Tuesday, December 10, 2013

In Defense of Millennials

One effect of working for 25 years in an job dominated by twenty-somethings is that I keep getting older while my co-workers stay the same age. When I first entered the job force in my teens, I was a Gen Xer surrounded by older Gen Xers. In print, we were touted by the Boomers as cynical, hopeless, frustrated and unmotivated, over-educated, underemployed, and yes, selfish. Ah, but time is a great equalizer. We have grown from bored, philosophical convenience store clerks and angsty Nirvana concert-goers into a generation that is widely characterized as happy, free thinking, balanced, family oriented... and hard working. Yet Gen X seems to have forgotten that we were once on the offensive, and are ourselves leading the attack on the new kids, tearing them down in print articles with titles like The Millennial in the Basement and A Generation of Idle Trophy Kids.

The Millennials. Gen Y. The Trophy Kids. The Me-Me-Me Generation. The Selfies. Everyone feels like the most important person in the room. Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, famously famous for being brats. Rhetorical articles cite analyses which conclude that Millennials are far less inclined to be civic minded, and more apt to possess a delusional sense of entitlement. They are hastening the end times through laziness and self-absorption! Word on the street is that 30 is the new 18, that Millennials are too self-involved, too entitled and too lazy to go out and work. They're waiting in their helicopter mamas' houses for the trophy to land in their laps, the way it did after every pee wee soccer tournament of their youth, regardless of performance. I've read multiple articles in the last weeks about the narcissism of an entire generation, and while I agree that it makes for amusing copy, and maybe it is true in the wealthy suburbs of the Big City, I can't agree that it has been my experience.

I am a Gen Xer surrounded by Gen Y and I can attest that, though it may sometimes come in response to a nip on the haunch from an Alpha, these puppies are as hard working as any I've seen. Also, I find them to be creative, industrious and very, very sweet. Maybe things are different on the coasts. Maybe what I'm seeing is the product of a lengthy lineage soaked in Mid-Western ethic. Nevertheless, I'm going to take a crack at unraveling the blanket of myth that 6 million twenty-somethings are sitting around their parents houses snapping pictures of themselves in $200.00 vintage jean jackets.

Millennials Think They're Special Because of All Those Trophies
Sure, some of them. But I thought I was special when I was twenty-five. I was smart and pretty and got a lot of validation from people about how smart and pretty I was. So I felt smart and pretty and special, and I'd never gotten a single trophy in my whole life. But I was special. Still am special (somewhat less smart and pretty, those decay a bit with age). So's everyone else. Everybody is special. Everyone is someone to somebody. Including Paris Hilton (maybe not her, actually). I suspect that the Millennials, more than any generation before them, are aware that everyone is special. After all, everybody got the same damn trophies. Sort of takes the luster off your own. The argument that we ruined 6 million kids with cheap plastic trophies is stupid. They didn't even keep them. They knew when they lost.

Millennials Are Not Civic Minded
And when we were twenty, we were all out crusading to save the world, right? I remember when I was twenty-one and I spent that summer campaigning for Prop Blahblahblah. Wait... No. I didn't do that. I occasionally wondered what I was going to do with my life (wasted time, I'm still a waitress) or which boy I was going to chase after (no matter, he got away). Semesters at school flew by so quickly and there was work and there were new bands to see and beers to try. It's even harder for these poor Gen Yers. We expect them to know which products are fair trade and what foods are sustainably sourced and then we make fun of them for not knowing about good wine!?

Jesus. Lighten up a little, man.

Do you understand the absolute mess that these guys have exposure to? They are painfully aware of the mess they're inheriting. We Gen Xers, with our breezy internet-free adolescence and early adulthood, we had to go out and buy magazines and newspapers if we wanted to know how fucked everything was. New kids would be like: what is this black shit all over my fingertips?? The Millennials are under a constant inundation of negative information. A barrage of ink-free headlines every day comes across their twitter feeds: drastic climate change, bloody conflict in countries that don't seem so far away anymore, daily murders in every city in America, massive food and water shortages, people doing horrible things to each other, environmental destruction at the hands of corporations... where exactly do we expect them to start? I'm sure many of them will get around to their own private crusades, just not necessarily in their mid-twenties.

Millennials Can't Face Adulthood
The image of the hipster evading the work force, compiling his Spotify playlist while surrounded by PBR cans in the posh basement apartment beneath his mom's kitchen is one of the more common projections of the recent articles I've read that criticize Millennials. I haven't met this guy. I guess he just stays there in the basement. The twenty-somethings that I work with do just that. They work. Some of them work damn hard. Some of them work damn hard while they're still in school. Some of them work damn hard and then play damn hard the rest of the time. Yeah, maybe some of them don't work all that hard, but I'd say the proportion is perfectly relative to the co-workers of my twenties.

First, consider that the job market is way, way softer than it was in the 90s, a decade that saw the unemployment rate drop to 4%. Today we're supposed to be grateful to see it at 7%. These kids are stepping out on the street with their (sometimes very expensive) diplomas in hand and looking around at a work force that can't make room for all of them. I've watched many of them step way, way outside the box, starting their own ventures, scraping to capitalize on their talent and potential in a market that doesn't cushion them from cold reality. I've seen them keep their heads down and work hard.

Also consider that the parenting fads that dominated these kids childhoods encouraged parents to hold their hands and provide non-stop cheerleading at every freaking milestone, no matter how mundane. I read a lot of parenting books when my oldest kids (who are themselves at the tail end of the Millennial age range) were little, and they all pushed for parenting that would set my kids up for academic success, priming them to feel confident through academic achievement. There's nothing wrong with that, but academic success doesn't necessarily translate to life skillz, and there's a lot to learn outside the classroom. I ditched most of those books and followed my own maternal compass, which told me that I don't care how well they perform on tests. I just want them to find an author or two that they love. And I don't care if they perform at the top of their second grade class, but I want them to tie their shoes by themselves. And I don't care if they get into an ivy league school, but I do want them to be able to be able to write a paper and do a load of laundry in the same 24 hour period without having a breakdown from having so much to do. Because guess what? Someday, even if they're fucking rocket scientists, they are going to come home to a stack of bills and field trip permission slips and a bathroom floor full of wet towels and a refrigerator that is emitting a strange odor from one of the two dozen containers of leftovers in there (hint: start with the broccoli) and they're going to have to know how to handle that shit. It's my job to teach them how, and I can't do that with flashcards.

