It’s Not Always About You, White Dudes (You’re Just Not Used to That)

So last week some friends and I–women I dub my “feminist fight club” as we argue with people on social media for fun–had a convo about one member’s brother. Said brother is conservative and a frequent sparring partner. In a conversation about something regarding the fight against racist and sexist discrimination, he said, “the fact of the matter is that the middle class white men vote in large numbers and would be on your side if only the message was tailored differently.” This week, kittens, we’re going to tear that quote apart. It’s resonant as it reflects an unwillingness on the part of many people to understand our current historical moment.

TL/DR: It’s not about you, assholes, but you need to listen.

The conversation had gone like this: the brother argued that liberal messages were “exclusionary” in nature and thus, by default, made white men reluctant to take part regardless of whether they agreed with the message (say, that people face racial discrimination) or not. He felt liberals (for sport?) “railed against the white man” and ruined their own missions because such white men wouldn’t get on board…because they evidently feel discriminated against.

Implicitly, the brother’s argument is that messages should be tailored to white men, even if they’re not about white men, and that if they aren’t, white men will (deliberately?) resist, even if those messages make sense. So when we talk about racism or sexism, then, we need to make it about white men; or, at the very least, we can’t suggest white men are somehow keeping this racist/sexist system in place.

Essentially, he doesn’t want us to think about how privilege works and that if we do–and if we challenge what privilege does–we have to do so without threatening those in privileged places.

I have a newsflash for him, as my dad would say: insisting or expecting messages about racism and sexism be tailored to what white men want to read and hear is part of the problem. He’s grown up, as we all have here, in a culture where the overwhelming majority of messages are tailored to white men. Conversations that suggest otherwise–see films about women or by women, or about and by African Americans–are nearly always pitched as niche, because conversations about white people and particularly white men dominate.

Perhaps you’ve seen conversations online about the Golden Globes?

In one corner, we have those who are angry and frustrated to see women snubbed for the eight millionth time in the major category of best director. And in the other, we have those (cough, white men, cough) who insist that the selections are about TALENT, duh, and women just haven’t shown enough. They’re also saying that women are only 7% of film directors because of that reason–certainly not because of systemic sexism and an old boys club that limits women’s access to directorships.

Exhibit A.

That unwillingness to grasp the message and to make it about them–here, “white men are the best directors” is implied as normative fact–echoes what the brother above was saying. A corollary is that men’s stories are normative and women’s are “chick flicks” or “chick lit” (books have the same problem as film in terms of perception and coverage, like in the NYT’s book reviews). Another corollary shifts the lens from sex to race and finds the same thing.

And I’m just a voice among many, many people who have made this argument particularly in the last couple of years: we’re asking men like the brother above to listen to our points and our stories, and they then make it about them. We argue it’s always been about them, let’s hear it be about us, and they flap their wings like startled chickens:

“How could such a thing be? We mustn’t tolerate it! How confusing for us!”

And you’ll forgive me for being glib there, but here’s the thing: maybe these messages, white men, aren’t ABOUT you or FOR you, but you need to hear them so that you consider how you operate in the world. We need to work for a world in which white and male are not the default, normative assumption about quality in anything–stories, acting, directing, teaching, leading the nation, you name it. You need to believe us that that world will be better, because white male mediocrity isn’t inherently the best.

And to that end, white dudes STFU about Oprah.
Exhibit B.

Just stop. Her speech wasn’t for you. Whether or not she runs for office is her business at this point, and putting the focus there minimizes the incredible words she spoke at the Golden Globes. It was for women. It was for people of color. White men need to hear it, but they don’t need to offer running fucking commentary. PARTICULARLY, we don’t need the comparisons of what she has that Hillary Clinton didn’t: stop pitting women against each other. If mediocre white men by the hundreds can all be part of leadership and power, then guess what? More than one woman can, too. And those women are two of the best.

{here’s a link to a transcript of Oprah’s speech, which inexplicably has a photo of Meryl Streep at the top and no photo of Oprah…wtf… }

 

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2017: A Financial Reckoning

As 2017 mercifully ends and 2018 dawns, I’ve busted out the TF budget spreadsheet I’ve used all year for a final reckoning. In short, here’s what I learned from tracking nearly every purchase all year.

