How We Lose to ISIS

There is nothing simple about warfare, terrorism, or the senseless deaths of innocent people. But there is something simple about love.

“Love thy neighbor as thyself.” –Jesus Christ

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” –eden ahbez

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” –His Holiness the Dalai Lama

And with love comes inclusion and seeing in your fellow human a reflection of yourself. And yet, there are those who would try to make you believe that the best way to end hate is to to perpetuate it in other forms. We lose to ISIS when we do this. And more importantly, we lose our souls when we do this. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The funny thing about humanity is we spend so much time trying to divide ourselves but when it comes down to it, we’re all pretty much the same. We want love, sustenance of the body and spirit. We have likes and dislikes, we laugh, we play–we live.

ISIS doesn’t represent Islam. Most members of Islam in this world are decent people, just like you and me. Most Muslims don’t have an enemy in Americans or other Westerners or Western countries. But we give them an enemy when we murder their family members and destroy their livelihoods through carpet bombing and other modes of destruction. We give them an enemy when we treat Muslim-American citizens or residents like criminals and second class humans. We give them an enemy when we deny compassion to people fleeing for their lives from the same enemy we strive to defeat. We give them an enemy when we remove love from our hearts and replace it with fear.

I don’t need to mention the GOP candidates who would cause us to lose to ISIS so I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks. But these people are full of hate and fury and fear. They will not lead us to peace, but instead will create the problems they purport to solve.

Choose peace and love today. The world already has too much hate.

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And because I quoted a song used in Moulin Rouge, here’s Ewan McGregor.

On Ad Hominem, Empathy, and Other Things

It is entirely rare for someone who disagrees with me on almost every point to argue against me in a calm, considerate, respectful and thoughtful way. Instead, people rely on ad hominem arguments, complaining that I am a millennial thus idiotic and ignorant; that I simply have no idea what I’m on about; that I’m a crazy feminist therefore should be ignored.

Do you see how that gets us nowhere? I am not perfect, but one of my talents is listening to what people say and trying to understand their perspective, even if I disagree with everything coming out of their mouth. Just yesterday I listened for a good while to someone go on about how supporting Bernie Sanders means I don’t support the Constitution, even daring to ask if I’d ever heard of our founding fathers. I listened and listened. When I finally had a chance to explain my perspective, he immediately interrupted me, trying to talk over me. And when I touched his shoulder and said, “Stop interrupting me, you have to listen sometimes,” he acted miffed that I would dare suggest he doesn’t listen because he is such a good listener.

This kind of behavior is not conducive to solving problems. The argument itself becomes a problem instead of the issues we claim we are trying to solve.

I am tired of ad hominem arguments. I am tired of being interrupted all the time. I am tired of people looking at the bad behavior of the few and punishing the masses because of it, such as in cases of welfare programs (a favorite of the GOP to attack).

Do you know how to overcome these hangups, at least to some degree? Empathy. It’s okay to disagree with people. But by putting yourself in their place, you can at least try to understand why they feel the way they do. Sometimes it’s still too difficult to understand. (For example, I can’t wrap my head around why any decent human being would support Trump. If elected he just might be the American Hitler.) But even the effort allows you to connect with someone just a little bit more, and that connection is a first step to accomplishing something beyond pointless arguments and hurt feelings.

A while ago as I drove home from work listening to NPR, I heard Marco Rubio say in reference to Republican candidate bickering during debates that the enemy isn’t each other, the enemy is the democrats. That attitude is a perfect way to run a nation into the ground. Different philosophies and parties might disagree on how to accomplish certain tasks and solve problems, but those differences should never amount to seeing each other as the enemy. When you approach a colleague as an enemy, your tactics will be like those in a war or vendetta. If you approach each other as friends with different philosophies, you can work together to find solutions. We need to commit to a political ceasefire, and instead be like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, who despite their political differences and different interpretations of the law, were great friends and had a successful working relationship.

The recent death of Justice Scalia is a perfect example of what not to do. It is the president’s job to appoint new justices and yet GOP members are already lining up to deny President Obama’s constitutional right to appoint a new justice. Not even a day after Scalia was found deceased did the GOP start to raise their hackles at the idea of Obama appointing a new justice. That Obama has less than a year left as president is irrelevant. He is still the president and if we wait for the election to be over and the new president to be sworn in and the appointing process to take place, we’re looking at likely over a year for a ninth justice to take the bench. That is unacceptable. We need a fully functioning judicial branch of our government, and an even number of justices does not a fully functioning court make. Regardless of the need for all branches of government to be in working order, it appears to be more important to the GOP to stop Obama from doing his job at any cost. That is not what the founding fathers had in mind.

(I know it probably seems like I am picking on conservatives, and I apologize. Liberals are in no way perfect, but I have to admit in my personal realm of acquaintances, friends, and family members, it is usually my good ol’ conservative pallies who issue the ad hominem attacks and forget their empathy. That is not a fair representation of all conservatives, but this is what I have to work with. In addition, the GOP in this primary election cycle is a farce and we all know it. That’s where we are, that’s why the GOP keeps being the example in my points.)

We need to stop this. It’s not okay to doubt people’s understanding of U.S. history or the Constitution simply because you disagree with them. It is not okay to hold that history and Constitution hostage because your views are reactionary. The Constitution is a living document thus enabling us as a nation to make needed changes as time progresses, and new and unforeseen problems arise.

We need to stop blaming the other party. We need to stop punishing the poor and the underrepresented. We need to embrace empathy and set aside pride long enough to listen and understand. There are many wise quotes about the importance of listening but this one is probably the most apropos to political debates:

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. –Stephen Covey

Don’t be “most people.” Interrupting and shouting and grinding your teeth while you wait to speak again, it’s all about pride. It isn’t about solving problems, it isn’t about understanding. If we build this nation on pride, we are doomed to fall.

Everyone could stand to lose a little pride, myself included. Dare yourself to listen to someone you disagree with. Dare yourself to understand. If we refuse to do such things, this great nation, regardless of your interpretation of the Constitution, will never be the land of the free and brave. It will be the land of the arguing children who pointed fingers while the union plummeted into the annals of history as a nation that merely once was.

(There is also this fantastic thought by His Holiness the Dalai Lama):

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If You Want to Wear the Bikini, Wear the Damn Bikini

Every so often a blog post or article begins to make the rounds on social media that just drives me up a wall or fills me with rage. The latest is a blog post explaining why wearing a bikini is dehumanizing and leads to bad thoughts in other people. Let me make this absolutely clear: The only thing that makes a person see another person as an object is the person doing the looking. It doesn’t matter what I am wearing, if someone looks at me and reduces me to my parts or appearance, that’s all on the looker.

