Love, Actually

After a week in the mountains of Montana with very little cell or internet service, I was greeted with a rough re-entry yesterday as I read report after report of the Orlando, Florida domestic terrorist attack on the gay community, interspersed with thousands of words on the Brock Turner/Stanford rapist trial and sentencing.

My heart physically ached, both for the victims and for society at large. This is our America.

I come from a religiously conservative place and the majority of my family still clings to a “Christian” idea that The Gays are destroying families and tearing the country apart, most still have not accepted Obergefell vs. Hodges ruling legalizing gay marriage nation-wide. Some are actively campaigning to repeal that ruling and do so in the name of God, or of Family, or whatever. To be fair, some have made the leap from this narrow-minded un-Christian viewpoint to a more tolerant stance, and a very few have stepped up to the activist level of fighting for equality among hetero and homosexual humans. Very few.

Likewise, the vast majority of my family and hometown community vehemently boycotted and opposed Target and other retailers over their non-discriminatory bathroom policies, claiming knightly ideals of protecting women and children and ignoring underlying transphobia, hatred, and fear. However, nobly fighting for protections for women and children has yet to move to a place where they want to actively protect their loved ones from rapists and sexual abusers. I mean, in theory, sure, but white, heterosexual, vaguely Christian/Capitalist/clean-cut rapists are beyond their scope of imagination. You know, men like Brock Turner. So the idea of vocalizing disdain for Turner, his father, or the wrist-slap sentence is too “other” for them. Turner looks too much like the guy next door, and rapists living next door is too much to think about. But, men dressing up like women and entering bathrooms at Target to molest their daughters, THAT is super likely to happen.

I realize that not all areas or communities have this baggage in their immediate reality, but I do. And it has been so infuriating the last week or two to see the giant dichotomy between where I am and where they are, to see such blatant hate and prejudice–disguised as “protecting The Family”–flooding my social media feeds. To see dozens, yes, dozens, of people who share my genetics rant and rave about trans-friendly bathroom policies, yet say nothing about someone essentially getting away with raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. To see the same people invoke the morals of God to protest gay marriage, but who nonchalantly “Pray for Orlando” is making my blood boil. Sit down. What kind of “Christian” are you!? Praying for those who are hurt yet refusing to stand up and protect them in the first place is the most hypocritical kind of fuckwit. I suppose it is possible that some who protested Obgerfell vs Hodges a year ago have had a legitimate change of heart and now align more with gay rights groups and are LGBQT friendly, but I highly doubt it.

I have to sometimes force myself to stop thinking about all the ironies and inconsistencies, this pithy hashtag activism with zero action behind it, and–more often than not–using those status updates as a smoke screen for deeply held bigotry and hate, labeled “tolerance” but, in actuality, just straight up homophobia/racism/sexism. I have to force myself to close the screen and walk away from devices or I literally become so upset I begin to foam at the mouth. Ok, perhaps not literally-literally foaming, but close enough. I get agitated, my face and neck turn red, my hands start to shake, my eyes leak, and I either start pacing and yelling at no one in particular, or I get so pissed off that my words turn into grunts and definition-less exclamations of anger and frustration.

The world, ya’ll, is fucked. I see so much hate and fear, so much division and focusing on differences and opposition, and so little value placed on love and compassion, on celebrating the similarities between humankind, and allowing humans to be their own selves.

It is exhausting. I am exhausted.

I do understand that while there is this scary underbelly of fear and hate, there are also beautiful pockets of love and empathy, of genuine caring and friendship. I see both sides illustrated clearly in the current Presidential primaries, and in my (more curated) social media feeds. The friends I have made as an adult hold opinions similar to mine. The strangers I follow online are not bigoted, racist, sexist bastards. Many are activists in their own right, fighting for equality and peace, and I love and cherish them for their views and their determination to not give up the fight.

I often think of the Mr. Rogers quote about helpers, always look for the helpers, they will always be there. I see them, I see you. I see your faith in humanity, and faith that a small group of people fighting for love and tolerance and equality can create nation-wide change. I see you. And I am sorry for doubting, for allowing the ugly fears to get me down; I’m sorry for letting those statements cause despair and hopelessness.

We may be few, we activists, but we are relentless. In the end, love wins. Right? It sometimes seems like that isn’t enough, that it isn’t fast enough, that too many people will be hurt in the interim. But, like all great stories, in the end, the good will conquer evil, the love and hope will defeat fear and anger. Right? Please assure me you believe this too,¬† that we are not fighting in vain. That eventually¬† the seedy underlying fear and hate and anger will dissipate, that humans will be safe from each other regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or anything else.

Love wins, right? Eventually, love wins.

