How The Me, Too Movement Can Lead To Equality

Me, too

The Me, Too Movement is sweeping Facebook, bringing the realization of sexual harassment to the surface. 

  • According to a survey done by Cosmopolitan, 1 in 3 women have been sexually harassed at work while 1 in 6 have been victims of sexual assault.  These numbers are terrifying for a mom of 3 girls, and should move everyone in this country to make changes that protect our daughters.  

Women do not have the same freedoms as men (PERIOD)

  • Men, do you fear being sexually assaulted when you walk through a parking lot alone?
  • Do you rethink the message an outfit sends a dozen times before leaving the house?
  • Has anyone made you feel like your abilities are solely based on your sex appeal?
  • Has a fun night out turned into terror because you didn’t watch your drink carefully?
  • Have you ever been verbally threatened on the street and then feared for your safety?
  • Have you repeatedly been treated like a sexual object, rather than a human being?

As a girl, my parents taught me:

  • How to dress so I didn’t invite “the wrong kind of attention”
  • Not to drink too much because, “date rape is a thing”
  • Never to walk alone, or leave a friend behind
  • How to “brush off” unwanted attention from boys

These lessons send the wrong messages because when something does happen, (and they have happened to me, as they have to the majority of women) we blame ourselves for not protecting ourselves enough.  We shouldn’t have worn that. We shouldn’t go out for drinks.  We shouldn’t have been walking by ourselves.  We should have said something.  Because of these lessons, we bare the brunt of HIS actions, out of fear we are at fault, fear nobody will believe us and somewhere along the way, we accept that it doesn’t matter.

So, how do we stop sexual harassment?

We have to change the way we teach our sons and our daughters about the opposite sex.  

We have to stop replaying the sexist phrases, shut off the music that promotes violence toward women, and silence the voices that promote discrimination.

It’s no secret men and women are biologically different, but that doesn’t mean we both shouldn’t be granted equal freedoms and mutual respect.  

Daughters

We all need to show our girls that they are not responsible for the actions of her assailant. If a man rapes her, assaults her, or harasses her, it has nothing to do with the fact that she was walking by herself, or that she got dressed up to go out with her friends. It is HIS fault, and she can do something about it by speaking up.  Never make excuses for a boy or man, who makes your daughter feel unsafe.  She deserves to have control over her body at all times.  Foster a relationship of trust so that she can come to you if something happens.  Then, don’t make excuses, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

Sons

We need to show our sons that respecting a woman makes him stronger, not weaker.  Moms and dads have the responsibility to show their boys that women are just as STONG as they are beautiful and just as SMART as they are sexy.  When women are appreciated for the qualities that make them HUMAN; their MIND, their ABILITIES, and their IMPORTANCE in this world, the relationship between men and women will be stronger, and most importantly, more equal.

It’s a long process and unfortunately to some, sexual discrimination is so embedded in their psyche that they may never look at it as a problem.  This is not “just the way it is,”  it can change if we take action.  When our daughters can walk down the street, alone, at dusk without fear of being raped, we can stop talking about this.  Until then, get used to the conversation.

How To Answer Questions About Sexuality

“Mom, is being gay cool?”

Heck yeah, and why shouldn’t it be?  The right to love who we want to love and sacrifice it all is a story as old as Adam and Eve.  Aside from Adam, nobody has given up more for love than our beloved gays.  They’ve redefined the word PRIDE and continue to fight.  That’s really fucking cool!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t explain it like that.  I had to explain the dark, ugly side where people still discriminate against those who are different.  I had to explain that our society only embraces what it can understand, but give her hope that the positive changes will continue because of people like her.

The new normal

American culture tells us that normal relationships include a man and a woman with approximately 2 kids, who are 50% likely to get divorced.  The debt and destruction from these types of normal relationships are part of our views of “normal.”  I’ve lived this version of normal, and yet still managed to open myself up to love again.

As a privileged straight female I am free to marry again and again and again and again.  I can have babies, adopt babies, even give up my babies.  I can kiss my husband in public, I can hold his hand and sit on his lap without getting any disgusted looks from people passing by.  I can abuse the privilege of love given to me because I’m straight.

Our gay friends do not have the same privilege.  One friend who has given his life to help those with intellectual disabilities can’t be given the peace his partner brings him when in the hospital.  He’s dying of cancer and spends weeks at a time alone in the hospital without the love of his life.

