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.

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?

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

This Little Piggy Went… To Mind His Own Damn Business

I sometimes like to scroll through Instagram feeds of adorable animals, because I’m a human being with feelings. I recently found Chowder, a pig who has been raised with what seems like a pack of friendly, elderly dogs. His owner takes pictures of them all lined up in her backyard and posts videos of them playing together.

Well, Chowder isn’t what you’d call svelte, cause, you know, he’s a pig. Apparently a bunch of people said he was too big and stirred up a big ruckus regarding his eating habits. I know what that’s like because one time I went out to dinner and ordered a salad (gross, I know) and a random person I was with turned to me and said, “Did you seriously eat that whole salad?” Then I smacked her right in the face—with my smack-down glare. So I understand the pain Chowder must have felt when his owner read this cruel commentary aloud to him. Very uncool, internet people.

Our beauty expectations have really shot to new levels. How do any of us stand a chance against the trauma of rigidly enforced socially constructed standards of attractiveness when poor Chowder, an actual pig, is subjected to this kind of body shaming?

We don’t, unless we stand up for one another. So, you do you, Chowder. Go on and eat that whole salad.

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.