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A Ton of us Lost Our Jobs on Monday

18 Mar

And I was one of them.

A flurry of text messages, one after the other. We’re closed as of Tuesday at 9am. That was quickly changed to Monday, March 16th at 8pm when they realized everyone would go out eating and drinking. I was expecting it, waiting for it and, as I wrote a few days ago, urging the government to do it. It still didn’t take the sting away. No income for the foreseeable future. And no guarantee that I will have a job to come back to when this is all said and done. I, along with a ton of other people across the city, country and world, are unemployed by absolutely no fault of our own. And, not to raise more anxiety than people are already experiencing, I fear we are only the first wave.

I also want to say that I know restaurant folks are not the only ones being effected by this. Gyms have also been closed which means all your personal trainers, fitness instructors, front desk workers, cleaning staff members, back of house office folks are also out of work. Salons are closing. So there are stylists, waxers, eyelash extension affixers, manicurists, massage therapists who also find themselves suddenly with no income. There are bicycle maintenance people, theater performers, costumers, freelancers, janitors for shuttered schools and office buildings, landscapers, event planners, florists, DJs, musicians, dog walkers, childcare professionals, Uber, Lyft and taxi drivers and so many more people I can’t think of off the top of my head. And then there are small business owners. The people who employ the aforementioned folks in some way or another  (I know this doesn’t apply to gig workers because that is a whole other story) and all of a sudden find themselves with bills, unusable stock, taxes, rent and a complete and total halt of sales for…who knows how long. Just today I thought to myself…wait, what happens to all the perishables bought by restaurants for the coming week? What do they do with that? Can they donate it, legally, even with whatever liability issues might accompany the potential for food borne illness? Do they just, toss it, when grocery store shelves are void of all kinds of random shit people have been hoarding? (Side note, does anyone have some extra garlic they could spare?)

There are so many questions, there is so much uncertainty. There are so many people who cannot spare one paycheck. They have kids who are suddenly home from school, parents who they care for, families they send money back to. Or maybe they don’t have good health insurance, any health insurance, or they live in a high rent city, they have student loans, credit card debt, they are in the middle of a move and all of a sudden find themselves with nowhere to go. We have created this economy where people have no safety net, and at the same time there is this weird tendency to blame people for this even while we spend money on the exact same services that deny people the benefits and security we all need to survive. We blame them for not getting a college degree when those degrees are insanely expensive. We blame them for not getting high-paying jobs, or founding businesses, when so much about opportunity is tied to who you know, when so much funding is about having rich friends. The rags to riches story is the exception, not the rule, and we often forget that. There are entire sectors of the workforce where people who maybe couldn’t get a job anywhere else rely on a strong market, rely on wealthier people with disposable income, to hire them to do things. But when things get tight for those wealthier people, when the stock market crashes, that portion of the workforce is deemed expendable, they are largely invisible. And they need the money more than a lot of other people because they are so much closer to having nothing.

I am also worried about our prison population. What happens if, no when, this virus takes hold there? How about the homeless? There is a man, Daryl, who visits me at work every week. I don’t know where he stays. I am terrified I will never see him again. What about all the people in the concentration camps along the borders? What about them? Why have we heard nothing? How will we help them? Will we be able to? Will the people in charge even want to? What about people with non-elective surgeries coming up? Our medical professionals? Sanitation workers? Delivery drivers? Postal workers? Public defenders? Ruth Bader Ginsburg?!

Please trust me, I am not trying to blame any of you for this. I am not trying to make people feel guilty. I am not trying to scare anyone more than they already are. I am literally taking you on a journey through my brain over the last few days, through all of the things I have been thinking about and worrying about. About all of the people who are the backbone of our daily lives who fade away when the money dries up. But the thing is that they don’t fade away, actually. They lose their jobs. And we don’t see them anymore. But they continue to exist, to live and to struggle. If it is okay with you, I will continue on documenting what I am feeling. If I am being too preachy and annoying, or if I am causing you too much anxiety, you don’t have to read my future posts. I won’t blame you. We’ve all got enough to worry about.

I am a Bartender. I Am Begging NYC: Close the Bars

15 Mar

I have seen a lot of folks on social media griping about all the people packing into bars and restaurants in the face of this growing public health emergency. And I get it. Given everything that is happening, given what we know about the spread of this thing, this could prove potentially lethal for a lot of people we love.  We should stay home. We should self-quarantine. We should take the necessary steps not to keep ourselves healthy if we are young and low-risk, but to make the responsible choices for our neighbors, family members and high-risk friends. And on the other hand, as a service worker myself, I  need people to go out to bars and restaurants so I can continue to pay my rent and my bills, to buy food, to live. But as some one who has maybe 2-3 months of savings before I am basically scraping the bottom of the barrel (I understand this makes me very privileged compared to other workers in my position), I am begging Mayor De Blasio, Governor Cuomo and President Trump to mandate the closing of all non-essential businesses, even if those businesses are essential to my financial well-being and the financial well-being of a lot of people who I love.

