How I stopped worrying so much about my weight and came to love heavy lifting

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For many, many years, I, like many people, hated exercise. I also wasn’t too keen on my body. I saw exercise mainly as a tool for body modification, but one which left me generally tired, frustrated, and easily thwarted. I am 5’ tall. I am genetically predisposed to big ol’ legs, and I saw these as a penance rather than a gem. When I was 28, I lost something like 30 pounds so that I was a mere 117 through strict food control, limited booze, and walking. So.much.walking. I did this after seeing a doctor at the university where I was a grad student for an indigestion-and-tightness feeling. Her advice? Lose weight. (didn’t help, btw.)

run, Jen, run!
A blurry, young me, in one of my very few action shots.

Man, if I had a nickel for every time I heard or felt that impulse to drop pounds. BMI is too high. Clothes are too tight. Self-love was not part of the equation, ever, even though I went to a feminist university for undergrad and was a believer in the rhetoric. Knowing something in your brain and your gut are two different things. I was a chubby youngster, and even as my weight went up and down over the years, that kid’s voice tended to be the loudest in my head.

Magazines, websites and TV pitch cardio to women as the be-all end-all of exercise, because it’s trumpeted as the best, fastest way to lose weight. The equation is thus simple: women should primarily exercise to take up less space. Thus, run, use the elliptical, or in my case as a young person, get down with those awful Cindy Crawford workout videos. Do not do so for reasons of personal accomplishment, unless that accomplishment is to become smaller. In which case, good for you.

When I see photos of myself at 117 pounds, I’m kind of floored by how scrawny I was. I am forty pounds heavier now. I am not always good at accepting that. But my god, I am strong.

I started lifting heavy weights a few years ago at the university gym. It took a lot of swallowed pride to put on my gym clothes and be vulnerable—gasp—in front of my students. But the gym was free, and I had a book—The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess—I’d taken out of the library and eventually ordered on Amazon. I watched videos to get an idea of good form. And then I tried. I used the barbell, the plates, the dumbbells. Within a year, I could lift my (then-smaller) bodyweight. And I loved it.

That’s evidently the trick with exercise: Find something you love, and you won’t mind doing it (as much—I do still have those days where I don’t want to go to the gym). And for me, I hated cardio. It generally left me bored and feeling bad about myself. But lifting? It’s always a challenge. Successes are exciting—new personal bests!—and failures are motivating. Don’t get it today? Get it later. It’s a very different motivation than “yay I made it through half an hour on the treadmill,” which is something I don’t find even remotely motivating. At all. Even better, it allowed me to eat more (I wrestled with guilt cycles about counting highly-restricted calories) because you have to eat to lift and make gains.

It’s the best exercise ever.

I no longer work out at the university gym. When I was on sabbatical, I started working out elsewhere so as not to get sucked into university stuff. Now I just prefer my other gym; it’s the one “crazy” annual expense in my budget. I also spring for a trainer.

I can lift 200 pounds off the floor.
I can carry all the groceries in one trip.
I can move my own furniture.

My bones are strong as a consequence of resistance work, which bodes well for me in the future.

And while I use a lot of serious gym weights, you can do a lot with your own body and stuff you can find—google and see for yourself.

The traditional ways of knowing you’re doing well, health-wise, don’t quite work for me, and that’s taken getting used to. My pants are always becoming too small (I’ve stopped buying any at full price and hit up thrift shops) because my booty is huge. I have great quads—sure, they’re huge, but they support my whole body and let me do pretty much whatever I want. My shoulders are broad—these are great for filling out shirts, sure, but also help stabilize my growing arms.

Exercise is important—it can help stabilize mood (it keeps me from killing people), improve bodily function, ward off disease, and promote community. But don’t exercise for some mythological state of smallness, or because you feel you have to for reasons tied to the awful covers of “Women’s Health,” a misnomer if I ever heard one. Do it for you. Find something you like, and to hell with the rest of it. Find workouts that challenge you, that hold your interest. For me, that’s heavy lifting.

Being strong kicks ass. Being big kicks ass. It’s all infinitely better than spending your life seeking smallness. If you’re looking to feel good, carry all your own stuff, and rival Beyonce’s thighs for strength, you should give heavy lifting a go.

We’ll talk about all of this more later, when I interview my trainer. He’s ALL about empowering women in the gym, so I adore him. Just wait until I ask him about the pink dumbbells.

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Let’s talk about relationships with money.

