Friday, December 21, 2012

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Social Justice at Sierra College

Today was my favorite day of Social Justice Week at Sierra College, an event I host every fall semester.  Today was the day that students share their projects by spending the day in the center of campus diseminating information, raising consciousness and taking learning to a whole new level outside the classroom.  I love the energy.  I love overhearing conversations and debates.  I LOVE the comments from students who tell me that they now believe that they can be activists and be a part of social change.  This is the reason I teach and why I love my job so much.

Projects tackled racism, sexism, homophobia, sex trafficking, forced prostitution, the economics of education, body images, size discrimination, sexism in music lyrics, the importance of voting...and more!  The week has included similar workshop topics, speakers, and films--we even were honored to host Col. Anne Wright who talked about sexual harassment and sexual violence in the military.

And tonight, while I write, I am wearing a bracelet that was made by a woman in Cambodia that survived sex trafficking and forced prostitution and another bracelet made by women supporting Women for Women International.  The world feels so small right now.  I imagine that Cambodian woman's fingers braiding and twisting the yarn into the bracelet that I now run my fingers over.  I feel connected to her.  And while I can never know or feel the realities of her life I do know this....where a woman is violated anywhere in the world, all women are...everywhere in the world.  For violence against women contributes to an overall global consciousness the devalues women everywhere.  It must stop.  We must collectively say no more.  We must rise up and support our sisters, our mothers, our daughters. We must raise awareness, raise money, raise consciousness, and raise our collective voice. 

Tomorrow is the last day of Social Justice Week...if you are in the area, JOIN US!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How do you teach your child about 'fat'?

Yesterday my not-quite-5-year-old told me that I have a fat stomach.  I said 'thank you.' 

I said thank you because, judging the look on her face when she said it, I didn't want her to adopt the wide-spread notion that fat is bad.  I wanted, even for a moment, for her to consider that this might be a compliment.  But she gave me a look that implied she didn't.  So we began a conversation.  I asked her what she thought about 'fat.' She shrugged her shoulders.  I asked her who told her about 'fat,' she said she thought it up herself.  I'm thinking not.  So we talked about how people come in different sizes (as they do different colors, genders, ages, abilities...a conversation we have had many times).  I asked her if she thought I was healthy.  She does...because according to her 1.  I eat better than daddy and 2. I don't let her eat gummies all the time she wants to (oh the logic of a 4 year old).  I asked her which she thought was most important...healthy or fat?  She said healthy.  OK, so we're on the right track.

But our conversation was interrupted.  And now I am left with a question on how to really teach her about size diversity, fat politics, discrimination, healthy bodies (at any size).  How do you teach these things when size discrimination is nationally practiced and 'medically condoned'?  Under the umbrella of concern for health, our nation's 'top experts' have launched a campaign against fat.  But rather than healthy messages we are being bombarded with messages of shame and blame.  We are being bullied and harassed.  Have you seen the billboard campaign in Atlanta, Georgia??  Here is just one of the most offensive ads...

Granted this ad campaign came under almost immediate attack and I believe are now being pulled ...but the fact that a campaign like this was launched reinforces the notion that fat is bad, ugly, and an automatic equivalent to unhealthy.  Not to mention that this particular ad doesn't focus on health but rather on appearance...which is often the focus of our culture.  And sadly this isn't the only campaign...the "Healthy Girl Adventure Club" targets 9-13 year olds with plenty of body-shaming language, almost every health insurance plan promotes weight loss programs,  there are weight loss centers throughout the country and weight loss products on the shelves of every grocery store,  and most recently the CDC-backed Weight of the Nation (read fat-activist Marilyn Wann's assesment) which aired on HBO just this month. 

So what are we doing?  We have more weight loss programs, products, and campaigns than ever before.  Americans spend billions, I think somewhere around $40 billion annually, on weight loss and yet, we are not thinner...and more importantly we are not healthier.  The shaming around weight and body size is not only demoralizing but it is unhealthy.  Shaming doesn't motivate, it humiliates.  And when humiliated I would think folks are less likely to be active, social, or engaged in their communities -- all things that can and do lead to healthier lives...physically and mentally.