Here is the thing. You can spend your time online telling people to stop being so selfish, to stop speeding us towards a very dire situation, to think about others but they will not. We have been raised not in a community-oriented society but rather one that is very individualistic, one that focuses on what is good for me not what is good for us. We cannot expect people to, on their own accord, undo all of the training that we have received over the course of our entire lives. Activists should understand this better than most. We spend a lot of our time advocating for the betterment of those underserved by society to see gains made at a glacial pace. People who are “on our side” oftentimes do not spend their time trying to be anti-racist or anti-sexist. They don’t want to make themselves uncomfortable. I get that. Being uncomfortable sucks. So I don’t know why, in this instance, so many activists are asking people to make themselves uncomfortable for the betterment of the rest of society and expecting those people to listen. Why would they start now? And I also don’t know why, in this instance, many activists have turned a blind eye to the real financial disaster looming just around the corner for those of us who will be effected by these closures.

So it is imperative that the government steps and makes it happen. And it is also imperative that the government takes steps to help those of us who will be affected by this. And I am not just talking about service and gig workers, but also small business owners who can only forego a few weeks of loss of income before they have to shutter their businesses. And with those shuttered businesses will come a huge loss of jobs. Mine very well might be among them.

It has been really frustrating and scary these past few weeks and, if I am being honest, it will only get worse. And I am angry. I am angry that while me and a lot of people I know – as well as millions of folks who I don’t – are staring down a very, very bleak spring and summer financially speaking, a lot of people working from home, advocating for quarantine and social distancing haven’t taken a step back and realized how fucking scary that is for a lot of us. It’s not that I want to go out and be in crowded places, touching things that other people are touching. It is that I have to. So while I am advocating for the closing of bars, restaurants and other “non-essential” businesses, I am also advocating for people to take a second and recognize that there are a lot of layers to this disaster. This city, and many cities and towns across the country, are going to look very different in a few months. Loss of life, absolutely. Also loss of livelihood and very different looking business districts. I am just begging you all to be aware of this fact. Ask your friends who walk dogs, work in bars/restaurants, are cab drivers, fitness professionals, small-business owners whether they are okay and what you can do to help.* Maybe just FaceTime them. All of us could use a smiling face in times like these, whether we can work from home or not. Plus it seems like we will have a lot of time on our hands. I know I will! My phone line is open to everyone.

But to get back to the original point, the sooner we close everything down, the sooner we can re-open. The less time this takes, the better off we will all be. If bars and restaurants stay open, people will go there to eat, drink and blow of some steam. That is just a given. So if we don’t want that happening, then they need to close. As I said before, we cannot expect people to make themselves uncomfortable until they are forced to. But until that happens, and mark my words it will happen, I guess I’ll just keep going to work. At this point I don’t have much of a choice.

*Super thankful to all of my friends who have been doing just this. You all are amazing and I love you.

So, About the Coronavirus….

12 Mar

I feel like I have been having to start my posts off with caveats recently. This is largely because it seems as though – in my experience – people right now are always primed and ready for a fight and, honestly, I just don’t have it in me. This isn’t an attempt to discourage discourse; rather, it is me making my intentions clear so people don’t jump to incorrect conclusions and then e-yell at me. I’m too tired for that. We all should be. So, with that being said, here is my caveat for this post:

I am not diminishing the risks of the coronavirus nor am I trying to tell people how they should or should not feel or act in regards to it. These are just my worries and I wanted to share them so, here goes.

I want to start out by saying that I, like all of the people I know, am not an infectious disease specialist. I would say that I am pretty unknowledgeable about diseases in general. We are also living in a time where reliable information seems harder and harder to come by. The government doesn’t have any fucking clue what is happening and it certainly does’t help their cause that they put Mike “My Callous Inaction in the Face of Clear Warning Signs Exacerbated an HIV Outbreak in Indiana” Pence in charge of the response. It also doesn’t help that Trump decided to make massive cuts to the CDC budget and, even in the face of a fucking pandemic, seems dissuaded from using that money to….fund a border wall? I think? And all of this while he and his cronies have spent the entirety of his presidency acting like science isn’t an actual thing that matters in the real world. And so here we are! With a gutted Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a media that seems to not fully understand what’s happening, and an entire country in a state of panic. What could go wrong?!

