Monday, September 30, 2013

How To Spend A Saturday Morning







Act #273:  Rake someone else's yard.

This past weekend about 15 members of the Lexington, KY Berea College Alumni Club decided to get together - not to cheer on a team, or raise money for their alma mater....but to give back to their community.  And that, they did.  In less than 3 hours, they transformed the neglected  front lawn of the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center by cutting down dead bushes, trimming down tree limbs, raking leaves, pulling weeds, and planting flowers.  The result?  A crisis center that is more warm and more welcoming, to many during their darkest, deepest time of need.  Thank you for giving up your Saturday morning to make our world a little brighter!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Windstream Outage and "Best Day of Jack's Life": Coincidence? I ThinkNot.

Act #272:  Unplug.

I'm writing this on my iPhone, and I have to be honest, thumb-typing doesn't lend itself to much inspiration.  So let me just sum it up for you.  This morning my husband, Adam and I went for a morning stroll, had coffee and bagels on our back deck as we watched the leaves fall to the ground. Later, we joined our son and bounced on inflatables at a six-year old's Super Mario birthday party.  We feasted on sushi and Burmese dumplings at a little hole in the wall restaurant we found just minutes from our home.  I visited with my parents for a few hours as the sunset.  Today our internet went down and incidentally, the quality of our lives seemed to go up.  In the word's of our six year old, "This was the best day of my life!"
 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Three Little Brown Boys (and One White One)

Act #271:  Be more childlike.

Yesterday I chaperoned my son's school field trip to an apple orchard, and therefore had the rare opportunity to observe 6 and 7 year old boys hunting for the world's largest apple, giggling because straw was "poking at their bottoms" on the tractor hayride, and pretending to be ghost pirates on a massive wooden pirate ship between the pumpkin patch and the apple orchards.  I tried to stand back and not interfere and couldn't help but notice that during the 3-hour outing, my son was surrounded primarily by 3 other boys.  Their make-up looked like this:

Boy #1:  Half-Thai, half-Caucasian (my son)
Boy #2:  Hispanic
Boy #3:  Half-African-American, half-Caucasian
Boy #4:  White (not just any white kid, this white kid, actually:  http://plainjaneactivism.blogspot.com/2013/09/my-kid-is-friends-with-owner-of-this.html

And as I sat on my hay bale in the shade (that did indeed poke at my bottom), on this picturesque fall day, I was uplifted and encouraged by this most beautiful sight of the four little boys before me.  Four little boys, care-free, color-blind, and who unbeknownst to them, are truly the very hope for our future.

 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Is "Putting a Ring on It" Just a Tad Overrated?

Act #270:  Consider that which is truly valuable.

This week, while I was traveling for work, I found out on Facebook that a dear colleague got engaged.  When I returned to the office, we were both beaming with excitement for her.  I wanted to hear every detail of the proposal, which happened at the top of a peak overlooking the Red River Gorge.  I wanted to know if she felt any different at all, now that she was soon to be someone's wife. I wanted to hear what they ordered at Miguel's Pizza after he transformed within minutes, from boyfriend to future husband (pineapple bacon avocado pizza washed down with Kentucky's own, Ale-8 One).  It didn't occur to me until she casually stuck her hand out, almost as an afterthought, that the one thing that didn't even cross my mind for a second, was what her ring looked like (it was beautiful by the way). 

It then also occurred to me that when I typically experience engagement announcements, the very first thing that takes place is the woman sticking out her hand to show me her ring, and me doing the obligatory ooh-ing and ah-ing over it, even though (confession time), I really can't tell the difference between a princess cut and an ascher cut.  But this time that didn't happen. I completely forgot about the ring, because my friend didn't even show it to me until she was walking away...after she told me every beautiful detail of the proposal.  And that was awesome and epic - for us both to be focused on how crazy these lovebirds were about each other (it's sickeningly sweet)....their future journey together as a couple (mission and service will be their guiding force)......things that clearly in both of our minds, were far more brilliant and breathtaking than the size and cut of any rock.

 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Workshop For One Please

Act #269:   Act with the end in mind.

This week I participated in a two-day strategic planning retreat with directors of all of the rape crisis centers in Kentucky.  We started the retreat by envisioning where we saw our work two years from now, and worked backwards to identify action steps on how to get there.  My agency invested two full days of my time - just so I could hit the pause button, walk away from my daily job duties, and set aside time to plan out a future course for my organization.  Any of you who have been a part of this process know that strategic planning can be highly effective in helping an organization focus its energy, set goals, and adjust its responses to a changing environment.  So it occurred to me that if this process is useful enough to help companies and organizations set goals, stay on course, so they can act with the end in mind.....shouldn't we as individuals do the same?  Sure we do our ritual new year's resolutions - but they are only a year out, and most of us have no realistic workable plan on how we are going to achieve those goals, nor do we plan for crises or make concessions for the possibility that those goals might evolve over time.  That's it.  Today, I am calling our lovely local bed breakfast, located about 15 miles away from civilization, http://snughollow.com/.  I am booking a suite for my husband and I.  We will not bring our iPhones, iPads, or laptops and we will spend 24-hours focusing our energy on how it is we want to spend our remaining days here on earth.  Our agenda will look something like this:

Friday night:  
Arrival and gourmet, vegetarian dinner by award-winning cookbook author an innkeeper, Barbara Napier. (Gotta nourish our bodies before awakening our souls!)

Saturday morning:  
Sunrise stroll , breakfast picnic, and meditation on the grounds (Framing Question:  What if we had no limits?)

Saturday afternoon: 
Vision Board Exercise (Framing Question:  What is our purpose?)
Exercise:  Strategic Planning (Framing Question:  What is our North Star?) Where do we see ourselves in ten years (as individuals and as a family unit) - work  backwards from there.  What steps do we have take to get there?

Saturday evening:
Reflection and commitments.  We'd want to close out with one final meal by that awesome innkeeper, before we hit the road and re-enter real life.  You know, the one we never make time for dreaming.

Bam.  24-hours.  Unplugged.  And you now control your own destiny.  15-pound weight-loss New Year's resolutions seem slightly ridiculous now, don't they?  Join me?  Commit to reflection.  Make time for silence.  Book your workshop for one (or two) today.

Photo Credit:  snughollow.com
 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Someone Told Me I Was Pretty, And I'm Offended

Act #268:  See Act #97:  http://plainjaneactivism.blogspot.com/2013/04/how-to-tell-asians-apart.html

Even the fiercest, toughest feminists are usually able to appreciate a genuine, non-creepy compliment about their physical appearance every once in a while, especially when it comes from another female.  So last week when a woman I met at a conference told me that I looked just like Miss America, I probably should have been flattered (albeit I'm at least a foot shorter and wider)?  But I wasn't.  Not even close.  You see, last week the nation crowned the first south Asian Miss America.  Her skin was darker and her last name was even harder to pronounce than mine.  And she freakin' did a Bollywood dance on stage.  Awesome.  Over the years I've been told that I resemble Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, Julie Chen, Connie Chung, Lucy Liu and just about every female Asian celebrity out there.  So when someone tells me that I look like Miss America, I know they are full of it.  I don't have legs that go all the way up to perky breasts.  I don't have a delicate teeny waistline, or soft, curly hair that flows effortlessly down to my waist.  I do however, happen to be brown and have dark hair. And that's where it ends.   So thanks for the compliment, but really no thanks.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Epic Fail: I Tried to Connect With Someone Just Because They Were Asian

Act #267:  Assume nothing.

