Gerrymander

In case you don’t know, Pennsylvania is divided up in rather ridiculous ways for voting purposes. The GOP in PA drew up the voting districts in 2010 (I believe). Democrats sued, the PA Supreme Court said, Yeah, this isn’t fair or constitutional; try again. And now the Republican representatives want to impeach the judiciary.

Here, Tony Norman of the PG does a good job of talking about the issue.

Because I am find the idea of impeaching some judges abhorrent, I decided to send an email to my representative in the PA General Assembly. This is what I emailed.

Email text protesting the GOP gerrymandering in PA and their desire to impeach the court.
My email to Rep. Mustio

And the very next day, this is what I got back from Representative Mustio.

Mustio sez: Cut me a break.

Me: Oh no he didn’t.

via GIPHY

Yeah.

I cheerfully responded:

Oh, sir, no.
Respectfully yours.

Now, it turns out the Rep. Mustio is retiring and isn’t going to run for another term (boo hoo). I certainly will be paying close attention to the people who decide to run to replace him. And I am curious what reaction his fellow Republicans to Mr. Mustio’s response to me. Do they care? Can they be made to care? I bet with a new map they sure will!

The Republicans have lost their GD minds. Pennsylvania is not the only state with the GOP thinks that they can do anything they feel like; see also Wisconsin and North Carolina.

I honestly don’t know who these people think they are.

via GIPHY

If you think the election of the Great Orange Cheeto was going to take the wind out of Democrat and progressive sails, you have another thing coming. Listen up, GOP: There are more of us. And we are on fire. We are energized to vote in 2018 and beyond. Enjoy your petty little responses now. At least you have constituents for the time being. That won’t last with attitudes like Mustio’s.

Yes

What does a non-coercive sexual encounter look like?

Simple: It is two people saying yes to each other.

Let’s be clear about something: sex isn’t the end game here. Dating, sex, and relationships happen on a continuum. Sure, one-night stands happen; sometimes they are even the desired outcome.

One should still get consent. I would venture to say, even, that women and men can be clear about their intentions of having a one-night stand. “I’m not looking for a relationship, but you’re cute and I’m feeling frisky.” This way, no one’s waiting for a phone call.

We don’t need signed affidavits for consensual sex. The #MeToo movement isn’t going to ruin dating, flirting, or sex.

What a lot of men are just starting to realize is that the sexual interactions they are used to having aren’t necessarily fun for women. Outside of the troubling power dynamics of sexual harassment at the office, and outside outright assault and rape, there are still troubling interactions, messaging, and treatment that needs to be parsed.

We shouldn’t be afraid of this.

I once heard it said, “Sex is like pizza. Guys never have bad pizza.”

This isn’t true for women. Women get bad pizza sometimes. We are more vulnerable, and we’ve been conditioned from the youngest ages to go along to get along. It isn’t until we are in unpleasant sexual situations that we realize that it’s not going to work to our advantage.

++

Expanding on a point I made the other day:

“Traditional ideas about seduction rely on tropes of women withholding sex and men working hard to get it. It’s a narrow notion of heterosexuality — one that does a good job excusing abusive behavior…. [W]hen it’s considered ‘natural’ for men to doggedly pursue women — even those have made it clear they’re not interested — we make it easier for a predator to claim he was just following a normal romantic script.” (source)

Having this conversation about affirmative consent isn’t going to kill dating and romance. It doesn’t mean that men have to sit back until women make the first move, either.

It means take no for an answer, the first time, every time.

It means when she starts saying yes, make sure she still is saying yes minutes, and hours, and days later. Maybe even years!

“But some women like playing hard to get.”

Okay, I hear what you are saying. But the idea that she’s just playing hard to get cannot be the default position. As someone who never played hard to get, this argument falls flat with me.

If you are dating a woman, or a woman has decided to take you home/go home with you, now is time not to push ahead at all costs. If you don’t know if she’s having second thoughts, just ask. Open it up! “Is this okay? What do you want to do?” Check in.

Frankly, many women would benefit from learning more about their own bodies and their own desire. Sexual education, whether in the classroom or in pop culture, centers on boys. Boys have orgasms and pleasure; girls get pregnant. Sexual education for girls is about our period, and how not to be mortified by our body.