So, with the knowledge that I am not very knowledgable about the spread of disease, I am going to lay out what I do know, or at least what I think I know. Coronaviruses are actually super common – they are an extremely common cause of colds and other upper respiratory infections. This new coronavirus – COVID-19 – is named as such because it is a novel virus that was first found in 2019. A lot of people who are infected with the virus will have no symptoms whatsoever, while others will get fever, runny nose, coughing, sore throat. Flu-stuff. COVID-19 can also cause more severe symptoms such as high fever, severe cough and shortness of breath. Like the flu, a small percentage of people will die of this disease. Also like the flu, those more likely to die from the disease are old folks and people with underlying medical conditions. COVID-19, however, has a higher mortality rate than the flu. So we all need to make decisions to protect the most at-risk among us. This means washing our hands, not touching our faces, cleaning our phone screens, FaceTiming our grandparents and immunosuppressed friends and relatives rather than visiting them in person and not buying out all the stuff at the store that at-risk people need far more than we do. But we all know this already.

So I am not nervous about personally getting COVID-19 and dying. I am very nervous about something else, though. Money. And also people being racist idiots.

For those of us living here in NYC, we were informed that the city, as of now anyway, will not be closing the public schools. It is a last resort. Why? Because we have a homelessness problem here in New York. The NYC public schools serve more than 1.1 million students. Of those students, 750,000 are considered low income and 114,000 are homeless. These are populations who will be disproportionately effected by school closures and it’s not just because they won’t go to school for a few weeks – a lot of these students and their families rely on the public schools for free breakfast and lunch, shelter during the days and other basic necessities. If they don’t go to school, who will look after them? Does this mean their parents can’t go to work? Do those parents then lose their jobs, deepening the cycle of financial insecurity they are already trapped in? What about those people just hovering on the edge of homelessness or financial ruin? Having to arrange childcare could mean the difference between having an apartment and making rent and… not. There are a ton of unintended consequences that occur when we make decisions regarding the more vulnerable among us.

And also, we are seeing a rise in the gig economy and non-office work. People who don’t have traditional, salaried jobs and instead rely on freelance gig work. I am thinking about all the taxi drivers for UBER, Lyft and Via, tutors, music teachers, people who make money off apps like Task Rabbit, personal trainers, dog walkers who all of a sudden lose a bunch of clients because people are working from home. These people don’t have the ability to work remotely and stay away from others. They don’t have paid time off or sick leave. To all the people complaining about having to use vacation time to recover if you get sick – and you are 100% right in being pissed about that, that shit is trash and late-stage capitalism is fucked – there are also a ton of people who don’t even have vacation time. These are people who if they get sick and can’t work, they can’t earn a living. These are people who could, and probably will be financially fucked.

Also, people working in China Towns or at restaurants and businesses owned by Asian folks. You guys. Just because the virus started in China, does not mean that every Asian person is infected. In fact, there has not been a single confirmed case of an Asian person being infected in New York City AND YET Asian-owned businesses are going under. The media needs to immediately stop using photos of Asian folks in masks when reporting on coronavirus. It is racist and misleading and is having real serious impacts on the livelihoods and safety of Asian Americans across the country. Also, btw, do you know where else there is a huge outbreak of COVID-19? Do you know what country is basically on complete lockdown? Italy! But I don’t see people boycotting pizza! So if you order in, think about getting some Chinese food! It’s delicious! And tip the delivery person extra because I guarantee you they are really struggling right now.

And do you know how I know that? Because I am a bartender. I am a bartender and people are being told to avoid gathering in groups. Do you know how I make my money? By selling drinks to people gathered in groups. We are coming into springtime which is the time of year when I and many of my colleagues make a chunk of our money for the year. This is the time of year we start putting money aside to save for the slower times. A serious and sustained drop in business will ruin my budget for, no joke, an entire calendar year. And bars don’t operate on a huge profit margin. If this panic lasts a few months, my jobs might no longer exist. There are a lot of us out here watching this not just with concern for the health of our friends and families and people we don’t know. We’re watching this unfold with the knowledge that this could cause a massive disruption in our ability to live and pay our bills. This is really scary for those of us not guaranteed a salary. This is really scary for those of us whose income relies on people showing up, not self-quarantining, ignoring health officials. And I am not telling people to do that. I am just saying that while people are concerned about health, keep in mind that there are a lot of people on the brink whose livelihoods could be entirely destroyed over the next few months.

