A Letter to Slate Double XX Podcast – Feminism begins at home, not on Twitter #heforshe

Grocery shopping by bike with Dad in Amsterdam.

Grocery shopping by bike with Dad in Amsterdam.

Me on #heforshe and the role of men in feminism:

. . . the problem is people pronouncing themselves as feminists and not understanding the hard work that it takes to uphold that ideal.  Tweet all you want, that doesn’t make you a feminist that has made a damn bit of difference until you’ve stood up for a woman who needs a place to use her breast pump in private, or a man who wants to take time off to care for a sick child . . .

Suggested Tweets for Dads:  #iknowwheremykidsvaccinationrecordsare #dadsweektoshopplanandcookdinner

Dear Amanda, Noreen, Hanna and June

I’ve tried.  I’ve really, really tried.  I started mainlining your podcast about 6 months ago.  Then I got lured over to the Alison and Dan at Mom and Dad are Fighting.  But I kept you gals in my playlist and stayed tuned.  A lot of your discussions were unrelatable for me.  I don’t know much about Taylor Swift and have never watched the Kardashians.  No, I’m not a Quaker or anything, I’m just busy and sporty and for whatever reason not in tune with these elements of pop culture.  Oh, and I have 2 small kids + demanding job + studying for another degree + just uprooted my family and moved to Europe (Amsterdam).  It’s been a bit chaotic lately.

About the time you covered the domestic violence cases in the NFL I realized something was terribly wrong.  I don’t know why it was mentioned that Roger Goodall seemed ok in handling the situation.  He was widely panned for his crappy, disingenuous response.  But you guys sort of gleamed over that.  And, honestly, the Eastern/urban elitist perspective on football was shocking.  Maybe I’m naive.  I am a midwesterner (a Jayhawk) and football was the backbone of our sports.  I’ve lived on the East Coast since high school and never felt that football was a lower class sport.  Sure, lacrosse is upper crust.  Golf is too.  But football was never something lower than soccer or basketball or baseball on the socio-economic sport food chain.  But I never really lived in a city (unitl now).  And I suppose that’s where your views come from.

Thanks, Noreen, for standing up for football a bit.  But my concern is not football, my concern is that your podcast and articles seem to only make sense for urbanite Americans.  Ok, so that’s probably most of us and I’m not making a claim for some right-wing “real America” is in the small towns crap.  But I’m beginning to think there is a great divide between those living in cities and everyone in small towns.  And that includes small towners who read the Huff Post and Slate, like me.  I know those articles aren’t really written for people like me.  They appeal to my politics and I could spend an entire day (and have) cheering on everyone at MSNBC until I can settle into an evening with Jon and Colbert.  But very little that is discussed really reflects the daily circumstances of my life.

But I digress . . .  What I really want to talk about is the Collection of Body Parts Edition of your podcast.  And Amanda’s article on He for She (and the Gist interview that followed).  It was at this point I wanted to express my anger.  I wanted to slam a door on you, but all I had was the power to click “unsubscribe.”  Not so satisfying compared to a good, old fashioned, angry door slam.  Your suggestion for male feminists:  Tweet about it.  Are you kidding me???  Ok, I’ll try to remain calm.  Yes, Twitter is clearly a powerful tool when executed wisely.  Yes, raising awareness is important.  But, really, please can’t you understand?  Can’t you understand that people are out there facing real problems every day.  And families are hurting.  And you want us to Tweet?  Maybe the fundamental problem isn’t where we live.  Maybe my point is being derailed by the football discussion.  Maybe the real difference is that most people can’t spend their days reading and writing and Tweeting about these issues.  Maybe journalists, including my all my faves, are out of touch because it’s their jobs to see writing and Tweeting as an “action item.”  But for the rest of us, writing and Tweeting are just another goddamn thing to do.  Just another thing to eat away at the day, already overwhelmed by work and did we run out of paper towels again? and when is gymnastics class? and how is your mother-in-law handling the diagnosis?  Twitter is a luxury.  A luxury of time we don’t have  And, really, what’s the ROI on Twitter?  Because in our household my time, focus and energy is a highly-demanded commodity in low supply. And so is my husband’s.  Don’t get me wrong.  We’re very, very fortunate people.  We’ve got work that pays (most of) the bills.  Our two daughters are healthy and happy.  The future looks bright.  But let me get to my meandering point.

