On Turning 33

A few weeks ago, I turned 33. Sam and Little Jedi and I had lovely dinner together and some scrumptious cake, but mostly things were calm and relaxed. Very different from some of my past birthdays (pleasantly so!), but I did find myself contemplating birthdays past and thinking about age and aging. Age is, after all, just a number, and what we consider “old” has changed drastically over the centuries and across cultures. Thirty-three, at this point, is still pretty young.

But our thirties are an age that we expect to see people doing certain things by. I see lists all the time about “30 things to do before you’re 30” or “20 things to do in your 20’s.” Of course, many of these listicles are lighthearted, and many of them revolve around life experiences. Although these lists are often gendered, they are much more expansive than they might once have been. But they’re still expectations–and they are gendered. Now I’m not saying that goals and expectations are inherently bad things. On the contrary, goals are often ways of categorizing what we most want to achieve with the finite amount of time we have, and expectations can be powerful motivators. It’s basing goals on an age and gender that I dislike.

At 33, I find myself: married to a wonderful man; the mother of a beautiful, smart, and emotionally astute 7 year old. I own my car, and even if I do rent my home, it’s a lovely one in New Orleans; I’ve had the chance to travel in Europe and throughout much of the U.S. So what if I don’t own a home or if I am still paying off student loans? Does it really matter that I still can’t wing my eyeliner or that I’m not trying too hard to avoid getting wrinkles? Who really cares if I can’t plan and cook a 5 course dinner party? Why do we evaluate ourselves by this kind of criteria?

So in the spirit of the day, I offer you short list of all the things that I think you should do, not before you’re 30, but just…Whenever you are, whomever you are, and however you are:

1. Make an effort to stop internalizing what the lists say. You’re probably never going to completely stop caring about some of this stuff, because we are immersed in gender and age expectations from the time we are born. Recognize that because of culture you WILL feel pressured by lists, by film and media, and even by people you know. Listen to those voices, but don’t let them become your voice.
2. We’re done here.

Feminist Friday Open Thread

Darlings,
There will not be one of our regular feminist Friday posts today, but I will be back next week with a traditional post. I’ve spent the week watching the news, reading, having difficult conversations, and making some plans for future action. Oh yeah, and I’ve been working, both in and outside of my home. Consequently, I didn’t manage to get a post written, and I am exhausted.
pablo
And I think it’s important to talk about how we get exhausted, because we do get exhausted, all of us. And there’s a long way to go yet. So today,  I need to step away from my computer for a while today and practice some self-care. I need to spend the day reading a good book (right now I’ve got the Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events books on tap, as I’ve just finished the super-fantastic Netflix adaptation) and snuggling with the pup. We’ll have coffee tomorrow, and I’ll finally get ’round to all those comments that are in the queue (god, I’m sorry guys—I’m just overwhelmed, but I see you all, and I

So while I am off here, I’d like to suggest something else…Go find a feminist writer that you haven’t read before and read a post from her instead. And feel free to suggest pieces in the comments section–especially pieces that address intersectional issues like race, class, disability, and LGBTQIA rights. Because the way to do this is not for us just to talk in a vacuum, but to bring more people into the conversation, not for us to yell so loud that we are unable to hear the voices around us, that we drown them out.

The Truth About Children and Domestic Violence

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest post from Rose B. Fischer. I am incredibly honored to have her posting here. Please be aware that this post contains frank discussion of abuse.

Whenever I hear a car door slam, I break into sweat. My breath catches and my throat, I clench my fists, my stomach tightens, and I have to talk myself down from the edge of a panic attack. As a child, the slamming of the car door meant my dad was home from the bar. He would stomp inside, shove the table, scream and yell, usually break something, and then my mother would storm out of the bedroom. She would scream back at him, and the arguments would last for hours. My siblings and I would lay awake in our rooms, too scared to move, even if we had to go to the bathroom.

One night, my dad smashed our aquarium. He wanted to get back at my mother, and she always liked to watch the fish. We lost the whole cabinet and the chair to water damage, but the deeper loss was my sense of security.  For all that my dad was a loud, belligerent drunk, that was the first time I saw him willfully destroy something for spite.  It wouldn’t be the last.

I moved out of my parents someone I was 19. That same year, I got married, and my husband started abusing me. It wasn’t like my father at first. His abuse tactics were mostly covert, emotional manipulation, crying, lying and gas lighting me. Over time, he escalated into physical abuse.  First it was just unwanted contact. He would slide his hand up my shirt in public when I had asked him not to. He would pinch or slap me on the ass, or pinch my nipples.  When I asked him not to, he would laugh and tell me that I was too sensitive.  I knew that he was doing it intentionally to upset me but that didn’t make it easier to cope with.  Eventually it became unwanted sexual advances.  I couldn’t say no to him without a three-hour fight that would end with him pouting in the corner and threatening to kill himself.  Finally he stopped listening when I said no at all.

