Back when I was an actor and director I had a policy of not reading reviews while the show was running. Everyone else read them so I had some idea if they were good or bad, and the general blame & praise placement. I really tried to avoid them because I knew that those outside opinions would color my thinking and maybe sow doubt.

Most theatre critics are skilled at offering criticism and analysis that helps folks decide if they want to spend their entertainment dollars on a particular play. Which can really go a long way to help playwrights, actors and directors get their name out and build a reputation.

Sometimes the critic is inexperienced or kind or simply disinterested in theatre because they are really the food or music critic. Occasionally a critic is in love with their own writing and their clever turn of phrase. Hence the avoidance.

There was one time when I read a review that I believed 100%.

It was an awful review and the critic hated everything from the acting to the set and lighting design. I had several pointed mentions that gave me great satisfaction because everything they criticized was exactly what the director requested. I remember thinking “Success!”

For better or worse I still think in terms of reviews when it comes to my workshops and training evaluations

I don’t read the evals right away and when I do, the first thing I look for is evidence that what I delivered matched what was requested. So folks who don’t like the content or scold me that “referring to myself as a white woman highlights difference when we are all the same”, all that is just fine.

And even the folks who just don’t like my style or delivery, thats ok too. I personally don’t like Joaquin Phoenix’s acting, but the Academy disagrees apparently.

What is harder to take is the folks who attack my credentials, the research I reference or the need for the kind of work that I do. Sometimes they include words like “identity politics” and “snowflake” and “trigger.” Occasionally thoughts like “we are all human beings”, and “everyone should just be kind” get tossed in.

The most scathing reviews/evals always seem to be from the disgruntled. Evaluations can also be used to highlight what went well as a foundation for more positive work, but again, maybe thats just me.

I recently reviewed a batch of my workshop evaluations and found one golden thread amongst some severe and harsh paragraphs of dissatisfaction.

My critic said that my calling participants Sir and Ma’am was “disrespectful and clueless” given that I had introduced my self as a Cis-gender woman using she/her pronouns. They went on to share a whole lot more about my lack of everything from brains to training to a legitimate right to speak about diversity but thats not important.

What’s important is that they were right. After 2 years of living in Alabama I had exponentially increased the possibility of misgendering someone because I’d conformed to the Sir/Ma’am norm.

From now on I’ll try to refer to participants by something visible like “the person in the yellow shirt”, or “I think the person with the pink go-cup was next”. That may not work in room of participants all wearing white coats or uniforms, but I can figure that out when it happens.

So thank you Squeaky Wheel for giving me some feedback that was necessary, helpful and 100% true. I humbly apologize for making you uncomfortable and I will do better next time.

PS – Always fill out your evaluation surveys! Use that 5 point scale! Everyone needs feedback! 

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been called “bossy”. Or “intimidating”.

Or how about “too” anything as in “too loud”, “too angry”, “too pushy” and, my favorite, the generic insult “too much.”

What these adjectives have in common, other than the fact that they’ve all been applied to me, is that they’re often used to remind (or force) women to remember accepted gender roles/norms. Being “too much”, bossy, or aggressive deviates from social expectations of the “nice” behavior that keeps folks comfortable.

I could get lost right here in a rant about the hegemonic, heteropatriarchy reinforcing the status quo, but I have a different point to make today.

My point is that when I coach women clients, or speak with women at workshops, invariably some version of the bossy accusation comes up. The women know these phrases are used as an attempt to diminish and silence them. It’s not a mystery. But it still stings.

The only thing that comes up more often is time management, followed by self-care as a close third. Because if you had better time management skills you would have some time for self-care right?!?

I know folks are working to shift the narrative on cultural norms and we’re all supposed to aspire to being a “Bad B**ch” or a #Bossbabe, but to me that feels like reinventions of the Enjoli woman with better memes.

Real women navigating insults and slights have to decide how to own the words and then strategize about when to ignore, when to reframe, or when to modify their behavior and language to make others comfortable.

Most simply aspire to being accepted, advancing, and achieving without censure or backlash for being insufficiently nice, agreeable or modest.

In the meantime, while we wait and work for the slow, societal shift away from sexism I propose the following solution.

A dance club.

Specifically a “Bossy Women’s Dance Club”. We would only admit women who have been consistently accused of being Bossy, Pushy, Intimidating, or Angry for a minimum of 27 years. Unfortunately, this means some members of the club will be in their early 30’s.

Feminist men of all ages are welcome if a member vouches for their feminism. Men will however pay an additional entrance fee equal to the percentage of the gender pay gap represented by their race.

A dance club would promote self-care with a triple whammy of “me time” in a nurturing, space with like minded folks, fun music to dance to (exercise!) and well made cocktails.

So as I wait for my angel investor to make the Club dream a reality, I make do with … Jazzercise.

I’ve attended Jazzercise in different spots since the late 80’s when leg warmers were all but required. I currently drive 30 minutes – each way – 3 days a week in DC traffic to get to a really great studio in Arlington run by a powerhouse of positive energy named Renee.

