Not My Answer

Our new executive office has proposed budget cuts that will limit or remove various social and educational programs. Don’t worry, though, it’s just the unimportant stuff like feeding people, providing safe learning environments, and supporting scientific research. I could write a long post about why that is a step backward and an inappropriate distribution of our funds, but other people have done that more thoughtfully, in a more carefully researched manner, than I can do right now. I’m going to just talk about one little part of this conversation.

When asked by the press how the administration came to these decisions, the White House budget director said each change was rooted in the answer to the question, “Can we ask the taxpayer to pay for this?”

The question is reasonable. I can respect a reflection on whether government spending answers the needs of the populous. The problem is the answer. This office decided no. No to food assistance programs. No to public television. No to arts education. No to scientific research programs. No to public transportation support. No to early-childhood education.

I wish they would have asked this taxpayer whether I would pay for these programs, because my answer is a resounding yes. Yes, I am happy to pay to feed people who are hungry. Yes, I’d be glad to fund an after-school arts program for kids. Yes, I want to my money to support the education of low-income and special needs toddlers. Yes, I am very ok with paying to heat homes for people who would otherwise be cold.

I don’t need a stranger to speak for me, to claim to know what I think is best—distorting my thoughts to match their agenda. I have a perfectly functional voice, and I plan to use it.

Found Girls

In 1979, China instituted a one-child policy, meaning that every family was allowed to have just one kid. Because of deeply-rooted stereotypes and traditions, a lot of families wanted a boy instead of a girl. This was terrible for a bunch of reasons, like gender-based abortions and infanticide, and it also created a crazy gender imbalance in society.

Social scientists have long asserted that tens of millions of girls had gone “missing”—as in, disappeared from the population—between 1980 and 2010. They compared the expected number of girls and women against those currently registered. And, it’s true, millions of girls that would naturally have existed do not.

However, some other scientists from Cambridge started studying this phenomenon, and they discovered that huge numbers of these “missing girls,” especially those in rural regions, actually just went unreported. They suspect that between 1990 and 2010 around 11 million girls were hidden from the government. Now, I’m not particularly well-versed in Chinese politics, but I’m pretty sure these Cambridge scientists didn’t really discover this situation. I’d guess there were communities around the country who supported families hiding these girls. I can’t image that 11 million girls were hiding in plain sight without anyone knowing about it. But let’s set that false notion of discovery aside for a moment.

The best part of this story is that there are millions of girls who have hidden under the government’s radar but are now out and about, doing things. Probably awesome things. Maybe also just regular things like reading books or riding bicycles, but those are great too.

Now imagine that these girls, these young women, have taken note of the system that claimed they were lesser than their brothers. With a quiet rebellion in their blood, they might become leaders and teachers and mothers and scientists, set to prove the world wrong. Maybe they’ll start a tiny movement of “found girls” just to spread the truth—the truth that they are worth just as much as anyone else.

Really, though, they could do none of that and still be amazing. For these girls, just living is an act of defiance and revolt. The rest of us have some catching up to do.

 

 

Red Rover, Red Rover

Today is International Women’s Day. What’s not to love about that? Global mindset: check. Women-focused: check. Only a one day commitment: check.

Some of you are taking the day off to demonstrate that women are important to the world. We are. It’s good to show people. But let’s recognize that this single-day protest is one of privilege. It’s ok for the privileged to stand up; in fact, it’s necessary. The route for all of us is smoother when someone has already laid out the safety lines. But it’s also necessary to recognize that privilege, whatever it is for you. Many of feminism’s failings have been rooted in exclusion—a refusal to include those who live even slightly outside the bounds of the leaders of whatever particular wave was crashing at the moment. And it has long been a tool of oppressor to separate the oppressed, shouting our differences so loudly and so frequently that we begin to believe they take precedent over what joins us.

Well, joke’s on them, because our power is in our breadth. If exclusion is our poison, then inclusion is the antidote. The wider we spread, the more we open our doors, the stronger we become. Feminism is for everyone.

So, good for those of you who are taking time off today. It’s useful to take a stand when you can. But good for those of you who are working too, whether it’s because you have no other option or because you think you contribute best by showing off your hustle. We need each and every one of you.

This whole feminism thing is basically like Red Rover in the school yard. You need to link arms with the person next to you. It doesn’t matter who she is. Pull her in tight. If you refuse to grab her arm, you leave a hole in the wall and we will all pay the price. We are the barrier between those obnoxious fourth grade bullies and everything we’re meant to protect.

Red rover, red rover, send the patriarchy right over.

Walk > Talk

I know most of us don’t want to listen to our current president’s statements. I don’t click on the videos that pop up on my feed because his voice makes me cringe. I’m not accustomed to finding any space in my life for people that serve only to make it worse. Plus, when I hear one of his interviews, a tiny tornado starts to whirl inside me. After that, I can’t be responsible for what happens. Tornados are hard to control.

To keep from going into a wild fury or collapsing into a little heap on the floor, I avoid it entirely. It’s not the most socially or politically responsible act, but it’s the arrangement I’ve made for myself right now.