  • As I anticipated, we eat out a lot. We get takeout, eat in restaurants, and I occasionally grab cocktails with friends. I’d allocated $400/mo for eating out but we ended the year nearly $300 in the red in that category. This isn’t the end of the world, but it’s worth noting. It’s also worth noting that this category’s use is mostly my doing: the other night, for example, I texted the Mister to please get Chinese food on the way home. I have a cold and didn’t want to cook. I’m the one who usually petitions to get out of the house, and I’m the one who rarely says no to a request for pizza. So, uh, yeah. This would be the easiest category to cut back in, if we choose to.
  • However, we don’t spend that much on other stuff, like entertainment. Our “stuff” category–budgeted at $5k–came in enough under budget that it covers the overrun in dining out and some of other categories. “Stuff” includes movie tickets, hair cuts, parking in town, Sephora visits, and things like tissues and laundry detergent.
  • The gym is one of our great expenses but usually it’s worth the investment. We’re both gym rats when the stars align; problem for me was that this last term, the stars barely got together. Considering how much we spend there (we have more than a basic membership), we need to use it regularly. I have no qualms about spending our money on the gym, so long as it’s used well.
  • We don’t spend much on clothes. I budgeted $2000 for both of us for the year (I had no idea what we spent in general, so it seemed a figure with which to start) and we well under half of that, including a dreaded bra replacement purchase. Those things are godawfully expensive.
  • We budgeted $5200 for groceries and came in under budget. This might be a mixed blessing, though, since it’s likely hinging on high dining spending.
  • We over-budgeted for heating oil and house expenses, though the latter included an unanticipated purchase of new dressers (ours were from my husband’s childhood and busted). Money left in those categories went to the next one…

    Good thing she’s cute.
  • The great budget breaker, as most of you know, was the cat category. Good god. I didn’t budget in January anticipating a lot of things that happened: we tried to adopt a cat, and that was a bust–the adoption fee was never refunded (it was about $200, unheard of for an adult cat!) and the vet fees were a couple of hundred for the results of that cat’s attack on our resident cat. Then, the cat that had been injured unexpectedly died a few months later–cremation fees were over $200. Then, because I am an idiot, I convinced my husband we should adopt kittens. Two. Which are expensive–their adoption fees are high, their initial costs (think baby vaccinations) are high. And, as it turned out, both of our kittens were quite sick at adoption, and then diagnosed with chronic illness. So! We adopted special-needs kittens who are damn lucky to have us and super cute when not hellions but which have also led to a $3000 overage in that budget category, and that’s not including adoption fees–those count as charitable donations and can be written off on our taxes (which meant we exceeded our giving budget as well). I’ve moved all the under-budget amounts over to cover a bunch, but we end up $1900 in the hole there. Talk about a reckoning. I’m hoping that that category will be much quieter next year.

We are remarkably blessed that we could cover those overages and still have money to save in our emergency fund, replenishing a dent made over the summer. Further, we were able to pay off the end of my husband’s student loans, making us student-loan-free for the first time since my grad school deferments. We only have the mortgage and my car we’re paying off now. Assuming things continue as they are, we’ll likely be able to add more to my retirement account this coming year as well as take care of things like replacing our worn-out mattress and my beat-up, sometimes malfunctioning phone, and consider replacing my husband’s car–it’ll be 10 next year–in the nearer future.

Tracking spending for a year was eye-opening, if a pain in the ass, and because I’m one of those people who likes to do things religiously I’ll probably stick with it this year, too. If you, like me, have no idea where your money is going, it’s a great exercise that allows you to truly see where your expenses are, and what you’re spending in addition.

Happy new year, dear readers.

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YOUR DEBT IS NOT SLAVERY, SO STOP SAYING IT IS

Last week I was royally pissed when I saw someone tweet about their latest blog post in which they compare themselves, as an indebted person, to being enslaved.

JUST, NO.

I didn’t click on it because I title like that–and a subtitle that doubled down on the idea–is designed to garner clicks, and I’m not going to grant my precious clicks to some inane bullshit.

But here’s the deal. Debt can suck. It can drain what funds you have. It can restrict your mobility. Hamper your goals.

SLAVES DIDN’T–AND DON’T–GET FUNDS, MOBILITY, OR GOALS.

