On Clinic Escorting

As some of you might know, for the last five months,  I’ve been volunteering as a clinic escort for an abortion clinic. I live in New York City, a very blue part of a very blue state. You’d think this would be an easy gig.

It’s been… interesting! And by interesting I mean “hair-raising.”

I’ve been planning to write a post on my experiences since the first time I escorted. A month ago, I gathered up allll of my courage, and asked Melissa McEwan, one of my personal heroes, if she’d be interested in running the piece on Shakesville.

She was.

*freaks out for a five minutes*

So, if you’d like to read about my experiences volunteering as a clinic escort, you should go over to Shakesville and read the piece: The Truth About Buffer Zones and the Harassers Who Hate Them. 

***
As a side note: I’m currently fundraising (alongside my fellow escorts) for the New York Abortion Access Fund through the National Abortion Access Bowl-A-Thon (whew, that’s a mouthful). Unfortunately, protesters aren’t the only deterrent to abortion access. Abortions are expensive, and are rarely covered by private insurances. A first trimester abortion costs upwards of $500, and anything beyond that can get up in the thousands.

So if you can, please consider donating to me/my team. Or donating to a local-to-you team (you can search the events to find teams in your area). If you donate to a local-to-you team, it would make me super-happy to know about it – leave me a comment, maybe? I will obviously know if you donate to my fund directly!

Thanks, everyone.


Are you there, Serotonin? It’s me, Suzanne.

[Trigger warning for suicide ideation, depression, mental illness, stigmatization]

I am a proud member of Prozac nation.

I refuse to solve my problems and deal with unpleasant emotions. I don’t treat my depression with good ‘ol hard work and bootstraps. I take the easy way out. I medicate. My moods are chemical, my personality is a façade created by neurotransmitters.

Ah, manufactured happiness.

***

All jokes aside, I love it when I’m told that treating depression with medication is the “easy way out.” Nearly forty thousand people commit suicide every year in the United States, and approximately 60% of those people suffered from major depression. Moreover, 15% of the population will suffer from clinical depression at least once in their lifetime, and 30% of clinically depressed people attempt suicide.

I’m sorry, what, exactly, is  the problem with using an “easy way out” of depression?

The idea that antidepressants are a lesser treatment is rooted in the narrative that depression is a personal failure rather than a disease. If depression is a personal failure, then you can correct it through hard work. Taking a pill to “solve” your mistake is a cheat, an unfair shortcut to redemption.

One of the consequences of ableism is our collective distaste for vulnerability, whether of the body or of the mind. We want to believe our bodies are under our own control. We especially want to believe that our minds are under our control. The idea that our brains could suddenly get sick, and we wouldn’t be able to switch them back to healthy is, frankly, terrifying.

So we lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves that depression doesn’t exist, that it’s an invented disease, that it’s just people complaining too much about bad moods, laziness or hard times. It’s easier than confronting the reality – than realizing that yeah, there are mental, and we can’t magically control them with the flip of a mental switch.

Unfortunately, the “make loud noises and hope the problem goes away” tactic isn’t exactly helping. In a 2011 study on why people with depression don’t seek treatment, sixteen percent said they perceived treatment as ineffective, while ten percent cited stigma. 21.2% of the people who drop out of treatment do so because of stigma, and 21.1% do it because of perceived ineffectiveness.

So yeah, when you start denying that antidepressants work at all, or when you say that depression is a made-up disease and the people who have it are weak… there are consequences to that.

***

This discussion isn’t theoretical for me. When I started taking antidepressants, I, like many people, didn’t believe they worked. I thought the “hard work” of therapy would fix my depression, not the “quick fix” of medication. Thus, when the antidepressants did nothing, I didn’t bother to alert my doctor.

It took a long courtship to reunite me with antidepressants. Our reunification took a the form of a classic, 19th century marriage plot:  we had to go through misunderstandings, affronts, passions, separations and despair before we finally found each other.

Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett, Mr. Darcy, Ball scene,

1. Misunderstandings: Fluoxetine, part 1

It was my first year in college. I hadn’t wanted to go to my university – McGill – because I thought the school was too big and I would be isolated and alone.

And, since  17-year-old me was quite prescient, I was precisely right! I did feel isolated and alone.

I did have one small ray of light: I was in a play! Whooo! Unfortunately, the play had an end date. And on the aforementioned end date, I went back to my dorm, fell asleep, and didn’t come out for three months.

Okay, so I’m glossing over some details. I did leave to get food and go to the bathroom. But I didn’t go to class. I didn’t go outside. I stopped reading. I stopped contacting the outside world. I spent my days lying in bed, listening to music, and watching every single episode of America’s Next Top Model.

I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t filled with angst. I wasn’t even anxious – which, if you know me at all, is pretty rare. I was just numb. Numb, numb, numb, numb, numb. WHEEEEEEE, numb.

Hyperbole and a half, Allie Brosh.

Hyperbole-and-a-half, characterizing me exactly (http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2013/05/depression-part-two.html)

Sure, I was failing all my classes, ruining my academic career, spending my days in bed and doing absolutely nothing. But I wasn’t worried!

I wasn’t anything at all.

To me, nothing was wrong. I was just incredibly lazy. That was the problem. Any day now, I would snap out of my incredible laziness and start working again. Bootstraps! Yes sirree. (This strategy did not work)

Three months in, I finally told my mother that I might be a “little depressed.” Because my mother knows that I have an *incredible* gift for understatement, she interpreted this correctly as “I might be really really depressed, oh god help.”

