HB2 and making problems where there were none

Dear Dad,

I’ve been thinking about writing you a letter on this issue for a while, and I guess lucky for procrastinating me, it hasn’t blown over. Unluckily for transgender people, unfortunately, it hasn’t blown over.
By now, you’ve probably figured out I’m going to be writing about the infamous bathroom bill. I’m not a fan.
It’s been incredible to see over the past few years the gains transgender people have made in visibility and acceptance, from Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black to Janet Mock. Unfortunately, just as with the women’s rights, when a marginalized groups makes some gains and gets some visibility, there’s usually a huge backlash. We saw it with the push for women’s suffrage, as I’ve written about before, and we see it in the rise of Men’s Rights Activists and virulent online misogyny in response to modern feminism, and we’re seeing it in HB2 and hysterical fear-mongering arguments that “men in dresses” will attack children in bathrooms.
To top it off, this whole “men in the women’s restroom is a threat to women’s safety” thing assumes that all men are violent sexual predators and that gender-separated restrooms somehow keep people safe. But when I was a little girl just learning how to use the restroom, I remember you going into the restroom with me to help me out. I don’t remember if it was the men’s room or women’s (I feel like maybe it was both on different occasions?) but HB2 would criminalize either.
I’ve seen little boys in the women’s room, and I wouldn’t be upset about a father helping his daughter pee in a public restroom, regardless of which bathroom they use. Public restrooms have stalls, which is privacy enough for anyone to do their business, and no one should have to show their birth certificate to go in a stall.
On top of this bill creating problems that didn’t exist before, it also assumes gender and gender expression are black and white — or pink and blue. But they’re not. I remember a kid in my high school, a couple years younger than me, and the whole two years we attended school together, I didn’t know their gender. They were very physically ambiguous. But it didn’t matter because they’re a stranger! My guess at their gender would have no value on my life, or theirs.
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Boys can paint their nails and like dolls, girls can play baseball and hate makeup. The only thing that says otherwise are gender norms like the ones HB2 seeks to enforce, which leads to individuals who don’t adhere strictly enough to those norms being discriminated against.
And some people don’t really feel like “boy” or “girl” describes them accurately. They can shift between genders, or maybe don’t feel they have any specific gender at all. AND THAT’S TOTALLY OKAY BECAUSE WHAT MATTERS IS THAT THEY’RE PEOPLE AND DESERVE THE SAME RIGHTS AS ANYONE ELSE.
But I’m rambling now. What matters is this, Dad: HB2 creates problems out of nonproblems, and seeks to enforce binaries and create barriers. What we need to be doing though, is breaking down those barriers to create a culture of expression and acceptance.
Also, sometimes when the line for the women’s room is long, I use the men’s. It’s totally no big deal.
Love,
Vicki
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Ideologically speaking

(TW: violence)

Dear Dad,

I enjoyed visiting you and the fam in Minnesota for Christmas. You know I always love a chance to get a White Christmas, throw a few snowballs, before returning to the warm climes of California.

A photo of a woman, bundled in jackets, sweaters, scarf, sweatpants and a hat, standing on top of a snow-covered playground structure.

Wearing my haphazardly slapped together snow outfit on a winter excursion. Can you tell I don’t actually own snow clothes?

I also enjoy our conversations, even though this Christmas’ debate was a particularly tense one, which wasn’t aided by the fact that we hopped around from topic to topic like a cat on the nip. I’d like to return, however, to our discussion on ideologies, especially since it relates so much to discussions we’ve had before on this blog about ideology and “lenses.”

Your second blog post to me was on this same topic, describing ideologies as glasses that one views the world through: They shape how we perceive our reality. I’ve thought often about this comparison, and about where this metaphor falls down. Even with a feminist worldview, for instance, my perception could vary wildly from that of Beyonce, Gloria Steinem, and Jessica Valenti. What I’ve experienced and learned, read about and watched, all has an impact on my own personal ideology, which is an amalgam of classes I took, advice from friends, my own contemplations, and my reading.

I guess what I’m saying is, we all have our paradigms. Sometimes, we put a name to them and call them an ideology, to let people know we fall into the same camp as other individuals we admire. I proudly say I’m a feminist because it’s a quick way to let people know that I stand up for women’s rights. But my feminism is something I keep revising and evolving in and growing. I proudly claim the title, but if one day, I find one that suits me better, I can discard it in favor of that one.