American slavery began as a transatlantic nightmare in which humans were corralled, then shoved on ships so tightly packed that in some cases, captains anticipated a 20% loss. Yep. The trip took about 6 weeks, six weeks of being chained to other humans, lying in your own filth, sometimes with corpses.

THEN those humans who survived were inspected like cattle and sold to the highest bidder so that they might work until they died of exhaustion–old age unlikely–doing backbreaking labor, usually in sugar or rice or tobacco.

One’s status was determined matrilineally–FUCKING CONVENIENT, GIVEN THE PATRIARCHY–which meant that rapacious owners could assault the women they owned regularly and then ENSLAVE THEIR OWN CHILDREN.

Those children became fodder for the internal slave trade, which was the same system, minus the transatlantic ship and now featuring boats from places like Virginia down the Mississippi, to places like Louisiana. And now they farmed King Cotton more than other crops.

Families were broken at the will of enslavers.  Runaways were beaten for daring to leave the system. If you look at runaway slave advertisements–readily available online–you can begin to see a pattern of injury descriptions that are concurrent with “hobbling” injuries–injuries to prevent further running away. Slave patrols–made of poor whites who wanted a piece of the system they could not buy themselves–beat even those slaves legally on the roads, nevermind runaways.

In Virginia for a long time if you “killed a slave in the course of correction“–beat them to death–the colony reimbursed you.

Modern slavery is only so different–secretive, where it was publicly acceptable before. Often overtly sexual in nature. Some undocumented immigrants also live in virtual slavery as housekeeping staff to those who exploit their status in order to keep hold of them indefinitely.

SO UNTIL YOUR FAMILY IS DESTROYED, YOUR LABOR STOLEN, YOUR BODY MANGLED, YOUR SPIRIT COMPELLED TO THE WHIMS OF ANOTHER–and Citibank is NOT another–YOU ARE NOT ENSLAVED.

Out of respect for those who were enslaved and those who are, just stop it.

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Finance Friday: Yes, I Have a Side Gig (or, Additional Revenue Stream)

We’ve talked about having a side gig before on this blog–particularly the problems in how we discuss them and the implications therein. Today I’m going to tell you about mine. It’s truly a side project, secondary to my main job, something I do primarily on weekends and during the summer. It’s turned into a nice little revenue stream, largely because it has next to no overhead. And I can do it because I had the time to develop it and because my primary job enables me not to worry about making ends meet.

I am a genealogical consultant.

Chief for me when I considered embarking on a side project was doing something that was enjoyable, made use of my skills, and made me some worthwhile money.

I had been prowling Mr. Money Mustache for weeks and I saw lots of posts about sites like Task Rabbit. If I needed the income to pay my bills, Task Rabbit might have been ok, but I did not want to be tethered to someone’s needs for unpredictable, low cash. I didn’t want to end up exploited or abused, as can happen with task jobs (there’s an episode of the Simpsons where Bart does tons of work for an old lady and gets a measly quarter). I didn’t want to put myself in odd situations. As a woman in 2017, that concern is often forefront in my mind.

As for my skills, my main job is in the humanities–long the butt of jokes about uselessness in the employment world. I spent some serious time thinking about what I like to do, particularly during the summers when my regular contract is up. I’m a skilled historian with a good handle not just on the American past but the sources that help us decipher it. Some summers ago, I mapped our family tree back to the 1680s–I was hooked. So I set myself up as a summertime genealogical consultant. I’m not certified as such, but I do have a Ph.D. in history. I frame what I do as both fact-digging and narrative-telling: people love stories, and I hate facts without context. I’m really good at this kind of work.

Humanities critics can suck it.

I looked into what professional genealogists charge, and numbers ranged as high as $80 an hour. That seemed more than my market could potentially bear, I figured, especially since I lack the appropriate credentialing. So I charge half of that, and people pay it. It never fails to amaze me that people barely blink that I’m charging $40 an hour, or $375 for a ten-hour chunk. They hand over their Ancestry credentials (so far all of my clients have an account) and I dig in. Rates are higher if I have to use my own account, which is currently dormant. I may increase them to $50 for new clients this spring, after I do more research.

I’ve had three clients so far. People call me in for a range of reasons. Some have family mysteries they want help with. I’ve teased out a family’s complicated moving patterns and offered interpretations grounded in general US history for them. I’ve helped decipher nineteenth-century language choices. I’ve located a rabbi who was ministering in Brooklyn–a lost link in a family chain–on behalf of another. Most recently, I worked with a client whose family stretched back to Puritan settlement in Massachusetts. Family branches fought on both sides of the Civil War, and one side was deeply entrenched in propagating slavery.

