An Interview with My Dad about Parenting and Gender

April 5, 2017

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Last week I took a Spring Break from this blog. My father was visiting us in Portland. He had just celebrated his 75th birthday in Hawaii and (for some reason) chose to leave a sunny beach for cold and rainy Oregon. I was happy because it had been over a year since we had seen him and Cozy really wanted to see her Grandpa. He took Cozy and I to see Moana (Cozy loved it, powering through the scary part, and I appreciated Disney utilizing a Goddess tale) and we had a belated birthday dinner at Portland City Grill. It was nice to catch up.

It’s an odd thing being around your parents when you’re a parent. You realize how like them you are, whether you want to be or not. I see so much of my dad in me. We even have similar mannerisms. It kinda freaks me out a bit. There are certainly qualities in this man I greatly admire, and a few I’ve worked to limit. How much like this person am I? I tend to think I turned out pretty good. I didn’t become a serial killer or a military contractor or a wife-beater or a guy who spends all his time playing fantasy football. I went to graduate school instead of Wall Street. Also, I like quiche. (There are a few kinks still to be worked out.) He did a pretty good job on the parenting front it seems.

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So I thought, while he was here, we’d sit down and I’d ask him what it was like to be a new father of a boy in the mid-1960s, when the world and gender roles were changing. What I got was a very honest conversation about his struggle to find balance between his home life and his work in sales that often took him away from home, a flash of insight into issues that led to my parents divorce when I was 17, and some useful wisdom about how to be a great parent to my daughter. We sat on the couch in my living room talking and I just wanted to ask good questions but as I transcribed our talk I got a greater appreciation for his own journey as a parent.

Randy: So I was born in February 1964. The world was a little different then. Did you know I was going to be a boy?

Dad: No. We talked about it before you were born, about whether we wanted a boy or a girl and we agreed it doesn’t matter the first time, especially the first child, as long as they’re healthy and have all the fingers and toes. It didn’t really matter to us. In fact, we decorated the nursery in yellow so that it didn’t matter whether it was a boy or girl. We changed the decor after it was born, but we were just happy to have a healthy child.

R: Would you have thought differently if I had been born a girl, knowing girls had fewer opportunities?

D: If it was a boy we would have raised it one way, and if it was a girl, we pretty much would have raised it the same way.

R: Did it help that mom had a job before she got pregnant? She didn’t really work after I was born.

D: She was woking in a business office and we agreed that when she was 6 months pregnant that she would stop working and stay home and make sure that she was healthy. We could live on one income and that’s what we did. The second income was nice but it wasn’t necessary. I was making enough money to take care of the family and I really didn’t want her to work. I wanted her to stay home with the baby. And she did.

R: Did she want to work?

D: Yeah, oh yeah. She was always wanting to help out and work and stay active but she found things to do at home and concentrating to getting to that baby to one year, at least.

R: The mid-60s was really the rise of the feminist movement and women discovering their life outside of the home. What did you think about “women’s lib”? Mom has said she was aware of it, but were you thinking it was a big change?

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D: I was open minded about it. If she wanted to work she could work. But we had to consider the babysitter situation. We had an elderly lady upstairs that was a good babysitter and she had some girlfriends that would come over and babysit after that year. But she stayed home for about a year before she went back to work. And she was really bored and anxious to get back to work. She wanted to do more than be just a mother.

R: What did you think about her going back to work then?

D: Back then I wanted her to stay at home and take care of the baby and make dinner and do the laundry and all the stuff that women did then. And I was happy just working and having her be the housewife. Now I think the mother should do whatever they feel comfortable doing. If they wanna work, they should work.

R: OK, lets talk about me. Or just raising a boy. I didn’t really turn out like a typical boy. I wasn’t too obsessed with violence or sports. I’d rather just read. When I was little, did you have a philosophy about how to raise a boy?

D: Like all couples with their first child we didn’t have a clue. We were flying by the seat of our pants. From a philosophy standpoint, we didn’t want you to be a soldier. We wanted you to have a happy childhood. That was really important to us. We tried to do things with you that you’d enjoy. We bought that canoe and we used to take you canoeing when you were little. We went on some camping trips and things like that. We involved you and let you see what the world was like but we didn’t have any ideas of the future of what you were going to be or were going to do. You were always such a good kid we didn’t have to go through the challenge of trying to raise you. You kind of took care of yourself.

R: Did you think boys should be raised differently that girls?

D: We just let you do your own thing. We would keep an eye on you and make sure you didn’t get into anything too violent. We moved from the rental home to a house in Parma Heights, a three bedroom ranch house and I can remember you had your own room. It was a fun place. The backyard was fenced in and it had a playground and swing and you used to go out there and have fun by yourself. We would kind of keep an eye from the house and make sure you were OK.

R: We like to think we’re not raising Cozy as a girl but as a person. She’s gonna have to know about the world and that there’s some inequality she’s going to have to wrestle with, but she’s a person first.

D: Even thought it was 50 years ago we did the same thing. We raised you the same way. We didn’t try to make you macho. You’re your own person. You have respect for both genders and that’s important and you still have that gentleness you had as a kid. You never lost that and that shows up in Cozy.

