What Would Your Super Power Be?

13 May

Aaaaaand after a 7 month break I am back. Let’s see what happens.

I have been thinking about old people a lot. Partially because old people really like my dog, Goose, and that makes me happy. It’s made me think about maybe training her to visit old folks homes to bring a few smiles and a little spunk into what I imagine can sometimes be a dreary life. I’ve been thinking about how when I walk Goose I am very aware of how people react to her. People are afraid of dogs and she is not small. But I have noticed that for some reason a lot of older people are drawn to her. Their faces light up, eyes brighten, mouths turn up into a grin. And so Goose and I stop so they can say hello and I think to myself about how this world erases the old people among us and how lonely it must be to walk along the streets unnoticed. And how important it is not to stop and smell the flowers, although that is nice too, but to take notice of the lady slowly pushing her cart to the store or the gentleman sitting out front of his house on a vinyl chair, a pocket full of treats for the dogs walking by.

I’ve also been thinking about old people because my grandma is an old person. And not just any old person. She is my old person, my Bama. She is hilarious. One time my dad brought her a sandwich and she made some sort of comment about how she might die soon (Jews, am I right?!), and my dad said that he hoped she wouldn’t die too soon and do you know what she said? She said, yeah, because then you would have wasted money on this sandwich. I don’t know. I think it’s comedy genius but maybe you had to be there.

In an effort to grapple with the fact that my last remaining grandparent is 93 and not in the very best of health, I have been doing what I often do: I have been hiding in the big picture. I’ve been thinking a lot about systems and causes and humanity. I’ve been thinking about how we got here and where we go from here. How we move forward from what I think of as an expensive, yet substandard, approach to care and towards something better. I’ve been thinking about compassion and empathy. I’ve been thinking about how we, as a society, define the idea of being human and how that classification may or may not change over the course of a lifetime. How we cycle through different levels of value simply by existing and those values are almost always placed on us by the world in which we live.

It is an interesting thing, thinking about the trajectory of a life. How the rights of a zygote are valued more than those of the women who carry that zygote. How maybe sometimes those women give birth to a baby girl, whose rights and values will be added to and chipped away from depending on how old she is, how attractive, whether she gets pregnant, if she is assaulted, how opinionated she is and so many other factors. How one day, inevitably, she will cycle from youth to adulthood to middle age to old age and she will become less and less visible. And then, maybe, depending on the family in which she is a member, she will be forgotten. Overlooked. Gone before she is even dead.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about because that will be me some day, assuming I don’t get ill or run over by a self-driving bus. And it just makes me wonder, what will late in life look like for me? What am I owed as an engaged, mostly good person on this planet? But, way more importantly, what do I owe to those who came before me? And how do I continually do better?

This all makes me think of that question people used to ask when I was younger – and, to be honest, that some people still ask me to this day: if you could have any super power, what would it be? And while my answer for the past 2 decades has been to be able to speak every single language, it used to be invisibility. I used to want to be invisible sometimes. Not for any nefarious reasons, just so I could occasionally disappear. But then one day I realized that as a person on this earth, and more specifically as a woman on this earth, invisibility is an inevitability so wishing for it is a waste. I will be invisible one day whether I want to be or not.

Trauma is a Mother Fucker

30 Sep

This has been an especially rough week. Few weeks, actually. I remember a while back I read this article that summarized a study that had been carried out on Vietnam Vets. Please excuse my lapse in memory since I read this a long time ago and am a little fuzzy on the details but the gist of it is as follows:

Following the Vietnam War, some social scientists questioned a number of soldiers returning from battle. They asked them specific questions about their experiences, what happened, how they felt. They took detailed notes, took down their names and said they would follow up in a few decades time. The years passed and then, 30 or 40 years later, they tracked down the people that they could find and asked the exact same questions they had asked upon their initial return. The vets fell distinctly into two different groups: those whose memories had changed, and those whose memories had not. They had all experienced some horrible things while overseas but some of them had the distinct markers of trauma and some of them did not. Those whose memories had changed over time – who in hindsight saw their experience at war through rose-colored glasses – had not developed PTSD. It was the returnees who explained scenarios exactly as they had decades before, those who remembered all the details of specific events as if they had happened just yesterday, that were suffering the longterm psychological effects of war.