I pull no punches and hide no truths. If your past is dark, that’s what I’m going to tell you.

I love this gig.

I love it so much I’m doing some consulting–albeit rarely–during the academic year. People are often surprisingly vulnerable during the searching process; they’re sharing intimate parts of their family histories, their pain.  It’s an honor to bear witness to them and to help people process their pasts.

Plus, they like to brag: my current client delights in telling her friends she’s meeting with her own personal genealogist. I only hope they book me, too.

My goal is to turn this little enterprise into something that yields at least $10k/year. I’ve made over $2k this year and I haven’t put much into marketing it. My goal was $1k, so I’m doing a smashing job. The three jobs I’ve had came through a single FB post on a local page: a woman who saw it told her friend who hired me, and she told two friends who hired me. Three of those setups a year would put me over the moon and close to goal. One of my current clients will join me for a presentation at the local library next spring that I hope will yield more clients.

Shameless plug:

If you’d like to work with me on tracing your family heritage, let me know! I’ll send you the link to my personal site and credentials once you check out as a non-bot non-threatening actually interested human. While there are some things–like sorting your family photos–I cannot do online, I can search and communicate with you easily by phone and by email. I can’t promise all the results you might want, but I’m a tenacious digger with a keen sense of seeing where clues lead. Want your own history detective? Hire me.

 

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Well, If it isn’t another white man with a gun

By now you’d have to live under a rock to have missed this week’s edition of “there’s a mass shooting, but let’s not talk about it.” Once again, a young white man obtained military-style weapons and took his rage out on innocent people. And while we’ve all offered Hopes and Prayers (trademark pending) and wrung our hands over the State of the World, I’d say it’s safe we stop here and wait until next week to start the cycle again. If I sound cynical, it’s because I am. As a nation we refuse to discuss the actual factors these things have in common and so we insist there’s nothing we can do. Tho there is.

Probably by now you’ve seen that the shooter this week had a domestic violence record. We know that many if not most of the men who propagate these kinds of massacres have some history of hitting their partners, who are overwhelmingly women. We know that men who hit women often do so out of rage, out of a sense of ownership, and because violence is a means of demonstrating power. Similar things could be said of why people shoot up innocents–it’s about anger, power. We know that there’s a whole culture in the US of men who feel entitled to women’s time, attention, and genitals, and who fly into a rage when they feel they’re not getting their due (see MRA douchebags). Similarly, these men seem to feel entitled to shoot up others in their anger. We have what’s called a correlation here–men who perpetuate massacres often hit their wives and girlfriends. This is not to say that domestic violence alone isn’t a problem that needs eradication on its own merits–it absolutely does–but that there’s also a predictor here that our society is ignoring.

So let’s contemplate that situation. Why isn’t anyone at the policy-making level looking at this?

My argument is that if you don’t generally see women as autonomous individuals–human beings–you don’t see hitting them as a problem. If you see women as a caste subordinate to men, you might see them as hittable when they step out of place. You probably run the whole list of “well, she must have done something to deserve this” excuses through your head before you ponder what’s wrong with the male who did the hitting. As a nation, that’s where we’ve been headed more overtly lately. Take, for example, the Violence Against Women Act, which our current Department of Justice hates. As a senator, Jeff Sessions said the bill wasn’t “sound” and so voted against it. Recently, an undocumented teenager was held hostage by the Justice Department, which wouldn’t let her get an abortion until weeks later, she and the ACLU won a lawsuit against them. Our own VP calls his wife “mother,” and our president has public recordings of his brags about assaulting women. A Wisconsin lawmaker recently gave a speech in which he alleged abortion hurt the economy, as it eliminates potential members of the labor force–women, in such a scenario, are just breeders. These are just a few example at the highest levels–you can peruse any number of websites to see much more run-of-the-mill discussion of women as object, breeder, housekeeper, and not autonomous humans.