We all have them, but I don’t know how often we explore them or consider their roots.

How does money make you feel? Anxious? Eager? Safe? Afraid?

Our emotions about money oftentimes fuel our money habits, and are complicated by our historical past. Women, in particular, have historically been responsible for a home’s consumption while at the same time having no access to the inner workings of bills and income. When we’re kids, we might have parents who still maintained this kind of system, and as we learn much by parental observation, many of us women might be as confused (bemused?) as our mothers were, however long ago, by our finances.

Our parents also serve as other models: models of spending, models of saving. Sometimes we turn into them; other times, we choose deliberately not to be them.

When I was growing up, we did not have a lot of extra money. I did not want for food, a roof over my head, or warm clothes in the winter, but luxuries were not frequent. Perhaps consequently, when I went to college and got my first credit card, I got a little bit out of control. I had access to money (well, plastic money) and before I knew it, I had a $4k credit card debt at 21 years old. Then I went to grad school, made a whopping $11k a year, and had looming, enormous undergrad bills to pay off.

But money made me anxious even before then. I expect I’m not alone. I have often vacillated between “SPEND NOTHING!” and “I’ve spent so little, I deserve this item here on sale at Target.” I suspect part of my anxiety and spending habits had to do with my father’s repeated injunctions to BE CAREFUL with money, which often felt like a principle to violate (oh, hey, credit card) and which, once violated, left me feeling guilty for having done so. I wonder sometimes if he felt the same way. He always had a “bigger, better, faster” streak that reminded me of Tim Allen as the dad on “Home Improvement” when I was a kid.

As an adult, I am only just getting past my money anxiety.

For a long time, even as I began to make a reasonable salary, I felt like I was teetering on some financial precipice, even if that wasn’t true. My money anxieties are bundled up—as I expect they are for a number of women—with insecurities about who I am and what I do. Classic “Imposter Syndrome” stuff. They’ll figure out I’m a fraud, and I’ll never work again. I had nightmares along those lines for years.

Finding some control over my finances has helped me get change my thinking about money considerably. Not that I was ever really out of control, but by laying stuff out on paper, both on a grand scale with a financial planner last year and on a smaller day-to-day scale now on my own, I feel like I have a better understanding of how my money works, where it goes, and what I can do about it and with it. Since then, I’ve paid down a chunk of our debt, improved our bottom line by cutting expenses, and given us a framework with which to evaluate what we do spend. I’m not beyond picking fights with utilities for better rates when I don’t like what I see.

So for this Finance Friday, spend a little time thinking about how you feel about money, and where from where those feelings might arise. Contemplate how those feelings might shape your spending habits, and how those habits themselves make you feel. How might control—or lack thereof—figure in?

Consider this article, as well, which is honest in some amazing ways. http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/05/poor-people-worries/

We’ll chat again next week.

J.

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Don’t Waste Time: The Handmaid’s Tale’s Easy Authoritarianism

handmaids, authoritarianism
Check out this photo of women in Texas surrounded by men with guns, and you tell me the likeness to elements of episode 3 isn’t eerie. Property of The Advocate, http://bit.ly/2pDVc5a

I’d avoided watching episode 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale for a while because I knew what it contained: visual depiction of how easily the revolution established authoritarianism in what became Gilead. Having read the book, I knew this part was coming, but watching it during these particular weeks felt that much more ominous than when I read it for the first time, twelve or so years ago.

In case you don’t know the story, here’s how it goes. There’s an attack on Congress, leaving few alive. It’s labeled a terrorist attack, and people step into the vacuum and establish martial law “for the duration” (in quotes because it’s a pretty quintessential thing to say in times of war). The constitution is suspended, allegedly temporarily. And before long, as adherents to the coming revolution multiply, surfacing here and there (in episode three there’s an aggressive guy in a coffee shop visited by June and Moira), the executive orders also multiply, and no one’s protesting in large numbers in the streets until it’s too late. The show does a good job of showing isolated adherents and protestors in the flashbacks to the earliest stages of the revolution; mass protests don’t even quite erupt when the government declares women working illegal and they’re all summarily fired. It’s when women lose access to their money—all electronic, like ours often is—that people take to the streets. By then there are men with machine guns everywhere, and they’re not afraid to use it to make their revolution more permanent.

Anyway.

