lose it as I cast it aside deliberately. The irony isn't lost on me that after obtaining a degree in Religion, and studying all the major faiths in the world, that I would become an atheist. It's ironic, but it isn't surprising. I've known other Religion majors who have taken a similar path. 

I'm not just an atheist though, in the sense that many people are. As I said above, I'm an agnostic atheist. I've heard some pushback from both religious people and atheists alike that this is not possible. "You can't be an atheist and an agnostic," they'd say. "Atheists don't believe in anything, period. Agnostics just don't know what they believe. You can't be both."

Ah, but yes, I can. I DO WHAT I WANT. 

Seriously, though - it's actually pretty simple. An atheist agnostic is simply a person who doesn't suppose there is a god - they've seen and heard enough evidence to support the assertion that there isn't - but they also are aware of the fact that we cannot see, hear or know everything. There is always room for error in the scientific mind. We don't have all the facts, so it is impossible to make a judgement call with 100% certainty. So yeah - I am pretty sure, almost positive in fact, that there is no god. But I'm not 100% sure. I'm open to the idea of one. 

I find the idea of being 100% absolutely certain of something to be distasteful. Life has proven to us again and again that we can't know everything about the universe, about ourselves. Why should faith (or lack thereof) be any different? 

I don't mind arguing semantics with folks, especially when it comes to Religion, because Religion is something that continues to fascinate me, even after I've abandoned it all together. It's true that so many atrocities have been committed in the name of Religion, but it is also true that Religion gives a great many people comfort and solace in a time of need. You won't find me judging those people, as long as they aren't judging me. I thrive on theological discussions and debates - it is one of my passions in life, after all.

What I don't like is being patronized, treated in a smug manner, or being talked down to by people who are religious and see me as somehow inferior because I am not. Often I want to rip out my hair when confronted with a person quoting a scripture that doesn't exist, or trying to tell me about a passage in the Bible that they can't remember properly. Even if I hadn't been studying religion and the Bible my whole life, I'd have the right to practice whatever belief system I see fit, and to assume that non-religious folks are somehow less educated or in need of enlightenment is self-righteous and disrespectful. We're all as qualified as we need to be to choose the life that fits us, regardless of whether or not we've read the Bible or possess a degree in religious studies. The fact that I have, and I do, just makes it all the more frustrating when confronted with outright lies, ignorance and misinterpretations. 

If I were still religious, there is no way I'd ever believe that God is hateful, or judgmental, or that he'd condemn one person who had done a million good deeds selflessly, and send another less-good person to Heaven simply because they went to church more. If I were religious, I'd be reading scripture and finding the wisdom and truth through my own insights, rather than listening to false prophets like the guy from Duck Dynasty, Pat Robertson or Sarah Palin. 

It bugs me to no end that it is assumed that atheists lack spirituality. I've seen so many memes floating around on social media, humblebragging about the poor lot of us pitiful atheists, how we have nothing to believe in, no beauty in our line of vision, no paradise to look forward to, nothing to praise. 

Clearly, anyone who believes that atheists are missing out has never watched an episode of Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey (the old or new version). How can you behold the Universe in its magnificent glory and not feel your spirit move? I'm sorry, but Religion does not have a monopoly on that. 

I saw this video a few years ago and it made me cry like a baby. It changed my life, which is kind of embarrassing to say about a YouTube video, but it's true. It changed my life. I watch it and share it all the time. It brings me so much joy. 

In the past, Religion brought me joy, too. I've carried pieces of so many faiths with me in my journey. Who knows what the future will hold when it comes to my spirituality. I am open-minded, and eagerly anticipate the possibilities. People love to say that being an atheist must be so finite, so depressing, so utterly without hope, but I can tell you that isn't remotely true. It was only after I became an atheist (albeit an agnostic one) that I realized just how spiritual I really am. I'm in love with the Universe, and I have a very strong faith - mine is just in people themselves. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Create Magic For Your Kids (If You Want To).