Jazzercise lets me sweat in a room without mirrors and pretend I’m still someone who could get into a club. It lets me worship at the altar of Mr. Worldwide with zero side eye & no discussion about the inherent cognitive dissonance necessary for my enjoyment of his beats.

Jazzercise is the perfect “self-care” for my bossy, middle-aged self because there’s no such thing as “too much” on the dance floor.

If you see me at Jazzercise I hope you’ll be pushy and introduce yourself.

When I tell the story of my career path I often use the image of a mosaic.

I sometimes use the words “Once upon a time…” to help bridge the distance between the idea of “job” and “career path” for audiences who may be more comfortable with one word and not the other.

At one point in my life I had jobs in what is now called “the gig economy”, scraping by in the nonprofit world doing what I loved. To make that possible I also worked cash registers, served fast food, cleaned houses, sold advertising and hustled for free lance.

When I was a child I loved books, and school, and my teachers so I thought I would also be a teacher.

As a young adult I imagined my life would always include the arts (Once upon a time I was an actor & director…), or arts management (I spent years at Cleveland Public Theatre & then founded and ran Red Hen Productions, Feminist Theatre…), or some creativity (play and story writing…), outside of this peripatetic blog.

Then I imagined I would spend my life in the academy reading, writing, discussing and teaching philosophy. (That’s a longer story…)

I was lucky to find my true vocation (coaching & facilitating change) and now devote most of my time and energy to working with people and organizations who do good in the world.

Because I was a citizen of the USA and worked at liberal (or tolerant) organizations, I always had the freedom (within reason) to be politically active without fearing repercussions or retaliation.

Now, as someone who is self-employed, my job is my career.

That means I have thought long and hard about what repercussions my opinions and political activity will have on my ability to get work. I know that I am a small fish in a small pond, and maybe (hopefully!) I am being paranoid, but the world seems to be titling toward those who take names and make lists.

Years ago, while canvassing for domestic partner registration, I spoke with an elderly Jewish man who said “I will never vote for this! It is a terrible idea! Lists make it too easy for them to find you.”

Thinking of this Jewish man, and with conscious choice, I have decided to resume writing about my politics on this blog. It is part of the mosaic of who I am and will only become more so if we continue our drift toward despotism. (Please watch this crystal clear 10 minute explanation of despotism if you think my use of that phrase is hyperbolic.)

And, as an American citizen, I believe political engagement really is my job.

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I am privileged to have some really smart friends who often write things I wish I had said myself, or from a perspective outside of mine. Today I exercise my privilege by posting a Guest Rant from a sharp, insightful and passionate woman with her permission of course.

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I’m sick and tired of the “lesser of two evils” narrative. I already voted for Hillary–proudly and with excitement. I don’t believe she is evil–and I’m pretty cynical about politicians.

If you hate Hillary–if you think she is corrupt and evil–I will gently suggest to you that you are as wrong as a wrong thing can be, and that you are buying a deliberate media narrative that I’ve been watching in horror for nearly 30 years.

Sexism is a helluva drug–and I can’t think of another American female political figure who has faced the degree of rank misogyny that HRC has for nearly 3 decades.

And yet…she’s still standing. Given what she’s endured in this campaign–and in all the years since Bill first decided to run for the presidency–that pretty much counts as a miracle in my book.

That is not to gloss over Hillary’s flaws. She is not perfect–and neither am I. The difference is that I’ve been able to live my life in relative privacy and I’ve never had thousands (millions?) of people’s lives in my hands. I wonder how well I would have done had I been in her place? How well do you think YOU would have done? And are you sure of your answer? Why?

We essentially ask our leaders to be perfect–but how can they be? They take on the responsibilities that the rest of us will not–CANNOT–even contemplate.

There is a reason the Emperor Constantine waited until he was on his deathbed to be baptized.

I once heard Jimmy Carter–a genuinely good, kind, FAITHFUL man–talking about the terrible decisions that he had to make while he was in office–and he’s the only president in my lifetime who did not lead us into war or preside over one that was in progress. He said there were times that he simply had to lay his faith aside when he was President in order to do his job.

I can only imagine the toll that took on him.

I also keep thinking about my favorite episode of “West Wing,” (“Take This Sabbath Day”) where President Jed Bartlett allows a federal prisoner to be put to death, even though his faith and his heart cry out against the evil of the death penalty. Watch that episode to see what it is like to be the most powerful elected leader in the world–and to have zero power to stop something you believe to be an offense against God and humanity.

The requirements of the job are superhuman. I would not want to have to make them–or to have to answer to God for the choices and outcomes.

But I believe–I might even go so far as to say that I KNOW–that Hillary is a person of faith, and I trust her to try her best to listen to what God is calling her to do–and to do it, even when it is hard and heartbreaking.

She is not perfect. She has made many mistakes–and will make more. Her mistakes will be so much more costly than any you or I will make–and she will be the one who has to look in the mirror, or lay her head on her pillow at night, and ask for God’s guidance and forgiveness.

