Fight? Flee? Friend.

Face something dangerous or terrifying, and you’ll make one of two choices: fight or flight. Pick one, because science says that’s all you’ve got. Throw a punch or flee the scene. Jab or dodge. Kick or run. Tacos or burritos. Donuts or muffins. Ok, I got distracted. I think I’m hungry.

These can’t be my only choices. I’m scrappy, but I’ve never gotten in a real fight. I want to survive, but I’m a very slow runner. Like so slow that Dave literally walks next to me while I jog. I’ve faced a few near-death situations, but my actions didn’t seem to have much impact on the outcome. To me, this binary feels insufficient.

Because IT IS. This study—like so many others—was tainted by the patriarchy. Thanks for nothing, old-timey white dude who decided female subjects led to unreliable measurements due to hormonal fluctuations. Because obviously men’s hormones never change. Not. This ridiculous belief resulted in a participant pool for the original fight-or-flight study that was 83 percent male. Apparently no one thought it would be relevant to broaden that group to a population that more accurately represented actual reality.

Jokes on that guy though, because it turns out his exclusion led to an inherently flawed conclusion. Women don’t just flee or fight when faced with disaster. Most of them come together and take care of one another—a phenomenon scientists now call tend and befriend.

The study assumes this behavior developed as a necessity to keep children alive. They can’t fight or flee, so mothers, who are historically responsible for the lives of their children, were forced to adapt their responses to that goal. That means these women had to stick together, because everyone knows you can’t fight a bear alone. And if you share your food with your neighbor this week, she’ll probably share with you next week.

This is a system scientists say has mostly been ignored in stress studies, so they tried to solve that. As part of their study, they stressed out a bunch of rats, male and female. The female rats did get aggressive, but mostly just when an intruder tried to come at her while she was pregnant or had a little baby rat with her. Otherwise, she was like, meh, whatevs. You know what the female rats didn’t do? Run. Because that’s not how you handle your business.

The scientists are still waiting to see if they can replicate this is in humans, but I think we know the answer. I see it every day. The women I know are always pulling one another up. Watch a woman comfort an insecure friend. Watch women look out for one another at night. Watch a group of women in a bar bathroom. Watch a woman cover for another woman in a meeting. Watch women tell one another they’re beautiful and smart and strong and “they don’t know what they’re missing” and “if they don’t respect you, it’s not worth it” and “let’s go for a walk?” “are you ok here?” and “daaaamn, girl.”

Watch women.

We’re Building Bulldozers

Ed Sheeran’s Grammy win for “Shape of You” over Kesha’s “Praying” is the story of women everywhere.

I can imagine the (old male) judges sitting in a room listening to all the songs up for Best Pop Solo Performance.*

“Ok, here we have Kelly Clarkson’s song, ‘Love So Soft.’ Good jam. She seems like a sexy lady who’s interested in singing about being sexy. There’s a lot of innuendo in here, but it doesn’t threaten my masculinity. This is the kind of lady-music we’re looking for in a pop song. We can get behind this. (Literally. Am I right, fellow creepy old dudes?) Let’s keep this one in the running.”

“Next up is Lady Gaga with ‘A Million Reasons.’ She seems sad. I don’t really like when women sound sad. They should be smiling. But she is singing about wanting to stand by her man despite his terrible behavior, which is good. I like a forgiving woman who seems a little heartbroken and desperate. I’m torn on this one. Let’s move on.”

“Put on Pink’s song, ‘What About Us.’ Her name sounds feminine, so I have a good feeling about this one. Huh, what is she saying? We’re rockets pointed up at the stars? Billions of beautiful hearts? Sold down the river? This is getting complicated. She’s pulling up all kinds of themes I don’t feel safe talking about at a dinner party. I think she’s not really focusing on what we’re looking for here—a pretty face that makes us feel good. That’s enough. We don’t need to hear the rest.”