Another friend and I have had numerous talks about his struggle to come out and his tremulous past.  After ending a 10 year relationship, he talked to me about how difficult it is for a gay man to find love when there is still so much unease in society.  If he gets a mixed signal and flirts with a straight man he could be assaulted.  We’ve talked about Tinder and oversexualization and STD’s, the list goes on.

These men, my friends, are over 50 years old and have lived a life in fear of expressing their God given right to love.

I like to think that the millennials are changing this.  That we are embracing love as love and opening our minds to a world where gender and sexuality are less black and white.

What’s really cool is having an open dialog with our kids when it comes to sexuality.

As a mom, I don’t worry whether my children will be gay.  I worry that they will not be equipped to handle the heaviness of sexuality.  It is my job to make sure they are educated in all aspects of sexuality including their own bodies and choices when it comes to sex.   

From breasts to bodily fluids, I’m the kind of mom who isn’t afraid to talk about sex.  While I don’t make it a point to do it in front of other people’s kids, my daughter asked me a question in front of one of her friends, and when I answered her friend said, “oh my gosh!  My mom never talks about periods.  She says it’s gross and tells me to be quiet.”  It seems, some adults even have trouble talking bout “normal” things.

If our kids can’t turn to their parents for answers, they will turn somewhere else.  Their confusion could lead them to misunderstandings about themselves and about other people.    

Here are 3 ways I approach questions regarding sexuality:

1. Listen

I listen to the stories of people who cross my path.  I share their stories and sometimes make changes to my approach because of their experiences.  I am constantly evolving because I recognize that as long as we have differences, I have more to learn.

I also listen to my daughter’s stories about what happening in their world and help them navigate the rocky waters of adolescents.

My oldest came home from school telling me about a friend, Arianna who cut all his hair off and is now Ari.  I didn’t offer any judgement or assumptions, I simply talked to her about it.  I asked her whether it changed their friendship, she said it didn’t.  We talked about whether his parents were supportive.  They have him in counseling to help his transition.  Finally, we talked about how hard this must be for him and why it’s so important to treat every person with kindness and respect.  When I listen, I don’t judge.

2. Avoid labels

During middle and high school students feel the need to label their sexuality; gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, gender neutral.    I had a 7th grade student who came in to talk to me during lunch to tell me she thought she was asexual.  When I asked why, she said, “because so many of the girls here like boys or are having sex and I don’t want anything to do with that.”  I smiled and told her she’s perfect just the way she is.  She, of course, rolled her eyes, but her teeth showed through her lips as she realized she didn’t need to label herself according to her peers.

Make sure kids know that there is a wide range of maturity at this age.  If they are not having sexual desires, that is definitely okay.  If they are, make sure they know about personal responsibility and the power of their choices.

3. Share many stories of different kinds of love

To a sexually mature adult, it is obvious that loving your best friend is different than the romantic, sexual desire you feel for your husband, but kids don’t always know there are different kinds of love.  As a result, they may think that their love for their best friend means they are gay or bisexual.

One way to make this distinction is to share the story of how you developed feelings for their mom or dad.  Talk about romantic love through the butterflies in the stomach, the tingling feeling you get when you hold hands.  Romantic love can also mean being so nervous you sweat or fantasizing about the other person.

After meeting my friend Sam for coffee, my daughter who was with us, asked if he was gay.  I said yes and she smiled like she already knew.  She asked if he was married and I had to explain to my 8 year old that gay people couldn’t marry in our state.  She was shocked and said, “nobody should be able to tell you who you can love forever.”  Even she knew that love is not a tangible thing to be controlled, but a feeling.  If you tell someone not to love, you will be met with confusion, anger or resentment.

Instead, of telling our kids who they can love, we should teach them how to love.

Talking about sexuality with your kids is not an easy thing to do.  If you are having trouble, seek help.  If your child is really struggling with an issue that is beyond your understanding, get them someone to talk to.  Counseling or online support groups are a great place to start.

What’s in a Name?

Recently someone from my past noticed I did not have my husband’s last name listed on my Facebook profile. He’s the first to say something but I’m sure many people have wondered.

It seems on Facebook, anytime you change something people immediately start wondering about your relationship (or mental health) status.  I think it’s a lot more interesting that people imagine the drama, than live in reality.

Here’s the reality…

Sometime after I left my job as a teacher (and during a hateful presidential campaign), I changed my name to Lisa Marie. I did this for multiple reasons, none of which had anything to do with my marriage.

I left my job and was preparing to use my voice in a way I never could when I was teaching. I was creating a blog to advocate for teachers and I planned to use my social media to promote it. I didn’t want my last name, one students and administrators knew me by, to impact my advocacy. I also wanted to preserve it in case I’d return to teaching one day.