This week a friend showed me an article entitled  I'm Done Making My Kid's Childhood Magical, thinking I would find it interesting. I certainly did. The title hooked me from the get-go, and I read the author's thoughts on childhood and parenting with interest. She raises a lot of salient points about the materialistic, never-good-enough society that we live in, and the pressures it puts on parents of young children to constantly create "magic" for their kids. We worry that if we don't give our child everything, that they'll feel neglected, damaged, or not measure up to their peers. We take on the nearly impossible task of giving our children the "perfect" childhood, when in fact that can never exist, and we focus so strongly on creating those perfect moments that often we lose sight of the comfort and security that being grounded in every day life will give them.

I get it. I agreed with a lot of what the author had to say. As a whole, we're so focused on giving them everything, on being these perfect, model parents, on never showing the cracks beneath, that we lose sight of the real goal of raising our children. We never want to admit we could fail, or that our children might see us as anything other than perfect. We put that pressure on ourselves, and society, the internet, and social media only make it worse.

As a parent, my job is to provide my child with a structured, supportive, loving home in which to grow, learn and thrive. I provide him with guidance, unconditional love and support, and keep his basic needs (and a few wants) met. That's it. 

I really feel that it is that simple. I provide him with a home, with support and love, and allow him to become who he is. I feel that any parent who does these things for their children is a successful one, and the little details don't particularly matter to me. As long as your child is healthy, happy and has autonomy over themselves, you're doing a good job. 

Everyone views parenting differently, however, and the article suggests that those parents who strive to be creative, to always be doing some activity, are doing their kids a disservice. 

Bunmi Laditan, the author of the piece, says, "Since when does being a good mom mean you spend your days creating elaborate crafts for your children, making sure their rooms are decked-out Pottery Barn Ikea masterpieces worthy of children's magazines, and dressing them to the nines in trendy coordinated outfits?"

Nobody ever said doing those things makes you a "good mom". I'm sure there are plenty of moms who aren't really so great to their kids who are big on Ikea and making crafts. Just as there are plenty of really great moms who barely have the time to sew on a button, much less stop to play, and don't have the cash to buy their kids new clothes. Most of my kid's clothes come from the thrift store, or hand-me-downs, as it happens. But would it matter if they didn't? Nope. 

I also rail against the idea that "crafty" parents are the same as materialistic parents. We are talking about two very different things here. There are parents who spend a lot of money on their children, be it their wardrobe or their toys or their education, or what have you. That is their prerogative. Some parents have the cash flow to do that for their children, and some do not. None of my business either way. Then you have parents who are into doing things with their kids, be that crafting, playing games, baking/cooking, making music, hanging out outside, and so on. Again - I can't see the problem. Surely there are worse things than enjoying spending time with your children, and wanting to provide them with happy memories and one-on-one time?  Then of course, there are parents who are busy with work or housekeeping, who don't have time or money to provide their kids with much beyond meeting their basic needs, love and support. Again, you'll see no judgement from me. 

We're all shaped differently as parents. We all have different sets of priorities, different methods, different time and money constraints. There is no "right way" to do it. All of the parent types I mentioned above are fine. All are good. The author speaks against our culture and its air of competitiveness, of our incessant need to give our kids perfect memories. The same could be said, though, for judging other parents. Why do we feel the need to do it at all? Can we not validate our own choices without putting down another's?

I dislike the assumption that "crafty" parents must be somehow more privileged than other types of parents. It should be considered that perhaps some parents simply cannot give their children nice things, like new toys or fancy clothes or even great food. But they CAN take time to play with their kids, to make them things, to give them experiences that will show them love, nurture them and fill them with wonder. And yes, allow them to live vicariously through their children. Any parent who says they don't do that in one way or another is probably lying. And there is nothing wrong with gaining happiness through watching your kids be happy. Nothing at all. 

As you've undoubtedly guessed, I'm one of those "magic creator" Moms. On any given week, you'll see me cutting out and drawing elaborate paper versions of action figures for my son, in the kitchen baking from-scratch cupcakes with him, going on nature walks with our family and friends, playing elaborate games of hide-and-seek, tag and I Spy (he cheats), helping him "write" his own stories and make greeting cards for his friends, building barely-held-together bird houses and lizard boxes for the creatures he wants to examine, planting seeds for our garden, and more. We've made homemade chocolate together. Yesterday we made granola bars. We draw pictures of our family unit in chalk on the sidewalk. He has "jam sessions" out in the garage with his Dad, who is a musician. Our home is filled with play, with learning, and with creativity, much of which I suppose I "manufacture". 

