Category Archives: Outrage

What a drunk-dialer revealed

A few years ago, I got an unexpected phone call from a stranger who used such a familiar tone and had such a common name that it took me a minute to realize he wasn’t any of a dozen casual acquaintances who might have my number.

The conversation went like this:

ME: Hello?
DRUNK DIALER: Happy Memorial Day!
ME: Um … happy Memorial Day?
DD: Huh-huh. Do you know who this is?
ME: No, can’t say as I do.
DD: Huh-huh. This is John. Huh-huh.
ME: John who?
DD: Huh-huh. You don’t know who this is?
ME: No, I really don’t. John who?
DD: Huh-huh. You mean, you talk to ALL these guys, that you’d know all these guys named John?
ME: I know a lot of people named John, but I’m pretty sure you’re not one of them. I think you have the wrong number.
DD: Oh, you know me.
ME: Really. Well, if I know you, then how did we meet?
DD: It was the other night. I think it was at a bar.
ME: I haven’t set foot in a bar in six years. You have the wrong number.

I hang up. Not five minutes later, Drunk Dialer calls back.

DD: So you really don’t know me?
ME: No, and I don’t want to.
DD: I know you know me. We were drinking, and —
ME: No. We were not drinking, because I don’t drink. I’m sorry, but you have the wrong number.
DD: Huh-huh. Are you bisexual?
ME: No. I am happily married, my husband is bigger than you, and if you call this number again, he’s going to kick your ass. *Click*

At the time, the conversation struck me as being a harmless annoyance. But in thinking about it now — in the context of national discussions about serial rapists, street harassers and mass shooters — I find it unsettling, because it’s full of red flags that reveal the same kind of self-entitled, women-owe-me-attention mindset that motivates the Elliot Rodgers of the world.

Let’s look at those red flags:

1. “You mean, you talk to ALL these guys?” How sexist do you have to be to expect me to justify my relationships to you, random caller?

2. “Oh, you know me.” If you’re so certain I know you but am pretending I don’t, that should be a pretty good clue that I don’t want to talk to you — so back off.

3. The second call. If a woman hangs up after repeatedly explaining you have the wrong number, there is absolutely no legitimate reason to call again.

4. “Are you bisexual?” Based on this question, I’m guessing a woman told him she was a lesbian so he’d go away, and when that didn’t work, she gave him a fake number. “I’m a lesbian” means “Leave me alone,” not “Keep trying.”

5. Stopping only after I mentioned my husband. Drunk Dialer didn’t respect a woman in a bar who did not want to talk to him. He didn’t respect a woman on the telephone who did not want to talk to him. The only thing he respected was the threat of a physical confrontation with another man.

Women should not have to justify our friendships, argue, lie about our sexual orientation, give out fake telephone numbers, or issue threats to deflect unwanted attention. We shouldn’t even have to say “No, thank you.”

If I’m busy or you seem weird, I’m probably not going to acknowledge you at all. And that’s OK. You are not entitled to a woman’s attention simply because you want it. Please keep that in mind and plan accordingly.

Emily

Folk Thursday: Helen Reddy

Not folk, but protest. Close enough. I’m not at liberty to go into the details, but I got an eyeful of some spectacularly misogynistic respectability-politics bullshit in action yesterday, and it reminded me of how terribly true this song remains — especially that bit about, “I’m still an embryo with a long, long way to go until I make my brother understand.”

Forty-two years later, and we’re fighting the same frickin’ battle.

Pathetic.

Emily

Folk Thursday: Gil Scott-Heron

On a day like this, with protests and vigils scheduled all over the country — organized by the incomparable Feminista Jones — I’d be remiss if I posted anything that wasn’t “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” This is doubly true in light of the fact that most of it thus far hasn’t been televised; if you want to know the details, you’d better get on Twitter, because the revolution will be live-tweeted.