R: You traveled a lot when I was little. Do you think that impacted how I developed?

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D: I think I would have been able to more things with you and teach you more things. I tried when I was home to concentrate on teaching you the basic fundamentals and to get you involved in things, in sports, in life, in outdoors, and swimming. That was a big part of me. Then swim team. I tried to keep you involved. We started out with Indian Guides. You were Little Crow and I was Big Crow. We had a lot of fun with that. I tried to get you and your brother involved with things, but I tried to be there, included and supporting you. I think that created a problem with the marriage, actually, because when I was home I was so involved with you guys, I probably didn’t pay enough attention to Sandy (my mom). I think it created a lot of boredom on her part because a lot of the time she wasn’t working. She was at home taking care of you guys. There has to be a balance there and I didn’t recognize that balance. I was too intent on making as much money as I could so you guys could have a good life. You were always in neighborhoods and homes that were, um, “upscale.” You always had friends, it was safe, you could walk to church. I always tried to have the family in a place that was safe and fun.

R: OK, last question. What’s your general advice to being a parent to someone Cozy’s age.

D: You’ve gotta give them room to grow. Encourage them to do the right thing, of course. And push them in a direction they don’t want to go but pay attention and see what they enjoy and like to do and just kind of guide them in the direction to their future. They’ll tell you. They’ll let you know what they like. Cozy’s got a great start because she’s got an artist mom and a well-educated dad. You guys are in that period where you’re in a transition now. And when you find out what you want to do next it’s going to be good for you and good for the family. When you’re happy the rest of the family is happy.

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That’s certainly a good piece of truth. Talking to my dad reminded me of Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, and how my mom must have felt a bit stifled in that home in Parma Heights. Those were times when gender roles in middle class homes were really being re-examined. But it also made me think about how much free reign I had as a little boy, to explore the yard, the neighborhood streets, and the woods. That had to play a role in my sense of independence. And that’s what we’re doing with our daughter.  So my father will be a part of her independent spirit.

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Postscript: My mother just read this and thinks a lot of it is just wrong. She used words like “male chauvinist” and “doormat.” I’m gonna do a parallel interview with her about this period and get her side of the story. It’s funny how we (re) remember our own lives.

 

That Pig is a She! Normality of normative maleness

March 22, 2017

My daughter, Cozy, is now 2 years and 7 months old. (I will not say she’s “31 months old.” I won’t.) Seven months ago she had a few words, in English and Spanish. Now she’s having full conversations and saying things like, “Dad, I want the vanilla yogurt” and “Let’s go up Montjuïc!” (Montjuïc is a steep hill in Barcelona and my nickname for the ungodly steep hill on our street.) While I was writing this, she said, “Daddy, you have a booger on your pants. Oh, no. It’s Honey Bunches!” (her favorite cereal). Then she ate it. She is a linguistic sponge. “What’s this? What’s this?” She can’t learn words fast enough.

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The feminist sociologist in me is reminded how language shapes our perceptions of the world. When little boys are told, “Don’t cry like a girl,” there are a bunch of negative messages packed into one little phrase. When I announce the arrival of the “mailman,” it means a “mailwoman” is something odd. (About 40% of letter carriers are female. Ours is named Anthony.) A big issue in language is normative maleness, something I’ve already written about. Male as norm.

One of the most obvious ways this plays out is the language binary around jobs. Actor and actress. Waiter and waitress. Poet and poetress. The female as less. I’ve tried to banish these gendered terms from my vocabulary. Meryl Streep is an actor, Mr. Trump. She’s not an actress. Not in this house. Cozy will hear enough about the “female as less” outside our home. Here, let the message be clear. Now, Dad’s gotta do some laundry.

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This concept was pioneered by French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir in her groundbreaking 1949 book, The Second Sex. Our general discussion of “mankind” is gendered. When we discuss people, we mean “men” with women as the exception. “There is an absolute human type, the masculine… Thus humanity is male,” de Beauvoir wrote. In academics, when it’s time to talk about gender, that’s often code for female stuff, as if men don’t have gender. (There’s a gang of us that specialize on research on masculinity as gender performance.) This filters into our everyday language. If we don’t know for sure that someone (or something) is female, we just assume that they are male. If somebody reads this he’ll learn about normative maleness. (See what I did there?)

This goes all the way to animals. We assume dogs, birds, and squirrels are all male. “Look at that squirrel in the tree. He must be looking for his nuts.” I grew up around horses, so you kinda know the sex of that one, but don’t ask me to tell you whether that sewer rat is male or female. And we all do this. Even radical feminists like me. Normative maleness has been so wired into my brain, I blurt out “he’s” without even thinking about it. We had a mouse in our bedroom this winter. My wife said, “You gotta kill him!” I didn’t even think to say, “Maybe it’s a her!”

How is hearing all these “he’s” impacting my word-sponge daughter? Is she learning that male is the norm and female is “weird”? The thought stops me in my tracks. It’s not a little thing. IT IS NOT A LITTLE THING. There is a massive ripple effect of hearing this little thing over and over again. Think about how both boys and girls process this repeated message about devaluing the feminine. “He” is normal. “She” is not. Seriously, think about it.