I think about that study a lot in regards to myself and my life. What do I have unwavering memory of and what has faded and changed. I’ve been thinking about it a lot these past few weeks as we have read about Christine Blasey Ford and as we watched her speak before the Senate Judicial Committee. I thought about it while she talked about her hippocampus and the fact that she installed a second front door in her home. You see, we never forget. Trauma simply does not allow for that.

But there’s more there than just that. I have been watching as the women in my life have struggled. How we have all been sad and in pain; how we have had old wounds torn open; how we have seen women on the subway, walking down the street, in cafes huddled over their phones crying. We all know why. It is because all of us, or at least most of us, have either been or almost been Christine Blasey Ford. We have either reported our experiences, not reported our experiences, or tried to report our experiences and been turned away or dissuaded. Her story is not just hers it is mine, it is yours, it is all of ours. How do I figure? I’ll tell you.

Last night I finished an especially busy shift at work and decided to sit down and have a shift drink and a chat with my coworkers. I was sitting at the bar talking to my friend to my left when I felt a quick *tap tap* on my right shoulder. I turned but no one was there. And then I saw hands and realized that the man who had tapped me had then used my distraction to place one hand on either side of me on the bar, essentially trapping me in my seat. I was immediately transported back to my senior year in college when at a frat party a “friend” of mine, upset with me for who knows what reason (he always seemed to have a reason) trapped me against a wall by placing one hand on either side of my shoulders and leaning his body towards me, making escape feel impossible. Not that it matters but I’ll say it anyway: he was drunk, I was not. And I know that because he had tricked me into driving our mutual friend to the airport at 3 in the morning because he wanted to enjoy the party; he knew me well enough to know I was too responsible, even at 21, to put my friends at risk or cause someone to miss their flight home. I don’t remember how long we stood like that, me cowering and him talking loudly at me before I broke free, he lost interest or someone came to my rescue. But I specifically remembered that feeling of knowing that anything could happen, anything could be done to me in that moment and I would have very little ability to stop it. I experienced that feeling again last night and I realized something.

The man who trapped me wasn’t trying to scare me. He wasn’t trying to make me feel powerless or intimidate me. He was just treating me the way a lot of people treat and think of women: as slightly less human than men. My personal space wasn’t his concern, nor my personal safety. He could do what he wanted because even though we are not friends and have never had more than casual conversation he owns me a little bit. He is entitled to me. And even though he might not have been actively thinking that in the moment, or been actively trying to make me feel like I had  no right to take up space, that’s exactly what he did. He reminded me in that small yet aggressive action that I, and women in general, are only permitted to taking up exactly the amount of space a man deems necessary and that amount of space is subject to change at any time depending on any specific man’s mood or level of intoxication.

Let’s bring it back a little. Back when the #MeToo movement had its second life (it was originally conceived by Tarana Burke and, surprise surprise, co-opted by wealthy white women) a lot of people were afraid of an impending sex panic. How will men ride in elevators with women? How will they hit on us? How will they interview for and secure jobs? How will they have sex? How will they do all of this when any woman at any time can accuse them of sexual misconduct, sexual assault or rape and ruin their lives? Clearly women are unhinged and it is the men who are really at risk here. But let me remind you of something:

  • Donald Trump has 16 credible accusations of sexual misconduct, assault and rape and he is the president of the United States (vomit)
  • Larry Nassar sexually assaulted 400 women and counting; he was first accused back in 1997 and nothing was done for 20 years
  • Louis C.K. jerked off in front of women, stopped performing for 9 months and then walked on stage at the Comedy Cellar here in New York City and got a standing ovation before he even opened his mouth
  • Bill Cosby was sentenced 3-10 years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. He drugged and assaulted or raped other women as well, something he admitted to in front of a grand jury in the early 2000s
  • Brett Kavanaugh had been accused of rape by 3 women – one of whom detailed “train rapes” that he and his childhood friend Mark Judge participated in – and there is a very good chance he will be confirmed and end up with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court

So I guess what I am trying to tell you is this: yes, things have been changing. Yes, women are being heard now (whether or not they are being believed is still up for debate). But remind yourself which women are being heard. And remind yourself that the entire country just watched, transfixed, as a giant man baby blubbered to a group of politicians about how his life was being ruined.  And while you’re thinking about that, don’t forget about the woman who had carefully, and respectfully, testified earlier that morning about how her life had been turned upside down by actions taken by a young Brett Kavanaugh. She wasn’t just effected by this now, in 2018. She has been dealing with this, and living with it, since the early 1980s. While every one is saying that we need due process, that we cannot “just believe the victims,” that she is probably part of some conspiracy to keep the court from becoming more conservative just remember that it is Dr. Ford who was hacked, it is Dr. Ford who is being called a slut and a liar, it is Dr. Ford who had to move her family out of their home and hire protection. She is not guaranteed a right to space, to her story and to her humanity. None of us are. And trauma? Trauma doesn’t allow us to forget. That is what this is about.

