Stop Saying…anything that might make an unsuspecting stranger feel uncomfortable.

Alright, alright, alright.
I haven’t posted much since my move to the Bay, but I’m back. And I’m feeling kind of sassy today. I was going to just let it go, but it’s been over 2 weeks now and STILL my facebook friends and groups across the world keep reposting this article. “Stop Saying “I Have a Boyfriend” to Deflect Unwanted Attention.”  No offense to Ms. Ebenhardt, I see where she was going with it; but the call to all of us to stop saying whatever the hell we need to say to stay safe when we’re walking home from the grocery store  in our slutty yoga pants with a big “please harass me” across our foreheads, is quite frankly, absurd.*  The real message should be “Stop asking if I have a boyfriend to determine whether I’m free game for unwanted attention!”

I was in full agreement with her, -especially when she wrote,  “The idea that a woman should only be left alone if she is “taken” or “spoken for” (terms that make my brain twitch) completely removes the level of respect that should be expected toward that woman. It completely removes the agency of the woman, her ability to speak for herself and make her own decisions regarding when and where the conversation begins or ends.” I was all, amen!

But then, this happened:  “And the worst part of the whole situation is that we’re doing this to ourselves.”

No. Full stop. And all of my lovely friends who reposted this article, I want you to really hear this. The fact that some guy feels so entitled to your time, attention, body, or whatever else, that only “ownership” by another man may deflect his attention is absolutely not. your. fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not the thousands of other women who have used that phrase’s fault.  It is his refusal to see you as fully human and capable of making decisions that are right for you simply because they are right for you. And it’s not your job to teach him.

Especially not when it’s 11 pm and you’re in the club trying to have a good time with your friends & show off those sweet Beyonce moves you learned on youtube.

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This is your time to relax and have fun and laugh and experience life and engage in consensual flirtation–not your responsibility to fix his fucked up views on women.

Also, for those who are doubting me; I have tried “I’m not interested.” Sometimes I still use it.
Does it often work? no. Did the men I said it to “learn their lesson?” eh…maybe like 1 in 10. Did it require way more time to explain than I cared to give? undoubtedly yes. Did it make me feel safer? no, not always…sometimes I regretted it immediately.
I’ve also used “I have a boyfriend” “I’m on call & I have to run because I’m superwoman,” eye rolls, “bitch face” (aka mean-mugging), look at a friend & secretly call for backup, “I’m married” and I felt great about all of them. no regrets.

So what should you do when someone tries to start a conversation with you//get your attention//harasses you on the street/subway/dance floor/coffee shop/airplane/etc?

1. Say something. or don’t. Because it’s your choice to respond however you see fit. Just choose whichever feels safest and most comfortable to you.

2. Remember that you’re not responsible for changing another person’s words or behaviors; and that in this moment you are doing the very best you can.

3. Continue on with whatever you were doing. You deserve to claim space to just “do you”

*Bonus* Be a good ally when you witness it happening to a friend or someone around you. Ask if they want you to walk/dance/talk with them until the person leaves; interrupt shitty behavior; make eye contact to let the person receiving the unwanted attention know you’ve got their back.

*obviously, sarcasm.

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Dear Portland, Stop Sex Trafficking Budget Cuts!

“All that’s needed for the triumph of evil, is  for good men to do nothing”

Update:: Thanks to all the fabulous advocacy and refusal to remain silent,  the city restored its funding to SARC advocates on May 21. Thanks for all of your support, everyone!

 

An open letter to Mayor Hales & Portland City Commissioners,

It’s 2 am, and as the majority of Portlanders are sleeping safe and dry in their beds. I wake to the sound of my phone with a fourteen year old girl, who has just been sexually assaulted by several 30-50 year old men in order to make money for her pimp, on the other side. She’s huddled in the Lloyd center parking garage with no place to sleep knowing if she returns to him he will beat her for not meeting her $500 quota for the evening. I call her a cab to Harry’s Mother as I wipe the sleep from my own eyes and jump into my car with enough time to stop at McDonalds so I can meet her  with a hug and a warm meal.  While I sit with her, safe for the first time in two months; I know there are 100 other commercially sexually exploited youth still out in the rain trying to survive in a city that sleeps while they are raped, beaten, and neglected.