My husband is the ultimate feminst.  He is the icon of He for She (amongst child-bearing, heterosexuals.  That’s really the only group I can adequately speak for).  But nobody outside of our circle of friends and family knows because he’s too busy, we’re too busy, living out these feminist concepts rather than writing or Tweeting about them.  He runs our house.  He readies the kids for school, packs lunches, drops off and picks up (by bicycle, See This Dutch Life for details), teaches piano lessons with them after school until Mommy comes home from work.  He handles the bills and does the grocery shopping.  He taught preschool and now volunteers in our daughters’ classrooms.  And he fixes all broken things in the house, including plumbing and (yikes) electrical.  He lifts weights, a lot of weights.  Prompting his little preschool students to say things like “Mr. Zipp has muscles like tanks!”  He meditates with the kids.  Yeah, he’s pretty fucking awesome.  Me, I’m the breadwinner.  I do my best to do the Mommy things we want in our lives.  But my role is mostly in the professional world.  At least right now it is.  It’s not entirely by choice, but these are the choices we have.  And we’re certainly not the only ones.

It hasn’t always been this way.  I spent 5 straight years pregnant and breastfeeding.  He travelled abroad for work and I stayed home (whilst working) with babies.  But that is the nature of life that is so often overlooked in these discussions.  Things change.  And biology plays a role.  I’ve read a few articles recently (on Slate?) about how marriage should be viewed as a dynamic process.  So too, are the roles we play in this thing called feminism.  Sometimes Dad’s role is breadwinner, sometimes he must be domestic Prince.  It changes.  Why doesn’t anyone on your show discuss the difference between how feminism and gender roles evolve?  Parenting nursing babies and fidgetty toddlers is an entirely different world than parenting school-aged kiddos.  This seems like a universal phenomena, yet we tend to read about parenting as if the roles were fixed.  And no where in any stage of parenting does Twitter seem to play a significant part.

On to another point, the definition of feminism.  Even if we accept the fundamental definition – equality of genders.  What does it mean?  What does equality mean?  Is equity something different?  Better?  How do we perform equality?  How do we account for biological differences and demands?  The problem is not the definition, the problem is people pronouncing themselves as feminists and not understanding the hard work that it takes to uphold that ideal.  Tweet all you want, that doesn’t make you a feminist that has made a damn bit of difference until you’ve stood up for a woman who needs a place to use her breast pump in private, or a man who wants to take time off to care for a sick child (or, if you are a super-advanced feminist guy, to take time off to care for an elderly parent/grandparent) or fought for work-place policies that promote the well-being of employees over the bottom line. Because those are the action items of feminism. Those are the feminists we need, male or female.  Fellas – put down your god dammed iPhones and pick up the slack at home.  Because as long as women bear the overwhelming burden of running a household more than men, there will be no equality.  Remember the definition of feminism?  Equality.  What is equality at home?  Sure, we can’t get everything to 50/50, but how do the efforts put into the domestic sphere balance out with those put forth in the professional sphere?  And if Tweet you must, then let it be about the feminist actions you take, not the feministy thoughts in your head.  #foughtforonsitechildcareatwork, #nomorelatenightboardmeetings, #iknowwheremykidsvaccinationrecordsare, #dadsweektoshopplanandcookdinner.  If I ever do get back on Twitter, I’d like to see those trending.

Sincerely,

Sarah

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Flex with your daughters

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Showing off our cannons to the people of the Netherlands.

I’m going to digress from my Dutch life posts and discuss something that has been rattling around in my brain for a long time now.  I’ve gone over this again and again and really want to talk about it.  As a mother and a researcher.  I keep coming across articles and Facebook posts about how to talk to girls about their body and appearance.  Some advise never to tell them they are beautiful.  I think that’s crap.  I will tell my girls they are beautiful every damn time I feel like it.  Because it’s true.  Because it makes them feel good.  And life is too goddamn difficult and complicated to pass up easy wins.  Especially as a parent.  Nearly every parenting move I’ve made, from breastfeeding to time-outs to screen time, takes thought, reflection and probably some research.

But some things must just come naturally, right?  I think if there’s anything I really know about parenting and about being a part of a family it’s that if you feel something in your heart of hearts, know something deep in your soul and believe something in every fiber of your being – you say it.  You fucking say it loud and and clear and often.  You don’t hold that shit back.  Everything else I ‘know’ about parenting is just an educated guess.  You tell the ones you love everything you love about them.  Everything.  And I love that my babies are beautiful.  They will spend their whole lives bombarded with messages about how how flawed they are.  But aren’t we supposed to ‘feed the meter?’  Aren’t we supposed to be the ones building them up?  I have a million different ways to compliment them and it will never be enough for all the world has in store to tear them down.  I’m not giving up this powerful weapon in my repertoire.  Yes, I’ll them them they are kind and loving and funny and talented (but we’re not supposed to say ‘smart,’ right?  Or did that change?)  And all of that is true.  And I’ll mean all of that too.