All that being said, you were right when you wrote that ideologies can warp reality. In our discussion over the holiday, Dad, we talked about the frequency of shootings in the U.S. You said that the San Bernardino shooters espoused a violent Islamic ideology, but that other recent mass shooters were simply mentally ill and in need of care. I thought on this on the plane ride home, and for the whole week, and I can’t agree. I think in our country’s narrow focus on terrorism as an Islamic threat, we don’t acknowledge that there are other ideologies present in the fabric of the United States that can lead to violence as well, regardless of the mental health of the perpetrator. Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, for instance, took a gun to African-American churchgoers because he believed he was defending white women. This man espoused a radically white supremacist worldview. He wasn’t just some “crazy.” His vision was warped by lenses of racism and a twisted sense of patriotism. Similarly, the Planned Parenthood shooter in Colorado declared afterward that there would be “no more baby parts,” clearly influenced by pro-life rhetoric about the health care provider. His view of right and wrong was distorted by a pro-life movement that led him to believe the only solution to safe, legal abortion was to kill those providing it. Maybe it’s difficult to see a pro-life person lumped in with radical Muslim terrorists, but all of these shooters have an ideology, a distorted worldview influenced by their experiences and the information they receive, that led them down the path they took. To write the non-Muslims off as “crazy” anomalies is to obscure the path to a solution.

And that’s the conclusion I’ve come to after a week of stewing, though I’m sure, with time, my vision will continue to develop and I might have to adjust the prescription on my lenses a little. Thanks for the food for thought, Dad, and happy new year.

Love you,
Victoria

On Kim Davis

Dear Dad,

I’m sure you’ve heard of Kim Davis, the county clerk jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. It seems lately my Facebook feed has been nothing but Kim Davis, memes of her, memes about how many men she’s married, angry statuses about how she should suck it up and do her job, videos of her crying after she was released from jail, Mike Huckabee proudly at her side.

And I need to say up front that I think what Davis has done is deplorable. As a county clerk, her job is to serve her constituents and uphold the constitution. Our interpretation of the constitution has changed (that happens occasionally), but that doesn’t mean that she gets to refuse to uphold it. On a moral level, she’s homophobic and hateful. I’m happy that we finally have marriage equality, and that the country is moving toward giving all people equal rights regardless of sexual orientations. People like Davis stand in the way of that, but it’s clear that she’s part of a shrinking (if vocal) minority.

Meme of Kim Davis with jerk meme hat on. Text:

BUT—and it’s a big but—I am sick to death of the way Davis’ personal life is being treated by progressives. I can’t scroll through my Facebook feed without seeing something about how many men Davis has been married to, Dad, or how many kids she’s had out of wedlock. This isn’t kind, understanding, or progressive, and I can’t stand it.

As a feminist, I don’t believe women should be judged for their sexual history, and that includes women I don’t like. I don’t suddenly get to make fun of a woman for being divorced multiple times because I disagree with her politics. The wider progressive movement pushes for more compassion and consideration of marginalized voices, which is why I am attracted to it. We support gay rights, women’s rights, transgender rights, the rights of people of color. But when a movement about compassion starts deriding its opponents based on their personal lives, I can’t stand by silently.

Several people have told me that this is about pointing out hypocrisy: Someone fighting for “biblical marriage” doesn’t live by those ideals herself. They’re cutting this woman down with her own weapons.

Maybe I’m an idealist. But I don’t think that’s okay. If we’re going to hold people and society to a higher standard of compassion and acceptance, we have to hold ourselves to it too. We can’t just throw that aside the first chance we get to mock a brazen woman.

Furthermore, attacking Davis’ marriage history doesn’t really stop her from being a hero to the religious right. I was raised in a church, Dad. I know that Davis can say she repents and she’ll still get to keep her new spouse. Maybe some of the church members will gossip about her behind her back, but grace means she can ask for forgiveness and move on with her life. An LGBT person doesn’t have that luxury, because the “sin” is their sexual orientation. For an LGBT person to repent, according to Davis and her ilk, they’d have to stop being gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender, or at least suppress it forever. Look no further than Mike Huckabee proudly standing beside Davis as she was cheered by her supporters: To them, she’s a born-again woman standing up for God.

I believe that Kim Davis is wrong. As a county clerk, she must abide by the law and do her job or step down. I believe that she’s homophobic and that gay people should have all the same rights as straight people. But I will continue to defend Davis’ right to marry any damn person she pleases without progressives butting in.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, Dad. How has the rest of the family been talking about Kim Davis? What is your church’s reaction? What is your reaction, to both Davis and progressive attacks?

Talk to you soon. Love,

Victoria

Scrutinizing the media’s treatment of race

Dear Dad,

Happy MLK Day!

I’ve been reading a book on gender discrimination in sports lately, and one of the things that struck me about it was the declaration that social scientists strive to “make the familiar strange,” that is, make us question the things we take for granted, things that often maintain systems of inequality.

So today, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., I’d like to talk about media treatment of race.

We live in a country in which media narrative reinforces that some people are more innocent than others, or that some lives are more valuable then others. For instance, comparison of treatment of black victims versus white suspects and murderers shows that white people are treated sympathetically, hailed as “brilliant” or “polite.”