Then, the physical violence moved out of the bedroom.  He dragged me out of my wheelchair and tried to choke me.  I only saved myself that night by getting my hands around his throat and choking him instead.  Another time, he was angry with me for something minor and threw a coffee maker at my head.

That was the last straw. I left him that night, and I’ve never looked back, but my struggles were far from over.

I don’t know when car doors came to be such a problem. I have some trouble with loud noises of any kind, but most of the time I can control my reactions. I know enough about PTSD symptoms and how to manage them that I can pretend to be fine even when I’m not. I can de-escalate myself and calm down without much trouble. Car doors are another story. That sound can send me over the edge without warning.

I think I first noticed it in my mid-20s. I had been living on my own since I was 19, and gradually I realized that even though my father was nowhere around me, I was still always afraid if I heard a car door slam. I didn’t know much about PTSD at the time, and I didn’t realize that children who witness domestic violence have a much higher rate of PTSD symptoms than soldiers or war veterans.  Everything I knew about PTSD at the time related to vets.

I also didn’t understand that PTSD can sometimes develop or worsen when a child grows up and leaves the domestic violence situation. The reason for this is that when you’re in the situation, your mind compartmentalizes so that you can continue to function.  When the immediate danger is removed, you can start to experience more symptoms.

I wish I had understood this sooner.  By the time I learned that I had PTSD, my symptoms had gone on unchecked for years and were so out of control that I never let anyone into my home.  I still have anxiety about that, and I find it difficult to go out for more than a few hours.  If there’s a possibility that I might have to stay longer, I need to have a “plan” to get myself out of the situation safely, even if I know there’s no danger.

None of those things have much to do with my father or my ex-husband, but I think as I got older, my home became my safe space. Leaving it or allowing people in meant that I had to prepare myself for possible dangers. I didn’t realize that was happening until it was so bad that it was impossible to ignore.

I’m sharing my story because, most often, when we speak of domestic violence, we speak of partner-violence, or more specifically, violence perpetrated on a woman by a man. Domestic violence encompasses much more than that. While women are statistically more likely to be targeted by male abusers, many men have also been abused by a partner or member of the family. Children are the silent victims of domestic violence. We know that they’re present, and that domestic violence is often a cycle perpetuated through generations, but we don’t invite people who witness domestic violence as children to share their stories and we offer little, if anything, in the way of treatment for them.

We’re the people who understand domestic violence most intimately. It was our cradle, our coming of age, and too often, it becomes our prison.  I want that to stop.  I don’t want another child to grow up terrified, and I don’t want a single survivor to panic over something as innocuous as a car door.


Rose B. Fischer is an avid fan of foxes, Stargate: SG-1, and Star Trek.  She would rather be on the Enterprise right now.

Since she can’t be a Starfleet Officer, she became a speculative fiction author whose stories feature women who defy cultural stereotypes.

To support her artistic habits, Rose has a paying gig as a Digital Creativity Consultant. She works with female and nonbinary creatives to help build powerful online presences that remain in line with her clients’ artistic visions.

You can find her on The Evil Genius blog.

How Purity Culture Almost Destroyed My Life…Twice

Purity culture nearly ruined my life.

I grew up in church. We lived in a small, Mississippi town in the 1980s/90s, the place my father grew up. The entire family went to that church–my grandmother, my aunt, my nuclear family, and even some 2nd and 3rd cousins. We were there every time the doors were open…Literally. On Sunday mornings, we would attend Sunday school at 10, then sit through the church service from 11-12. We’d go home for lunch, and sometimes a friend would come over to play for a few hours. Then it was back to church at 4:30 for children’s classes and another church service from 6-7. After services many of those nights, I would go home with my grandmother and aunt, who often ordered pizza and had dinner with our pastor and his wife. On Wednesdays, we went to prayer meetings from 7-8. During the summer, there was always a week of Vacation Bible School and then another week of summer sleep-away camp.

The church we attended held many of the standard fundamentalist Christian views–especially those of the time. I can remember hearing about the evils of rock music. (When I was very young, much of the ire was directed at Ozzy, who bit the head off  of bats. Later, that disdain and concern would turn to Marilyn Manson, who destroyed Bibles onstage and was always to be found in dark clothing and layers of makeup.) When a new youth pastor introduced Christian rock, some of the church goers were upset. I remember not celebrating Halloween, because it was The Devil’s Holiday. We had an evening hay ride and bonfire in the woods to compensate for the loss of trick or treating–supervised by our parents and church elders, of course.