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Cozy and I went to Oregon Zoo this week and I tried to be mindful of this messed-up norm. I made a point of using feminine pronouns more than male ones. “Look at that hippo and how big her teeth are.” “That penguin looks like she’s doing a dance.” “Don’t bother that cougar. I think she’s taking a nap.” (OK, the last one was a lady on a bench.) Her main goal of the day the day was to commune with the flamingos but my main goal of the day was to normalize the feminine. We were looking at a parrot and I asked her if she thought it (I almost said, “he”) was a boy or girl. And she said “boy.” When I asked why she said, “Because he’s silly.” So I don’t know if I achieved my goal or not. It was a pretty silly parrot.

I had a professor at Emory who would switch pronouns each term. Fall semester he would use male pronouns and Spring semester he would use female pronouns. Nobody said anything during the fall class (or noticed it), but the guys really got upset in the spring. It was a brilliant way to make an important point. What were those male students so angry about? That they are also co-eds?

There’s a 50/50 chance that animal your looking at or that person you don’t know is a female. If saying “he or she” seems like too much damn work, why not just say “she” to make up for all the years you’ve said, “he.”  I just hope that if someone reads this, she’ll think about the infinite power of language.

Dad Love 10: We become gendered.

February 17, 2017

It seems like just seconds ago I was writing about Cozy turning two. We were on our sweltering Mexican island preparing for a birthday adventure in the Yucatan jungle. Now we’re in freezing damp Portland and this child seems like a completely different being. Those six months have been a tsunami of evolution. While the  whole country seems to have devolved, Cozy has become a person and also, dammit, a girl. She’s down for the cause, this girl. She marched in the Women’s March and met the mayor at the Portland United Against Hate rally. Have you met Cozy V. Blazak yet? The mayor has.

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I’ve been lecturing about gender socialization since the George HW Bush Administration (Remember him?), so I know you don’t raise kids in a vacuum. You can’t create your kid like an art project. Society sneaks in on the corners (and on the Disney Channel), but I was a little surprised how quickly my genderless baby became a full-fledged girly girl. I’ve written about her princess thing. The other day I was fixing something and asked her to hand me a long screwdriver. She correctly grabbed the flathead and I thought, “That’s my kid.” And then she raised it up in the air and proclaimed, “Elena of Avalor!”

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This two-and-a-half-year-old is infinitely fascinating. She loves to do the “woos” at the right places of “I Am the Walrus” and tell you the names of her friends in daycare. “The guys, Josie, Amelia….” As soon as she gets to “school,” she goes straight to work making art, just like her mama. She likes to jump off of things (“Daddy, watch this!”) and play hide and seek. And if you ask her what she wants to eat, it’s either mac & cheese, candy, or “ice cream chips.” Most of the time we can figure out what’s she’s trying to tell us and she gets frustrated when we can’t. All this happened is a space of six months. Boom.

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We are quickly leaving the phase when we can pick out her clothes. For me that was about sixth grade. I learned this lesson when I tried to put on the Falcons sweatshirt for Super Bowl Sunday that my dad bought her a year ago. Nope. She wanted to wear her Minnie Mouse dress. Sorry Grandpa. It’s either gotta have Minnie on it, be pink, or be a skirt. I didn’t even know they made skirts for toddlers, now I’m searching target.com for anything she might like. The girl stuff is like a magnet to her. It’s not like either of her parents wear pink. (Well, I do have this flouncy number from my New Romantic days.)

It makes me think of some of my LGBTQ friends who have said that they didn’t have that same experience. Little girls who never wanted dolls and little boys who wanted to wear skirts. It’s a great window into the nature/nurture debate about gender and sexual orientation. I don’t know if Cozy is gonna be a lesbian, but if she is, she’s gonna be a lipstick lesbian with the best skirt collection in town. Just a hunch.

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For now, I’m just loving this phase. I still spend too much time watching her sleep but I also will have endless fun doing puzzles, coloring, or teaching her how men do laundry and lay on the floor to listen to John Coltrane records. She pretends she has a trumpet and plays along. I guess she’s more of a Miles Davis.

She’s deeply empathic (“What’s wrong, Daddy?”) so she must know I’m more in love with her every passing day. I wonder if she knows that people respond to her in a totally unique way, like she’s a shaman onboard the Good Ship Lollipop. The world feels like a better place because she’s in it. I hope she uses this power she has in a meaningful way. How old do you have to be to run for mayor?

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Dad Love 9: I Become Winona Ryder in Stranger Things

Hey, hey, hey, it’s fat shaming!

Feb. 9, 2017

Let’s be honest, this is a blog. It’s not an academic research journal. It’s not Time Magazine. It’s my personal weekly spiel, so it’s both my take on things big and small and a refection of my own evolution as a woke humanoid. If there are some fools that want to hold something I did or said in the 1980s over me, let them. That person was. Even the cells in his body are long gone. If I share my journey, maybe others (perhaps you, my beloved reader) will reflect on theirs. We are on a path, trying not to be dragged backwards by the trolls tweeting at our heels. The key is intense self-reflection. Sometimes you don’t like what you see.