A consequence of not seeing women as autonomous humans (literally, culturally, or otherwise) is that domestic violence against women is not taken seriously. Sure, we’ve got lip service, but look at how stuff plays out. The NFL has plenty of players who have records–no one cares. Women who fear deportation don’t report, because they are especially non-people–women AND of color AND undocumented. Dual-arrest laws, in which both members of a fight are apprehended, were well-intentioned efforts to defuse fights between partners and sort out what happened have led to declines in reporting by victims who don’t want an arrest record. NPR here talks about a woman who had several restraining orders against her ex, but still would be arrested if she called for help.

So if, as a nation, we have a track record of seeing women as non-persons and if we don’t take domestic violence as seriously as we might and we combine that with white supremacy, well, here we are.

Because whiteness is a key piece here. Overwhelmingly, the men murdering civilians in theaters, in churches, at concerts, are white. And we have a system that functions to hold white men in place at the top–we have a patriarchal, white supremacist system. So when you and I say, “DAMMIT if we’re not going to talk about gun bans, can we talk about banning men who engage in domestic violence from having access to them?” we get a firm “tut tut” and no desire to engage from our dear congresspeople. Overwhelmingly. And the reason for that is that if they begin to look at this shit–REALLY look at it–they’re going to note that white men who don’t see women as humans, who feel entitled to women, are carrying it out, and then for many congressmen, they’ll see themselves. Perched atop the patriarchal white supremacist pinnacle, investigating the commonalities among those men and deciding to hold them responsible implicates those men and implicates themselves.

So until we’re rid of those men in the echelons of government, beholden not just to the gun lobby but to a vision of themselves in which they are entitled as white men to all the spoils, we won’t see an end to the carnage.

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TF’s No BS History Corner: Fear of the “Contagion of Liberty”

Hello, dear ones. How are you holding up?

Today we’re going to talk about an important historical phenomenon that just won’t die, though we don’t talk about it as people used to. Today we’re talking about fears of the “contagion of liberty,” those insidious beliefs of our mythologized founding fathers (lo, the paternalism!) which limited their rhetoric about the republic and freedom to them and their buddies.

Yeah, I know.

For the first several decades in the life of our fair nation, access to basic liberties such as the right to vote (in local, state and federal elections, though the first two varied place to place) was sharply limited. You had to be white. You had to be male. And you had to own property.

As an aside–did you know the original declaration of independence said colonists had the right to “life, liberty and property” but was revised to “pursuit of happiness?” Telling, isn’t it?
Contagion of Liberty
Thomas Jefferson. A man of great political acumen, but not worthy of the mythology that surrounds him.

How much property you had to own varied, but you needed to check all three boxes to have access to liberty-related things. Thomas Jefferson, writer of “life, liberty and property” had some pretty serious ideas about the importance of property; he envisioned a country dotted with farms, gathered into villages, in which every white dude–having a real stake in the community because of his farm–was an informed voter, because of that stake. He thought republicanism–that is, a government system with representatives of the people–could only flourish in these conditions. If you didn’t own land, tough titty for you.

He and his fellow “fathers” spoke fearfully of what they called the “contagion of liberty”–that people outside their little landed white dude circle could want what they had in terms of political access and rights. This, they felt, was to be avoided–just look at their language! Liberty=good but contagion=bad. Urban mechanics? Nope, no liberty for them–they weren’t wizened enough to use the vote well. They didn’t own land, after all, even if they were white. Privilege was intensely bound up with property rights, and men like Jefferson firmly believed that a vote had to be wielded only by those with the greatest knowledge. Or, acres. Since the two were, evidently, interchangeable.

Sigh.

Fear of the contagion of liberty was highly inspired by other fears: that of slave insurgency, and abolitionism (the end of slavery) more generally. They saw the uprising in Haiti–historically, the only successful slave rebellion–that led to a free nation. French colonizers were run right off the island. Again, let’s look at Jefferson–the man’s plantation was large and hundreds of enslaved people were compelled to labor there. Should such men and women come to identify–and many did–with the ethos of the American revolution of liberty and life, well, damn. America had more slaves than Haiti; shit could get very real.

