|By Father of JGKlein, used with permission – Father of JGKlein, used with permission, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10787084|
I had the great good fortune to spend five days in NYC last week, walking some of the same streets that the woman from this Hollaback video walked while she videotaped the response. If you haven’t seen the video, it is essentially the distillation of ten hours of footage as she walked around Manhattan in jeans and a t-shirt. The reason it is worth watching is because of how she is treated by strangers as she strolls the streets alone. Some of the unsolicited attention is very disturbing.
Like I said, I walked those same streets last weekend and, with the exception of street vendors trying to sell me something or hand me a flyer for a bus tour, nobody talked to me at all. Because I’m patently unattractive? I don’t think so. Because I was walking with a man.
He happened to be my husband, but he could have been my brother or my uncle or just a friend. And that is what I think makes all the difference. The two of us witnessed many incidents of street harassment of other women as they walked alone or in groups and I may or may not have told one man as he repeatedly increased his volume and pled for one woman to respond to his “compliments” that I thought he was an ass and he should just shut up. Bubba may or may not have squeezed my hand and started walking faster.
Since this video was posted, there has been much debate on the subject of catcalling and street harassment and many of the usual players have cried foul. On Fox’s show “The Five,” host Eric Bolling said he didn’t see anything wrong with most of what happened in the video and his co-host agreed so wholeheartedly that he catcalled her from the set of the show. In addition to the more famous folks weighing in, there have been scores of others who have defended catcalling as “polite,” and a legitimate way of greeting people on the street. It is this notion of ‘people’ that I take issue with.
If you are a straight guy on the sidewalk and a couple walks by, are you likely to greet them both with “good morning,” or a leering “God Bless You” if they are a particularly handsome couple? When a single guy walks by, would you look him up and down and say hello or comment on his choice of clothing? If you answered yes to either of those questions, you might live in the Pacific Northwest or some other locality known for its neighborliness or polite culture. But if you are in a big city and the only people you “greet politely” on the street are young women, either walking alone or in a group, then you are likely giving them unwanted attention. If you persist by asking them for something (a phone number, an enthusiastic response, acknowledgment of your physical prowess or simple glee that you noticed them), you have crossed the line into creepy and aggressive and inappropriate.
If you, like men’s rights activist Paul Elam, believe that men who catcall are simply as “innocuous” as “panhandlers, strangers who talk too much…salespeople, survey takers and even officious video makers,” you might want to realize that these obnoxious folks on the sidewalk are Equal Opportunity Offenders. These folks are starting unwanted conversations with people of all ages and genders. Their motive is generally to make money and, occasionally, to incite discomfort. Folks who catcall are not neighbors simply trying to connect with other human beings. I cannot say exactly what their motives are and I suspect they are complicated and not necessarily universal, but the fact that most of the remarks are sexualized in nature or tone adds an insidious element to them that is not present when a shiny pamphlet or petition is being shoved in your face.
There are already too many situations where a woman can be uncomfortable in public given the culture of objectification in this country. I fully admit to being very nervous in an elevator by myself with a man I don’t know or walking down a dimly lit street alone when a man or two is coming toward me. That may be unwarranted, but the balance of power is shifted such that I, as a female, feel vulnerable in those instances. Add in comments such as the ones Shoshana Roberts heard in her daytime stroll through a crowded city, and I don’t think you can fault women for crying foul. If it isn’t something you would say to someone you aren’t sexually attracted to, it isn’t something you should say at all.
It is not often that we get to spend time with our childhood heroes, if at all, but I was lucky enough to do that last week. Thanks to folks at the Women’s Funding Alliance, I had the opportunity to head to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico and steep myself in the deep knowledge and energy of three iconic feminist leaders.
It was a ‘conference’ like no other I have ever attended for so many reasons, chief among them the fact that all three women stayed for three full days. They spoke individually and came together to discuss ideas and answer questions. They were available during free time for us to approach them for autographs and photos as well as conversation and it all felt very intimate, especially given that these three women have known each other for years, and worked together on important projects and ideas. Their collective Q&A sessions had an air of ease and camaraderie that extended to the audience.
Alice Walker kicked off the week by talking about fear and mindfulness and transitions. She has a fiery edge to her that raises passions, points out injustice and prejudice and stirs up deep emotions. She is a brilliant orator and it is clear that she is always thinking, answering spontaneous questions with a deliberate message. She read poetry and expressed strong opinions and stood on the stage looking slightly regal. She was that fiery grandmother who is not about to keep quiet.