Kathie Klages, David Pecker, Mollie Tibbetts and the Devaluing of Women

25 Aug

At the very early stages of recording Welcome to My Vagina the Almost Famous Podcast, Jessy and I talked about the sexual abuse scandal that was tearing USA gymnastics to shreds. (I wrote about it here and then again here.) We called the episode “A Girl’s Worth,” which was based off of Rachael Denhollander’s victim impact statement in which she asked, time and again, “how much is a little girl worth?” I find myself asking this question of myself often, but extending that to include not just little girls but grown womyn as well. I extend it to include all of us. And every time I ask myself this question and then go on to answer it, every time I think about what value I hold to society at large, how much my life is worth in the eyes of law enforcement, the justice system, the media and our very own president I can only come to the exact same conclusion over and over and over again: I am not worth very much. And then I think to myself that I was born with white skin to upper middle class parents in a safe neighborhood that had good schools and I realize that the small amount that I have determined my own worth to be in the eyes of so many is higher still than a lot of other women. It’s a lot to take in, to live in a culture that hates and diminishes you. There are constant reminders of this. A few of which I want to talk about here.

Kathie Klages

For those of you who don’t know much about the Nassar scandal in USA Gymnastics, let me give you an ever-so-brief overview. Over the 20+ years that Larry Nassar was treating gymnasts and other female athletes through his offices at Michigan State University, his ‘volunteer position’ with USA Gymnastics as the women’s national team doctor and his arrangement with John Geddert of Geddert’s Twistar’s in Lansing, Michigan, he sexually assaulted over 300 women and girls that we know of. And he did not act alone. It took other people ignoring reports or looking the other way. Kathie Klages was one of those people.

Back in 1997, a gymnast by the name of Larissa Boyce reported to Klages that Nassar had been sexually inappropriate with her during an appointment for an injury. Another woman, who has chosen to remain anonymous, also reported to Klages at the same time. Klages did not go to MSU and she did not go to law enforcement. Instead, she shamed the women until they stayed silent. Kathie Klages knew about Nassar, knew that he was a predator, for 20 years and she did nothing, she said nothing. She continued coaching the MSU women’s gymnastics team until she was forced to resign in 2016 and in that time she sent countless athletes to see a doctor who she had been told had a habit of sticking his ungloved fingers into their vaginas under the guise of medical treatment. One of those women, Lindsey Lemke, gave an impact statement while she was still competing for MSU this past January, 2018, 21 years after Klages was originally told of Nassar’s behavior. Klages could have done something, could have stopped him, but the reputation of one single doctor was more important, more valuable, than the physical and mental well-being of hundreds of women. As far as Kathie Klages was concerned, a woman’s worth is but a fraction of a man with medals and awards, a man who will die in prison, a man whom she still defends.

American Media Inc.

Next we have The National Enquirer, its parent company, American Media, Inc. (AMI) and David Pecker – no, really, his last name is Pecker – the CEO and Chairman of American Media. The other night, I hunkered down on the sofa to watch Rachel Maddow explain the breaking news of the day and it was big. We had already found out that Michael Cohen had made a deal with the feds in which he plead guilty to 5 counts of tax evasion, one count of making a false statement to a financial institution and two counts that are related to the breaking of campaign-finance laws. Those last two charges were due to payments that he made to Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, AKA Stormy Daniels. Cohen said he was directed by then-candidate, now the worst president of all times, Donald J. Trump in order to keep the two women from speaking out and therefore hurting Trump’s chances at winning the election. Each of these women were paid $130,000, which was determined to be the amount that their silence was worth. Our country’s norms and values were sold on the market for a combined total of $260,000 to a snake-oil salesman who knows nothing about the rules of grammar, let alone international politics and, you know, how to have a conscience. But that isn’t even what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the other breaking news. The Pecker stuff.