Personally, I’ll be okay. It’ll be uncomfortable but I have a safety net. I have friends and family willing and able to help me if it gets tough. I am lucky. But there are so many people who don’t have that. So while you are sharing information telling people to not leave the house, maybe check-in on the people who rely on others to leave the house in order to survive and see how they’re doing. As I said, there are a ton of unintended consequences when we deal with something of this magnitude. It’s not only about health. This is going to cause a huge economic downturn. And I know it is tempting to be excited about the impact an economic downturn could have on Trump’s likelihood of reelection, but just be aware of who you’re talking to. Maybe…don’t say that. And I know it isn’t just up to us. The government needs to step in and do something. I am just really, really afraid that they won’t.

For My Bama

30 Sep

** A short note. This is the eulogy that I wrote for my grandmother. I have gone back and forth over whether or not to post it but ultimately the decision was made for me by my friend Miriam who has been my guiding light through this grief journey. She believes that we all need someone(s) to be witness to our lives, to our death, to our grief, to our success. And so all of you who read this are a witness not only to my process and experience, but to the life that I was able to bear witness to. In this way, Bama’s legacy is able to spread even farther and you all get a glimpse at what a magical person she was **


There is a painting on my wall. I always say that in the event of a flood it is the only non-living thing I will take with me. It measures 4 foot by 2. It is made up of pinks, oranges and yellows – a beautiful African sunset. There is a tree off to the right side; I think it is a baobab, although it very well might be a marula. Running towards the tree is a giraffe. The giraffe is…imperfect. Too small with awkward, stumpy legs, its neck – however proportional to the rest of the animal it may be – would never reach far enough to allow the giraffe access to the leaves. If it were real this giraffe would surely starve. But I love it. I love everything about the painting. I love the detailing on the leaves, the grasses that seem to move, this one cloud that is absolute perfection – the rays of the sun illuminate its shape so clearly that I am certain that this singular cloud is real, living in an otherwise painted landscape. But the giraffe – I always come back to the giraffe. It is framed by orange, more orange than exists anywhere else on the canvass. It is something that other people might not notice but I do. I notice because I remember when Bama painted it.

She was having trouble getting the giraffe right and try as she may her hand never seemed able to recreate what was in her mind. I sat in the airy, pastel living room of the house in Florida completely in awe of her ability to recreate this magical sunset again and again and again, each one more colorful than the last. Eventually she settled on a giraffe – I don’t know that she was enamored with it but it was good enough to stay in the painting which occupied the space above her bed for decades in a perfectly chosen gold and black frame. Of all the paintings she ever created, and there are quite a few, it is by far my favorite. Partially because I feel I was part of the process – although I probably got in the way more than anything else – but also because of the bold and beautiful colors. I love colors and so did Bama – I learned that from her.

When I was younger I was quite partial to oversized t-shirts and sweatshirts, generally in dark blues and blacks. I remember one day I was hanging out with Bama and she said to me,

“Bekahboo, why don’t you wear more color? You have my skin tone, see?”

She was sporting a beautiful, billowy turquois top that just set her off. She put her forearm against mine and she was right – I had the exact same olive skin tone and so, after a discussion, we got in the car and headed to Nordstrom’s – her favorite department store – to look for clothes. We rode the escalator to the top and there in front of me was Plum, Nordstrom’s answer to the needs of the young adult market. She bought me a couple of tops – one of them was neon pink and strapless if I remember correctly – and it changed my life. I have had a color-heavy existence ever since. Except, of course, for that one day I showed up at her house fresh from a shift at Banana Republic wearing a black turtle neck and dark jeans and she said,

“Bekahboo, you look lovely in black. Why don’t you wear it more?”

It turns out that to Bama, I was perfect no matter what. And she, in turn, was perfect to me.

Bama’s was the first phone number I ever memorized. Her house was where I went when I wanted to hide, to feel safe, to eat those weird raspberry-shaped candies she had lying around for awhile, and to learn how to make things like corn bake and latkes. It was where I went when I wanted to laugh. I like to flatter myself and think that I share her sense of humor. And, in fact, if she were here right now she would probably tell me I did and then look at me and say,

“Well, you didn’t lick it off a bush!”

Which, the more I think about it, is a really weird saying. Sometimes I think maybe Bama didn’t get her due entirely. Papa was sort of an out-sized personality with his schemes, loud voice and serial obsessions but Bama was always there, always consistent, always ready with a funny comment and a smile. She was the real star of the show. The real Hollywood.

So, I guess before I stand here talking for the rest of the day I will just say this: we were lucky to have her for as long as we did. And we are lucky that her humor and her artistic talent was passed along to each and every one of us. Except for maybe my dad who is not really very artistic at all but tells a hell of a joke about a coffin. Bama, I love you, I miss you and your giraffe painting is safe with me forever.

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.

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.