Anyway, there was a whole movement of suburban parents who weren't worried about all that in the 90s. They were like, put your baby in this Bjorn and don't put it down until it goes to college. And then in 2012 some of those kids were like, oh shit, I got great grades, but there are no jobs for people who majored in Bards of the Renaissance at Fancy Pants U, and I don't know how to do anything. Can I trade this Adderall for some Zoloft? I'll be in the basement if anyone calls.

If that scenario is playing out by the millions, as we're led to believe by hysterical Millennial-bashing journalists (psst, it's not), if twenty-somethings are taking their moms along to job interviews and seeking medication for depression and anxiety because they can't handle conflict or wash a plate or think for themselves outside a scantron, then it is the fault of well-intended but seriously misguided childhood development publications of the 90s. (My best advice is to go ahead and take the straps off the Bjorn now and teach them how to do laundry. They're probably more capable than they know.)

But I don't see it. I work with Millennials who handle multiple responsibilities without melting down. They work, some have two or three jobs, some go to school, some occasionally volunteer, and most of them still find time to get scandalously wasted and laid with decent frequency... from what I hear.

Millennials Are Obsessed With Themselves
(SO WHAT? They're pretty. Let them be.)

A couple months ago I held a baby food and diaper drive for the local assistance center. Millennials showed up with packs of diapers and cans of formula by the score. To my knowledge, none of them took a selfie on my porch of themselves making a donation. They quietly dropped off dozens of contributions for people they will never meet, and who will never be able to thank them personally or give them a trophy. That's not self-obsession. That's concern for hungry babies. For a generation of people who only care about themselves, I see an awful lot of Millennials encouraging and validating others. And not just Oh My Gawd, I loooove that headband... They ask me about my kids, my this and that, where I've been, what I saw there... things that have nothing at all to do with them.

Okay, some of them talk about themselves a whole lot, but again, not disproportionate to the norm.

Every generation looks upon the next with an air of suspicion: What if they screw it up? Oh God, I just know they're going to screw it all up. It's hard to let go. Between the lines of every essay that talks trash on Millennials is:  I'm stomping my feet, I don't want to pass the torch of youth and vigor on to those dim-witted clods in tight pants who listen to such stupid music. Take heart, Gen X. They said that about us, too. It makes us sound like a bunch of cranky-pants old people, you complaining about 6 million kids like that. It's not constructive, you shouting Get Off My Lawn! in The Boston Herald. We're not exactly washed up. I agree that youth is wasted on the wrong people. Hindsight being what it is, my own youth was squandered on a wishy-washy redhead who might have forseen the consequences of rising corporate globalization if she hadn't been so self involved. But I wouldn't take that away from her. And I won't attempt to strip it from the Me Kids, either. We were once the Me Kids, we just didn't have camera phones to prove it.

In conclusion, I think that I should have a trophy for no reason, since I never got one. A golden trophy. With my own face on it, except without the wrinkles. A golden trophy engraved with my face if my face had no wrinkles. And just go ahead and fill it up with good wine.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Prodigal Son Test

"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you." Thank you, Joseph Heller. Catch-22 has always been a favorite of mine.

Just as true is this: "Your mind is working at its best when you're being paranoid. You explore every avenue and possibility of your situation at high speed and with total clarity."  That's Bansky. I would only add that a paranoid mindset under the influence of a couple glasses of red wine heightens my clarity to near brilliance, sharpens my mind like a perfectly cut diamond. Rather, that is what the wine tells me.

Bansky also said "We can't do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles. In the meantime we should all go shopping to console ourselves," which brings us to today's Buttered Toast.

Today the American Legislative Exchange Council began a three day conference to discuss their agenda for 2014. If you don't know, ALEC is a conservative think tank whose gig operates under the auspices of furthering free-market policies while undermining public services... like education. Really, though, they're about maximizing corporate profit, and would like nothing more than the end of and/or privatization of public services... like education. Last April I wrote a piece titled Calling All Kansans!  In that post I discussed the introduction of a bill in the Kansas House which sought to prohibit state funds for any sustainable development. That asinine bill was predictably tossed out, but the fact that it was proposed at all (by an ALEC affiliated representative who chairs the House Energy and Environment Committee) was enough to raise more than one eyebrow about the influence ALEC has on our legislators. ALEC drafts "model legislation," then presses to see it into law.

Because they are "consultants" and don't identify themselves as a lobby, they are not taxed due to their 501(c)(3) charitable status. But make no mistake, ALEC is a lobby. A very powerful lobby. (Interesting side note: ALEC does so much actual lobbying that they've caught the attention of the IRS, and are in the process of setting up a sister organization called the Jeffersonian Project which would be classified 501(c)(4)...social welfare organization, to protect their money. If that don't beat the band! A group that is dead set on influencing policy that will disenfranchise millions of workers, unravel labor unions, defund public education, eliminate environmental regulations and redirect tax dollars in favor of billionaires and wealthy corporations: a social welfare organization.)

ALEC is Koch funded, and their primary objective is to wrestle power out of the hands of voters by influencing elections at the state level. Once they have their lackeys in place, they act as "consultants" to shape the face of legislation, state by state. Republican lawmakers seem to be the most common recipients of their wise direction. Weird, I know. Current members include Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan, who share matching lettermen jackets with alumni John Boehner and Scott Walker. Actually, I heard Paul Ryan had to borrow Boehner's jacket for the conference today because he mistakenly grabbed the wrong GTL bag when he left the 24 Hour Fitness before his flight. When he got to the hotel and unzipped it, he couldn't find his ALEC jacket, his Percocet or his copy of Atlas Shrugged anywhere. He borrowed Boehner's jacket, but he had to settle for some crappy Xanax from the front desk clerk.