But I digress, again.  What I really meant to say here is this – flex with your daughters.  Or don’t.  But that’s what we do.  And we do it because we are strong.  I come from a long line of Schmidt (and Karst/Jacobs) gals with strong bones and thick muscles.  By the looks of things, our girls will be of the same ilk.  They are densely built tiny humans.  I know this because when I pick up other people’s kids I nearly toss them into the sky because they are so light compared to my girls.  They were big babies (8.8 lbs. and 9.2 lbs.  Ouch) and they are big, tall kiddos.  And I love it.  And I want them to love it.  So we are trying to teach them to love their bodies.

We are not running away from body talk, we are running toward it (with proper form).  And doing pushups.  And T-25.  And pilates.  Which all generally turn into a mosh pit of snuggling or me hollering at them to get out of the way while Mommy is doing switch kicks in the air. 

 

I don’t know if any of this ‘works’ or even matters.  But they are talking about being strong and healthy.  They are talking about how important it is to feed their bodies good food and exercise.  They are proud of their muscles and we stand in the mirror and flex.  And in the park or on the street.  We flex everywhere.  Maybe we flex too much.  I don’t know.  But they like it.  We point out our favorite muscles (I have kick ass triceps) and watch our calves bulge when we stand on tippy toes.  It’s fun and we laugh and we are being positive about our bodies.  That has to be a good thing.

triceps

I told you my triceps are awesome. That’s me throwing at a Scottish Highland Games competition.

None of us will ever have lanky super-model legs or flawless skin.  But we can have super-powered hamstrings.  We can have amazing boulder shoulders that carry heavy loads.  And that’s pretty useful.  But that’s not the message we usually get.  I know.  I started lifting weights when I was 12.  It was the last of that blissful time before I ever really cared about clothes or appearances or boys.  I went to the weight room because it’s what my big brothers did.  I did everything they did.  I even drank protein shakes with them.  (Fun Fact: we grew up drinking raw milk in glass gallon jars from the family dairy farm.  We stirred in the cream that floated to the to top for extra weight gaining power).  I wanted to be strong like them.  My arms and legs were simply my tools for running, jumping, and (most importantly) playing basketball.  (I know how idyllic this sounds, but I really was a late bloomer and totally oblivious until my mid-teens).

Within a couple of years, the terror of the teens arrived and I hated my sturdy legs, felt self-conscious about my lack of fashion sense and was mortified by my increasingly present acne.  It took me until about midway through college to overcome this crushing self-doubt, when I learned more about nutrition and found the confidence that comes from being with an amazing group of friends (my basketball teammates).  It helped a lot to be surrounded by other girls/women who worked out like me and had a relationship with their bodies that was generally focused on kinetics rather than aesthetics.  (I could go into some pretty lofty theoretical analysis on body image and gender, but I’m pretty sure if you’re reading this you know me and are likely to just take my word for it.)

Still, it’s one of those haunting weaknesses.  If I could, I would trade in my well sculpted legs for a more slender set.  It’s taken my husband over a decade to convince me that he actually likes my “girthy” calves.  (He’s not the best Complimenter).

So, we are flexing our muscles in celebration of our own kind of beautiful.  Our kind of beautiful is strong and athletic.  Maybe your kind is tall or short or dark or light or graceful or dainty or whatever.  Because we define and construct and recognize beauty in our own way every day. 

 

Sure, our girls will be confronted with broader social concepts of beauty, but they will also have their own definitions.  And maybe, just maybe, flexing in the mirror and smiling with Mommy and Daddy will help them form more positive perceptions of their bodies down the road.  Or maybe it’s just fun.  Who knows.  In the meantime if you see a family of 4 posing like body builders in the park, it’s probably the Zipps.

Dear Graduates, Graduation is not about you.