So I will pray for her, because she is willing to take on a job that would destroy most of us. I believe she wants that job because she loves this country, and because she believes she can make life better for ALL of us–but especially the most vulnerable in our midst. I believe this because I have been watching her for almost 30 years.

No matter what you THINK you know about her–Whitewater, Bill, Benghazi, emails–*I* know this: She has spent her entire life fighting for the people that Jesus fought for–the poor, the marginalized, women and children. The record is all there if you only bother to look for it.

She will make mistakes–and I will hold her accountable for those. But she will also admit when she’s wrong, and ask forgiveness, which is something I rarely–if ever–see male politicians do.

She will push policies I don’t agree with–and I will push back when she does. But I learned a valuable lesson from the Tea Party (and from Bernie Sanders as well, TBQH)–intellectual/political purity is a recipe for disaster. Politics is the art of the possible–and that requires compromises and deal-making. My far-left heart finds this almost intolerable, but my brain–the one reluctantly trained in logic, statistics, and data analysis–knows the truth. We move forward an inch at a time–slowly and laboriously, but in the direction of justice and peace if we just keep trying.

And that’s why I’m With Her.  If you give her a chance, I believe she will lead us in the right direction. And if she doesn’t, I’ll be the first one in line to tell her she’s missed the mark–as I recall my own failings and pray for her, myself, you, this nation, and the world.

Kyrie eleison. GO VOTE. Amen.

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It’s not quite time yet for looking back on the highs and lows of 2016, but going to the Board of Elections and voting today threw me into a reflective mood. Off the top of my head I counted five unexpected milestones in my life so far this year.

#5 – Charging what I’m worth.

When I started consulting years ago it never occurred to me that I should be paid. I was very invested in helping people and using my skills for good. I was doing people “favors.”

One day a good friend expressed shock  when he found out that I didn’t charge for consulting and it woke me up to the fact that I was perpetuating another female stereotype by not valuing myself. Of course I started by charging ridiculously low fees and being embarrassed by the transaction.

I have been slowly creeping up to industry norms for coaching and consulting even though my impulse is to offer a discount to every nonprofit, or women’s organization, or client who I imagine is paid poorly.

It was never about the money but now that I have quit my job to consult, the reality of paying bills and a kid soon to be in college means I am biting my tongue and charging what I am worth. And so far no one is complaining. Which brings me to…

#4 – Quitting my job.

When I resigned from Case Western Reserve I had been employed there in one position or another since 2001. I was hired one week after I’d finished my Masters and two weeks before my mother died. It was a big transition year.

I loved many things about my work at CWRU, and I accomplished a great deal over the years, but it was time to move on.  Letting go of the habit of over work has been the strangest transition so far. Between consulting nights & weekends, and volunteering various places, I was working a 60-70 hour week for about five years. Now working 40 hours feels lazy. If I take on more clients that may change but right now it gives me time for …

#3 – Separating from my kid.

Along with the frenzied senior year activities of college visits, applications, essays and, of course the FAFSA, I am getting a glimpse of the future where our daughter is no longer a satellite in our orbit, and we become a satellite in hers. This is a very good thing and a very deep lesson that won’t be mastered quickly.

In the meantime because I am working from home I can generally stop what I am doing and have lunch with her and hear about her day when she gets home. I joke that for her senior year she gets the stay-at-home mother she craved when she was in elementary school.

It’s actually an unexpected and lovely byproduct of quitting my job that we have extra time together for the next 10 months. Even though she is spending a great deal of time out of the house taking some college courses, doing her extra curriculars, and volunteering as a fall fellow for the Clinton campaign. Which brings me to …

#2 – Voting for Hillary Clinton.

That was one for the books. Even though our entire family and almost everyone we know is donating money and working like crazy for the Clinton campaign, I paused before I filled in the bubble on my ballot. I suddenly felt emotional that I was actually voting for a woman for president.

And specifically this woman who I admire and respect and disagree with.

So far during this election cycle I have cried three times. First during Hillary’s acceptance speech at the convention, and then while watching some particularly disturbing reporting and awful backlash about sexism, and today when I filled out my ballot. I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime.

#1 – Milestone for 2016

I am planning to add the final milestone to this list on November 9th with something else that I didn’t think would happen in my lifetime. And I’ll probably cry.

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A New York Times opinion piece about work/life balance (“A Toxic Work World“) is making the rounds and stirring up a storm of comments. The author points out, among other things, that the culture of  overwork is not a gender issue but a work issue where equity will mean we value care giving.

We have a definite bias towards exhaustion and “110%” as proof of value in our culture. Its a system that benefits men overwhelmingly as Joan Williams brilliantly explains in her book and in nice bite sized video bits.

My reaction to the piece was colored by a conversation I had a few days before it came out. I was in a salon getting a service and chatting as you do about kids and current events and the nice for a change weather.

The woman waiting on me has a daughter a year older than mine and is deep in the college selection process that we’ve been nibbling around the edges. She was telling me her daughter wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer and was working with the guidance counselor trying to find the right school in their price range.