As a woman who’s honored her husband by changing her name (twice), I’ve experienced the good and bad parts of a last name.

The good is that there is a legacy in a last name. It takes us back in time and tells a story of our ancestors. We gain knowledge of our culture and pass that on to the next generation. My children carry their father’s name and his culture as well as mine.

Now that I no longer share their father’s name, my children and I don’t share a last name. There is a tinge of anger each time I have to make that distinction.  Aside from my children, many of my accomplishments are in my ex husband’s name. For example, the college degree I worked for has his name on it. Some of my favorite students still refer to me by his last name.

A name that I no longer identify with still carries meaning in my life.  I want those accomplishments to represent me, but somehow they seem to represent him.

The major flaw in a woman changing her last name is her loss of identity.

After literally changing all my identifications multiple times, I’ve learned not to identify by my last name. Lisa Marie is my constant and the hero of my story.

I’m thankful that Brent was proud to give me his last name, but not too proud to understand that maintaining who I am is more important than putting his last name on Facebook.

To The Man Who Served My Husband Sympathy For Having 3 Girls

To the man who served my husband sympathy,

You may not remember us, but we were the table of 5 that sat in your section on Tuesday night.  You greeted us with coasters, gave us your name and addressed my husband,

“3 girls?  I’m sorry, dude.

Yeah, you sorry alright.  

You’re a sorry excuse to try and bond with my daughter’s proud father by apologizing to him (in front of our girls) for their gender.  As if he is cursed, or less fortunate that God didn’t bless him with a boy.

My husband wanted to put your gangly neck in his 20” bicep while I force fed you the horse shit that just flew out of your mouth, but that would just be uncivilized.  Instead, my husband responded as he usually does when misguided people make comments like this about, and in front of, our daughters,

He simply said, “don’t be. I’m extremely blessed,” and then smiled across the table at our girls.

Once you left, our girls asked, “why did he apologize for us being girls?”  My response to them will come later, but as for you Mr. Waiter…

I don’t believe you’re a bad person.  I won’t even label you a sexist or a misogynist.  I think you are a representation of society’s view of women and your unconscious comment was something you’ve heard and maybe repeated numerous times before.

I mean, who doesn’t already know that girls are way too emotional, and 3 of them?  Forget about it!  My poor husband is going to be a prisoner in his own home with 3 bossy, PMSing girls who make it their mission to bring their cursed misery down upon their old dad.

Those bitches are going to drive him crazy with their non stop talking and drama.  Can a guy just come home to a warm, home cooked meal and a cold beer without their women getting their panties all in a bunch over nothing?

Oh, and just wait until they’re teenagers!  Those curves are just “asking for it” and boys will soon be breaking down dad’s door in hopes his precious little girls will be ready and willing.  You’ll be on 24 hour pussy patrol, and that no longer is a good thing, dude.

You’re screwed either way, Dad.  Bring them up to be ladies who don’t raise their voices, and they could be whores, easy, or loose.  Then again, raise them to be strong women who speak up for themselves, and rejected boys will just call them those names anyway.  

From a reputation standpoint, all a boy has to worry about is throwing a ball without getting called a pussy, or reading a book without getting called a little bitch, or… wait, those are just more labels used against boys that actually insult women.  

Maybe it wasn’t a playful joke and you were sincerely apologizing for the worry Dad will endure by having 3 girls.  Maybe you’re aware that 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age 18 or that young girls are 4 times more likely to be a victim of rape than adult women.  Maybe you were making a joke at the expense of the 20 million women who have been raped at some point in their lives.  I don’t think you’re a bad person, so I’m going to assume this was not your intent.

I believe you meant no harm, it was just a little statement.  I should probably quit being a snowflake and “man up,” but here’s the thing, I have daughters to raise.

sympathy-3-girls

After you left, I told my daughters that girls like them are changing the world.  That once upon a time, girls couldn’t vote but now we represent the majority of voters.  

I told them that once upon a time women couldn’t work, but now the amount of women becoming doctors, lawyers, and accountants has tripled since the 1970’s (maybe later I’ll show them pictures of those bra burning, man-hating feminists).  

I told them they can be heroes, serving as police officers or as one of the 1.6 million women in our US military.  

I told them women represent the largest population in America and that strong, smart girls like them can be intimidating to some boys.  

Then I gave them a wink, and hoped my words answered the question posed by our server, and filled their hearts with courage as they face all the obstacles ahead of them.