So apparently AMI, led by David Pecker, had a habit of what has been dubbed the “catch and kill.” For years they would find negative stories about Donald Trump, catch them, get exclusive rights to them, and then bury them. This happened in the case of Karen McDougal. AMI bought the life rights to McDougal’s story for a sum of $150,000, which precluded her from sharing the story of her 9-month affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007, right around the time Trump’s son Barron was born, if memory serves. But AMI also interviewed Beth Ferrier, one of the women who accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping her, and then buried it in exchange for an exclusive interview with Cosby. Ferrier didn’t sign the rights away and could have told her story elsewhere, although she was ever informed of the trade AMI had made. And we also know that women were speaking out about Cosby for years before any of the allegations really stuck. So how much is Beth Ferrier worth? About $7,500 that she never received from AMI and one exclusive interview with a wealthy and powerful man.

Mollie Tibbets

A few days ago, the body of missing college student Mollie Tibbetts was found near her boyfriend’s home in Brooklyn, Iowa. She was murdered and buried under some corn stalks in a field by a man she did not know after she rebuffed his advances while she was out for a run.  I am a runner and I have had the same experience Mollie had, with an obviously very different ending. I have been out for my daily run and been followed by men on foot, in cars and once on a bicycle. It is terrifying and infuriating. I have been lucky. I’ve been able to shoot men down without having them rape and/or kill me. Mollie, and way too many other women, have not been as lucky. There is a lot to be said here.

First, let us engage with the reason Mollie was killed. Mollie was killed because she rejected a man and he got angry. It does not matter where this man came from, why he was in the United States or what his legal status was. He was a man who could not handle rejection and believed that the proper retribution for the fact that she didn’t want him was her death. He killed her because she said no. Plain and simple. To this man, Mollie’s life was less important than his ego.

Second, let us talk about the narrative that has arisen around her death. Predictably, the party that tells us not to talk about gun control after another mass shooting claims scores of our young people did not skip a beat before using Mollie’s death to make a plea for “The Wall” and in defense of racist immigration policies. And all of this while Mollie’s family itself has said the following:

Hey i’m a member of mollie’s family and we are not so fucking small-minded that we generalize a whole population based on some bad individuals. now stop being a fucking snake and using my cousins death as political propaganda. take her name out of your mouth.

It’s true that if this man wasn’t here he would not have killed Mollie. But do you know what he would have done? He would have killed another woman. I am certainly not valuing one woman’s life over another’s, but I am saying that this is a conversation about murderous misogyny and not immigration. In the aftermath of this, we need to be having a conversation about how to educate men to be better, not having one about how we should or should not spend billions of dollars to build some bullshit wall that’s going to become a symbol for racism and will ultimately be torn down. To our asshole president and many members of the Republican Party, Mollie Tibbett’s life is worth a few talking points about illegal immigration.

Third, we need to look at this case and notice one thing: Mollie Tibbets was a beautiul, strong-willed, smart, athletic, white woman. The fact that she was white matters here because in our culture, whiteness is associated with purity. That’s why our newspapers, magazines and tabloids were ablaze with the stories of Elizabeth Smart, Jonbenet Ramsey and Natalee Holloway and yet none of us have heard of Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year old Muslim woman who was killed last year while walking back to her Mosque with a group of friends in Virginia. A driver, who got angry after he exchanged words with one of the young men in Hassanen’s group, grabbed Hassanen and beat her to death with a baseball bat before dropping her in a pond. There was no national coverage of her death, nor is there national coverage of African American children who go missing. Mollie Tibbett’s life was worth more than Nabra Hassanen, and is worth more than the African American children whose disappearances have never been on the cover of any newspaper or magazine. All life should be valued that same regardless of the color of your skin, your country of origin, or what you have between your legs.

***

I don’t have too much more to say here other than this: being a woman is hard. It is harder for some than it is for others but the reality is that every single one of us knows what it is to be silenced and to have our experiences devalued. And if we haven’t been silenced ourselves, although I do not know a single woman who has been so lucky, we know what it looks like because we are surrounded by it every single day. There are so many things that are not said, not heard or “caught and killed.” And that silence, that under valuing of women’s worth, has terrible, and sometimes deadly, consequences.