I have many more thoughts about this, so if you’re still interested, stay tuned. But this is the takeaway from this post, for men AND women, boys AND girls: Let us learn the language of desire, and learn what “yes means yes” looks like in action. The agonizing going on now by people who don’t want anything to change is worthless. Let’s see some change.

Consent

Mom, Dad, other family members, you may not want to read this one. I have some strong opinions about #MeToo, consent, and assault. This post includes some info about me you may not want to know. And/Or: Trigger warning. Portrayals of unpleasant sexual situations ahead.

So, it seems that an account of a woman who went on a date with Aziz Ansari is muddying the waters. This is akin to what happened when Sen. Al Franken and Garrison Keillor were accused of assault. It’s a mix of “NO, not this guy, whom I like!” and “Wait, is that assault?”

Call it assault, call it a bad date, call it coercion. It is far too common, and this is why the discussions about MeToo don’t stop now, they keep going. We don’t dismiss this woman’s account because she didn’t get to choose the wine she preferred. We say, “Okay, what do men do when they find themselves in a situation with a woman, and the signals change?”

Reading the account was unpleasant for me, and I would guess for many women. Many of us have been on bad dates, have been in situations where we did things we didn’t want to do. I’m going to call it coerced consent.

“If I do this, he’ll let me go home.” Oh, and if you’re thinking, “Just leave!” Where am I? What neighborhood am I in? Did I drive? Are buses running? Would I know where to catch one? Do I have the money in my bank account to grab an uber? Am I drunk?

“If I do this, he won’t get mad at me.” Man, I really like this guy. We’ve been on a couple of dates. I still would like to hang out with him. If I do this, maybe we can still hang out together. If I do this, maybe he won’t bad mouth me to his friends/our peer group. If I do this, he won’t hurt me.

“I said no. Why isn’t he stopping? I’m not touching him anymore, I’m turning my head away. I’m pushing him. WHY WON’T HE STOP?” Because he’s drunk. Because he thinks you’re just kidding. Because you’ve been leading him on, and now you have to put out. Because you’ve had sex before, so why not now?

++

Yes, bad dates happen. With any luck, they don’t end at the man’s apartment, with him not getting your cues, and you wondering how to get out of the situation.

When I was first starting out in the world of dating-with-sex, I stumbled into these kinds of situations. I was uncomfortable, I was unsure of what I wanted to do, I wondered how to stop things without coming off as frigid, or a bitch; I didn’t want to be unpleasant. (And, let’s not forget, I was actually raped.)

Now, eventually, I worried far less about what these men thought of me. I became confident in asserting my boundaries (not just sexually, but professionally, and so on), and sticking to them. Please note, this doesn’t mean that I radically curtailed my social life, or my drinking, or stopped going home with men I was interested in having sex with. But it does mean: I drew some hard lines, and was able to assert them, and chose guys that respected them.

This young woman who found herself in the situation with Ansari will learn her boundaries, and take a lesson from her weird, coercive encounter with him. Most women who have this bad of an experience — and that is most women — will.

This is what the discussion needs to be about going forward:

1. Women have bodily autonomy and voices that should be heard. Women are people, not playthings, not sperm depositories, not opportunities to have sex.

Women. Are. People.

2. Stop portraying romance as “guy chases girl, girl says no, guy harasses girl — even if it’s ‘cute’, even if he’s kind of a nerd — girl finally gives in, and dates boy because he’s really a sweet guy who has her best interests at heart.”

Guy asks girl out, girl says no, end of story. For an example — for several examples of treating women as objects that just need to be talked into saying yes, see Love, Actually. Don’t do any of those things.

3. Instead of coerced consent, let’s work on continual affirmation. Is it that difficult to say, “Is this okay? How about this? What do you want to do now?” Girls and boys can both learn this, the language of desire, the language of YES.

4. Women are not sexual gatekeepers. Men are not sexual animals. Relationships are two-way streets. This practice of coerced consent is harmful for boys and girls, men and women. It limits us to narrow, specific, and unpleasant roles. It gives us bad experiences. It leaves a bad taste in our mouths.