When you came back, they smiled like they knew something you didn’t, and they did.

be-the-change

My daughters didn’t deserve to feel bad about being born girls.  While they are not entitled to much, they are entitled to self worth.  You didn’t give them their first lesson in gender bias and it won’t be their last.  They will deal with discrimination from good intentioned, misguided people throughout their lives.  I just hope that this letter, and the faces of my 3 girls, will make you think a little more about who’s sitting at your table.

Sincerely,

Mom to the Smart, Powerful Bosses at Table 23

 

The Worst Way to Celebrate Women’s Day

I woke up to a sink full of dishes and piles of clean, unfolded laundry the dogs were chewing their bones on.  I got my three daughters up for school, laid out their clothes, only to hear one complain her skirt was too long and the the other complain hers was too short.  I made three lunches to nourish their bodies while they are away from me, and made sure their homework was placed in their signed binders.  I drove my middle schooler to the bus stop and as she exited my car I said, “today is International Women’s Day, do something beautiful.”  She quickly responded, “Mom, yesterday was National Touch a Tit Day.”  

My heart burned as I asked whether she was touched. She rolled her eyes and shut the door.

I’ve seen many posts about International Women’s Day online.  Women laugh and poke fun at the stupidity of losing a day’s pay or letting their kids starve. Men make “locker room jokes” about “getting back in the kitchen” or wishing they had told their wife to do their laundry earlier.  I’ve seen the organizer of today’s strike get called a terrorist because she is a Muslim and the protestors equated to a cult.  

I myself, struggled with finding meaning in the strike. The world needs women.  

The world needs her giving heart and creative mind.  The world needs her to make the boo boo’s go away with a single, soft kiss.  The world needs her to squeeze out the day’s hate with a warm embrace.  The world needs her reassurance and her encouragement; that no matter what we face, we will persevere.  The world needs her to prove there is no better reward than that which comes from pain.  The world needs her to fight, because we know that nobody offers more protection than an angry mama bear.  

Women must be more active in society, but more importantly in their own home.  If your husband, brother, uncle, or friend makes a crude, gender specific joke, call him on it.  That doesn’t make you a feminist – that makes you a hero to any little girl who you saved from hearing it at school.  

If your husband, brother, uncle, or friend talks about doing things to women without their consent, call them on it.  Little boys will take those “jokes” to school and enact them on little girls, for example touching her breasts due to “National Touch a Tit Day.”

If you find out that your daughter was harassed at school, call the mother f* school.  There are things the school can do, the most immediate being an announcement about respect.  

Don’t like how the school handled it?  Take action in your community.  Build awareness on gender specific issues- Make a PSA and post it online (ours will be on youtube soon), pass out flyers you created, attend town hall meetings and make sure there are laws that protect gender equality.  

Whatever you do, don’t be silent.  If we accept harassment and groping in middle school, what is to be accepted or ignored later?  One in three girls are raped before the age of 18.  We must use our voices and teach our daughters to do the same.  

It’s ironic that I struggled with how to celebrate International Women’s Day and then was smacked in the face by my daughter’s revelation of National Touch a Tit Day.  

I will celebrate by continuing to raise three amazing little women.  One day I hope they will take the torch and bring new light to the world.  As a woman, I know that in our society, her torch will be put out by many people in her lifetime, especially men.  I know that this is not the first time she will be harassed at school or work.  I know that I cannot protect her from all the gender specific “jokes” in her lifetime.  As her mother, I will teach her about sticks and stones, but as a woman I know that she will sometimes feel like they are boulders holding her down.  In the end, I hope her torch is still lit and that enough action in her lifetime keeps her world, and the world of those around her turning.

And now, on International Women’s Day in 2017, I will fight the fight by writing an email to my daughter’s middle school about tits.

A Letter to #notmymarch Women

I was just putting together a video from the Women’s March and since some time has passed, I decided to go back and look at some older posts for inspiration.  What I found was more negativity than I remembered.  

When I look back at the pictures and videos I took from the Women’s March in my home town, St Petersburg, I remember a day of love and solidarity.  A day when women of all backgrounds, ages, and status came together with a single goal, to reject the president’s attacks on women and stand together in peace and love.  Below I am going to address some comments from social media, most notably from the #notmymarch hashtag.  Fellow bloggers and Youtubers voiced their confusion and even their disgust with the women’s movement.  