And yeah, I know Gil Scott-Heron ain’t exactly folk. Sue me. The folk revival was about revolution. You don’t have to play the song on acoustic guitar with the Weavers singing backup to earn a spot in my personal pantheon of revolutionary musicians.

Emily

Way to go, Facebook.

On Aug. 1, I am deleting my Facebook account.

I’ve considered ditching it in the past, but I stuck around because it was the easiest way to keep in touch with my former students. After what I’ve learned in the past few days, however, I feel morally obligated to boycott the company.

Scientists operate under ethical standards that require them to tell people what they’re getting themselves into before they start experimenting on them. Experiments can end badly, and people have a right to know the risks before they agree to participate. But Facebook apparently gives zero damns about ethics.

The company’s execs apparently decided they’d like to know what makes users happy or sad, so instead of taking a survey or inviting people to participate in a study, they subjected about 700,000 users to a psychological experiment without their knowledge or consent.

At the time Facebook pulled this stunt, I was going through one of the most difficult periods of my entire life: grieving the death of a former student, dealing with outrageous stress at work, and battling chronic migraines — all just two months after surfacing from the most profound depression of my life. No legitimate researcher would have deemed me a good candidate for a psychological experiment.

I know for fact some Facebook users at that time were in even darker places than I was. I know because some of them were my students, and they confided in me. Some days, the knowledge that they needed me was the only thing that motivated me to drag myself out of bed.

Conducting psychological experiments on any of those kids would have been nothing short of child abuse.

My former students are the reason I didn’t ditch Facebook a long time ago. They’re grown, but sometimes they still need Mama Bear. So for the rest of the month, I’m posting something each day, telling them where they can find me.

When July is over, so is my Facebook account, because while I can forgive many things, endangering my kids isn’t one of them.

If you just found your way over here from Facebook, welcome to the online extension of my living room. You’ll find a lot of hippie crap here: folk music videos, vegetarian recipes, eco-friendly ideas, the occasional political rant, and a lot of pictures of my bees, my garden and my road trips.

Comments are moderated, so they may take a little while to appear on the site, but feel free to post them.

Emily

The politics of beauty

Recently on Facebook, an old friend reflected on the fact that people frequently tell her she has arms like a man’s. She’s a competitive bodybuilder and has worked hard for those arms, so she takes the observation as a compliment. But she’s not stupid. She knows it frequently isn’t intended as a compliment, and she mentioned that in her post.

Her theory is that people are jealous. I suspect that’s part of it, but I think it goes much deeper. I see two primary things going on here:

1. People don’t know how to respond to beauty that doesn’t fit Madison Avenue’s rubric. I’ve riffed on this before, but it bears repeating: When someone strays too far from society’s artificial (bigoted) standards of beauty, we don’t know what to do with her, so we either attack her or ignore her. That’s because …

2. Madison Avenue’s rubric is based on every hangup you can think of. It’s sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, ageist and ableist.

I suspect most of the comments about my friend’s physique are — like most attempts at body-shaming — motivated by pure misogyny. A man in her sport will reap nothing but compliments, but female fitness competitors frequently are derided because they refuse to accept the notion that women should be small, soft and weak.

If you’ve got the gumption to spend umpteen hours a day in a weight room and then walk out onto a stage for the express purpose of having other people critique your appearance in microscopic detail, you are clearly not the kind of girl who can be controlled through conventional means, and you are most definitely not following society’s unwritten rules, which state that as a woman, you have exactly two options: Be invisible or be a target.

Think about it.

An overweight woman who keeps her mouth shut and hides her body under baggy clothing generally will be ignored. An overweight woman who wears stylish or revealing clothes will be fat-shamed for daring to be confident. And an overweight woman who goes to the gym, works her arse off and becomes a highly competitive athlete will have her femininity called into question at every turn.