“Ok, back to something family friendly. Kesha’s song is called Praying, so this has got to be great. We love praying. Everyone loves praying. Wait, is she talking? Songs are for singing. What is this, some artsy nonsense? Alright, here comes the music. Oh, is Kesha the one who sued her music producer because he kept sexually assaulting her? That sounds controversial. And now it’s getting emotional. She’s really putting it all out there. Not very ladylike if you ask me. I can’t identify with this at all. Ok, that’s enough. There’s way too much going on here. I said that’s enough! This is making me uncomfortable! I don’t care if it’s beautiful! Turn it off! Make it stop!”

“This room is getting a little too intense. Let’s play the last one. Oh, thank god, it’s a guy. Here’s Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You.’ This one has a nice beat. It sounds like it’s good for dancing. Oh, and it’s about how he likes the form of a particular woman’s body. This seems like a comfortable space for us. I’m feeling better already. I have liked the shape of a woman’s body before. Guys, I think we’ve landed on our winner.”

Multiply this a thousand times in a thousand different ways and you’ve got a world where women have to fight against brick walls to gain traditional success and accolades. But fight we are. Women keep creating art and telling stories and sharing themselves. We will do it whether you give us awards or burn our books. We’ll keep singing and writing and speaking. We’re building bulldozers, so you better hope you aren’t holding up that wall from the other side.

 

*I know they don’t really sit in a room together, but nothing says they can’t, so just roll with it.

Maybe Don’t Follow Your Gut This Time

If you read my post on Monday, you know I have a new roommate named ScarJo. She’s a black widow and she has (we think) already killed her mate/best friend in our basement. It’s a tenuous situation. We’ve kept our distance for now and are still determining whether or not we need to take any kind of landlord-tenant measures.

My first instinct when I saw ScarJo was to recoil. She has long, spindly legs and has spun a seemingly haphazard web in a shadowed corner to entrap her prey. She looks exactly like something I’ve been taught to fear. My apprehension is compounded by my own overwhelming and unreasonable anxiety about creepy insects crawling into my ears. Seeing her shot a tiny jolt through my brain and I had to take a breath to compose myself.

I really do like spiders. I know they’re important to our ecosystem and I appreciate that they eat bugs I really don’t enjoy being near. If I find one inside where I’d rather it not be, I catch it and take it outside. I am not generally afraid of them, but ScarJo is particularly spidery. She looks just like the sleek terrifying arachnid superhero you’d expect.

Awhile ago I read a tweet that said something along the lines of: People kill spiders because they’re afraid of them. I hope that if I happen to wander into a place where I’m unwanted and someone there is afraid me because of how I look, that person won’t decide to kill me.

I can’t remember who wrote it or exactly how they phrased the thought. I tried to track it down again, but I couldn’t. (If you can, please let me know! I would love to include it here.)

This unknown person’s brilliant but sad thought has stuck in my brain. I am a big proponent of trusting my gut. I’ve decide a lot of things that way—everything I don’t choose by running through an endless mental pro/con list and wavering back and forth until I collapse in exhaustion. It’s never anything in between.

While I always advocate a good gut-check in any decision-making process, I think it’s important to step back and check ourselves. Where is that gut feeling coming from? Is it legit? Is it lying to you? Is it being fueled by years of divisive political schemes and derivative media?

Every day people make choices out of fear. They’re electing politicians who fuel it because they hope they’ll provide an answer to it. They buy guns because they’re overwhelmed by it. They bully people so they can push it away from themselves and on to someone else. They hide from their truth because of it. It makes them stay inside the comfort of their own bubbles. It pushes people into rash and illogical actions.

Fear loves to be the boss—but it’s a terrible one. It’s ignorant, manipulative, and greedy. It definitely doesn’t want the best for us. Don’t let fear be in charge. Let the spiders live.

A Dangerous Living Arrangement

Scarlett Johansson is living in my basement. She’s hiding inside a tiny corner of my utility closet. I didn’t notice her at first, because she was very quiet and unobtrusive. A few days ago, though, I had to go downstairs to check on some pipes. After I turned on the light and moved my face closer to the floor, I caught a peek. I was startled at the sight of her, but I think she was more scared than I was during the whole interaction. As soon as she noticed my presence, she scurried away, escaping under a piece of wood at the corner of the closet. I went about my business and, I assume, she went about hers, then we both went our separate ways. I mean, I went my separate way and she stayed there.

