Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Stop Calling It a Lifestyle

My dear friend Rebecca recently got engaged to her incredible partner Laurel and it stirred up a lot of emotions, many of which were filled with sadness and frustration because their union, their love for one another is not accepted by the government. Inequality rages on and on in this country and I hope that in my lifetime I see an end to this blatant and ugly discrimination. She wrote so eloquently that I asked for permission to re-post her thoughts her on my blog. 

On May 11, 2012, the woman I have loved for as little as two years and as long as a lifetime gave me a diamond ring and asked me to marry her. What should have been one of the happiest moments of my life surprised and touched me—but mostly left me with a host of unanswered questions. Such as, what did all this mean? Now that I wore a sparkly antique (circa 1930s) diamond ring on my left hand ring finger—was I engaged? Was the woman that I had slept next to, sneezing and snoring during colds and bouts of seasonal allergies for more than a year, now my fiancé? After thinking of and referring to her as my partner for some time now, wasn’t fiancé a bit of a backwards step? When before we had already arrived at the linguistic mecca of gay relationships—partnership (life partner, domestic partner, etc.) now we were engaged to become something else. And what was that something else?

What does it mean to be engaged for a queer girl who lives in a state that is not New York or Massachusetts or even Iowa? After seeing the picture of my beautiful ring, friends and family members uttered all the phrases generally bestowed upon straight betrotheds. “Mazel Tov!” “Congratulations!” “Have you set the date?” Even a waitress taking my credit card asked if I would be changing my name. And I am grateful for all of my friends and family who love me and accept my relationship and act like it is the same as their own.

But what no one is saying is that it is not. Mine is different. I cannot get married. I can’t. It’s illegal. Marrying the woman I love is as illegal as abortion pre-Roe v. Wade (and even post, in some places today). It’s as illegal as smoking marijuana (which ironically is also conferred limited legal rights in a similar handful of states). You have to go to a different office for this special prescription, and though many people nod politely in conversations about legalization, medical marijuana doesn’t hold the same place in the family medicine cabinet as Tylenol PM and Benadryl. And regardless of state statutes, in the eyes of the federal government, it is as illegal as cocaine. Just like my marriage.

Did you know that if I send in my jointly filed Oregon state tax return (where limited rights are bestowed upon same sex couples in the form of domestic partnership and medical marijuana is recognized as a controlled medical substance) to the IRS they will send it back and tell me to re-file correctly as single? Because of this foolishness, same sex couples who live in states that allow them to file joint returns, must prepare two separate state returns— one to send to the state and the other to send to the IRS along with their federal forms—marked “single.”

Couldn’t I at least check a box that says “living in sin” or “controlled medical substance?” Nothing is farther from the truth than my being single. Don’t I lay my head next to the same person every night, wake up and reach out my hand to touch her arm, listen for her sleeping breath, make her meals and pack her lunches, pool our finances, discuss and agree upon major expenditures like refinishing the kitchen cabinets in the house we share together? Don’t I debrief my day with her after work like I witnessed my parents doing when I was growing up? Isn’t that what marriage, partnership is about? Going through life with someone at your side. How am I more single than any of my friends or relatives who do these same things every day? Marking “single” on my tax returns would be dishonest, untruthful. Maybe even tax fraud.

On an occasion that should be momentous and joyous, I am filled with anger. Never before was I so acutely aware of my status as a lesser class citizen. I am not conferred the same rights as my twin brother, my parents, my friends. I tell my partner that I want to wait to get “married” until it’s legal—either federally or at least in the state where we live. “But we could be waiting years, decades, before we see that change,” my faux fiancé says to me, “I don’t want to wait forever.” But for some reason, having a “wedding,” getting “married,” putting on a bridal gown, tossing my bouquet—feel as much like make-believe to me as the games I used to play as a child.