The blog post is entitled, “I Never Knew a Bikini Could Hide So Much.” The writer details an experience in which she was at the pool wearing a bikini and had an enlightening moment upon seeing a mother in a one-piece laughing with her child and husband. To the writer, this scene was in stark contrast to other women who wore bikinis and seemed to be caught in self-consciousness. For the author of this blog, this moment signaled a shift in how she dressed, preferring to cover up more thereafter.

I’m a big supporter of dressing how you want. The problem I have with the sentiment behind this blog post is the idea that you, the wearer of clothing, are in charge of what other people think about you. The writer says,

Whether the women walked confidently, or insecurely, or somewhere in between, one thing struck me about each of them. Not once in my observations that day had I asked myself “I wonder what is on her heart today” or “I wonder what her personality is like” or “I wonder what she dreams of doing some day.” Not once. All of my thoughts had been directed towards her swimsuit or her body.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually go around looking at strangers and wonder what their dreams are. It’s just not something most people do. So to use the absence of such a thought as an excuse to demonize bikinis is plain silly. The author followed up with, “As a woman, that may just mean I am wondering where she got her suit or comparing my body to her body, but imagine what that is like for a man!”

Let me just take a moment to speak on behalf of men: Men aren’t born objectifying women–they’re taught to objectify women. Men aren’t incapable of seeing women as complete human beings, regardless of what women might be wearing. Men–regardless of what a woman might be wearing–are perfectly capable of thinking of women as more than mere sexual objects. To deny this is to call all men inherent rapists and lewd observers. I cannot and will not accept this claim.

The reality is, a bikini doesn’t turn a woman into an object. A person looking at a woman in a bikini turns her into an object.

I recently travelled to Italy and had an experience quite opposite to the writer of the blog post condemning bikinis. While on the beach I noticed most women wore bikinis if they wore any swimming suit at all. Women of all ages, shapes, sizes. And you know what? Everyone on that beach looked confidant and comfortable. Not a one was trying to cover up “flaws.” I on the other hand, was wearing an ill-fitting suit because of a long-lasting fear of being a “problem” for men. You see, I’m quite busty. It is nearly impossible to find a one-piece or tankini that fits as well as it covers. So I squeezed into a tankini top that didn’t fit my bust. But, hey! I was covered so no big deal, right? Wrong. I felt miserable every time I wore it. I felt self-conscious, probably because my motivations for wearing it were external instead of internal. But seeing all those happy, confident, bikini-clad women made me determined to lose the tankini and find a bikini that fit! And I did! And I love it!

Finding the swimming suit that works for you–whatever style that is–is what promotes self-confidence. Confidence doesn’t come from covering up because you feel obligated to or because you don’t think the poor men can handle it.

And let’s not forget that people are perfectly capable of objectifying women even if they’re covered from their necks to their toes. The author claims, “[Modesty] prevents lust, harmful comparisons, and insecurity…” This is a complete fallacy. If the number of inches on a bathing suit or hemline determined the amount of lust, rape and other sexual violence would not exist in places where women are completely covered up. If how much skin showing is what determines insecurity, insecurity would be a relatively new complaint that didn’t exist in Western cultures until arguably the 1920s when women’s clothing became much less restrictive. But rape does exist no matter the dress code. Harmful comparisons and insecurity is determined not by the inches of clothing, but by a culture that puts so much focus on what a woman wears and what she looks like. The blog post about which I’m writing, for example, is something that promotes insecurity. Anything that effectively says, “You’re more beautiful and valuable if you where X instead of Y,” creates insecurity. To the author’s credit, I think what she is mostly going for is a focus on inner beauty. But the way she went about it just doesn’t work.

Don’t mistake my purpose here as saying everyone should don bikinis. If you are more comfortable in a one-pice bathing suit, by all means wear it! But If, while you wear your one-pice, you look around at all the women wearing bikinis and judge them for it–even if by your reckoning it is merely concern for their welfare–you are part of the problem.

Personally, I hate once-piece bathing suits. I find them to be terribly uncomfortable and impractical. Two-pieces on the other hand, are more comfortable, fit better, and just look all around better on my body. But that’s just me. Women should be free to wear any kind of bathing suit they want without worrying someone is on the sidelines judging them. It’s 2015, can we be done with the body and clothing policing, please?

So, to women everywhere: If you want to wear a bikini, just wear the damn bikini.

I Read Go Set A Watchman

UnknownI read Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman today. I bought it at about 10:30 a.m., started reading around 11:00, and finished it up around 4:00. It was a reading marathon, and one I needed to complete.

As the release date for Watchman approached I deliberately avoided any articles about it. I didn’t read the released first chapter, I didn’t read speculation or spoilers. I wanted a clean slate. However, I did accidentally read a few headlines and began to feel deep apprehension and terror at reading the book. I have for several years romanticized and idealized Atticus to the point that if people ask me what kind of guy I want to date I might respond, “Like Atticus but maybe more outdoorsy.” I was not sure if I could handle Atticus being anything but what he was in To Kill A Mockingbird. And this is all in addition to the hubbub and controversy of whether or not Harper Lee consented to have this book published in the first place.

But, despite it all I knew I had to read it and I am incredibly glad I did. There is so much to this book that writing this review a mere few hours after reading it seems dangerous because I probably need more time to fully digest it. But, I have to write. My reaction to reading Watchman was so nuanced I have to begin a review, even if after days or weeks my reaction becomes more full or clear. I have to discuss now.

If you don’t want spoilers, please DON’T read on. Please do as I did prior to reading Go Set A Watchman and avoid this post as if it were your worst nightmare. If you’ve read the book or don’t care about spoilers or don’t ever plan on reading it, please continue.

First of all, it is great seeing Scout as an adult. She has shed her childhood name and now goes by Jean Louise, but she is every bit as stubborn and just as much a firecracker. She still has it out with Aunt Alexandra on the regular but nowadays, when she says something to irritate Aunty it might be more calculated. She still prefers pants to dresses and still can’t fathom the traditions of the ladies of Maycomb. She is a delight.

cxh2vkgmhxkcqlmnjrjjjdcxhqk9kaftoaldidqbrdx028tqmytni46gxfpxur8rWhat I find to be the most poignant aspect of this book–at least for my personal edification–is, Jean Louise feels all the feelings we as readers do. We idolized Atticus because Scout did in To Kill A Mockingbird. As an adult Jean Louise learns her father is fallible and makes mistakes. We as readers understand her duress upon seeing Atticus at a Citizens’ Council (a white supremacist group), because we literally feel it ourselves. Figurative empathizing with a character goes out the window here–Jean Louise feels sick to her stomach and so do we. How could Atticus, who behaved the same way in his front yard as he did in his living room, go to a meeting that portrayed black people as subhuman? How do we not feel the same rage that leaves Jean Louise yelling in the street when Atticus tries to defend his stance? He who defended Tom Robinson and treated Cal like a member of the family? It is nearly intolerable.