A few days later, I went back downstairs and opened up the closet. There she was, a few inches away from where’d she gone to escape me the first time. I thought if I’d let her be, she might rest a bit and travel along. Nope. She’s taken up residence. Turns out, I don’t have a guest, I have a roommate.

Since we were apparently going to be spending some together, I took a closer look at how she was keeping up her portion of the home. She’d done some redecorating, and it wasn’t quite to my taste, but everyone has their own preferences. I let it go. Until I saw that she’d brought a friend to stay with her. I was just getting used to have one additional roommate. I wasn’t sure I was ready to have four of us living in this house. I tried to meet this new friend, who looked like a smaller version of Scarlett, but he wasn’t moving. At all. I was beginning to think this fourth roommate was a little too quiet, if you know what I mean.

After some further investigation, I determined that he was, in fact, too quiet. He was dead. ScarJo had either brought a dead friend into her new home (I know I said I was open to other opinions on decor, but this was taking it too far) or she’d lured a friend into her room and killed him (While there’s no specific no-murder clause in most leases, I feel like it’s a fair expectation). This was getting serious. I was starting to think my new roommate wasn’t so kind and unassuming after all.

I haven’t confronted her about the incident. Who can say how she’d react? I think it’s clear she’s capable of a violence I’m just not sure I can defend myself against, so I decided it’s safest to calmly maintain status quo. I’m a bit uncomfortable with the arrangement, but she’s laid her cards on the table—and she most definitely has the upper hand. I’m not the one who sleeps next to the carcass of my best friend.

So I have officially stepped down. ScarJo is now the boss-lady of the house.

The shorter way to tell this story would be to say we have a black widow living in our basement and we named her Scarlett Johansson.*

*Yes, this was the cheap way out name-wise, but the new comic-book movie trend really is infiltrating all aspects of our lives.

The Meaning of Yesterday

I was looking back at old drafts I wrote on this blog to see if I had any interesting ideas I might want to expand upon. Ultimately, I didn’t find anything worthy of deeper analysis, but the exercise was not entirely regrettable. I got to reminisce about time last year when the country panicked over a massive Netflix outage, reconsider whether robo-bees could solve the world’s pollinator problems, and dig deeper into important topics like the kind of squash in your cans of 100% pumpkin (hint: probably not pumpkin). It’s possible there’s a reason these ideas stayed in the drafts folder—but I have ignored that reason and shared them with you now, because I’m a rebel like that.

The most mysterious post, though, was one that said only: Yesterday. It didn’t have a period at the end of the word, but I had to put one there because I’m not a maniac.

I don’t know what that draft post means. Was I so distracted by something amazing that happened the day before that as soon as I started to write about it I went into a daze? Was I so horrified by what had happened I couldn’t write anything more? Did I start writing a post and then get hit in the back of the head by a stranger who was trying to hide the truth?

We’ll never know for certain. So let’s all just agree that I probably became aware of some significant international espionage secrets and decided to share them with you on this wide-reaching blog. As soon as I started typing though, the spies who had been following me realized I was going to let the cat out of the bag. They sprung into action, snuck up behind me, put me to sleep with some classified gas-like substance, and deleted everything I’d written—everything but the first word. Before they could erase the entire post, I woke from my stupor, and they rushed to disappear back into the night. Now, all that’s left of those valuable state secrets is just one word: Yesterday.

Basically, I’m Jason Bourne, but instead of trying to track down answers, I’m just going to eat toast and read a book. Like Jason wishes he could do.

My Firewall Needs Reinforcement

I keep getting ads on Facebook for audiobooks that I am VERY uninterested in. It’s really throwing off my groove when I’m just trying to watch videos of puppies running down stairs and listen to women telling their stories of badassery.