During my time as a SARC advocate for two years, I met with countless numbers of commercially sexually exploited youth just like the one described above—sometimes as young as 11. The Sexual Assault Resource Center provides a service that is invaluable in keeping Portland’s children safe and intervening when they are not. By providing a confidential space for case management, crisis response, and advocacy; they are the gateway for Portland’s most vulnerable citizens to access safety, support, resources, and a way out of a violent cycle that for many years the city turned a blind eye to.

Over the last 5 years, Portland finally woke up to the reality that our children were being sex trafficked in our own backyards— childhoods stolen by adult men willing to pay $50 to rape fifteen year olds. The funding provided by the city to establish a collaborative effort of SARC advocates, Janus Youth housing specialists, law enforcement units such as the East Precinct prostitution coordination team, and LifeWorks NW mental health therapists has resulted in over 350 youth receiving the services owed to them. Since SARC started providing advocacy to sex trafficking survivors, prosecution of pimps and johns has increased by 350%—owed primarily to the fact that the young victims have felt so empowered by this microcosm of service providers and community of survivors, they were willing to testify in trials.

The young survivors I worked with while at SARC are the most courageous, creative, compassionate people I have ever met, and with continued support they will undoubtedly develop into some of the city’s greatest leadership in the years to come. However, these children’s lives are at risk every day and if these important programs are cut, we will be putting the city’s most vulnerable citizens even further at risk.

Mayor Hales and commissioners, should you decide to cut funding to these services, you will be complicit in removing the only lifelines many of these children have ever had. To say that protecting sex trafficking victims is not the city’s job is a travesty and speaks to the need for more services–not less– to both keep children safe and to teach the leaders & adults in Portland that we do, in fact have a responsibility to protect the children who live here. I am requesting that you continue to fund The Sexual Assault Resource Center and its important community partners. Decorative fountains can wait—our children cannot.

For more about city budget cuts watch this video (shoutout to one of the most amazing advocates and friends I know–Tanell Morton!): http://www.kgw.com/news/Sex-trafficking-programs-on-the-citys-chopping-block–208023061.html

Make 5 calls, send 5 e-mails, attend a budget hearing : https://www.facebook.com/notes/sarc-oregon/child-victims-of-sex-trafficking-budget-cuts-and-how-you-can-help/542378392472086

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“Hard Times Require Furious Dancing”-Alice Walker

It’s my birthday! There’s only room for joy and celebration in my life today, so please turn your attention to these wonderful things that deserve celebrating this week:

France Votes Yes to Gay marriage 

I’m moving to the Bay!  And my bestie, Amy is joining me for the adventure down!

Awesome community organizers in Washington are posed to stop predatory lending. Awesome immigrant women are organizing for comprehensive immigration reform. Awesome houseless rights organizers are working hard every day to stop bills like the one that will restrict sidewalk use in Oregon.  Awesome Saudi Arabian women are organizing to fight ridiculous guardianship laws. Awesome youth in Zambia are learning to use social media as a tool to end gender-based violence. Pretty much there are all sorts of community organizers all over the world doing amazing, progressive, community-based work & they should be celebrated every day!

I discovered this amazing meme-driven blog on returned peace corps volunteers and silent laugh-cried for over an hour at my desk  www.rpcvcallme.tumblr.com

Soul Pancake—host of Kid President is in the running for 2 Webby Awards—vote for them by April 25th

I have the best friends ever, as evidenced here.

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and here. 177614_10151229697308856_1751962227_o[1]

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and here. 282304_273254949443511_533537391_n[1]

302095_10200768058757511_242840093_n[1] And here.

I got news this week, that like every week, some amazing survivors are enacting their resiliency, courage, creativity & hope for a different world

I have all sorts of things to celebrate on the day of my 27th year…I am learning and living and loving so much right now. I can barely contain myself–I’m like this:

Happy Hump Day all you beautiful people!

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In Defense of Love.