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Some of the big ticket items of oppression come through pretty clearly for the people that are ready to see them and the impact on their world; racism, sexism, homophobia, even Islamophobia. People might even be able to make it from there to discussions of white privilege, intersectionality, and queer identities. But start talking about fat people and things fall apart quickly. “But…. But… But…” Suddenly there are lots of reasons not to practice empathy. It’s still safe to look down on the large.

I’ve been one of those people. Like Donald Trump, I’ve been on three sides of a two sided issue. Obviously, America (and Donald Trump) has a weight problem. I noticed it when I lived in Europe. You could pick out the Americans in any crowd by their waist size. According to the CDC, 36.5% of Americans are obese. Those folks suffer all kinds of medical woes, including early deaths and their health issues are a part of are swelling health care costs that get folded into our insurance premiums. In 2008, the CDC pegged the medical cost of obesity at $147 billion. So it’s right to get angry at fatties, right?

If anyone knows this anger it’s a heavy person. And that’s the problem. The sociological causes of hight obesity rates is one discussion (as well as what is defined as “obesity”). How we treat heavy people is another discussion. And why there should be anything close to a “perfect” weight is a third. I’m going to ignore the first discussion, and only say that scones are not supposed to be the size of your head, to focus on the other two.

She’s a perfect 10

It’s no shocker that we want women to look like “girls.” I mean, just ask why we demand that women shave their armpits. What’s the function? You can look like a pre-pubescent girl maybe into your early twenties if you work at it. But after that, it’s a losing battle. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! And there are several industries to help you out.

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In the early 1990s, I religiously assigned Naomi Wolf’s first book, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. College women were suffering from record reports of eating disorders and American women were dying from botched liposuction surgeries and it just seemed like the right book at the right time to put in front of female and male people. It’s based on the staple of gender socialization that boys are raised to be judged on their actions and girls are raised to be judged solely on their looks. I’m certainly going to write more about this complex issue, but their is one easy way to fit it into this topic; the perfect 10.

Is your butt too round or too flat? Are your boobs too big or too small? Are you too short or too tall? What about your nose? And how is your skin? While these questions might impact males, they define females very worth from an early age. There is a narrow window where each characteristic is in the acceptable beauty zone. But there are a hundred moving parts (Maybe your ass is fine but your knees are knobby) and it’s a constantly shifting matrix (Is the thigh gap in or out this season?). It’s enough to cause a girl to lose her mind and that’s the point, according to Wolf. Drive females crazy with anxiety and keep them away from the thrones of power.

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The women in Trump’s beauty contests are held up as the “ideal,” but they all look very similar in their proportions. A gold medal swimmer, like Missy Franklin, wouldn’t have the body to compete for the Miss USA crown. Neither would comedian Amy Schumer for that matter. How dare they not at least try to be a Trump 10? “It makes me so angry. Amy Schumer would be so hot if she lost like a hundred pounds.” Every woman should do everything possible to make it to TEN and if they don’t there’s something wrong with them. Maybe they’re “lesbians.” (Because any female who doesn’t rank her evaluation by men’s gaze first and foremost must not like men. Right, bros?)

Forget the fact that even the “perfect” women don’t actually look like that. Can we get some non-airbrushed pictures of Ivanka Trump up in here? I bet even supermodel Gigi Hadid has parts of her body she hates. Self-hate is the goal of the beauty myth. It’s not what you’ve accomplished in life, it’s how the guys rank your hotness. And after about age 21, it’s a losing battle. Better fit Botox into your budget.

Add the majority of women who are not a size zero into that anger at the imperfect. Here is the genesis of fat shaming. “How dare you be fat? What’s wrong with you? I have to look at you!” So it’s not about the issues of the looker, but the issues of the looked upon. Sociologists call this attribution theory. We can make up a whole story about people we define as somehow deficient. “I bet she goes all in for Venti Caramel Frappucinos.” Fat people are lazy, gross, ugly, selfish (and, oddly, self-hating), unhealthy, but, hey, they’re funny as hell.

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This topic reared its ugly head after last month’s Women’s March. I saw a meme that tried to make a joke that Trump got a bunch of large ladies to do some walking. Because 1) feminists are fat, 2) liberals are fat, and 3) hot skinny chicks would never waste their time marching when they could be getting their boyfriends buckets of fried chicken before the big game. Let’s put aside the reality of who is heavier, liberals or conservatives (here’s a link) or if your are more likely to see an abundance of plus-sized women at a NASCAR event, and focus on the message. Women who stand up for their rights are fat and any women who is not this week’s definition of a “10” is to be devalued. Those fat, hairy lesbian feminists are barely people, let alone women. Right, bros?