And yet, many, many gay and lesbian couples have had beautiful and meaningful weddings in states that have conferred limited or zero legal rights to them. And that is wonderful. They are part of the solution. They are helping to raise the consciousness of our society, which is what inevitably will get us there. Because if every person, regardless of their politics, has a neighbor, friend, or coworker who has had a “gay wedding,” what remains to protect?

I guess I am just not there yet. I can’t imagine having an engagement party when I am unclear on what I am “engaged” for. I can’t have a bachelorette party when, to the IRS, that is exactly what I am and will always be. And as for the wedding—I have no idea. Maybe my partner will get tired of my philosophizing and the subject will drop off the radar for a little while. I will go through life with a beautiful diamond ring on my left hand ring finger. We will quietly go to the marriage office and file our domestic partnership papers, receiving the right to file two separate versions of our tax returns—one of them fraudulent. And at some point we will have a “ceremony.” We probably won’t call it a wedding, because, well it isn’t. But we will invite our friends and family to share their memories and experiences, celebrate us as individuals and as a union, and toast ourselves and our community for supporting and sustaining a worthy and loving relationship.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Mama’s Boy Myth—Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes Them Stronger

I just finished reading this fascinating and wonderfully written book by Kate Stone Lombardi. Lombardi, a writer for the NY Times for over 20 years, examines the long held belief that in order for boys to grow up to be men, their mother’s must push them away so that they can develop into healthy men. This behavior starts as early as toddler-hood when mothers are encouraged to let their sons "tough it out" rather than hold them and offer sympathy when they cry or hurt themselves.

For generations, mothers have gotten the same old message when it comes to raising sons: beware of keeping him "too close." A mom who nurtures a deep emotional bond with prevent him from growing up to be a strong, independent man. By refusing to cut those apron strings, she is on track to create the archetypal, effeminate, maladjusted "mama's boy." There's only one problem with this theory: it's just not true."

She provides countless examples of the double standards that exists in parenting—when a father is present in the lives of his child or children he is exemplified and praised for taking an active role in their lives. For moms of sons, the mother is considered a nag or somehow inappropriate for staying connected to her son physically and emotionally. While we see nothing wrong with a father/daughter dance—we see it as an opportunity for daughters to see what a good man looks like—a mother/son dance reeks of incestuous behavior and an overbearing mother who is suffocating her son.

It is also extremely interesting to note that we expect mothers to be close to their daughters--best friends in fact. But if a mother is close to her son--she is harming his masculinity.

Lombardi is not advocating that fathers are not important, really, who would? But rather she is challenging the sexist notion that if a mother stays connected to her son (helping with homework, aware of his social life, having dinner with him out once a week) that she is somehow stunting his manhood—this notion that in order to be a man—a son must push away his mother.  

The Mama’s Boy Myth is a fascinating look at just how important mothers are to their sons lives. In an era when there is a boy’s crisis (rising violence and emotional constipation) Lombardi argues who better than mom, to help boys and young men talk through and process the emotional challenges of middle school, high school and college. Boys today are dealing with bullying, break ups, struggling with academics, girlfriends, peer pressure and so on…mothers, not fathers are better equipped to help their sons through the tough times. While we welcome more emotional men as fathers, it simply isn’t the case yet. Fathers just don’t consistently seek out emotional conversations with their sons. They weren’t raised that way. Fathers do not have the same skill set as mothers do. 

Lombardi researches countless studies and finds conclusive evidence that in fact, these so called Mama’s Boys do better in school, have sex later, are more emotionally connected to themselves and the people around them making them better boyfriends, friends and eventually bosses and co-workers and dads.

If you or someone you know is raising a boy, read this book! And while you are at, give them a hug. :)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Teaching: Women of the World

This term I am teaching a transnational feminisms course called, Women of the World. I cannot believe how fast the term is going. We are already moving into week 5.