But she was convincing her daughter to drop law because no one can have a family with that kind of lifestyle. If she goes into the health field she doesn’t have to be a doctor, she can be something where she can go part time for a while when she has kids.

I understand that every family is different. I understand that we all have our own values.

But I don’t understand why a 17 year old girl should make life choices today to accommodate possible future children that she may or may not want or need to stay home while they’re young.

I tried a few examples, anecdotes and facts to shake the mothers view. But she would not be persuaded her daughter could have it all. She knew better.

Our culture limits us and we limit ourselves.

Lets try not to limit our children.

“Waiting your time, dreaming of a better life
Waiting your time, you’re more than just a wife
You don’t want to do what your mother has done…”

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Anyone needing an easy laugh should come to my Jazzercise class on days the instructor works in routines that require clapping. Since I have yet to master the ability move my feet and clap my hands at the same time, the result is an earnest yet ridiculous, Jerry Lewis-like flailing.

Thankfully there is never more than one of these per class.

A bigger issue than my lack of large motor skills is the way I lose my rhythm when someone in my family is out of sorts. My instinct is to sidetrack even my most important and essential activities to do whatever needs doing, or shore up whatever needs reinforcing.

Let me be clear that my husband and child are NOT standing in front of me screaming for me to be self-sacrificing. It’s my own super clever brain that tells me that I’m a selfish person (and a bad mother/wife/sister/friend/human) if I don’t put others first.

Work-life balance (ha!) is manageable if and only if (iff) nothing is breaking down, screwing up, or spinning out of control due to unforeseen circumstances.  So that means never.

I know this.

I teach this.

And under pressure I forget this as quickly as everyone else.

That’s one reason the tag line for my coaching & consulting biz is “Nothing endures but change. Be here now.” To remind myself and my clients that the only control we really have is over our own minds.

Whether you follow the Four Noble Truths, Oprah and her vision boards, a religious community, or just positive thinking – getting your head back in the present moment can help get you back in the rhythm of your life. And all its various beats.

For me, its remembering even if I can’t clap along I know the song won’t last forever.

A rhythm related side note: Once upon a time I watched My Sister Eileen (a mostly dreadful movie), and saw a very young Bob Fosse doing some of his signature moves, but because I had recently seen Cabin in The Sky I noticed that John W. Sublett (“Bubbles”) must have been an influence on Fosse. Its an amazing movie. There’s also a scene where Ethel Waters sings Taking a Chance on Love and Bill Bailey does the Moonwalk. Before Michael.

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As Women’s History month drifts to a close I feel like we are running in place with once step forward, two steps back on improving gender equity.  And don’t get me started on intersectionality.

I read the article reposted below and agreed 100%. But I can’t count the number of times I have advised women clients on how to be more assertive without crossing the invisible line into being “a bitch.”

Saying ‘Stop interrupting me’ sounds like a good idea until you get called uncooperative and hostile. And saying ‘I just said that’ may feel good until you’re told you always try to take credit for everything.

It’s a dilemma, and a dance, and a lousy reality. So please don’t tell me that we don’t need these “special months,” or that we should have a “men’s history month if we are going to be equal.” I write a lot about gender and racial equity in this blog, so you can look up all my radical opinions that support my argument if you like.

Or you can ponder the fact a post tagged “Girly Things” gets double the click rate of a post tagged “Feminism.”

The post below is long. And true. And makes me wonder if teaching my daughter manners has hobbled her for life. Bad feminist. Bad mommy.


By Soraya Chemaly / alternet.org

“Stop interrupting me.”  “I just said that.” “No explanation needed.”

In fifth grade, I won the school courtesy prize. In other words, I won an award for being polite. My brother, on the other hand, was considered the class comedian. We were very typically socialized as a “young lady” and a “boy being a boy.” Globally, childhood politeness lessons are gender asymmetrical. We socialize girls to take turns, listen more carefully, not curse and resist interrupting in ways we do not expect boys to. Put another way, we generally teach girls subservient habits and boys to exercise dominance.

I routinely find myself in mixed-gender environments (life) where men interrupt me. Now that I’ve decided to try and keep track, just out of curiosity, it’s quite amazing how often it happens. It’s particularly pronounced when other men are around.

This irksome reality goes along with another — men who make no eye contact. For example, a waiter who only directs information and questions to men at a table, or the man last week who simply pretended I wasn’t part of a circle of five people (I was the only woman). We’d never met before and barely exchanged 10 words, so it couldn’t have been my not-so-shrinking-violet opinions.

These two ways of establishing dominance in conversation, frequently based on gender, go hand-in-hand with this last one: A woman, speaking clearly and out loud, can say something that no one appears to hear, only to have a man repeat it minutes, maybe seconds later, to accolades and group discussion.

After I wrote about the gender confidence gap recently, of the 10 items on a list, the one that resonated the most was the issue of whose speech is considered important. In sympathetic response to what I wrote, a person on Twitter sent me a cartoon in which one woman and five men sit around a conference table. The caption reads, “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.” I don’t think there is a woman alive who has not had this happen.

