Catcalling, Heartbreak, and Mass Murder

(This post contains some strong language.)

Recently, there has been a video making the rounds of a woman getting catcalled as she walks through New York City.  Many people, men and women alike, seem to want to dismiss this as harmless.  They wonder what the problem is with it.  They’re just saying hi.  Can’t she take a compliment?  What’s the big deal?

Here’s a pro-tip for the fellas out there who might be confused by this.  Because I’m seeing a lot of comments that indicate confusion.  Fellas, if you want to pay a lady a compliment and flirt, don’t do it on the street.  Go to a club or something.  It’s a sidewalk, not a singles bar.

The issue is this:  Men who catcall at women are not offering compliments.  They are showing their power.  Getting catcalled is scary.  Most women don’t leave the house looking for compliments.  We just want to be able to go about our lives without having to engage in exhausting banter.  Being told that a stranger finds my body sexually attractive does not make me feel good about myself.  It makes me scared.

Here’s why.  Quite often (and I’ve been on the receiving end of this) if a woman politely declines an offer for a phone number, dinner, coffee or what-have-you, the catcaller does not simply shrug and walk on.  No, instead, he becomes angry.  “Stuck up bitch.”  “Fucking Whore.”  The so-called compliment shifts immediately to violence.  And quite frankly, as a woman walking down the street, if an adult man decided to become violent towards me, there is little I could do to stop him.  In another real life example of the quick shift from “compliment” to violence, the woman in the video is getting rape threats because she dared to speak out about how uncomfortable and awful it feels to have strangers harassing her on the street.

Culturally, many men are taught that they are entitled to a woman’s attention, body, and time.  Motorcycle racers are often flanked by scantily clad women, winning bicyclists receive congratulatory kisses from podium girls, and in the movies, the hero always gets the girl in the end because, well, he deserves it after all he went through.  Who cares if Prince Charming is actually a knuckle-dragging wife-beater.  He busted his ass to get her out of the tower, so she better be grateful for the chance to marry him.  Our culture is saturated by the notion that women are a reward to which men are entitled.

Which brings me to this.

Last week, there was another school shooting.  It’s coming to light that the killer targeted the students because the girl involved broke up with him.  He was a good, successful kid.  He was the Prince Charming of his own story.  He believed the narrative that he deserved the girl and when the story didn’t play out like he believed it should, he killed her.

Maria Guido over at Mommyish unpacks the issue thoroughly and I would encourage you to read the entire article: Stop Excusing The Actions Of A Murderer By Calling Him ‘Heartbroken’.

All weekend, the same narrative kept playing out in the media – How did this happen? He was attractive. He was popular. He was happy. He was also the product of a society that teaches boys from a very young age that their female counterparts are not peers; they are trophies to be won. News story after news story keeps repeating the narrative that Jaylen was jilted and lovesick. But what about the girl whose life he ended? He believed she was “his.” When she didn’t return his affection – he killed her. This is not a new story. This is a story far too many women know. It’s a narrative way too many women have lost their lives to.

Read more:

Catcalling isn’t the issue.  Quite honestly, neither is mass murder.  They are symptoms (one much more horrifying than the other) of a deeper problem.  We live in a society in which women aren’t recognized fully as people.  Women are still relegated to prize or trophy status, and until that changes, issues like street harassment and domestic/dating violence will continue.

Pronouns, Gender, and Feeling like an Outsider

A few months ago, I read an article about a mother who read The Hobbit to her daughter. The little girl insisted that Bilbo Baggins was, in fact, a girl, and, after some discussion, the mother agreed and began reading the story as if Bilbo was a women, changing the pronouns appropriately.

Initially, I recoiled at this. I’m somewhat of a literary purist, and Tolkien ranks up there, for me, as some of the finest works around. Certainly, his work is the basis for almost all modern fantasy. Changing his work is like changing… the Bible or something. You just don’t do it.

But the more I thought, the more I wondered, “Why not?” How does having Bilbo as a female change the dynamic of the story? Wouldn’t a female Bilbo be an exciting adventure story for our little girls to connect to? Isn’t this what I ask for over and over in stories? A rollicking adventure with a dynamic female lead who isn’t concerned with finding a darn prince for once?

The more I thought, the more I wanted to give it a try. So I did. For the past few months, I have been switching the gender pronoun of the main characters in all of Cricket’s stories. I tried it with the Grasshopper once, but she can read and quickly and firmly corrected me.