The bright side of this disaster is that terrible people make great examples for what not to do in life. Today’s lesson: what you say means nothing if you do the opposite. For example, side-stepping into a near-repudiation of recent hate crimes means even less when you’re being coached by the founder of a media group that spreads and supports hate, misogyny, and neo-Nazi politics.

The need for an actual, substantial response against these crimes is real and urgent. Anti-Semitism has been on the rise in the United States. Or, at least, outright and reported acts of hate and violence have been on the rise. Incidents on college campuses nearly doubled in 2015, hate-mongers and neo-Nazis have found strongholds online and are stepping out from behind their computer screens, and there have been 69 bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers in the past two months.

This isn’t a new problem. Hating Jews is old hat. They keep on coming and we keep on surviving. And then celebrating that survival by eating a lot of carbs. It’s not a perfect cycle, but it’s got us where we are today. Today, though, is turning out to be not so great. What had been forced to quiet down for a bit is screaming again, and it’s making those of us getting yelled at a little comfortable. In times like this, it’s nice to have a leader who says, “Lock it up, haters. Chill out on the conspiracy theories and calls for mass murder.”

We don’t have that, but he did once utter that anti-Semitism is horrible, so let’s—for just a moment—pretend our fearful leader is consistently saying those things. It would still mean pretty much nothing. If you tell me you’re a vegetarian while chomping down on a cheeseburger, I won’t believe you. If you say you can read Mandarin, but you won’t translate anything for me, I’m going to be skeptical. And if you tell me you condemn hate and violence while bolstering and endorsing people who promote hate and violence, I won’t believe you either.

Basically, talk is cheap. Cheap like a bad toupee or a gold-plated toilet seat.

 

Subtle Ways to Spit in the Face of the Patriarchy

It’s important to make bold moves in the battle against inequality, but we can’t always run full-speed ahead into the front lines. Wrestling with deeply ingrained ignorance and misogyny can be exhausting. I mean, sometimes just getting out of bed and putting on pants is exhausting. We need to take a moment every once in a while to rest up for the next drive.

Unfortunately, the patriarchy doesn’t take breaks. It’s fed by the confidence of mediocre men, so there’s no shortage of fuel. To stay vigilant, we have to find ways to keep it in check even when we feel drained. As a public service, I’ve started a list of easy acts we can take to fight the man. No battle gear required. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  1. Keep talking when you get interrupted.
  2. Order the pasta on a first date and actually finish it.
  3. Pull a Hillary and ditch the make-up.
  4. Don’t move out of the way when a man walks into you on the sidewalk.
  5. Politely ask a man to close his legs on the train.
  6. Stop being embarrassed when someone sees your very unshaven legs.
  7. Wear flat shoes to fancy events.
  8. Rename your virtual assistant, so it answers to Alfred instead of Alexa.
  9. Learn the names of five female scientists and tell people about them.
  10. Give a woman you love a compliment that has nothing to do with the way she looks.

No Thanks

I know there are a lot of important things going on in the world and I swear I will eventually write about one of them, but, for now, all I can think about is people hating on Lady Gaga for having a body.

Now, I’m not going to talk about the fact that Gaga obviously has a rockin’ bod. And awesome peel-off face sparkles. And bejeweled shoulder pads I wish I could wear while walking down the street. It’s clear she has a lot going for her and plenty of reasons to stand proud.

What we do need to talk about is the fact that a bunch of people felt the desire to pull down a talented woman, and they decided the best way to do that would be to insult her body. Because it didn’t look exactly the way they imagined it should look. Because talking about someone’s body is an easy way to keep from talking about things that actually matter. Because deflecting your insecurities onto someone else is a great way to avoid resolving them.

The most important part of this body-shaming isn’t the piece that was directed at Lady Gaga though. It’s the portion of that message that was directed at the rest of us. By insulting Gaga’s body, they’re insulting mine. They’re telling us we’re not good enough and saying we need to cover up a bit of ourselves to keep them from feeling uncomfortable. Well, it’s not our job to make sure these people are comfortable.

I say we respond like Gaga did. She did a badass job, and her music sales went up 1,000%. Then she told everyone that she’s happy with herself and she hopes we are too. So, from now on, when we pass a magazine cover created solely to make us feel bad or we turn on the tv and see a commercial for diet pills or we walk through a grocery aisle lined with low-fat, carb-free, sugar-free “snacks,” let’s turn our backs.

Reject that narrative. Other people’s opinions are not your reality. Someone else’s insecurities don’t need to be your own. Just say no.

Ok, that one is about drugs, but I think the message is the same. Turn your back on what’s trying to pull you down. Don’t get distracted by someone else’s self-doubt. We are powerful and we’ve got things to do.

Yesterday and Tomorrow

People

We know what hate, fear, and anger breed. We knew it before yesterday night. We know because to really battle against something, you have to see it. Look it in the face. Today it’s in our path, but we’ll keep pushing up against it until it cracks and crumbles.
 
To the women I love: We will do what we’ve always done—day after day, year after year. Recognize the threat and try our best to step around it. Get up every morning, wade through the horrors, and rebuild the world around us.
 
