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Passage of Inclusive VAWA: How Social Activism Pays Off

February 28, 2013

Today the House finally passed the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act. The inclusive version of VAWA is now on route to the president for his signature. It’s a moment for grassroots activists everywhere to take a break and appreciate the work they’ve done. And it’s a moment to pause and reflect on why everyone, to at least some degree, should be socially active in their communities.

There are multitudes of reasons people do not take action towards important causes: time constraints, tight money, feeling helpless, not understanding the issue completely and thus not feeling qualified…The list could go on. Just try to complete this sentence for yourself: “I would volunteer more but __________” and you will understand why social activism isn’t a top priority in so many people’s lives. It is all too easy to fill in that blank.

What’s worse, the excuses for not being involved are completely relatable. Social activism, volunteering, and the like aren’t paying gigs. Our society at large doesn’t value these activities for that reason (and more). And if you’re just trying to get by, make things work, it makes sense to put volunteering on the back burner.

Recently having moved from my cozy home state of Texas to the completely unknown Chicago I have been struggling to get involved. I know hardly anyone here and getting involved in activist communities like I was in Texas seems daunting and not a huge priority as I am still unemployed and need to find an income fast. Not knowing much about local issues and politics I also am not the best informed on things that need action.

I feel (in some words): disconnected, unknowledgeable, stressed, and worried.

I don’t know where to start (and don’t know if I should while still job-hunting with fervor). In a very real example of how this can manifest itself, for a long while I didn’t discuss the Violence Against Women Act issue with friends. Mostly because I was confused and felt too uninformed to talk about it. And it sort of was confusing. In the beginning I couldn’t understand why it was so difficult for our government to just reauthorize something that sounded great that had expired a frightening 500+ days ago.

Once I did a little poking around I realized what was going on. The Senate version was great and inclusive of LGBTQ individuals, immigrants, and native populations. The House version was decidedly not inclusive and backtracked even from the original version.

A quick rundown of the differences in the versions of VAWA offered for voting from safetyandjustice.org

A quick rundown of the differences in the versions of VAWA offered for voting from safetyandjustice.org

Via Huffington Post

Via Huffington Post

So I finally understood the back and forth, back and forth, and why protestors were working to get #realVAWA (the Senate version) passed. Understanding the population differential in those impacted by sexual violence in some way (visible on the image on the right), it makes sense why it was imperative to support a more inclusive version of VAWA.

But before doing some digging I was surprisingly silent about the issue considering how generally active I am as a feminist because I wasn’t surrounded by my normal (Texas) activist crowd I had grown for myself. And that, it turns out is the primary argument for social activism: community.

People often do not get involved because they lack community. And people who do get involved helping their community are rewarded with a vibrant community of their own. In the sort-of activist bible Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in Challenging Times, author Paul Loeb describes the aspect of community in great detail and how it factors into activism in a variety of ways. Most notably he writes:

When we work shoulder to shoulder with others for a greater common good, we gain a powerful sense of human solidarity… social involvement converts us from detached spectators into active participants. We develop new competencies and strengths. We form strong bonds with coworkers of courage and vision.

To get involved, to take that first step knowing you don’t know anyone or much anything about your cause except that you care is the scariest part. It takes bravery to step out of your comfort zone like that. But once you do, not only will you be working towards something you care greatly about, you will be rewarded with a community you may not have known possible. And whether you’re a new transplant (like myself) or someone who’s been chewing on the idea of involvement for a while now, community is something that is definitely worth my time, job or no job, money or no money.

Eternally Feeling Guilty: Letting Go and Taking Action

February 4, 2013

I was at a meeting recently that was a panel discussion on the state of women’s health in the U.S. in reference to all the recent anti-women legislation thrown around this past year (and still now). I was glad to be there as it was nice to reconnect with a majority feminist community after leaving school. During the comments/question section of the panel the microphone was co-opted by a woman who proceeded to comment and then stand to ask how many members of the audience knew about a certain feminist group she was a part of. Nearly the entire room raised their hands.

After the panel was over I connected with one of the women at the head of the initiative and talked with her about getting involved. She, and the others around her, lamented about how they have not been able to get very many young people to forge ahead with them. As far as I could tell, everyone involved thus far who I had spoken with had been a middle-aged, white women. I started getting a suspicious feeling that this organization, while good-heartedly created and run, was similar to the “women-only” feminist gathering I had been to a few months prior (I understand the need for safe-spaces for women only but after visiting this group I was sure that was not the case for their exclusion of men and it left me with a bad taste in my mouth).