So there I was at the AT&T store, buying my mom a new iPhone for her birthday.  What was I thinking walking into "technology central" unarmed and unaccompanied by my geek husband?  You should know that I get extremely jittery and nervous around gadgets and things that plug in, but it was my lunch break and my mom was due for an upgrade....and her birthday was in a week.  So I put my big kid pants on, did all my homework, and marched right into the lion's den.

And that's when Daniel came to my rescue in the form of the youngest AT&T customer service rep.  He was smiling.  He was young.  He was Asian, people!  Allow me to remind you that I live in Kentucky, where we make up 1.3% of the population.  Needless to say, I was thrilled.  Me buying my Asian mama a new phone and being helped by an Asian tech geek.  Strange as it may be, I immediately felt at ease. Daniel was delightful - a junior finance major at a local university, who grew up in London, KY - a town smaller than the one I lived in, most likely with an Asian population of 0.1%.  My iPhone buying experience was a breeze.  In selecting data plans, Daniel asked what types of things my mom might use the iPhone for.  And here's where it starts to get embarrassing for me.  Epic Fail #1:  I said, "Well, I have an Asian mom and she has to call her people in the motherland, so she might be using some sort of app to make that happen.  You know what I'm talking about."   Daniel casually began to tell me about some international texting/calling apps and then we moved on to finalize the data plan.  Before I knew it, we were engaging in small talk about the best Korean food in town (Daniel is Korean), which is about when I started to digress to Epic Fail #2:  "Well, I'm Thai and my mother lives with us, so I don't have to go to Thai restaurants anymore.  Does your mom teach you to cook Korean?"  Surely you know where this is going.  Come on, go ahead and cringe with me.  That's right, Daniel finally gracefully told me that he was adopted, that he didn't have an "Asian mama", that his mom was from Kentucky and had no clue how to cook Korean food.  And I just literally hung my head in shame at that point.  Lesson learned.  What on earth would possess me to think that by running into someone else in the 1.3%, I would automatically connect with them in every way, and have the exact same story?  How dare I commit the most egregious white person social faux pas of all time:  lumping us all into one big homogeneous category. 

Thank you Daniel from London Kentucky, for reminding me that there may be only 1.3% of us here, but by golly, we represent experiences and perspectives and stories that are as rich and diverse as the other 98.7%.   Oh, and thank you also for the hospitality and service that you extended to me in helping me pick out a phone for my Asian mama.  Your white mama should be so very proud.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Why We Don't Read To Our Kid Every Night

Act #266:  Foster a true love (not obligation) for learning.

I have a six year old who has been reading since he was five, and these days he really, really reads - like at a third grade level.  He also does math problems.....for fun, usually when we are riding in the car.  We don't really make a big deal about any of this, but we always chime in and participate when he reads or starts with the math quizzes in the car. We don't care, and it doesn't matter to us one bit, if we end up having a child who goes to Harvard or to the local community college.  We already have his college fund planned for regardless, and he already knows that.  What we  care about is fostering in him, a lifelong love for learning that is not burdensome or obligatory.  Here's how we've done this through the years.  Here's how we hope to continue doing so.

1.  We don't read to him every night before he goes to bed.
Do you know the guilt I used to feel when every single parent around me kept talking about reading nightly to their newborn infant?  Listen people, when you've just popped out a kid, AND you wake up every 3 hours to stick a boob in his mouth, there is absolutely no chance that anyone's reading anything.  As the years went by, we did manage to crawl in bed with him 2-3 times a week and read to him, but nothing forced or overly scheduled.   These days he asks us to read with him at night - it's not a chore to him, but rather something he's learned to love.

2.  He has no idea what a flashcard is.
We were actually buying groceries yesterday and I saw some nifty Sponge Bob math flashcards, and given his love for math problems, I asked my son if he wanted some flashcards.  This is when he asked me what flash cards were.  And I couldn't have been prouder, as a parent - that I managed to raise a first-grader who has never been exposed to flash cards.

3.  He doesn't get rewards for schoolwork.
This kid came home with advanced "report cards" every semester in kindergarten.  We literally looked at them, gave him a high-five and went on about our business.  I know, it's appalling that we didn't praise our only child more for successfully writing shaky, backwards letter "P's".  But folks, this was kindergarten. Who are we kidding - this kid isn't more "advanced" than any other kid in his class.  It's just kindergarten, people. We decided not to reward good schoolwork with material objects because we didn't want him to work hard simply because he wanted a new toy.  Sue us, but we want our kid to have fun at school.

4.  We leave the room when he does homework.
Yes, a first-grader does indeed have daily homework, and yes, much to my dismay, this week there was a section titled, "algebra".  We set up a desk just for my son in the living room.  He has his homework folder there and a computer (because the school requires him to log in to complete a web-based math and reading program).  We tell him when it's homework time and then we walk away.  He's to come to us and ask for help if he gets stuck, but he's pretty much on his own until we come and sit down with him to check his work at the end.  We don't hover, we don't anticipate what he might have trouble with.  We let him problem solve on his own, and we're there to  offer help if needed.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

I Paid $35 for A Caricature That Looks Nothing Like Me

Act #265:  Maybe life should be more like a caricature?

I had the rare opportunity to pick my 6-year old up from school last Friday and on our way home, we stumbled upon our small town's most popular street festival - the Spoonbread Festival.  Yes, it is true that we dedicate an entire weekend to cornbread so heavenly, so dense, so moist, so buttery, that it must be eaten with a spoon - but clearly I'm digressing.  Back to me and my kid.  So I picked up my kid and we decided to take a little detour in search of the fair's best corndog and orange cream slushee... and that we did.  But during our journey, we came across a cool little booth with a caricature artist.  He took costume requests.  As we looked over the samples hanging all over the booth tent, we had quite a bit of very important questions for the artist that went something like this.  Can you make me Red Skull and my mama a girl Captain America?  Can you make me not show as much cleavage, particularly since my son will be sitting on my lap?  Much to the relief of the artist, we finally settled on our large bobble heads being strategically placed on the cartoon bodies of gladiators.  Coolest mom ever, right? 

We sat there for about 20 minutes waving at all the people we knew.  Keeping our heads kinda, sorta still, per the artist's request.  He studied our profiles intently, cocked his head every once in a while, as we sat there eagerly anticipating his comic strip interpretation of our faces.  And then the moment we were all waiting for came.  He said we were free to move, and he slowly turned the caricature around.  And I was so very underwhelmed.  The female gladiator looked nothing like me!  Luckily my kid didn't notice and thought it was the coolest thing ever.  The male gladiator did slightly resemble him, but I swear, the female one looked, dare I say.....Caucasian?  The guy was so nice and seemed to be trying so hard, so I painfully handed over my $35 for a picture of my son and some white girl gladiator.  Perhaps he worked from a template of standard profiles?  Perhaps he did not notice my almond shaped eyes and my brown skin?  And just when I started to wish I had $35 worth of funnel cakes instead, it occurred to me that this artist gave me exactly what I had been hoping for. 