  1. #notmymarch aren’t sure what the women are protesting, and have accused them of not knowing what they even stand for.  First of all, let me clarify, this was not a protest against policies, the man had just been in office for a day, this was a march of solidarity, to stand together and reject the misogynistic views of a man who had just been inaugurated as our president.  If you really need to be reminded of comments made by our 45th President, stick around, this post has a few       

2.  #notmymarch women say that it really bothers them when other people speak on their behalf and we should have referred to it as, the anti trump march.  Seriously?  You didn’t represent my belief when you voted for a man who thinks women shouldn’t poop (or at least shouldn’t let men know they poop).  

Trump mocked Hillary Clinton at a December debate saying, “I know where she went.  It’s disgusting.  I don’t want to talk about it.  He previously discussed his revulsion to women using the restroom to Howard Stern, “I’ve never seen evidence that Melania Trump actually poops.”

You certainly didn’t represent my belief when you voted for a man who said cohabitation is an excuse for rape or who justified sexual harassment because “he helped a few of them.”  You voted based on your beliefs, and now I’m standing up for mine.

3.  #notmymarch women are ashamed of women wearing giant vaginas or holding pussy signs.  They criticize the celebrity speeches for, “nonsensical remarks about periods”  The vulgarity did not come from these women taking back ownership of their genitals, but from “remarks” made by the man who now holds the most powerful position in the United States.  A man who has made various statements about women’s pussy and his right to it.  A man who believes it is okay to ogle a 12 year old girl or sexualize his own daughter.  A man who has insulted a woman’s intelligence due to the fact that she bleeds.  A man who has called breast feeding disgusting.  The fact that a woman’s amazing body can create and sustain life is nothing to be ashamed of however, the misdirected vulgarity claims from #notmymarch women are truly shameful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.  #notmymarch women say they already have equal rights and insult women marchers for whining about their privileged life.  Well, here are some reasons I marched that Donald Trump did not campaign about.  According to nsopw.gov, Approximately 20 million women have been raped in their lifetime.  Only 16% have been reported.  1 in 5 girls will be a victim of sexual abuse before the age of 18.  Only 30% of those cases are reported to authorities.  1 in 6 adolescent runaways fall victim to sex trafficking. In spite of these alarming facts and statistics, Trump has elected people into his cabinet that have said that they will not uphold the laws and programs that protect these victims. For example: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/17/betsy-devos-hearing-prompts-fears-for-campus-sexual-assault-protections

White women continue to make $0.70 for every dollar a man makes and minority women make far less. Women marches stood up to say that we will not move backward in regard to wages and their remarks came in response to Trump’s brutal attacks on his presidential opponent Hillary Clinton.  He has called women “gold diggers” and only seems to support their “job” as beauty queens. He attacks women for not having the right “look” – too fat, too ugly, too non presidential.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. #notmymarch women said they already feel valued because they earned respect.  I’m not sure if they are insinuating that the millions of women who marched aren’t respected, but I’m going to assume it wasn’t an attack.  Instead, I’m going to talk about how Donald Trump values women.  To Trump, women have value when they strut across the stage wearing nothing but a tiny bathing suit and 6” heels.  They have value when they offer up sexual favors or don’t decline a sexual advance.  Donald Trump’s value of women is numerical and often written on a cue card.  It’s often compared to other women in an outwardly sense.  Her inner intelligence is criticized while her outer appearance is judged.  I will NEVER accept, or allow my daughters to be valued under Trump’s model for women.  I will teach them to reject his comments as normal and stand up for themselves when they are not being respected.  If our president’s comments make you feel proud to be a woman, continue your living room rants.

(1)(2)When Trump purchased Miss USA in 1997, he said he was going to, “get the bathing suits smaller and the heels higher.”  He added of the women, “if you’re looking for a rocket scientist don’t tune in, but if you’re looking for a really beautiful woman, you should watch.  In 2009, beauty queen Carrie Prejean revealed “The Trump Rule” referring to his requirement that the women parade in front of him so he could separate the attractive and non attractive ones.   (3) In 2015 Trump said supermodel Heidi Klum was “sadly, no longer a 10.”  In response, Klum said, “every woman is a 10.”(4) . On Howard Stern, Trump assigned actresses numerical ratings based on their “f***ability.”

Now, if you, as a “strong, independent woman” support this man to properly represent the value of women in our society, you should feel no need to defend your beliefs, you’ve already given him the power to do so.  