I made plans to go to a meeting of theirs to see what was going on but sort of realized what was happening without even having to go. When I got an email about their meeting time and location I thought “No wonder you’re having trouble getting people other than yourselves involved!” The time for the meeting was 1pm in the afternoon on a workday. On a workday. Unless you’re a waiter or another type of shift worker and have enough time to get your shift covered by a colleague, there’s no way you’re going to be able to make that meeting. It was also three hours long which is quite a lot of tip money to be missing out on in the late lunch hour.

After getting several more emails about meeting that were similarly timed I had no doubt that while they were forging ahead doing good work, they were still finding it difficult to recruit youth into their ranks. This got me thinking about the subject of guilt. In movements and activism it’s often problematic at some point or another to achieve diversity and inclusivity in groups. Often this is met with a feeling of guilt and not understanding what the problem is but then a continuing on despite the issue. Back in the good ol’ days of feminism, and still now, this was an issue most keenly felt by people of color not finding representation in such groups and thus not feeling affiliated with the movement. And so we saw a moment in the movement where people of color were working on their own feminism apart from a movement they didn’t feel included them.

Speaking to this, the eternally inspiring Audre Lorde wrote:

I cannot hide my anger to spare your guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.

I come back to this passage often and have probably cried over it more than once (no shame here). I doubt I’m alone when I say that I feel guilty about most everything quite often. And about the most inconsequential things that Lorde would probably laugh at my using her writing to contemplate them better. I should I exercised today, should have treated that person better, applied to one more job, not eaten that ice cream, updated my blog more often, chosen a different major; You can make your own very long list most likely with ease.

We live in a competitive and individualistic society that loves guilt. Our culture thrives on people feeling guilty about not being better in so many ways. But in order to live with this, to not all have to go on record amounts of medication that the millennial generation has embraced to mitigate our anxiety, depression, or general loss of hope, we’ve got to start recognizing and naming our guilt and using it for good.

But before acting on all guilty feelings, we should practice some forgiveness first. I have and will continue to work on training myself for not feeling guilty for eating a bowl of ice cream. It’s delicious and Bill Cosby told me it was basically breakfast so there.

But those moments when you know you your guilt is true, we need to be more adept at making the feeling of guilt into an action of change. If you messed up with someone, don’t just apologize, actively work to fix it starting from that moment. If you know you have the time and ability to learn another language and have felt bad for not trying, turn off the TV and do it. If you want more young people in your groups, ask a young person how that might be accomplished and do that. There’s some guilt that we should always let go because it’s self-inflicted and all it’s doing is holding us back. But there’s some guilt that we need to use to accomplish things, to do.

Make a list, what’s holding you back, what do you always feel bad about, what of those things is frivolous, what’s important? Cross things out and make more lists to get going on doing something about the rest. Because feeling guilty is not enough of a response and it eats you up inside anyway.

When Your Kids (Or Boss) Finds Your Blog

August 10, 2012

Dear Dear People who stumble onto this blog and happen to read whatever is rummaging around in my brain, if you’re a regular then apologies for my absence. And if you’re not, then welcome! (And don’t pay attention to the sporadic-ness of my writing lately!)

Remember that terrified post-grad I was a month-ish ago? Well, I’ve managed to temporarily secure a temp-job until November. Woo! I’d like to tell you that it was because of simple perseverance and resume sending instead of that annoying “it’s all about who you know” answer. But it came down to who I knew that landed me the position. I wish I could offer more advice to help anyone who is currently struggling to find a job but I don’t.

In any case, I’ve been thinking lately about what will happen when we all grow up. Sometimes when I step online into what feels like a web-based feminist universe, I giggle wondering what will happen when all of these amazing individuals so honestly writing about their lives and their ideas have kids who grow up and read what they’ve shared so openly.

Much of this curiosity stems from my desire to know what my parents would have written if they had been more inclined to write. And still sometimes, if I’m having a particularly rough day I’ll come home and pick up a tried and true feminist writing and read a chuck out loud to myself as a sort of comfort. I’ve always been disheartened by the fact that my mom wasn’t as engaged in feminism as I am and have had good laughs at myself when I look back over at some of the crazy things I’ve written online, where anyone can find it.

I assume any baby with a computer makes this face. But if reading this blog? Who knows if it’s the computer or the content.

All this got me thinking about how these kids will feel when they find their parent’s writing. Will it bring them closer? Will it make the parent/child relationship turn into a more convoluted but rewarding parent-friend/child-friend relationship?  How does the way that we interact with people’s lives and writing online change how we interact with them in the real world.

Twice in my life when having a conversation with someone i have sent them links to pieces I’ve written and had the experience of them not reading the byline and when bringing the piece up, referencing to me as “the author” instead of knowing it was me who write it. It’s the oddest sensation. As if someone is grabbing a piece of me, peeling it off and putting it in a nondescript box. But it’s also quite entertaining because for a brief moment, it lets me see what this person thinks of me, without me. Of course, when I let them in on the not-so-secret secret that I had written the piece I’m reminded with a swift moment of awkwardness between us that I share more online sometimes than I do in the real world.