But, here is one thing I gathered from this book: While it could be said To Kill A Mockingbird was about Scout and Jem and childhood and justice and seeing Atticus as a hero, Go Set A Watchman is more about Jean Louise developing her own conscience outside of what Atticus would do. That’s not a very deep revelation, Harper Lee spells it out with the help of Uncle Jack Finch. But it is an important distinction to make. We all idolized Atticus, but because our perceptions were set by a child consumed by hero worship, we forgot that Atticus was a man of the South. He, as are we all, was a product of his culture. He is imperfect. He is human. Does that justify attending meetings and arguing that integration would only harm Maycomb’s black citizens because they are too far behind to catch up to their white counterparts? No, it doesn’t. But I don’t think it means we have to stop loving Atticus.

Atticus makes it very clear he still loves everyone. He still treats every person with respect and dignity. But, he’s not perfect. He doesn’t want the big federal government telling southern people how to live, a common refrain from that part of the country still heard today. He is still very much Atticus, despite this painful revelation of his character.

All in all, there are many things Atticus says that hurt. As a reader I, like Jean Louise, want there to be some kind of explanation. I want it to be a misunderstanding or a joke. It isn’t a joke and it isn’t quite a misunderstanding. However, Atticus is still Atticus. Jean Louise hurls at him accusations of being just as bad as a man who speaks at the Citizens’ Council who was, “…the political symbol of everything her father and men like him despised,” but later learns Atticus still doesn’t agree with that man. Like any other situation in which he might find himself, Atticus will let people speak their piece and do what they do. But, the moment any person–be they black, white, rich, poor–tries to hurt someone else, he will use every ounce of his skill and the entire justice system to mount a defense. Justice and law are ultimately what guide Atticus Finch.

I think it is also important to remember that Go Set A Watchman isn’t a proper sequel. It was written first and we see plainly that many details changed when it was rewritten to become To Kill A Mockingbird. We don’t know what inspired those changes or what felt the most true to Harper Lee. We don’t know why there seems to be such a disconnect between the Atticus we have come to love and the Atticus in this new light. We don’t need to read these two books as if one supersedes the other. They are two different parts of a long history. It’s also key to remember that Go Set A Watchman isn’t the end result, To Kill A Mockingbird is. I don’t think we can responsibly take everything we read in Watchman as the final say in the matter of Maycomb and its citizens.

There is no excuse for a Citizens’ Council. But after reading this, I still love Atticus. It is probable that Watchman is too distant from Mockingbird to taint my love for Atticus or Calpurnia or anyone. They are 55 years apart in publication, 20 years apart in storyline, and leaps and bounds apart in creative skill on Harper Lee’s part. Go Set A Watchman, it seems, is where Harper Lee learned to write a book. It is not as great as To Kill A Mockingbird, and not just because we lose our idealized view of Atticus.

Watchman isn’t as rich. It isn’t as well worked out. It is a good read, but if it weren’t for Mockingbird, it probably wouldn’t be much of a blip on the literary landscape. It is the novel written so that Lee could change the world with To Kill A Mockingbird. There are sentences and entire paragraphs taken directly from this book and put into To Kill A Mockingbird. There are themes and patterns seen in both books. There are also details we see played out in Mockingbird that we can tell from Watchman were changed in later drafts. For example, the details surrounding the pivotal rape and race case in Mockingbird are dramatically different in Watchman. I have read To Kill A Mockingbird at least 11 times now, and as such a frequent reader of that book, reading Watchman was kind of like reading original notes and ideas that eventually changed shape and took a wholly different form in the end. It was amazing. Atticus’s racist tendencies aside, reading this book was amazing.

I can’t even begin to comment on what Harper Lee’s intentions were for this book. But it seems in Go Set A Watchman, all the rage and betrayal she might have felt as a Southern woman maturing during the Civil Rights Movement were expressed in this book. And it seems possible To Kill A Mockingbird was the hope that followed.

As Jean Louise says, “[Atticus] has left [us] flopping like a flounder at low tide.” It is a side of Atticus we never dreamed possible. But this book is remarkable, in its way. Had this book been published in 1960, it would not have gone well. In fact, without the existence of To Kill A Mockingbird it probably still wouldn’t go well.

Watchman depicts white southerners, including Atticus, as the antagonizers of Civil Rights. America loves its heroes, especially its white heroes. In this book, Scout is heroic but not in the same way as Atticus in Mockingbird. While Mockingbird is a glimmer of hope, Watchman is a cold calling out of segregation and racist practices. There isn’t a holy white Savior–a white man is just as likely to be racist as he is to say Hidy-do. America prefers to see white heroes coming to the defense of black people in plight, and that simply doesn’t happen in Go Set A Watchman.

Ultimately, Go Set A Watchman isn’t as romantic or warmhearted or endearing as To Kill A Mockingbird. It is more an evolution of personal conscience. It revisits a few old characters, breaks our hearts a time or two, but shows us the wonderful human Scout turned out to be.

Death, Riots, and Justice

Freddie Gray is the most recent newsworthy death in a long line of deaths–deaths of young, black men at the hands of police officers.

The media has taken to highlighting all these deaths in recent years and months, focusing on the death itself and the events that follow. While this media coverage is often skewed to suit certain perspectives, either to portray the victim as the villain or to portray police officers as corrupted beings (consumers are free to pick and choose news outlets that cater to their biases), this media coverage is ultimately good, I think, because it forces broader American culture to acknowledge a trend that isn’t recent: That if you are a black male you are more likely to die of violence.

What really gets me about this is, young black man after young black man is murdered by police officers. (I will grant ambiguity where ambiguity is present, in addition to the necessary due process. Please note that before attacking my word choice of “murdered.”) We have video of Eric Garner being smothered and killed. We have reports of witnesses lying to the grand jury in St. Louis. And now we have a 25-year-old man dead from a spinal injury, an injury surrounded by confusion and mystery as to what happened during the 45 minutes after he was arrested and finally taken to the police station and paramedics were called.