Sex was something that there was almost a blanket of silence about, though. I barely remember discussing sex with my parents, but I think the conversation was mostly too little, too late. Not that I was having sex (indeed, no–not until I was 19), but I’d already figured out how sex worked long before we discussed it. This was because sex wasn’t often discussed in our house or in our church…even in our community. And when it was, there were very certain parameters for the discussion:

We’d talk about abstinence. In church, we learned about the value of purity: purity of heart and purity of body, which seemed to equal a kind of purity of spirit, of soul. At our local high school, the True Love Waits group gave a presentation to the school’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Looking back, I’m not sure why I was a member, except that it was an organization for Christians that many of my friends belonged to…I was certainly not an athlete. We were all encouraged to take vows that we would wait until marriage to have sex.

We’d talk about repentance. In church, we were told that we’d all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We were told that if we’d sinned in this way, we could become new again in God’s eyes if we only repented and then continued to abstain.

And we’d talk about consequences. So, so much talk about consequences. Disease a possibility. I remember mapping out how quickly disease could spread. Oh, but there was also the possibility of creating another human…And not being married to that baby’s other biological parent was considered a serious moral failing in our community, not to mention a hardship that extended from mother to child, an assumption that the child’s life would also be difficult. This was compounded by the occasional pregnant girl at school, a cautionary tale walking around with a burgeoning belly, the way the hushed whispers followed those girls.

Complicating this was some family history, maternal guilt and pressures. Secrets I am not at liberty to tell because they are not mine, but secrets that nonetheless affected my life. And then there were rules…So many rules. Rules about what to wear, who to be (or not to be) alone with, what time to come home, what to do while I was out…So many rules.

Only in retrospect does any of this sound extreme. It’s easy to miss the signs when you’re immersed in something.

By the time I was in college, I’d moved away from my hometown, stopped going to church. I’d met people who were different than me, many of them radically so. I’d studied literature and history at a college level. I’d had my first tastes of alcohol, of love, of freedom, of real joy and of real tragedy. But it wasn’t easy, this moving away from my upbringing. It came in fits and starts, with a lot of internalized guilt and shame. I drank a lot, often getting overly-emotional. At one point, I could drink a fifth of alcohol and keep drinking. For all intents and purposes, I was an alcoholic.

I almost destroyed myself. But somehow, I finished my undergraduate degree and moved on to graduate-level courses.

When I moved to attend graduate school, I was in an off-phase of an on-and-off relationship that had pretty much defined my undergraduate career, spanning from the end of my sophomore year of college until I graduated. Eventually, we’d find ourselves in another on-again phase.

And at 24, I’d find myself unmarried and pregnant.

I was terrified. No, I was not a child–not in the typical sense of the word. But my parents were still very much in charge of my life, helping me pay my way through graduate school so that I could focus on the very real task of getting a degree. I had finished course work for my master’s degree, but I still needed to write a thesis and defend it before I could graduate. And my parents were angry. My mother said we’d have to get married, and my dad said that mom was only wanting the best for us, did not want my child to be a bastard. I was unsure of what to do, but my boyfriend said we’d get through it. We were planning to get married one day anyway, we’d just wanted to wait longer.

And so, I married my son’s father. We weren’t ready to say goodbye to each other, but we were also unsuited to be married to one another. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we were wholly unsuited to one another once we lived together, either. We were married for less than a year, tired of the arguments that had defined our on-and-off relationship. We knew it was unhealthy to raise a child in the turmoil of our arguments, and so we decided not to. We’d raise him together, but separate.

But that was a difficult goodbye. It felt like a death, and in a way it was. It was the death of a relationship, the closing off of a life I thought I was going to live. I didn’t want to be a divorced woman or a single parent. I didn’t want my child to grow up in a “broken home.”

It almost destroyed me, that loss of the dream of a nuclear family with biological mother, biological father, and biological child. That loss also freed me.

But here I am, 7 years post-divorce. I am remarried to someone who I could not imagine life without, someone who is not only a partner to me but an amazing 3rd parent for my son. We have a good relationship with my parents, who have helped me immensely, especially during the time when I was a single mother going to graduate school. And there’s my son…My beautiful boy with a big heart. He has two fathers.

And all is as it should be, finally.