How else do we teach consent?

How Not to Harass

Don’t touch another person. It is that simple. Especially if you are in a place of work, from a restaurant or a bar, to a corporate office. Keep your hands to yourself.

Don’t comment on another person’s body. Don’t comment on their weight or the way their clothing fits.
You can compliment a person without commenting on their body. “Those are cool shoes!” “Your hair looks great.” “Where did you get those leggings?” “I like that shirt.”

Don’t make sexual innuendos. You never know who will laugh and be amused, and who will be made uncomfortable – and even if someone laughs and is seemingly amused, he or she may simply be covering up their discomfort. They don’t want to be seen as a poor sport or viewed as without a sense of humor.

And don’t make sexual overtures at work. Don’t ask for dates, massages, or “private meetings.” Keep your clothes on.

++

I listen to these stories in the news – who’s been fired, who’s been harassed, who’s been raped or assaulted. Nearly every woman I know posted to the #MeToo campaign. (I did too.)

I am raising a son, and every day I teach him something else about consent. I tell my children to keep their bodies to themselves. I know he has a good example in his father, and in other men around him.

We let our children decide to hug someone (or not). My children are very naturally affectionate, so it’s more often me reminding them to ask if it’s okay to hug someone.

I am not teaching my children caution because I want them to be scared to touch or to be touched. I am teaching them consent, and how to ask for it or offer it, so that they recognize their own and others inherent bodily autonomy.

My body is mine. Your body is yours. Her body is hers, and his body is his.

Communication is key in consent. Asking and answering. It starts at home, listening to our children when they aren’t in the mood to hug or cuddle, or wrestle for that matter.

++

Stop treating women and girls like they are disposable. Stop protecting men acting badly – even if they don’t do anything to you.

Girls and women exist in their own right. We aren’t decoration or entertainment. We have just as much right to decide how to live our lives and how to move through the world in our bodies without having to fight every day. For the right to speak. For the right to be heard. For the right to not be commented upon or touched.

If we just acted like every person was a person – with complete autonomy, and worthy of respect and dignity, how much better the world would be.

An Unsolicited Review of Thor: Ragnarok

In truth this isn’t a review of the movie. I enjoyed it immensely; it was an an unabashed romp through the Marvel world of Asgard. It’s fun when Chris Hemsworth gets to be funny! Tessa Thompson as a alcohol-swilling, over-the-shoulder winking, badass Valkyrie was a treat! And while Cate Blanchett will always be the elf queen Galadriel, it was delightful to watch her chew up the scenery as Hela.

Just one scene in the movie gave me pause, actually took me out of it for a moment. It is toward the end (so, spoiler alert). In it, Karl Urban, who plays Skurge, a glorified janitor in Asgard, leaps into action wielding two weapons from Earth. I don’t know enough about guns to be sure, but I guess they are meant to be semi-automatic rifles. As he explains earlier in the movie to two Asgardian ladies, he got them from Mid-World, from a territory called “Tex-ass.”

“I named them Des and Troy,” Skurge explains. “Because when you put them together, you get ‘Destroy’.”

While throughout the movie, Skurge plays reluctant henchman to Hela, in this final scene, he is attempting to smuggle himself aboard a spaceship to get away from Hela and the destruction of Asgard, which is known as Ragnarok, in case your Norse mythology is rusty. Same concept as the Christian Armageddon. As the people try to escape, Hela’s army of undead warriors is attempting to climb into the ship and lay waste.

Skurge looks around him and sees families with children huddling in fear. He whips off his disguise to reveal his guns, strides toward the warriors, and starts firing.

And just like that, I was no longer entertained. I sat there wondering if the guns were supposed to be semi-automatic or automatic. If Skurge had picked up modified weapons. Las Vegas was barely a month old; the night we went to the theater, a gunman in Texas had mowed down people IN A CHURCH. And I was sitting next to my 6-year-old son, who is old enough to think guns are cool, but has no idea about how destructive they truly are.

Now, it’s hardly Marvel’s fault that I wasn’t crazy about that part of the movie, that I found it troubling and almost inappropriate. Nevertheless, here we are. Urban was unwittingly cast as the “good guy with a gun” — two of them! — that the NRA drools about all the time.