Here’s the series that keeps popping up:

  • How to Build Self-Discipline to Exercise: Practical Techniques and Strategies to Develop a Lifetime Habit of Exercise
  • How to Build Self-Discipline: Resist Temptations and Reach Your Long-Term Goals
  • Self-Discipline Dieter: How to Lose Weight and Become Healthy Despite Cravings and Weak Willpower

This is extremely uncool. I don’t know what Facebook knows about me, but if you’ve been following along the past week, you know my phone has also been really judgmental lately. Between my phone’s food-shaming alerts and Facebook’s ads for what seem to be phony self-improvement audiobooks, I’m not sure what kind of vibes I’m sending out into the world. I’m not specifically looking for these kinds of things, but I feel like I might need to reassess a few things. This is not what I’m about, and yet, it keeps finding it’s way to me.

Is it because the internet world knows my demographic and believes I’m obsessed with my own self-discipline? Is it because I sometimes like to watch fun kickboxing videos while I flail around embarrassingly in my basement? Is it because I google a lot of dessert recipes and Google-search engineers think I have a sugar addiction?

I mean, sure, I may have uncontrollable cravings, weak willpower, and an inability to resist the temptations of my couch, but I don’t really feel like those are issues that rank higher than taking down the patriarchy, destroying racial inequality, and righting our world’s economic wrongs. I’m offended that this is what the technological world thinks I need to see. I know I played a part in bringing this craziness into my feed. I’ve read about insane celebrity diets or weird cleanses online, so somewhere an algorithm has led this nonsense to me. I can ignore it, but I’m more bothered because there’s someone else out there getting these ads and feeling worse, feeling like they probably need to buy some self-help tape to curb their eating habits, feeling like they probably should join Weight Watchers if their phone keeps pulling up the ad.

I’d like to enlist the help of a kind billionaire to right this wrong. If someone could fund a massive ad-spamming project that only sends out messages of self-worth and joy, that might make a dent in this ridiculous trend. Here are some of my ad ideas:

  • Feeling kinda blech? It’s ok. We all are.
  • You are awesome, even if that person driving behind you on the freeway doesn’t agree.
  • Eat what makes you feel good because you’re going to die eventually anyway.
  • You are right where you need to be. Unless you’ve been kidnapped. If you’ve been kidnapped, call for help.
  • Don’t think too much about that weird thing you just did. There will be a different new weird thing for you to think about soon enough.
  • It’s ok to be alone on a Friday night. At least you don’t have to listen to Fred explain his theory about the ending of Lost again.

Anyone know a benevolent advertising executive?

I Didn’t Even Know I Was Sneaky

This week, Dianne Feinstein released a transcript of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The founder of the intelligence firm that created a report on Trump had been interviewed about the dossier they created and various subjects that had come up during their investigations. Feinstein says she released it to prevent further circulation of misinformation and efforts to undermine a certain investigation currently taking place.

People have a lot of opinions about her decision. Unsurprisingly, Trump is one of those people.

He shared his thoughts as he usually does—on Twitter, with the grace of a wobbly wheelbarrow full of tiny, angry potatoes. I’m mostly uninterested in the substance of what Trump tweets, but I’m very interested in the root of these messages and what people glean from the outbursts.

There are a few things to unpack in his tweet about Senator Feinstein, but his nickname for her hit me hardest. Trump has given all sorts of nicknames to people who he believes have wronged him. Some are basic schoolyard taunts, like Sloppy Steve Bannon, and some are straight-up racist, like when he calls Senator Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas. Trump has named Senator Feinstein “Sneaky Dianne Feinstein.”

This nickname is not about her ninja-like ability to navigate complicated legislative systems or her poker face while playing political chess. It’s not even about Trump feeling like she went behind the back of other Senators, though there are people who would tell you that is it’s foundation. This term is about something much deeper. It’s about shining a spotlight on what makes Dianne Feinstein an “other” in a way that’s mostly invisible to people who don’t share that opinion. It’s a way of saying out loud what we know shouldn’t be said. It can be harder to spot these underhanded knocks, but make no mistake, this adjective is directly and consequentially connected to Senator Feinstein’s Jewish identity.