#WeekendCoffeeShare: In Which I am Cold, and I Talk about Feminism

If we were having coffee, we would be curled up on the big purple couch today. I’m wearing my Hufflepuff bathrobe backwards and whining about just how cold it is today. Of course, to some of you 47 degrees is not cold at all, so you’ll probably be chuckling. But for here in New Orleans, that’s cold as cold can be. Our houses are mostly not equipped to deal with the cold weather because they’re built to stay cool in the ridiculous summers, so the high ceilings and big windows work against us during the winter. We’ve also moved into a place without central heating–we have a few of the small space heaters around the house, but since there are no doors in the kitchen/living room area, the heaters have to work pretty hard. Anyway, it’s cold. I’m cold.

So while I’m on cup number two of coffee and bitching about being cold, I would tell you that this has been a good week, a week of finishing up the semester and moving forward. At the beginning of the week, Mon/Tues, I had lots of final essays to grade and final grades to input. Then on Wednesday, I got to be a part of something really, really incredible. I wanted to chat about it last week, but I wasn’t sure just how much to say before it all happened. Toward the end of last week, I was contacted to read on-camera for a feminist documentary project called Yours in Sisterhood–the goal of the project is to record people giving readings of letters sent to Ms. magazine in the 1970s in the places where those letters were written and to allow a space to respond to the tone and content of the letters. The project is spear-headed by director Irene Lustzig, who contacted me about reading a letter sent from a mother of an infant son in New Orleans. I readily agreed, of course, and the experience was a profound and moving one. I was surprised at not just the cognitive dissonance between myself and the writer of this letter, but also at our similarities–things we both wanted or things we both worried about. We filmed along the levy of the MS River here, and though it was loud and we had to do several takes, it seemed like just the right spot. Not sure when things will be available, because there are more readings to be recorded and lots to be done, but the project will end up both as an interactive online archive and a feature-length film. Their Facebook page is probably a good place to keep up with them!

After we finished up with filming for the documentary on Wednesday, it was time to say goodbye to Irene and her wonderful assistant Anisa, and then I had to scoot across the river to the community college and hand-in my end-of-the-semester requirements–gradebook and such–and then there was a trip to the library and to pick up Little Jedi from school. And there was also, finally my new phone waiting for me at home. We ordered them at the end of last week, and Sam’s was here Monday, but of course since I chose a rose gold colored phone instead of the traditional grey, it took mine longer to get here! We had to have new phones because our old Blackberrys weren’t working well anymore, and apparently the problem was that they were not compatible with some of the new networks and such. I caved and gave into the iPhone craze, and also into the Instagram (@parttimemonster) and PokemonGo crazes. Oh, and Prisma. Basically, I spent all of Thursday reading and playing on my new phone, because Wednesday was such a good but long day. The most productivity I managed on Thursday was making the bed, and that’s about the most productivity I managed yesterday, too.  But on the bright side, I caught a lot of Pokemon and am almost finished with The Girls, a really fascinating novel about a teenage girl in the late 1960s who is caught up in a Manson-esque murderous cult.

And today, in addition to writing this coffee post, I’m making some behind-the-scenes changes and working on some new ideas for this little blog. For one thing, I’ve decided to bring Feminist Fridays to the blog. A while back, some other bloggers and I ran a series of Feminist Friday discussions on a regular basis, and that was a productive time for me insofar as my own activism and writing. In the wake of working on Yours in Sisterhood this week, I’ve realized I need more of that conversation, and my blog is a good place to start it. So, beginning in January, each Friday will be devoted to a piece of writing about feminism. Sometimes that will mean I share a personal story, and sometimes those posts will be more global. I’ll also have some guest posters here, and if you have an idea I encourage you to chat with me about it by emailing me at ptmonsterblog@gmail.com.

And for now, with this long, long coffee date, I will bid you adieu, and I will see you next week for a coffee-on-a-go-go as we travel to my parents’ house to celebrate Christmas with them. Until then, link up your coffee posts below, and I promise I’ll be answering comments and getting the WCS Twitter going again!

******

Monday Re-Run: Don’t Touch My Hair

At 17, sitting on my parents' front porch.

At 17, sitting on my parents’ front porch.

Don’t touch my hair. My hair is ground zero in a cultural war that insists on perfect bodies, perfect hair, a culture war that privileges the straight and the white and the undamaged. The docile. The normal.

But my hair is not docile or straight.

My hair falls in wild, big curls. Not the kind you see on TV commercials. No, my friend. Those are generally curls that someone spent hours perfecting–glossy, symmetrical, and fake. My curls are natural, which means frizz and flyaways and wishing the rest of my hair would look like that one perfect curl in front.