The scene didn’t work for me. It’s still bugging me three days later. The whole narrative about guns in this country is endlessly troubling to me.

Gun owners such as the guy in Las Vegas just like guns, and for some reason he decided to use his to kill a bunch of people. I bet he didn’t have a motive beyond that. The man in Texas saw his guns as a way to solve a problem, presumably; he was in a spat with his mother-in-law. Never mind that his in-laws weren’t even at service.

Guns are instruments of war, especially the types of guns being used these days in mass shootings. Something for Americans to think about: On American soil, who are we fighting?

Copyright for featured image: chutimakuanamon / 123RF Stock Photo

Put Down Your Phones and STFU

I think I have gone to my last show at Stage AE.

At least it was a good one! The Pixies don’t do anything in the way of stage patter – I mean, zero audience interaction – but they are a good band who does a solid show. Frank Black and company slammed through a 30+ song set, including most of the big hits. (As I drove home, I tried to think of one song I wanted to hear that I didn’t. The only one that came to mind was “Is She Weird.”)

So, no complaints there.

But the crowd at Stage AE is consistently terrible.

Look, if you want to go have a conversation with your friends, go to a bar. It makes no sense to buy concert tickets and stand in the pit discussing your latest boyfriend woes or workout routine. I am trying to see a show and hear the music, not your prattling.

If I ask you not to talk during a concert – and chances are I will – don’t correct me with, “You’re at a loud rock show!” Yes, I am at a loud rock show, BUT I CAN HEAR YOU OVER THE MUSIC. You are in the wrong, here. For the love of all that’s holy DO NOT address me as ‘hon.’ Uh-huh. That’s not going to go well for you.

Specific to the Pixies show, and the poor lost woman inquiring every two minutes, “Where’s Kim?”: If you are displeased that Kim Deal is not with the band any longer, don’t go whinging to everyone in a five-foot radius about it. She hasn’t been with the band since 2013. I love Kim, and I wish her well, and I, too, miss her. But Paz Lenchantin more than adequately fills her shoes.

The constant chatter during concerts is consistently a problem at Stage AE. It’s the only venue that I am forced to choose between listening to the band or the group of friends who are apparently celebrating their high school reunion directly next to me.

And, look, phones: I get it. It’s exciting! You’re at a show! You might be watching your favorite artist!

Take out your phone. Take a picture (no flash!). Put the phone away, and enjoy the show. The people standing behind you don’t want to watch the show through your phone.

At the Pixies show, I literally started moshing with the two young gentleman in front of me during “Debaser” in order for them to stop recording. (It totally worked, too.)

I am not crazy about the pot smoking that goes on at shows – and I mean every show; this is not a Stage AE problem. I have nothing against the recreational use of marijuana. But I don’t need it in my face. Or in my clothes and hair the next day.

All I am asking is for a little more consideration at concerts. It’s not the symphony or a Broadway musical, I know. But it’s something I do for pleasure, and I would like to be able to enjoy it. Talk between songs. Talk between sets. But if you want to have an extended conversation, go someplace else where you don’t have to yell over the performer. It’s just good manners.


What’s a pet peeve of yours at live shows?

Copyright for featured image: aetb / 123RF Stock Photo

White Like Me (Part I)

I am not the most “woke” person on the planet, and I’m not here to persuade you of any of my bona fides.

What I am here to do is to start a conversation – overdue, to be sure – about race. I’m going to tell you where I come from. Because I am having these conversations with my children. Because these conversations have to be had.

We can’t NOT talk about race.

My father’s parents were Irish immigrants, and my father grew up in a lower-income neighborhood in Pittsburgh. My mother’s parents were first generation Italian-Americans, and they lived in the Italian neighborhood in Erie, Pennsylvania.

I grew up in Erie, the oldest child of two college-educated white people. My parents never talked about race, but they hardly had to. Erie was strikingly white and Catholic in the 1970s and ‘80s – probably still is for that matter. I grew up in a white neighborhood; my K-8 school was white and Catholic; my parents’ friends were white and non-immigrants, and they had children who looked just like me. All my friends were white.