 I have many identities. I am a sister. A daughter. A feminist. An activist. A woman. A mid-western transplant to the bestcoast.   A traveler. A part of the problem as well as the solution. A dreamer. An introverted extrovert. A runner. A socialist mind in a pseudo-democratic society. But above all of these things, if I were to choose one identity to be at the top of the list the day I die, it would be my identity as a pursuer of love.

I have often been chastised for this identity—by other woman declaring love as naïve, by feminists as a betrayal of the pursuit of female power, by liberals as too forgiving, by atheists as too, well, loving, by the men I date as too free. But I stand in defense of love as something that can and must exist alongside all of my socio-political identities & actions in order for them to be fully realized. I’ve been thinking a lot about the subject this week, and I am far from being able to articulate each and every reason I pursue love so passionately in my life and work, so today you get a raw, unfinished rendition of these thoughts.

 I’d first like to start off with love for enemies—for those whose actions, beliefs, and values are often viewed as incompatible with a just world. An easy example here are those who engage in violent behavior. I have sat in so many meetings at feminist organizations where abusive men are labeled with Xs on their hearts–where their capability for healing and transformation are denied because it is much easier to hate an individual than change the system that created him. And in those moments I have often said something along the lines of, “yes, his actions are absolutely gut-wenchingly awful…and also, I wonder how he became such a hateful person. I wonder if he’s ever experienced love in his life. I wonder if he knows what forgiveness looks like. I wonder what would happen if rather than throw him in solitary confinement; we threw him into a community intent on loving him so hard that by the end of it, he would have to acknowledge his own humanness and the humanity of the person he attempted to destroy.” And without fail someone in the room says, “Oh, Sarah, you’re such an idealist.” And then there are giggles, and maybe 1 set of eyes from the 10 in the room who glance over to give me the “I agree” look.

 Love is not naïve. It may be idealist, but idealism isn’t naïve either—it is brave. Choosing to love, and to see the pain behind someone’s actions is an act of resistance against the abuse of power we live with daily. My feminism—my politics—believe that everyone is capable of more than what patriarchy feeds them. If I deny a person’s human ability to evolve, I may as well give up all together. The entire point of feminism is to change the foundations that deny our liberation—so who am I to deny a person their ability to participate in this process? Especially someone who has perpetuated it? Isn’t changing those patterns what it’s all about? 

I once worked with a young man who engaged in egregious acts against his intimate partner. I could have immediately written him off, decided I could not possibly work with him, told him I thought he was a terrible person.  But this would have come out of fear and hatred, not out of a desire for justice and liberation. So I chose to love him. Because love is a verb, it’s something you do, every week we played spades and talked about now because a future was not something he could imagine. Sometimes my love irritated him, made him uncomfortable, made him call me awful names as he declared that I could never change him. “I’m not trying to change you, you are in charge of that, I’m just here to give a shit.” I loved him in his language. Eventually he gave in, he told me I wouldn’t give a shit if I knew what he did, I would want him locked up forever. I told him to try me. And he did…ohhh man did he. And at the end I told him thank-you. I also told him that I saw those actions as manifestation of the deep pain he held onto from his childhood and as a way to gain power & control over a life often controlled by the choices of others. We talked about the myth that these actions would ever give him actual agency in the world–that in choosing violence, he was not only choosing to take away another person’s power, but also denying his own need for love—because if he were to become vulnerable, he risked being abandoned once again. And transformations started to take place—it’s a slow, painful process with lots of room for error—but it is also necessary. You see friends, my commitment to end violence is just that. If I love survivors of violence—if I love myself—enough, then I know I must demonstrate raw compassion to perpetrators so that they may also find healing and space in a community they have been trying so hard to remove themselves from.** Love is the only thing that will conquer violence. As Cornel West says,

love is what justice looks like in public.