When I was young, my mother tried to tame my curls, to straighten them with a round brush and a hair dryer and sheer will power. She’d pull half (or all) of it back and pin it up with a hair-bow bigger than my head, likely one made by my grandmother. My hair was never entirely smooth though, and if it was humid outside—-which is basically always in lower-Mississippi where I grew up—-my hair turned into a great big frizz ball. “Medusa,” a boy in my elementary class called me.

I was in the sixth grade when my brother decided to get married. I was to be a junior bridesmaid, and my mom took me to a local hairstylist. She cut my hair and coaxed the big natural curls out into the open. I looked at myself in a mirror, and I didn’t think that was my hair. It couldn’t be my hair, that long and wild and beautiful mess. It was, though.

In the seventh grade, during what can only be construed as a moment of temporary insanity, I cut my hair. I don’t mean a little bit cut—I mean that my hair, which had been past my shoulders, was suddenly so short that it just grazed the tops of my ears.

I punched the only boy I’ve ever punched that year. It was the day of try-outs for our junior high dance team, and I was very nervous. I’d never tried out for anything before, and all my friends were trying out, too. I’d fixed my short hair so that it was pulled away from my face, as per tryout instructions. In science class, the boy behind me whispered “who’d you let mess up your hair.” I turned around and punched him in the stomach, surprising everyone in class, including myself.

In high school, one of the basketball coaches was my health teachers. He was young and handsome, but there was something I didn’t like about him. One day, he asked me if I “had a little sister” in me, if that was why my hair was so curly. It was the first time, but not the last, that people would ask about my race, assuming that my curls were something that fit into categorical boxes of White and Other. Even now, when it happens it surprises me as I think through the invasive nature of the question and all of its implications.

I dyed my hair for the first time when I was 17, choosing bright highlights. As a college student, I colored my hair most every natural color, and several unnatural ones, too. I learned for the first time how to

embracing

At 31, Mardi Gras 2014

straighten my hair without the frizziness. Straightening irons, I discovered, were the key. Good ones. And my straight hair got attention, turned heads that were accustomed to large curls framing my face. Reactions tended (and still do) to vacillate between “oh, why did you straighten it” from the self-professed curl admirerers, those who would like to have curls themselves, to “you should always wear it like this.” But at least no one touched it. When my hair is curly, people can’t resist touching it. Close friends, mere acquaintances, and even strangers have, at various points in my life, just reached over, pulled one my curls so that it stretches to its full, straightened length, and then let it go, all for the pleasure of watching it spring back into a curl.

As I’ve gotten older, moving out of college and into graduate school and now a married woman in her 30s, fewer people have reached out for those strands. A 30 year old woman commands more respect than a 10 year old girl. She has more control over her body, at least the parts of it that aren’t being legislated.

And she can say, loudly “Don’t touch my hair.”

**This post originally appeared in September 2015 at parttimemonster.com

Ladies, We Need to Talk

Ladies, we need to talk.

And I don’t mean that in the sense of “come here, I’m going to tell you something.” Not the way it’s usually meant, when someone says “we need to talk” and then proceeds to berate you for something that you’ve done, or sits down and tells you horrible news.

I mean that in a whole other sense, with emphasis on the “we” and the “talk” part. Emphasis on the communication. Emphasis on our voices, and our ears, and our minds.

We need to talk. We need to talk to each other, to ourselves, to our children and our partners and the world. Despite that old commonplace about how much women talk, our voices are being lost and our words are being twisted and we are growing up ashamed and ignorant and wounded, so many of us. Our bodies are cultural battlegrounds, and we know so little about them.

I tried to make a list, earlier, of all the things no one told me about my body until they thought I needed to know. Things about menstruation that I didn’t learn until after I’d started having a period; things about pregnancy and childbirth that I didn’t learn until I bought a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting during my 2nd trimester; things about being a girl, being a woman, having a body. I was overwhelmed by how many, how very many things, I didn’t know.

  • I didn’t know that it might not hurt, and I might not bleed, when I lost my virginity.
  • I didn’t know that more than 7 days of bleeding during a period was outside the norm.
  • I didn’t know that my extreme mood swings were more than PMS.
  • I didn’t know that I had more options than Tampons and pads.
  • I didn’t know how birth control worked.
  • I didn’t know that periods weren’t actually gross.
  • I didn’t know I would bleed for 6 weeks after childbirth.
  • I didn’t know anything about breastfeeding beyond that breasts supply milk and babies drink it.
  • On and on, so many things I didn’t know.

Talking about the messier parts of our bodies and our lives isn’t something that we like to do. And if talking about it is difficult, than conversing about it is virtually impossible.

But we need to talk, and we need to talk loudly.