Michelle Obama at the Kansas Expocentre

About a year ago, my big brother had a great idea.  He wanted to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Brown v Board of Education of Topeka decision on a national stage.  He wanted to showcase his city, Topeka, as the historic landmark that it is.  As the place where civil rights and social justice issues from slavery and segregation to freedom of speech and gay rights have played out.  He wanted to use this moment to help remind the country of the deep progressive roots in Kansas and the true meaning of Jayhawkers (they were abolitionists).  And he wanted to use this moment in time to spark discussion of the struggles and challenges that lie ahead, in Kansas and beyond.

My brother is a city councilman in Topeka.  I’ve never understood why he stayed there.  We grew up in Western Kansas, which any true Kansan will know is vastly different than the northeasterly cities like Topeka.  I moved to Topeka in high school and hated it.  It’s probably a lot to due with the contentious battles of teenage angst, but Topeka left a sour taste in my mouth.  I got the hell outta there ASAP.  But not Nathan.  He tried Kansas City for a bit, as most young Kansans are want to do, but he returned to Topeka.  I spent years trying to lure him to the East Coast, where I lived, but to no avail.  Anyway, over the past year I’ve come to understand how deeply he loves his city and how proud he is of its history and place in the country.  So, he worked hard to find a way to share that with the world.  And then it happened.

He convinced some folks to make a proposal to the White House to join in on the 60th celebration.  He helped form a small group of Topekans who wanted to make this celebration great and save the Sumner school, which was the all-white school Linda Brown’s father fought for her to attend.  (It’s in shambles and is one of the country’s most endangered historic landmarks).  We waited and waited.  We worked on all kinds of surrounding events and speakers and concerts and parties to celebrate the 60th.  We worked with a marketing firm to design a logo.  We waited.  We really thought we had a chance.  After all, the first African-American president was in office.  AND his family is from Kansas.  We worked and worked and waited.  Word came in April, the White House was sending SOMEONE.  But they wouldn’t say who.  Finally, it was confirmed, Michelle Obama had said YES.  She said yes to USD 501 – the same Topeka school district that was in the Brown v Board case.  (Mind you, Topeka was specifically selected as the lead in this class action case because the high schools were already integrated and there was a lot of support for desegregation.  So hush up your ‘but Kansas is bass akwards’ remarks and listen to my story.)  You might think that a Kansas school district is full of lily-white farm kids.  But you don’t know 501.  It’s a city district.  It’s majority minority.  It’s diverse and urban and wonderfully eclectic and dubiously underfunded.  Also, Topeka High is a gorgeous gothic building.  It’s epic.  And the best Mexican place is right across the street (Pepe and Chela’s).  Oh, Topeka has a huge Hispanic population.  And an awesome array of grandmother’s tamale recipe kitchens.

So, anyway, we’re all excited.  But then the most bizarre shit starts happening.  People start complaining.  They write into the paper, they call the school board, they start a petition on change.org AGAINST Michelle’s visit.  Wait, what?  Is this for real? Why? Why, why, why? Well, they say it’s because they don’t want a joint graduation (USD 501 has 5 high schools, 3 mainstream and 2 others. Topeka High, T-West and Highland Park are very distinct schools and rivals). They say it’s because there will be a limit on tickets (rumors of 4 per graduate run rampant, that’s later confirmed at 6). They say that Mrs. Obama is a distraction, taking away from the real focus, which should be the graduates. If you scroll through the comments section on the Topeka Capital-Journal (which is the biggest waste of time ever. Really, stick with Candy Crush if you insist on wasting time), you’ll see some racist and just plain stupid undertones (“I hope her speech isn’t as long as her butt is wide”). The whole thing is just unbelievable. Still, I’m trying to grapple with it and understand the motives from the students and parents’ points of view.

And here is what I have overwhelmingly concluded. Graduation is NOT about the graduates. Really, it’s just not. It can’t be. It’s a rite of passage. It is a rite that exists whether or not you or your child is a part of it. It is bigger than any individual or even the whole group of graduates. The standards for graduating, the ceremony process, that all exists separate from any individual. It’s communal. It’s public property. It is a moment, held in the public sphere, to commemorate the passing of a group of people into a new phase of life and to a new status in the community. And the communal, public nature of this rite means that it does not belong to you. It belongs to all of us. So, happily celebrate the triumphs of your graduates at parties and BBQs across the land. But leave the public ceremony to the public. Leave the public ceremony to those who have a broader perspective of the class of 2014. A class that would not be nearly so diverse and rainbow beautiful if it weren’t for the decision made 60 years ago in this very city. And understand the honor it is for you (the graduates) and your family to be a part of this moment in history.