Now, love in friendship and community. Honestly, this should be easy. But its not. There is so much in-fighting in social justice movements. There is also a false barrier that the social work field tends to perpetuate between “us” and “them”–the us being service providers, and the them being clients, as though they are not mutually compatible. I actively resist this paradigm. I tell the people I work with I love them when I do. I invite “clients” who I prefer to call participants to train the ‘service providers.’ I advocate for professional boundaries to be mutually agreed upon as in any relationship, rather than something imposed in a power-over dynamic. I do normal things like drink coffee with, shop with, paint nails with, protest with the youth I work with because cultivating community is a significant component of healing and transformation.

In many groups that I have been a part of there exists so much gossiping, disdain for difference, and fighting over what we view as scarcity—like funding, political platforms, jobs or salaries, etc. And to keep this post even somewhat brief, can I just ask us to all stop? Disagreement, constructive feedback, and open dialogue is all central to transforming visions into realities—but all of the meanness we bestow against one another just needs to end. Bell Hooks (who also happens to literally be the only name that comes up in 3 pages when I google “feminism + love”) says,

“I want there to be a place in the world where people can engage in one another’s differences in a way that is redemptive, full of hope and possibility. Not this “In order to love you, I must make you something else”. That’s what domination is all about, that in order to be close to you, I must possess you, remake and recast you.”

There are such brilliant, amazing people all around you in your community, if you just open yourself up to the idea that we can love one another exactly as we are. Kid President has a lot to say on this, so I’ll refer you to youtube for further explanation on what it means to be fucking nice to people.

And finally, love in intimate partnerships.*** A growing pattern in my life is the response when a romantic partnership ends, or as I like to say, transitions. In the last several significant relationships I’ve had, regardless of their length, the person has told me that though xyz weren’t perfect, that I was really good at loving. This is by far one of the most poignant things a person could tell me because loving, especially at the end of a relationship—is something that I so consciously pursue. I value compassion and understanding and kindness over revenge, guilt, or shame and prefer to end relationships genuinely wishing the person well. However, these endings have started to teach me something—as good as I am about loving, I have a much more difficult time accepting love, or requiring love as a central component of my partner’s relationship to me. So I’ve started to deconstruct what this is all about. I, like many women in the world, was taught that I should pursue this empty version of “love” until I found someone who could stand being called my husband—because as we all know wives are just these things you have to have even though they are totally going to ruin your life, strip you of your freedom, and make you financially responsible for children who will also ruin your life in a similar fashion. My favorite poet, Rumi, writes

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”  

The older I get, the more loving and compassionate I become toward myself—perhaps that is why the endings of relationships have become so easy for me—not because they aren’t painful—but because I am becoming so acutely aware of the barriers I have built against love, and begun to deconstruct them. And as I do that, I begin to view myself as capable and worthy of mutual vulnerability, respect, partnership, compassion, kindness etc. And when my love is not reciprocated, I can move on knowing that an expectation that a romantic partner can and should reciprocate that emotional vulnerability is not like believing in unicorns—it is an act of resistance against a patriarchal norm that tries to trick us all into believing men don’t have to put in any of the emotional work that keeps a relationship moving forward. Meghan Murphy’s Valentine’s Day post is on this very topic, and when she says :

Romance is awkward for feminists. It’s defined by bullshit like proposals and lingerie and heterosexuality and money. So being a romantic and being a feminist can feel incompatible. I don’t want diamonds. I don’t want babies or showers or proposals or my husband’s last name. Nor do I want a husband, actually. But I want love. Monogamous, forever, love

I’m all, please be my friend!  I don’t really have much more to say on this topic, other than to say that I believe in love. And romance. And feminism. And I believe they can all co-exist in a partnership if we cultivate them.  I also believe in loving myself, and in doing so whether I’m single, or dating, or in a relationship, or anywhere in between. I am not willing to settle for a watered down version of love in order to fulfill a bullshit social norm, but I am willing to open myself up to the possibility that a loving partnership could exist.

All this to say: I love with reckless abandon as often as I can, and I do not apologize for it. I love as best I can in my relationships with friends, lovers, enemies, and everyone in between–and in doing so, myself. I invite you to do the same, you may be surprised at how liberating it can be.  