The emotional impact on the women we love

Devaluation and dehumanization are the most accessible tools of oppression. Calling a grown black man a “boy,” or a person with disabilities a “retard,” or a woman a “bitch.” It’s all the same. The perpetrator might say, “It’s just a word. Lighten up!” But to the recipient there is a cumulative effect that is emotionally and psychologically devastating. The constant message that you are “less than” erodes a person’s self-worth. Plenty of research backs this up. Just ask a fat person. I did. There are women in my circle that have struggled with their weight and, being an ethnographer (and someone who has probably made a few fat jokes in his life), I wanted to shut up and just listen. What does it feel like to be shamed because of your weight? I got so many responses, I just had to sit with them for a while. Some had me in tears. And some said they were in tears while they wrote their answers to me.

Many were first fat-shamed by their mothers and then by other women, showing how these values become internalized, like one group of slaves being used to keep watch over another group of slaves. Some became fat after the birth of their children or injuries, and for some the shame was there as long as they could remember. Some were body-shamed for being “too thin,” but continually felt fat. All were people I cared about. Suddenly I wanted to write a book on the topic. But for now, listen to some of their truth.

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I was a size 6 until at age 40 I had another baby and then 2 years of surgeries. I am an 18 now. The people who hurt me are actually acquaintances and old friends that haven’t seen you in a while. I’m sure they aren’t trying to hurt me, but when someone says something like oh my god what happened to you? Or you’ve gotten so big I wouldn’t have known you. I have literally stopped being social over this I am terrified of being in public and someone saying something like that even if they don’t mean it to hurt me. Randy, I was a size 6 until at age 40 I had another baby and then 2 years of surgeries. I am an 18 now. I have literally stopped being social over this I am terrified of being in public and someone saying something like that even if they don’t mean it to hurt me. (S)

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Before my 48th birthday my mother announced with a huge sense of glee that she knew what she was going to give me for my birthday. I said, “What?” She said, “Liposuction.” To be honest, I’m about 15lbs over the weight I should be. (C)

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“If you could see yourself from behind, you’d shoot yourself”….My mother to me at 13 years old. 25 years of therapy later, and 2 Master’s in Mental Health…here I am living that moment. (A)

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I am told I look better than a 25 year old and I am 45, but when I look in the mirror I see an overweight, blob of laziness. I try to challenge my thoughts of myself but when I continuously get praised for my physique I cannot help but hang on to it. I don’t agree with what others see but I know I do not see my body how it is so I trust that others do. Its like being in prison and I am unable to break free from it. (M1)

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I can’t imagine living in a world where I actually feel good about my body. I watched some clip of an athletic, slim woman walking on a beach in a bikini and thought “I can’t imagine putting on a bikini and walking on the beach. What would that be like? What would it be like to walk so confidently, openly, unafraid that you’ll be trolled or insulted, content in yourself?” (M2)

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When I was younger, I was always on the heavier side. I dealt with bullies my entire life calling me “fat” and saying just awful things. From the age of 7 on. My own father used to fat shame me and say awful things. “If you would get your fat ass out of the refrigerator, maybe you’d be able to finally listen to me!” I always struggled with being heavy. My thighs always touched, my ass was always bigger and I got boobs earlier than all the other girls. One second, a guy would call me a “slut” for having big boobs and then next, I would be called a “cow” because I was big. (C2)

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This is just a tiny slice of what I received. Women who work in the media got it in email and Facebook comment form and women who stayed at home got it from the family members who loved them. The body shaming came from friends and strangers because everyone has permission to comment on a woman’s body and where it is in relation to Trump’s 10.

While there is a parallel narrative of men who are fat shamed, men have the privilege of plugging into the patriarchal power structure. When I was a kid, many overweight boys found refuge on the football team. It’s surely a struggle for larger men in the competitive GQ work world, but there are infinite messages that still tell them they are their accomplishments, not their belt size. You can even become president!

There is a ton of research on this subject I could cite but the message I got was how many women I know suffer in silence. Heartbreaking silence. The internet is on fire with fat shaming “humor,” but we tolerate the suffering of people we love. Why?

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Can I be a part of the solution? I’ve certainly made comments about the obesity issue that were cloaked in concern about health issues (and insurance premium rates). But I have to wonder if I’ve avoided relationships out of fear of fatness. I’ve always been pretty slim (even when I played high school football) and been dedicated to healthy diet and exercise. I know I’ve thought of heavy people as not caring about those things. In many cases, it’s the exact opposite – they care and engage more. The fat = sick assumption is hugely problematic. It’s so much more complex than that. But stereotyping is so much easier than wading into the complexity. (Just ask a Trump fan about Mexicans and Muslims.) And liberals are just as guilty. Spend some time on the People of Wal-Mart website for a good dose of liberal fat and class-shaming.

It doesn’t do any good to tell a fat person they are fat. They know, believe me. In fact, it’s likely to have the opposite effect. It’s not like someone hears a comment and thinks, “Oh, shit, I might be obese. I’m going to cut carbs out of my diet today!” These are life long struggles, fueled, at least in part, by the belief that there is some perfect body size that will get you back into the “fully human” category.