We've had a great first month. The term started off with the basics of patriarchal theory. Next we talked specifically about transnational feminism and what it is (a global movement to create lasting gender equality) and what organizations are involved around the globe to make life easier/better for women. We have discussed the importance of water in women's lives--specifically women living in the Global South.  For these women their days are consumed with water: walking hours to retrieve it, returning home to boil it and hopefully kill the toxics and diseases out of it and repeating that process day in and day out. How different life would be for these women if they and their families had access to a clean water or well in their local villiage. They would have time to work and earn money for their families. The girls, usually in charge of water fetching, would have time to receive an education. Water is huge. This video is a great synopsis and highlights the important role that clean water plays in our lives:

Next we talked about the global politics of the body and how women's bodies are objectified the world over. And just yesterday we talked about the effects of colonialism and globalization on women's sexuality--namely pornography, sex tourism and sex trafficking--the worst that can be done to a human being. I showed this power film in class, The Day My God Died. You can stream it free here: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/day-my-god-died/

I really love my students this term, like I do every term. But what I particularly like about my class is it's small size. We are a group of 14 and together we can have some wonderfully in depth conversations and really get to know one another. It reminds me of my classes at Principia.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Wrapping Up My 1st Term of Teaching

Week 10 I had to cancel class—after months of feeling poor (colds, the flu, that nasty 24 hour stomach bug) and reaching the end of my rope with exhaustion and a hacking cough I was diagnosed with mono (aka the kissing disease). I also had a case of laryngitis and could not speak above a whisper. I was bummed to cancel class but my body and voice needed the rest.

This past weekend was week 11, finals weeks. After they completed their final exam, each student had a 5 minute presentation in which they shared the highlights of their research paper. The final exercise of the day was circling up for one last community discussion. I asked them to discuss the following questions:

What is feminism?
Are you a feminist, why or why not?
What did you like about this class?
What would you change about this class?

Their answers were very insightful to me. Most identified feminism as a movement to end oppression and the majority identified with the term feminist. Some students believed in feminism but did not want to call themselves feminist. All of my students said they loved the class and got a lot out of it. A few mentioned they liked the amount of power and control I gave them and how willing I was to stray from a topic and delve into something. Overall they liked the flow and structure of the class with the movies, discussions, fish bowls, etc but expressed frustration over the amount of readings and how academic and hard some of them were to grasp.  

I placed myself inside the circle for this last section—I wanted to end the term with gratitude. I shared with them how much I appreciated their hard work, effort, willingness to do the readings and assignments but most of all for applying it to their lives. Each week my students showed up transformed by the learning from class or the readings. Often they talked about how they would enjoy their partner/children/bosses/co-workers differently. I told them it was significant to me that they allowed themselves to be changed as a result of this class. During this final round I learned that as a result of this class:

One student left a violent and abusive relationship

One student began volunteering at a domestic violence shelter

Many students went on housework strike

Many mothers threw out gender stereotypical clothes and toys and replaced them with gender neutral ones

Several young women decided that they could choose natural childbirth over a drugged, hospital birth

Many decided to become life long feminists who were going to use their voice to stop injustices they see

Then, the students went around the circle thanking each other and many of them chose to thank me. I was so touched by their comments some of which included:

“You’ve changed my life forever”

“Thank you for being a strict and hard teacher because it made me want to try harder for myself and for you.”

“You are my role model and I hope to be the kind of woman you are someday.”

But what meant the most to me was from my oldest student in the classroom. He’s a white man who’s in his late 50’s. He was so moved with gratitude that he could not speak—he cried as he looked at his classmates and then to me. Many of us teared up with him seeing his vulnerability. Finally he spoke with a broken voice, “It is amazing how week after week I sit and watch every one of change and grow. This kind of stuff doesn’t usually happen in the classroom, but because of you Jen, our lives are changed. Thank you for your passion.”