Gloria’s presence was anchoring. When Alice sent us up into the sky with her talk of war and politics and race, Gloria grounded us all back in our own skin. She was calm and clear, offered concrete examples, and urged us all to decide what was important to us in our own communities. At the age of 80, she continues to travel the world listening to people, reading books and essays, constantly deepening her understanding of the patterns and connections that are both healing and harmful. She possesses a historical and global knowledge of gender violence and was careful to bring it full circle, reminding us that taking the 20,000 foot view is paralyzing, that we must all strive to find the thing we can do that is right next to us. She urged us to be aware and active, to use the power we have right now (our dollars, our votes, our openness to connecting with others), and to really listen to others. She was funny and irreverent and consistent in her message.
And just when we were all feeling quietly inspired to go and be change agents in our own communities, Dr. Chung came up and offered us joy. I had never heard of her before this week, but the first time I saw her I couldn’t help but break into a grin. This woman absolutely radiates love and warmth. Her smile is luminous and crackles with energy and she seems entirely undaunted by anger or doubt despite the hard work she does every day to liberate women and create peace. She talked about compassion and empathy, about connecting with others on the most basic levels in order to crate a sense of shared humanity, and she offered astonishing examples of how this has played out in her own life. She laughed and danced and brought us all along on her wave of optimism, cracking jokes about orgasms and kicking butt.
With the addition of a large group of folks from the Women’s Funding Alliance, the week was perfect. We hiked and talked, turning the ideas over and over again. We sat and drank wine in the evenings, discussing ways to implement the most salient pieces in our own part of the world. We felt inspired every morning as we awoke to the prospect of another fascinating exchange. I came home floating, my brain absolutely overflowing with plans, quotes from these three powerful women bubbling up here and there. I know that I haven’t yet fully integrated all of the wisdom I received last week and I expect I will continue to turn it all over in my brain for weeks to come, but I will leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from the week.
“Hope to be imperfect in all of the ways that keep you growing.” Alice Walker
“Where love exists, it is hard for jealousy to sprout.” Alice Walker
“Mothering is an art AND a practice.” Alice Walker
“Religion is politics in the sky.” Gloria Steinem
“As long as God looks like the ruling class, we are all in deep shit.” Gloria Steinem
“Our children only know they have something to say if someone is listening to them.” Gloria Steinem
“If you want ‘x’ at the end (ie. joy, laughter), you have to have it along the way.” Gloria Steinem
“Who wants the Golden Rule administered by a masochist?” Gloria Steinem
“Hope is a form of planning.” Gloria Steinem
“If you connect, there is peace. Disconnection leads to violence.” Dr. Hyun Kyung Chung
“All the things we do not want to confront within ourselves, we project those onto others and we call them terrorists.” Dr. Hyun Kyung Chung
“There are two ways of being broken – being broken apart so you lose your soul or you are broken open, wider, bigger, fuller. So you become a container for suffering, an alchemist who can change your suffering into joy. Don’t be afraid of being broken. Surrender into brokenness but don’t be broken apart.” Dr. Hyun Kyung Chung
“I am a theologian because I have to save God from patriarchy.” Dr. Hyun Kyung Chung
Lola loves watching Hollywood Game Night. She thinks Jane Lynch (the hostess) is hilarious and while she doesn’t know most of the guests (Ray Romano who? Martin Short what?), she loves the banter and the games. It has become our weekly ritual to sit down together and watch. I know very few of the pop culture questions and she likes to see the puzzled look on my face when a reference comes up that sounds utterly alien to me.
Last night we were watching an episode that aired a while ago and the game I suck at the most was part of the show. This game is called “Timeline” and consists of six giant posters with images from one category (Rolling Stone magazine covers, for example) or one celebrity’s life and the contestants have 90 seconds to put them in order of oldest to most recent. Yeah. As someone who has been mostly oblivious to pop culture since I graduated from high school oh-so-many-years-ago, I am useless at this one.
One team’s posters were of six different Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue covers beginning back in the 1990s until present day. As the “valets,” as Jane calls them, revealed each one the crowd oohed and aahed (and laughed as one of the contestants was featured on one poster – topless). When they were all facing the crowd, Jane said something I found very telling. She said, “As a feminist, I find these all very disgusting. And as a lesbian, I’m thrilled!” The room erupted in laughter. And I get it.
There is no reason we can’t admit that seeing pictures of attractive folks in various stages of undress is pleasing to us. There’s a reason this issue of Sports Illustrated sells more copies than any other throughout the year. We love looking at these bodies.