Think of the human potential that has been lost because of the impact of that shame, of people who hide their talents because of one category of evaluation. And think of people  who just gave up on their own health because it is impossible (impossible) to ever truly reach this socially constructed ideal of perfection. And think of the woman who really deserves some Ben & Jerry’s and the simple joy a mouthful of ice-cream can bring, standing in the check-out line next to air-brushed magazine cover models, diet books, and the National Enquirer beach bodies issue with the teaser, “Whose disgusting fat ass is this?”

I want to write more about this issue, but for now I want to just say we are all fully human with a right to be here. It doesn’t matter what your size is. But we need to hear the stories because anyone who cares about a person who is suffering should care about why they are suffering. Things are changing. People don’t care as much about beauty pageants as they used to (Sorry, Trump.) Real people have stretch marks and bounce around on the scale and have days when they feel like not leaving the house. We’re probably more ready for the Rosie O’Donnells (Trump’s “fat pig”) and the Alicia Machados (Trump’s “Miss Piggy”) of the world than the Ivankas and Melanias, but there’s room for all to exist without being placed under our microscope of evaluation. Your ass is fine.

To be continued.

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Trump Lessons 1: Is this sexist?

December 22, 2016

In this holiday season, I’m looking for silver bells and silver linings. Barring a half dozen dead hookers being found in a closet in Trump Tower, this practical joke on America is going to be sworn in as president on January 20th. The educator in me wants to figure out how this is a “teachable moment.” How can we glean some value from watching the United States jump the shark?

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As a feminist scholar, there’s a game I play in the classroom when trying to reveal the nature of cultural power imbalances. It’s called, “Put the Stiletto on the Other Foot.” If you want to find out of something might be sexist, flip the sexes and see how plausible it might be. Would there be much a debate about abortion if men got pregnant? What if men were evaluated primarily on their looks instead of their acts? Hey, how about if sorority houses were known for sexually assaulting male students? What if all the men in congress dyed their grey hair and the women in congress didn’t? We could go on and on.

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One of the best examples of this was during the Trump-Clinton contest. A meme went around that asked what the media chat would be Hillary Clinton had five children with three different men? What if Hillary Clinton bragged about grabbing men’s penises and moving on them without restraint? What if Hillary Clinton walked into the dressing rooms to catch boys naked because she owned the contest they were in? Can you imagine?

The point is that there’s an ancient Affirmative Action program called patriarchy that gives men a lot more latitude for bad behavior. Just like our black president had to be the perfect scandal-free executive and it still wasn’t enough, women have to meet a standard far above their male colleagues. On the surface, there should have been no choice between an overly-qualified states-person and a ham-fisted, morally challenged (at best) buffoon. But one was female and held to a completely different and unrealistic standard. Welcome to the world of women.

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So, for the next four years, every time Trump gets a pass at something that Hillary Clinton (or any other woman, for that matter) would have been raked over the coals for, let’s all shout, “There’s the gender card!”

Much was written during the campaign about the sexist double standard in evaluating the candidates. This includes Trump’s countless and daily (hourly?) lies while castigating everyone else as a liar. “Lyin’ Ted,” “Crooked Hillary.” How did he pull it off? If she called him on his shit, she was instantly labeled a “bitch.” It was a no-win situation, invented long before Mr. Trump came along. Smile, honey, but not too much.

The campaign is over. The Russians, I mean, Trump won. But the shit show is just starting. The bar for both Donald and Melania has been dropped to the sub-basement by the droogs that voted for him and continued to support him even after he told them to their faces that 90% of what he said at his rallies was complete bullshit. “Yeah! Huh? Yeah! Drain the swamp!”

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The Stiletto on the Other Foot game has lots of other applications, race being the most obvious one. This time imagine if Obama had five kids with three different women and bragged about sexually assaulting women and then tried to write it off as “locker talk.” These mental games often allow folks to get creative. There’s a clever 1995 film called White Man’s Burden, starring Harry Belafonte and John Travolta. It imagines an alternative America where black and white positions in society are switched. The movie bombed. Just too much to process I guess.

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I’ve been thinking lately what would being said right now if Trump was Jewish. With all his “conflicts of interests,” pay-for-play tactics, insider trading positioning, and cabinet filled with Goldman Sachs loyalists, he would be viewed as the worst stereotype of the Jew. As it is, his neo-Nazi (alt-right) followers haven’t even noticed. It’s good to be the king!

I imagine we’ll have a chance to play this game every day for the next four years (unless he quits because people stop believing his “just trust me” mantra). The silver lining here is that it should awake a whole new generation of feminists who start telling the men in their lives, “Don’t think you can get away with it just because Trump can.” Then the next question should be, “And why can he get away with it if you can’t?” Donald Trump is the poster boy for white male privilege and he’s going to exalt that to his dying day. He’s clueless. His presidency will do more to discredit unchecked male power than all the Women’s Studies classes in the world.

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Donald Trump for President of Rape Culture

October 10, 2016

Let’s hope this is my last blog post dedicated to Candidate Trump as his schadenfreude campaign circles the toilet. One more “teachable moment” for the country that the Trump train wreck has gifted us.