We said our goodbyes and many hugged. Then one student approached me and handed me a card and asked for a hug. After we embraced and she had left I read her card:

"I don't think that a letter grade could possibly tell what I got out of this class! Your passion is palpable and will not soon be forgotten! Thank you for the discomfort...it has truly inspired me to finish the work that needs to be done in my life. You are AMAZING!"

Wow. I am so incredibly grateful that my first term of teaching has created such an impact. As an community college instructor I may not get paid the big bucks—but this weekend I became a millionaire.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Week 9 of Teaching: Resisting Violence Against Women

This topic is undoubtedly one of the closest to my heart, next to women and childbirth, so I was clear when I started teaching that I would include a section on violence against women. 

The statistics are stunning:

1 out of every 4 women will suffer from sexual abuse
1 in 12 women will be stalked in their lifetime
Every 8 minutes a woman is raped
56 women an hour are beaten by an intimate partner
Every day 10 women die as a result of injuries sustained from domestic violence
Domestic Violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the United States

We must find a way for this to stop. One way that I'm working to end this violence is by educating my students. It was a sobering and emotional day in both classes. After going over the readings and class lecture we headed outside for an experiential learning exercise. I first saw the No circle in college when my Women's Studies and feminist mentor, Pamela Kaye had us students participate in it. 

Essentially the students form a circle and are asked to imagine an attacker in front of them. They lunge forward, pushing him away and scream "No!". I do several variations on the stance--I teach students how to peck the eyes and knee the groin of the attacker. Inevitability this is a tough exercise for students for a number of reasons, mostly they feel awkward and don't want to draw attention to themselves. But what ends up being really interesting is that for those who do push through that initial resistance find it quite powerful to hear the sound of their own voice. Many of my students marveled at just how loud and deep their voices could get.  Several of my students used the No circle to visualize their own attacker and heal from the experience. It was deeply moving to watch these survivors take back the control of their bodies and shout out at the top of the lungs, "NOOOOOOOOOO!"

Also during class time as I was talking about domestic violence several women identified themselves as survivors--one stayed with her husband for 20 years---two others had grown up watching their mothers beaten by their fathers. At one point, I looked up at the faces of my students and saw many of them crying. It was such a powerful reminder that violence against women touches so many of our lives. 

I made a difference this week in the classroom and that feels damn good.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Week 8 of Teaching: Women Doing Housework and Men Changing Diapers

There was something about classes this week--I could feel the term beginning to wrap up. Just as the students and I are getting comfortable and settled in with one another, the calendar flips and reminds us that we have 2 weeks of classes left before finals.

Last Saturday was the first time I was a total hard ass in class and it was fun! Several of my students show up 20 minutes late, every week. I had commented a few times that it was a disruption to the class but they never took it seriously. So right at 9am I locked the door and posted a sign outside that read: Class starts at 9am. Congratulations, you are late to class. I'll let you in when the first section of class is over. At 9:30 I opened the door and my late students came walking in the door with their heads slung low. The real test will be this week, right?

A first! I had several students asleep on me--heads down, stone cold sleeping in my class.

While I was nervous after grading mid-terms last week and seeing that many were failing I'm not so nervous now. I've provided several opportunities for extra credit to help the students bring up their grades. It was quite revealing who turned in the extra work and who did not. Many of the students who desperately need boost did not turn in the assignments. It took a weight of my shoulders realizing that I can only do so much for my students--in the end, they have to do the work to succeed.

We discussed women's work inside and outside the home and of particular interest was the idea of the second shift--that as working women leave their paying job, they must come home to their second job (hence, the second shift) of house cleaning, cooking and child rearing. My students shared that many of them went on strike last week to see what their boyfriends and husbands would do if they suddenly found themselves without clean dishes or clothes. I got a kick out of that.