Let me end by saying, men are not the only misogynists.  Women, such as #notmymarch are just as guilty, if not more guilty, of perpetuating the lack of respect for women in our society. Calling each other names, insulting one another’s intelligence, attacking women for their beliefs will hurt all of us.  Donald Trump has repeatedly voiced his view of women during his campaign, and in response, we marched. If you didn’t, I have faith that your one-woman march continues privately.  Progress lies in our ability to come together.  We are all one powerful female body that must protect our worth and keep moving forward in whatever way is necessary.

Now, I’m going to get back to my video, a video that shows the love and togetherness of a march that restored pride in American woman.

 

How to Raise Strong Girls Who Stand Up For Themselves

Houston we have a problem, my own daughter doesn’t understand why I marched for women’s rights.  I called her from the protest boasting with pride after marching beside my sisters and fellow human beings fighting to keep moving forward in regard to human equality.  Very unenthused, she replied, “what’s not equal?”  

For a moment I felt like the wind had been taken from my sails.  How could I have failed so terribly as a mother that she didn’t see the beauty of democracy in action.  Is she not proud that her mom is taking a stand for women’s rights?  For her rights?  And then I realized that I’ve done such a good job keeping her safe and empowering her that she’s never felt unequal.  Now, I’ve put myself in a position to explain to her, and her 2 sisters, how they will one day experience inequality in its cruelest most devastating form, unless we fight to keep moving forward.

 

I’ve raised strong girls who feel like their voices can change the world.  But, I haven’t told them that if things stay the same, there will come a point in their lives where they will be told their opinion doesn’t matter.  They’ll be shamed for being too emotional or told they’re less intelligent, even though they may be more educated. They will most likely take the insults without speaking up in order to fit in, but the worst part is that they will start to believe it.  I haven’t told them that their voice will matter less, IF WE DON’T MARCH.

My 12 year old and has not yet been deprived of a better job or told that no matter how hard she’ll try, the boys in her class will most likely make more than her.  In my daughter’s classroom, everyone is equal. I haven’t told her that she won’t have equal opportunities, IF WE DON’T MARCH.

My innocent daughter has managed to escape sexual harassment up to her 7th grade year, but we all know her first bra snap or ass grab is right around the corner.  I haven’t talked to her about how she’ll feel when a boy touches her or humiliates her in public, how she’ll want to rip his hand off but will instead smile and brush it off as a joke.  I haven’t told her this harassment will continue for the rest of her life… IF WE DON’T MARCH.

My daughters have grown up in an environment of safety and protection.  They have never experienced stories of rape or molestation.  I have been so busy teaching them that sex should only happen with a partner you love, that I didn’t tell them how likely it is that they may one day find themselves in a situation where they didn’t consent.  Like many other women, they will question whether they deserved it or if others would believe them if they came forward.  They will suffer in silence, IF WE DON’T MARCH.

It is my responsibility as their mother to teach my daughters about inequality so that they do not accept it when it happens to them.  I have to teach them to march through life with signs everyday that say:

  • My Voice Matters
  • Shatter the Glass
  • No Means No

I have to teach them that if anyone violates their body, their voice, or their rights, they need to speak louder, take action, and keep moving forward.

How I Celebrate Black History Month Every Day

I’m the color white that makes a black man look 50 shades darker.  It’s not just my skin color, I actually think black people look at me and go, “OMG, it’s Becky.”  I usually surprise them in one of two ways; my ability to recite and passionately rap most old school albums – and a booty that can pop, lock and drop it.  I realize that to hear a Becky say she can “toot that thang up” – or – rap so good she could resurrect Biggie Smalls, you may question her abilities.  I don’t care.  I am totally confident in believing I can do these things that whatever comes through my white ass will have soul… I call it my inner blackness.  

 

My inner blackness is driven by music that came from ‘the ghetto.”  It all started on the playground in elementary school (cue Iesha music).  My family and I moved to the ghetto, um, I mean Clearwater and my hood, um, apartment complex, housed a lot of young thugs.  I quickly went from posters of Michael Jackson to records by Easy E.  When my feminist grandmother heard her little red haired girl singing, “Gimme That Nut” I think she almost had a heart attack.  I didn’t do drugs but I did steal my mom’s cigarettes AND smoke them, therefore, I fully defined myself as a thug.  I also loved a brown boy named Chaka and a white boy named Eric.  Chaka already had sex in the 4th grade and his mom was addicted to drugs.  Eric lived with both parents and played 3 sports.  I couldn’t decide which one I liked more, but usually leaned toward Chaka.  He and I would have probably lived happily ever after in our Clearwater version of gangsta’s paradise.  Instead, I moved and cried as I listened to Boys II Men’s “End of the Road” on repeat for 6 months.