After all these reports and more, so many people still have the knee-jerk response to condemn the victim, implying the victim deserved it. I read Facebook statuses after Michael Brown’s death expressing a connection between Brown’s marijuana use and his death, the implication being that since he did marijuana it’s okay he died. I read articles and more Facebook statuses about how honorable and noble police officers are. I am not refuting that police work is an honorable job–it is. We need police officers and it is without question a difficult and dangerous job. But when person after person is killed by police, we can’t simply throw off the term “murder” because the perpetrator was an honorable police officer. Police officers aren’t infallible. And it should go without saying that if a police officer kills a suspect he is acting as officer, attorney, and judge all at once. The killing of young black men is a trend, not an anomaly.

The obvious fact that people are missing is this: Young men are dead. Dead. They are dead at the hands of authority and power, thus there is a tendency to think that the victim had it coming. Because why else would a police officer kill a person? He had to have had it coming. But the truth is, a police officer who kills someone deserves due process just like everyone else. But being a police officer doesn’t remove the possibility of murder, as many people seem to believe it does.

And as for the riots, well, I am not one to condone rioting. I think it causes more harm than anything else, driving existing wedges ever deeper in addition to the physical and emotional harm that results from rioting. But as that great man Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

I contend that the cry of “black power” is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? (Emphasis added.)

At the time MLK said this, he specifically cited the economic plight of the “Negro” and how it had worsened over the years. Decades later, what is it America has failed to hear? Economics are one thing, but what of the reality that just by being black and male you are more likely to be killed? What about the suspicion, doubt, and fear that arise just because of skin color? If Freddie Gray had been white would police officers still be heralded as heroes? Would there be riots? Chances are there would be no need for riots because by virtue of being born white, his voice would have been heard.

So the next time this happens–and unfortunately the chances of an officer killing a black man again is high–try to listen to the victim’s family. Listen to the community. Look under the riots and listen to what the underlying problem is.

Men are dying. Men are dying and their deaths are unnecessary, unjust. To stop this trend, we must listen. We cannot let the voices of these men go unheard.

America the Beautiful

Ray-CharlesGearing up for Independence Day (more often called the Fourth of July) I always listen to Ray Charles–especially his version of “America the Beautiful.”

Once you hear his version of that song, every other rendition feels empty. I think his version of that song is a far superior personification of this country than our current national anthem. But that’s just me.

As I listened to Ray Charles sing that song again, a few lines stuck out to me:

“America! America!

May God thy gold refine

Till all success be nobleness

And every gain Divine!”

It is common that I receive a lot of angry feedback to any criticisms I make about my country. It is no secret that I don’t exactly fit in with American culture and would love to live abroad. But I am continually frustrated by the attitude that by criticising America’s faults I am somehow detracting from its “greatness.”

Those lines from “America the Beautiful” stuck out to me today because I want them to become true. I don’t want America to happily skip down the path of arrogant self-righteousness it has been travelling. I want all our successes to be noble. I want to see the end of what I consider to be a mockery of our claimed values. I want the inscription on the Statue of Liberty to be true. I want America to stop acting like Regina George.

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We proclaim liberty, equality, and freedom. Yet we have a distressing legacy of inequality, hatred, paternalism, and imperialism. When people try to come to our country for a better life, we kick them out, separate them from their families, spit on them–and that has been true with each wave of immigration.

All cultures experience some level of ethnocentrism, meaning each culture believes it is the best culture–it’s an “Us v. Them” attitude. The United States is no exception, except we take it to the next level. An Italian might say Italy is the best, but  the sentiment won’t be filled with resentment toward everyone else. Italians might think Italian-made pasta and leather and football is the best (come on, they’re probably right) but they won’t behave like it’s their way or the highway. Instead of attempting to enforce their culture, they’ll share it.

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We constantly judge other cultures by our own standards and conclude that non-Americans must suffer so, or are pitiful because they don’t live here. We are not better than everyone else. Country lines do not decide value and happiness and worth. All cultures are different, all cultures matter.

I don’t like to say there is a “best” country in the world. That is impossible to measure, especially since so much depends on personal opinion and values. However, of the measurable markers, the U.S. does not measure up. We are one of three countries that doesn’t require maternity or paternity leave. A recent report says at the current rate it will take until 2121 to reach parity in the federal government. On the Global Peace Index our rank is 101 out of 162 (a drop from 99 several weeks ago). Our government is basically owned by big business. We claim to welcome the tired, poor, and huddled masses, but we absolutely reject anyone who dares come.

We are categorically not the best, but not only do we insist we are the best, we stomp on anyone who disagrees–even if that someone is not American.

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My purpose in writing this isn’t to spew America-hate. My purpose is to propose an alternate way of thinking. Namely, instead of insisting America is perfect the way it is, we work to make all our successes noble. Instead of yelling, “We’re the best! We’re the best!” while running an interior monologue detailing why America is better than everyone else, we embrace our culture while loving everyone else’s. It is possible to love your own culture without hating on others.

And the idea that ignoring a country’s problems is the ideal form of patriotism is just plain bizarre. As the song says, we need to refine our gold. Or in other words, we need to refine ourselves. We need to refine our attitudes, our politics, our intercultural relations. The world doesn’t revolve around us and it’s time we stop acting like it does.

So this Independence Day, celebrate the great things in our history. Celebrate that a small band of revolutionaries beat the British army and navy against all odds. Celebrate that we value freedom and independence and individuality and bravery. Celebrate the men and women who have worked and fought to preserve those values. Please, celebrate these things! But don’t forget that America is far from perfect. Don’t forget that other cultures and countries matter and don’t define themselves against an American backdrop. Don’t forget that there are people within our country-lines who suffer and don’t experience the freedom we claim to value so highly.

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America has a long way to go. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get there.

Author: Tamsen Maloy |

 

Declaring My Mormon Feminism & Why We Need It

I confess I am terrified to post this, and I shouldn’t be. I wrote it several months ago, and have been sitting on it because I’m scared of saying something wrong. I’m scared of retribution. I’m scared of inadvertently hurting other people, or giving the wrong impression. But falling to our fears has never gotten anyone anywhere.

I have decided to post this at long last because of Kate Kelly’s call to a disciplinary hearing.

The Sunday prior to the news the lesson in Relief Society was on the importance of Priesthood keys. This is supposed to be a great and important lesson, and in my ward parts of it were. However, at some point multiple women in my class took over the conversation and said how women are supposed to support the men and make sure they go on missions.

As a human, I think supporting others is great. It is a necessity for healthy relationships. That said, I don’t exist to support other people. It wasn’t my responsibility in high school to make sure my guy friends went on missions. It isn’t my responsibility to make sure they remain worthy Priesthood holders. I will gladly talk, love, and support. But that isn’t my purpose of existence.