Like I said, I live in a small town.  There were no other Asians at this festival, except for the lady selling the batik dresses.  There might have been one black person.  On this day, I didn't want to represent anyone.  I just wanted to blend in and give my son a sweet childhood memory.  I wanted to be mom, not Plain Jane.  I wanted to hear the fall leaves crunch beneath our feet while we walked around with steamy paper bags of kettle corn.  I wanted exactly what the caricature gave me - a moment to be viewed just like everyone else.  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Why I Don't Spank My Kid

Act #264:  Teach consequences.

Dear Son,

You are well into the first grade and you probably didn't even notice that I've never once spanked you.  Not even during those terrible fours. I typically don't feel a need to talk about or preach this to the world, because this really has always been between me and you.  Another thing you probably didn't know, is that I was spanked as a child.  Alot.  You're probably not too terribly surprised that I pushed some limits, even at an early age.  Of course I love my parents, your grandparents, and looking back, I respect and am thankful for the parenting choices they made with the tools they had at the time. 

I'm writing to you today because I thought you should know exactly why I chose not to discipline you with corporal punishment.  I didn't want you to think it was because I was some sort of liberal, hippie parent.  Or because I had an advanced degree in counseling.  Or because I worked in the anti-violence movement.  I chose not to spank you simply because I didn't have to.  Now don't go off getting too big of a head.  We both know you're no saint and that you've been known to push a few boundaries yourself.  But each time you did, there seemed to be an easier, less volatile way for us to resolve the matter.  Like the time you threw a temper tantrum at TJ Maxx (why on earth would anyone display toys in a pile at toddler-reach?)  Ah, those terrible four's.  I guess I could have spanked you so you would remember never to do it again.  But it was so much easier to pick you up, remove your newly developing little mind from the lure of the colorful, shiny toys and show you the consequences of your hissy fit.  A consequence simple enough for even you to comprehend:  crying for toys equals no toys.  That was the only temper tantrum you ever threw in your entire life.

And remember those few weeks of the terrible fours that you became disrespectful towards your grandmother?  You began pushing her and blatantly disobeying her?  I guess I could have shown you how utterly disappointed I was by spanking you.  Maybe I should have let you feel physical pain so that you might consider not hurting others.  But instead your grandmother and I put our heads together and worked up a plan to nix this issue head on.  She would firmly tell you to stop every time you pushed her.  She would tell you that it made her sad.   And if you refused to turn off the television after your half-hour show was over, you wouldn't get to watch it again for the rest of the week.  Your grandmother would report every incident to me and when you got home, you had to deal with even more consequences.  I would reaffirm that you did indeed hurt your grandmother, and I would ask you if you'd rather be placed in a public daycare facility.  Because if you wanted to stay with your grandmother, you would have to treat her with the same kindness she extended to you.  That was how the world worked best.  The pushing and disobeying stopped after about two weeks and these days you just can't get enough of your grandmother! 

And here you are, six years old, and such a well-mannered, respectful first-grader you are...for the most part.  And I wanted to thank you, for continuing to be the kind of kid who understands that in life, there are consequences.  Even when you don't like them.  Like just last week when you refused to pick up your action figures after I told you to at least three times.  And I finally picked them up for you.....and I brought them to Goodwill.  There are a million reasons why parents reject spanking - the argument that corporate punishment actually teaches violence, the studies that show that it isn't really effective in reducing "bad" behavior, the fear that kids will never really understand the consequences of their actions, if they are always spanked away.  These are not the reasons I choose not to spank you.  I simply don't spank you because I don't have to.   Because there always seems to be a better way that works for us.  Because when you are able to see the actual consequences of your choices:  crying for toys = no toys; pushing = sad grandma; not turning the television off = no television; not picking up toys = toys going to someone who will.........it seems to really sink in for you.  Thank you for getting that.  In exchange for your cooperation and understanding, I promise to always remember that you are still a little guy, who's testing your boundaries and perpetually trying to figure out the extent of your own power.  And that in this big, scary, unpredictable world, you can always count on at least one person to never lay a hand on you.

Love,
Mom

Friday, September 20, 2013

What To Do When You're Afraid to Speak In Public

Act #263: Find that which inspires you to have a voice.

I have a secret. I used to be terrified of public speaking. I know that might not sound like a big deal, but every job I've held for the past decade or so, has required me to speak in front of large groups. No one really knew my secret though. I kept it hidden well -overcompensating by spending ungodly amounts of time preparing each and every precise word, practicing for hours in front of a mirror, reciting my speeches over and over again during my commutes. And to be honest with you, they all kind of still sucked. It wasn't until about a month or so ago, that after working for almost 20 years, did I finally offer my first public presentation....with absolutely no fear. I'm talking no butterflies, no stuttering, no memory lapses. Just me earnestly speaking of issues that I care deeply about. Actually, me speaking about one specific issue that I care deeply about. For me, it's eradicating sexual violence. For me, THIS is the issue that I can't NOT talk about. The issue powerful enough to get rid of all the butterflies, to untie my tongue, the issue that is branded so deeply in my mind that there's no forgetting anything. If a 40-year old who is terrified of public speaking can miraculously wake up one day with no fear, maybe you can too. Maybe you just haven't found your issue - the one that compels you to speak with unwavering conviction. The one that you know you can't afford to remain silent about. Find your issue, and perhaps, you might also find your voice?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How to Not Be a Jerk To Your Tech Guy (or Gal)

Act #262:  Be kind to service providers (aka "human beings").

Dear People With Broken Computers,

Please be kind to your tech guy. I know it's frustrating to, in the blink of an eye, lose that entire term paper you've been working on for three weeks.  I know you practically want to gouge your eyes out when your screen keeps freezing up on the day your report is due.  I know that it can drive you to insanity when all of your e-mails suddenly disappear into oblivion.  But please - I beg you - don't take it out on the guy (or gal) who is trying to help.

This ain't no Micky D's.
One thing that may help you get through this difficult and trying experience is to go ahead and accept this fact:  that computer repairs do not equate fast food drive-through windows.  Your tech guy can't reboot your Mac in the same amount of time it takes for you to order a Big Mac. Just to be clear, Mac ≠  Big Mac.  Believe it or not, computers don't talk and usually can't tell you what's wrong with them.  Sometimes diagnostics can take hours, or even days and sometimes your tech guy just can't predict precisely when you will be reunited with your love again.  Please be patient.  I promise you, contrary to popular belief, your tech guy is not busy scheming different ways to drive you crazy down in the basement while he plays violent video games...on the clock.
 
Let it be pried from your cold, dead hands.
While you may feel naked and vulnerable giving up your prized possession, at the end of the day, it's just a pile of metal and glass.  If you don't let your tech guy have your machine, how is it that you expect it to get fixed again?  Oh, that's right, you want him to work around your schedule and you want to stand there, over his shoulder, "monitoring" the repair process personally.  You know, just to make sure that shady tech guy doesn't hack into your back account (or figure out you've been surfing porn on the job).

Your time is not more valuable than others.
You may think that your company will absolutely fall apart if you don't have 24-access to your computer, but please don't complain about your broken machine AND remain perpetually too busy and too important to make time for it to be repaired.  Believe it or not, your tech guy also keeps a calendar and makes appointments - so don't keep cancelling on him.  Don't insist that the only time he can work on your machine is after hours when you're not working.  Newsflash:  Tech guy gets to go home to his family too.