My inner blackness is a fighter.  Okay, so maybe I wasn’t raised in the actual ghetto.  I never heard gun shots and although there were plenty of parents who made bad decisions (drug addicts, child abusers, strippers) kids were generally safe playing outside.  I remember getting into a fight with a girl because she kept saying something about my clothes.  It wasn’t really a fight, it was a shouting match where I basically told her my “black ass” would pounce her if she said it one more time.  

My inner blackness gives me confidence and the courage to stand up for myself.  Isn’t that what hip hop music was all about?  Black Americans picked up the pieces of what they had lost and spread it across the world to say this isn’t right!  It’s not right that I have to live in a place where my baby isn’t safe.  It’s not right that she has to pass dealers on the way to school because I have to work 3 jobs and her daddy left. It’s not right that I have to fight for the same opportunities handed to you.  Their powerful messages were of oppression, but most importantly of survival.  

 

My inner blackness will never know true racial oppression.  There is a part of me that will always embrace the ghetto.  I celebrate my struggles through writing and poetry, and I’m not afraid to let people know when they’ve crossed my boundaries (you know cause I’m hard like that), but I only spent 4 years in “the ghetto” before my mom moved us to the blindingly white town of Palm Harbor.  TuPac, Biggie, Snoop, Ice Cube, East Coast, West Coast all came with me, but soon I realized that, riding in my rich boyfriend’s Saab blasting WuTang looked kind of ridiculous.  This is where the white privilege set in.  How can I speak these lyrics that contain so much pain as I sit in a classroom without a single black kid.  My high school was so white, they had to bus in kids from Clearwater, just to show diversity.  I felt like a hypocrite and felt unworthy of the music and culture that once gave me confidence and pride.  Eventually I realized that my opportunity was not a slight on those who struggle and even though I never felt true racial oppression, I shouldn’t feel ashamed.  I decided to find a way to help the oppressed.  So I went to college and began studying to become a teacher.

 

My inner blackness rises up.  I came from a single mother who could not afford to send me to college.  The only word from my dad was to get a job, but I knew that if I wanted to make the biggest difference, I needed an education.  As an English Ed major, I studied African American literature.  I suffered beside Janie until she built up the courage to take her power back in Their Eyes Were Watching God. When Sharon Draper described the drums of Amari’s African tribe in Copper Sun.  I realized how blessed we are to have this infusion of black music in American culture.  Of course, Harriet Beecher Stowe showed the world what is was like to live as a slave while maintaining faith and dignity in one self.  Tom sacrificed everything, including himself for the sins of others, and it’s no wonder Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the second highest selling book of the 19th century, next to The Bible.  Like hip hop and R&B, African American literature is about power through the pain.  Every single story is a one of survival.  These stories show why black lives matter.

 

My inner blackness continues to be inspired by the amazing influences in my life.  I always say that my students keep me cool.  I try to relate current musicians to their work in English class.  They always call me out for my choice in rap music as if I’m trying to “act cool” for their sake… If they only saw their teacher on the dance floor!  What they don’t know, is that I don’t do it to be cool.  For decades, Lauren Hill, Snoop, Missy Elliot, Warren G, TLC, Nelly, Outkast, Beyonce, Ludacris, Drake, and more have inspired me to move my body and my life in a way that inspires others.   

If my students can prepare for The Odyssey by learning rhythm and rhyme through TuPac’s Dear Mama or better identify Shakespeare’s use of slang through Drake’s music, then I’m going to rap my heart out for them.  Ask any former student about my skills and they’ll tell you how awesome I am, and by awesome I mean crazy, I’m sure they think I’m totally bat shit crazy.  

On a serious note, I hope they will tell you that I inspired them to rise up regardless of their race, gender, or culture.  I created a classroom of equality.  I continue to teach my own kids that they are no better, and no less than anyone.  I know they will encounter racism and gender inequality and there is little I can actually do about that.  As a nation, we have to appreciate and embrace one another’s differences.  

 

I am so thankful that I have amazing music to shake my white, Becky ass too.  For the stories that have made me a stronger person by teaching me true human sacrifice and survival. For the inspiration to spread my message AND the courage to fight against the oppression.  

I realize that my whiteness might offend some while embracing my inner blackness might offend others.  I hope that if I spend my days living in some off shade of gray, I’ll be content.

Mom, Why Is The First Lady Naked?