I managed to secure a copy of the agenda for this week's ALEC conference. I didn't have time to make a copy, but today's itinerary went something like:

8:00 - Breakfast banquet with blahbity-blah from a middle-aged, pasty white keynote speaker

11:30 - Head circumference measurement and fittings for hooded cloaks

1:15 - Announcement of the raffle winner who gets to disembowel the virgin at the TGIFridays midnight sacrifice (I heard Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson bought 2,000 tickets. Dude is into the freaky stuff.)

There was also time allotted to introduce The Prodigal Son Project.

Hey, I was just yanking your chains about that stuff. Not the Paul Ryan gym bag stuff, that really happened. But I don't think they really have cloaks* or virgin sacrifices. The Prodigal Son Project, however, is real... and that's really what they're calling it. On the list of Prodigal Sons are the names of dozens of corporations who have suspended contributions to ALEC and in other ways distanced themselves from the organization. (*they probably do have cloaks)

Their reasons may vary, but it appears that ALEC experienced a sharp decline in corporate financial support and private membership following the George Zimmerman trial last year. One of ALEC's legislative models is the stand-your-ground law that got an armed man off the hook for shooting an unarmed teenager. Amid a flurry of public outrage surrounding Trayvon Martin's death, several companies discontinued their support of ALEC. I'm not supposing a definite correlation, maybe times was just tough for Pepsi and McDonald's and Walmart, but since those companies all reported growth in 2012... well...

So the Prodigal Son Project is ALEC's effort to reinstate relationships with the companies who have distanced themselves in the wake of a horrific incident that brought ALEC sponsored legislation, specifically that of gun owners' rights to shoot unarmed kids and Alzheimer's afflicted septuagenarians (if they can prove that they felt a little squeamish before they pulled the trigger) into a national spotlight. Corporations don't want to risk losing the support of our consumer dollars due to their affiliation with an organization that is associated with shady, closed door deals between lobbyists and lawmakers.

They are shrewd and clever and deliberate and cunning and truly harbor abhorrent selfishness, but I sense that they are at a point of weakness. The truth is that ALEC, which experienced a 17% rate of growth in 2011, saw a 3% drop in 2012 and another 9% in 2013. The first bits of sand are shaking out of the mortar, and I think they're pretty freaked out. Why else would they draft a form letter for all the attendees of this week's conference to take home, to fill in the blanks, and to beg for money from corporations who have dropped out? The letter, which asks for support for ALEC's State Reimbursement Fund, asserts that this fund "helps legislators understand the impact that state and national policies have on our businesses." In Marmalade Megspeak: this is the money we use to buy elections. Here's the kicker: they are targeting a group of businesses that you and I have tremendous influence over. Holler, bitchez... we got the dollerz, bitchez! And guess what? I can write a letter, too. And so can you. In fact, I can write a letter, right here, right now, and you can copy and paste that shit into an email and send it to every company on their list. And if we all did that, it would be a straight up kick in Chuck Koch's dentures.

Of course I believe that the best way to fight big business influence on government is by spending our money locally, with small businesses. A mere two days ago, I railed against the corporate takeover of Christmas and announced my boycott. For me, of all people, to encourage communication in the form of a Thank You to big business... well, I realize the perceived hypocrisy therein. I don't really care how I look. My ego is not at stake here.

Further, I'm not asking you to actually go out and spend your dollars with these people, I'm just asking you to tell them that you support their abstinence from corrupting the legislative process.

Here is the list of companies on the Prodigal Son Project list:

Arizona Public Service
American Traffic
Blue Cross Blue Shield
Yum! Brands
Procter and Gamble
Scantron Corporation
Scantron Corporation
Johnson & Johnson
Dell Computers
John Deere
CVS Caremark
Hewlett Packard
Best Buy
Express Scripts/Medco
General Electric
Western Union
Wells Fargo
Bank of America
Bristol Myers Squibb
Brown-Foreman Company
Publix Supermarkets
Conoco Phillips

I was going to compile all their email addresses for you, but most of them have a site you have to visit first and enter your name and email, because they're corporate people and they make everything too complicated. Besides, like I said, I've had some wine, and I don't want to screw it up and give you the address for the wrong pharmaceutical company. That would be embarrassing. I have a reputation for precision. But I wrote a quick note to each of them and it only took me a little over an hour to paste the following statement onto all of their pages:

Thank you for discontinuing your financial support of the American Legislative Exchange Council. It was wise of you to recognize that ALEC was using your donations to influence elections and affect legislation. I agree with you that is a poor business model to contribute to organizations that manipulate the American political process. I will continue to support your business as long as you are not affiliated with ALEC. 

Imagine the weight of these words if we all said them, and especially if we all meant them. Even if you only have time to send a message to one of them. Or maybe one a day? If these companies hear from consumers that we will take our dollars away if they fail the Prodigal Son Test and resume sponsorship of ALEC, I think we can motivate them to keep their distance. I know it's a hassle, but I really think it can work. So tell your friends. Tell everyone. Even your laziest friend. Your laziest friend can send an email.

Now go get em! Then go shopping.

Shop til you Drop -Bansky

Monday, December 2, 2013

My War On Christmas

I am declaring War On Christmas this year. Finally!