Don't pull that Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde crap.
Oh, the entire tech department is on to you.  They see how you smile at the President, feed stray cats, and advocate for the oppressed, but then turn around and throw a temper tantrum when your laptop freezes up.  They may sit there and take your verbal abuse as you express your frustration with profanity, disrespect, and personal attacks, but dude, you aren't fooling anyone. They know you're crazy.  They've seen your internet search history.

Who You Callin' Stupid?
When the system goes down, and doesn't come back up in (gasp!) 5 seconds, please refrain from public defamation of tech guy's character on Twitter.  No, they are not lazy, stupid, and incompetent human beings - actually most of their IQ's are probably significantly higher than yours.  Breathe in, breathe out, and rest assured that they are trying to fix the problem as soon as possible.  Even if it means leaving their 4-year old son on Christmas Eve just so you can get back to your Facebook newsfeed.

Sincerely,
Tech Guy's Wife



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Day I Taught My Kid to Be Unpatriotic

Act #261:  Let them know peace.

Last night, my son wanted to pray, and these were his words.  "Dear God, please help the American army beat the French." And so, just when I thought I was going to get to go to sleep, my 6-year old and I had one of the most interesting conversations we've ever had.   Come to find out, he apparently learned these concepts in a kindergarten history class?  Who knew that 5-year olds discussed the Revolutionary War?  Scary.  He went on to say that he hoped "America would always win all the wars." 

And thus we began talking about how France was actually an ally.  And we talked about the consequences of war and the value of human life.  And I asked him if he thought there might be a better way to work out differences.  And we talked about alternatives to fighting.  And then I asked him why he wanted America to win all the wars.   And he told me because he was an American.  And I asked him if he thought he was always right about everything.  And he said no.  And I asked him if he thought that children living in France, and Japan, and Ghana deserved to be safe and happy just like him.  And he said yes.  And so before he closed his eyes, we revised our prayer, "Dear God, please help the world have no more wars."  And before I closed my eyes last night I prayed, "Dear God, please help me raise a boy who - despite what he hears at school, at the playground, on television - comes to truly believe that love always wins."


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Thanks for Defending Miss America, BUT...

Act #260:  Keep on being mad, America.

We crown the first dark brown Asian Miss America and the haters are making our blood boil with their appallingly racist tweets.  Social justice and feminist bloggers alike are fuming and furious over tweets following the pageant on Sunday night, calling the first Indian-American Miss America, Nina Davuluri, everything from Arab, foreigner, and Muslim, to Miss 7-11 and Miss Al-Qaida.  While I join you in this outrage, I can't help but ask, why stop there, America?  If you are that upset that Miss Davuluri is being subjected to such discrimination and hatred, you should probably also be upset that she is (as have all the Miss Americas since 1920) being subjected to far more than just these disgusting racist tweets. 

You should be mad that she has to parade around in her bra and underwear and dance in front of judges in order to qualify for a college scholarship.  You should be mad that Miss America first evolved as a ploy to keep tourists on the Atlantic City Boardwalk past labor day and began as a parade of young women being pushed along the Boardwalk in rolling chairs.  You should be mad that pageant organizers rewarded 1984, Miss America Vanessa Williams for flaunting her bikini-clad body on stage, but condemned her and took away her title when she went just a tad further and posed nude for Playboy magazine.  You should be mad that over a third of the possible points for the competition are for the swimsuit and evening gown portions (35%) and only 30% are for the combination of personal and on-stage interviews.  The remaining points (35%) are for the on-stage "talent" competition -  typically singing, dancing, or playing a musical instrument - athletic talent is usually discouraged for safety reasons.

America, thanks for defending Miss America, but please don't stop there.  Sure, we should be mad that we are living in a country where ignorance, racism, and hatred still exist.   But we should be equally mad that we are living in a country where sexism, the objectification of women, and oppressive and unrealistic beauty standards also still exist. 


Note:  I have two dear friends who I respect and admire deeply who have competed in beauty pageants.  I'm talking intelligent, stellar individuals - one who now teaches in a low-performing, rural school and one who used to work for an upstanding non-profit organization.  These women have, over the years, helped me appreciate the service and scholarship side of beauty pageants.  More importantly, they helped me see the human being behind the beauty queen.  Thank you Djuan and Jamie, for being beautiful inside and out!

Monday, September 16, 2013

4 Ways to End Sexual Harassment So Simple Your Intelligence Will Be Insulted

Act #259: Change work cultures.

The Kentucky State Legislature is very, very busy these days.  But they are not busy researching, creating, or reviewing laws to better the bluegrass state.  They are instead tied up investigating allegations of sexual harassment by a state representative charged with subjecting at least three legislative staff members to unwelcome sexual advances over a period of three years.  One reported incident involved the representative pulling on a female staff member's red, lacy underwear as she walked up the capital steps.  House leadership began a 5-member investigative committee and the Legislative Research Commission is in the midst of a full-blown investigation into the formal allegations.  The Legislative Ethics Commission will consider bringing in an expert on sexual harassment to train Kentucky lawmakers on behavior that crosses the line to impropriety.  

Obviously, I'm thrilled that the boys are finally taking this seriously, but I sit here in awe of the amount of time, energy, and resources, being poured into this process.  Although he resigned this week, the representative in question still faces a slew of legal consequences.  The legislature and the employees that staff them will be spending the remainder of the year focused on this.  I'm certain that the entire legislature will be undergoing comprehensive sexual harassment training in the upcoming year, but I question whether or not a mere workshop or two will effectively address deep-rooted systemic issues of sexism in a powerful, male-dominated work culture that supports such harassment in the first place.  True, it's important for people to learn acceptable workplace behavior, but until work cultures and structures are truly transformed, I have no doubt that women and other underrepresented minorities will continue to face workplace discrimination and harassment. I offer 4 really, really easy ways to end sexual harassment in your workplace.  You already know this, so do forgive me if I'm insulting your intelligence.

Hire and promote more women.
If you are in a position to hire or promote people, seek to do so with highly qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds in order to equalize power dynamics, and create a more robust and culturally competent work environment.  Reportedly, there were two other legislators present when the representative pulled on the female staff's underwear.  I guarantee you that if those legislators were women, 1.) It wouldn't have happened in the first place; or 2.) Someone would be in big, big trouble immediately.  If the initial complaint had been heard by a woman in power, I wonder if it would have been permitted to drag on without resolution for so long.

Do more than speak up.
Apparently some of the "inappropriate" behaviors of the questionable representative were observed by fellow legislators.  In this instance, the obligatory, "Dude, that's not cool", simply isn't enough.  Show compassion to anyone who is being harassed, support them in seeking assistance to stop the harassment.  If you are in a management position, enact a zero tolerance policy for any behaviors that subject employees to harassment.

While at work, work.
Simple enough, right?  Spend your 8 hours focused on what you're paid to do.  Expect no less from others.  If someone has time for shoulder rubs and calling out female articles of clothing, they probably aren't doing so stellar in their jobs.  Hold them accountable.

Women = Men.
Period.  Actually, if you practice this one, you can go ahead and ignore the first two.  They'd be irrelevant. 


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Why You Can't Be a Baby-Hater And A Feminist At the Same Time

Act #258:  Offer to help a mom with a crying baby.