The cartoon may seem funny, until you realize exactly how often it seriously happens. And — as in the cases of Elizabeth Warren or say, Brooksley Born — how broadly consequential the impact can be. When you add race and class to the equation the incidence of this marginalization is even higher.

This suppressing of women’s voices, in case you are trying to figure out what Miss Triggs was wearing or drinking or might have said to provoke this response, is what sexism sounds like.

These behaviors, the interrupting and the over-talking, also happen as the result of difference in status, but gender rules. For example, male doctors invariably interrupt patients when they speak, especially female patients, but patients rarely interrupt doctors in return. Unless the doctor is a woman. When that is the case, she interrupts far less and is herself interrupted more. This is also true of senior managers in the workplace. Male bosses are not frequently talked over or stopped by those working for them, especially if they are women; however, female bosses are routinely interrupted by their male subordinates.

This preference for what men have to say, supported by men and women both, is a variant on “mansplaining.” The word came out of an article by writer Rebecca Solnit, who explained that the tendency some men have to grant their own speech greater import than a perfectly competent woman’s is not a universal male trait, but the “intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.”

Solnit’s tipping point experience really did take the cake. She was talking to a man at a cocktail party when he asked her what she did. She replied that she wrote books and she described her most recent one, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild WestThe man interrupted her soon after she said the word Muybridge and asked, “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?” He then waxed on, based on his reading of a review of the book, not even the book itself, until finally, a friend said, “That’s her book.” He ignored that friend (also a woman) and she had to say it more than three times before “he went ashen” and walked away. If you are not a woman, ask any woman you know what this is like, because it is not fun and happens to all of us.

In the wake of Larry Summers’ “women can’t do math” controversy several years ago, scientist Ben Barres wrote publicly about his experiences, first as a woman and later in life, as a male. As a female student at MIT, Barbara Barres was told by a professor after solving a particularly difficult math problem, “Your boyfriend must have solved it for you.” Several years after, as Ben Barres, he gave a well-received scientific speech and he overhead a member of the audience say, “His work is much better than his sister’s.”

Most notably, he concluded that one of the major benefits of being male was that he could now “even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.”

I’ve had teenage boys, irritatingly but hysterically, excuse what they think is “lack of understanding” to [my] “youthful indiscretion.” Last week as I sat in a cafe, a man in his 60s stopped to ask me what I was writing. I told him I was writing a book about gender and media and he said, “I went to a conference where someone talked about that a few years ago. I read a paper about it a few years ago. Did you know that car manufacturers use slightly denigrating images of women to sell cars? I’d be happy to help you.” After I suggested, smiling cheerily, that the images were beyond denigrating and definitively injurious to women’s dignity, free speech and parity in culture, he drifted off.

It’s not hard to fathom why so many men tend to assume they are great and that what they have to say is more legitimate. It starts in childhood and never ends. Parents interrupt girls twice as often and hold them to stricter politeness norms. Teachers engage boys, who correctly see disruptive speech as a marker of dominant masculinity, more often and more dynamically than girls.

As adults, women’s speech is granted less authority and credibility. We aren’t thought of as able critics or as funny. Men speak moremore often, and longer than women in mixed groups (classroomsboardroomslegislative bodiesexpert media commentary and, for obvious reasons religious institutions.) Indeed, in male-dominated problem solving groups including boards, committees and legislatures, men speak 75% more than women, with negative effects on decisions reached. That’s why, as researchers summed up, “Having a seat at the table is not the same as having a voice.”

Even in movies and television, male actors engage in more disruptive speech and garner twice as much speaking and screen time as their female peers. This is by no means limited by history or to old media but is replicated online. Listserve topics introduced by men have a much higher rate of response and on Twitter, people retweet men two times as often as women.

These linguistic patterns are consequential in many ways, not the least of which is the way that they result in unjust courtroom dynamics, where adversarial speech governs proceedings and gendered expression results in women’s testimonies being interrupted, discounted and portrayed as not credible according to masculinized speech norms. Courtrooms also show exactly how credibility and status, women’s being lower, are also doubly affected by race. If Black women testifying in court adopt what is often categorized as “[white] women’s language,” they are considered less credible. However, if they are more assertive, white jurors find them “rude, hostile, out of control, and, hence [again], less credible.” Silence might be an approach taken by women to adapt to the double bind, but silence doesn’t help when you’re testifying.

The best part though is that we are socialized to think women talk more. Listener bias results in most people thinking that women are hogging the floor when men are actually dominating. Linguists have concluded that much of what is popularly understood about women and men being from different planets, verbally, confuses “women’s language” with “powerless language.”

There are, of course, exceptions that illustrate the role that gender (and not biological sex) plays. For example, I have a very funny child who regularly engages in simultaneous speech, disruptively interrupts and randomly changes topics. If you read a script of one of our typical conversations, you would probably guess the child is a boy based on the fact that these speech habits are what we think of as “masculine.” The child is a girl, however. She’s more comfortable with overt displays of assertiveness and confidence than the average girl speaker. It’s hard to balance making sure she keeps her confidence with teaching her to be polite. However, excessive politeness norms for girls, expected to set an example for boys, have real impact on women who are, as we constantly hear, supposed to override their childhood socialization and learn to talk like men to succeed (learn to negotiate, demand higher pay, etc.).