Neither is my sole purpose to pop out babies, as another woman in my class mentioned. It was the tired remark of, “Men have Priesthood, but women get to have babies.” There are so many things wrong with that statement, the most obvious being that fatherhood is the parallel to motherhood, not Priesthood. But whenever someone tells me I get to have babies, and that that is the greatest contribution I can make, I think, “So… what you’re saying is that thus far in my life I’ve contributed nothing? And that so long as I remain single and childless I will continue to contribute nothing?” I know enough of my Heavenly Parents to know they value me for much more than my potential to give birth. But it is tiresome to hear it over and over again.

I bring up this Relief Society lesson for two reasons: One, it is another point on the lengthy list for why we need feminism in Mormonism. Motherhood and family are wonderful, wonderful things. But womanhood is not defined by them. Two, in this particular lesson I didn’t speak my opinion. It was one of those times when I just wasn’t sure what to say so instead I tuned out for the duration of that conversation and started writing a fairy tale, made a list of what my bakery would be like if I had one, and wrote a few affirmations including, “I am me, I am independent, I don’t exist to support men.” It was a long discussion. Or maybe I just temporarily turned manic and did a lot in a short period of time.

After that lesson, I was frustrated I didn’t say anything because I don’t want women to think that they are damaged or there is something wrong with them or they are sinners for having goals beyond marriage and family. A few days later, however, I was somewhat relieved I hadn’t said anything. My bishop sat in on that class and with the news about Kate Kelly, I had a sudden fear that if I had spoken up, I could face at the very least an uncomfortable interview just because I have feminist values and talked about them in Relief Society. That is a horrific thing to feel a few days after church.

I don’t want my church to be one where people with questions–be they questions about doctrine, tradition, culture, or anything–feel fear in the face of speaking them. I want the church I have loved for 25 years to be a safe haven. Where questions and concerns–as taboo as they may be–are greeted with the compassion I so easily imagine Christ showing to everyone he meets. So it is with that in mind I am taking my fear head on declaring as loudly as my pen–or in this case, keyboard–will allow, that I am a Mormon Feminist. I believe my Heavenly Parents see my gifts and voice as assets just as valuable as my fellow brothers. And with that, read on.

Feminism at large can be tricky because there isn’t a “Feminist Rulebook,” meaning there can be many feminists who have different ideas of what feminism seeks. This seems to be especially true in the Mormon feminist realm. However, despite differing opinions on many topics, feminists will agree that overall what we seek is gender equality.

I have decided to make my thoughts on the subject more well known because I see brave women reverently but proudly declare how they feel. And then I see people turn them away or call them sinners or tell them they should just leave the church. How can I turn my back on these brave women by omitting my affiliation with them? And it is a form of turning your back when you remain silent in the face of people or events about which you feel strongly.

So what does it mean to come out as a Mormon feminist? Again, all feminists–both men and women–will have slightly varying opinions on different matters. So what I believe can’t speak for all Mormon feminists–but hopefully will positively represent many and will be in line with the general philosophy.

As an adolescent making my way through the Young Women program, I generally felt frustration. I saw all the activities that the boys did and hated that as young women we were never taught any useful life skills. I hated having lesson after lesson about how I need to get married ASAP. I hated that “Girls Camp” consisted of beauty regimens as activities and despite being “certified” to tie knots and light fires, I never lit a fire at girls camp until my final year when I insisted I do so.

In short, I hated being treated like a dainty, pedestal-ridden baby-maker (Before anyone gets mad, let me clarify that having babies is awesome and wonderful and should never ever be frowned upon. Also, if one is dainty, that is also wonderful. I, however, am not therefore don’t enjoy being treated as such). The scouts and young men received all manner of attention, budgets, and accolades while we young women painted cardboard picture frames (Seriously–that was an activity one week. I painted mine solid red as quickly as I could then said, “Okay, I’m outta here,” and left. We didn’t even learn how to make frames, we just painted them!).

And then I graduated from high school. One of the first Relief Society lessons I attended was in my home ward when my Bishop taught and answered any questions the women had. For some reason, most of the questions pertained to sex. I have to admit, it was somewhat weird learning intimate details about the sex lives of the people in my ward, most of whom are of retiring age. But what I remember most is the brief summary that all men think about sex constantly, and that if a girl hugs a guy he is immediately thinking about having sex with said girl, regardless of relationship status. I started to wonder if I should repent for hugging my recently departed missionary friends goodbye.

Let that sink in: I was wondering if I should repent for giving out HUGS! Hugs! A fairly universal sign of affection and comfort! Gee, whiz.

The lesson implied, as is ever implied and/or bluntly stated in the church, that women are responsible for men’s actions when it comes to sexual purity and appetite. Let me point out that that teaching is completely false and is in fact contrary to our doctrine of agency.

I have since realized that hugging is perfectly fine (obviously).

Leaving Young Women and entering Relief Society as a Young Single Adult (YSA) is about when people earnestly begin to ask you when you’re getting married. If you are an unmarried YSA there is a general attitude (yea for places and people to whom this hasn’t happened!) that there is either something wrong with you (you’re a psycho, you’re lazy, you’re not living in line with the gospel, you’re too picky) or that you are hopelessly unfortunate and deserve pity–especially if you are a woman.

I have never been married so can’t speak from first hand experience, but I am absolutely sure marriage is incredible and wonderful when you find the right person. But that’s the key component: You have to find the right person! I have observed that there is a huge emphasis on marriage as a sacred Third Entity instead of encouraging people to find the right person. Thus people get married lickety-split because they think it is their duty to the church. Sometimes this works out. Other times, it results in hasty divorce or a lifetime of misery.

At the age of 25 I am old enough to realize that I am absolutely okay being single. Is that to say every guy I’ve ever dated was horrible? No! I have had the privilege of associating with some truly great men. But my life’s success is not measured by my relationship status, and likewise my personhood is not defined by it. And besides that, I’m only 25! That is by no means old! And in all honesty, I sort of resent the fact that so many people think my primary concern should be getting married as opposed to furthering my education or seeking financial independence or travelling the world or basically just being me. Anyone who is a counselor or married can correct me, but it seems that if you put marriage as the sacred Third Entity before yourself or before your potential partner, you are setting yourself up for an unhealthy marriage. One must be happy and okay alone before one can be happy and okay as a partner. Right?

Now, what’s all this rambling about? It seeks to explain why there is a need for a feminist movement within the church. And let me tell you, there is a need.