So again, the Founding Paternalists doubled down on their rhetoric–no liberty and justice for all, but for the few. White, male, propertied. Their legacy is alive and well: gerrymandering–redistricting areas to benefit one party, and often to defraud people of color of the vote–is one example. Very specific voter ID requirements and related legislation has also led to the lower turnout of voters, primarily voters of color, in states like Wisconsin, by making it much harder for them to meet voting qualifications. Ari Berman at Mother Jones–a left-leaning publication that has some top-notch reporting–has a thorough new report on Wisconsin’s rigged system. When politicians work to reduce access to the franchise, they’re expressing fears of the contagion of liberty–and that’s a pretty way of saying they prefer a world where only they have access to freedom, to “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” Given the perspectives of the same people on reproductive health and women, we can see paternalism reeking in here as well–they know better than us about so many things! Bound up in the privilege of whiteness, maleness, and wealth, the sinister practices of the past continues in our present.

 

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A Personal Impact of Awful Politics: I Haven’t Been Frugal, and I Miss my Kitchen

Lord, y’all.

The nation’s political situation feels, when I’m not optimistic, like the nation is wrecked. It’s never been perfect, but it’s always had fantastic ideals worth striving for. It has always proclaimed it was exceptional for its freedom, its liberties: a point I always thought was nonsense (we’re not exceptional, we’re like much of the rest of the world) but the country’s dedication to an ethos of liberty and justice feels utterly abandoned lately. Combined with my busy schedule and the financial exhaustion of the two kittens when they were in the vet’s weekly, well, I’ve kind of abandoned my frugality. I’ve been wrestling with unfrugal politics.

An accounting:

Target makes abandonment of frugality easy: I’d go in for something I needed, and walked out with stuff I wanted. first I got a new wreath for the door. And a new nail polish. Then a new base coat for the nail polish. And a new handbag. And then I needed moisturizer and to “save” money, I didn’t get my overpriced jar at Sephora but a less-expensive-but-still-expensive one at Kiehl’s. I don’t feel too guilty about any of that, which makes me wonder a little. In addition, we’ve eaten out a fair amount, and I’ve returned to more-frequent coffees on the go rather than in my office or at home.

Isn’t it lovely on our blue door? So autumnal! Like everything’s fine!

I kind of miss cooking, but I think what I truly miss is the sense of contentment I had that was linked to cooking–an “all is right with the world” feeling that allowed me to really enjoy the process of creating in the kitchen. Even when I cooked to alleviate stress or anger, that stress or anger wasn’t usually as existential as my stress and anger currently is. I’ve been wanting to be out instead in part to avoid the chore of thinking about cooking and to keep myself entertained by others rather than by Twitter, which only fuels my anger.

At some point I need to reconnect with the me who loves to create in the kitchen. I need to persevere beyond my frustration, sadness and anger at the current state of the nation. Self-nourishment can be one way to do so. I need to reconnect with the “things don’t buy happiness” mantra I’ve long abided by, as well. It felt good, tho, to splurge a little on stuff for myself–I rarely buy stuff for myself.

Rather than head for take-out for my lunch/dinner today, I made some chicken pot pie filling from frozen rotisserie meat and some fridge/freezer veggies, ladled on a bowl of egg noodles. I might bake some sweet potato muffins later. A little comfort food goes a long way sometimes.

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On Ambition

on ambition
It won’t be long until this is my office and you can’t find me.

I took on another committee position at my job. I’m a tenured professor who overdoes it in the “service to the university” category regularly. In addition to being the vice chair of the faculty, I’m now the chair of promotion and tenure–the committee which initially handles and judges all applications for promotion and tenure. I was terrified of this committee when I first started my job. Now I’m the boss.

I took the spot in part because no one else wanted it–three of us were qualified, and the other two were “not it” before I could speak. “Not it” is a pretty common phenomenon in higher ed–in part, because we’re all teaching and already doing a zillion ‘service’ jobs (service is the name for committee work and other voluntary activities done outside of teaching. It’s one of the three legs of the higher ed stool–if you’ve got a coveted and unicorn-rare tenure-track position, you usually need to provide evidence routinely of the three legs in order to move through the pipeline to tenure. The third leg is research).

Major positions like this one have long been the bastion of men, as they’re pretty powerful in terms of one’s campus. I didn’t think much of it, because my university is heavily populated by women. But when I told another group of women from other unis that I would have to leave my work with them in order to take on chairing promotion and tenure, they were full of congratulations–not just because I’d gotten the position, but because I’m one of few women to do so.

That gave me some real pause. And what had felt, in part, like a job I had little choice in doing, I now felt loomed with significance. I was proud to take on the chairperson-ship. And I began to think about my ambition, however subtle, in wanting the spot to begin with; and why I’d been quiet about it, deferring to the others (all women) before saying I’d chair.