In addition to my almost 5 year old I also have a 5 month old, which means I am raising two daughters in this culture.  And while I absolutely acknowledge that boys are targeted about weight too, there are well documented studies to show that the impact on girls self-esteem and self-worth are immense.  We know that girls are more likely to have eating disorders and disordered eating, are more likely to engage in cutting and self mutilation, and are more likely to view their value in their physical appearance.   So this topic will be a BIG & ongoing conversation in our house.  I can share with my girls the struggles I had with eating disorders, I can be honest with them when I struggle today about my weight, and I can show them my commitment and effort to be kind to myself, to be healthy in my choices (not the least of which include my mindset about my body),  and I can model respect for the differences our culture has in body size as it is a diversity that enriches us.  I can question their labeling of 'fat' and encourage them to question it as well.  I can do all that, but honestly it feels a bit lonely.  I'm sure there will be plenty of folks who mis-interpret what I write as promoting unhealthy lifestyles.  Because fat is in many ways the acceptable prejudice in our society.  But as I write this, and as a committed activist, I must also put in a call to others...get educated about the 'obesity epidemic' before you buy into the rhetoric, explore the efforts of fat activists like Marilyn Wann, check out the work of Linda Bacon, PhD and the Health at Every Size Movement, have conversations in your family and among your friends about body image and self esteem, and consider what 'healthy' might look like if we got rid of the shaming and the blaming?

As for my daughter?  Our conversation will continue.  She has started to read, maybe I should give her my copy of Marilyn Wann's Fat!So?: Because you don't have to apologize for your size. Maybe we'll read it together.  In the meantime, I'm looking for children's books and resources.  Open to suggestions.  Please share your resources.  I'm not sure what is out there for kids about size diversity.  Is there anything even written? Are there children's books out there?  If not, maybe we should write one?  Maybe a summer project for Molly and I? 

Until then, be well, and love yourself.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Is anyone mom enough?

This Time Magazine is getting ready to hit the stands this week and it is already causing quite a stir. The debate is really about Attachment Parenting...this image is most likely designed to 'cause the stir.' You can watch a pre-issue interview with the author and you can read through Dr. Sear's website about attachment parenting to get an idea of what is going on...well, at least part of what is going on. What few seem to be discussing, amid the rampages of to nurse a toddler or not, is the perpetuation of what has been deemed "mommy wars." In other words, yet another way to pit women against women.

In becoming a mother I am convinced that no harsher judgement against women exists than in motherhood. Endless judgement, often disguised as 'well meaning advice' confront us every where we go, by just about everyone we come in contact with...what mother hasn't been told what her crying infant needs from a 'well-meaning' stranger while at the check-out in a market?  And this advice comes with a looming legitimacy because after all children are at stake! But like so many of these related issues and very loud public debates, moms often find themselves in a place that is silenced...we're not to talk honestly about our fears, our inadequacies, our ideas. We are supposed to have the answer, the right one. And we often present ourselves as if we do, because not to invites further judgement (how could you not know breastfeeding is better?  how could you not know to prop a pillow up if you leave your not-yet moving-on-her-own infant on the bed?)  But in a sea of mixed 'expert' messages this can often leave us in an endless cycle of second guessing. And we learn that we are not to trust ourselves and we are not to be too honest about motherhood because if we are we risk being met with silence from other mothers who are also too afraid of being judged.

In my experience, moms love and adore their children, they are also exhausted and annoyed by them.  We are trying to do our best, we are trying to sort through all this conflicting 'advice,' do right by our kids, not lose ourselves, integrate a working life (and maybe even a civic one) all the while fielding constant interruptions by little I write this my 4 year old is sitting next to me talking non-stop about her 'homework' which is being written all over my work notebook. Did I mention she is also supposed to be in bed? 

In fact, I had to interrupt my writing this blog to tend to my crying 5 month old (guess that makes me an attachment parent) who was asleep and to read a nighttime story to my 4 year old in hopes to move that little non-sleeper closer to sleep.  This is the reality of most moms I know.  Whether in the paid labor force or not, we are juggling many demands on our time and selves.  We confront the notions of 'perfect motherhood' in the same way we must battle the notions of 'ideal beauty' both of which are largely perpetuated by media, and internalized by ourselves and our sisters.  We are so caught in a cycle of obtaining this perfection that few stop to question a society that fails mothers...and almost every way. 