Let’s jump back to when I was in high school. For the most part, I have been blessed with good self-esteem and a positive body image. But then I heard Elder Oaks’ talk in which he told the young women we become porn when we don’t dress to the church’s standard of modesty (the first time I felt objectified, by the way). Shortly after that, my bust grew rapidly to a size 34DDD. With a size 34DDD, shirts, dresses, swimming suits, sports bras, regular bras don’t fit properly. Even shirts that are designed to be “modest” are tighter and lower-cut. Most clothing is designed to fit a C-cup or smaller so busty girls just have a difficult time.

With my large bust and increased difficulty in keeping everything covered, Elder Oaks’ talk stalked my mind. I became paranoid and felt guilty–felt guilty for something I have absolutely no control over! I stopped swimming, I stopped working out because swimming suits and workout clothes are too pornographic for the young men (my mentality then, not what is in any way true). I developed a belief that if only my boobs were smaller I’d be happier. I’d date more. I could run a marathon (While I have not yet run a full marathon, I have run three half-marathons–all with a large bust! Lesson: Don’t let your perceived body “flaws” stop you from doing what you want.)

One day I was crying because I needed something to fit and it wouldn’t. I tearfully explained to my mom about my concerns over being immodest and that I didn’t want to become porn to men and make them sin, and quoted Elder Oaks. I know my mom loves Elder Oaks (I do, too). But she looked at me and forcefully declared, “Elder Oaks has never had boobs!”

And she’s right, obviously. That is a mistake made over and over again by men in leadership positions, and not just about anatomy. As hard as they might try to understand what we as women live through, they have never been women. They might think they have a grip on what we need and want and experience, but they are trapped by their male biases simply because they are men. Does that make them bad people? No. But it does mean that without the help of women, they can’t meet the needs of women because they do not understand.

It took me years to really let what my mom said sink in, and thus years for my guilt and insecurities to begin to dissipate, but they did eventually start to dissipate. Unfortunately this was followed by the realization that this event is a direct result of rape culture, wherein women are taught it is our responsibility to prevent illicit thought or action on the part of men. Yep. The Mormon church has a major rape culture going on.

I have a gazillion (yes, that many) more experiences I could call upon to examine why the Mormon church needs a feminist movement. But as the hot topic of the day is female ordination and the Ordain Women movement, I think it is time to move onto that.

I have thought long and hard about female ordination. It has consumed many hours of thought and those hours of thought have reshaped the way I listen to talks and lessons at church. This new lens is frequently heartbreaking, yet I persevere because even when my world and my church are tumultuous and painful and seemingly unbearable, I do have faith in Christ and it is his guidance and example I want to follow.

I just have two more experiences before I really move onto what I think about all this.

First, from my childhood. I grew up in a single-parent household. Before my parents’ divorce, my dad was around but not involved with the church so there really wasn’t a Priesthood presence in my home. And after the divorce, well, obviously there still wasn’t Priesthood around.

I remember sitting in Sunday School classes, Primary lessons, and Young Women’s lessons about Father’s Blessings and feeling like those lessons didn’t apply. I felt outcast and like I was being punished for the choices made by others.

But what if women had held the Priesthood? My mom could have given me blessings. She could have healed me, sent me off to the first day of school with a Mother’s Blessing, given me blessings of comfort and guidance. And what is the reason she wasn’t able to? As a lifelong member of the LDS church, I don’t have an answer other than tradition, and tradition is not good enough.

Another experience: A year ago I was called to be an Activities Committee Co-Chair in my singles ward. I thought it an odd choice since I never go to activities, but I accepted the call with the assumption I have with all callings: That the Lord and the Spirit know more than I do.

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t my favorite calling. It seemed like instead of actually planning activities we just rehashed all the activities set down by the very first activities committee for that ward.

At any rate, we were preparing for the ward campout and had a basic plan. Maybe it was a bad plan, I don’t know. But I do know that one day we had a plan, the next day that plan was changed without consulting or telling me–a co-chair, need I remind you. How did that happen? Well, my Priesthood holding co-chair discussed it with a Priesthood holding 2nd Counselor of the Bishopric.

What did I learn from that experience? I learned that my opinion and plans and presence don’t really matter. What matters is the Priesthood and since I don’t have it, plans can be completely changed without consulting me, despite that at face-value my opinion is supposed to matter.

One grand theme Mormon feminists talk about is being excluded from decision-making circumstances and opportunities. An activities committee might not be the most important example one could come up with. But, as we are constantly reminded, every calling is important. So why was my voice ignored and shut out?

Is it necessary for women to hold the Priesthood in order for women to be treated better and to be truly valued as much as church leaders claim women already are? Maybe, maybe not. Many will argue that the Priesthood isn’t necessary for women to have a more inclusive role in the church and that may very well be true. However, it seems that as long as only men hold the Priesthood, women will continue to be devalued and not taken seriously. It is reminiscent of the “separate but equal” mentality used to justify segregation.

As I said before, I have spent a very long time pondering these things and working them out in my mind. I have worked out that it makes absolute sense that women hold the Priesthood and that we will at some point do so, in addition to learning more about Heavenly Mother and her roles. I am now in the “bring it to the Lord” phase of figuring out what will happen in the church. As I am still in that process I don’t want to proclaim to know everything (even if I were finished with the process I still wouldn’t want to claim to know everything! This is a line upon line church, right?). However, as I read and watch and listen I find more hope and peace and love within the Mormon feminist community than I do in other places.

I had a teacher in high school who, among other great words of wisdom, said, “Pay attention to what makes you cry.” And I do. I pay close attention. Sometimes I work out exactly what triggers the tears, other times I don’t. But when I watch video footage of women request entrance into the Priesthood Session of General Conference, I cry. When I read the experiences of women who desire Priesthood authority, I cry. When I think back to my childhood and remember how much of an outcast I felt simply because no one in my household could give me blessings, I cry.

And, with the exception of my memory from childhood, I am not crying out of sadness. A bit of heartbreak, yes. But more so out of beauty and hope and love. These women aren’t rabble-rousers who know nothing about the Gospel. They aren’t protesters. These are men and women who have served missions, are active in the church, who know and understand the Gospel, and who have strong testimonies of Jesus Christ and His church. So what is really making me cry? I believe it is the Spirit. The Spirit is strong with these women and it touches my heart.

And to be completely and brutally blunt, these women remind me more of Christ than the people who turn them away or beat them with scorn. Because what are they doing? They are asking for opportunities to be closer to and learn more from God. Christ is our ultimate example. He sought wisdom from our Heavenly Parents. Why are women being shamed and turned away for doing the same thing?