Are we as women sometimes ashamed of our own ambition, particularly when it’s not expected of us? Even those of us who are really tuned into the way our sexist society works have evidently consumed enough of the Kool-Aid to participate in sexist thinking from time to time, as I did. I was all “well, if you want me to chair,  I will” rather than “I’d like to be chair, everyone.” Women have long learned to couch what they want in subtle language, deferring to others, apologizing. How often do you start a convo, ladies, with “I’m sorry to bother you but…” Hell, I apologize to inanimate objects when I bump into them. I am not so different from most women, even though I’m tuned into the “don’t take up space, don’t demand” ethos in which women are socialized.

Even so. In any case, as my colleague at work said, I’m now “a really big deal.” And I’m glad of it.

 

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Everything’s Exhausting: Title IX

Everything's Exhausting: Title IX
It’s me.

Things have been happening so fast at the federal, state, and personal level that I haven’t had the wherewithal to process and post much in ages. Two special-needs kittens are exhausting, as it turns out, between vet visits and adjusting them to overnight sleeping (rather than locking them into a room of their own, they now have the run of the house overnight. This isn’t great for non-kittens). My job has been busy and parts of it have been kind of draining.  Politics here in our state are garbage (we need a budget to make up for decades of unfunded pensions which have left us a multi-billion-dollar hole, and the GOP and some Dems here suggested gutting the state’s public higher ed as a solution). And 45 et al are, well, their own form of draining and exhausting.

So. here we are.

Arguing that we don’t deserve to have health care gutted because the Kochs promised big bucks if the GOP does it–that lives are worth more than their money. Waiting for Mueller to begin publicizing indictments as our  president raids campaign funds for his own defense, which certainly suggests a lot of somethings. Plus natural disasters. Shit is wearisome.

So much goes on in an average week that it’s hard to remember that what happened last week still matters even as this week piles it on. Many people are quick on the draw, posting their thoughts as stuff happens rather than after digesting it, as a consequence of this pacing. I’ve debated on the pointlessness of writing on last week’s stuff, but since that stuff still matters, onward I forge.

Let’s talk about Title IX, which Betsy DeVos plans to dramatically alter following an announcement last week.

Title IX guarantees sex and gender parity in higher ed so long as the institution receives federal funds in some way. Initially developed to give women access to sports at co-ed schools. Women’s teams were few and far between at most universities, chronically unfunded and seen as irrelevant. Title IX has also become an important tool in addressing sexual misconduct on college campuses. This is a new phenomenon, developed after then-president Obama issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” arguing that parity in higher ed included access to educational spaces, and that having to attend class, for example, with one’s rapist meant that women (overwhelmingly it’s women who are assaulted) did not have parity of access.

Title IX developed protocols for university reporting of sexual misconduct on college campuses, stemming the tide and tradition of universities shielding such information from public or federal scrutiny. Many universities downplayed sexual misconduct–this includes everything from harassment to assault–and women faced all kinds of other harassment for reporting. So women rarely reported. Since the Title IX changes, university protocols to remove the allege assaulter from spaces (this can go as far as expulsion) has led more women to report assault, and schools like the University of Connecticut had to face a real reckoning when its rates of assault became public.

Reckoning is good.

Reckoning forces change. And it created spaces in which women who long hid the rapes and groping to speak out, which many women avoid because of the backlash she often faces–anything from social ostracization to public doxxing to the usual blame-the-victim garbage.

Well, Betsy DeVos wants to do away with all that.

Now on the surface what she suggests doesn’t sound entirely crazy, and some intelligent women are even defending her points. She argues that rule-by-letter isn’t good governance, that a systemic approach would be better. Ok. She argues that schools expelling alleged assaulters violates our innocent-until-proven guilty legal system. But here she’s missing several key points.