These kinds of cloaked messages aren’t new. In fact, writers have been using Jewish characters as devious villains in literature for decades. Shakespeare’s Shylock is a money lender who is so bent on forcing his rival’s death, he furtively assigns a “pound of flesh” surety to his next loan. Charles Dickens’ Fagin exploits orphan boys to get richer and secretly hides away his profits. George du Maurier’s Svengali, a man who controls and exploits a young girl, has become such a well-known character of manipulation, the term is used as a legal defense to protect defendants who have been beguiled into bad actions.

It’s easier to dismiss these statements as the ramblings of an incoherent, defensive man prone to tantrums. Those things are true. But language matters. It matters that, when insulting someone who he feels opposes his actions, the president sends quiet signals to hate groups and their ignorant audiences. It matters that five million Americans are reminded of their otherness when the president snaps at a fellow politician—and that they then become targets of discriminatory language and actions that have been further normalized.

It’s possible this stereotype is so deeply entrenched in our language and culture that Trump, like so many others, naturally falls back on it when he throws out insults, but that entrenchment merely means the belief exists—that it is living inside him and anyone else who gingerly tosses hate into their conversations.

But I think Trump knows who he’s talking to when he says these things. He realizes there’s a rapt audience online ready to lap up his thinly veiled call-outs. He knows they will respond to the bait. And respond they have. Helpful tip to anyone hoping to hold onto their faith in humanity: Even if you’re writing a tiny but critical blog post about hate language on social media, don’t search for that very language on Twitter. It will not end well.

Enough With the Judgment, Tiny Computer

For awhile, whenever I came home my phone would ask me if I was at Pizza Hut. It happened for two weeks straight and every time it drove a stake of disappointment into my heart. I wasn’t, in fact, eating pizza. I was just sitting at home in my pajamas trying to figure out which leftovers to warm up.

The restaurant carries some good memories for me though, so I wasn’t hating the mistake. I started daydreaming about my elementary school days, when I could read books, log my pages on a placemat-style map, and earn a free personal pie at Pizza Hut. I, along with the rest of my peers, could fill in a certain number of boxes on a paper that looked like black-and-white Candy Land board, and when I’d completed the whole board, I could turn it in for a pizza coupon. I spent a lot of time reading as a kid, but it still took me awhile to finish each map—you needed a ton of pages to color each block.

I shared memories of my hard-earned meals with Dave, who informed me that his school also participated in this program. His class, however, had a much more student-friendly coupon redemption program and he just kept racking up the personal pizza trips. In fact, I don’t think they followed the guidelines at all, which just goes to show you that the world is inherently unfair. He also read The Hobbit over and over again instead of choosing a new book, but that’s basically the same as reading The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings trilogy, since they’re identical stories, so I gave him a pass.

Anyway, that was a major distraction from the point of this post, which is that my phone thought I lived inside Pizza Hut for two weeks. After getting multiple alerts, I started to wonder if my house was built on the ancient ruins of a pizza shop.

Just when I was coming to terms with the idea of being haunted by the ghost of a dead pizza chef for the rest of my life, my phone started to make a different assessment about my whereabouts. And things took a real judgmental turn.

It started to ask me if I was at Weight Watchers when I got home. That’s when I knew my phone didn’t have my back. It wasn’t trying to warn me about my new pizza-ghost friend, it was becoming that passive aggressive acquaintance who asks if you’re doing ok when you aren’t wearing make-up. It was that girl who bakes cookies for you but won’t eat any herself. It was that guy who says he likes a girl who can eat, but also says he can’t help that he’s just attracted to thin girls. My phone was a jerk.

So I did what I always do when faced with someone who’s being rude and judgmental. I walked away.

I came back later because I’m not a maniac. Duh. I need a phone. How else would I do my crossword puzzles on the bus and text my sister good morning? I just asked Dave to turn off the locator alerts. TLDR: I showed that little know-it-all mini computer who’s boss.

