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.

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.

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.

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Someone out there is trying to tell us the press is our enemy. He’s been spreading lies about how they’re our greatest threat and how we must defend ourselves against these horrendous, conniving nerds with notepads and laptops. This person has clearly lived a life of privilege, because there are a whole bunch of things I’m way more afraid of than the New York Times.

Here’s a short list:

  1. long lines
  2. peeling potatoes
  3. tight pants and buffets
  4. commercials where babies talk
  5. trying to close a pocket knife
  6. earwigs
  7. leaning on a railing
  8. over-plucking my eyebrows
  9. making uncomfortable small talk
  10. invisible mold

I could keep going, but I’ve worked myself into a frenzy of fear just thinking about this list. I’m going to go read a trustworthy news site to calm myself. I suggest you do the same.

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.