**This is in no way to say that individuals in a violent relationship has any responsibility to stick around and “make it work” in an attempt to change the other person’s behavior. This is a call to those of us in social justice movements to resist the temptation to label someone a throw-away, and incapable of ever joining us on the other side.

***I am straight, and therefore am only providing commentary using heterosexual terms because I have no idea what it is like to be in a relationship with a woman.

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Power Breakfast

First breakfast post–usually they will be on Sundays, and my own culinary masterpieces. However, I’m in the middle of moving across state lines & playing the “eat everything in the pantry regardless of whether it makes any sense” game. I do not highly recommend bbq pasta, pad thai made with ketchup instead of tamarind (people do it, I tried it, it’s disgusting), or attempting to make pumpkin bread with butternut squash. However, I DO highly recommend this really easy protein packed breakfast. I’m pretty obsessed with it this week. All you need are:

-Chia Seeds
-A banana
-Non-Dairy Milk
-Cinnamon

http://ohsheglows.com/2013/02/18/chia-seed-breakfast-bowl/

I’ve made it every day for the last week of work, and started a small movement amongst office staff–yesterday 4 others pulled out their mason jars of chia-banana pudding. So, enjoy &  thank the wonderful woman behind ohsheglows for getting you through your day!

 

Chia Seed Pudding w/Cinnamon

Chia Seed Pudding w/Cinnamon (Photo credit: protoflux)

 

Happy breakfast!

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Guest Post: Men Can End Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

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Well would you look at that, here for just a few days, and I already have a guest post–feelin’ the love ya’ll! Below is a post to all of the men who have ever said “yeah, exploiting children is wrong, but I don’t do it so what else can I do to stop it?” Thanks to my good friend, JohnPaul Morton who resides in Portland, OR and spends his free time mentoring a high school student, teaching sexual violence prevention classes in middle schools, and having a ridiculous amount of fun with his own three kids & fabulous wife!

April is sexual assault awareness month and so I’d like to spend some time answering the question, “What can men do to help end the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC)?” Men, if you want to make a difference but don’t know how I have a few ideas for you.

Starting with STEP 1:The first thing and the most important thing men can do to help end CSEC is to stop buying children for sex. No, seriously. If we could do this one, seemingly simple thing, we could put an end to the commercial sexual exploitation of children. By causing the demand we have created the supply and since we are the problem we are equally the solution. So step one, stop buying children for sex.

But now we need to broaden things a little. Step 2 requires that we look at the sex industry as a whole. How does the entire sex industry relate specifically to the buying and selling of underage boys and girls and what roles do our actions play in supporting this? Let’s look at Strip Clubs and Pornography for example. A Portland Police Officer once told me that he has never investigated a strip club where prostitution wasn’t happening. Now, this is not to say that there is prostitution at every strip club OR that at every strip club involved in prostitution you will find underage children but simply to point out the connection. We should also be aware that there are underage girls who work as dancers in strip clubs….yes, it happens.

Men…and women…I’m not trying to judge, I’m simply asking that you keep this in mind as you make your daily life choices.

The same goes for pornography. I probably don’t need to go into much detail about this. Many of the young boys and girls involved in CSEC are also manipulated into the world of porn.  Yes, it also happens.

Now again, I’m not trying to pass any judgment on strip clubs or pornography. And so long as all the participants are of consenting age and are involved without force or coercion both are completely legal. I’m merely trying to connect some dots. I would love everyone to simply be conscious and aware of the link between CSEC the Sex Industry as a whole.

Keep this thought in mind: “SHE’S YOUNGER THAN SHE LOOKS”. Experts across the country say the average age of entry into the sex industry is 12-14. So if she looks young… well…imagine how young she may actually be.

Ok, so now we need to move further out to step 3 and take an even broader look at society in general. How do we, as a male dominated society, treat male and female sexuality? How do we view women? How do we view women’s bodies? How do we view the sexual urges of man? Do we treat women’s sexual needs the same as men’s? Is it uncomfortable for you that I even mention women’s sexual needs?