Meanwhile, the same rules apply to underweight women. I was a skinny kid, which meant I could either hide my body under oversized clothes or be ridiculed for my flat chest and “flamingo legs.” But of course, once I grew up and found myself hauling around a set of triple-Ds on an otherwise average frame, I discovered that my choices remained the same: I could dress for invisibility, or I could wear something flattering and be slut-shamed.

The insults change, but the demand remains the same: Disappear or pay the consequences.

It’s not about our bodies. It’s about other people feeling they have the right to police our bodies. It’s about other people projecting their hangups onto us. It’s about other people trying to control us. It’s about silencing us and rendering us invisible.

It’s crap.

And it’s about damn time it stopped.

Emily

What would Jesus do?

This is an open letter to self-proclaimed Christian men who think oral contraceptives are somehow immoral.

Gentlemen:

Imagine you have a medical condition that causes you to bleed heavily while experiencing a physical sensation similar to being kicked in the lower abdomen five or six times a day, for two or three consecutive days (or more), with these flare-ups occurring every two to four weeks, depending on the severity of your condition.

Accompanying this sensation may be nausea, gastrointestinal distress, migraine headaches, depression and some degree of anemia.

In between these flare-ups, your condition causes pain in one testicle, lasting for several days and ranging in severity and character from a dull, annoying ache to a stabbing pain that takes your breath away.

That’s half of the bad news.

The good news: A drug exists that will alleviate your symptoms almost immediately and eliminate them entirely within a few months, with minimal side effects that generally dissipate within a few weeks of beginning treatment.

The other half of the bad news: Despite its therapeutic value, your employer believes this drug is immoral, so the company health insurance doesn’t cover it. If you can’t afford to pay for it out of pocket, you’ll just have to suffer. Sucks to be you.

Sound reasonable? Is it fair for your boss to use his personal beliefs as an excuse to block your access to medicine you need in order to live without frequent bouts of excruciating pain?

If your answer is “no,” then you need to stop supporting policies that seek to restrict women’s access to oral contraceptives.

Yes, some of the women taking the Pill are doing so to prevent pregnancy. But the majority (58 percent) take it at least partly for medical reasons, many of which are very, very similar to the scenario I outlined above — and 14 percent (including yours truly) take it solely for medical reasons.

Substitute the word “ovary” for “testicle” in that hypothetical situation above, and you have the biblical woman with the issue of blood.

When that woman reached out for help, Christ healed her.

Today, when she reaches out for help, the so-called “Christian” response is something like, “Suck it up, Princess; we’re not paying for your slut pills.”

If that’s your response, you probably need to spend some time studying the difference between Christians and Pharisees, because you’ve clearly mislabeled yourself.

Emily

Change it.

Dear NFL:

Cut the crap and change the mascot. For the love of everything that’s holy, this is the 21st century, not the 19th. No one should have to be told, in 2014, that it’s not OK to use a racial slur as a team name. There is no legitimate argument in favor of keeping the name. NONE. Change it and move on.

And fans: If you’re more attached to the name than the players wearing it, I really have to question how serious you are about your love of either the team or the sport it plays.

While we’re on the subject, I’d like to have a word with Bud Selig about a couple of MLB teams. Chief Wahoo and the Tomahawk Chop need to go. If baseball fans in Cleveland and Atlanta are afraid games won’t be as much fun without offensive caricatures and obnoxious hand gestures that misrepresent people who have already endured way more than their fair share of bullshit for the last five or six centuries, perhaps they need to take a few field trips to find out how other fans manage to enjoy a ballgame without the help of condescending cultural appropriation. I’d recommend an evening screaming your head off at Coca-Cola Park with Noise Nation, an afternoon tossing back opponents’ home-run balls with the Bleacher Bums at Wrigley, and a few innings letting Cardinal Nation educate you on the finer points of the game at Busch Stadium.

Speaking of baseball: To hell with the groundhog. Spring training starts in 10 days.