Margaret Atwood once said there was nothing in the book that hadn’t already happened in our world, and I’ll be damned if 45’s America isn’t giving her additional fodder for a sequel. I’m a bit dramatic, I realize, but let’s be honest—there’s only so much separating one coup from another, one dictatorship from a different one. We were out in the streets for the first several executive orders, but where have we been lately? As EOs come down limiting LGBTQ rights in the name of “religious liberty,” where are we? And last week’s health care bill, which deliberately and carefully (or, alternately, stupidly and unthinkingly—I’m not sure which is worse) placed women in second-class citizenship for being women, making their health care easily more expensive?

As I’ve said to students time and again, why do we call things like reproductive care “women’s issues,” whereas we’re all supposed to be concerned about, say, prostate cancer? Why aren’t “women’s issues” everyone’s issues, which would foster a more egalitarian health and social system?

I’ll tell you why. Because once we do that, we can’t charge women more if they’ve been raped, or if they’ve carried a baby to term, while also defunding Planned Parenthood—which gives women wide access to contraceptive care, cancer screening, and abortion services. As a bill, the AHCA condemns women for existing: all stages of our life are now more expensive. And we’re paid less in the process.

Where are the people in the streets? We cannot make the same mistake as the women who became Handmaids. We cannot assume—as our dear leader fires those investigating him and people like Paul Ryan, who would rather institute Atlas Shrugged than stand up for his country, support him—that the country’s systems are going to save us. We cannot just be Twitter warriors. It’s important that we come out for major, planned marches, but we also need to be out there ALL THE FUCKING TIME. I say this as I’m firmly ensconced in my office, typing away, drinking a cup of cold coffee. I realize my hypocrisy.

But I’ll never be a fucking Handmaid, and neither should you.

If you want to protest in real style, you can knock out these easy tutorials for a cape and a bonnet and join others out there in Handmaid gear (note how that article is in HuffPo’s ‘Women’ section and scroll back up to ‘women’s issues’ in this post).


Here’s a cloak tutorial. It calls for fleece but you could likely make it out of shirting or other red fabric. https://www.fleecefun.com/long-hooded-cloak-pattern-free.html

And here’s a bonnet tutorial. To make it look closer to those on the show, you’d skip the trim and the chin strap, get rid of a little of the bulk in the back, and consequently have fewer pleats. http://www.sunsetfamilyliving.com/pioneer-bonnet/

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Stickers Available!

Stickers stickers stickers!

They’ve arrived, badgers! While you can enter our May giveaway to win a Tenacious Feminist sticker, you can also pick them up here for $2. We’ll send 25% of all sales to Planned Parenthood so that we can put our money where our keyboard is. The price also includes first-class shipping.

Stickers are 3.5″ x 4″ and made of water-resistant vinyl so they should be good on your car, kayak, or computer. Take the tenacious honey badger with you wherever you go.

Payments are securely processed through Paypal.





 

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Aww, yeah! Time for the May Giveaway!

may giveawayGood morning, fearless honey badgers!

Today we’re partnering with Heartificial to bring you a pretty stellar feminist giveaway. We’ve had a long chat with Heartificial’s Kasio and feel that this “Ovaries Before Brovaries” brooch is just the thing you tenacious badgers would love. I have my own, and I wear it constantly in homage to my beloved Leslie Knope.

You’ll get the pin along with the very first Tenacious Feminist sticker, which will be up for sale later today.

How to enter?

You need to share Tenacious Feminist with your crew! We’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Give us a follow and share: you’ll get an entry for each share–one for each platform–for a total of three possible entries. I’ll enter y’all into a spreadsheet and use a Random Number Generator to choose a winner, whom I’ll contact using the platform they used to enter.

Contest closes next Monday, 5/15! Goodies will ship the next day.
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Ten Things that Feminism Isn’t, Part 1

ten things feminism isn't

  1. Man-Hating.

We’ve all heard this one about feminism. It’s got roots going way back, beyond 1970s women’s lib and into 19th century feminist movements. It’s usually the first shout of the anti-feminists. And it’s fully irrational. Feminists seek an end to sexism (this is the classic definition by bell hooks). If people assume sexism is inherently “men,” well, that’s on them. The only tiny grain of truth embedded in this stereotype is that over time there have been feminists who sought separation, or who argued that one could not be a feminist if one still dated men, etc., but those feminists have historically been a teeny tiny percentage of feminists. They just get all the lion’s share of assumptions. We might wonder why that is.