I’ve been leaning this way for a long time, albeit non commitally and without a proper label, but this year I’m resolute. I am launching rockets of indignant abstinence at toy corporations, dropping bombs of boycott on every cheaply produced hunk of plastic crap that the advertising machine tells my kids they need. I don’t care how well it was engineered, I don’t care if it promises that my kids will be more brilliant and creative (pfft...as if!) as a result of playing with it. Any product that was manufactured by an unfairly treated worker before it was shipped to a corporate chain to be stocked and sold by another poorly compensated worker is no gift at all, and is in fact a blight on the real notion of Christmas. The same goes for clothes, shoes, candy… you get the gist. My gift to my family and friends this year is to carefully research every gift that I purchase, to find out where it came from, who made it, and how well that person was compensated for their effort. I don’t want to sound preachy. I don’t want to alienate anyone who has not resolved themselves to the same choices. Of course I hope you’ll join me once you’ve heard me out, but I’ll love you all the same if you don’t. No soapbox, I’m just going to present my position and why I’ve come to this conclusion, and why I think it matters.

It’s no secret, I’m not a religious person. On the spectrum of complete atheist to devout follower of one deity or another, I fall somewhere in the territory of hopeful agnostic. Mostly, I’m hopeful that said deities, should they prove to exist, have a plausible Plan B to this human experiment. I guess I sort of doubt the viability of Plan A, because I read too much Noam Chomsky to be persuaded that it is going to work out well. But even if it can’t, or won’t, I really think it’s lovely here, and I’m attached to a lot of folks, so I’m eager to do what I can to improve and prolong the experience for all of us if possible. That’s not just about me, my family, my friends, my beloved. I feel it for everyone. There are times, often in the middle of a busy restaurant when I should be focused on some important task like fetching wine or toast, when I catch myself in the midst of the human melee and feel entirely connected to it. For a brief moment I see every person around me as a former infant who will die someday, and I feel genuine love for them. This results in a slight existential crisis that resolves itself as soon as someone pisses me off.

It’s the love that’s brought about my War On Christmas. If I understand the fable correctly, Christmas was supposed to be about the collective, right? Like, “hey whole entire world, rejoice, a savior is born unto us!” or something of the sort. Then some people were like, Cool, and some people were like, Nuh-Uh. But regardless of one’s position on the implications of Jesus’s birth, whether or not you believe he was the savior, none of it was about plastic. None of it was about promoting a consumer climate that undermined the collective and made the whole day about corporate profits.

Seriously, you guys, where did this come from?

That's a hot pink wallet with a big rhinestone cross on it. I see these everywhere lately. Isn’t that the symbol of your Jesus’s sacrifice for all mankind? Jesus, who walked around with no shoes on his feet and talked to people about love and compassion? You keep your money in that? I once saw an air freshener featuring Jesus in a crown of thorns, his eyes cast skyward in agony just above the words New Car Smell, and I thought that was pretty tacky, but this wallet thing is really gross! I have every confidence that the people who buy these mean well, they mean to share the gospel as they feel is their calling, but dude... this is about as prominent a symbol of the corporate manipulation of feeble-minded consumers as they come. I think for a long time the invisible wire between mysticism and consumerism went un-illuminated. I won’t venture a guess as to which end is holding up the other, but the two have become connected in such a way that no one is embarrassed by the symbol of sacrifice (by way of excruciatingly painful death) in gaudy rhinestones on, of all things, a fucking wallet. And we aren’t embarrassed either, at the atrocities played out against our neighbors for the sake of a toy that will be cast to the bottom of the toybox by New Year’s Day.

The engineering kit that I was considering as a gift for my five year old was made in China, most likely by a woman. She may not see her family, her mother and father, for weeks. She lives in the factory-town in a small dormatory where she falls asleep alone. Every day she wakes up and works in a room full of people like her. Each of them alone. She has no bargaining power, no rights. There is no collective voice, no union. Do I really want that in my daughter’s hands? Merry Christmas, and Fuck you, young lady who doesn't see her own kids so that I only had to spend $30 on a toy that you should have been paid $200 to make, but you probably only made about $3 that day.

The necklace I was looking at for my eleven year old is made of gold that was mined in Papua, by a national without an identity outside being an employee of the corporation that retains full control over his government. His country is not sovereign, they are owned by Freeport, a gold mining and manufacturing firm. Any protest, even peaceful protest, for safe working conditions and fair wages is met with incarceration. Do I really want that hanging around her neck? Merry Christmas and Tough Shit, 14 year old kid who had to go work in the mines because you were born into a country where your parents, indigenous people, have been marginalized to the point of near slavery.

I live in a town full of artisans. There is a musician, an artist, a crafter of something beautiful on every block. What a lovely gift that is for my sweet babies, to support this community of such abundant creativity. I bet if you look around your own town, your own neighborhood, you’ll find the same. I’m seeing this Christmas as an opportunity to be a part of the collective, rather than an excuse to undermine it.

Check this out:

My neighbor makes these! He harvests clay and molds these lovely creations and then fires them in a kiln he built his-fucking-self! I'm drinking a little brandy and cider out of this one right now. He makes cups and bowls and platters and the most lovely, utilitarian hand-potted stuff you can imagine. And we should all have them because they're super fun to use. (Seriously, if you want some of his stuff, let me know. Buy it, and I will ship it to you for free.)

And this:

A beautiful girl I work with makes these one-of-a-kind, gorgeous, hand-crafted earrings. And she's so cool that the cool probably gets into the leather and makes you cool when you put them on... I'll let you know. I can't think of a better gift than that for an eleven year old girl. There's a big sale this weekend in my town, and that cool girl and a lot of other cool girls are going to be there selling their handmade stuff for a fair price. I will be there with my dollars.

In a market driven economy, the consumer has, quite literally, all the power. The trouble comes in when corporate propaganda is disguised as harmless advertising and we are convinced that we need something that we don't. Then we put our powerful dollars directly into the pockets of the people who are influencing legislative policy to keep us from organizing as a collective. These same corporations are undoing labor unions and "persuading" our leaders to restructure the tax codes in their favor. And so it goes, round and round, most notably at Christmas, when we are too busy feeling nostalgic to pay attention to our dollars very carefully. Public relations didn't exist as a career until it was clear that the only way to control people in a non-dictatorial society was through mind-control. Now we have billions of dollars spent by corporations every year, researching our habits and playing to our weaknesses in an effort to squeeze every last cent. With the other hand they are squeezing every last breath of life from people in countries like China, Pakistan, India, Papua, who are mining and making the shit that keep us calm and quiet and make us feel like we own a little piece of the dream. Can't complain too much, after all, I do have an iPod...