 As a society we have set a clear delineation of which women should stay home with children and which should not, thus protecting a long-established class bias in our society.  As well, we feed these so-called 'mommy wars' of pitting women who have a 'choice' to stay home or not against each other, regardless of socio-economic class.  Damned if we do, dammed if we don't.  As a culture we embrace the notion that we are on our own in raising children and admonish any who needs/wants/demands state assistance in raising children. We don't adequately fund child care, in fact child care workers make far less than those who care for our cars.  Child care in this country is often lacking quality (especially if you look to lower-income care) and as such most mothers report a great deal of apprehension and fear about non-family child care.  While some of our workplace culture has changed to accommodate the working mother, few have addressed the issues of the working father.  In fact, we continue to have little discussion about men as fathers, their roles in the home, or any true expectation of egalitarian parenting.  Where accommodations for women in the workforce do come, women are all too aware of the unofficial costs.   We are mommy tracked, overlooked for promotion, our loyalties are questioned because we are not available after hours, we are far more likely than our male counterparts to move to part-time positions, and we have more fragmented work histories which make us less financially stable.  Much of this is because of that aforementioned expectation that women should figure it out on their own.  And lest we forget, we did once have a society that fully funded child care to support women in the public labor force...only it did so when it could argue benefit to the state during wartime.  Now our country takes an out, convincing the populous that to fund child care or early education for kids, or free lunch programs, or library hours and programs, or after school unfair to hard working Americans.  We embrace the notion that 'not my child, not my problem' instead of recognizing the grand benefits to funding children and families across economic lines, as a society as a whole, not divided by socioeconomic class.  It is, as most all other industrialized societies have long figured out, a commitment that returns itself many times over in creating a more productive, beneficial, healthy and
happy society. 

Rather than continuing with these mommy wars, these judgements against how we mother, let us turn attention to a fight that really could make a difference.  One that focuses on what social support we could fund if we prioritized family, included fathers in our expectations, and respected motherhood.

Friday, March 9, 2012


I went to a meeting this morning to discuss a panel/press conference that I am participating in next week. The focus of the event is to discuss recent Congressional hearings, bills, and decisions regarding women's health, not the least of which is the Affordable Care Act. I arrived, and when I was getting my green tea I saw this. Taped to the newsstand in front of copies of the Sacramento Bee is this sign announcing that a Senate bill will make abortions easier. I can only assume that they mean this bill, a California Senate bill, but I wasn't about to buy the Bee and financially support them, especially with the accompanying photo.


Clearly the Sacramento Bee feels that it is within their journalist responsibility to project an anti-choice agenda in advertising their papers along with morning coffee. What ever happened to impartial reporting? What ever happened to integrity in news? Oh my, I want to laugh at myself. Certainly I KNOW bias in the media is rampant in this country. I know that there are few, if any, reliable sources of media. And I spend a great deal of time reading multiple sources just to piece together events of the day. But today, as I prepared to meet with Congresswoman Matsui's office to discuss next week's event with both my daughters in tow, on the heels of way too much attention given to Rush Limbaugh's tirade that women who use birth control are sluts and prostitutes, and as my health center faces yet another "40 Days of Life" attack on its clinics...I'm exhausted. And I'm pissed.

How is it that we are STILL fighting these battles? How is it even a conversation whether or not women should have access to birth control? to abortion? Our culture...particularly our consumer culture...has co-opted the language of choice so thoroughly that we now believe we are empowered because we chose one brand of tampon over another. But reproductive choice is often trumped by issues of access, lack of coverage, lack of information/education, misconceptions, falsehoods, transportation issues, lack of providers, politics...did I say POLITICS?! And worse, with merely 12-13% representation of women in Congress and an average of 20% (California is slightly higher) of state elected offices, the decisions about women's health are largely being made by men.

Back to the bill in question...California Senator Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) has introduced a bill that would allow certified nurse-midwives, physicians assistants, and nurse practitioners to perform aspiration abortions. Duh? We should have been doing this long ago. Abortion is a simple and safe procedure--safer than a shot of penicillin and ten times safer than carrying to term and giving birth. Midwives, PAs, nurses are all trained medically. Besides, there once was a time when women's health was entirely in women's hands...abortion included. In fact, abortion has been practiced, in various forms, since about the 1500s BCE--long before the 'official medical doctor' practices as we know them today. In fact, 'lay' women performed abortions on other women prior to Roe v. Wade--and did so more safely and more respectfully than many of the men posing as doctors to exploit women who found themselves pregnant at a time when abortion was illegal...and as such dangerous. And this is an important point...abortion is safe. And by the way legal. As are contraceptives. But what makes abortion unsafe is not the procedure but rather the politics and anti-choice extremism that surrounds abortion. Anti-choice sentiments that are fueled and supported by images like this one accompanying the Sacramento Bee this morning.

Monday, July 4, 2011

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal

On the 4th of July I thought what better time than to reprint this...

Seneca Falls Declaration, 1848

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they were accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men--both natives and foreigners.

Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.

He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.

He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.

He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming to all intents and purposes, her master--the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.

He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes, and in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women--the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.

After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single, and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.

He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration. He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.

He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.

He allows her in Church, as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.

He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.

He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.

He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation--in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.

In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and National legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions embracing every part of the country.

Source: E.C. Stanton, S.B. Anthony and M.J. Gage, eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 1 (1887), 70.