 

  1. Exclusively about lesbianism.

See point one. Feminism argues that women have a right to their own sexualities and their bodies. Sexuality is a spectrum. All sexual orientations are welcome under the feminist tent.

 

  1. Destructive of the social order.

HAHHAAHAH. Ok, but seriously. This was the argument of women like Phyllis Schlafly, men like Pat Roberts, and others. They insisted that the changes wrought by 1970s feminists, including but not limited to increasing numbers of women in the workforce, led to an epidemic of delinquent kids (since they had to let themselves in their houses after school and were less supervised). PLEASE.

 

  1. Hateful of women who don’t share the ideology.

This line of thinking assumes there is only one definition of feminism, when that’s not inherently true. Not all women identify as feminists, and some women do actively fight against feminist principles. Those women are not hated. Feminism still represents them—we believe all women deserve, for example, bodily autonomy and freedom from harassment. Tami Lahren is a good example for this: conservative firebrand, she spoke openly for years of her dismissal of feminism and feminists, only to find herself fired for saying she believed in access to abortion. As much as I disagree, vehemently, with 99% of what Lahren says, she didn’t deserve to be fired for that particular conversation. The flaming racism, that should have done it.

 

  1. It’s only for white people.

We’ll spend a lot of time down the road getting into intersectionality: the idea that we bring different parts of our identities to what we do, and that, in order to be truly representative or inclusive, we must consider all of those parts. One of 1970s women’s lib failures was in having, as a public banner, concerns that were largely only white, middle-class women’s concerns. Pay parity with men, for example, was a tremendous issue for those women. However, for women on color in the movement, only when all POC were paid more would parity with men be a key issue—parity with whites overrode it. Recognizing that different women have different needs and incorporating those needs into feminist thinking and policy points is a key part of feminist action.

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Pitting Women Against Each Other

anti-feminism
photo credit charmaineyoest.com

In the last several years we’ve talked about a “War on Women,” and were told—repeatedly, endlessly, largely by men but also some women—that such a thing did not exist. And then we saw Hillary Clinton’s campaign (for all its foibles) eviscerated by the press, who refused to condemn the lies of the now-president while running huge headlines about Clinton’s email. And lo, we were then told not to worry so much, because you know, 45 wasn’t really a Republican. He totally believed at one point in abortion rights. Don’t mind his near-fundamentalist vice president. There is no war on women. Then yesterday, he appointed Charmaine Yoest to run the Health and Human Services (HHS) department.

This is some peak wiliness in the War on Women, which clearly still exists.

Yoest doesn’t believe in scientific research. She does believe, however, for reasons unexplained, that IUDs cause deaths. She refers to pro-choice people as the “Abortion Lobby.” She suggests the relationship between birth control availability and abortion is a false one, promoted as a media narrative but a “red herring” the “abortion lobby” uses somehow for nefarious reasons. Oh, and she says abortion causes breast cancer, but has no evidence.

Let’s parse out how all of this stuff works.

First, 45 can claim he is not anti-woman or participating in any kind of war on women because he named a woman to the post. They’ll chuckle at us for even asking. It’s a political tool but a point that many no doubt actually believe: that simply having women present is synonymous with working on behalf of women. While the two can indeed correlate, they do not always, and the correlation is more often than not a political ploy. You see, when we resist—when we call out the appointment of someone like Yoest—politicians can then tut-tut at us for failing to support our fellow women in office. Wily.

The role of the Health and Human Services Department is like an enormous version of the health department where you live, with far more clout. Its job is to maintain and promote the health of its citizens—all of its citizens. It’s also responsible for some service provision, as per the title. The National Institute for Health, a major player in science research, is part of the HHS.

When someone like Yoest—who questions scientific findings based on no rebutting science but on, evidently, her desires—runs the NIH, we have a problem, generally speaking.

Furthermore, her job is to assist all citizens.

Reproductive health care and easy access to contraception is a major part of women’s lives so that they might control their own fertility. Only by controlling one’s own fertility does a woman truly control her life’s potential paths. Charmaine Yoest does not believe in ready access to contraception, and her statements about the IUD suggest a deliberate scare tactic to keep women from long-form contraception. Yoest, it seems, is pro-pregnancy, but not pro-women.

When the government puts women like Yoest in charge of the HHS, it’s a form of gaslighting the rest of us, women who call out the government for its patriarchal chauvinism. Such a move implies (wait for it—it’s coming. No doubt it’s in article comments already) that when we critique her appointment, we are fighting against ourselves. The War on Women hits a new low with such moves, as we fear for both our bodily autonomy and control while also running the risk of descending into infighting over Yoest’s appointment. We will not be cowed.