  1. School isn’t necessarily public space. Schools have their own rules and policies. Schools can and should be subject to federal and state laws, but what DeVos is referring to is our legal system. Should the alleged assaulter go straight to jail? No–that person is entitled to a trial like everyone else. But if schools feel that an alleged assaulter’s presence is violating Title IX’s argument for equal access, then they have the right to take what actions they choose.
  2. DeVos rooted her point of view in the claims of Men’s Rights Associations. These people are BATS (the We Hunted the Mammoth archive can fill you in). They see men, usually white men, as being on the losing end of our society, a society which has shriveled because of feminism. They regard women with hostility at best and brutal animosity at worst. They argue not just that expulsion and the like isn’t fair, but that women mostly fabricate allegations of assault–thus, assaulters are expelled for fraudulent reasons. DeVos herself has even said that some 90% of campus assault allegations are really just break-up and drunk sex, regretted.
WE KNOW THIS ISN’T TRUE.

The costs of claiming assault are often so high that, as noted above, women don’t often report it when it happens. Only a very tiny sliver (2-10%) of assault allegations have been proven to be falsehoods or unsubstantiated (though there’s no common definition of those terms used): to say otherwise is to perpetuate a myth. What we have, then, is a proposal to make assault less punishable by the colleges and universities themselves and compelling women to repeatedly cross paths with their assaulter until a legal trial–which can take years to even get started–concludes. Should this be shocking, given that the man who hired DeVos bragged about sexually assaulting women? Nope.

It feels like we have our eyes on more balls than we can handle right now (pun firmly intended). Exhausting though it is, we have to keep at it. We have to engage in a public discourse on all of this stuff–assault, health care, election veracity, saber rattling–so that we don’t come to normalize what isn’t normal. Treating women like gossipy, threatening demons used to be normal–it’s not anymore and we shouldn’t go back there. If we stop being appalled that 45 publicly calls foreign leaders “rocket man,” we’ve begun to allow the erosion of our basic system.

We deserve better than 45 and his horse-people of the government apocalypse.  I’m being dramatic, but the stuff that’s going down–lots of it in the name of making money, holding on to power, and erasing Obama’s legacy–is apocalyptic to a lot of people. Take time to breathe so you don’t wear out. We need you in this conversation.

We won’t go quietly back to what was.

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39: When Grandma Stopped Counting Birthdays

39: When Grandma Stopped Counting BirthdaysA week ago Sunday I had a birthday. I wasn’t one of *the* major milestone birthdays but it was close: I hit the age my grandmother was when she decided to stop counting. I’d like to say that her reasons were good ones–that age is but a number, or because women are castigated for aging. But instead, grandma decided that after this age was Old, and she wasn’t going to be Old. She never told us her actual age no matter how often we asked, nor what year she was born so that we might do the math. She only changed her mind when she was eligible to retire, at which point 65 was a thrill.

For the record, I’ve only just turned 39.

I was born when grandma was 43, which meant that she told us she was 39 for about twenty years.

I am glad I don’t feel obliged to lie about my age, in jest or otherwise. It’s striking to me that grandma felt my age now was old for her–that it was the end of her youth. Being blessed with a young face, perhaps I feel inured against such thinking. Perhaps I’m in denial that I’m not as young as I once was. But when I look back at my near-40 years (shocking though that number is) and I take stock, I’ve done a lot of things without feeling like those are the only things I’ll ever do.

I’ve also done a lot that makes me happy, and I’m not sure she ever felt or feels that way. I don’t know that she ever felt that she could choices for happiness alone. I’m happy in my marriage. I’ve pursued my own dreams–she never talked much about having them, nevermind pursuing them. I don’t have kids, and it’s ok to make that choice now if that’s what one wants. My grandma is a tough nut and not always easy to get along with. I suspect she sees herself as a victim from time to time, even if it’s truly of her own unwillingness to do otherwise.

So I am very ok with 39. I am not Old.

39 isn’t the end of my youth, even if I’m not exactly young. I like to think I’m just gently aged, wiser for my time here. I don’t have bitterness at the past that might encourage me to feel my youth was wasted. I don’t care too much about the cultural imagery of youth that might see me older.

But that’s not to say that I don’t have aging anxieties. I realize I’m a little anxious about being considered not-young, whether in my own head or otherwise. I know it’s irrational, and that the alternative is awful. But it’s a thing that looms somewhere in the back of my head and surfaces at weird times. For me, I think it’s more about feeling relevant–and that’s not a concept actually attached to age but how one is in the world.

Speaking of relevancy: coming up soon is a post on the hideous plan Betsy DeVos has for Title IX, my thoughts on HRC’s book What Happened (my copy just arrived!), and a discussion of my “side hustle.”

 

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