It has been an interesting experiment. Hearing the female pronouns over and over is jarring. It has gotten me thinking about how othering our language is. The default for everything is male. That can leave non-males feeling like outsiders and that’s not good.

Slowly, I’ve been getting used to hearing and saying female pronouns. It doesn’t feel as awkward as it did at first. I take that as a positive sign that thought patterns can be changed.

Words are powerful and I want the words my daughters grow up hearing to be about them. I don’t want them growing up feeling like outsiders.

Trolls, Rape, and a Culture of Entitlement

You may have seen the news about the troll who was recently unmasked.  Gawker exposed him a couple of weeks ago in the article Unmasking Reddit’s Violentacrez, The Biggest Troll on the Web to both cheers and outcry.  You may have seen an interview with this man on Anderson Cooper 360 (click here for the video of that interview).  The piece that stood out to me the most, however, was Mary Elizabeth Williams article in The war on 12-year-old girls. If you don’t read anything else about this, read Ms. Williams’ article.

I wasn’t going to write about this.  I’m a firm believer in not feeding trolls.  I imagine that despite the fact that he has been fired from his job, Michael Brutsch is reveling in this attention.  But laying awake at night (and it is 4:30 AM as I am writing this), I can’t stop thinking about these words from Ms. Williams:

I look at my own 12-year-old daughter and I see so much possibility in her. So much strength and wisdom and beauty. And some days, I feel like apologizing to her for everything on the Internet that doesn’t involve tiny pigs. I wish I could write off the likes of Michael Brutsch as one isolated, disturbed individual. And he’s exceptional; a king among trolls, to be sure. But he exists because there is a strong and vocal community of little creeps who are simultaneously aroused and hateful and scared to death of everything that a young girl represents. Who look at her and feel so bad about their own pathetic selves they want nothing more than to tear her down and make her feel ever worse about herself. My dear daughter, I am so sorry these morons are out there, and that you and your friends are in their cross hairs. That they don’t see you as a person but a threat.

My daughters will also be in the crosshairs of people like this someday.  As an adult woman, I live in the crosshairs.

As Ms. Williams writes, Michael Brutsch is not a man alone.  He is not an aberration. His Reddit folders, which included such uplifting titles as Jailbait, Rapebait, Chokeabitch, and Incest, had so many followers that he received an award from Reddit for bringing so much traffic to their site. He was so proud of this award that he brought it with him to show the interviewer from AC360.  Whether or not the average reader of my blog is repulsed by this man, the fact remains that there is a huge section of our culture that thinks Michael Brutsch and the images he and others post are funny, arousing, and worst of all, normal.  He tells AC360 that he got caught up in the excitement of “playing to an audience of college kids.”

College kids.  These are the people that we will someday send our fresh-out-of-high-school girls away to live with.

And it’s not just Michael Brutsch.  A few years ago, there was a Facebook group that existed solely for the purpose of posting images of the battered faces of abused women for mockery.  Remember the “go make me a sandwich” meme?  Many of those pictures were captioned with the following: “Should’ve made me a sandwich.”  Hilarious.  Violence against women is funny.  A joke.  While that group has finally been taken down, a hundred more have sprung up to take its place.

Is it any wonder that 1 in 6 women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime? Should we be surprised that every 9 seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten and that 20% of teens have been the victim of violence at the hands of a boyfriend?

We live in a culture of rape and violence against women, and Michael Brutsch and his legions of followers are clear evidence of that.  There has been widespread outcry in response to the unmasking of this troll.  Cries of free speech abound.  But in all of this, where is the talk of the young girls who have been affected by this? Michael Brutsch and his followers didn’t post these pictures in a vacuum. There are real people behind those pictures, and as we know from the tragic suicide of Amanda Todd, the consequences of all of this are real.  This is life and death.

The people who populate these kinds of message boards don’t think they have to ask permission to post a photo of someone.  They feel entitled to post pictures of underage girls without their consent.  And make no mistake.  This isn’t limited to girls who the posters might claim were “asking for it” by posting a picture on Facebook of themselves in a swimsuit.  With the existence of boards for posting upskirt photos and creeper shots of girls and women who dared to go out in public, it is clear that the we are all “asking for it” simply because we were born female.  They do this to dehumanize us.  To rob us of our power and our voices. To put us in our places.