We also discussed the recent Huggies diaper ads...have you seen those? They are calling it the ultimate test of the diaper because the babies are being left alone with their dads. On the one hand I LOVE seeing ads with Dads and their babies. But really Huggies--leaving babies alone with their Dads is the ultimate test because apparently men don't know how to change diapers but thanks to Huggies (not their parents) the children will be dry and cared for. Gag. It's such an insult to the wonderful husbands, partners, uncles, and big brothers of the world to show men as dumb idiots incapable of changing a diaper. 

Here's one of the commercials. Read about what this Dad Blogger has to say about the campaign. And finally, if you want to get involved, sign the We're Dads Not Dummies petition here.

Would love to know what YOU think. Leave your comments below.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Show Must Go On

For both classes this week I was so sick. I coughed, blew my nose and in general was a mess but I didn't want to cancel class.

I started class with a review of the first 6 weeks. I could tell it helped a lot. The students responded well to it.

Then instead of quizzing them on the week's readings, I had a review of the week's readings on powerpoint and we discussed them as a class. Doing this before the quizzes brought the overall average of the quiz grades up. A powerful indication that this change is a welcomed one.

The last hour of class I showed the amazing documentary, The Business of Being Born. I've seen it more than 10 times and I learn something/see something new every time. My students all responded very well to the film and were completely surprised to learn how horrible, in fact, last we are among developed countries for maternal health care. In other words, we lose more mothers in childbirth than any other developed country in the world. I love showing this film because it is so eye opening for so many people. So many folks the safest place to deliver your baby is an a hospital, which actually it's the most dangerous for many women and their babies.

I have one pregnant woman in my class and several weeks ago she announced that she had scheduled her baby's birth. I knew that meant only one thing, she had scheduled a cesarean section (c-section). After watching the film she explained to the class that her doctor told her she should plan on having another c-section since she gave birth to her first child that way. With her first pregnancy she had a medical necessity for the surgery--she had preeclampsia. But her current pregnancy is going smoothly and both she and the baby are quite healthy  When I shared her VBAC (vaginal birth after Cesarean) birth option she had never heard of it. When I began to explain that she could in fact have a vaginal birth if that's what she wanted, her disposition changed and she became very animated and interested. She began asking more questions about it and even shared how scary it sounded to her because she had believed what the doctor told her and was know questioning it. She also seemed amused by the idea that she could actually give birth to her child--a thought that intrigued her.

I was horrified (although I didn't show it) that this young woman's doctor had failed to offer her the safest way for her to deliver her baby--vaginally. Instead because she had once delivered via c-section it was assumed she would do the same. Of course, c-sections are easiest for doctors, but we know from centuries of doing births, that vaginal delivery is best for momma and baby.

With any luck, this student will go out, educate herself, talk to her doctor and make an informed decision. Whether or not she decides to move forward with the c-section, I am just happy that she now how more information--what she chooses to do with it, is entirely up to her.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pivotal Week--Helping My Students Succeed

This past week in teaching has proven to be pivotal for me. Many of my students failed their mid-term while some scored perfect 100’s. It’s clear that some students just are not doing the work but my heart broke a little bit when I saw students crying after getting their tests back. I heard one woman sob, “But I studied so hard and I still failed!” I now understand that there are students who are working hard and still not grasping the key concepts.

I spent the better portion of my week creating a PowerPoint presentation to review all the key terms and ideas we’ve discussed and they’ve read about these past 6 weeks. I’ve put on hold what I was planning for this upcoming class and have decided to make half the class a review day.

It’s easy for me to forget that the knowledge I have around this topic has been building for the last 20 years. I didn’t learn it all in my first Women’s Studies class.

As I move forward in creating my spring course, a transnational feminisms course, I plan on reducing the readings and adding a PowerPoint presentation to really help solidify the material.

I was talking with a teacher this week and she gave me a great piece of advice…pick the one key idea that you want to get across to your kids each week, so that at the end of the term they have 10 key ideas that work together to create your message.