This year those fuckers are not getting a dime from me. I can't think of a bigger gift for my kids than the ability to pay attention, to think critically, to question everything. I can't think of a better effort to make for them than to endeavor to bow out of the system that is designed to keep their voices quiet.

There will be presents. This year under the tree, they will find the fruits of artisans from our own community, whom I trust I have compensated fairly. There will be music and lessons in art and dance and sport, and candy and bright, pretty things, and we can talk about the birth of Jesus and the scared mama in the manger because there are still mamas giving birth in the dirt who don't have clean water or nutritious food, and no wise men are showing up with gifts and no angels are singing to the shepherds, and those women and babies deserve our attention. At the very least, they deserve our abstinence from a system that is keeping them poor. We are the collective.

And that is my War On Christmas.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Standing Up For Selfies and Sluthood

I’m Buttering Selfie Toast today. This is going to start off pretty tame, but if I know myself (and I like to think I do) it’s probably going to heat up around the middle of page two. Let’s get some words on the table right up front so they won’t seem shocking when they insert themselves in the conversation: sex, slut, shame. Oh, and fuck. And maybe tits. (Also, may contain references to TV shows from the 60s, 70s and/or 80s, which you will find notated with an asterisk *. The asterisk doesn’t mean I’m going to explain the reference. If you’re younger than 30, you can use your google machine to look it up.) Okay, go…

If you’ve missed the recent dialogue regarding whether selfies are empowering or degrading for women, here are the key points of the argument:

Position A cites that selfies reflect and promote a feeling of pride in a woman, that posting a snapshot of herself is a reflection of her sense of well-being and acceptance of herself, thereby promoting a feminist agenda. “Hello out there!” cries the triumphant selfie, “I am feeling great about myself! Look out world! I’m Mary fucking Tyler Moore* crossing a busy street in downtown Minneapolis!”

Position B argues that selfies reduce a woman’s self-worth to the composition of her physical self, and that selfies put beauty ahead of personhood and are damaging the feminist agenda. “Hello out there?” pleads the pathetic selfie,”Could someone please validate me? Tell me that I am pretty? I’m not feeling very good about myself. I don’t have the emotional strength to cross the street, let alone throw my hat in the air.”*

If I were so bold as to counter these two perfectly valid positions with a C, I would assert that selfies are just that… as individual as snowflakes, and to label them as good or bad for a group as large as 50% of the human population is petty and short-sighted. The real question for women, I think, is not “are selfies good or bad” but “why did you post it?” and “will you regret it?”

If the honest answer is that you were feeling cute or silly or proud of yourself for the awesome braid you just engineered in your hair, that’s great. If the honest answer is that you need validation to move you from one moment of your life to the next, I won’t even tell you that’s a bad thing. So what? We’ve all had those moments of feeling alone and wanting someone to say that they love us.

Here’s where the line starts to blur. Enter the half-naked selfie in the bathroom mirror. We’ve all seen this poor girl standing next to a cluttered counter top, wearing small clothes, arching her back, duck-faced in full insert-your-dick-here pucker. The come-fuck-me selfie. This one says, not: Am I Pretty? but: Am I Fuckable? Okay, sister, back it up. If you're trying to get the attention of a boy, you don't really need to work this hard. Look a few days, weeks, months down the road and ask yourself if this is really something you want to share. And be aware that in doing so, you demonstrate to the world that you buy into the male delusion of sex… hook, line and sinker.

I’m fortunate enough to be married to a man who’s filled me in on the whole conspiracy. He has betrayed his clan and bestowed upon me the secrets of man’s age-old plot to get woman to show him her tits. Here’s how it works: men say Show Us Your Tits and we hear He Will Reward Me With His Undivided Attention and Affection.

That’s it.

I guess it’s not really all that big of a conspiracy. It’s probably not even all that old. My guess is that it only goes back about as far as that Heather Thomas poster* from The Fall Guy* era. Every boy in the world had that thing on his wall, and there was a worldwide pact among boys aged 13-15 to promise girls whatever they had to in order to see what was under that blue bikini top.

You're welcome, husband.

Now here’s an interesting question:

A (male) TV producer/casting agent decides that a woman is beautiful enough to be photographed in a bikini for all the world to enjoy, and the public agrees and buys the posters en masse. Only the most uptight, conservative, Puritan voices dissent or resent her show of skin. But if a woman decides this on her own and snaps a photo of herself in the bathroom mirror next to her toothpaste and box of tissues, she is called a slut by everyone, including herself?

While I’m on the subject of sluts, I recently read a post by someone named Tuthmosis (wha?), presumably a boy in his early twenties, who listed the 24 most prominent qualities of a slut. Among these are (#1) visible tattoos, (#2) piercings other than the ear, and (#24) blue hair. To the author of the aforementioned article (oh, puppy, I’m really being kind when I call you an author. Hemingway was an author. You are merely a horny and malicious turd with internet access), as it happens, I myself have visible tattoos, a nose piercing and blue hair. I also have four kids, two jobs and just enough time to be a slut for one husband. Probably not the kind of slut you were thinking about when you composed this work of genius. I’d like to invite you over for pot roast and a nice, long talk about how a woman’s appearance has absolutely nothing to do with you. However, you’ve done a nice service to women in compiling this list of slutty qualities, like having a tan (#23) or divorced parents (#21). Half the battle is knowing how we’re perceived. The other half is kicking the balls off the machine.

We will not require Tuthmosis' assistance for part two.

