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.

Sick Day

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I caught a bug this week. I wasn’t feeling great yesterday, so I missed a day of sharing why we should all be excited about voting on November 8th. Hopefully I didn’t make any of you turn back on your mental path to the polls. Something has been going around my office. It decided, after I’d had a few sleepless nights, I’d be a good host. I disagreed, but it’s a bad listener. I’m sure I won’t get much sicker, but if I did, it would be little more than an inconvenience. See, I have health insurance. If I go to the doctor, I give them only a copay. If I get a bunch of tests done, I don’t pay a fee. If I need a prescription, I hand them my card. Both Dave and I are on plans with our employers, but that hasn’t always been the case. I’ve had a few short spans of time without insurance and Dave has had even more. It was in our days of invincible youth, so we weren’t worried, but we should have been. We laughed about it as we crossed a dangerous street or ate suspect food. Thankfully, we didn’t have any disasters during those months. There were avoided check-ups, well-used stashes of Dayquil, and bowls of soup—but no disasters.

I would have benefited from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that parents be allowed to keep children up to the age of 26 on their plans. My parent’s more generous government policy helped for awhile, but once I graduated from college, I was booted from that one as well. Dave got shown the door long before. That particular change came too late for us, but the others might not have. Now, I’m not allowed to be charged more by insurance companies because I’m a woman. Preventative health care includes women’s care more broadly than it used to. I can’t be denied insurance based on a pre-existing condition and I can’t be denied my insurance benefits just because I got too sick too many times that year. So far, none of that has changed my life, but that’s because I’m lucky.

The Act isn’t perfect. There were a lot of compromises made to get it passed. Insurance companies can still make strange and financially motivated decisions about what types of care are necessary. The policies are confusing, allowing for loopholes and high expense limits for patients. People are still falling into massive debt when they get sick. Every week, I see a GoFundMe site for a family who’s been hit by a medical emergency. Their tragic stories made even more tragic by the fact that they have to reach out to their friends and family to pay for the treatment. I’m all for the village mentality, but we already have a village meant to do that job—it’s called insurance. We’re all supposed to pitch in so that, when any one of us needs help, it’s there.

Trump has repeated over and over again that one of the first things he’ll do if he wins the presidency will be to repeal Obamacare. Obama’s opposition loves to hate on the bill, never mind that many of its issues came from the forced compromises. Trump would like to start from scratch, pulling 24 year old’s off their parents insurance and taking away birth control from women across the country. He doesn’t say that out loud, of course, but that’s what it would mean. All those people who have gotten insurance since the bill’s passing? Now uninsured. All those women living in states without a Planned Parenthood? No more free cancer screenings. The people that now have Medicaid because of expanded limits? Back to high cost, low coverage plans.

I think we can all agree this sounds pretty terrible. Luckily, a bit of this is up to us. We can vote for the candidate who is hellbent on pulling us backward or we can vote for the candidate with the goal of moving us forward.

 

Glorious Times

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On August 28, 1920 the United States government ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. It reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” It took a long, long struggle to get this amendment passed. After a tough fight led by Susan B. Anthony and other brave ladies, a Californian Senator introduced an amendment similar to the 19th in 1878. It sat around for awhile and then failed. Other activists tried for a few decades. They failed too. Then they had some success in state-based legislation. Finally, in 1918, the group brought the amendment again. It failed. Obviously. This time, though, some important people, like President Wilson, really wished it had passed. They brought it back up, and finally, it went through. And then probably all those dudes tried to take credit for the work those badass women did, because that’s just how the world works. But jokes on them, cause we all know who Susan B. Anthony is and no one knows the name of the dude that introduced that amendment. Well, someone does. But not me, so don’t worry about it.

There are women alive today who were born before that amendment passed. You can go talk to them, if you frequent a lot of nursing homes and Big Boys. You can find 34 of them on this website, which my super amazing friend sent me over the weekend. It’s good to have a friend who knows the key to my heart—bold old ladies and even bolder feminism. These awesome women are profiled on the site, happily asserting their vote for Hillary. They include Helen Snook, 102, who says, “We cannot allow that disgraceful man to win,” to which I say, “For realz.” Helen looks like a pretty hip lady, so I think she’d understand the lingo. There’s also Garvin Colburn, 96, who says, “It really is remarkable to think of all that has happened in 96 years.” True, Garvin. A lot has certainly changed over this last near-century, most notably the serious fluctuation of fringe in women’s fashion. And I guess that whole basic human rights thing.

Particularly joyful about the current state of events is Consuelo Lopez, 96, who says, “When I was born women had no voice and were not allowed to vote. Now we are about to make history and have a woman president for the United States. I never thought in a million years I would see that happen. It’s a glorious time.” It sure is a glorious time, Consuelo. The trees are changing colors, I ate ice cream in my sweatpants last night, and, in just 12 days, we’ll be electing the first female president of the United States. That is, if we get out and vote. It’s gonna be a glorious, girl-power time.