And let’s talk about the objectification of women. When was the last time you flipped through a magazine and paid attention to the ads? Have you noticed in advertisements how often women are portrayed as OBJECTS? Almost regardless of the type of product (food, drink, clothing, etc) you can find ads where an object in the ad has been replaced with an image of a woman. American advertising objectifies women at an alarming rate.

Also, have you read any articles lately on any case involving a rape accusation? I say “Any” because unless it was written by some feminist blogger you will most likely hear these questions:

“Did she say, No”?
“Did she say, No, loudly and forcefully”?
“Did she try to fight back”?
“What was she wearing”
“How much did she have to drink that night”?
“Why was she hanging out with that crowd”?
“Why did she go out to that bar alone”

Men…do you see how our society acts as though it is the male right to have sex? Its as if we assume that unless the victim forcibly fights back the sex was consensual? I don’t know about you, but personally, I live my life under the assumption that you do not want to have sex with me.

You see the questions shouldn’t be directed to her but rather to him. For instance:

“Did she say, Yes”?
“Did she say, “Yes”, loudly and convincingly”?
“Was it clear she wanted to have sex with you”?
“Did you assume because her skirt was short that she wanted to have sex with you”?
“Where you trying to get her drunk”?
“Did you and your friends try and intimidate her or manipulate her”?
“When you saw her all alone why weren’t you trying to protect her”?

We often hear tips on how to keep our young daughters, sisters and wives from getting raped but really we should be spending the time in teaching our sons, brothers, and selves to respect women and, to put it bluntly, NOT TO RAPE.

The question was “what can men do to help end CSEC?” and the answer is really broad. Children being sold for sex is a microcosm of the broader issues of sexism, oppression, racism, and male privilege. It’s 2013, people. This is not a new issue. Why have we, as a society, spent so many years ignoring the fact that our children are out on the street being raped? Our CHILDREN? Do we really believe that when a 14 year old takes $50 for giving someone a blowjob that they are just as guilty as the man paying for it? Or that when a 16 year old gets handed $100 bucks after sex that the sex was truly consensual? This is rape. Rape! I don’t care how much she got paid. And until we men, stand up and say something and act like we give a damn it’s just going to keep happening.

As we move forward in fighting this issue it’s important to keep the focus on the demand. We can blame the “pimps” and the “traffickers”, we can blame the “parents” or the “children” themselves. We can blame poverty, drug abuse, bad choices, and any number of other things but until we stop blaming and start taking responsibility for the actions of men nothing will change.

Here’s the catch. Once we begin to address the crime of “buying sex” it starts to become personal. What is going to happen when your boss gets locked up for trying to buy sex from a child? What will happen with your job? What happens when we start changing laws to really go after the perpetrators who are buying sex and raping our children and we suddenly find our doctors, schoolteachers, politicians, co-workers, pastors, friends, and family in jail?  Is it still worth fighting for these children or should we just look the other way?

The Chicago Alliance Against Sex Trafficking did a study and found that the #1 deterrent to keep men from buying sex would be public shaming.  What if we simply put their guilty faces on a big ole billboard? Are you willing to drive by a picture of your neighbor, brother, father, or even yourself to protect our children? Is it worth that sacrifice? Is it worth the offense, and the hurt of finding out how close to home this issue really is? I think so. I hope so.

Are you willing to take a personal inventory of your life to review how you treat women in general and also how you may inadvertently support CSEC through other forms of the sex industry????

Ok, let’s review: How can men help end CSEC?

Step 1: Stop buying sex from children
Step 2: Educate yourself about the connection between CSEC, the Sex Industry, and our male dominated “rape culture*”.
Step 3: Give a damn and be willing to make personal sacrifices.

And then, once you have completed steps 1 through 3 here are some other things that can be done.

1. Men can work to change the laws around CSEC. Change the laws and create harsh penalties for those buying sex from children.
2. Men can raise money to help fund current programs that are doing direct service work.
3. Men can be mentors to young children. I can’t emphasize this point enough. Try being a Big Brother. Read to kids after school. Mentor a kid through life. Invest your time in the life a young boy and you could easily accomplish so much. Your time could keep him from A) Getting stuck in the CSEC life himself. B) Becoming a “Pimp”, or C) from eventually becoming part of the demand problem and buying sex from children. Men are involved in all 3 phases of CSEC so by working with young boys we can affectively cut off the problems before they start.
4. Adopt or provide foster care. I know it’s a huge task but can you imagine the difference that would make?
5. Speak up and Speak Out. Use social media to spread the call for change. Men, we need your voice.