I, obviously, was aware that people of color existed – I watched Sesame Street and The Electric Company growing up. But until high school, I barely interacted with people of color. Not that I didn’t want to, or felt I shouldn’t. It simply didn’t happen.

It’s safe to say that my parents weren’t (aren’t) racist. We didn’t use racist language, they didn’t draw bright lines between “our kind of people” and any other kinds of people. My parents’ parents may have been racist, but I never heard the n-word growing up. My mom’s father was prejudiced against, to use his words, Krauts and Jews, which I always found confusing.

My pap-pap died when I was 6, and I’ve no idea on his views on race. He was, however, an Irish beat cop in Pittsburgh, so they probably weren’t super enlightened. Although my father has said that his father never used the n-word, and when my father asked about it as a child, he told my father, “We don’t use that word.”

I remember my Italian grandmother occasionally talking about ‘colored’ people, and I used to tease her. “What color were they, Grandma?” So, yes, probably some racism there. But hardly malevolent, white-supremacist-flavored racism.

Fast-forward to high school, and finally, I was going to school and seeing non-white and non-Christian people on a daily basis – not many, but some. I went to a small, Catholic all-girls school.

When I tweeted about this the other day, I said, “I didn’t witness any overt racist acts”, but I’m not sure that’s true upon further reflection. We had one Indian girl who was definitely targeted for some harassment, for example, being asked if she was in an arranged marriage. I didn’t do that; she was someone I would’ve counted as a friend. I bet if I asked Robbie, one of the black girls in my class, she would have a story or two to tell.

I never remarked on this limited diversity in my high school at home. We didn’t talk about race. Again, I think it was more the default position of not *needing* to talk about it, about having enough privilege that racism was something that happened in the ‘60s. Everything was cool in Erie! Everything was cool because of civil rights!

Clearly, since the time of Barack Obama’s running for president, then becoming President, since the shooting of Trayvon Martin, since the (continued and now publicized) murder of black boys and men by white cops, since Black Lives Matter and the Safety Pin Box, it has been made abundantly clear that we hardly live in a post-racial society. If the election of T*ump and the events of Charlottesville are any indication, we may be moving backwards.

I talk about race with my children. They go to school with, play sports with, and live near more black and brown children than I ever did. We talk about shootings (in age appropriate ways). We talk about Charlottesville and white supremacy.

I don’t say we are “colorblind.” I tell my children to see and to be aware of differences in their peers and in the wider world, whether that’s skin color, or sexuality, or religion, or disabilities. Differences matter, although they do not make anyone superior to anyone else. Differences matter, because they mean individuals have different experiences and views.

We have to understand and recognize difference. Knowing in our hearts that everyone SHOULD be treated the same doesn’t mean everyone WILL be treated the same. And we have to recognize when differences lead to injustice, and how, and what to do about it.

*with apologies to the book of essays by Tim Wise, White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son – which I promptly bought and will be reading post haste. Buy it here.

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

“What is white supremacy?” Flora asked.

Before I could formulate my answer, she added, “It sounds totally stupid.”

It made me laugh.

“You’re right,” I said. “It is totally stupid.”

It’s stupid to think that you are better than someone based on the color of your skin.
It’s stupid to think that other people getting rights to things like job parity, education, and healthcare means your rights are being taken away.
It’s stupid to chant Nazi slogans while carrying a tiki torch.
And it’s stupid to fight to preserve a history of which American should be embarrassed.

It’s stupid to think that we need to preserve “white culture.” It’s a fucking joke.

We stole this country, and built it on the backs of black slave labor. We can be clear-eyed about that, and work to fix the mistakes of the past. (Don’t tell me ‘your grandparents were immigrants who were treated just as badly as slaves.’ They weren’t; stop telling yourself that lie. And don’t come at me with “violence on both sides.” A man killed a woman WITH HIS CAR.)

And the President of the United States endorses and condones this shit.

++

Kate, my performer, Kate, my orator, on white supremacy:

“Trees change the colors of their leaves. Do we judge the trees? No, we do not…. Apples come in different colors. Do we judge apples on the colors on the outside? No, we judge apples by their taste. We don’t judge people by their skins; we judge them by what’s inside.”

