Friday, November 20, 2015

What does equality look like?

On November 9th, I led services at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara. The service focused on gender equality; previously, I posted my opening reflection, "What Would Geraldine Ferraro Do?" Here is the transcript for the sermon I shared in that morning's service.

A few months ago, I heard through my "family grapevine" that one of my kids was not a feminist, or at least he had been saying negative things about feminists. I was in complete disbelief and that night at dinner, I asked him about it directly.

Here's how the conversation went:

Me: "I hear you've been saying negative things about feminists."
Him: "Well, yeah. I mean, I don't get how they want to be treated better than men."
Me (seeing red, freaking out inside): "Feminists don't want to be treated better than men, they want women to be treated equally to men."
(at this point my husband and the other kids made some excuse to leave their half-eaten food at the table...)
Him: "I don't understand. Women ARE treated equally to men. These feminists want to be treated better."  
At this point, I totally broke down into a rant about how women are NOT treated equally, citing numerous examples of bias and discrimination against women in general, but also bias and discrimination that I've experienced personally. I pointed out all of his privileged statuses (sex, gender identity, race, class, geography, able-bodied, apparent sexual orientation...he's at the top of the privilege chain). My son sat there wide-eyed and in silence, finishing his tacos.  
I believe I ended with, "I can't believe you're MY son, you live with me, and you don't know that gender discrimination exists."

As I was preparing for this service, I recalled the stories shared last year when a group of women in our congregation who were having  a decade birthday gathered in celebration. During one portion of the day-long event, we shared what life was like in different decades and I was struck by how much, but how little, things had changed for those of us turning 40 compared to those turning 50, 60, 70, 80 and even 90 years old last year. Some of the women talked about having to choose between having a career and having a family. Others shared how career options were limited to teacher, nurse or secretary. It was a day full of reflection and joy, and still I left feeling a little disheartened. For all of the progress that feminism has made in promoting equality, there are still so many ways we fall short.

Women still only make 79% of what men in similar positions make. 

Only 29% of speaking characters and only 20% of employed characters in films are women. 

Only 20% of Congress and the Senate are women. 

Only 14% of top executives in the Fortune 500 are women. 

Eroding abortion rights. Rape culture. Catcalling. Gamergate. Mansplaining. 

Interviewing an all-woman team of astronauts and asking them about hair, makeup and men.

There are still so many ways, large and small, that gender influences your choices, opportunities and life experiences.

So why did my son believe that women are treated equally? And why, when I asked a female member of YRUU to share a reflection today, did she answer that she couldn’t share a reflection because she has never been discriminated against? Is the world that our kids are seeing more equal or inclusive than what the data would suggest?

One answer may be that we feminists have done such a good job of promoting equality that it has been ingrained in our children. My son truly believed that women are treated equally, and some of that I’m going to take credit for. He’s grown up watching me, after all: in his lifetime, I led and grew a very successful division of an agency, I started my own company, spoke internationally, wrote a book, and have been at various times the primary breadwinner at home. He’s also seen me speak on this chancel.

In fact, he’s seen a lot of women in leadership in our church. From Reverend Deborah Mero who led the congregation we joined while living in Pennsylvania, to Reverend Julia and Reverend Caitlin here at USSB, all but one of the religious leaders Jackson has had personal experience with have been women. And that’s likely true of a lot of Unitarian Universalist youth. Currently, almost 60% of UU ministers are women.

But even that majority percentage doesn’t tell the whole story. Although women are 60% of our clergy, they are still very underrepresented in the leadership of our largest congregations.  Senior ministers of large congregations are overwhelmingly male. And maybe in part because of the size of the congregations they serve, female ministers still make less money than their male counterparts.

Still, all of this could easily be lost on a teenager whose mom has been instilling feminist beliefs into him since he was born, or on any children of highly privileged feminists who have only been told what equality should look like and not shown the inequality that still exists. My son looked around his world and seeing his successful mom and women in leadership roles all around him, made the assessment that this is what equality looks like.

Our current world, however, is definitely not my vision of what gender equality looks like.

As I’ve thought about it, I realized I have no idea of what it WOULD look like. What is my vision of a feminist utopia? How might it be the same or different from your vision?