As I think of my daughters sleeping peacefully in their beds, I wonder what I can do to protect them from people like this.  I can (and do) teach them to speak out, that their bodies are their own and that no one has the right to touch them without permission, that if someone is bullying them and won’t stop when they tell them to knock it off to tell me or another trusted adult.  When they get older, I will teach them not to post, write, or text anything that they don’t want the whole world to see.  I will tell them not to accept a drink in a bar from a stranger (or a friend), and I will tell them that even if they were too scared to say “NO!” that they can still report that rape, even if the rapist was a friend or boyfriend.  But deep inside, all of this sounds to me like I am saying, “And remember, if you’re going out at night, be sure not to wear a short skirt, because you don’t want anyone to think you are asking for it.” At its root, all of this is a form of victim-blaming.

Starting in elementary school, girls have to go out of the room for the special presentation on puberty and menstruation, and that continues each year until they hit high school.  What if, while the girls are out learning about their periods and then later as a part of the high school mandatory health classes, we had a special section for boys that included these instructions*:

  • If a woman is drunk, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is walking alone at night, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is drugged and unconscious, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is wearing a short skirt, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is jogging in a park at 5 am, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman looks like your ex-girlfriend you’re still hung up on, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is asleep in her bed, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is asleep in your bed, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is doing her laundry, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is in a coma, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman changes her mind in the middle of or about a particular activity, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman has repeatedly refused a certain activity, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is not yet a woman, but a child, don’t rape her.
  • If your girlfriend or wife is not in the mood, don’t rape her.
  • If your step-daughter is watching TV, don’t rape her.
  • If you break into a house and find a woman there, don’t rape her.
  • If your friend thinks it’s okay to rape someone, tell him it’s not, and that he’s not your friend.
  • If your “friend” tells you he raped someone, report him to the police.
  • If your frat-brother or another guy at the party tells you there’s an unconscious woman upstairs and it’s your turn, don’t rape her, call the police and tell the guy he’s a rapist. Keep her safe until police arrive.
  • Tell your sons, god-sons, nephews, grandsons, sons of friends it’s not okay to rape someone.
  • Don’t tell your women friends how to be safe and avoid rape.
  • Don’t imply that she could have avoided it if she’d only done/not done x.
  • Don’t imply that it’s in any way her fault.
  • Don’t let silence imply agreement when someone tells you he “got some” with the drunk girl.
  • Don’t perpetuate a culture that tells you that you have no control over or responsibility for your actions. You can, too, help yourself.

*I couldn’t find the original source for this, and I certainly can’t claim this as my own idea. If anyone knows where this originally came from , I will be happy to add a link back to the source.

What if we added the following to this list:

  • Don’t post pictures of people on the internet without their consent.
  • Don’t take pictures up people’s skirts without asking permission first.
  • Don’t take creeper shots.
  • Pictures of battered and abused women are not funny.
  • Don’t coerce underage girls into sending you pictures and then threaten her with violence if she doesn’t want to send you more pictures.

This is not about free speech.  This is about body integrity and the rights of young girls to grow up without having to fear that a middle-aged man will post their picture on a message board.

In Defense of Dads

I’ve been thinking about how dads get treated in the media.

If we believed what we see on TV, we’d know that dads are at best incompetent buffoons and at worst maliciously lazy.

Have a look at the EvenFlo ad called “How To Survive 3 AM Feedings.”  It is so bad that I actually had to try a few times to get through it.  I just kept getting angry and having to turn it off.

Aside from the various breastfeeding myths that this video promotes (which I won’t get into in this post), Jack, the dad in this series, not only manages to spill his wife’s hard-won breastmilk all over the counter in the very finest traditions of as-seen-on-TV incompetence* but he actually leaves it all out for his wife to clean up.  Then, he ignores the crying baby who has very briefly settled and sneaks back into bed pretending that he’s already fed the baby.  His wife is woken up a few seconds later to the cries of the still hungry baby and he informs her that it’s her turn.

*You know, like the folks that can’t get the toothpaste on the toothbrush without the automatic toothpaste dispenser for only $19.99?

Here’s another goldie from EvenFlo called “Repair Your Husband’s Bruised Ego.”

Apparently, according to the commercial, it’s better to preserve a man’s ego by allowing him to install a carseat incorrectly (it should be rear-facing for a child that age) rather than going ahead and asking for help from carseat installation experts.  Something about penis size I think.

Now it’s not just EvenFlo putting out commercials with idiot dads.

Here’s one from AT&T.  At the end, the dad tries to put the diaper on the baby’s head.  Really?

Here’s a huggies one with another dad who can’t seem to change a diaper:

The list goes on and on and on.  Start looking for it as you watch TV.  You will notice it particularly with kid/baby products and cleaning supplies.