The first time I ran this post, I kid you not, the first response I got was from a Twitter user, a man, who, without a shred of self-awareness, asked, “What would you say if a man said those things to you mid-conversation?”

Socialized male speech dominance is a significant issue, not just in school, but everywhere. If you doubt me, sit quietly and keep track of speech dynamics at your own dinner table, workplace, classroom. In the school bus, the sidelines of fields, in places of worship. It’s significant and consequential.

People often ask me what to teach girls or what they themselves can do to challenge sexism when they see it. “What can I do if I encounter sexism? It’s hard to say anything, especially at school.” In general, I’m loathe to take the approach that girls should be responsible for the world’s responses to them, but I say to them, practice these words, every day:

“Stop interrupting me,”

“I just said that,” and

“No explanation needed.”

It will do both boys and girls a world of good. And no small number of adults, as well.


Soraya L. Chemaly writes about feminism, gender and culture. She writes for the Huffington Post, Feminist Wire, BitchFlicks and Fem2.0 among others.

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I have been writing too much for the last month to write a blog post in case that’s an acceptable excuse. No time to rant, rave and pick apart the midterm elections, misguided legislation, or the multitude of other irritations that constitute my daily life in 2014.

I am making an exception today for those of you who missed #shirtstorm because it’s never a good idea to let sleeping pigs lie.

A re-post from Dame Magazine (for women who know better)

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that wearing a busty-babe-embellished top on a media tour was a bad idea.
Written by Jess Zimmerman
This week, the European Space Agency pulled off two extraordinary feats: a historic and exciting probe landing on a comet, and an act of bad taste so extreme that it manages to show up the worst of exclusionary science culture in one ugly garment.
ESA scientist Matt Taylor, perhaps emboldened by the viral success of mohawked NASA dreamboat Bobak Ferdowsi, made the dubious choice to do his media interviews in a shirt covered in bustiered cartoon ladies. This met with moderate outrage, as a number of science journalists pointed out that going on TV bedecked with the entire contents of a Heavy Metal magazine is maybe not the way to send the message “science is a respectful and supportive field for women.” That’s where the REAL outrage started.
With their usual immunity to irony, men on the internet got very, VERY angry about the “overreaction” to Taylor’s shirt. In particular, they latched onto a tweet by science writer and editor Rose Eveleth (full disclosure: a friend of mine and an awesome person). Rose’s “overreaction” featured mild sarcasm: “No no women are toooootally welcome in our community, just ask the dude in this shirt.” The Internet Men Collective’s entirely proportional response included “kill yourself,” “quit your bitching,” the inexplicable “sometimes try sex, you’ll be better,” and a sigh-inducing “get back in the kitchen” cliché.
But the “jump off a cliff” responses were larded with a huge portion of something even more insidious: a whole battalion of helpful men sniffing that Taylor obviously didn’t MEAN to offend. He just wanted to wear his funny fancy shirt! He didn’t intend to make a point about how science and scientists view women, or the role that women play! He wasn’t even thinking at ALL about how women might feel!
Well, yes. That’s actually the problem. Taylor’s shirt sends the message that women aren’t welcome in the science community not because he was intending to send that message, but because he didn’t care.
If you asked Taylor directly, he’d probably say he was a big supporter of women in STEM. Most advisers and lab directors and tenure committees would tell you the same. Overtly misogynist throwbacks certainly exist, but one of the paltry nice things about 2014 is that by now, very few male scientists would tell a woman “you’re not welcome here.” Not to her face.
But that’s not the only way sexism works. No, sexism in science doesn’t mean advisers take their students aside and say “don’t worry, you’ll pass your thesis defense, because I’ve noticed we both have a penis.” It doesn’t mean tenure committee meetings include the action item “DID YOU NOTICE SHE’S A WOMAN? INAPPROPRIATE? DISCUSS.” It doesn’t mean lab doors have signs saying “no open-toed shoes and no chicks.”
Here’s what male scientists and historically male-led departments do instead: Offer little or no maternity leave for graduate students. Evaluate women employees on their personalities rather than their competence. Make jokes that cause women colleagues to feel left out and belittled. Go on national television in a shirt that shows women as decorative, sexualized semi-nudes. Hire people who just seem to fit in with the culture that thinks all of this is okay.
These aren’t targeted, conscious, deliberate acts of discrimination. They’re a miasma, a stench that settles over the science building and tells women: “This place isn’t for you.” And it’s a stink that men can’t even smell—that’s what privilege means. They’re not trying to make a noxious cloud; they support women in STEM! They just aren’t equipped to notice it, not unless they’re looking. Not unless they get out their sensors and analyze everything like a Ghostbuster walking around the New York Public Library. Who has the time?
Well, if you don’t have the time, then congratulations: You do not support women in STEM. You don’t want them there. If you did, you’d make a micron of effort to detect and dispel the Man Only fumes settling over your lab. Instead, you’re sitting at your microscope in the middle of a dense fog of poison you’re immune to, telling women “come on into the gas cloud, I don’t see why you wouldn’t, it’s fine for me.” And the sensor is inches from your hand, but you’re too lazy to pick it up.
If you actually do want to support women in STEM—and I believe that many men believe they do—then yes, you have to pay attention, and think, and care about how your culture treats them and how it makes them feel. I know this is hard. It’s unfamiliar, and unfamiliar things are often uncomfortable. It doesn’t come naturally right away. It may not come naturally for a while.
But it sure isn’t rocket science.