I used to be a baby hater.  I was that non-smoker who chose to sit in a restaurant's smoking section just to increase my chances of dining in peace, a.k.a. child-free.  I was that person who got annoyed (and a little creeped out) when a kid turned around in their booth and stared into my soul while I was trying to eat a meal.  The person who avoided eye contact with cute, wobbly toddlers who always seemed to wander into my pathway, for fear that I might have to further engage with them.

I get it.  Kids are loud, socially awkward, leak bodily fluids, and they are so darn needy.  And childless people deserve to go about their lives without having to be bothered by them.  Like I said, I used to be a baby hater.  And then six years ago I had one myself, and all of the bad karma I put out into the world for 35 years of baby-hating came crashing down painfully.  The glares and stares at restaurants.  The time my 4 month-old pooped on me on a plane....while we were sandwiched between two drunken college kids celebrating their 21st birthdays.  The wrath of beautiful women with expensive shoes, when my stroller wheels accidentally ran over their feet.

Recently, several airlines have adopted child-free zones, where passengers can pay a special fee for more leg-room and a flight without screaming babies.  Singapore Airlines, Air Asia, and Malaysian Airline all offer passengers the option to upgrade their travel so that they are not seated near children. If you really look around the next time you go into a restaurant, you will probably begin to also notice that families are often strategically placed together, away from other patrons.    In 1988, the Fair Housing Act was amended to add "familial status" as a protected category - making it illegal for a landlord to refuse rental to families with children, or segregate them to one particular area of a complex.  This protected not only families with children, but more specifically, single women who were being turned away for housing because landlords didn't trust that they could pay the rent.  Men weren't as impacted by this discrimination, because statistically, they weren't typically the ones raising kids on their own.  So we had single moms, probably struggling with one income (or maybe none at all - someone had to stay home to raise those kids), unable to find a place to live.   If she was working, she was, of course, not making as much as her male counterparts. 

While on the surface, such attitudes against the occasional annoying baby may seem harmless, when rules and policies, structurally begin to support those attitudes, the ramifications can be pretty significant - and can adversely impact the quality of life of women, just like it did in housing before 1988. Women are the ones with the boob - the only ones who have the capacity to provide nourishment to a newborn.  Women are the ones who are still staying home to take care of their offspring, because their husbands still have a better shot at bringing home the most economic sustenance.  While I'm not denying that there are equally engaged dads out there (I'm married to one of those), chances are, that crying baby on the plane is sitting on the lap of a woman.  The creepy kid in the restaurant is being scolded by his mother.  And the single parent who just walked out on an abusive marriage and is seek housing, is a woman.  Like it or not, the last time I checked, women were still the only ones able to give birth to those annoying, screaming kids.  And when we begin to alienate, segregate, devalue, and demonize children, we are, at the end of the day, harming their mothers. 

So if you are a baby-hater - like I was - but you care deeply about the status of women in the world, you may consider looking at those demonic little creatures a bit differently.  You can still be annoyed by them.  Lord knows, that I still am.  But maybe you can also be a little more forgiving, a little less rigid.  Maybe you can even refrain from judging and glaring and instead, offer a little assistance.   What better way to support feminism, than to actually support a real-life woman in need?

Photo credit:  Momlogic

Saturday, September 14, 2013

What To Do When Your Kid Can't Draw

Act #257:  Never stop nurturing a kid's creativity.

My kid is 6 years old. He's in first grade.  He drew this picture of a "fox" last week.  Exactly.  When I found out I was pregnant, I began daydreaming about lying belly-down with my future kindergartner drawing and coloring for hours and hours.  As a kid, I LOVED to draw. By the time I was my son's age, I was already awarded the "most creative" title, as well as a first place blue ribbon in my elementary school's talent competition.  So when my son began to show an interest in drawing, I was thrilled.  Not bad for a three year old.  But as the years went by, his drawings really didn't seem to get any more "realistic", or "refined".  Sometimes, he would ask me what I thought he drew and I would have no earthly idea.  One time, I guessed that his alien octopus was a plate of spaghetti.  With one gigantic meatball. 

My son can lose himself for hours in drawing.  In awful, intangible, incomprehensible detailed scratches of exquisite scenes.  Three-headed monsters, aliens he conjured up in his little brain.  Trees that came alive.  Little monkeys riding bicycles. Mommy as a superhero.  But most of the time, only he can tell what the pictures are.  So after a while, I showed my obligatory support, told him his pictures were cool and interesting, but secretly, I had resigned myself to the fact that I should probably start exposing him to music lessons or something else.  Clearly, I did not have a young Van Gogh on my hands.  And then one day, my husband came home with three large packs of drawing paper and pencils.  I asked him what they were for and he told me they were for our son.  But, have you seen the plate of spaghetti he drew, honey?  My husband went on to explain that he never wanted our son to stop drawing.  That it didn't matter whether or not he was good at it, but only that he loved it so much.  He always wanted to support and nurture him to do that which brought him joy.  And I never felt so tiny.  And I went straight to the fridge and taped up the world's most beautiful picture of a one-eyed alien octopus spaghetti monster EVER.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Today, I Am Not Writing A Blog

Act #256:  Accept your limitations.

This morning I woke up, drove half way to work and stopped for coffee.....and then drove back home.  I had every intention of going to work, but my mind was bogged down with so much, I apparently went into auto-pilot mode and just started to drive.  I'm not complaining, because I know that each and everyone of us is juggling 8 million balls simultaneously, and trust me, I am grateful for the support that I do have in my life.  I just need to use this space to give myself permission to fail today.  Today, I will probably not write a substantive blog.  I will not be able to care for my disabled dad while my mom has to take their sick cat to the vet. I will not be able to get rid of the mold problem in my building.  I will not get through all the e-mails that have been piling up this week.  I will not finish our new fiscal year budget....or revising that job description....or that class curriculum.   I will probably not be able to provide a home-cooked meal for my family when I get home.  I will not be able to please everyone.  I will not eradicate sexual violence today.  But I will be able to accept the fact that I can't do it  all.  And I will do the best that I can.  And a bit later, I will step outside and breathe in the first cool breeze of fall, that will remind me that to everything there is a season. 

And I will be just fine. 

And so will you.

 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Five Reasons I Want to Pay New Moms To Stay Home (If They Want To)

Act #255: Big picture, people.

I'm a somewhat new director of a small non-profit organization.  Our annual operating budget is just over a million dollars.  We have 16 staff members in 6 offices covering 17 counties.  And for some reason, we are all women (although I'm trying really hard to entice some men to join us soon.)  Try as I might, at this juncture, we simply can't afford to offer paid parental leave, given our typical non-profit woes including a budget deficit, a highly anticipated 5% federal grant sequestration, a failing and expensive retirement plan that we're locked into, and overall fundraising challenges.  I hope to lead my organization to long-term financial stability and a 5-year strategic plan that will one day include paid parental leave.