A Letter In Defense of Immigrants

22 Jun

To Whom it May Concern:

We are writing to you today out of concern and heartache. The atrocities that are occurring at our southern border – atrocities that have been occurring for months now – must stop immediately. As you know, in January of 1945 the Allied Forces liberated Auschwitz, the largest killing center and concentration camp of all those run by the Nazi Party. And here we sit today, in the country that spearheaded the liberation of people who were starved and tortured, families who were torn apart, communities that were decimated and we find that we are not much better. We find that this country that has, since its establishment, claimed to be a safe haven for the worlds most marginalized communities, has turned its back, as we once did on the Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor, on morality and decency and is instead using the force of its laws and its enforcers to further disempower those who lack voice, who lack protection and who lack a safe space to simply live. We said never again. And now here we are, as we lose the last of the Holocaust survivors, moving close to repeating the same horrific mistakes that we once stood firmly against.

This is not who we are. This is not who we want to be. This has to end now.

So we are writing to you to ask that you do not stop acting now that the horrific policy of separating children from their parents has ended. We are asking that you stand strong and say no to Trump’s attempt to overturn the Flores decision. We are asking that you stand with the people who are fleeing gang violence, domestic violence, drug wars and oppressive governments. We are asking that you stand with those who come to this country seeking safety and opportunity for themselves and their children. We are asking that you stand with them, not against them. Let us not continue to repeat the mistakes we have made in the past. We had internment camps once before, we cannot go down that road again. Indefinite detention is simply not an option. It runs counter to international Humans Rights norms as well as American values.

Please, stand strong. Just because we have a president who lacks a moral compass, a president who uses the plight of others to drum up his hateful base in an effort to continue eroding our democracy, does not mean that we should follow along blindly. It means we must be stronger than we have ever been before. And the first step is to show the people arriving at our southern border the respect they deserve. They are human beings just like us and should be treated as such. We urge you to do what we put you in office for: to help those who cannot help themselves and to stand in the way of Trump and the GOP’s effort to make the United States a place that is only for the white and the wealthy. This is a country of immigrants and underdogs and that is what makes it so special. We are begging you, please, do the right thing.

Your constituents

Jessy Caron and Rebekah Frank

Neural Pathways and the Patriarchy

9 Apr

In case you didn’t already know this, I am the co-host of an almost famous podcast called Welcome To My Vagina with my good friend Jessy Caron. You should listen to it. It’s great. And Jessy and I aren’t the only ones who think so. My brother and sister-in-law agree. And a bunch of our friends. And some people we don’t even know. So, you know, we’re basically crushing it. The reason for informing you of this is that I have been trying to up my feminist game by doing some more focused reading so I can speak from a place informed by more than my personal experience. And so as part of this project I recently bought the following books (and am open to suggestions if you have any):

  1. This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
  2. When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Asha Bandele and Patrisse Khan-Cullors
  3. Headscarfs and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy
  4. Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper
  5. Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti

I decided the best plan of attack was to start closest to home and read Jessica Valenti’s book. I have been reading her writing since its early days on Feministing, the website she cofounded with her sister, and then followed her over to Jezebel and now read her at The Guardian. I like her. I relate to her. We are both white women who grew up on the East Coast at roughly the same time. We both write (although she far more successfully than me.) We both hate the patriarchy. Also, the other books on my list haven’t arrived at my house yet. (Shoulder shrug.) Anyway, the strangest thing happened. So yesterday during the afternoon I was casually thinking to myself about the possible connection between female victimhood and neural pathways. I have always been of the understanding that neural pathways are created as we gain knowledge and that

(a) those pathways are part of what allows us to retain that knowledge and then                       build upon it and
(b) that then allows us to learn how to interact with the world in which we live.

So then I started thinking about this article I read a while back about trauma. The article basically summarized a study that had been done involving veterans of the Vietnam War. Scientists interviewed the soldiers upon returning home from the war, and then interviewed them again a number of decades later. They found that for the men who suffered from PTSD, their memories of their experience in combat did not change over time. They still remembered all of the events in the same detail and had similar feelings about them. The men who did not suffer from PTSD had a change in feeling between the initial interview and the one carried out later. In the first interview they might have had complicated feelings about their time in combat and in the army, but decades later they remembered it mostly positively, as a time of camaraderie amongst buddies. (Obviously I am over simplifying this in a HUGE way.) I have thought about this article a lot. I’ve thought a lot about the memory of events in my life that have changed or grown muddy over time and those that I remember in intense, unchanging detail. I wouldn’t say that I have PTSD relating to the latter events, but that perhaps they qualify as trauma. Perhaps those memories have been burned deeply enough into my brain that they cannot be altered.