I was going to call this piece, “Will Donald Trump Grab My Daughter’s Pussy?” now that that word is more relevant to the 2016 election than “down-ballot.” I have to think Trump’s marriage gets turned over to the lawyers after election day and he will start “moving on” other women “like a bitch.” I’m going to hope his targets are over the age of 13, but with Trump, we don’t know.

Federal Judge Orders Hearing in Donald Trump Rape Lawsuit

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Feminists and academics (and feminist academics like me) have been writing about rape culture for a while now. We’ve been writing about it existing in frat houses and rap songs and every other episode of Game of Thrones. It’s the normality of sexual violence against women. The numbers vary depending on the study and methodology, but roughly one in four women are willing to report being victims of sexual assault. Anybody willing to listen would guess the percentage is a hell of a lot higher, especially when you include sexual assaults of young girls. (Plenty of research backs this up.)

If you are a female, you know this is true. If you haven’t yet been victimized you know it is always a looming possibility. If you are a man, you either plug into the concern about the women in your life and work to make them safe (including standing up to “locker room talk”), or you are part of the problem.

Rape culture is rooted, first, in patriarchy. The most popular God in our culture is a male and He lets his men know that women are objects to be conquered. There’s plenty of sanctioned rape in The Bible, so it’s not a new idea. The belief is that women’s (and girls) bodies exist for male pleasure; to look at, to have sex with, and to kiss and grab whenever the spirit moves them. Females are certainly not autonomous humans with the right to control their own bodies. That’s a male privilege.

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So rape culture isn’t just the epidemic amount of rape that happens every day against our daughters, sisters, mothers and soap opera actresses. It’s more than a Robin Thicke song, as well. It’s the normalization that women exist FOR men’s enjoyment. One example would be beauty pageants. Imagine a beauty pageant owner who would brag about going backstage to see the contestants naked and making the bathing suits smaller to see more of their bodies. What would we think of that man? Would he make a good leader of the nation or a good leader of a rape culture? If you want them to be the same thing, you are a defender of patriarchy.

This brings us to Trump 2005 and his little bus ride with douchey Billy Bush, the poster boy for white male privilege. We’ve all heard the tape by now, as well as Trump’s half-assed “Clinton is worse!” apology. (Getting caught sucks.) There are two important discussions here for the nation at this important crossroads.

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The first is one is obvious. Is this over-ripe frat boy who brags about sexually assaulting women and, while his third wife was pregnant, boasts about trying to bed a married women, qualified to be elevated to our highest office? Does this misogynist have the right to represent our great nation that is 50.8% female? What message will that send to our daughters as well as the rest of the world?

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For me, the larger question is, what will be the impact of Donald “Grab their pussies” Trump have on this insidious rape culture? Many of his cult already view him as a “god” and we’ve seen Trump’s aggressive rhetoric translating into hate crimes and a spike in schoolyard bullying. How many boys and young males are now going to reject “sexual violence education” as “political correctness” in favor of just grabbing women and girls like Trump does? Will my daughter have to add the fear of Trump-inspired gropers to her anxiety about who claims a right to her body? This man being awarded the Oval Office would give budding douchebags license to follow their sexual drives unchecked. Be like Trump! WWDD? Move on her like a bitch!

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We’ve been trying to figure out when the “again” was in Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Clearly, it’s at least before the existence of laws against sexual harassment.

And this is the part where I feel compelled to explain to the “But Bill Clinton…” Trumpists that Bill Clinton is not running for president. Feminists had a hard time with Bill in the 1990s, believe me. It might be news to conservatives, but wives are not their husbands. Hillary Clinton is a separate person. (I know that might be hard for these people to process.) She has her own thing goin’ on.

Look, I’m glad Trump has apologized and has said he wants to be a better man. That’s awesome. I’m on my own journey and am a better man than I was in 2005. But I’m not not running for president and I’m not sure we would have Trump’s mea culpa if that live mike hadn’t captured him off camera. The difference is two-fold. Unlike Trump, I’m willing to admit I’ve made a ton of mistakes and am using each one to be a better man (not waiting until everyone else finds out about it). Secondly, I acknowledge that this issue is deeply systemic. It affects everyone I care about, including my wife and my daughter. Out of my love for them and the mighty women and girls in the world, I am busting my ass trying to undo rape culture. This includes my role in propping it up. Trump and his droogs deny the existence of rape culture (and white privilege, and climate change, and…)

Also, I’m guessing I’ll be a better 59-year-old man in 2023 than he was in 2005. Just a hunch. But let’s imagine that he spent 69-years as a committed misogynist and dramatically changed his assessment of patriarchal privilege in year 70. Yeah, right. He’s a very old dog. We might as well just imagine the fallout if there was a 2005 tape of Hillary Clinton bragging about grabbing men’s dicks. Lord.

It’s funny trying to see the Trump camp try to rationalize this pig of a man. “Well, Trump said Bill Clinton said worse things!” Again, Bill is not running for president and, at this point, you’re really gonna believe anything that Donald Trump says? “Well, women loved 50 Shades of Grey!” As I wrote in this blog, feminists took great issue with that crappy book. Besides Christian Grey is a fictional character who, like Bill Clinton, is not running for president. Those Harry Potter books are pretty popular but I don’t think America wants a president who claims to cast magic spells either. (Okay, that might be more fun than this.)