It occurs to me that the only way to end this rampant slut shaming… yes, I said rampant… is to take the shame out of being a slut. In the wake of recent advances in our legislative culture that acknowledge that personhood exists outside sexual identity, it is time that we add sluts to the list of protected classes. If we agree that what we do behind closed doors and with whom has no bearing on how well we perform our respective jobs and responsibilities, or what liberties we should be afforded, then what is wrong with being a slut? And if we take the shame out of that word, if we recognize that a woman who demonstrates all the qualities of being a slut (tattoos, blue hair, midriff shirt in the snow, gives random handies in the bathroom, whatever) is no less a person that one who doesn’t, I see a future in which sluts are so unprovocative that:

-Girls no longer make duck faces into their phones alone in the bathroom, because being a slut doesn’t get you any more attention than not being one.

-Guys no longer post photos of their ex-girlfriends’ tits on the internet in an effort to get them to kill themselves, because no one would kill themselves for being called a slut any faster than they would kill themselves for being called vegetarian.

-Pop stars sell a product based on the merits of the product itself, because twerking with a giant bear isn’t enough to get you talked about.

-Tuthmosis has to write an article titled 24 Signs She’s Good At Math, because girls who are good at math are more interesting to read about than girls who are sluts.

You see, my Position C states that both Position A and B are correct in some instances, but that there is no universal enemy to feminism that is undoing feminism as quickly as feminism itself. The divergence occurs when one woman filters another’s actions through her own experience and decides that there must surely be some defect in the other woman’s motive. You there, judging the selfies as an aggregate instead of seeing individuals in triumph or pain… Stop that. Stop it right now. You’re undoing us all, and you’re shifting the power back onto 13-15 year old boys masturbating to a Farah Fawcett* poster. They don’t  know what to do with that power. They’re going to end up like Tuthmosis, compiling lists like 16 Signs She Gives Good Head (there probably aren’t more than 11 such indicators). And you there, in your halter top in the bathroom mirror… go ahead. But first ask yourself Why? and Is There a Chance I Will Regret This? Because who you are and what you do… they matter.

Fuck the Machine. Duckfaced in Solidarity, Sisters

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mama, I'm Hungry

I’ve never thought much about how much we spend on food. I know that it’s a lot. I’m an almost daily shopper, running to the market daily for one thing or another, and I rarely (actually, never) pre-plan more than a couple nights’ dinners at a time. I don’t clip coupons. I don’t shop around at different stores to buy things on sale. I don’t shop where groceries are cheapest. My four kids think Walmart is a bad word, like “Shut up, you Walmart!” I am a terrible home economist, but I am a great cook and an even better baker. Our grocery budget is not so much a budget as it is a flexible priority expenditure, one that I’m willing to skim funds from other, less important expenses to protect, because food is how I say I love you.  

Generally, when I shop, our grocery money is divided among items like dark green veggies, lean proteins, choice cuts of beef, fruits in season, cured meats, good cheese, olives and vodka for Martini Mondays (and lately Martini Wednesdays), some processed foods like cereal, pasta and those organic bunny crackers. I almost always cook from scratch. I start with whole foods most nights. I won’t lie: it’s expensive to eat this way. All tolled, I guess our weekly food expense is in the neighborhood of $250... about $6 per day for each of us. That makes it the largest expense of the household, even more than our mortgage. We don’t spend much on entertainment or travel, so I reason that the extra money we spend on food can share space within those categories. We rarely eat out for dinner, but we eat out for lunch at least once a week, usually twice. On busy days I use my crock pot. Even on nights I work, I try to make sure there’s something healthy on the stove before I head out the door.

My husband is far more inclined than I am to pick up some sort of cereal with SMAKZ in the name, or a bag of salty, orange crunchy things. Don’t misunderstand me, I like those things. They have their place. Cheetos are fucking delicious. But for us they are an occasional treat that Dad sneaks in the house, whereas some families rely on them as a mainstay of their diet, a source of calories, sometimes a meal. As long as I’m talking about this, can we go ahead and do away with the term Food Insecurity? I’ve been saying it myself and every time I do, it just makes me think of my cat. He won’t eat the last few bites of food in his bowl because he’s afraid there won’t be any more after that. He has a food insecurity, but not he’s not hungry. Hunger is hunger, not insecurity. It’s physical, not merely emotional. Insecurity is an emotional condition. Hunger, malnourishment, and the physical and psychological results, that’s what we’re talking about here. Let’s call it what it is. This is not an issue that is relegated to the 50,000,000 people in America who are hungry. This affects all of us. Your kids, my kids, the teacher in science lab who is trying to understand why a kid can't stay awake in class. 1 in 4 kids in America lives in poverty. Nearly 16 million kids don’t have access to a consistent source of nutritious food. Their bodies and their intellects and their potential… they’re starving.

The Experiment

My 11 year old daughter and I took $72 to the grocery store to see if we could feed the family for four days on the average amount of assistance provided to families on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, fancy for food stamps. That’s $3 each. A dollar each per meal. The objective of our experiment was to determine what would happen to the quality and quantity of food on our table if we were dependent on SNAP for sustenance.

The first thing we had to accept as we blew through our allocated grocery funds was that we really couldn’t afford any decent meat. By decent, I mean sustainably sourced and not packed within an inch of its life in salt solution. We scored 2 pounds of half price Laura’s lean ground beef that was on its sell-by date, and some kielbasa that was marked down as well. In the produce section, we snagged some half price pre-packaged organic broccoli and carrots that were only a little brown, a bunch of wilted organic basil at half-price, a head hydroponic lettuce on clearance, and some mixed greens, also at half price. We spent 25% of our budget on 1 squash and 8 apples, and splurged again on butter because I couldn’t bring myself to buy the weird, chemically margarine, even though it was a quarter of the price. I bought homophobic Barilla spaghetti noodles because they were on sale for a dollar. In the end, even though I deviated from some of my personal rules as a consumer, I only brought home enough food to feed my family for about three days, not four... the fourth day, there isn't enough food. And we’re almost out of toothpaste, so there’s that.

Four days of breakfast, lunch and dinner for 6?