What does this have to do with Jessica Valenti? Well, while I was on this little adventure of mine, I began thinking about women’s experiences. I started thinking about the ways we are treated in our day-to-day lives and how we internalize those experiences, how they shape who we are, how we behave and the ways in which we live in, and relate to, the world around us. I started thinking about how our subconscious understanding of our status as women limits us and causes us to limit ourselves. I wondered when those neural pathways are initially formed and who we could be if we weren’t constantly living in fear for our safety and under the ever-looming presence of the patriarchy. I wondered about how much this world has missed out on because of the way women (and POC and the LGBTQ community and Jews and Muslims and, and, and) are disenfranchised. And then, a few hours later, I read this passage on page 15 of Sex Object:

“We know that direct violence causes trauma — we have shelters for it, counselors, services. We know that children who live in violent neighborhoods are more likely to develop PTSD, the daily fear changing their brains and psychological makeup so drastically that flashbacks and disassociation become common. We know people who are bullied get depressed and sometimes commit suicide.

“Yet despite all these things we know to be true — despite the preponderance of evidence showing the mental and emotional distress people demonstrate in violent and harassing environments — we still have no name for what happens to women living in a culture that hates them.”

And if we wonder why it is that we have no name for it then let me put forward an idea. It is because we cannot name what we cannot separate out and study. Not all children grow up in the midst of violence; not all veterans develop PTSD. We can study the difference amongst people in society but we cannot, not even with all that we know, study something which is all-pervasive, something that exists everywhere and is so instrumental to every single aspect of our culture that it cannot be separated out. We cannot create a control group and a test group because we are all part of the same group. Our personal experiences might vary by degree but the over-arching system that makes those experiences possible is shared by all of us. And perhaps this is what makes it so difficult for many people, men and women alike, to acknowledge the existence of the patriarchy. We know what water is, but we cannot separate the elements – the hydrogens from the oxygen – that make it what it is. It would cease to be water and we would no longer have a context in which to understand it.

In our 7th episode of the WTMV podcast Jessy asked me what I would change using science if I could choose one thing. And I said I would like to somehow create an environment free from the patriarchy. Not the environment in which we live now, where we try to figure out and unravel one aspect of it at a time, finding lined up behind that partially solved issue a never-ending cavalcade of injustices. I wanted to see what women would be like, what women could do and achieve and dream and be, without the shroud of patriarchal culture that we live wrapped up in. Because let me tell you right now that I have absolutely no idea what that would look like. Every time I try to conjure it, I realize that the pathways in my brain are burned too deeply to be able to even imagine that world. The pathways in all of our brains are etched beyond repair.

We all have our own experiences and we all react to them, and handle them, in profoundly different and personal ways. We as women spend a lot of time being afraid, even when we don’t actively realize that we are. We spend a lot of time wondering what might happen if we walk down this block instead of that one; what we might encounter if we comment on that Tweet; what house we are walking into when we go home with a new partner; what ways our bodies and minds might be used against us. It is a hard world to navigate, some of us managing it seemingly more easily than others. But I believe it is true that we are all traumatized by the patriarchy and I think that Jessica Valenti agrees with me.

Tip #21 on Being a Good Bar Customer

28 Mar

Wow you guys. I haven’t written one of these since this one back in August of 2016, and that one included positive reinforcement. I know they were a popular part of my blog, but almost getting fired over writing them sort of took the shine off the whole thing, you know? Well, whatever. That was then and this is now. And I still don’t actually think I did anything wrong, as long as you don’t consider hurting the feelings of a couple of arrogant, misogynist assholes “something wrong.” I certainly don’t. So, that being said, let us continue.

So this post is a lot less about someone actually doing something awful and a lot more about one of my biggest pet peeves as a bartender. And it’s not just me! I did a (very limited) survey of some of the bartenders that I know and discovered that this is a pet peeve shared by all two of them! So I will extrapolate this data and apply it to all other bartenders and voila! I declare this pet peeve universally held. What is the pet peeve, you may ask? Let me tell you a little story.