J.

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“Retail Therapy”

Even though Hulu frontloaded 3 episodes of Handmaid’s Tale, I’m going to put off chatting about them to get started on another, recurring segment: Finance Fridays! Let’s talk about money.

By way of introduction to this segment, let’s talk about “retail therapy.”

Y’all know what that is, and I suspect most of you have done it at one point or another. Akin to “eating your feelings” (my preferred default for days when I’m frustrated—hello, m&ms), “retail therapy” is when we take to the mall to deal with our anger, frustration, a long week, a bad meeting, a rough paper, you name it. We buy ourselves a few things to ease that pain, and then many of us feel a different pain when the credit card bill comes in. Sound familiar?

“Retail therapy” is a phrase I’ve primarily heard women use, and this makes sense: we live in a culture in which women do a great deal of the shopping and have for decades. We also live in a culture in which we celebrate shopping as a women’s activity. Dealing with our feelings by spending money is, by logical extension, a feminized activity. Shopping aimlessly is a routine choice for women’s outings together–it’s also a cultural norm. As an aside, when I took students to a new state—a new city—for a conference recently, the first night they wanted to go to the mall. They were both broke. This shit is pervasive.

shopping lady, money
I mean, just look at this ridiculous stock photo.

Longer-term Repercussions

The consequence of this feminization of shopping—combined with other issues, like the pay gap, the generally lower pay in feminized industries in which women predominantly work, and women’s periodic departure from the work force in order to give birth, all despite their higher numbers in colleges and universities—is that women carry far more consumer debt than men. US News reported in 2015 that,

“63 percent of women ages 18 to 24 carried some credit card debt, but only 36 percent of men in that age category had any debt. Similarly, 66 percent of women ages 55 to 64 carried credit card debt, but only 33 percent of men in that age bracket had credit card debt.” (Abby Hayes, 6.25.15, http://bit.ly/1JoZLok)

Consumer debt is arguably far worse than other kinds, as the interest rates are much higher, meaning that what you owe increases dramatically over time. Needing to pay that debt off, particularly when combined with other bills such as student loans and the like, yields another troublesome picture. According to a 2014 Forbes article,

“A new LearnVest.com survey found that an American woman’s retirement nest egg totals approximately $150,000, on average, while a man’s comes in at roughly $235,000. That’s a 57% difference!” (Jane Bianchi, 2.12.14, http://bit.ly/2qen0k7)

All of this is gendered; make no mistake. We’ll come back to these various categories in the weeks to come, but for now, try to keep yourself out of the shops this weekend. The weather in much of the country is gorgeous this time of year, so get outside with your friends rather than head to the mall. I’ll leave the m&ms alone, too.

Next week, we’ll discuss budgeting: knowing where your cash is going so as to better give it direction.

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“Ordinary is What You’re Used To”: The Handmaid’s Tale, Episode 1

handmaid's tale frontispiece
photo credit: hulu.com

Rather than a review of the first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, I’ve decided to take an element and talk about it in the context of our current political climate. I figure hot takes and warm takes and cold takes are all over the internet right now, so it doesn’t need another from me.

[In short, I felt the episode did much of what I remember the book doing: it pulls you into this terrifyingly plausible world by juxtaposing the Handmaids’ recent pre-revolution past with their horrific present, the change documented not just by the clothes worn, the greetings shared, and the wariness of all, but—subtly—by the growth in Offred’s hair. You get a sense of how much time has passed when you see it’s grown six inches.]

[Also: I’m assuming that you have a basic understanding of the story, but if not, here you go. Offred (Elizabeth Moss) is the main character, a woman who is a Handmaid in this post-revolutionary world, living in the Republic of Gilead. The revolution comes when birthrates fall precipitously and many women have become barren, a problem chalked up to the environmental crisis. Women here are entirely the property of men and fall into five categories—Wives, who are generally infertile and married to powerful men; Handmaids, who are fertile women compelled to be breeders; Marthas, women who for reasons I can’t recall are basically the cooks, housekeepers; Aunts, who are the strict, cruel teachers and enforcers of the Handmaids; and Un-women, women who don’t fall into these categories and were sent to have short, brutal lives serving in The Colonies, cleaning up toxic waste. Moira (Samira Wiley), dear friend of Offred, saw her wife sent there in a “dyke roundup.”]