For all four days, here is a total of 3 servings of protein each, 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables each, 0 whole grains, 0 lowfat dairy products. And pickles. My friend pointed out that I should have opted for bulk dried beans as our primary source of protein. I would have met tremendous resistance at the table, but that's better than running out of food.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, those who can afford a more healthy lifestyle are serving up locally-raised, antibiotic-free chicken breast to the tune of $6 a breast and calling loudly for a food revolution. Shop Local! they post on their facebook walls, Eat Real Food! $6 for one serving of locally sourced protein. If I buy the beautiful 6 ounce local chicken breast, it’s going to cost me 2 family members’ entire daily allocation. Can I make the lovely chicken breast stretch between two of us for breakfast, lunch and dinner? That’s an ounce per meal.

The cost of the local chicken breast is equal to 3 boxes of mac and cheese. Three boxes of noodles made from refined wheat that was grown in one state, shipped to another where it was processed, packaged and reshipped to a grocery store a thousand miles from the noodle factory. How is it that macaroni that incurred the costs of thousands of miles of transport (not to mention the costs of packaging and marketing!) can feed my children more “meals” than one chicken breast that only had to travel 15 miles from the farm outside of town? Wait. Wait… why is that? Agricultural lobbyists spend millions of dollars every year to ensure that they (they, the corporations, not Old MacDonald) receive government subsidies and tax breaks (that’s welfare, motherfuckers) in order to keep their shitty, sugary, salty, processed goods at a price point that makes them almost impossible to pass over on a budget of $3 a day.

Get A Job

Argument: People are poor because they are lazy. The fast-food industry has generated a population of millions of employees who are so underpaid that they are increasingly reliant on government assistance to meet their food and healthcare needs. The same “job-creators” that receive billions in government tax breaks (again, that’s welfare, motherfuckers) create financial insecurity in the very people they rely on to grow their businesses.

A recent study indicates that over half of all fast food service workers in America rely on public assistance to meet their basic needs. Half! Get your mind around that for a minute. These are people who work on their feet all day for an average wage of less than $8 an hour. They work as hard (if not harder) as you and I do, but they can’t afford to feed their families. The average age of a fast food worker is 28. Many are the sole or primary source of income in their home. Taxpayers bench press 7 billion dollars a year in government relief to fast-food workers.

Argument: There’s no need to raise the minimum wage.  A burger flipper is not worth more than their current rate of pay. "I think the system seems to be working the way it is… In general, the government is making sure these people's basic needs are met, which is an appropriate role of government." -Michael Strain, resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute. Resident scholar? How about resident clueless asshole. “The system” is not meeting these people’s basic needs, not even close. Why are more and more working people poor while their corporate employers become wealthier? Why are their children hungry? McDonald’s profit grew during the last recession. They MADE MONEY off the country’s financial misfortune, a fact that is not reflected in their average employee’s hourly pay. “These people” work harder when business is booming, yet they are paid the same $8 an hour.

Argument: I donate to the food pantry. There’s not much more I can do.  It’s almost November. In a couple weeks there will be donation bins for food at every grocery store, school and church. We want to feed the needy on Thanksgiving. That’s lovely. But it’s not enough. Charity is wonderful, but it’s not enough. Our efforts, our donations, that’s what makes greedy fuckstain corporate heads, lobbyists and congresspersons able to sleep at night. Because we will take up the slack with Thanksgiving food drives? Charity is a safety net that is encouraging corporate and political malfeasance… I believe in their language that’s known as a nanny state. They know someone out there will do the right thing, so it doesn’t have to be them. It’s not enough to drop a can of green beans in a box and congratulate ourselves on our generosity. It’s time to raise hell against a system that is creating such widespread need for us to do so.

Undernourishment, whether it’s an occasional or frequent condition in children, means they don’t focus, don’t perform, don’t grow and develop the way they can and should. In addition to a host of physical ramifications, their intellectual potential is stunted. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner are not going to amend that. As Jeff Bridges pointed out in the documentary A Place at the Table, "if another country was doing this to our kids, we would be at war."

Want a food revolution? It’s not enough to tell people to stop eating shit. Help them afford the local chicken breast. That means raising the living wage to an amount that people can afford - not just food - but nourishment. It means ending corporate agriculture commodities subsidies. It means leveling the playing field for small farming operations. It means not manipulating the market to the point where one apple costs as much as 14 servings of cookies. And that means you and me making a big, loud stink about this. You should be angry right now. Just fucking furious.

What Can We Do?

Take the challenge. Allocate $3 per day, per family member, for 4 days. What choices at the market will make your money stretch? How much nutritious, sustainably produced food can you bring to the table?

While I was trying to figure out how to make the food stretch out over 4 days, I began to feel a bit defensive, then I started to get mad.  Mad that I couldn't afford to feed them better. Mad that corporate food suppliers are making a shit ton of money selling high calorie, non-nutritious crap to hungry families. Furious that our government gives those same corporations tax credits to do so. That's always a good time to start writing. This is an issue with a relatively simple solution. The solution is honesty. Honest corporate practices. Honest wages. Honest policies that reflect a commitment to nourish children. Corporate food producers and government institutions are directly responsible for an epidemic of poverty and hunger in America, but the shame is on us all.

My attitude up to now has been that Food is a need, but Good Food - healthy, delicious food -  is a luxury, like going to the movies, one that we are fortunate to afford ourselves. I counted myself lucky to have the resources and the skill to lavish my family with meals that are delicious and healthy for them. My thinking on healthy, delicious food has changed. I see it now not only as a need but as a God-given right, and one that everyone deserves. Because there is enough. There is enough.

There is enough food for everyone.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Thinking the Unthinkable, and Other Thinkable Thoughts

The unthinkable has happened.

I thought it was unthinkable, but now that I think about it, it was probably pretty thinkable. I just didn’t think about it.