Since I can remember, I dreamed for that moment that I'd finally be in a position to impact policy and transform work culture.  And here I am, with my hands practically tied and in the last year alone, two of my staff have had babies!  So we have to get creative and find other ways to support new parents - offering comp time accrual and compensation to extend leave time, shared job responsibilities to temporarily fill duties of employees on leave, capacity to work from home or work reduced hours.  Why exactly would a struggling, small non-profit like ours still think it's a good idea to make it easier for new parents to be away from the office?  Well, you've heard all the arguments for paid leave.  You've heard the statistics about how the U.S. is one of the few countries in the world not to offer paid parental leave, how paid leave increases employee morale and retention. Blah, blah, blah, right?  Besides all the good economic sense it makes to nurture a productive work culture where employees have a healthy work-life balance, let me tell you really why I am positioning my organization to offer paid parental leave within the next 5 years.  It's pure selfishness.  Let me explain.

Because they come back.
C'mon folks, let's get real. A one-week old baby can't feed itself.  Someone's got to do this.  In an organization of social workers who make about $30,000 a year, my staff literally can't afford to give half of their paycheck towards childcare - but they do anyway.   While all of my staff are committed to our work (we work at a rape crisis center), some - especially those with single-income families - might actually have no choice but to quit and stay home to take care of their children.  If they did, it would cost the organization way more in dollars and time to recruit, hire, and train someone new.

Because they are more productive. 
When they are at work, they are able to focus more on their work, and less on how to provide care for their child during those critical first months.  Stress is real y'all.  And like it or not, it impacts attentiveness, productivity, and one's capacity to think clearly.

Because having the glow of new life around helps remind us that there is good in the world. 
As I mentioned earlier, we work in a high-stress, always-having-a-crisis work environment.  On a daily basis, we are surrounded by unimaginable trauma and it's essential for us to stay grounded in hope - for us to remember why there is a need for us to even exist.  Supported well-rested parents with baby pictures do just that.

Because my most valuable work product is the staff, and I choose to invest in them.
Most of that 1 million dollar operating budget goes towards salary and fringe, and it's worth every penny.  All but 3 of us do direct work with clients.  We serve as counselors, therapists, advocates, and educators.  Our staff make our work possible - why wouldn't we invest in them?

Because work-life balance is essential in our line of work.  
I've watched my staff work 70 hour work weeks with no weekends and I've seen what it does to them.  They are pretty much unengaged globs of non-productive energy.  And I tell them this.  And I send them home.  And I push them to own their calendars and manage their time more effectively so they can go home and have a life.  Why?  Because I'm super nice?  Not exactly.  Because I want them to be the best counselors, therapists, and advocates while I have them between 8-5 p.m., 5 days a week.  Because I need them to bring on their best game when they are at work.  Because we're eradicating sexual violence here, y'all.  This is serious work.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Please Don't Feed the Inmates

Act #254:  When in doubt, choose hope.

Yesterday, 15 of us – all women between the ages of 22 - 62, left our material possessions behind, gave up our driver’s licenses, and walked into a minimum security correctional facility in Lexington, Kentucky.  We were counselors, social workers, advocates, and educators, and we were participating in an on-site orientation.    We were also the entire staff of a regional rape crisis center.  The deputy warden granted us special permission to bring in one cell phone, so that we could continue to operate our 24-hour crisis hotline.  Like most rape crisis centers across the country, we have suddenly found ourselves thrust into a very new and unfamiliar territory.
 
In 2003, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) called for measures to prevent and respond to sexual abuse in prisons, jails, youth detention facilities, police lockups, and halfway houses.  In May 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice issued national standards aimed at eliminating this crisis.   This year we signed  memorandums of understanding with local correctional facilities to provide counseling services and medical advocacy for persons who are sexually assaulted while incarcerated.  While our center may have had a handful of cases involving incarcerated individuals in the past, we really have little idea what it will be like to provide services to large numbers of male victims in such a controlled, secured environment.   
 
So we spent the afternoon with a larger-than-life, 6’5 corrections officer, filled out a stack of security papers  divulging our most personal information, and learned among other things, that we are not permitted to give candy to the inmates.  The reasoning behind this of course is simple - one piece of candy might lead to a sandwich, a sandwich to some cigarettes, and before you know it, you might find yourself helping to plan an escape.  While I understand the necessity of these boundaries and precautions, I was sadly reminded of my visit to the zoo last summer, where I saw signs prohibiting visitors from feeding the animals. 
 
As the only rape crisis center in our region, as soon as we received the federal mandate to provide rape services in prisons, we were on it.  We got out there and started communicating with all correctional facilities in our jurisdiction.  We learned the law inside and out, realigned staff to meet the possible increase in demand for our services, and began preparing ourselves to respond effectively.  But what we didn’t do is ask ourselves the hardest question that we’ve all been subconsciously avoiding. 
 
You see, each and every one of us entered the anti-violence movement because we live and breathe advocacy…against violence.  We do not lack passion for justice and we do not shy away from outwardly demanding it.  But yet, here we are supporting individuals, some who may have very well been perpetrators of violence themselves.   So regardless of how beautifully we followed the step-by-step federal mandate, we failed to ask ourselves one important question.    
 
Could we - not as social workers and counselors, but as anti-violence advocates and human beings - truly open our hearts to help those individuals who have inflicted violence on others?
 
No one is denying that because of personal choices and life circumstances, inmates lose their privileges for basic freedom.   What we as a society, must ask ourselves however is this:  when we remove someone’s freedom, even if it is to punish them or protect them from hurting others, should we allow them to be subjected to even more violence?   And if we did, what good would come out of that?
 
I know there are some of you out there reading this who will say, If they are raped, tough. They got what they deserved.  But did they?  I don’t know of any court of law that has ever issued a sentence that included rape or sexual assault.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimates that roughly 200,000 people are sexually abused behind bars in a single year.  One  study found that nearly 10 percent of former state inmates reported being sexually abused during their most recent period of detention. About half of the prisoners reporting abuse were victimized by staff.   On average, each prison rape survivor is assaulted three to five times a year.
 
As advocates against violence, we are committed to advocating against all forms of violence.   We are particularly passionate about ending sexual violence, because we know the devastating impact it has on victims, regardless of where it happens - even if it’s behind bars.  Even if the victims may have been the inflicter of violence themselves in the past.  Even if the victims are living out a punishment that they may very well deserve.  They still don't deserve to be raped.  We will provide resources for them to heal.  We will believe them.  We will give it our best shot to help end a cycle of poverty and crime that would only be further perpetuated by emotional and physical scars of sexual violence.   Scars that we believe if left unattended, will most likely be brought back to families and communities. 
 
So while we will follow the rules and not offer candy to the inmates, as anti-violence advocates, we will always offer hope.  Because doesn’t everyone deserve hope?  What would you rather see? An angry, depressed, and traumatized individual walking out of those prison doors.   Or someone who has served their time and has been given all the tools and resources they need to begin contributing to our community again.  We choose hope.
 
For more information regarding PREA and sexual violence in prisons:
http://www.justdetention.org/

 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

When Eating Is A Solution and Not a Problem

Act #253:  There's always more beyond the surface.