After googling Melania Trump, my daughter ran to me with questions I didn’t want to answer.  Nude photos, some with her and another woman led to all kinds of questions about our values and femininity.  I’ve raised my daughter to feel like she can come to me with questions regarding sexuality but often times, I find myself stumbling to find the right words.  My flawed response and deeper thought on the issue may help other parents navigate these questions.

“How can our First Lady have pictures like that?  Didn’t they check online before they voted?”  Hmmmmm, I have to figure out a way to remind my daughter that not all public figures are role models and respond as unbiased as possible (even though I share her shock).  I want her to have female role models whose most powerful weapon is their mind, not their bodies.  “Once something is online, it can’t be unseen.  Even if it’s deleted by the user it’s most likely been shared, retweeted, etc.  I’m not sure whether she is proud of those pictures or whether she regrets them but you and I know that being famous for your mind is way better than being famous for your body.  Stick to googling your favorite role models, like J.K. Rowling.”

“Ohhhhh!  I looooove her!  That’s so embarrassing though!”  I mean people from other countries can see our First Lady naked!” “MMhmm.”  That’s all I got.

“So, is she like, a lesbian?”  

“No, she’s married to Donald Trump.”  

“Well then why is she kissing a woman in the pictures?”  

Clearly she has not been introduced to porn, thank God! My internal struggle:  Men like lesbian porn but  I can’t say men like lesbian porn to my 12 year old! She might think she needs to do things against her beliefs just to attract men.  I could say she might have been an actress and being a lesbian was her role. – START AGAIN –  “Well, maybe she acted in a movie where she was a lesbian or posed as one at a modeling shoot.  In real life, you know that being a lesbian isn’t something people do to be sexy or cool, it’s who they are and it’s about love.”

“Uh huh, but why did she need to be naked?”

“Probably because that was part of the role she was paid for.”  

Uh, isn’t that called prostitution?”

Great, now I’ve somehow made my daughter believe that our First Lady was a prostitute.  I can’t tell her that women sell themselves out all the time for the pleasure of men. A $12 billion dollar porn industry proves that, and since I have no idea what Melania’s motives were, I’ve got to lessen the impact of her naked photos by putting her celebrity into perspective.   “No, prostitution is having sex with other people for money.  I’m not sure why she chose to show her body.  Celebrities sometimes do things that aren’t acceptable in real life.”

“If a girl at my school did that nobody would care why, she’d just be called a slut.”  

There’s that word.  The word that fills young girls with fear because it comes at the cost of their reputation.  The word that elicits confusion because she’s not yet comfortable with her sexuality and can’t determine what actions make her a slut. Is it okay to like a boy at her age?  Hold hands with a boy without others assuming that she’s having sex with him?  Kiss a boy without him expecting it to go further?  So she does nothing and eventually ends up being labeled prude, or one of today’s favorite “insults”, a lesbian, making her question her sexuality even more.  Back to sending a picture, “It’s NEVER okay for a young girl, or anyone else for that matter, to post or send a naked picture of her.  That’s child pornography.  After college, if you want to become a nude model, let’s talk again.”

“WHAT?!?!  I don’t want to become a nude model!  I’m never showing my body to anyone.”  Yes!  I raised a strong, independent girl!  Wait, is she ashamed of her body?  She just got boobs and her curves are starting to fill in.  Has she been harassed or embarrassed because of these changes? I want her to have the confidence to be proud of her naked body but the values not to show it to just anyone.  “Trusting someone with your body is a HUGE deal.  You should be proud of your body but I’m glad you’re taking responsibility to protect it.  I think one day you’ll show it to your husband.”

“Ew, Mom. Gross!  And I would NEVER marry someone like Donald Trump?”  

“Why?”  

“Um, he treats women like poop and only cares about their body, and business.  He probably only married her because she posed naked.”

“Do you think that’s why men marry girls?”

“No, I think it’s why men like Donald Trump marry girls.  I’m going to marry someone who’s as smart as me… and makes me laugh… and is home at night to brush my hair…”

One of the hardest things about parenting a tween is the complex balance between preserving innocence and preparing her for reality.  It’s even more complex when reality contains social diseases that she will most likely experience but are not acceptable.  I hope that she never feels pressure to show off her body, or pressure to hide her body.  I hope she always knows that her mind is more valuable than her body, and that she never has to sacrifice her beliefs because they don’t fit into the traditional mold of a woman.  

My job as a parent is not to pass on my belief that another human being is lesser because of their choices, but to make sure that my children understand that self respect and integrity are not only values that are important to our family, but to being a woman.