“Aw, geez, Molly.  It’s just a joke.  Can’t you take a joke?”

Well, yeah.  I can take a joke.  I like jokes.  I laugh at jokes.  But quite honestly, when “just a joke” marginalizes an entire segment of the population, I just don’t find it particularly funny.  And these ads do marginalize dads.  These ads tell parents that it’s okay for Dad to be an idiot.  It’s okay for him to be the butt of the jokes.  Who cares if he can’t change a diaper?  Mom will swoop in and do it better anyway (and often with a condescending leer).

This just isn’t fair.  Dads deserve better.  They deserve for companies to treat them as equal partners in raising their children.  More and more dads are becoming stay-at-home dads.  Dads cook.  Dads clean.  Dads do laundry.

Moms deserve better, too.  This played out joke gives permission to some men to behave in incompetent and maliciously lazy ways.  It reinforces the notion that the mom is the primary parent and the dad is just window dressing.  It leaves her with the brunt of the child-rearing, and in families where both parents work full-time, this kind of pressure can push moms past their breaking point.

It’s not fair to dads, moms, or kids.

So advertising companies, please.  I’m begging you.  Let this tired joke die.  It’s old.  It’s played out.  Let’s show some commercials with the kinds of dads I’m familiar with: dads who are actively engaged in their childrens’ lives, who are intelligent, who carry an equal share of the housekeeping responsibilities, and who partner equally with their wives to keep the family together.  Let’s leave off with the stupid and lazy stereotype.  We all deserve better.

World Breastfeeding Week – Breastpumps Covered by Insurance?

Have you heard yet about the Affordable Care Act?

On August 1, 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) adopted additional Guidelines for Women’s Preventive Services – including well-woman visits, support for breastfeeding equipment, contraception, and domestic violence screening – that will be covered without cost sharing in new health plans starting in August 2012. The guidelines were recommended by the independent Institute of Medicine (IOM) and based on scientific evidence.

Bolding mine.

And from a bit farther down in the article:

Breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling: Pregnant and postpartum women will have access to comprehensive lactation support and counseling from trained providers, as well as breastfeeding equipment. Breastfeeding is one of the most effective preventive measures mothers can take to protect their children’s and their own health. One of the barriers for breastfeeding is the cost of purchasing or renting breast pumps and nursing related supplies.

I am thrilled to hear about this.  There are so many moms (including myself) that have to go back to work full-time shortly after the births of their children.  Right now, in the US, those moms typically have to go back to work at 12 weeks postpartum.  This falls under FMLA, which makes no requirement that these moms get paid during that time.  If you’re lucky enough (like me) to work for a company that does elect to pay during this time… Great!

Many moms aren’t that lucky.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a mom from a low-income family, have a baby, and then be faced with the prospect of having to choose to put food on the table for their families or stay home with their babies.

So imagine this scenario: You’ve just had your baby. You’re about to return to work just a few short weeks after the birth. You’ve worked so hard to breastfeed your baby during those critical first few weeks. You know that your work is required by federal law to allow you time and space to express milk.  But you’ve just been out of work and unpaid for a few weeks.  Finances are really tight.  You don’t have an extra $100-$300 laying around to get the double-electric pump you know you’ll need to be able to express enough milk during your short break to be able to send to daycare with your baby.  You think about the cost of formula, and while you know it’s cheaper in the right now, it’s so much more expensive in the long run.  And anyway, you really wanted to breastfeed your baby and you’ve worked so hard at it.

What kind of a choice is this?  It’s not a choice.  Not at all.  And it’s completely unfair.

According to the CDC:

Breastfeeding rates were examined by income status group. Income status was defined using the poverty income ratio (PIR), an index calculated by dividing family income by a poverty threshold that is specific for family size (3). Low income was defined as PIR less than or equal to 1.85, and high income was defined as PIR greater than 1.85. For the total population, the proportion of infants who were ever breastfed was lower among infants whose families had lower income (57%) compared with infants whose families had higher income status (74%).

Considering how many friends I know that have lost jobs in the current economy, making sure women have access to affordable healthcare, including lactation support if they need it, is critical.

I’m glad that the Affordable Care Act will be going into effect.  I don’t think it is a complete solution. I wish that all women, insured or not, had easy access to the same resources that I do.  I wish that all women could make the choice of how to feed their child–whatever that choice might be–without the outside pressures of simple and brutal economics.

I wish, I wish, I wish.