Once upon a time back in 1985, there was a dashing, innovative physician named Vincent Felitti who worked for Kaiser Permanente's Prevention Medicine department and oversaw an obesity weight-loss clinic in San Diego, California.  People who were 100 - 600 pounds came from all over the world to be a part of his clinic.  Although the program was very successful, Dr. Felitti couldn't figure out why every year, over a five-year period, half of the participants dropped out - that is, 50% of participants never came back, even during the peak of their weight loss.  So he began digging.  He called up about 286 of those participants and asked them a series of questions:  How much did you weigh when you entered high school?  How old were you when you got married?  How old were you when you had your first sexual experience?   But he found nothing, no clarity about why people were dropping out.  Then one day, after interviewing several former participants, he mistakenly reworded one of his questions and asked, "How much did you weigh when you first became sexually active?"  The female participant looked at him and responded, "40 pounds."  Dr. Felitti, thinking that the participant clearly misunderstood him, repeated the question.  And that's when the female participant broke down and revealed that she was 4 years old the first time she was sexually molested by a family member.  Dr. Felitti went on to discover that almost all of the 286 people he called back had also experienced childhood sexual trauma.  To these participants,  eating was a fix, a solution.  It made them feel better, soothed their anxiety, fear, anger or depression - just like alcohol or drugs. When they weren't eating, their anxiety, stress, and fear levels were intolerable.  In many cases the weight also served as protection, made them feel safe and invisible - a means to keep the sexual abuse away.  


In 1995, Dr. Robert Anda of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) partnered with Kaiser Permanente and expanded the research to cover 17,421 participants who were followed for 15 years.  The study examined eight types of trauma (including three types of abuse — sexual, verbal and physical) and five types of family dysfunction (a parent who’s mentally ill or alcoholic, a mother who’s a domestic violence victim, a family member who’s been incarcerated, a loss of a parent through divorce or abandonment). Emotional and physical neglect were later added, for a total of 10 types of adverse childhood experiences (ACE). 

The results of the ACE Study were astounding.  There was a direct link between childhood trauma and adult onset of chronic disease, as well as mental illness, doing time in prison, and even work issues, such as absenteeism.  About two-thirds of the adults in the study had experienced one or more types of adverse childhood experiences. Of those, 87 percent had experienced 2 or more types. 

What does this mean?  This means that children affected by childhood trauma will likely struggle throughout their lifespan and will experience behavioral, learning, social, criminal, and chronic health problems.  Many will end up in "the system".  Bu what do we do as a society?  We call child protective services, stick them in foster care, and send them to alternative school - all worthy and critical services, but we simply don't do enough to address the root of the problem.  We invest little in preventing the trauma from happening in the first place, or fully treating the trauma itself.  

What do we do as individuals?  We silently judge and ridicule that woman who has no self-control, who is too large to even get around.  Next time your mind goes there, remember that just like you, she might have a story.  And that a long time ago, she once weighed only 40 pounds.

For more information about the ACE Study, please visit:  http://acestoohigh.com/2012/10/03/the-adverse-childhood-experiences-study-the-largest-most-important-public-health-study-you-never-heard-of-began-in-an-obesity-clinic/

Monday, September 9, 2013

Where Were All the White People This Weekend?

Act #252:  Come to the darker side. 

This weekend I attended two local festivals back to back:  the Japanese Summer Fest, celebrating Japanese tradition and culture and the Roots and Heritage Festival, a 25-year old event celebrating African-American culture and heritage.  Both were spirited and lively street festivals, well-attended, and overflowing with talented musical and dance performances.  Both provided tempting gastronomic experiences with options ranging from fresh sushi to West African stews.  Both had vendors, information booths, and an abundance of little kids running around with sticky fingers and snow cones.  

But while one crowd was noticeably made up primarily of Caucasians and Asians (about half and half), the other was almost completely African-American.  We walked from one festival to the other - that's how close in proximity they were.  There were crowds and crowds of white people at the Japanese Summer Fest, but I noticed that the handful of white people that I saw at the Roots and Heritage Festival were all "connected" to a black person in some way -  they were either a part of an interracial couple or had black children (or they were staffing a booth or representing an organization in the parade).   To be fair, I did not see a single Asian at the Roots and Heritage Festival (they were probably all at the Japanese Festival) and only a few blacks at the Japanese Festival (they were probably all at Roots and Heritage).  But the whites were clearly represented abundantly at one festival and barely noticeable at the other.  With a slew of fall festivals coming our way, I would encourage us to step outside our comfort zones a bit and walk a few blocks over to that other neighborhood.  I promise you, the snow cones are just as good, the music just as vibrant, the patrons just as giddy about celebrating community in the streets.

How to Talk About Race Over Peach Pie

Act #251:  Don't be afraid to talk it out.

This weekend I found myself at a lunch table with two white people, a black person, and a couple of Asians.  During the course of our delightful conversation, the black person referred to the owner of her neighborhood store as "the Arab", when both of the white people gently encouraged her to consider using other words to describe the owner - perhaps "persons of middle-eastern descent"?  The black person was appalled that she might have possibly offended someone, and the lunchtime conversation evolved into an interesting, respectful exchange of thought regarding ethnic slangs.  At one point the black person asked the white person, You mean, that would be like you calling me the N-word? There was no fighting, no discomfort, not even any awkwardness.  Just authentic, respectful, honest conversation, sprinkled with a bit of humor, and a lot of safe space for personal vulnerability.  Lunch ended with decadent slices of mouth-watering peach pie with fresh whip cream. 

And everyone at that table walked away with both bellies and hearts that were just a bit fuller.

 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

My Kid is Friends With The Owner of This Truck

Act #250:   Take the power away from the symbol.

Photo courtesy of findfreegraphics.com

What are the first words that come to your mind when you see this picture?  I know it might be hard to admit to yourself, but try to be totally honest.  If you happen to be brown, and are not originally from the south, these are some of the words that might possibly pop into your mind:

Racist
Redneck
Man
Violence
Uneducated
Shotgun
Drugs
Trailer
Scary
Cigarettes
Mullet

What if you suddenly began to notice this truck parked at your son's elementary school every day during drop-off time?  What if one day you saw a cute little boy with spiky hair come out of that truck.....and then walk and join your son's first-grade class one morning? 

It's clear that brown girl, who is not from the south, had two choices:

1.) Draw from every stereotype she's ever heard, breathe life into a hurtful symbol and allow it to continue to ignite hate.  Find a subtle way to manipulate her kid into staying away from the child whose mother drives this vehicle. Pass the hate, fear, and distrust onto 6-year old son.  Perpetuate a whole new generation of separation.

2.)  Ask her kid to be nice to the spiky hair boy who always seems to sit alone.  Her kid takes it to another level and gives his entire lunchbox to him one day.  On grandparents day, brown girl's brown mom and brown kid share a table with spiky hair boy and his grandmother.  After a while, the flag turns into a powerless, peeling, outdated, decal.  And spiky hair boy and brown girl's kid give hope for a new future.  One that is no longer defined by, or trapped in, the past of their mothers.

Can you guess what brown girl, who is not from the south, chose? 

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Response to the Mom Who Blocked Sexy Selfies From Her Teenage Sons

Act #249:  Judge less, mentor more.

This week, a blog post written by a mom of teenage sons went viral.  Author, Kim Hall is also the Director of Women’s ministry at All Saints in Austin, TX.   While I admire Ms. Hall for her convictions to protect her boys from sultry, sexy teenage girl selfies that make her blush, I can't help but question the effectiveness of her approach.  In her blog, titled, FYI, If You're a Teenage Girl, Hall sends a stern warning to all the girls in skimpy pjs, the ones not wearing bras, who arch their backs, and have sultry pouts - that she is blocking their posts and banning them from her sons' on-line social life.  She prays that her sons will be drawn to "real beauties, the kind of women who will leave them better people in the end."  She prays that her sons will be "worthy of this kind of woman, that they will be patient – and act honorably – while they wait for her."