That doesn’t mean I don’t completely buy into the notion that objectification of anybody, male or female, is harmful. I have just as many objections to the SI swimsuit issue as I do to many of the mainstream advertisements out there for cologne or clothing or anything else for that matter. But I think that this is why I don’t really have a problem with this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue featuring the iconic Barbie doll. (Yes, in case you hadn’t heard, the cover of this year’s issue features Barbie as the model.)
In fact, I think they ought to go a little farther and have all of the suits modeled by Barbie. Not that this issue is about swimsuits, or selling swimsuits, or even sports for the most part. But if we are going to embrace the objectification of women and men, we may as well go all the way and use objects to make our point, right? I mean, the rampant use of Photoshop to alter the pictures of the real-life models renders them completely fake, anyway, so why not use plastic dolls instead? They are certainly vastly cheaper and the graphic artists can still play around with Photoshop to add more ripples and muscles where Barbie doesn’t have any – maybe even a little peek-a-boo nipple in a shot or two, huh?
Nobody is likely to get very hot-and-bothered over the photos in the magazine, given the fake nature of them, but I suspect an entire issue with nothing but plastic dolls as models in sexy poses and various stages of undress might go a long way to pointing out that the photos featuring live models are just as fake, don’t you? Or maybe I’m wrong…
Over the last few years I have been lucky enough to be involved with an amazing organization called the Women’s Funding Alliance. My first real awareness of them came at their annual fundraising breakfast and sparked a series of blog posts that started with this, which you may remember.
Last night they sponsored a Town Hall event that focused on the idea of what it means to be a girl in this day and age. Four speakers with varied backgrounds and perspectives came to talk for eight minutes each about their notions of what it means to be a girl now and why it is so important that we acknowledge and address the challenges they face. A robust Q&A session followed and I found myself nodding my head and taking deep breaths and, in a couple of instances, rubbing the goosebumps on my arms that arose in response to a particularly revelatory comment.
This event came hot on the heels of last week’s screening of Raising Ms. President, a documentary about the dearth of female political leaders in this country. Eve and Lola both attended the movie with me and we had an illuminating discussion about it on the car ride home.
There is a lot of talk in the “women and girls movement” about leadership and I wholeheartedly believe that for many girls, it is important to see someone who looks like them in influential roles, if only so that they can begin to imagine themselves there and give themselves permission to shoot for the stars without apology. Eve and Lola attend a school whose mission, in part, is to create female leaders.
That said, perhaps the most dramatic moment of last night’s event for me was when Erin Jones, a mother, teacher, and internationally recognized educational activist said (and I’m paraphrasing, I didn’t write down her exact words, unfortunately),
We are all leaders in our own way. Leadership isn’t connected to titles. We are all teachers. As long as we are all being our best selves, we are leaders and have the capacity to effect change.
I don’t have to have a Ph.D. in order to be a leader.
I don’t have to have “CEO” in my job title to be a leader.
In order to make the world a better place, my daughters don’t have to aspire to be President. Of anything.
We are all teachers because we are all learning, all the time. We learn by watching the people around us, by listening to them, by observing how they make their way through the world. So long as we are clear on our own values and are being our best selves, we are leaders. Even if it seems like nobody is following.
In that paradigm, we do not have to teach our girls to grab power, to “lean in” to the power structure that currently exists. Power and influence are not external, finite resources. They exist within us all and it is merely a matter of reframing that allows us to begin to understand what our own unique power is. Often, it takes a little convincing to help another person recognize their gifts and honor them, to give themselves permission to use them. Acknowledging that we are all allowed to be leaders, called to be leaders in our own right turns everything upside-down.
In that paradigm, the most important thing we can do for girls is to nurture them and give them the encouragement to protect and grow their own passions and ideas about the world. One of the other speakers, Nan Stoops, the director of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, gave us all an idea of how to do that. She referenced a TED talk where the speaker, Adrian Penza, illustrates the idea of “exponential growth” by talking about folding a piece of paper in half over and over again. After 42 folds, the paper is tall enough to reach from the surface of the Earth to the moon. At 43, it is tall enough to reach to the moon and back. What does this have to do with nurturing girls? Simple. If we imagine each message of support to a girl as a ‘fold,’ think about the effect we could have by doing that 42 times or more.
I was lucky enough, during a difficult time in my adolescent life, to have someone who did that for me. My father’s second wife was consistently in my corner. She was always available to listen and offer her perspective to me, to build me up when I was feeling unsure of myself, and to assure me that I was capable of doing the things I most wanted to do. After a while, I started to believe her. She helped me excavate the passion and power I had buried under layers of conformity and cultural expectations so that I could begin to make my way through the world with pride and confidence.
