Thursday, March 21, 2013

When Books Start Great Conversations...

My 10yo has been on this really big theatre kick lately. She's got a major role in her school opera this year and she's been checking out lots of books about theatre. From tips about stage makeup to the kids' versions of different Shakespeare plays, she's absorbing whatever she can find. So when Tim Federle's BETTER NATE THAN NEVER released, it seemed like a perfect choice for her.

Nate Foster has big dreams. His whole life, he’s wanted to star in a Broadway show. (Heck, he'd settle for *seeing* a Broadway show.) But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he’s stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where no one (except his best pal Libby) appreciates a good show tune? With Libby’s help, Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York. There's an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time stardom.

And she completely loved it. But here was my favorite part of dinner last night:

10yo: Mom, that book was so good, but I couldn't figure out one thing: when Nate was at school, some kids were bullying him and calling him gay.
8yo: What's gay?
10yo: You know gay. Like when you love someone who's your same gender.
8yo: Oh, like XX's two moms at church.
10yo: Yeah, or XX's two dads at school. Or mom's friends XX.
8yo: I love someone of my same gender…Dad.
10yo: Dude, not that kind of love. The kind of love where you want to eat someone's mouth. (yes, this is now how my 10yo daughter figures out real love…grumble)
Me: That's right, sort of. So I don't get what the problem with the book was.
10yo: Well, I'm not sure he was gay.
Me: Is that important?
10yo: I guess not. But he's really young, how does he know who he's going to love yet?
Me: I don't know. Some people do know what gender they like, even if they don't know the exact person. But I'm not sure that was the author's point.
10yo: Yeah, it was probably more about the bullying.
8yo: I don't know if I'm going to marry a boy or a girl yet.
5yo: I do. I'm going to marry XX. She's coming to my house on July 17th.
10yo: Dude, you have no idea what you're talking about. Can I have more chicken?

And thus it went. I said almost nothing. My kids figured it all out around me. And I am ever grateful for Tim Federle and his lovely book for starting an awesome discussion. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Making a decision about the media we consume...

Maybe some of you don't know this, but the Steubenville rape case trial started. I have been streaming it most of today. I have been reading articles about it. Two of the best are Jaclyn Friedman's article on Toxic Masculinity and Irin Carmon's piece on Can Rape Be Stopped?

I also received a beautiful and painful letter from a friend today about something difficult that had happened to her. I remain grateful for these letters. They remind me why I keep fighting.

But in the last few days, I've also experienced a lot of "bad" media. The kind that makes you want to shake your computer or scream at the TV. And there's a part of me that wants to hold my hands up and say enough. I've talked about this before. I've wondered why I can't get excited about the Veronica Mars movie kickstarter when everyone else is excited about it. And the reason that I can't is because at the same time the VM movie was going crazy into FUNTOWN on Twitter, I read that one of the Steubenville defense attorney's said this: "She voluntarily got herself intoxicated. Not once did you hear her say or any witness statement say she didn’t want to do it." (Never mind that that actually falls into the legal definition of rape)

The point is, I WANT to be Veronica Mars excited. I want that back. I want to have days where I don't say the word rape. I want that back too. I don't know that I will ever get that back. But I do know that there are times when you need to make decisions about the media that you consume.

And I am ever grateful for my friend Anne who pointed out that sometimes we keep reading the same horrifying things over and over again and it causes us a strange sort of paralysis. It's sort of like when celebrities Google themselves until they find someone saying something horrible about the way they look, act, sing, etc. Why do we do this to ourselves? To what end?

So now, thanks to dear Anne, I have come to a decision about what type of media/popular cultural I will consume (through the duration of this trial, certainly, but possibly beyond that):

1. Does it entertain me? I like to be entertained. I like to laugh and think. I will watch Eddie Izzard forever. Also Sherlock.
2. Does it give me information I don't already have? (I am pretty savvy about rape stats, reading them over and over again is damn hard...I probably don't need to read every article telling me they're still pretty shitty)
3. Does it give me something actionable that I can do to make a difference in the world? (I'm on board for changing the rape culture, but show me the way, smarter people than me...this is why I love the two above referenced articles so much).

What about you all? Do you find yourself getting overwhelmed by information overload that isn't that helpful to you?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Passing On Glenn Beck & When The People You Love Want You To Shut Up

So last weekend, a few of us in the Voices and Faces Project were contacted to see if we would be interested in appearing on Glenn Beck's show to discuss the University of Colorado suggestion that rape victims deter attackers by claiming they're menstruating, peeing on themselves, or vomiting on themselves. Glenn Beck's producer also mentioned they wanted to discuss women's safety issues pertaining to gun ownership.

The group of us who were asked ended up getting in a really great discussion about whether this might be worth doing or not. Almost all of us are fairly liberal in our politics and we were aware that going on Glenn Beck wasn't without enormous risk. But behind that was also an acknowledgment that we might be able to reach more survivors that we otherwise never would if we didn't go on. That if one survivor saw that show and said, "I'm not alone," it might be worth the risk.

I ultimately opted out of this for many reasons, the biggest of which was being concerned with the level of exposure that my kids might experience. I've never been shy about my politics at home. My kids are aware of my activism. But they didn't sign on for it, and at the end of the day, I wasn't willing to risk fall-out that might come to them. (Side note: if you would like a very succinct discussion about why guns can't solve violence against women, this is worth reading)

I'm still not sure passing on Glenn Beck was the right choice. But in my gut, I knew I wasn't comfortable and that was enough for my "no" at the time. Interestingly, it is this level of "being comfortable" that I have been grappling with in several different areas of my life lately.

Because over the past few months, I've made people that I care about uncomfortable. I've said things that have made them squirm or cringe. And I don't regret saying those things, but I do wonder about them. I do wonder if I will systematically isolate everyone in my life because I fight fiercely for something I believe in and I'm not that concerned with people being "comfortable". In my mind, we should be uncomfortable about rape. I've always thought this.

But then, I had dinner with a friend of mine and he said something that sort of stopped me in my tracks. We were discussing the Oscars and he mentioned the New Yorker piece about sexism. And he pointed out that while it had incredibly valid points, the hostility and anger of the piece perpetuated feelings that feminists don't have a sense of humor and didn't allow for education or a possible dialogue to start. Because if we're always angry, then people are going to shut down in listening to us because they feel attacked and ultimately, we're going to shoot ourselves in the foot before we actually can make headway or convert people to understanding the insipidness of rape culture.

It led to a very good discussion because frankly, I'm that girl. A lot. I'm the angry one who thinks it's appalling that "We saw your boobs" was part of the Oscars. But in being that girl, am I also the girl that no one will listen to? Or at least no one who isn't already on my side.

I think we all have a part to play in changing culture and making the world better. And maybe my part is the "in your face" sort of angry girl who gets mad about stuff. Maybe people like me need to exist so that the softer people are willing to say something instead of nothing at all. I don't know. Maybe it's not the part I should play. Maybe I need to work harder on allowing people their safe boxes of comfort so they can move a little bit and peek their head out to see that things aren't always that great on their ow without me dumping them out of their safe places.

I have no answers, of course. I rarely do. Just something I have been thinking about and wondering if there are times when my silence would be more prudent.