Last month, a new book, The Feminist Utopia Project, was published. It is made up of short stories, artwork, and other depictions from 57 different feminists of what the world might look like if gender equality existed. Each of these stories focuses on an aspect of society that the author or artist is passionate about.

Digging into these visions, I started to notice a trend. In their depictions of what a feminist utopia looked like, it wasn’t just about gender equality. Their works painted a picture of overall equality: gender, racial, class...the visions incorporated what the world might look like if we were all treated equally, respecting our differences and providing for freedom of choice.

I have a confession: lately I have been struggling with the label feminist. As our family has been learning more about trans identities and the gender spectrum, the word feminist has felt too limited, too tied to the binary concept of male or female. I have always been a loud and proud feminist, and yet, I have felt a tension in fighting for equal rights for women when there are other marginalized identities that feel left out of that fight. There are even tensions among people who identify as feminists in how to advocate for women of color or trans women. And what about people who are agender, like my oldest child?

And yet, as I’ve heard celebrities recently claiming, “I’m not a feminist. I’m a humanist,” my reaction to that generalization is a strongly negative one, as has been my reaction to the #AllLivesMatter counter-campaign to #BlackLivesMatter. Doesn’t it make it harder to fight for the rights of a marginalized group when you don’t name them? Doesn’t it become easier to obscure the struggle of gender equality if it’s lumped under the label of human equality?

The label of feminist is unique in that no other group fighting for equality have a name. There is no name for people fighting for racial equality. There is no label for people passionate about equal rights regardless of your sexual orientation, or immigration rights, or for fighting against poverty. The only other social justice group with an identity label are environmentalists, and even that name has fallen out of style.

So what is a feminist like me to do?

Maybe the place to start is to embrace the concept of intersectionality, a term used to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc. are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another. A vision of a feminist utopia wouldn’t be complete without addressing all types of discrimination, because our identities are not limited to our gender identities.

Feminism is meaningful to me as a starting point for thinking about equality because of the intersectionality of my identity and privilege. Perhaps for you, racial equality is where you start. Or accessibility drives you because of your disability. Wherever you start, whatever the inequality that inspires you to action is no more or less meaningful than what drives me or her or them. Much like how each of the pieces in The Feminist Utopia Project are from the author’s or artist’s particular view and perspective, so too will each of our utopian visions spring from our reality, our privilege, and what we feel passionately about.

For me, imagining what utopia looks like is still a struggle. As much as I want to be able to work towards a vision of what equality looks like, it’s hard to see it clearly through the day to day realities that obscure my view. If I can’t articulate my own vision of utopia, how can I explain the difference between the reality of today and my vision for the future to my son? In the introduction of The Feminist Utopia Project, the editors acknowledge the challenge we face in imagining a gender-equal world. They write:

“When we yearn for more - food, power, sex, love, time - we are gluttonous, egomaniacal, slutty, desperate, silly. To want less, to be less hungry, we are told, is to be “reasonable.” After long enough, we tell ourselves this, too. Sexism justifies itself by commandeering our logic and, quietly, the limits of what is constrict our logic of what should be. Misogyny comes to taste like air, feel like gravity: so common we barely notice it, so entrenched it’s hard to conceive of a world without it. So how can we propose new ways of living when misogyny fogs even our imaginations? And even if we tried - where and when would we organize not just to preserve what we have but to build a wildly better future?”

Where and when would we organize to build a wildly better future?

Where and when can we talk about, form, and challenge each others’ visions of what equality looks like? Where and when can we collaborate, support and inspire each other to reflect on our privilege and plan actions to move our world closer to equality?

Here. Now. And every Sunday.

Please join me in a few moments of reflection on what your vision of utopia looks like. Think about how we might think differently about gender, race, body size, sex, family or governance. Imagine about what equality would look like for you.

[Closing Words]

As we leave each others’ company this morning, hold on to your vision of equality. Share it with someone after the service. Share it with a friend over coffee this week. Write it down. Draw it. Know that it’s a work in progress. And as you go through your week, acknowledge the instances where reality differs from your vision. Name it. The only way for us to get to utopia is to work together today to build the path. Go in peace, go in love. Let us call out a blessing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Stand up to one

There's a lot of fear going around these days, and with it, a lot of fear-mongering.