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Over dinner the other night we had one of those twisty turny conversations that kept us at the table an hour longer than it took to eat our food. During a discussion at school a bunch of my daughters classmates argued that there is no such thing as depression. It’s all in your head.

My daughter and her friends were furious. They know people personally who suffer from depression and know its no joke. In re-playing the argument for us the kid started rattling off statistics and data about how we know that depression is genetic, and when you stigmatize people they wont get help and it all gets worse.

All true unfortunately.

I asked if the teacher corrected the students when they were expressing opinions that were false and she said no, the teacher said she doesn’t want to push her opinions on anyone during discussions.

I have a problem with this kind of thinking. Correcting a FACT that someone has wrong is not “pushing your opinion.” Facts are objective and verifiable, opinions often judge facts, therefore opinions can sometimes change.

Beliefs are different. No evidence required for a belief which makes it inarguable. And this is exactly what makes it inadmissible as any part of a logical argument or defense of an opinion.

And then there’s bullshit, which is just prejudice hiding behind beliefs put forth as “my opinion.” People arguing from belief often try to say the facts are false and usually close with “we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

If I could wave a magic wand I would make deductive logic part of every K-12 curriculum in the US. And part of teacher training while we’re at it. I blame the creationists and the Koch Bros., but that’s a whole other discussion.

Anyway. We started digging into various social stigmas from the past like having acne, left-handedness or being Irish. Unfortunately it takes a couple of generations to reduce stigmas in society at large. There are still lots of stigmas in US society: mental illness, poverty, disability, abortion, HIV-AIDS, and of course obesity. I’m sure I missed a few.

It’s somewhat less common now for people to use words like “retard” and “fag” as pejoratives but few would hesitate to call someone fat. Or “fat bitch” – those two seem to just go together don’t they? Like peanut butter and jelly.

When we finally had to stop the conversation because homework was waiting, the kid was quite impressive tying together depression, stigma, gender bias, body image and the evils of Reddit in her closing remarks. I’m sure that wasn’t the final word on these topics.

Our talk reminded me of a book from the 1970’s that I once owned and foolishly lent out “Fat is a Feminist Issue”. And one recommended by a very thin friend that I read recently “Two Whole Cakes.”

Unfortunately being fat is something you can’t hide like mental illness, your abortion or your HIV status. It’s all out there and its an easy target. Fat is one stigma we will not overcome anytime soon. That statement is both a fact and an opinion.

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There are lots of ways to shut down women when they are speaking. For me the one that stings the most – even more than being called bossy, intimidating, strident or bitch – is the comment “Tell us what you really think.”

Not only does this remark effectively shut me up, it implies my strong opinion is laughable. Less valid because of how it’s expressed.

For good or ill I was born with strong opinions so I have been cut with this particular knife too many times to count. I take some responsibility because I know I do get going sometimes, hence the outlet of my Rant blog.

However, I’ve also spent the last umpteen years trying to squash my voice and style to fit someone else’s definition of acceptable. All that every got me was accusations of “cold and unemotional.” Can’t win for losing.

Just once I would like to hear someone acknowledge that when I am speaking strongly it’s because I care deeply.

If you use this expression, the next time someone around you is vehemently expressing their outrage rather than ridiculing, consider instead an observation that the topic is important to them. Or maybe ask why it’s a hot button issue for them, there is sure to be a reason – do you want to hear it?  Or share your perspective & your reasons.

Anything other than effectively saying “Shut up” would be appreciated by me and all the other loud-mouth, enthusiastic, outraged women out there.

And I will continue my struggle to moderate my emotions to a level that is more comfortable for the world.

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The power to define yourself rather than allowing society to define you by your gender or sexuality is the foundation of feminism. Mean people wear tie dye too.

Attention Cranky Hippie Ladies: you are promoting the wrong kind of feminism.

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Despite my feminist sensibilities I’ve never been able to suppress the anxiety of being judged and found wanting when it comes to “homemaking”.

A little Martha Stewart shaped devil sits on my right shoulder pointing out the crumbs in the silverware drawer and the cobwebs in the chandelier. My deficiency is glaringly apparent in the lack of top-dressing on the house plants and fresh liner paper in the linen closet.

The house plant anxiety famously manifested itself the day before our wedding when re-potting the plants became the number one priority before the rehearsal dinner. Talk about displaced anxiety.