I even do the elaborate-themed birthday party thing (though on a budget, and most of my cakes look like something out of Cake Wrecks rather than something you'd see on a fancy Pinterest Board). 

Nailed it!

I don't do these things because I'm trying to fake-out my son with a bunch of phony memories of happy things. They ARE happy things. There is nothing phony or contrived about it. We do these things together because they are fun. Because we're buddies. Because he asks me to. Because we love to spend time together. Because we're creative people. It's how we roll, and I would never apologize for it. 

I might be a "crunchy bitch", as my best friend calls me, but I'm a busy one. In addition to being a parent, I have two jobs, my writing career, and my own interests and hobbies to cultivate. I have a lot to keep up with, and I stay busy. So it isn't all baking and making art all the time. There are plenty of moments where my son is parked in front of the tv, having tablet-time, outside running around on his own with the dogs, doing homework, playing by himself in his room, or watching youtube videos on my computer. He gets plenty of alone time, time to make his own "magic". 

The article's opening paragraph says, "If our grandmothers and great-grandmothers could see the pressure modern mothers put on themselves, they'd think we were insane."

I'm not so sure. 

My own Grandmother used to sew me Barbie clothes. Just because she wanted to. My Mom would sit around with me on the floor and play me her favorite records. My Dad made it a point to take me to baseball games and concerts. My Great Grandmother showed me how to bake a pineapple upside down cake when I was 5 or 6. My Stepmother actually worked on a screenplay with me (the very first I ever wrote) when I was a teenager. Her parents took me to Disney World, to the Bahamas, and to dozens of museums. I don't believe any of those people did those things because they wanted to present me with some perfect childhood (and mine was far from it) or spoil me. They did it because they loved me and wanted to spend time with me. They wanted me to be well rounded, creative, and happy. None of those things involved spending tons of money or being anything other than who they were, or who I was. 

I don't think we, as parents, act any different than parents and grandparents did decades ago. I think it's more that with social media, and sites like Pinterest, we just see it more. People are able to share ideas more easily, and promote their goings-on with their friends and family - it's more in your face. I do think it's probable that social media makes parents who can't or don't want to be "crafty" feel bad. And that's not fair. I agree with the author that shameless self-promotion and bragging about their kids is something that people should not do. It creates that air of competitiveness that is so prevalent everywhere today - and about our kids. I find the idea of comparing your kid with another person's kid to be really repugnant, and it sends those children a horrible, messed up message.  However, I think the problem lies within social media, and our culture of oneupmanship, more than it does with parents who simply want to do things with/for their children. 

We're talking about parents of both sexes for the most part, but let's talk about Motherhood for just a moment. Women are already under so much pressure as it is - you've got to be thin, beautiful, smart but not too smart, funny, a good sport, the perfect girlfriend/partner, able-bodied, unoffensive, pleasant - throw the pressures of Motherhood into the mix and you really can't win. I tire so much of arguments between mothers about the right way/wrong way to do things. It starts before the kid is even born - you've got women getting into scuffles over natural birth vs c-sections, breastfeeding vs. not breastfeeding, and everything in between. Now we're arguing about the best way to love your kids. Hands off? Hands on? Do we give them everything, or give them as little as possible? Do we play with them, or let them do their own thing? Do we talk to them honestly and frankly, or shield them from hurts? And no matter the conclusions we reach, someone will tell us we're doing it wrong. 

But the actual answer is that we're all doing it right. If you care enough to ask "am I a good parent?", the answer is probably yes. 

It really has nothing to do with being crafty or not. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

It's Not Really About Duck Dynasty: Thoughts on Tolerance

 As most people probably are, I'm breathing a sigh of relief that the probably-contrived Duck Dynasty kerfuffle seems to be ending (let's hope). Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard about the comments Phil Robertson made about the LGBT community and have probably chosen one side or the other in the heated debate that has taken over this holiday season. Now that tempers have cooled, and attentions are waning, I'm relieved, but also disheartened at what I saw, read and heard. I'm left with a sense of desperate anger, and a wary sadness that I don't know what to do with.