Emily

Debunking the Beauty Myth

I’m sure by now you’re aware of the latest and most egregious attack on teenage girls’ already fragile self-esteem, but just in case you’re not, click here to find out why you’ll be boycotting Abercrombie & Fitch and its affiliates from now until the Cubs win the Series.

As much as I’d love to believe that the inevitable demise of Mike Jeffries’ career will solve the problem, the sad fact is that it probably won’t; all this hypocritical P.R.-nightmare-in-flip-flops has done for us is put a comically clueless face on a much larger issue.

Jeffries’ tone-deaf misogyny harmonizes perfectly with the other sour notes I’ve heard lately: Disney’s gratuitous attempt to sexualize Merida from Brave; InTouch’s apparent ignorance of biology; the frequent attacks on Hillary Clinton’s appearance; and the ridicule a young friend of mine endures on a daily basis because she is albino and thus has a porcelain complexion, green eyes, and gorgeous golden-red dreadlocks to go with her African-American features.

Jeffries may have articulated it the most brazenly, but his message is no different than the others’: If you are female, your value depends entirely on the extent to which your physical appearance adheres to a narrow set of standards engineered by ad executives for the specific purpose of making the largest possible number of women feel insecure enough about their appearance to want to spend money to change it.

This kind of manipulative marketing is detrimental to women because it seeks to profit at the expense of our self-worth. It’s detrimental to all of us — men and women alike — because it seeks to remove variables such as individual taste and force us to evaluate beauty exclusively on Madison Avenue’s flawed, self-serving rubric.

I remember a comment someone once made about my favorite singer: “Judy Collins isn’t pretty, but she’s striking.”

I disagree with the first half of that assessment, but I think it illustrates the difficulty we have in wrapping our heads around the sort of beauty that doesn’t fit the rubric. If a woman is not conventionally pretty, we don’t know what to do with her. We can’t resist looking at her, but why?

You probably don’t fit the rubric, either. And you’re in awesome company, because you know who else doesn’t fit the rubric? Adele. Queen Latifah. Emmylou Harris. Bonnie Raitt. Jamie Lee Curtis. Helen Mirren. Tina Turner. My albino friend with the stunning African-American features and Irish coloring. Me. Not one of us fits the rubric. We’re all either too old, too heavy, too unconventional, or too all of the above to meet the standards A&F is promoting.

To hell with the rubric. I’d sooner die than swap my tangled curls, gray streak, hips, boobs, laugh lines, bifocals, or self-respect for some manipulative retailer’s approval.

To quote Bette Midler (who doesn’t fit the rubric, either): “Cherish forever what makes you unique, ’cause you’re really a yawn if it goes.”

Emily

On misogyny

I participated in a Facebook conversation today about Hillary Clinton and the possibility that she might run for president in 2016.

Some people loved the idea. Some hated it.

Some of Clinton’s detractors voiced legitimate concerns; a few offered bizarre conspiracy theories; and a couple revealed themselves to be practitioners of a particularly noxious species of misogyny that seems to be all the rage in some circles.

Criticizing Clinton’s performance in Benghazi or her voting record on the Iraq War is legitimate. Criticizing her for her husband’s behavior is questionable but possibly legitimate, depending on the behavior under discussion. (“I didn’t like the administration’s position on X or Y and am afraid she would bring that back” is legitimate; “She couldn’t control her husband” is sexist nonsense.)

Criticizing Clinton because you consider her physically unattractive is — pardon my blunt language — inexcusable, misogynistic bullshit. We are not talking about whether she is qualified to be a Hooters waitress. We are talking about whether she is qualified to be the leader of the free world.

When you take cheap shots at a powerful, accomplished woman based on your opinion of her appearance, what you are really saying is that you are an immature, small-minded buffoon who views all women as sex objects, and if you do not regard a woman as a potential sex partner, she has no value to you — regardless of her talent, intelligence, education, experience or professional skills.

That doesn’t tell me anything about Clinton, but it tells me everything I could ever need or want to know about you.

Emily