So there I am, behind the bar. A new customer walks in. I greet him with a peppy(ish)

Hey! How are you?

as I reach over, grab a coaster and toss it in front of him. He replies that he is okay, takes his phone out of his pocket, puts it down, takes his seat and orders his drink. I make the drink, engaging in polite conversation as I do it. But then when I return to his seat and make a move to put his drink on the coaster that I have placed in front of him in preparation for this exact moment I realize it’s gone. But I swear that I put it there. I always put down a coaster. That’s part of the whole steps of service thing that I am so accustomed to. So where could it be? And then I see it: his phone. He has put it on the coaster. And I am immediately reminded of the hundreds and hundreds of times this exact scenario has played itself out over the past decade and change during which I have occupied space behind the stick.

And I am left wondering, why? Why do people do this? Do they have coasters on their coffee tables that they use as resting places for their phones while they watch TV, placing their beer or whisky on the rocks directly on the wood, potentially leaving a ring? Do they always have two coasters present, one for the phone and one for the drink, just so that their phone doesn’t some how feel less welcome? Do they enjoy constantly wiping up small puddles of condensation that has accumulated on their surfaces? Is this just a small expression of their concern for the environment, and their worry of our ever-expanding landfills and its effects on the planet that we call home? Am I missing something?

I am also left standing there with a prepared drink and no pre-placed (and available) coaster upon which to place it. What is a bartender to do? Well, there are a number of different possible next steps.

  1. Shrug your shoulders and place the drink directly on the bar;
  2. Grab a new coaster, toss it either casually or angrily next to the original coaster (this is entirely dependent on the bartender’s mood and/or the number of times she has faced this exact same scenario that shift), and place the drink atop its new throne;
  3. Reach down, grab the phone (AKA coaster stealer), move it and then place the drink down on the original coaster all while making eye contact with the customer;
  4. Place the drink on top of the phone which has now become the de facto coaster after its successful ouster of the previous coaster which was not fairly elected in the first place.

Personally, I oscillate between options 2 and 3. They are direct and instructive (two things I love being!) all without putting myself at risk of an accusation of destruction of property even though, really, putting your phone on the bar is pretty dumb.* One of the two people I surveyed for this post recently made use of option 4 and told me that although it didn’t go over that well in the moment (PSA: no phone was harmed in the placing of the drink) it is pretty funny in hindsight. He doesn’t, however, recommend that particular course of action for the faint of heart. So, I don’t know, maybe I will leave that for the blessed day that I work my last ever bartending shift. Which will probably never happen. Whatever, a girl can dream.

And, while I’m dreaming, you can journey around my blog and read all the previous tip as well as all the other random shit I write about. It’ll be fun (and sometimes infuriating). But mostly fun. I swear.

*I do it all the time.

Women Are Not The Problem

30 Jan

Hysterical. Emotional. Hormonal. Unreasonable. These are some of the words that are used to disempower women. These are the words that are used to cast doubt on women’s own experiences, make us think that we are the problem rather than those around us who are causing us pain, unease or discomfort.

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I have watched a lot of Larry Nassar’s victims give impact statements recently. My entire YouTube feed is links to videos of woman after woman, talking about their experiences at the hands of this monster, about the organizations that created an environment that allowed for him to thrive, unhindered, for over 30 years, and about the way that made them feel. I listened as woman after woman testified to her experience of knowing something was off but doubting it, because she was taught to trust doctors, because the adults in the room assured her everything was okay. Everything was not okay and many of the women knew. Take Rachael Denhollander, the one whose outcry and dogged work finally brought this atrocity to the surface. Take the words that she spoke in her almost 40-minute long statement:

One of the worst parts of this entire process was knowing as I began to realize what had happened to me how many other little girls had been left destroyed, too. I was barely 15 when Larry began to abuse me and as I lay on the table each time and try to reconcile what was happening with the man Larry was held out to be, there were three things I was very sure of. First, it was clear to me this was something Larry did regularly. Second, because this was something Larry did regularly, it was impossible that at least some women and girls had not described what was going on to officials at MSU and USAG. I was confident of this. And third, I was confident that because people at MSU and USAG had to be aware of what Larry was doing and had not stopped him, there could surely be no question about the legitimacy of his treatment. This must be medical treatment. The problem must be me.

The problem must be me.