Words Just Sound Better Out of Oprah’s Mouth

I’m writing this while watching the Golden Globes. I’m not very committed to award season events, so the first thing I had to do was figure out whether the Golden Globes and the Oscars were the same. They’re not.

That’s probably good because then more people can get trophies, which I’m told is a joyous occasion. I’ve only ever gotten one trophy and it was tiny and plastic and given to everyone on a childhood soccer team on which I was an unhelpful member for one season.

More important than the awards this year, however, was the consistent message of equity, parity, and inclusion. All the movie and television people wore black to call attention to rampant cross-industry sexual abuse and remind people of their new #TimesUp movement—meant to shine a spotlight on gender-based harassment and abuse, continue what was started by the #MeToo movement so many years ago and rebirthed recently, and set up a legal defense fund for women who don’t have the money to file suits against their abusers.

It’s also about famous people taking the reigns of an important social movement for a moment, which can feel disingenuous and ignite some defensiveness. But I don’t think it’s malicious. I don’t think they mean to appropriate and regurgitate this message. I think they feel moved. I think a lot of them have been hurt too. I think we’re all just trying to do what we can with what we have. And what they have are fancy dresses, cameras, and well-followed Instagram accounts.

It’s easy to feel jaded and dismissive of a group of powerful, privileged people claiming to champion the rights of the rest of us. It can be frustrating to rally against a beast for so long only to have a new hero, one with shiny armor and a powerful horse, show up to join the fight. But I say we embrace this for what it is and give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, they were fighting another head of the same beast—a flashier one that dropped jewels on them as they fought it, but a dangerous beast all the same.

So let’s not throw shade their way. For feminism to be successful, it must be inclusive. And inclusiveness doesn’t just mean embracing those of us who are less privileged, it means embracing those of us who have more privilege—which can sometimes be even more challenging.

Plus, we all know pretty people make our words easier to hear. So, I say, let all these pretty people shout our words into the sky. They become more normalized each time they repeat them. And you never know who’s listening.

On that note, here are some words I enjoyed hearing last night:

We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.
-Margaret Atwood, A Handmaid’s Tale (read by Elizabeth Moss)

There’s no prerequisites to worthiness. You are born being worthy.
-Viola Davis

But it’s not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It’s one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace. So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue.
-Oprah Winfrey

The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway

It’s dangerously cold here. And by dangerously I mean I am at risk of morphing into a pile of fleece and hair and never leaving the house again. Also people who don’t have a warm place to stay are in actual, serious bodily danger. Plus sharks are literally freezing to death, which is sad and terrifying. But mostly it’s about the resulting and inevitable slide toward my natural state of being—an amorphous, speechless hermit.

To battle this inevitability, I’ve been trying to trick myself into leaving the house by planning activities that can only be done in places that make me happy. I had to go to the library to get my new books. I needed to drive to the ice arena in order to ice skate. I had to go outside to order the giant egg rolls we obviously needed to eat on the last day of 2017. It’s worked intermittently, but it’s not been an entirely pleasant process.

After all that struggle forcing myself to act like a real human in the midst of this insane weather, I’m now wondering whether it’s really necessary at all. Who was it that decided we should still have to go to work and act like adults when it was five degrees Fahrenheit? That person probably hated being at home and had a miserable life, so now we all have to suffer. Or maybe they were a firefighter, which is very brave and self-sacrificing. But I’m not a firefighter, so what’s with all this pressure to buck up and face the wind?

I haven’t encountered anyone at my office who is happy about their cold, uncomfortable commute. No one standing at my bus stop feels emboldened by their choice to be outside. We’re all shivering and depressed together. I feel like we need to stop with this madness and just accept that now is the time to sit at home and read books and watch Netflix and eat soup.

Basically, I’d like the rest of you to push yourselves a little less so I don’t have to feel guilty about my need to legitimately hibernate for the next month. Please do your part.