Here are some more resources for you:

A short video: The Making of a Girl http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvnRYte3PAk

A great book: Girls Like Us http://www.amazon.com/Girls-Like-Us-Fighting-Memoir/dp/0061582069

A Powerful Website: Project Unbreakable (**TRIGGER** warning) http://projectunbreakable.tumblr.com

An impactful documentary:  Playground http://campaign13.org/playground-the-film/

Get inspired to think outside the box: Exile Poster Project 2011 http://www.exileposterproject.com/posters.html

Men Actually Doing Something: The Epik Project http://www.epikproject.org

Get or Give Support: Sexual Assault Resource Center http://sarcoregon.org

Mentor: Friends of the Children  http://friendspdx.org

Seriously go Mentor: Rosemary Anderson High School Mentorship Program http://www.portlandoic.org/rahs/encourage/volunteer

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An open letter to my fellow white, cisgender feminists,

What woman here is so enamoured of her own oppression that she cannot see her heelprint upon another woman’s face?  What woman’s terms of oppression have become precious and necessary to her as a ticket into the fold of the righteous, away from the cold winds of self-scrutiny?

-Audre Lorde

We need to talk.

We’ve got a problem—a gigantic, galaxy sized problem. And it’s our responsibility to fix it.

It’s called unexamined privilege. We need to unwrap it, dissect it, and learn what to do with it so that we can see real, liberating, collective social change rather than inauthentic, oppressive, individual change that benefits just a small number of us.Within the movement we have created this tidy dichotomy—men vs. women or “feminist” vs. “patriarchy.” And that has worked well for us because within this framework, we are innocent. If we just overthrow the patriarchy, we will have won.

News flash: We’re losing. And we will continue to lose until we embrace intersectionality and the necessary alignments with anti-racist, anti-classist, and immigrant rights movements.This will mean that you must acknowledge that while you are behind your white, male counterparts—you are faring significantly better than everyone else—non-white men included. It means that we are, in  fact, implicated in the oppression we claim to be fighting.

This past week, there have been many thoughtful and rightfully angry responses to the group Femen’s protests “for Arab women’s right…”without actually consulting Arab women. This post is one that resonated with me and addresses why their tactics are not welcomed by many Arab women: http://bit.ly/17nE7yc. And it got me thinking…

Is it really a huge surprise to you that we struggle to find allyship amongst communities of color when for so long, the largely white-feminist led anti-violence movement has relied on the system of mass incarceration to create “safety” and “empowerment” for women? While the prison industrial system continues to profit from its systemic violence in communities of color, we celebrate when someone who has perpetuated violence is sent there—as though it will produce any real, lasting change. As though it will actually stop rape and domestic violence from occurring. Listen, I hear you. It is an easy spot to find yourself in—and I have worked in the anti-violence arena for sometime now…but every time I sit in a hearing or see another man being hauled off to jail, I do not celebrate. It is profoundly sad for me. Not because he doesn’t deserve to be held accountable for his actions—but because I know where he is going is not place set up for restoration, social change, or real justice. Incite! Women of Color Against Violence says it well:

“The criminal justice system, an institution of violence, domination, and control, has increased the level of violence in society…Despite an exponential increase in the number of men in prisons, women are not any safer, and the rates of sexual assault and domestic violence have not decreased.”