This is a woman who was violated brazenly by a man who was supposed to help her. This is a woman who knew something was wrong. This is a woman who then waited 18 long years for a sign that when she came forward she would actually be heard, be believed. She sat with what she had gone through — what she knew other people had gone through, were going through, would go through — because she knew that no one would believe her, that her story would be cast aside and doubted along with so many others who were silenced. She waited until people would see that the problem wasn’t her. That the problem was him, was USAG, was MSU, was the USOC, was this society that we live in that constantly discredits and undermines women. And yet even as she and over 160 other survivors stood in front of their abuser and explained their experiences and tried, through tears and anger, to take their power back, the Internet went after another woman who was the problem. As Judge Aquilina sat from her bench letting each and every “sister-survivor” know that their voice mattered, that they were not the problem, she was criticized. God forbid these women are finally able to start to free themselves of the burden they carried for so long. God forbid their words are heard and believed without question. How dare she.

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The silencing of women is not always that sinister, does not always lead to the sort of event that we saw unfold in that courtroom in Michigan 30 years too late. But the consistent silencing of women is part of what allowed Nassar to carry on the way he did for so long. The consistent silencing of women is part of what allowed Nassar to remain one of the most respected sports medicine doctors in the world while he was penetrating I would posit thousands of young women and girls with his ungloved fingers. Every day we doubt our experiences, apologize for our existence, replay events time and again trying to figure out where we went wrong because it’s always us. We are always the problem. At least that’s what we are taught.

Let me tell you a story.

I was out the other night with a friend of mine having a conversation. We were drinking, probably a little too much for a few too many hours, but we were having fun, completely engulfed in our own night. We had our seats angled towards one another making it clear that we were there for each other, for this conversation, and for nothing else. A man behind me, hearing me recount a story to my friend about a shitty falafel, interrupted, telling us the best falafel place in the city according to all the experience his 3 months in New York had to offer him. I told him I didn’t need to venture all the way to the Jefferson Avenue stop when there are plenty of excellent places just down on Atlantic Avenue. I told him about one. I was curt but polite, and ignored his continued musings. My friend and I went back to our conversation which meandered from shitty falafel to being robbed while traveling and finally landed on dating. At this point, he interrupted again, asking us questions about the guy we were discussing. I felt my face fill with rage. I turned around and said, less politely and more curtly this time,

“I am having drinks with my friend. Our conversation does not concern you. Please stop interrupting us.”

At this point it became my fault. Our fault. We were crazy. The bar is a public space and he has the right to interject in any conversation he sees fit. As I tried to explain to him why he was incorrect, why what he did was rude, he kept talking over me, discrediting my experience, saying I was over reacting, he kept trying to use his voice to silence me. My friend would not have it and stopped him, telling him that he was the one being rude, that he does not get to enter into a conversation to which he was not invited and then make the rules, that he does not get to silence us. He paid his bill (barely) and then said to the bartender

Well, they scared me out. These women chased me out.

And he left it to us to explain. The problem, clearly, was us. I felt in the moment that we were in the right, that this man was unapologetically rude, that if he had just paid attention to the body language – back turned – and listened to the curt response – please don’t interject here this conversation does not include you – this all could have been avoided. If he had just listened to us, respected us, acknowledged us rather than continuing to force his way in where he was not invited, was not welcome, and then blaming us for our reaction. This morning I woke up angry. I was angry at him and I was angry at myself as I replayed the interaction again and again and again and again trying to ascertain the truth: was I the problem? was I crazy? was I unreasonable? I must have been.

I know intellectually that the answer to those questions is no, no and no but somewhere inside me I fall back on what I have always been taught: men’s voices, men’s experiences, are the real ones while women’s are not to be trusted. Women are not to be trusted to understand and engage with our own feelings and reactions. Men are correct. Women are the problem. So I woke up this morning feeling like I do a lot of mornings. I woke up this morning feeling like the problem.

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Hysterical. Emotional. Hormonal. Unreasonable. These are the weapons lobbed at us to make us feel like the problem, to silence us, to force us to silence ourselves. These words, and the feelings of self doubt and disempowerment that accompany them, are my enemies. And it isn’t just men who do it, women do it to each other. That’s the thing about the patriarchy – we were all raised in it and it is incredibly effective and efficient. We do it’s bidding and advance its cause without even realizing it. And in return it diminishes us.

You know what I have to say to that? Fuck the patriarchy. I am not the problem. We are not the problem. Not this time.