While it is certainly important for our girls to feel as though they have the same opportunities and rights to be leaders in the boardroom and the capitol building, it is also vital that we teach them about other kinds of leadership. If we become a society who buys in to the notion that there are only a finite number of spots available for these traditional ‘leaders,’ we are denying the talents and gifts of everyone else. I think that we need to spend time on the message that we are all leaders whether we know it or not.
|Photo from AP Wire|
Somehow, the topic of Miley Cyrus came up in our house a few weeks ago. Yes, before the MTV Video Music Awards and Miley’s latest public appearance.
My girls are just old enough that they used to really enjoy watching “Hannah Montana” and Bubba and I used to be forced to listen to them sing her songs over and over again. It has been a few years since that show has appeared on our television – Lola prefers ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘The Simpsons’ and Eve is a total ‘Pretty Little Liars’ fan – and neither of the girls owns any of Cyrus’ new music that I know of. It is, however, nearly impossible to miss the tabloid headlines and magazine photos of her with her partially-shaved, blond-dyed hair and new, much edgier look.
When we started the conversation, I encouraged the girls to say what they thought about her and both gave me some version of the statement “she isn’t classy.” I have to say that I agreed, but I did manage to paraphrase this quote from her that I admired:
“People think that I was made in Burbank in the Disney building.”
When Kelly Osbourne asked her about her transition from childhood to adulthood as a celebrity, she answered,
“It’s called puberty….Everyone’s done it from the beginning of time. I’m just doing it, so you’re zooming in on it and you’re fascinated by it.”
The reason I held that up for my girls to think about is because I think she has a valid point. Some teens go through a period of major rebellion and others stay pretty much the same as they always were. Some manage to hide their testing behaviors pretty well from their parents and others don’t. Miley Cyrus ought not to be expected to stay the same innocent (if she really was that innocent – hard to know since I don’t know her personally) young girl she portrayed on television any more than anyone else. She is growing up. She is allowed to get a tattoo or shave her head or sleep with whomever she pleases, whether or not we like it. Whether or not we find it uncomfortable to look at.
I think it is patently unfair to so closely scrutinize Miley Cyrus for daring to take some chances with her physical appearance as a young twenty-something. She is playing with her own boundaries, something she is absolutely entitled to do so long as she isn’t hurting anyone else or endangering herself in any way. If she were anorexic or playing fast and loose with drugs and alcohol, that might be another situation, but still not one that’s any of my business and I would hope that her family and close friends would step in and try to help.
Of course, when the VMAs rolled around, I was shocked at the amount of disgust and disdain shown for her performance. Granted, I didn’t watch the entire thing (too busy catching up on ‘Breaking Bad’), but from the description of her stripping down to flesh-colored bikini and bra and incredibly suggestive dancing with Robin Thicke, I didn’t see anything that was much different than past performances from Madonna or Katy Perry or Britney Spears or even Lady Gaga. Why the backlash against Cyrus? Is it because we all still want to see her as Hannah Montana? Are we uncomfortable with her growing up before our very eyes? Frankly, I am far more disgusted by the lyrics to Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” and its nod to the idea that women don’t actually know what they want when it comes to sex and they need men to give them guidance than I am by the idea that Miley gyrated her hips against his crotch on stage. I’ve seen far worse. She was called out for grabbing her own crotch. Huh. How many male pop and hip hop stars do that almost constantly? When was the last time they were admonished for that kind of behavior?
So when the conversation came up again today and the girls had heard much of the discussion of her performance (neither of them has seen the broadcast of the VMAs), I was careful to ask for their perceptions first again. They both felt like she was still “not very classy,” but Lola pointed out that she really felt a little sad.
“She has such a good voice and it’s too bad that these kinds of things take away from the attention on that.”
I think she’s right. I say that, if Miley isn’t hurting anyone or exploiting anyone with her behaviors, we ought to leave her alone. She may be making some decisions that will come back to haunt her in the future, given that these photos and recordings will likely never go away, but their her choices to make and unless her actions or words are harmful to anyone else, she has every right to do what she thinks is right. I have seen some essays discussing her ‘appropriation’ and ‘exploitation’ of black culture and I honestly don’t feel like I can speak to that with any authority at all, so I’ll leave that to others. Ultimately, I wonder if a lot of the public outcry over her VMA performance has more to do with the fact that Hannah Montana isn’t growing up to be the young woman many people expected her to be. I don’t think we have any right to impose our society’s ideas on her simply because she was famous as a child.
If you haven’t heard about One Billion Rising yet, here is the blurb from their website that gives you a little information about what they have planned for today.
Today, on the planet, a billion women – one of every three women on the planet – will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That’s ONE BILLION mothers, daughters, sisters, partners, and friends violated. V-Day REFUSES to stand by as more than a billion women experience violence.