It is so telling to me, how absorbed we are in our own privilege bubbles when I see a call for women to rally topless, carrying signs declaring their slut-dom and white women show up in droves. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s not only white women showing up, and I am also not implying that we shouldn’t rally against the cultural norm that believes that what we wear makes us rapeable or not. What is significant about this is where we don’t show up. Last year I attended a Trayvon Martin rally—in Portland, OR—home of the now infamous feminist bookstore of Portlandia. And yet, when I looked around there was a mere splattering of white faces among a sea of brown & black. We don’t show up in the same numbers at immigrant rights rallies, in online blogospheres when Zerlina Maxwell is attacked by mainstream media, or when Michelle Williams dresses up in brown face & thinks its ok. We don’t show up. Sure we’ll be outraged at princess culture, or thinspiration; but we don’t show up when racism is the driving force behind an ad campaign against women of color. Dissecting the history of slavery and colonialism, we becomes implicated in the very perpetuation of violence we claim to be against. For ages black & brown bodies have been considered unrapeable—un-human, and in my work I have had the unfortunate privilege to witness this even now on a regular basis. We, as a movement, remain silent when it comes to the disproportionate rate at which women of color of made to be not just women in a patriarchal society, but less than human in a racist one. It’s time to start showing up. Listening. Taking part in the intersectional fight for social justice and changing systems set up to maintain an inequitable power structure.

And about showing up. Often times, we show up—and then steal the show. As if our mere presence anywhere in the world grants us entitlement to speak. When we speak on behalf of women of color, or transwomen, or women in developing countries; we perpetuate the oppressive binary system that assumes that if a white woman is speaking she represent all women and therefore has a right to speak for all women. We need to show up, and we need to ask questions, and we need to listen. There may be times where we are asked to speak ‘on behalf of’—in  hostile environments unsafe for some to use their own voices—but even in these instances it is important to acknowledge this privilege, and to carefully determine what is expected and needed of us—not to assume and put forth our own agenda.

Trudy, of gradientlair.com, just wrote a great piece for us to reference on what it means to be a good white ally, and why some black women don’t want to join hands and sing kumbaya with us.

“The daily whining that I encounter over why Black women can’t just be good little “allies” to White feminists by co-opting White experiences while ignoring our own, liking their problematic issues and media without critique and ignoring our race in the name of shared biology (which usually means ignoring Black trans women too) to be real troopers for White women is insulting, disrespectful, annoying and inherently White supremacist. Still it continues.

They’re quick to co-opt statistics about the challenges of Black women’s lives yet will quickly plaster a White woman as the image for that life or expert for that life. They consistently use Black women’s lived experiences as examples of “feminist failures.” The mainstream media example of a feminist “expert” is usually a cisgender middle class White woman who will claim that she “checks her privilege” yet she continues to speak for “all” women, even on issues that in no way impacts her life but impacts many other women whose voices are purposely muted or ignored, but certainly voices from women that speak up despite this.”

If I haven’t gotten your attention yet, let us turn to the wage gap. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is something that we all cheered for this past year. The beginning of the women’s rights movement and the fight for the right to work is an interesting one to me. I think most white women who hailed working outside of the home as some huge, liberating ordeal, were imagining working alongside their white, male counterparts in good paying jobs. I can’t imagine most of us declaring that we wanted the right to work a menial job for wages that couldn’t even feed our families, and in poor working conditions. In fact, if we look at the statistics women do make less per dollar than men, but broken down further, white women do better than everyone—men and women included—except for white men. http://stateofworkingamerica.org/chart/swa-wages-table-4-21-hourly-wage-growth

And so we need to stop perpetuating the myth that all men are at an economic advantage to us because that is just not true. Men in each racial category make more than women of the same race—and this is incredibly probematic—but we do have privileges based on the skin we were born into. Wage disparity has more to do with the intersection of gender and race—and if we acknowledge that, it means we must march on the front lines with union workers, and migrant workers, and domestic workers. It means we need to fight for equal pay for equal work—not just so we can catch up to white men, but in order to change the fundamentally f-ed up system that creates a false sense of scarcity and division amongst all of us not at the top of the ladder.

It is here that I leave you and ask that you begin to unpack what it means to be a white, cisgender feminist. Will we stand on the side of the struggle for true, collective liberation through social change or will we leave our footprints on the faces of other women in our fight to reach the top of an oppressive system?

Sincerely,

Me. A white, middle class, cisgender, heterosexual female feminist doing my best to find my place in the movement for true social justice.

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