I’m still working things out through prayer. But I find it increasingly hard to believe that a God who truly loves his sons and daughters equally would allow a culture to persist that holds one gender on a caged pedestal and allows the other to be free and make decisions.

And so I pray. I pray for answers. I pray for a healthy dialogue between the Brethren and concerned women of the church. I pray for patience and peace. And I hope that by the time I have daughters, they can be a part of this church and feel their talents and opinions are truly valued, and not just whether or not they have fertile, fertile loins.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is truly beautiful, and it is a message of hope and peace. But we can’t wear the name of Christ like a badge of courage while even one person feels fear because of their questions. He went after the one. It is our job to dispel fear and include all our brothers and sisters with the same love and compassion as our Savior.

Author: Tamsen Maloy |

Black Widow and the Role of Women

article-1335353607565-12b9e3d5000005dc-27957_466x590Recently I overheard a distressing conversation in which a group of female twenty-somethings discussed Marvel’s Black Widow (the film version, not the comics). This group called Black Widow “one of those nasty girls,” because she was working with Captain America in his most recent film, instead of Hawkeye. Note at this point we don’t know all the details of the backstory between Hawkeye and Black Widow. It could be romantic, it could be platonic. Either way, it doesn’t make her a slut.

This struck a cord. Black Widow is probably my favorite Marvel character from the chain of Marvel films that continue to imbue our modern film experience. Thus far, she hasn’t had even one romantic or sexual relationship, let alone enough to qualify her as “one of those nasty girls.”

Overhearing this conversation brought up a few different issues for me: First, the role of women and how it would seem that regardless of a female character’s behavior or the type of relationship with male characters, that female character might always be relegated to romance or sexuality–even if it is unwarranted.

Second, the affliction of slut-shaming. Personally, I don’t care what your sex life is like or what you deem moral or immoral. What I do care about is if you shame other people for failing to live up to your personal standards, instead of their own. Shaming is never okay. And slut-shaming, with its presumptions and name-calling and limited scope is woman-centric in a highly negative way. I’m not a fan.

Third, this conversation makes me wonder how people view real-life women who have guy friends–whether one or two guy friends, or many. I myself have a friendship history made up primarily of guy friends–most of whom really were just friends. Do I have a reputation as “one of those nasty girls” that I have been blind too, because of my list of awesome guy friends?

In full disclosure, I’m unsure of how reflective this conversation is of the population at large. I prefer to think it is an anomaly. Maybe it was a group of girls buying into the “gossip equals good conversation” mentality. Maybe the people involved have so little experience with the opposite sex they just don’t understand that a woman can associate with men without being sexual or romantic.

However, given that Black Widow herself is quite the anomaly in film, I worry that the mentality of this conversation is not limited to just this group of women. Black Widow is an anomaly in that so far she hasn’t been a romantic interest. She has been an independent, kick-ass (literally) female character with as much brains as fighting prowess. She’s an anomaly because most often female characters are Black Widow’s opposite.

Most often, female characters exist to look sexy. Most often female characters exist to be the romantic lead for the male protagonist or to be the damsel in distress or to inspire the men. Most often, female characters are surrounded by sex and romance. They are rarely there as independent, fully-rounded characters. Thus, it might not be too much of a stretch for film-goers to view Black Widow as the sexy, romantic lead even in the absence of sex or romance for her character.

And I want to restate that in this I am only speaking of the films, not the comics. I am not a comic reader therefore do not want to speak for the comics or comic readers. This is strictly film.

So let’s get nitty-gritty about this by way of subheadings.

Role of Women and Female Characters

This conversation could very well be a symptom of the pervasive attitudes towards women in film, namely that women in film should support the men and/or be the love interest or sex object for the men.

I’m impatiently waiting for this mentality to fizzle and die. Love stories are wonderful. Love is one of the most basic and common of human experiences, therefore stories about it are expected and great. That does not mean that every female character in the known universe is obsessed with love or only exists for the benefit of male characters.

Remember when she beat up a group of guys before that other guy beat up one? Skills.

Remember when she beat up a group of guys before that other guy beat up one? Skills.

Black Widow has not once had a definitive relationship with any character in the Marvel films. Thus far she has been fairly asexual, meaning there hasn’t been any implication of sex or romance.

And yet, despite her saving lives, proving her mental brilliance, her backstory of which we only see the occasional tid-bit (Black Widow movie, where are you????), the absence of any love story, she is still relegated to the love interest and what she does with her body.

Are we so far gone in the idea that women only exist for romance and sex that even in the absence of those traits, that is all we see?

Slut-Shaming

Ah, the old tradition of slut-shaming. It is not too original to relate this trend to The Scarlet Letter, but it is such a very apt description.

scarletletterHester Prynne wears the scarlet letter ‘A’ for “adultery” in her Puritan town. SHE is the one who wears the letter. SHE is the one who bears the scrutiny and mockery. And yet, doesn’t it take two people to create a child the traditional way? Isn’t that basic biology and sex ed? YES!!! It is!! But Hester’s co-adulterer is safe from all shame!

We don’t make people wear letters anymore, but that doesn’t mean we’ve moved past shaming or judgement that is most often aimed at women. That is why we have characters like Barney Stinson who is “awesome” and we have characters like Black Widow (who hasn’t had any love interests that we know of) who is “one of those nasty girls.”

The discrepancy is revolting, and the shaming needs to stop.

Translation Into Real Life

Does this mentality translate into real life? How?

Most reasonable people will not watch movies and think of them as a roadmap for how real life ought to be. That does not mean the lessons and values we see in film don’t translate into our everyday perceptions.

Study after study shows that how women are portrayed in media–including film–impacts the well-being of women in reality. It impacts body image, self-worth, health, dreams and aspirations. It also drives many women to feel they are pitted one against another, instead of feeling unified as women.

I’ll let the website for Beauty Redefined fill you in on all that. They have PhD’s on the matter, after all. www.beautyredefined.net

In order to write this piece I re-watched Iron Man 2, even though I didn’t particularly like that film, just to make sure my assessment of Black Widow is correct. I maintain this stance: Black Widow is nothing but professional, brilliant, and exceptional in all her depictions on film. In Iron Man 2, it was Tony Stark who had the dirty or inappropriate things to say. Even during what could be the most innuendo-filled line delivered by Black Widow in Iron Man 2 is devoid of any innuendo because of her almost bored-sounding delivery.

Black Widow is totally amazing. And to saddle her with the degrading stereotypes often reserved for women that her character rejects completely… Well, it’s simply ridiculous to put it nicely.