Rather than blocking them, why not reach out to them?
Ms. Hall, I know you've been there.  You were a teen once.  You know what it's like to grow up in a world where girls are valued less than their male counterparts.  Where girls are supposed to be perfect little princesses.  Where girls are judged by their capacity to look pretty and attract attention.  You know how brutal high school can be - how much girls struggle with the pressures of attaining the media-imposed perfect body, how difficult it is to come to terms with your sexuality, the high rates of dating and sexual violence they experience from boys and bullying from other girls.  Do you ever wonder what might be going on in the home life of that pouty girl in the sexy pajamas?  Did you know that 44 percent of all sexual assault victims are under the age of 18?  That 50% of reported date rapes occur among teenagers?  That 95% of the 8 million Americans with eating disorders are girls and women ages 12 to 25?  That 51% of teens are afraid to talk to their parents about their problems and 40% are afraid of not fitting in?  That 1 in 3 girls who have been in a serious relationship say they've been concerned about being physically hurt by their partner?  That 75% of teenage girls felt depressed, guilty and shameful after spending just three minutes leafing through a fashion magazine?  Rather than blocking her, why not invite her over for dinner?  Rather than condemn her, why not show her by example, how she might grow up to love herself, to value her body, and to believe that people like you exist - people who accept her for who she is, regardless of what she is wearing?
Rather than hoping for the kind of woman who will leave your sons better people, why not invest in raising boys who are already good people?
Ms. Hall, that's a whole lot of pressure you are placing on someone you have absolutely no control over.  I trust that you are also placing the same amount of time and energy in teaching your boys to value and respect women REGARDLESS of  what they are wearing, whether they have a bra on or not.   By blocking these girls from your sons' newsfeed, you are sending a powerful message to your boys about the value of women.  That some women are not worthy of them, especially if they dress and act a certain way.  I too, have a son and I will always, ALWAYS teach him to look beyond the surface and value every human - enough to really get to know them.  I learned quickly in college that some of the most conservatively-dressed, church-going girls, who were saving themselves for marriage, faced the same pressures that other girls faced - and many were engaging in oral sex behind closed doors, and succumbing to abusive relationships just to please the kind of boys who grew up with permission to devalue the kind of girl not good enough to bring home to mom.

You tell teenage girls around you that they are growing into "a real beauty", inside and out.  You tell them to act like her, speak like her, post like her.  I challenge you to act like someone who once used to be a teenage girl.  To judge less and mentor more. To raise your sons to value all women, not just the ones who are "worthy" in your eyes.

To read Ms. Hall's full article:  http://givenbreath.com/2013/09/03/fyi-if-youre-a-teenage-girl/.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

My 5 Sufficiently Awkward Asian Moments This Week

Act #248:  You can help eradicate SAAMS.

Most of the time I'm just doing my thing, my mind focused on ordinary things that ordinary people think about like: what we're having for dinner, how to survive my work audit, how to eradicate the world from violence.  Contrary to popular belief, I don't constantly ponder my race and ethnicity and sometimes, lo and behold, I forget that I'm even brown at all.  That is until some generous soul helps to break my day up by reminding me.  Thank you, really.  I could be in the midst of an innovative fundraising plan, dressed in a sharp suit, or presenting to a room full of people, it doesn't matter - to some, first and foremost, I'm Asian. I used to cringe when experiencing uncomfortable moments when total strangers made a point to call out my Asian-ness at the most interesting times, but now I embrace them.  I even smile.  And then I set them straight (respectfully, of course).  I've even begun to coin these experiences: SAAMS (Sufficiently Awkward Asian Moments).  Here are five that just happened last week.  Please, for the love of God, people: Don't be a SAAMS instigator.

1.  The day I was waiting at the reception counter of a local business and a man in a tie came out to ask me to let him know when a "Chinese-looking" man arrives.  He thought I was the 20-year old receptionist, who also happens to be Asian.  Sorry, sir, I don't work here, and could you tell me exactly what features a "Chinese-looking" man has again? 

2.  The day an unidentified man came to my office and demanded to see the "Oriental girl that works  here.  You know the Chinese one."  Awww...how sweet.  The 40-year old director of a non-profit that covers 17 counties is reduced to an "oriental girl."

3.  The day I was at a community meeting and a CEO of a large corporation came up to me and asked me where "my people" were from.  Oh, you must be mistaken, sir.  I don't own any people these days.

4.  The day I took my 12 year old niece (who happens to be white) to dinner and people just couldn't figure out our relationship.  Was she adopted?  Was I adopted?  What on earth is going on here?  Should we call the authorities?  

5.  The day a vendor called me Sue.  Yes, this really did just happen.  Clearly, he didn't read my blog last month:  http://plainjaneactivism.blogspot.com/2013/08/my-name-is-not-sue.html).

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How to Be A Jerk To A Special Needs Kid

Act #247:  Judge not.

How To Be A Jerk
About a month ago I was at Target browsing through the clearance rack in the women's clothing section when I began hearing the screeching demands of a little boy.  NOOOOO!  I WANT THAT BOOK NOW!  This was followed by the gentle, firm plea of a woman's voice, Matt, we are going home now and you can not have another book. My eyes naturally searched my surroundings for the mother-son duo and found them just a few racks over.  The boy looked to be about  8 years old and by then, was erupting into a full-blown temper tantrum, screaming at the top of his lungs.  I was sure the entire store could hear him.  I'M NOT LEAVING UNTIL YOU BUY ME THAT BOOK!  He was crying, screaming, and kicking, while his exasperated mother was gently trying to coax him towards the exit doors.  A few other women gathered next to me and we began chatting, well really, judging:  the boy for being old enough to not behave like a spoiled brat, the mother for her lack of control and questionable parenting skills.  I couldn't take my eyes of them, eager to see how this was all going to play out.  The boy wouldn't budge.  Soon two store associates came to offer the mother help.  But it was too late.  The boy was uncontrollable, wildly swinging his arms, violently kicking everyone that came near him, screaming incomprehensible things, clearly in some sort of rage. And I just stood there, pretending to look at tank tops, watching them from the corner of my eyes, ruthlessly judging both of them silently.

How to Be Human
This past weekend Ashley England and her family:  husband, Jason, 8-year old son, Riley, 4-year old brother Logan, and the boys' grandmother and great-grandmother were eating dinner at a North Carolina restaurant. They were waiting for their meals when their special needs son, Riley became frustrated that he couldn't load Netflix on his mom's phone.  Riley, who suffers from epilepsy and is non-verbal, began making screaming noises and beating on the table.  People began to stare, and England, who was somewhat prepared for the scenario since Riley was diagnosed as a special needs child since he was a toddler, was having a bad week and was visibly frustrated.  And that's when a waitress walked up to the family with tears in her eyes. She passed along a note from an anonymous customer that read “God only gives special children to special people.”  Their meal had been paid for in full.  England broke down in tears and later told news reporters that the gesture couldn't have come at a better time because the past month had been particularly difficult with Riley.   She later posted this status on her Facebook page, "Dear stranger, thank you for giving me a blessing tonight in a way you will never know.”