Sometimes Silent Revolt

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My mother took me to my first political protest when I was an infant. It was 1987 and she trekked to the National Mall to stand against the horrendous treatment of Jews living in the Soviet Union. I have no memory of the event, but I have this image in my mind of my mom holding me while a mass of outraged American Jews voice their anger and support. I can picture the Mall, packed with protesters, and tiny little me looking around at the power of the people.

Even though I don’t remember the moment, it means something to me. I like to think the spirit of peaceful revolt was injected into me early. And the spirit of sometimes not-so-peaceful revolt. Things don’t always go smoothly when it comes to civil and personal (the personal is political, after all) disobedience. I was a quick human rights sympathizer. Even as a toddler, I felt deeply that certain things were fair or unfair, right or wrong. I expressed these feelings through loud and unruly tantrums.

I’d be lying if I said my epic tantrums have left me forever. I just try my best to channel them into a more acceptable form for an adult. We all choose different methods of revolt. Sometimes it’s standing alongside same-minded strangers. Sometimes it’s sitting next to people who need help. Sometimes it means walking away. A lot of times it means walking. People love walk-a-thons. The core of any protest, really, is making your voice heard. And having a sturdy pair of shoes.

There was a time when heading to the polls was a protest on its own, when people were killed for just trying to cast their choice. Those voters knew having their opinion heard meant more than just tediously checking a box. When I step into my polling place in November, I’m going to remember that spirit. I’ll be issuing my silent protest against hate and ignorance and sending my vote to fight for equality and progress. And when I do, I’ll be thinking of my mother, carrying her baby girl through the streets of this country’s capital city to stand against the wrongs of the world and try to make them right. If she can do that, we can fill out a ballot.

Pancake Politics

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In our house, Sunday mornings are for pancakes and extra blanket time. If I’m lucky, I wake up to the smells wafting off the griddle and lay on the couch until I fill my belly with delicious, sugary carbs. Dave makes them from the whole wheat flour and pure maple syrup that are always in our cabinets. Sometimes I toss a bit of fruit on my plate to pretend like I’m being healthy. After all, I have a basket full of bananas on my counter and a freezer stuffed with frozen berries. Dave usually adds chocolate chips to his, because he likes to live a life of luxury. If I’m feeling extra motivated, I’ll mash up a tofu scramble and add the spinach, peppers, and onions that always seem to find their way into our kitchen.

When I eat our lazy Sunday breakfast, I’m always appreciative of the moment together, Dave’s excellent pancake making skills, and the time I have to relax. Sometimes—though not often enough—I remember to appreciate the ease with which we fill our cupboards and fridge, the privilege of having enough for this feast every week.

That’s not the case for everyone. During the 2014-2015 school year, 21.5 million kids qualified for free or reduced school lunches. Around one in every five children and one in every ten senior citizens lived in food-insecure homes in 2015. Nearly half of SNAP (the federal food benefit program) recipients are children. For people who struggle to fill their family’s freezers and their children’s bellies, every meal is a concern. The worry never disappears. One day you could have just enough and the next you could be going to sleep hungry. Think about how hard it is to make it through your work day without a 3pm snack. Imagine that feeling for three months. For three years. Weeks and weeks of fluctuating between just barely filling your plate and opening an empty fridge in the morning. Imagine relying on a federal program to help you feed your children and then having it taken away when your government starts to cut the budget.

One of America’s most beautiful qualities—the pride we take in our ability to work hard and carve out a bit of the world for ourselves—backfires when we’re tasked with taking care of one another. We live in a system of praise and punishment, so that’s what we dole out. We forget that not everyone starts in the same place. We forget that our brains don’t all work the same way. We forget that this isn’t an all-or-nothing game. And our politicians know we forget those things. They forget too. So they pass bills that make the numbers look better and we let them because social needs are complicated and never-ending.

Each time an election comes around, though, its a chance to place people who remember in positions of power. It’s a chance to tell our government that we can both work hard to succeed and be understanding of people who need a bit more than we do. We can have something to which we all aspire—this grand ideal of ultimate success—while also firmly establishing a ground floor beneath which none of us should fall. At the very least, we can make sure we’re all fed, warm, and healthy.

I can’t buy a sandwich for every hungry kid or send a care package to every hungry family, but I can vote for politicians who support programs that align with my values. I can vote for representatives who maintain strong SNAP and WIC funding, who work to grow healthy food programs in low-income neighborhoods, and who prioritize school breakfast and lunch programs. Our presidential candidates haven’t been talking much about this issue—children with growling stomachs don’t vote very often—but state and local governments play a big role in keeping communities fed and healthy, and we can shape those roles just as we shape the presidency—if we cast our ballots.