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Black people who have been killed, on the other hand, have any prior run-ins with the law dragged out, as if they deserved it. Trayvon Martin’s school suspensions were even under scrutiny.

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Similarly, a recent bombing outside an NAACP office in Colorado Springs went almost unreported by the media until Twitter brought it to attention. Charlie Hebdo was grabbing all the headlines, while a terrorist attack on US soil that mercifully didn’t hurt anyone goes unnoticed. But with the racial tension in the country right now, this story should have been reported.

Days after the Paris massacre, Boko Haram killed 2,000 people in Nigeria, destroying an entire village, and yet newspapers are still running in-depth profiles of the Charlie Hebdo terrorists on their front page and relegating Africa to a small spot inside.

It’s important to be aware of world events, and just as important to be aware of which events the media is choosing to focus on, Dad. Coverage sends a message about whose lives matter most, and that message is unmistakably that white lives and US- and Eurocentric stories matter more than other narratives.

I’m thankful that in this age, we have a tool that allows us to connect directly to others and reach out and be more fully informed and critical of the stories we read. And I’m hoping a critical readership can help elevate the state of the news.

Love,
Victoria

P.S. I’m just one white woman trying to raise awareness. For a great resource on race and the media, check out This Week in Blackness.

Feminism is for mothers

Dear Dad,

I’ve noticed a disturbing pattern in the news lately: Pregnant women and new mothers being discriminated against in the workplace.

A silhouette from profile of a pregnant belly.

A pregnant woman shouldn’t have to surrender her career.

It started last month, when I read the story of Stacy Ehrisman-Mickle, an attorney whose request for a continuance because she had an infant was denied. Ehrisman-Mickle, an immigration attorney, requested continuances from three judges so she could have a six-week maternity leave with her newborn child and still fulfill her duty as a lawyer and serve her clients fully. Two judges granted that request. The third, however, not only denied her request for a continuance, but scolded Ehrisman-Mickle when she brought the baby to court and the baby began to cry, as babies are wont to do.

As if this case isn’t upsetting enough, a couple weeks ago, a pregnant lawyer, Deborah Misir, says she was shouted at and ridiculed when she asked that a trial be delayed because of her high-risk pregnancy. Misir says the judge’s refusal to allow her request forces her to choose between possibly losing her child or letting her client down. It’s a very literal choice between work and family, and neither option is suitable.

In a case that echoes almost too closely Misir’s story, Rep. Tammy Duckworth is being denied her request to vote in Congress by proxy. Duckworth, an amputee and Iraq War veteran, is eight months pregnant and her doctor has instructed her not to travel. She requested to vote long-distance, but House Democrats say allowing her request would mean they would have to allow everyone’s request to vote by proxy. Unfortunately, this means Rep. Duckworth is being denied her voice in our government because of her decision to have a child.

This is the very real dilemma women are faced with every day: work or family. And while it’s not easy to balance both, it’s even harder when institutions and those in power actively restrict women’s ability to do their jobs because they are choosing to have children. As Amanda Marcotte wrote in her piece on Rep. Duckworth,

Duckworth may be in an unusual position, but the experience of losing esteem and power at work because you got pregnant will feel awfully familiar to all too many ordinary women. Particularly since pregnancy is seen as a “voluntary” condition, it becomes very easy for employers to deny rights and guilt trip women for needing even the smallest accommodation.

As a woman, I shouldn’t have to be forced to choose between my career or my kids. Ideally, my employer would empower me to be a good parent, and by empowering me to take care of my kids, I would be better able to focus on my job while at work.

In the administrative parts of your job, Dad, I am sure you’ve had to work with pregnant employees. I know how much you value parenthood and can’t imagine you’d behave like these judges or politicians. I imagine that cooperating and communicating with pregnant employees helps build a better work atmosphere, and more positive, productive office. I hope in the future that others become aware of how valuable women are in the workplace, and that pregnancy doesn’t have to hold any worker back.

But for now, I’m just hoping for success for Ehrisman-Mickle, Misir and Duckworth, three

Love,

Victoria

A big week for women in STEM

Dad!

We landed on a comet! How cool is that?

Everyone’s been really excited about this Rosetta mission, and so have I. It’s a cool example of the international community working together, plus there’s space! I love space.
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To top it off, the project director for NASA’s contribution to the project is a black woman, Claudia Alexander. She spoke with the LA Times about being a woman in a predominantly white male field. Alexander said her experiences as an African-American woman were even a benefit in communicating with the European Space Agency:

I’m used to walking between two different cultures. For me, this is among the purposes of my life — to take us from states of ignorance to states of understanding with bold exploration that you can’t do every day.

She’s a great role model for girls interested in STEM fields (that’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). I’m really glad she’s been visible in this project, actively combatting the stereotype that women can’t science.