Harriet sig

Feminism, Sexism, and Gender Equality: Fight the Bigger Fight

This week has been exhausting. I do not usually engage in online battles, and I certainly do not try to host them in my own online spaces (in this case it was Facebook). But, over the course of the last few days, I have been going back and forth on bathroom policy, specifically, on where people are allowed to legally pee.

Here’s a thought: Fight the Bigger Fight.

Stop freaking out about bathrooms and big box stores. Start freaking out about Rape Culture and the wage gap, the lack of affordable child care or paid maternity/paternity policies at the vast majority of US companies. Start freaking out about the lack of women in STEM, teachers not calling on girls or challenging girls to excel in math, science, or other “difficult” subjects. Start freaking out about the misogyny of menstruation, the fact that women in pain are often not taken seriously. Start freaking out about the emphasis on appearance instead of performance that women face every. single. day. Start freaking out about the systemic degradation and objectification of women, younger and younger women. And then DO something! Yes, I understand there is a very small chance that a predator dressing up as a woman could enter a women’s restroom and peep at or–heaven forbid–assault a woman or child. But in the time it has taken me to write this post how many women or children have been sexually abused? Exploited? Objectified? Used? What about the statistic that says 1 in 3, or 1 in 4 (depending on your source), of women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. That’s 25-33%. That’s a LOT of percent! I believe it is safe to say that 100% of women will be sexually harassed at some point in their lifetime. FIGHT THAT FIGHT, dammit. Yes, it’s harder than blithely throwing up a “Boycott Target” post. But it’s the only way to ACTUALLY protect women and children. Fight against the actual perpetrators and the institutions and social contracts that protect them.To be clear, I am not saying “ignore this issue (women or children being sexually assaulted in bathrooms) completely.” Never once have I said “the women who are boycotting Target are somehow less than in their thinking.” And never once did I criticize a Christian or otherwise conservative group collecting and posting incidents of people being attacked in bathrooms. I said “Fight the Bigger Fight.” Humans being sexually attacked and assaulted in public is a symptom of a MUCH larger societal disease. Take on that disease, don’t try to band-aid just one of the millions of ways sexism, misogyny, and benevolent patriarchy pervade our society.

I will fight for women’s rights and for justice when those rights are taken away. I want predators to be punished and I want the punishment to be such that other predators take pause before committing sexual assault, I want them to even decide “Ya know, the risk is too high, it’s no longer worth trying to molest or rape a woman because the reporting and investigation process is such that I will most likely be caught and punished to the full extent of the law.”

In ADDITION to that, I want women to have equal opportunity and equal rights in other areas of their life that have nothing to do with the gratification or pleasure or sense of power that our magic bodies can somehow give men, both our lovers and violent, predatory strangers. I want women to be seen for MORE than their body. I want them to succeed and excel in every other aspect of their lives, and I want society and the law to support that instead of hinder it.

Am I concerned about a woman being attacked in a public bathroom by a sexual predator who is dressed up like a woman? Yes. It is possible that such a scenario could happen,¬† no woman (or man) should ever have to experience sexual assault. Do I think that boycotting Target will actually do a damn thing to reduce that likelihood? No. I don’t. Not one little bit. If women stayed home at all times, and were lucky enough to not have sexual predators or abusers living with them IN their homes (fathers, uncles, brothers, husbands, sons, etc), then they would always be safe. But that is not the world I would ever want for a woman, for myself, for my stepdaughter, for my sisters or nieces or friends or their children.

Boycotting is not the answer. Change is the answer. And to create change you have to fight the bigger fight. We–women and men–must actively women’s rights, equal protections, a reduction of exploitation and objectification, and harsher punishments for those who abuse, exploit, and objectify women. Is that harder than boycotting Target? Yes. If enough people demand a better society and governmental law will it lead to actual change? Yes. (Funny how that works). I want to encourage activism and women AND men taking a stand, fighting for women, and doing so against the every growing mountain of sexist bullshit. Will this activism lead to an egalitarian, gender-equal society within my lifetime? Maybe not. And I cannot explain how angry and fundamentally heartbroken I feel while typing that statement. But will I stop fighting for drastic and fundamental change? No. I won’t. Because I want a better world for myself, for my friends, for all of our daughters and granddaughters, our nieces and sisters and mothers. I want a better world for my sweetheart, for my brothers, my father, my friends, for all of our sons and nephews and husbands.

There is a line in the movie The American President where Michael Douglas says that, as President (in an election year), he should only fight the fights he can win. His Chief of Staff, played by Martin Sheen, responds with “You fight the fights that needs fighting!”

Fight the bigger fight. Fight the fights that need fighting.

Harriet sig