Yesterday, I posted this on Facebook:

At the risk of inciting the ire of the Internet, here are some truths. Daesh (ISIS) are already in the US; there's not enough security or shoe screenings in the world to keep them out. Worse, we are bombarded with terrorism from our own citizens daily: school shootings, church bombings, people gunned down while sitting in a movie theater. We don't have the systems and controls in place to secure ourselves from ourselves, let alone from some unknown villain. People love to point fingers at others, to blame other people. It's easy to blame someone else. It's so easy to fall back on fear and hate to guide decisions.

Choose love instead. There are people suffering; we should help them. That is what good people do; they look violence and hatred in the eye and meet it with love, compassion and kindness. Those are the heroes, those are the free, those are the brave. That is how we win. We stop building walls and boundaries and we reach out our hands in peace. We take loving action. It's not enough to change your profile pic or post articles of support on social media. Open your hearts, open your homes and help those in need in real, tangible ways.

There will still be violence in the world. Innocent people may be hurt or killed. We may not change every heart filled with hate. The best we can do is try to overpower it with love and lead by example. The best way to win is to represent the opposite of the hatred and violence; be stronger and more powerful in our resolve to not give in to what terrorists ultimately want to create: a culture of fear and hate that they have created, in which they hold the power. The best way to win is with love.

Yesterday evening, I saw this posted on Twitter, and responded: 

Evidently, Dr. Scipioni didn't like to have his data challenged, because here were his subsequent tweets: 
So, because I cited a source with a different number of homeless veterans, I subscribe to a "that can't be" philosophy. I have pre-programmed beliefs. I am sub-literate. A pot-stirrer. A rabble-rouser. 

I actually found a few sources to back up my data. Here they are: 

I haven't found any sources that would bring the average number of homeless veterans on any given night to 3.2 million. So far, Dr. Scipioni hasn't provided any. I am happy to be proven wrong if anyone can provide me with data to support his claim. 

If, however, that data doesn't exist, why am I being called names for pointing it out? Why am I being personally attacked and called names? Why are assumptions being made about who I am? 

This is why social media is such a toxic place: the name-calling, the bullying, the threats are allowed to happen. Misinformation is spread without anyone fact-checking, and those who try to hold people accountable to data are attacked.

Why do we allow people to behave in this way? Why do we allow this type of behavior? Aren't there more of us that can keep our conversations civil even when we disagree? I committed the grievous act of challenging uncited data and somehow I'm the problem? 

No, Dr. Scipioni. You are. 

If someone you worked with behaved this way, they would be fired. If your kid talked to you this way, they'd be grounded. But on social media, we allow it. And it's ruining it for everyone. Aren't there more of us than there are of them? Can't we stand up and say "this is not ok"? 

The truth is, Dr. Scipioni could have responded with a citation of the source of his data. He didn't. He could have said, "Oh, my bad. Still, 50k is too many." And I'd agree. He could have just ignored me. But he responded with an attack and an assumption that I don't have the right to respectfully challenge his words. I believe that I do have that right. I believe we all have that right. 

So today, I call on each of you. Those of us that believe in civil discourse, even when we disagree. Those of us who love social media and don't want our spaces filled with vitriol and attacks. Those of us who want to make decisions and form opinions based off of accurate information. Those of us who are sick of being called names for standing up to mis-information. Stand up to one person. Say that it's not ok. Stand up with love to the personal attacks. Stand up to name calling. Stand up for the truth, and be willing to do the work to back it up, and be willing to be wrong. But stand up to those who don't want us to question, don't want us to challenge them. 

When we stop challenging each other, we all lose. Don't let intelligent discourse die because a vocal minority doesn't want to participate. 

Stand up to one person today. Let me know how it goes. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

What would Geraldine Ferraro do?

This Sunday I had the privilege of leading services at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara; I chose to tackle the topic of gender equality. The following is my reflection on gender discrimination.

I know the exact moment I became a feminist.