I think part of the problem is that I’m not a good house cleaner, but I am a dynamite straightener. So we get behind on the cleaning until we need a full-out cleaning blitz. And the only legitimate reason for a cleaning blitz is house guests.

Parties only require you clean the first floor, but house guests mean the whole megillah.

My daughter reminds me regularly that no one cares or notices the “flaws” in our house. Her friends think we have the cleanest house they have ever seen that has a teenager living in it. While I don’t clean for teenagers, I do change the table-cloth because even they don’t want cat hair in their food.

Intellectually I know that I’m taking a big bite out of that Enjoli sandwich thinking my house should be as clean as if I didn’t have a full-time job, but I can’t help it. Clean house, good cook, sparkling conversationalist is some kinda propaganda I have yet to recover from.

The good news is once the doorbell rings I can completely relax into a good time. I have no problem leaving the dishes in the sink and having another glass of wine. Maybe we need to have guests more often so there is no time to clean.

Hmm.

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Labels are important.

They tell you whats inside the can, they list the ingredients and they warn about potential danger. Labels can also be limiting.images

Labeling people by their socio-economic class, religion, sexual orientation, race, marital status or political party usually reduces rather than enhances what you know about a person.

Here’s my rundown:

  • Middle-class, whatever that means
  • Atheist, despite the heroic efforts of my Catholic mother
  • Heterosexual
  • Caucasian
  • Married
  • Progressive Democrat

From that list you may think you can now predict how I will vote, where I will shop, and what media I will consume. That’s why we like the shorthand of labels. And that’s why most people resist being slapped with a label.

Once again in an un-named media source a famous young woman felt it necessary to state that contrary to everything she had just said, she was not in fact a Feminist. The way people run from being called feminist makes it seem like racism, pedophilia, murder and mayhem all rolled into one.

I grow very weary of this narrative.

I can’t believe it’s still necessary to tell people that Feminism doesn’t mean you hate men, or refuse to shave, or want women to run the world. The negative stereotyping goes hand in hand with the false belief that sexism no longer exists.

Sexism is a current and serious problem in our society just like racism. Neither of these problems are going away. Too many people benefit from the status quo.

I am a Feminist. I call myself a Feminist because if I only get one label to tell you what you will get when you open this can, Feminist does the job. I invite you to use that label to describe me, my writing, my point of view, whatever.

I’m stopping now because I’m feeling the urge to rant about the misogynistic hegemony and its impact on girl singers of the 21st century and I dont have time for 5,000 words. If you are a feminist, or even vaguely support the idea that women should have the right to vote, own property, have bank accounts, divorce their husbands, have access to reproductive health care…then have the guts to claim to be a feminist.

I just realized I wrote practically this same blog in 2012 – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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Anyone who knows me knows that I am Pro-Choice, Pro-Abortion and Pro-Reproductive Justice. The objections people raise about other people having an abortion don’t move me. I find it ludicrous that a stranger can disagree with, and try to influence, a medical procedure I elect to have.

Given this is an issue I have been championing for 30+ years, I thought I had read and/or heard all possible arguments for and against abortion. I was wrong.

I recently found myself listening to a broadcast called “Station of the Cross” while driving through a rural area. A project I am working on is requiring a bit of driving and when I am alone in the car I tend to cruise the radio stations rather than listen to music or pod casts.

Station of the Cross is a Catholic station that alternates call in talk shows with liturgy and religious music. The talk show I came in on was talking about a demonic possession in Gary, Indiana. A reporter, and supposed eye-witness, was relating the exorcism preformed on two boys under ten who it turned out were being infected by a demon that was actually possessing their mother.

The possession, with its details of children talking in demonic voices and floating to the ceiling at the pediatricians office was bizarre enough, but the explanation the talk show folks gave for the cause of the possession was even more bizarre.

The host asked the reporter how the priest discovered that the mother was the conduit for the “The Evil One” and she related the following story.

The mother had been engaging in extramarital sex with a boyfriend who was not the father of her children. This created a moral crack in her soul that allowed “The Evil One” to come in. It was this kind of sin that the demons were looking for when they were flying around trying to find a host.

The host went on to discuss at length how “The Evil One” especially hates and targets women for possession because the Virgin Mary defied him. Because he hates Mary he goes after women and tells them its okay to kill their children. He sets traps for women by making them think that killing your baby while its inside you is okay. He uses the so called Women’s Movement as a way to create cracks in women’s souls.

Women have to fight “The Evil One” by refusing to use birth control or having abortions, which lets him into your body.

That was a neat trick getting from possessed children to don’t have an abortion.

What really struck me about the discussion was their matter of fact acceptance of the existence of devils juxtaposed with feminism being a tool of Lucifer. I knew in theory that people literally believed in these things but I had never heard anyone in real-time admit it.

There is no space for rational discussion of reproductive rights if your belief system supports sins as means for the devil to enter your body and steal your soul.

That, my friends, is the ultimate reason that abortion must be protected by law.

Happy Valentines Day.

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