That Said

For this post I’m taking a quote from one of the Aunts—Lydia, head Aunt—who presides over indoctrination at the Red Center, the place Handmaids are taken to be, essentially, broken: “Ordinary is what you are used to.” This phrase serves as her consolation to terrified women sitting in the Center. This concept forms the core of most dictatorships, large and small. People are remarkably adaptable. We can face tremendous, horrible, life-shattering events and find a way to navigate what’s replaces them. Over time, those events lose the sharpness of their edges and what remains simply become the way of things.

handmaid's tale
June, pre-revolution
Photo credit: hulu.com

At the opening of The Handmaid’s Tale, we see Offred trying to escape the revolution by fleeing through the woods of Maine, seeking the Canadian border. She’s on the run with her daughter, Hannah, and her husband, Luke. What had once been their normal has now become illegal; freedom of movement has been suspended, and women deprived of all citizenship and forced into their new roles. Men with machine guns are everywhere to keep them in line, and the Eyes—secret watchers who report infractions to the authorities—make even private conversations impossible. Offred—whose original name, June, is revealed in this episode, in contrast to the book’s silence on the topic—is hunted down by men in full military gear. The new regime forbids her independence, her clothes, her role as mother to her own child. And so they seize her.

It’s a meaningful shift: what was once normal is illegal. Ordinary life ceases. And then, in a fully ordinary way—albeit a deeply repressive one—life goes on.

We can tut-tut that such a shift is the stuff of traditional dystopias.

But we can also look around us right this very minute and see the ways in which our lives are subtly changing, and how we’re beginning to take them as ordinary. We might be horrified, we might protest, but life continues, at least for many of us, more or less as it was prior.

And in a parallel of sorts, we can see the ways in which this shift—the acceptance of a new, dystopian ordinary—revolves around the silencing of women and in our case, people of color.

The large dystopian present has to do with 45 (my synonym for He Who Shall Not be Named): on any given day (see @Amy_Siskind on twitter for a weekly roundup) he engages in any number of acts that would have landed Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in endless investigations, but which only seem to infuriate some of the people, some of the time. That’s how revolutions, however slow, however negative, can happen. Most people don’t care. Change happens, and suddenly our ordinary is different, as a consequence of apathy.

For example, look at the accelerated pace of ICE raids.

The ways agents stalk their prey—and that’s exactly how many treat the people they’re looking for, as prey—at their homes, schools, churches, even in court. Where once law-abiding (albeit undocumented) residents had been widely tolerated as a battle not worth picking, the same people now find their everyday has changed dramatically. Like June, they have to watch their backs, their children, some not even leaving their homes lest an ICE raid bust up their family. We now have stories of families running for Canada, through the woods, to secure their safety. The raids, which often seize parents and put them in detention centers [Red Center, anyone?] essentially force kids into foster care. That, in fact, burdens the system—a system people claim is fraught because of undocumented people. It’s terrible, and it’s becoming ordinary, particularly as many Americans can go on as though it’s not happening.

In the meantime, we watch our government become a source of cash into one man’s personal coffers as he turns the now-widely-understaffed branches into his own nepotistic advantage, leaving our country woefully unable to negotiate diplomacy, nevermind pursue the wars he’s consistently threatening (note, too, the presence of war in The Handmaid’s Tale—also in 1984—both not coincidental). And while many of us wave our signs, call our representatives, white America sees most of its lives undisturbed, and many are unwilling to rock the boat.

In episode one, Moira comments to June, in a flashback to the Red Center, that this nightmare in which they lived couldn’t last long—things would go back to normal. Lest we also see our own “reproductive dystopia” worsen, we shouldn’t make the same mistaken assumption.

J.

The Handmaid’s Tale, episodes 1-3, are currently available on Hulu. “Reproductive Dystopia” is from Moria Weagle, “We Live in the Reproductive Dystopia of the Handmaid’s Tale,” The New Yorker, 4.26.17, http://bit.ly/2plZIru.

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Bret Stephens, Shame of the NYT

Oh, New York Times, you’re killing me.

Mid-April the long-esteemed Gray Lady hired Bret Stephens to join its staff of opinion writers. Stephens hailed from the Wall Street Journal and his hiring served as an addition to the Times’s conservative lineup, featuring don’t-even-get-me-started-on-him David Brooks and “I flew with kids, which is worse than being beaten on a plane” Ross Douthat. Given the Times’s coverage of the Clinton email debacle and their unwillingness to condemn 45’s pro-fascist leanings during the campaign last year, I’ve all but bailed on the Times’s coverage of nearly anything. The addition of Stephens feels like the last nail in that particular coffin.