Author: Tamsen Maloy |

 

Mental Illness Is Only Part of the Story

I am quite positive countless others with more knowledge, more experience, and more eloquence have written or spoken about this topic. After all, it has taken a life of its own via twitter, forums, manifestos, blog posts, news coverage. The gamut of attention is focused on the Isla Vista tragedy, as it should be.

While no one should relish tragedy, it can’t be denied this incident has put a spotlight on violence towards women–a spotlight that has been desperately needed.

That said, one common refrain is, “Rodger is just a maniac, that’s all. He’s just mentally ill.” I am no psychologist, and I won’t pretend to be one. I have no idea of the true mental state of Rodger before he committed his crimes. But regardless of his mental health, jumping on the bandwagon of, “Oh, he was just mentally ill,” is a mistake.

Not only is it damaging to other non-violent people who are mentally ill because it increases an already present stigma, it ignores the actual problem at hand: That misogyny kills.

Rodger’s manifesto was around before the tragedy. The police knew about it, were warned, and did nothing because they thought he was harmless. A guy revealing actual plans to murder people is harmless? It’s been said countless times, but I’ll say it again: Misogyny is so ingrained in our culture and so expected, that a man admitting he has plans to murder women is ignored and proclaimed harmless.

This needs to stop.

(Again, let me reiterate my lack of a degree in Psychology. I never even took one Psychology class so take it with a grain of salt when I discuss mental illness.)

As I understand mental illness, there are degrees to any disease. Anyone suffering from mild bipolar is still technically mentally ill. But are they capable of living fulfilling lives if their bipolar is managed? Yes! Mental illness, while important and something that needs attention as much as any physical ailment, does not excuse murder. Sources point to Rodger being mentally ill. Okay. Granted he was mentally ill, making his illness a scapegoat solves nothing. Plenty of people have mental illnesses and choose every day to not go on a killing rampage.

There is much reason for mental health reforms to take place, and for stigmas against such illnesses to be removed. Harping on every murderer’s mental illness–if he has one–doesn’t remove this stigma or promote these reforms.

To focus on mental illness and thus pity someone who commits such an atrocious crime dismisses everything that led to the incident in the first place. Mental illness can play a part in tragedy. But it isn’t the whole story. Dismissing Rodger’s actions simply as a result of mental illness disregards the multidimensionality of mental illness, as well as the other factors that contributed to this tragedy.

It wasn’t mental illness that killed seven people–it was Elliot Rodger. It was a culture of misogyny. It was a belief that women are objects and exist for male pleasure. It was the idea that women’s refusal to sleep with Rodger is a crime. It was a misconstrued understanding of masculinity that says control, sex, power, and violence are the epitome of manhood.

This was premeditated. He didn’t make the choice to kill in a vacuum. He is an expression of a culture that says women are property and exist for male pleasure.

It is easy to label someone as psychotic without addressing the real issue at hand. That issue is misogyny and sexism. It is here, it is real. That is the tragic beauty of #YesAllWomen. It shows us just how real the violence and fear really are.

Author: Tamsen Maloy |

#YesAllWomen – My Own Two Cents

My second semester of college I rode the bus to school. One day, as I sat in the back reading my book as was my wont to do, a man who had been sleeping since I got on, awoke. He turned to me, looked me up and down, and commenced to try to woo me by explaining he was in a gang and all the “great” things he’d done. Then he told me he’d follow me to class.

About a year ago, I was walking down the street toward my car, which was in a parking garage. A man I had noticed on the corner heading the other direction, suddenly appeared next to me. He kept trying to talk to me, ask me personal questions like where I live. When I didn’t respond how he wanted he flipped out. Literally. He had some kind of angry episode. He wanted to follow me to my house, to my car. He wouldn’t leave me alone until I said I was meeting my mom and that I had a boyfriend–both of which were untrue.

#YesAllWomen

Here’s the thing about being a woman: We basically know we have our own autonomy but we also know not everyone sees it that way. The Isla Vista shootings, and countless experiences women have had, prove that.

This tragedy highlights in terror how women are so frequently viewed as objects for male attainment. We are viewed as objects of pleasure, vessels for sex. We all know this. In dating–those of us who date men–we search for men who transcend the habit of seeing us as objects, as prizes, as beings meant to be quiet and do what the men say. We search, but are not always successful.

I for one am tired of it. I have been for… oh, always.

I’m lucky in that I have associated with and dated some great men who don’t feel this way. However, I am also unlucky in that I have associated with and dated men who do feel entitled to me, my company, my body, my future, etc. I think you would be hard pressed to find a woman who has never encountered a man who feels entitled to her. If such a woman exists, she is probably the luckiest women in the world.

To put it starkly, this event highlights a common occurrence. Now, I don’t expect every entitled or jilted man to go on a shooting rampage. That would be a horrifying and inaccurate  and unfair outlook. That doesn’t mean there aren’t men who feel entitled to women everywhere. This feeling of entitlement can manifest in seemingly innocuous ways, in addition to the more threatening, and all the way to the tragic as we’ve seen in Isla Vista.

In short…

Yes, all women have a right to say no–whether it be to a request for a date, to sex,  to a kiss, to even a simple conversation–without fear of retribution. Retribution is anything done in consequence to a rejection that negatively impacts the woman who said no. This can be as tragic as a killing or rape, all the way down to telling other men to avoid her because, “she says no.”

Yes, all women have a right to turn a man down without explanation or justification. “I’m just not interested,” is an adequate reason to say no.

Yes, all women have a right to walk down the street without being harassed.

Yes, all women have a right to go to graduate school without being deemed “undateable” or “not marriage material.”

Yes, all women have a right to wear whatever they deem comfortable or appropriate to their standards without “asking for it” or being told their attire is “causing men harm.”

Yes, all women can be interested in only friendship–and that is okay, not an invitation for rumors or violence.

Yes, all women have a right to stand up for themselves and express their opinion without being abandoned or beaten or called names.

Yes, all women deserve to be in a mutually respectful relationship.

Yes, all women are autonomous beings with dreams, goals, desires, thoughts. No, they are not a prize for righteous living.

Yes, all women have a right to go to the gym, the beach, anywhere and everywhere without being ogled.

The feeling of entitlement to women is a blight on our society. It is something that in this horrible incident has resulted in numerous deaths. Death should never be a consequence for saying no.

“No” is a word of empowerment and as such deserves respect.

And bear in mind this Margaret Atwood quote that has gone viral, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” In a culture where this sentiment rings true for so many, we need a drastic cultural shift.

#YesAllWomen

 Author: Tamsen Maloy |