On February 14th, 2013, V-Day’s 15th Anniversary, we are inviting one billion women and those who love them to walk out, DANCE, RISE UP, AND DEMAND an end to this violence. One Billion Rising is a promise that we will rise up with women and men worldwide to say, “Enough! The violence ends now.”
There are flash mobs and dance groups all over the planet joining the event to raise awareness and add their voices (and dance moves) to the growing group of people calling for an end to violence against women and girls.
I am inspired and happy to know that, in my lifetime, the volume has been turned up. There is some heat under this skillet and the energy is fairly popping. There are petitions being circulated to support the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in Congress. There are media outlets committed to highlighting horrific acts of violence against women as well as consistently investigating and reporting on issues such as wage disparity and discrimination against women with regard to their access to health care.
But mostly I am encouraged by the young girls I see every day.
I am not naive enough to believe that flash mobs and petitions will serve to change the deeply rooted, firmly held beliefs of many (men and women) that women and girls are less than. Weaker of mind and body. Deserving of fewer opportunities. There are cultures, countries, and entire religious communities that embrace the notion that women and girls are rightfully subservient to men and their desires.
Last night I witnessed, yet again, a phenomenon that pours a bucket of ice water over that idea. Lola’s fifth grade class spent two hours presenting scientific data and original art work to a room full of family and community members. These ten-year old girls have spent countless hours exploring the natural habitat of fresh water and marine animals in our region. They have sailed the Puget Sound taking water samples and analyzing the data, stood in the pouring rain in their rubber boots to see salmon spawning and engaged in research that culminated in the preparation of Power Point presentations that were clear, concise, engaging and humorous.
One group of girls was charged with learning about and presenting information on the Phylum Porifera, a group of organisms most of us know as sea sponges. These creatures have no limbs, eyes, mouths or nostrils. They have no nerves to speak of and cannot move from one place to another. And yet, these three girls dove headfirst in to exploring how they eat and reproduce, what their body structure is composed of, how they are affected by changes in their habitat and why they are important enough that we should care about them. This is no SpongeBob Squarepants with all his attendant quirky personality. These are, by all rights, pretty invisible and boring creatures. And yet these girls talked about them with enthusiasm and knowledge. Their portion of the evening was just as interesting as the talk on octopi and crabs. Each of the girls knew enough about their respective phyla to stand and answer questions from the audience with poise and confidence.
These girls are turning the tide. They are encouraged to take up the mantle of learning and sharing their knowledge and they do it with gusto. They work in pairs and small groups to accomplish work that is challenging and frustrating and find reward in a job well done.
Each group of girls made a mosaic of cut glass that represented one of the species in the phylum they were charged with. There were multiple steps to the creations of these art projects and they took weeks to complete. And yet, when asked if it was difficult to work together, they agreed that there were some creative differences along the way, but the conversation was then re-directed to the outcome. The pride they all had in their ability to work through challenges like that and create something they all had a stake in.
It is occasions like this that encourage me more than anything else I see going on. It is nights like that where I am reminded that investing time and energy in young women and girls to develop their own innate talents and ideas will reap benefits beyond measure. They will not simply dance in defiance. They will refuse to be subjugated because they know that they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. They will have been steeped in possibility and opportunity and grace and it will not occur to them that they are any less than anyone else. While I appreciate the importance of events such as One Billion Rising, I am made most hopeful by these girls who are cultivating open minds and open hearts and who will rise to one day become the leaders of the world.
To be a published author. On paper. And now, a mere five days before the day itself, I have proof that I am!
Several months ago the lovely, wise Michelle alerted me to a call for submissions she thought would be ‘right up my alley.’ It was. Cherry Bomb Books was putting together an anthology in response to what the media was calling the “War on Women” in the United States. I submitted an idea, the editor decided to run with it, and the last few months have been a whirlwind of writing, re-writing, editing, more re-writing, and more editing. Kim Wyatt has my undying gratitude for her masterful ideas and the way she pulled more out of my words than I ever could have alone, and I can’t wait for people to read this book. Follow the link to Cherry Bomb’s site to learn more and preorder the book. It will be released on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, January 22, 2013, and I am so proud to be included in this list of magnificent writers.
Eve and Lola saw the cover art and raised their eyebrows, read the title and promptly said, “We can’t talk about this to Grandpa!” and giggled. I agree it’s provocative, but that’s the point, isn’t it? More to the point, however, is the myriad of perspectives from a terrific group of women 40 years after Roe v. Wade became the law of the land, despite the battles that have been fought over it.