My daughter lied to me. She did. She looked me straight in the face and told a big dirty lie. And I let her. For about seventy two minutes. Then I called her on it and she did a quick backpedal and I called her on that and then she gave me a puzzled sort of look. She twisted her mouth a little to the left and then the right, looked up toward the ceiling for some divine illustration of how I could possibly be so confused. Well, really, I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about… perhaps you’re a crazy person… said the look. Then I gave her a look that said Child, DO NOT trifle with me! and turned back to the dishes in the sink. I let her squirm a few minutes while I tried to put my finger on what exactly I was feeling. I wasn’t angry. Just perplexed. She’d lied to me about something utterly unnecessary in my eyes. Why?

When I’d gone to pick her up from school, she came out to the curb and asked if it was okay for her to walk downtown with friends to buy a birthday present for her little sister. When I asked her which friends, she told me two names, one boy and one girl. The girl I know very well. She’s sweet and smart and kind. I know her family very well. We’re friends. Of course she can go downtown with this friend. The boy I have met. I know his mom casually and really, really like her. He seems sweet and shy, and I have absolutely no problem with the fact that he and my daughter like each other. Like, they like-like each other. They are eleven. It’s sweet. Of course she can go downtown with this friend too.

I pulled away from the curb. I knew that she was lying. I knew that the girl wasn’t going, but I stalked her a little just to be sure. I saw the two of them walking, just my daughter and the sweet boy. She saw me see them, then pretended not to. Just to make absolutely sure that I knew what I thought I knew, I called the dad of the girl and explained the situation. He confirmed that his daughter hadn’t even asked to go downtown, then wished me luck.

Sooooo busted!

I spent the next hour wondering why she’d lied, and wondering what I was going to do about it. Why?

Here are the things you need to know if you don’t know the girl in this story. She is the heartbeat of our family. She has boundless love and energy, and she unites us in that day after day. She likes to hang out with us, likes to play games and talk and cook and read with us. She has some flighty habits that make me want to rip my hair out, can’t keep her room clean longer than four minutes, and forgets where she puts almost everything. She is strong and fast as lightning. She is curious and explorative and fearless yet. Oh, and she’s also stunningly, heart-achingly beautiful. She is perfect. Entirely perfect. I trust her. It stung that she didn’t trust me with the truth about what she was doing or with whom. Again...why?

When I was done with the dishes, we sat down. I asked her why she’d lied. She was sorry. Her beautiful face was cracking into tears. She said she lied because she thought I’d say no. Okay, we can work from there. Why did she think I’d say no? This was the first time a situation like this had come up, so why did she not even test the waters of truth before diving straight into a lie?

Another quick backstory: her dad and I have very different attitudes about her new interest in boys (actually, she’s just interested in this one boy). Her dad plays the chest-pounding intimidator, pressing one closed fist into his other palm while declaring No boy better not ever look at my baby girl.  These macho calisthenics are, I assume, designed to help him feel like he has some measure of control over when, where, how and with whom she becomes romantically involved… and how far she’ll go. I say assume because I’ve never been the father of a beautiful daughter. My approach to her… what… dating? is it dating when you talk to someone at the dance and walk downtown for a chocolate covered strawberry after school? my approach to her wanting to hang out with this kid is different than her dad’s, but I failed to communicate that to her. She mistook my grins and nods and commentary of Oh? on the matter for disapproval. What she heard from her dad, often and loudly, is that it’s not okay for boys to like her, so where does that leave her when she likes a boy? When she was younger and the issue was far, far into the future, he was only making reference to something that didn’t exist, so it was a big joke. They’d laugh about it and I’d roll my eyes and think we’ll see, we’ll just see… And so we are seeing.

I am the mother of a beautiful daughter. My job is to help her stay comfortable in her ever-changing body (I swear, sometimes I see her hips rounding by the minute!) and to guide her through adolescence with as little trauma as possible to her self-esteem. That means I have to help her to develop an independent relationship with her own body and mind, and then allow her to maintain it. Right now she needs my permission to do everything. She needs rides, she needs money, she needs my help. That won’t always be true.

Someday she’s going to like someone enough to hold his or her hand. Someday she’s going to like someone enough to want to kiss him or her. Someday she's going to think she loves someone and find out later that they're sort of a dirtbag. Someday she’s going to really love someone. Someday she’s going to have sex. Someday… When she does, I want her to be there. I won’t be there, and her dad won’t be there, so I want her to be there. I want her to know herself so well that she is present for those moments to learn from them, to know what she wants and honor it, to maintain her kindness, and to protect herself and anyone else from any emotional or physical damage.

It took this situation, this uncomfortable and hurtful lie, to shine a light on the hazards of an overly-possessive mentality toward our daughters. I submitted to her dad that this attitude is not only hazardous, it is completely inappropriate. I know that the intention is to protect her, but to characterize the relationship of two sixth graders as potentially threatening or sexual is to frost it with the qualities of an adult relationship. It’s a HoHo, not a wedding cake. The innocence of her early romantic (?!) relationships is the perfect place for our daughter to test her independence and self-reliance. There is danger, too, in intimating that she is our property, that her judgement is not good, or that there is shame in someone of her same age being attracted to her. Isn't she (and aren't we!) better served by showing her that she is capable, that she should trust her intuition, and that she is beautiful and worthy of admiration and respect?

I’m watching these glorious wings unfurl, one feather at a time. I know that they have miles to stretch and years to spend doing so. Sometimes it’ll hurt us to watch. Sometimes it’ll hurt her too, if I can recall that many years ago.

In the end, I was so grateful for the conversation that I couldn’t find it in my heart to punish her for lying. I kicked myself for that the next morning when I remembered that the chicken coop needs cleaning. I missed an opportunity there, but I’m consoled by the one I didn’t.

She’s awesome, and that is all her.

She is no one’s property; not mine, not her dad’s, not a friend’s and not a partner’s.

She is her strong and fast body. She is her flighty mind. She is her kind soul. She is her enthusiastic spirit.

Mostly, and all too soon, she is her own.

I totally wasn't exaggerating. Heart-achingly beautiful.