So what will my kids (if I have any) think of all the things I’ve written, what do my friends, bosses, and colleagues think of them now (and how does it or doesn’t it change how they interact with me), and will these potential kids even read this stuff? Honestly? If my mom had written stuff online I’d eat it up like candy. But all of this could also seem so passe to a kid (or anyone for that matter) in a few years.

In the end, seeing how families, friends, coworkers and people mitigate their offline relationships with their online knowledge is probably one of the things that keeps me up wondering about the complexity of human interaction at night. Ah, the illustrious late hours of being an anthropologist.

Film in Review: In Time and the Importance of Science Fiction

July 15, 2012

In Time from writer and director Andrew Niccol hit screens in 2011 and I’m hard pressed to understand how I missed another addition to the sci-fi thriller corpus. Sitting around last night I stumbled on this film on HBO and was captivated by the heavy implications of its plot. Most basically, it’s a universe where time is money and everyone is born with a clock that gives them exactly a year that starts counting down when they reach twenty-five. And the rest mirrors society in that the rich get richer (through inheritances and family businesses) in time and the poor get poorer as they live in “the ghetto” and beg borrow and steal for more time. Watch the trailer here.

in time film poster

The not-so-subtle clues to the plot line implications spelled out in the movie posters

The cast includes some pretty big names: Cillian Murphy, Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Olivia Wilde, and Matt Bomer. The film only received a 36% from Rotten Tomatoes  and got a not-so-wonderful review from the Los Angeles Times. It seems like these reviews stemmed from a script that was sub-par and didn’t do complete justice to the fantastic plot line as well as the lack of complete development of all of the implications of the plot itself. But I found the film enjoyable precisely because it doesn’t do too much of the heavy-lifting for you. As the audience, you’re asked to explore this world beyond the movie and make the correlations to our world now that are just dying to be made.

From a feminist perspective, the film is a let down with the typical “millionaire daughter falls for poor (in time) bad boy who changes her world view, etc. happily ever after…” story arc. But, letting ourselves temporarily let that go, there’s a lot to be said for how the film speaks to a society that is losing it’s middle class. Their world is divided into time-zones that divides society based on how much time you have. At one point in the movie Timberlake’s character asks Seyfried’s, “How can you live with yourself watching people die right next to you?” She responds, “You don’t watch, you close your eyes.”

The stratification of society that we see in our lives is slightly hyperbolized into a complete and utter segregation of the have’s (with ample time) and the have not’s (living hour to hour). Watching the film felt like it was the Occupy movement‘s anthem. And when a science fiction thriller where people are physically segregated by wealth feels closer to home than the genre sci-fi would imply (joining ranks with The Island, District 9, Gattaca (also from Niccol)Logan’s Runand Soylent Green, among others), I’m reminded of why the genre is so important to our media world. Because when you give a writer, director, and cast the leeway of being able to describe a work as science fiction, often what we end up seeing is a necessary reflection of some hard truths about our world.

Hair Cuts, Hair Care, and Self-Loathing

July 15, 2012

In the past week I have made two appointments to have someone cut my hair and canceled both of them. When I’ve brought it up in conversation, people have been very fervent that I either cut it away like I’d planned or never ever cut it again because it’s awesome. The very fact that I feel the need to make a Facebook poll and ascertain from my friends whether or not I should chop my locks is interesting enough (in the whole “I care more about what they think than how I feel” sort of way). But even more entertaining/disgusting about the whole situation is that I even consider it a situation and that it is consuming such a large amount of my worry quota of the day!

Then I got to thinking about the larger issue of women and hair. IT’S IMPORTANT. Terrifyingly important. And we spend amazing amounts of money to get exactly what we want. If you haven’t seen Chris Rock’s (surprisingly) wonderful comedy-documentary of “black hair culture” titled Good Hair, I suggest you watch the trailer here  immediately. It’s marketed as a comedy and at turn is indeed funny, but is actually a fairly wonderful portrayal of how important hair is to people. I’m not black, but the reason the documentary was so great is that it struck a nerve with how self-absorbed some women (*cringe* including myself) can be about their hair.

When discussing my potential cut with a friend recently, I stopped my tirade of confusion and angst for a moment to realize that people are dying, going hungry, involved in civil wars in their country and I can’t just get over myself already and not care so much (see: the  self-loathing clause in blog title).

My ever growing collection of “maybe shorter” images, two of which are a before/after of myself. Bonus: I have now realized why Pinterest is helpful in life.

In a week I will begin a new job, full of the data-entry and cold calling that is to be eagerly accepted and excited about right out of the college world. I couldn’t be more ecstatic. But what am I worried about almost more than I am worried over being awesome at this newfound employment? Yup, my hair.