It was 1984 and my elementary school was holding mock presidential elections. I knew I was a democrat because, while Walter Mondale was running for president, I barely noticed him in the shadow of my hero, Geraldine Ferraro.

My mom had raised me to believe that I could do ANYTHING I wanted to do, be anything I
wanted to be. But when I learned about history, specifically US history, and I saw that endless parade of white guys, I wasn’t sure that being president was included in that word “anything.”

I was only 10 years old at the time, but I also remember that about the time that I was learning about political party affiliations, I also learned about sexual orientation when I heard Geraldine Ferraro called a lesbian and asked my mom what that meant. While my mom answered me with definitions not emotion, I understood from the way the media was depicting Geraldine that the only thing worse than being a female Vice Presidential candidate was being a gay female Vice Presidential candidate. I didn’t understand either as being an insult, although that’s how they were being depicted in the media. In spite of all the vitriol flung in her direction, I hoped and prayed that Walter Mondale would win so that Geraldine Ferraro, a woman, would be 1-step away from being President.

It was, of course, not meant to be, and I heard all of the commentary after the election that maybe having a female running mate had been a publicity stunt, or that it cost him the election. I was angry: angry not only because Geraldine Ferraro wasn’t going to be Vice President, but because so many people thought she shouldn’t, or couldn’t, be because she was a woman. I realized that while my mom told me I could be anything I wanted, a lot of people didn’t agree. I was frustrated, I was confused, I was sad. And I was angry.

I know the exact moment I decided to stop taking math classes.

My junior year of high school, I was taking a class called math analysis, which was the name for the honors pre-calculus class. My teacher had been teaching this class and honors calculus for over 40 years. I was getting a B in the class, which was driving me crazy because it was ruining my straight-A grade point average. About half-way through the second semester, I was frustrated when I got another test back with a B grade. I reviewed my answers and couldn’t figure out why I had gotten one of the problems wrong. I compared my test to my friend’s; he had gotten an A. We reviewed my wrong answers and found that they were exactly the same, except his were marked correct and mine were marked wrong. I remember walking up to my teacher with both tests in hand and asking for an explanation for why my answers had been marked wrong.

My teacher answered, “Because you’re a girl.” I wish I could tell you that he was joking, but he wasn’t. He refused to correct my test grade. There were only 2 other girls in my math class. They had gotten lower grades, too, but didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.

You’d think that I would have freaked out, and you’d be right. I went straight to the principal’s office after school and showed him the two tests, then told him what my teacher had said. I told him I wanted the teacher fired, and I wanted my grade changed. The principal said, “Your teacher has Parkinson’s disease, so he’s only teaching for another couple years. There’s nothing we’re going to do.”

For the rest of the year, I despised walking in that classroom. I didn’t take calculus my senior year so that I could avoid having another year with that teacher. But something else happened, something that I didn’t acknowledge for another 10 years. My perception of math gradually changed from “I hate this situation” to “I hate math” to “I’m not good at math.” By college, I truly believed that I wasn’t good at math and I avoided any majors that required math classes. I actually changed the whole trajectory of what I believed I was capable of because one math teacher in high school told me girls weren’t good at math. Even though I was angry and didn’t believe what he said was true, the power of his words changed the course of my life.

Years later, I took a calculus class at a community college because it was a prerequisite for a graduate program I was applying for. I aced that class. I loved it. I realized how many years I thought I couldn’t do calculus, that it was too hard. I thought about all of the doors I closed, what potential paths I didn’t take, because I thought I couldn’t be successful because of my gender.

Geraldine Ferraro is my hero. She had to have faced a million of those obstacles along the way, people who told her she was less than because she was a woman. People who wouldn’t hire her into their law firms because they weren’t hiring women. People who pushed back against her fight for wage equality. People who said a woman wasn’t qualified to be Vice President. She faced much worse opposition than a sexist high school math teacher, and she had the strength to move forward.

I remember Geraldine Ferraro when I’m ignored or marginalized. I remember Geraldine Ferraro when someone implies that my abilities are limited by my gender. And when I look at my daughter, I hope that next year, when she is 10 years old, she sees the first woman elected President and grows up trusting that she can be anything she wants to be.