I’m celebrating World Breastfeeding Week with Natural Parents Network!

You can, too — link up your breastfeeding posts from August 1-7 in the linky below, and enjoy reading, commenting on, and sharing the posts collected here and on Natural Parents Network.

(Visit NPN for the code to place on your blog.)

Pregnant Women are Community Property

It seems like when a woman becomes pregnant, her body ceases to be her own.  I don’t mean in a physical, sharing space with the baby kind of way.  I mean in the social way.  Society seems to feel that a pregnant woman loses certain rights to her privacy and bodily integrity.  People feel like they can ask certain very personal questions, comment on her body parts, and, worse, they feel like they can reach out and touch a pregnant woman in ways that would never, ever be appropriate for a non-pregnant woman.

As I have started to become very obviously pregnant, this has started happening more and more.  On Tuesday, a co-worker felt it was appropriate to ask me about my eating habits.  He had overheard that I had been eating at a local sushi place pretty frequently, so he felt the need to comment as we were leaving the office for the day, “Um… I heard you talking about sushi this morning.  Aren’t pregnant women, like, not supposed to eat fish or something?”  This forced me to have to defend my food choices and explain that, of course, not all sushi is raw fish, and that cooked fish that is low in mercury is an important part of the diet because of the healthy oils it contains.

Why should I have had to explain myself to this fellow who I only am vaguely acquainted with?  What business of it is his what another person eats?  Would it have been appropriate for me to question the health merits of his lunch choices?  Likely not.  It’s just none of my business.

People will also ask you very personal questions about your medical choices.  I remember when I was pregnant with the Grasshopper, a woman at my husband’s office asked him whether or not I was going to get an episiotomy. Why on earth would anyone feel asking that would be appropriate small-talk?  That is in incredibly invasive and personal question.  Would it be appropriate for him to ask her about her husband’s prostate exam?  Absolutely not.

Please don’t get me started on the comments about the size of my body.  To the next person who looks at me and says, “Aw, look!  You’re HUUUUGE!”  I plan to respond with, “Aww, you’re huge, too!  Wait, was that not an appropriate thing to say?”  You do not, I repeat, do not comment on a stranger’s body size.  Pregnant or not.  It’s incredibly rude.

People also seem to like to touch me these days.  And not just a hand-shake or a pat on the shoulder.  Yesterday, I had two different coworkers, with whom I am not particularly well acquainted, ask me if they could rub my belly.  I said, “Only if I get to rub your belly back.”  And they both gave me an “ew, gross” look and declined.  At least they asked.

Really and truly, I’m okay with discussing my choices and what’s going on with the pregnancy.  I wouldn’t be blogging about it if I didn’t.  I’m also okay with having my belly rubbed as long as you are my friend.  One of my friends is very much a belly-rubber, and I actually like it.  It’s very sweet and she rubs with love.

What I don’t like is the sense of entitlement that some people seem to feel with regard to information and access to my body.  I think the hyperemesis gravidarum has made me particularly crusty in this regard because of the perpetual questions of, “Are those meds safe for the baby?”  I also reject entirely the notion that personal questions make appropriate small-talk.  If you ask me a question, I will answer you.

If you ask me about episiotomies, I’m happy to give you a detailed explanation on why I will absolutely not be getting one.  Very detailed.  If you don’t want to really, really know, then don’t ask.  If you ask me about my pregnancy medical issues, I will answer you.  I’m happy to educate people about hyperemesis gravidarum.  But don’t look grossed out when I tell you about my PICC line and my IVs.  If you didn’t want to know, you shouldn’t have asked.  If you feel that you have the right to lecture me about my choice to birth outside of the hospital, well, you need to be prepared to get lectured right back.

Honestly, I’m not combative generally.  A genuine question will receive a gentle and genuine response.  I much prefer to, as they say, catch the flies with honey.  But a question asked as an attempt to point out that I am doing something wrong will be met with a strong response.  Particularly because, in most cases, I don’t just do things “because.”  I’m an obsessive reader and researcher.  There are very specific reasons behind most of my choices which I am happy to share if someone is genuinely curious.

But this leaves me with this question:  Why?  Why is it that when we enter motherhood, and this only starts with pregnancy, that people feel that sense of entitlement to our personal information and the right to touch our bodies?  Why do our bodies cease to be our own?

I’m not sure I am enough of a feminist scholar to understand why this is.  If someone can help me out, I’d really appreciate it.  This is one aspect of motherhood that really, really bothers me.