It turns out that I'm guilty of naivete when it comes to this topic – somehow, I had cocooned myself in a bubble, carefully ignoring the bigotry and prejudice aimed at the homosexual community around me. I've always considered myself an advocate for LGBT rights, and with every State and Country that legalized same-sex marriage and/or civil unions this year, I fist-pumped in solidarity. I've been overly certain, you see, that the tides were turning, that those outdated, hateful attitudes towards gay people were becoming obsolete in the face of all of the new, positive changes overtaking the country. I haven't been blind to the still-too-rampant prejudices, but I suppose I just assumed they were waning, and that those hateful bigots were a dying breed – a last-ditch attempt to try and spoil the party, but an ultimately unsuccessful one.

So, when the Phil Robertson story broke, I snickered, and re-posted the article with a laugh. “What an idiot,” I thought to myself with a smile. “They'll rip him apart. I can't wait to see the adoring masses turn on him and his stupid show.” There wasn't a question in my mind that he would lose favor with his fans and that there would be a huge boycott of anything related to Duck Dynasty. I read the article in full, grimaced at all the homophobic and racist comments he made, then I closed it, not giving it another thought. See, I don't watch the show, and I'm not really a fan of the series. I have no real stake in what he says, and I didn't care all that much at the time. I read it, re-posted it, and it was promptly forgotten. Phil Robertson is, or should I say, was, barely a blip on my radar. The bigoted musings of a phony, concocted “redneck” reality tv star was more amusing to me than alarming. I figured everyone would be equally disgusted and bemused.

I was very wrong. I was in the car rider line, picking up my son from school, when I re-posted the silly story from my phone. By the time I got home, I had multiple comments on the post and several private messages from people who wanted to debate the issue. Other than a couple of people, almost everyone who engaged me on the topic were pro-Phil Robertson, and were vehemently defending not only his right to speak out, but the actual comments themselves. For the most part, the debate that happened on my Facebook wall was pretty civil, to my friends' credit. But nonetheless, I was shocked, and incredibly saddened to see so many people rallying around such bigotry. Further, they were using Biblical quotes and Christian ideals to back up his idiotic and hateful statements. After a while, I had to step away from the thread and take a break. And that was only on the first day, the afternoon that the story broke. The next few days were enough to make me physically ill. I took a break from social media all together for a while, since everywhere I turned was filled with arguments, mocking and hate-filled diatribes, memes of Phil Robertson covered in Bible verses that were totally taken out of context, article after article about “free speech”, what it means, the “War on Christmas” (because of course someone had to tie it in), and more homophobia and bigotry than I realized existed among my group of friends and family. People I thought were good friends were saying the most awful things, things that nearly made me cry. One post in particular said something along the lines of, “Phil Robertson's fan page has more 'likes' than Obamacare. Suck it, faggots.” I literally got sick after reading that one.

I don't know why I was surprised by it. It's not like I don't know from firsthand experience that homophobia exists, and that there are many people who will hide behind religion and/or politics to safely express their prejudices. I guess I just thought that it was fading away, becoming obsolete, and that those of us on the side of equality and unconditional love were “winning”. And I thought that I had protected myself better from those people who sought to hurt with their judgmental attitudes. Mostly, though, I was the most upset by the fact that so many people were quoting Bible verses (some of which don't actually exist in the Bible), to support their viewpoints. They actually had the gall to claim that Jesus himself would share their views. That Jesus himself would condemn a gay person. Even after the Pope himself made comments to the contrary, still these people would claim that God hates Gays and that Gays are Sinners and that Phil Robertson didn't say anything hateful, mocking or rude at all – he was just expressing his god-given right to an opinion as an upstanding, Christian citizen of this Country. I couldn't believe it. I still can't.

It isn't what Phil Robertson said that has me upset – I still maintain that I couldn't care less about what the man says, and I suspect the whole thing was a carefully contrived publicity stunt anyway. It's not him, or his ghastly interview that broke my heart. It was the attitude of those around me, those I love, the sheer intolerance, ignorance and misplaced pride in those who I thought knew better, that broke it.