To my friends, all you beautifully unique, diverse, wonderful humans: We will not let a stranger, no matter how powerful, or a mass, no matter how large, tell us our value. We know who we are. We hold our worth and we will support one another as we clasp tightly to our hard-won rights.
 
To all my fellow fighters: We know this struggle. We will keep moving. Let the mantra of one of us echo in our minds when we begin to falter: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
 
Let’s not forget that before us, there were others who were denied. We stand on their shoulders and someone will stand on ours. Let’s rise tall and be strong, so she can get a good foothold.

It’s Here

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It’s finally here. It’s time to vote. Today is the day. We aren’t going to get too busy or forget where our polling locations are. We won’t walk into the polls without researching all the candidates and measures. We’re prepared. Because we’re awesome and awesome people care about important things. We’re also going to encourage all our friends to vote, because peer pressure is a great tool for both good and evil.

Every time an election comes around, I get super excited to exercise my civic duty. It doesn’t matter if it’s a presidential nomination or a local neighborhood board member. I’m into it all. It’s a hard-earned honor. I know many of you have voted already, and bravo to you. I respect your overachieving nature, but I like to wait. And it’s not just because I’m a procrastinator. Walking up to the polls on that particular day helps me feel like part of a group effort to improve our world. I try to carry the spirit of the suffragettes and civil rights activists who sacrificed so much for that little ballot when I walk into the gym of my local public school. I can’t help it. This pull to action was ingrained in me as a tantrum-throwing infant, and I took my first joyful stab at presidential election voting as an elementary student. It’s even more fun when it counts.

By now, we’ve all decided how we’re going to vote. We’ve talked about how we’re cracking away at the ultimate glass ceiling and how hard that struggle has been. We’ve discussed how this election will shape the supreme court, what it means for climate change policy, and how it will impact healthcare in our country. We’ve talked about how important it is to pay attention to your local and state representatives, since they’re going to (hopefully) push forward effective social welfare policies in your communities. We’ve waded through the sexist nonsense that has been this campaign. We’ve told ourselves that despite veiled threats to disrupt our democratic process, we’ll make the right choice. We know what this election means for us all—young and old. But all that talk won’t mean much if we don’t actually show up and do something about it.

These two candidates couldn’t be more different, and there’s no convincing anyone which way to vote now. Tomorrow we’ll find out whether we’ll be led by an experienced civil servant and former cabinet member or an exploitative, ego-centric failed businessman turned reality television star. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but that’s not all. I’ll be proudly casting my vote for the first female president. I might cry. I might dance. I’ll probably do what is bound to become the world’s most popular new dance move: the cry and shimmy.

To make sure you fall on the right side of history and to get a chance to invent your own celebratory dance move, go take a long walk to your polling station and get your sticker.

 

1974

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In my past lawyer-life, I helped kids fight to find the lives they deserved. I worked hard to help them assert their rights and establish lives that kept them safe, healthy, and happy. In that role, I met a lot of children with special needs. Some of those needs were so serious, they required extensive accommodations for their education—in or out of the school building. They needed transportation, new classrooms, better lesson plans, certain equipment, or a different setting. There was a time when those kids wouldn’t have gotten any of that from the public school system. There was a time when kids were allowed to be excluded from classrooms, according the federal government, based on their disabilities.

That time was 1974.

In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed. It established that any school receiving federal funds must provide equal access to education for all children in its district, regardless of a child’s special needs. Before that, states or districts could provide help if they wanted, but parents and schools could determine it was just not worth it. Let’s sit with that for a bit. Any parent or school administrator could decide that it just wasn’t worth it to educate a child. And then not do it. That was considered acceptable.

In 1990, that Act became what we now use—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. It included what was in the previous law and a few more important things, like educational services for infants and toddlers and the creation of individualized education plans for kids who need them. That was the law I used for my clients. I stood on it all the time. I used it to get them the classrooms they needed, the bus they needed, the teachers they needed. I used it to get kids into special education programs and out of them. Let me tell you, school systems are hard to manage. It’s difficult to convince busy principals and even busier teachers to spend extra time and money on one child, especially one that might be a challenge. It’s good to have a federal law to back you up. It helps.

The Children’s Defense Fund helped make that law a reality. Back in 1974, the group was fighting for children who didn’t get these rights. And guess who was doing it with them? Hillary Clinton. After graduating law school, she went to work for the group. She met with kids across Massachusetts, so the organization could document how many of them should have been but were not in school. She did what I did. She drove from home to home, checking on whether these kids were getting what they deserved. In doing that, she worked to build a law I used nearly every day as a lawyer. In 1974, she was helping to build the platform I stood on for my clients—kids who needed a bit more from all of us, and who, born 50 years earlier, wouldn’t have been entitled to it.

Just to compare, in 1974, Donald Trump was working for his father’s real estate company and fighting a discrimination case from the Justice Department. He was accused of refusing to rent apartments to minority applicants. He settled the case, but his firm didn’t stop the discrimination, so the case was reopened.

One of those definitely sounds better than the other. I’m going to vote for the person who, even over 40 years ago, was fighting to establish better and broader rights for Americans, not the person who was using discriminatory business practices to violate them.