I want to do all I can to help my students succeed.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Teaching Intro to Women's Studies, Week 5—Pornography

Last week’s classes were the first time I felt myself anxious and nervous about what I had to teach that day. Because really, what teacher really likes to talk about pornography? It’s a tough subject and the images are hard to see because they are graphic. But I do it because it’s important. I do it not to be sensenationalistic, but because students need to know what’s out there in mainstream pornography because we are living in a pornified culture.

After taking their mid-terms and a short break I started off our discussion of pornography by asking folks of their first experiences with it. It was a great way to kick off the conversation because the stories were often funny and light hearted about finding their father or brother’s collection of magazines.

I told them that instead of watching last year’s documentary The Price of Pleasure (which you can rent or stream from Netflix) I had picked instead PowerPoint presentation. I shared that for some the images are often hard to look at and that first and foremost they should take care of themselves in whatever way they need to—whether it means closing their eyes or leaving the room.

And so we began and I found that as I went through the presentation, Who wants to be a porn star? Sex and violence in today’s pornography industry (you can Google it if you’d like to find it/see it) I found that it was a very effective way to share with my students how many of the images we now see in mainstream culture have come directly from Porn. For more info on this check out the book by Pamela Paul, Pornified: How Pornographyis Transforming our Lives, our Relationships, and our Families.

It also very clearly spells out how pornography teaches men (the main consumers of it) how to treat women—which is poorly, like objects and as women who deserve to be raped. The presentation examines and highlights 6 key rape ideologies found in pornography.  

The 6 Rape Ideologies:

  1. Women don’t really know their own minds. Men know better what women really want and need sexually.
  2. A woman might not want it at first, but once she gets a taste of hot sex, she can’t get enough.
  3. Women are sexually manipulative.
  4. Women are sluts who get what they deserve.
  5. Getting her drunk is a way to get her in the mood.
  6. All women are whores at heart and want to be fucked by any available man.
While discussing number 5 I asked is anyone had ever been given the date rape drug (commonly called roofies) and a number of women raised their hands (including me). Two of my students shared that after they blacked out and came to, they found themselves being sexually assaulted. For more information on date rape drugs, click here

Yes it was a tough topic but one I felt really important to discuss and bring to light. The fact that it is surrounding a topic that makes so many of us feel uncomfortable is yet another reason to push through that feeling to talk about it…because being silent about it isn’t going to make it go away. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Week 4: Students Overwhelming Overwhelmed

Well I knew it would happen at some point during the term, I would go from being the cool, hip Women’s Studies instructor to “that teacher who gives us too much work!!”

I handed out the mid-term study guide and they freaked out. I thought I was doing them a favor, laying out, in detail how to study. Then I handed out the outline for their rough draft research paper and they freaked out. Again, I thought I was doing them a favor, laying out, in detail how to do their paper outline. Silly me.

Before class was over I had 2 students tell me they had to leave early and wanted to know if they were going to miss anything. “Yes, you’ll miss 3 hours of class.” Duh. As a student, I never, NEVER asked that question to my teacher. One student left to attend a baby shower and another left because her boyfriend kept texting her. I encouraged her to put her phone away and then she wouldn’t see the text. Makes sense right?

I also had them watch the fantastic documentary by Jackson Katz called Tough Guise. It is a movie devoted to deconstructing how the media at large presents masculinity as violent, emotionally shut down, and in direct opposition of femininity and therefore needing to dominate women. It’s a great film because it’s written by a man and all the examples are taken from movies, television and news broadcast. Up until this point in the class I have spoken mostly about the patriarchal system and its impact on woman but now the students learn how damaging a system it is to our boys and men.

Here’s the film’s trailer . And if you want to watch the film online you can view it here.

Both classes enjoyed watching the film and many of them felt that they could relate to it because they had tough guys in their families as models (brothers and dads). One student said that as a result of watching this film, she's rethinking how to raise her sons because she didn't realize that by raising them to be tough, she's raising them into this culture of violence and now she wants something different for her boys.