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Trump’s lurking behind Secretary Clinton in the second debate like a creepy clown or stalker only seemed to be in line with his predatory manner. He again sloughed off his praise of sexual assault as “locker room talk” (3 times) and then quickly shifted to his go-to mantra about ISIS “chopping off heads” and people “pouring into our country.” He might be bad but at least he’s not ISIS, y’all! You had to think that Melania Trump, painfully smiling in her appropriately named Pussy-Bow blouse, was just waiting for all this to be over.

Singer Billy Bragg used to say that when Americans elect a president they elect a president for the whole world. In 2016, let us elect a president for all the women in the world and strike a very loud blow against rape culture.

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How Donald Trump makes me a better feminist

September 28, 2016

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I had a really great “a-ha” moment in my intro sociology class my freshman year at Oxford College. Professor McQuaide was discussing a classroom study that found that young male students will raise their hands to answer questions they have no idea the answer to while young female students, who know the answer, will remain quiet. Girls are supposed to be seen and not heard, pretty, not smart. I remember relating to it because in school I was a junior Arnold Horshack (Google him, kids) leaping out of my chair just to control the room with whatever sound would come out of my mouth. “Oh! Oh! Oh! I know!” Even if I didn’t.

That’s how I felt about the first Clinton-Trump debate.

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There are plenty of things to pick apart about Trump’s bizarre showing. I worked in the music business long enough to recognize a coked-up money guy. They blamed things on “bad microphones” as well. But the thing that struck me was his constant interruptions of his debate opponent – 51 times by one count. Trump was like a jacked-up Kanye West who thought the stage belonged to him alone. You can think what you want about Hillary Clinton, but I’m guessing a whole hell of a lot of women identified with her for those 90 minutes. A clueless guy rambling nonsense, in love with the sound of his own voice, over an experienced knowledgeable woman who as learned to defer to the man. It happens in classrooms, bedrooms and boardrooms every day.

I’ll leave it to the pundits and addiction specialists to translate Trump’s incoherent word salad. He’s convinced he won the debate and I’m sure he thinks he did. (Cocaine is a powerful drug.) I just want to reflect on how we men talk to and about women.

The first is the dismissive way we “let” “girls” into “our” conversations. We set the rules of the game and if they don’t follow them they are “incapable” on one hand or “ball-busting bitches” on the other. Or, in the case of Trump’s treatment of Alicia Machado, “Miss Piggies.” Women have a narrow margin of acceptance in a man’s world. Hillary Clinton had to smile but not too much. Be prepared but not overly scripted. Research shows that we are more likely to refer to women by their first names (or “Honey” or “Sweet Cheeks”) and give them less time to express themselves because their opinions are valued less. This has certainly been the case when discussing “male” issues like national defense and the economy. “Math is tough,” as Talking Barbie once said. Trump is an overweight 70-year-old man but Clinton was described by watchers as a “grandma.” The double standard lives!

The second is the way we erase females from the conversation. I’ve written about normative maleness in this blog. Like white is the default position, male is the “norm.” You have cabdrivers and lady cabdrivers. (Cue Prince song.) I’m still explaining to people that Cozy is a girl. (Although I secretly enjoy when old codgers call her “Young man.”) Unless it’s a cheerleading squad or one of Trump’s creepy pool parties, the female is an anomaly, like an alien, and must be treated with suspicion. Right, fellas?

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The big thing is how we don’t actually listen to women. (“Did you say something, honey?”) Our body language and lack of eye-contact reflect this and every single woman knows what I’m talking about. But men like to pretend that women are from Venus and unless they have some magic Manslater to translate what the bitch means it’s just not worth the effort. Right, fellas?

How many heterosexual relationships have gone down in flames because the female partner felt like she was not heard? Studies show that the most successful marriages are the ones where couples act like they are teammates on the same side, facing issues together. Lots of guys like to claim they married their “best friend” but then tune her out when it’s convenient. That’s not how it works. I’d love to be Melania Trump’s therapist when Donald has moved on to model-wife #4. “He only talked at me, never with me. And he was always sniffing.”

And it’s not about listening to gossip or how the CenturyLink remote won’t work. It’s about listening to women’s journey through a still very sexist world and trying to be the best ally possible.

I write this because, like Donald Trump, I have a lot of work to do on this issue. I’ve come a long way since my first marriage, which ended with my wife saying, “You listen to your friends better than you listen to me.” I still struggle with the eye contact issue but it’s important to my partner so it’s important to me. I’m a feminist but I was socialized as a male and that means I have a lot of extra baggage to get rid off. Thank you, Donald Trump, for reminding me. You make me what to be a better man. My daughter and wife will appreciate it.

It might not be fair to characterize Trump as a coked-up bully who disregards the opinions of women and is not even interested in women who are not “10’s.” Maybe it’s not the coke. He has said he’s never done drugs and we all know Donald Trump never lies. Maybe that’s just him.

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