Bret Stephens, in his Twitter photo

To wit, check out Stephens’s interview with Jeff Stein at Vox. Here, let me paste for you:

Jeff Stein

You wrote one column for the Wall Street Journal about the imaginary enemies of the liberal mind, and one of the ones you named was the “campus rape epidemic” —

Bret Stephens

Focus on the word “epidemic.”

Jeff Stein

You wrote, “If modern campuses were really zones of mass predation — Congo on the quad — why would intelligent young women even think of attending a coeducational school?”

My question to you is: Isn’t it necessary for women to attend these coeducational schools for their economic and educational advancement? Isn’t it possible that’s why they’d be there even if there’s a higher risk of sexual assault?

Bret Stephens

Of course it is.

But if sexual assault rates in, let’s say, east Congo were about 20 percent, most people wouldn’t travel to those places. Because that is in fact — or, that would be, in fact, the risk of being violently sexually assaulted.

I am not for one second denying the reality of campus rape, or sexual assault, or behavior of the sort you saw from that swimmer at Stanford — that’s inexcusable and should be punished.

I’m taking issue with the claim that there is an epidemic based on statistics that, when looked at carefully, seem to have a very slim basis in reality. So what you’re transforming is horrendous, deplorable incidents into an epidemic — and that’s not altogether supported by reliable data….

they should go to institutions of higher learning. But I guess my point is this: The statistic that one in five women is sexually assaulted on college campuses is a highly dubious statistic.

If it were a true statistic, it would probably create a very different environment. My sister went to Mount Holyoke. I don’t think single-sex education has been thriving in recent years, but there would be more of a movement to single-sex education if in fact this epidemic were as epidemic as that statistic suggests.

(Jeff Stein, “The NYT’s new columnist defends his views on Arabs, Black Lives Matter, campus rape,” Vox, http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/4/26/15413718/bret-stephens-new-york-times)

Wow. Just. Wow. There’s so much to unpack.

Here’s Stephens’s theory, in a nutshell: Women mustn’t be raped/assaulted on co-ed campuses as often as they’re saying they’re being raped/assaulted, because if they were, why would women go to co-ed campuses? (full disclosure: I went to Mount Holyoke).

The logical underpinnings of his theory are that:

  1. Women are liars. Women lying about rape is a dogwhistle, disproven over and over and over again. With very few exceptions, women do not lie about assault because even mentioning being assault starts a sequence of scrutinization usually accompanied by cross-allegations, violence, and verbal/emotional abuse by peers. But women lie, evidently, so as to create this false statistic.
  2. Everyone knows this statistic is false, which is why women continue to attend co-ed institutions. This approach, of course, lacks consideration of the trends in education which suggest most women, despite the numbers that Stephens thinks would encourage them, do not want to attend a single-sex school. It lacks any understanding of the gendered nature of secondary ed, the ways that women are taught from a young age to see each other as competition rather than support. I live in a state with an enormous flagship university with a huge sexual assault problem. I see women flock there. There are days I don’t get it, but I at least try to understand the multiple components at play. Further, big state schools are often less expensive for residents than private schools (Mount Holyoke wasn’t cheap). And additionally, Stephens seems to imply here he sees little reason why a woman might chose, for example, Stanford, despite its known history of protecting rapists. Maybe because it has programs Smith doesn’t? It’s in California? It’s none of Stephens’s goddamn business? Oh, ok.
  3. Relatedly, in his construction of co-ed campuses, Stephens is clearly imagining them, whether he realizes it or not, as male spaces. His logic goes like this: if he’s wrong about the statistic—if it’s as bad as we know it is—then these spaces SHOULD be all-male, because women shouldn’t go there. Let that roll around your noggin a bit. He’s not suggesting that if this statistic were true (it is) that the campus cultures should change—he’s sure as hell not touching the issue of rape culture here because I suspect he doesn’t believe it’s a thing—women should avoid those cultures.

That’s some old-boy network shit right there.

And don’t even get me started on his metaphor of the Congo. It’s so laden with implicit undercurrents of campus-rape-as-race-problem, that someone smarter than I should take it apart.

In short, shame on you, New York Times.

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