I want to appear professional but not feel like I’m chopping off a part of myself. I want to not regret this cut like I have so many before. More than anything, I want to care LESS. Ms. Magazine recently ran a series on objectification in the media. Their third installment was a list of things we need to stop doing to be healthier, happier individuals. How much of how I feel about my hair is actually wrapped up in how I think others perceive me?

Ever heard of self-objectification? Well, it’s this terrible little term coined in 1997 that is most basically the act of objectifying yourself, looking in the mirror and not seeing you but rather, seeing you as you think society sees you. There is an awesome look into self-objectification in geek culture over at geekfeminism.org that shows just how convoluted the topic can be. But these days, every time I look in the mirror I wonder how much of how I see me is actually me seeing me as I think other people see me? You follow?

It makes the “to cut/not to cut” conundrum far from an easy answer, especially when you can’t afford extensions.

Post Grad= Post Stress? Not A Chance.

July 6, 2012

I chew my cheek. It’s a nervous habit, much like biting your nails, that I have yet to kick (except for a brief stint during a summer that I was interning for a zoo and felt like my hands were too dirty to ever touch my face). I enjoy joking about it with myself as self-cannibalistic tendencies. It’s not that funny of  a joke and maybe a bit inappropriate, but I find it humorous that the nervous habit involves biting the skin away from the insides of my cheek to the point of bleeding sometimes. Also, I don’t talk about this habit. Ever. Even though, if you know me, you’ve probably seen me do it often.

I’m almost certain that when I was in school, if I would have paid attention, I would have found that my habit reached an all time painful high around finals time and midterms. But, being as I was stressed, I wasn’t paying that much attention to what I was doing to alleviate that stress in the form of chewing on my cheek.

As I sat here tonight in my sister’s house with her and her husband asleep on the floor above me, I was struck by the fact that I was gnawing away at myself. I mean, for all intents and purposes I should be completely relaxed. Granted, I have yet to write my second article for my internship that needs to be done asap, but I had gotten cut from work earlier than usual today, had enjoyed talking with my sister a bit before she went into dreamland, and was now enjoying the feeling of being a guest in someone else’s home while still being completely comfortable.

I was taking a break from worrying about writing the article for my internship by reading the third book in the Fifty Shades of Grey series (I know, I KNOW. A post for another time). Why on earth was I biting away at my cheeks until I sensed the flat, metallic taste of my own blood on my taste buds? I have so very little to be stressed about!

Earlier tonight, I was reading this wonderfully written piece on anxiety levels in the U.S. and realizing that every single thing resonated with me so deeply. Read it, you will not regret it. The article traces the anxiety levels in the U.S. and how it coexists, interacts with, and is impacted by the meritocracy system that is pervasive in the country. You know, the “you get what you get based on how hard you work” sentiment.

This particular portion stuck with me:

Technology has multiplied the possibilities, for consumers and socializers. “Online, you can look at literally every option, from every retailer in the world [whereas] a generation ago, you’d go to the one or two department stores in town,” says Schwartz. “Instant portable communication encourages people to keep their options open until the last minute, so that they don’t miss out on something better. A generation ago, people actually made plans.”

Reading this came on the tail end of my reading of a favorite blogger of mine’s piece dedicated to a list of tips for fresh grads on job seeking. And I saw my problem instantly. I attempted a rough calculation of how many times today I had thought about my job/lack there of/desires for/goals achieves towards/resume points made/potential connections built/connections followed up on successfully/likelihood that anything would ever come from it all. 37 times. In total today (at least as far as I could remember) I worried, angsted, and fretted over my future career 37 times. It’s no wonder I feel like my teeth have moved from biting for so long at my cheeks.

So tonight I’m going to put in my retainer again (even though I’ve long outgrown it) to make me feel like my teeth aren’t really moving. I’m going to renew my goal to not stress so much, and fail in the morning and stress again because I feel like it’s my default mode of existence. Maybe eventually write what I should have written as I wrote this post instead, and not feel too guilty that this post has very little to do with feminism and far too much to do with just how frustratingly frustrating it is to be a post-graduate in a post-hiring world.

GoDaddy and LGBT Pride Month

June 21, 2012

Hello you wonderful human beings!

So, I’ve procured a short term internship with the wonderful site PolicyMic and I’ll be writing there for a bit. I’ll crosspost my articles here as I know they’ll be things you’ll enjoy as well!

This first one is about GoDaddy hiring a new ad agency and why it won’t exactly mean less sexism coming from the company.
This second article is the ten best ways to celebrate LGBT Pride month before it ends!

I hope you enjoy splendid readers! Now go have a delicious cup of tea and enjoy your day.