++

Michael has been watching Holes. (It’s an excellent book as well as an excellent movie.) He loves it.

One of the plot points involves a black man, Sam, and a white woman, Kate, played by Dule Hill and Patricia Arquette. **SPOILER ALERT** Sam and Kate are falling in love, and the white townspeople (the story is in a flashback) don’t like it. When Kate is spotted kissing Sam, her schoolhouse is burned down, and Sam is murdered.

When Michael wanted to watch it yet again, I decided to say something.

“Do you know why Sam is killed in the movie?”
“I think so.”
“Why?”
“Because that other man likes Kate, but she likes Sam.” (Accurate.)
“It’s also because Sam is black. Black people and white people weren’t supposed to be together, or get married.”
“That’s dumb.”

MY CHILDREN GET THIS. It’s not hard.

*sigh* I’m tired. What a luxury.

Credit for the featured image: @AndeStrega

How to Be A Decent Man

This list was inspired by a number of things, including a Dear Prudence letter and an article from Upworthy. (You should definitely read the Upworthy article.)

10. Don’t catcall. Anyone. At any time. It’s not flattering.

9. Don’t tell a woman to smile. We’re not here to look good for you.

8. Realize that you are not entitled to sex. No matter the size your bank account (or your cock). Again, we women do not exist for your pleasure.

7. Even if you have had sex with a woman before, you are still not entitled to sex.

6. Don’t have drunken sex. (This goes for women too.) Sex is better when you’re not trashed. I’m not saying don’t drink. Go ahead and drink! Get drunk! Have some fun. Just don’t have sex with someone you don’t know well if you or she or both of you are drunk. It ends badly.

5. Understand consent. (Link is to the clean version of the Tea Consent video. Again, another worthwhile thing to check out.)

4. Listen to women. Don’t interrupt. Don’t be thinking of what you are going to say. Just pay attention to the words coming out of her mouth. Hear her.

3. Don’t mansplain. If you don’t know what that is, or you don’t think you mansplain, think about your response. If the first word out of your mouth when responding to a woman who is talking to you is “actually,” you may be mansplaining.

2. Don’t harass women online.

1. If a woman says no, move along. Don’t call her names. You can’t go from wanting to get with a woman to calling her a bitch. That’s just dumb.

Just: Treat women like people. It’s not that difficult, it’s honestly not. Although, to be fair, you also have to stop treating women like every one is a possible sexual conquest. So, your level of difficulty may vary.

All right, ladies, what am I forgetting?

Safe Space

Pursuant to our discussion about her hair, Flora also talked about some difficulties some of her friends are having. She says three of her friends have come out to her – and they have also come out to their families, with very discouraging results.

According to Flora, one of her friends came out as bisexual. Her parents have forbidden her to even speak about it at home, and her older sister calls her a schizophrenic. When Flora told me this, I felt like my head was going to catch on fire.

“You tell your friend,” I said, emphatically stabbing the table with my index finger, “that she can come over ANY TIME. Our house is a safe space for her.”

“Yeah, Mom, I already told her,” Flora responded.

Okay then.

I do not understand how a parent can reject a child. Especially on the basis of sexuality or gender identity — not just at this age, but at any age. Don’t they remember how scary this time was in their own lives? Trying to figure out who they were and who they wanted to be? The constant fear of not fitting in, of being rejected, of being alone?

In these years between puberty and adulthood, our children have more questions and insecurities, and do more exploration than they did since they were toddlers. (Apparently, a child learns more between birth and age 3 than for the rest of his/her/their life.) Tweens and teens are seeking their identities, independence, and acceptance. And even though they are pulling away from us parents, they still need us!

  • LGBTQ youth are at increased risk for dating violence and rape
  • LGBTQ youth are at increased risk for suicidal thoughts, behavior, attempts, and suicide
  • LGBTQ youth report higher rates of bullying and substance abuse
  • LGBTQ youth are at greater risk for homelessness
  • (Source)

If a child at this stage feels unloved, unsupported, and unheard, how much do you bet these risks and behaviors increase?

It will not stand, people. Not as long as I have a roof over my head.

I’m going to need a bigger house.

Copyright for feature image: badboo / 123RF Stock Photo