Speaking of which, did you see the story about the Rosetta scientist who wore a sexist shirt, Dad? This dude wore a shirt covered in sexy ladies for an interview, sending the message, as The Atlantic’s science writer Rose Eveleth pointed out, that STEM is maybe not so welcoming to women.

To his credit, the scientist, Matt Taylor, has apologized for his fashion choices. It’s a very good example of how critique and dialogue can help bring about more thoughtful choices.

But Rosetta’s not the only great thing happening in science right now. In the fictional science world, we have a whole slew of new scientists to admire. I just recently saw both “Interstellar” and “Big Hero 6,” and have to recommend both. In addition to having great stories and wonderful, emotional depth, these two movies put science at the forefront, and women play huge roles in that.

In “Interstellar,” which had a physicist as one of its executive producers and has won praise from Neil DeGrasse Tyson for its faithfulness to Einstein’s theories, two of the main scientists are women. Dr. Brand is a gutsy explorer and physicist who risks everything to save humanity, while Dr. Murphy Cooper is a plucky young kid who grows into a brilliant and perceptive physicist. Both of these women are main characters and have wonderful story arcs.

Big Hero 6” is an awesome movie for kids that makes science and education cool. While maybe less faithful to reality, the robotics at play are fantastic and riveting. In addition, it features a diverse cast (with an Asian-American protagonist) and two more female roboticists! I loved, too, that these two women show there’s no one proper way to be a girl. Honey Lemon is bubbly and loves pink and is super feminine, while Gogo is tougher, riding a bike she invented and telling people to “woman up.” Both are independent, developed characters.

So there’s a lot of things to be excited about this week: I’m excited for my female friends in engineering, that they have more examples of women like them; I’m excited for the little girls watching movies and comet landings, seeing what women are capable of; I’m excited for the guys who will see these women and understand how valuable it is to have multiple viewpoints and voices in projects; I’m excited for both the arts and the sciences to have more women making inroads, setting examples, and diversifying the stories and ideas that are available.

And I’m just feeling positive and encouraged over all.

Love ya,
Victoria

How many more?

(tw: violence against women)

Dear Dad,

I am crying right now, actually crying as I write this.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington. You may know that two students are dead, including the shooter, and four others are wounded.

The line that stuck with me the most from the story I linked to? This:

Jarron Webb, 15, said the shooter was angry at a girl who would not date him, and that the girl was one of the people shot.

Just a few months after the Isla Vista killings, a child takes aim at his classmates again in his rage against women, and I’m left feeling powerless and hopeless with the question, “How many more will die before we do something about it?”

There’s a culture of male entitlement, toxic masculinity and violence against women that pervades our society. At Isla Vista, one man killed six people because he felt entitled to sex from women. In Washington, a boy shoots his classmate because she refused to date him. Earlier this month, media critic and feminist Anita Sarkeesian had to cancel a talk at Utah State University after receiving threats of the “deadliest shooting in American history.”

I am horrified, terrified and enraged to live in a world that will probably talk about this shooter as a madman, as an outlier, while online hordes are harassing women such as Sarkeesian and game designer Zoe Quinn with threats of rape and murder. We will discuss his mental health, and gun control, and gun sales will skyrocket while the possibility that maybe, just maybe, we need to do something about a culture that teaches men to hate women will get swept under the rug.

After the Isla Vista shootings, Richard Martinez, the father of victim Christopher Martinez, went to national media to demand that “Not One More” person die of gun violence. I admire Richard Martinez’ courage and eloquence in speaking about such a difficult and personal subject, and I believe that restricting access to guns is a wise idea.

And I want to extend that idea now to violence against women, to misogyny. We need to band together as a society and take a stand. We need to take a hard look at a culture of male entitlement and misogyny and say, “Not one more. We will not allow another person to die because of hatred of women.”

I’ve attached some resources here, Dad, for info on how toxic masculinity perpetuates violence against women, and ways we can fight it:

  • White Ribbon Campaign, a Canada-based campaign that “positively engages men, young men and boys through relevant educational programming that challenges language and behaviours, as well as harmful ideas of manhood that lead to violence against women.”
  • Feminist Frequency, Anita Sarkeesian’s website where she breaks down harmful, sexist tropes in video games and movies.
  • Amnesty International, a global organization that fights for human rights, including breaking down a culture of discrimination that leads to women being beaten, raped, tortured and killed around the world.
  • Men Can Stop Rape, which engages men in ending violence against women and “embraces men as vital allies with the will and character to make healthy choices and foster safe, equitable relationships.” Currently, they’re accepting registration for the “Healthy Masculinity Training Institute.”

These are just a handful of sites that I admire, Dad, and there are plenty of other organizations out there doing their part, but it’s clear there’s so much more work to be done. I encourage you to visit the sites, spend some time reading up on them, and think about what you can do to help too.

It’s been a rough day. I love you,

Victoria