I studied Religion in college, and I've read the Bible from cover to cover many times in my life. When I was younger, I made a study of Jesus. Even though I don't identify as Christian anymore, I still hold to Jesus' views when it comes to many things. He was an admirable man, a man worth reading up on. He said and did so many things that are a shining example of how we should all behave in this world. Jesus taught the message of unconditional love, and he also taught that you should never judge a person, unless you want to be judged yourself. He said to love your enemy, whoever that might be, and that if someone hurts you, to never act in retaliation. Literally every message he ever gave was about acceptance, tolerance, love and selflessness. Nowhere is it documented that he wanted his followers to be obsessed with the salvation of others, to judge people, to offer mocking and critical opinions of others' lives, or to be caught up in the gleeful celebration of condemnation of others. I imagine he would look to that sort of display and find it vulgar, ungodly, and sinful.

Jesus never said one word about homosexuality. The only slight mention of it is in the Old Testament, along with a lot of other guidelines that modern-day Christians carefully ignore, like the fact that you shouldn't eat pork, or wear mixed fabrics; you should keep your beard trimmed at all times (looking at you, Robertson), and some truly primitive views on premarital sex, marriage and child-rearing. We don't pay attention to most of those passages because we recognize them as outdated and out of context with our modern lives. And yet, so many people cling to that one tiny, probably misinterpreted passage about homosexuality, because it allows them to be bigots without repercussions.

Here's the thing. The Bible says a lot of things. A lot of really sensible, important things. Here's one:

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." - Matthew 7:1-5

And another:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” - Colossians 3:12

And another:

“And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone...[at her.]” - John 8:7

And finally, my favorite:

“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” - 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8

The way I've always seen it, to walk in the path of Christ is to love everyone equally and unconditionally, reserving your right to judge anyone, lest you be judged in turn. A true Christian is humble, giving, kind and compassionate, even to those whose salvation may be in question (though that should always be left up to God, and a true Christian should not concern themselves with the salvation of others, beyond spreading the word). To be Christ-like is to love, without fail, without pride, without expectation or condition. Simply, to love. Anything negative, mocking, judging, or proud is not an example of Christ. It just isn't.

I'm grateful to my Christian friends who uphold this view, and who live their lives accordingly. They are an example of what it means to be good, and they repair the damage done by others who spread messages of hate. I'm grateful for the Pope and his message of tolerance and unity; I hope that he will continue to spread more open-minded and inclusive ideas amongst the Catholic church, and that its followers will begin to adopt the same ideology. Despite this setback, I am still hopeful that LGBT youth will continue to see more acceptance and tolerance, and that the country will continue on a path of equality.

The Phil Robertsons of the world may be loud, and they may be popular among certain crowds, but they do not truly represent all of us. They do not represent the core values so many of us cherish – unconditional love, empathy, compassion, unity and respect. For those people who still uphold those ideals, you have my respect. For those who have fallen victim to the cult of personality, and have lost the true spirit of Christianity, I can only hope you find your way back. The Bible also says, after all, to beware of false prophets.

A family member of mine said it best of all, “Before you throw all your stones, might want to make sure Phil Robertson has a seat saved for you in Heaven. Just in case.” And another infinitely wise duo, Bill and Ted: “Be excellent to each another.”

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Round Up

So, as you can probably guess, I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the case in Steubenville. I haven't as yet written them all down concisely, because it's been a doozy of a week already, and quite frankly, I'm tired. Us soapbox jumpers get exhausted sometimes, I can tell you. One day soon I'll write up all my feelings and thoughts about rape culture, misognysts, victim blamers, rape apologists and double standards, but today is not that day. I plan to go outside today and do some gardening and try my best to not think about Steubenville and how depressing it is.

There are probably a dozen of really great articles and blog posts I have read over the past week that talk about Steubenville and articulate my feelings on the subject. I'm linking two of the really good ones here for you all to read. I highly recommend you read both, because they are spot on.

I Am Not Your Wife, Your Sister, or Daughter. I Am a Person.

Great blog post that talks about how we try to use the whole, "What if she were your wife, or your sister?" argument to try and humanize victims and make people see the error in their ways, and why it isn't really the best idea. Good read.

Prevent Another Steubenville: What All Mothers Must Do for Their Sons

This, from the Huffington Post, really spoke to me a great deal, as the Mother of a young son. It talks about how the responsibility lies with us, the parents of young boys, to teach our children to be compassionate, to treat each other with kindness, and to always be empathetic and kind. You know, so they don't grow up to be rapists.

Let's hope the next blog post can focus on happier subject matter. For now, these are thought provoking pieces that I hope you'll all take the time to read.