The mental health clinic at my school had a three-week waiting list for an appointment, and my health care coverage in Quebec was crap, so my parents flew me back to the United States to see a doctor. I took the two-page test medical practitioners give you when they think you’re depressed (some of you know exactly what I’m talking about) and my doctor took one at it before he said: “Uh… yeah, you’re pretty fucking depressed.”

Except he didn’t use the word “fucking,” and he did use the phrase “major medical disorder.”

Then the Doctor recommended that I take a medical leave from school (before I failed allllll my classes) take antidepressants, and start therapy. I was worried that therapists wouldn’t think I was depressed enough to take a medical leave (remember, I still thought I was just a “little” depressed), but the two therapists I saw back home couldn’t sign the “This student should really take a medical leave of absence” sheet fast enough.

Meanwhile, my doctor put me on one of the most common antidepressants: Prozac, AKA Fluoxetine.

Fluoxetine is an SSRI – a Serotonin Selective Reuptake Inhibitor. The way SSRI’s work is by inhibiting the reuptake/ reabsorption of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. Because your brain isn’t “reuptaking” the serotonin, there’s more of it around, which leads to more ‘happiness.’  At least, that’s the theory.

serotonin

My buddy Serotonin!

I took a medical leave from McGill. I came home. I took antidepressants. I started therapy. Therapy was good. Not being in school was good. Being home was good.

Fluoxetine… was not so good.

“It works pretty fast,” people told me. “It was pretty instant when I took it.”

Well… I wasn’t feeling anything. Not after two weeks. Not after six weeks. Not after two months. Therapy and lack-of-school were making me feel better, but I didn’t feel like the numbness – the nothingness – was gone.

Hyperbole and a half, Allie Brosh

Hyperbole-and-a-half again, encapsulating the feeling perfectly.

Then again, I’d never taken antidepressants before – and frankly, I didn’t really think they “worked.” Maybe the effect was really subtle. So I never brought the “not working” part up to my doctor.

When I went back to McGill at the end of the summer, I fell straight back into depression.

So much for fluoxetine!

Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice, Marriage Plot, Elizabeth Darcy

Told you. It’s a complicated courtship.

***
This time I made it through the semester – somehow. It was a pretty terrible semester.

During the winter break, I found a new, less stressful, living situation. I decided to take only classes I thought I’d enjoy. And I stopped taking fluoxetine. I did not consult a doctor – I was in Montreal, and I didn’t have any medical authority to turn to. I just knew that the fluoxetine wasn’t doing anything. So I stopped.

Things got better. I lived in a good place; I went to interesting classes; I started making friends. By the end of the semester, I was in recovery.

***
So hey! you might be thinking. Doesn’t this story prove that antidepressants don’t really work, while therapy and changing your life circumstances does? You took antidepressants and things got worse, you stopped them and things got better. Case closed, right?

Not exactly.

Here’s the thing about depression: we haven’t quite figured out how the fuck it works. Some of it has to do with brain chemistry, but some of it is definitely due to environmental or psychological factors. And we’re not sure how those three interact, or which ones to “treat” first.

Let’s look at those factors in the case of my depression.

1. Environmental: I was in a university I hated. I had no support system. I had no community. I had no friends. There was nothing to be happy about.

2. Psychological: Without getting into a ridiculous amount of details, one of my parents was emotionally abusive (or, to quote my first therapist: “your parent is a real bully, huh?”), and the emotional abuse caused me to adopt some pretty maladaptive lines of thought. Like blaming everything on myself; thinking I was worthless, hating myself etc. The usual.

So these environmental and psychological factors were definitely fueling my depression. And then we get to:

3. Weird brain chemistry stuff.

Hey, look! This is what depression looks like.

We know that depression changes a person’s brain (see above). We think it might have something to do with the neurotransmitters that regulate mood, like serotonin and dopamine. It’s not entirely clear whether your brain chemistry gets weird, so you get depression, or whether you get depression, and then your brain chemistry becomes weird. Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s different for different people. Probably it’s different for different people.

But right now, science is still a bit baffled. Yes, we’ve got antidepressants, but no one’s quite sure how they work, or why they work. We know they’re doing something, because they help a lot of people. But they’re also totally useless for a lot of other people. Some people respond terribly to one antidepressant, but do great on another one.  And nobody’s sure why! But we’re dealing with a pretty terrible illness, and if a tool works, we’re going to use it, even if we’re not sure exactly what it’s doing.

(This is, obviously, a massive oversimplification of the current state of depression studies)

So, to recap: since environmental and psychological factors were a big part of my depression, changing them – finding a better living situation, going through talk therapy, surviving the hell of my second semester – made a big difference. Enough of a difference that I went into depression-recovery even though the meds I was taking to target my brain chemistry weren’t working.

Here’s the flip-side: it took me over a year-and-a-half for me to recover from my first depression without the help of medication. And it was not a fun year.

Still, you think: all the medication and neurotransmitter stuff  I just talked about? That’s all theoretical. The proof is in the pudding. You got better without antidepressants!

Just wait. You’ll see: there’s more to this story.

***
 Affronts – Fluoxetine, part 2:

The next two years went pretty well. I switched my major, fell back in love with school, made friends, participated in a play, found my community. When I had the time and resources, I went to therapy.

And then: the migraines.

My migraines have always been problem, but in my junior year at McGill, they became a plague. I got them almost every day: blinding pain in the back of my skull, accompanied by dizziness and aching muscles.

I decided that the solution to my migraines was to overhaul my diet. Protein, I thought, was the key. Cut out all those carbs and sugars, and eat miles of protein instead. Oh, and I should start an exercise program. An hour at the gym every day.

I told myself these changes – the diet, the exercise – were for my migraines. But deep inside, I knew the truth: convinced I was too fat, I wanted to lose weight.

The migraines got a lot worse. Shockingly worse. Before I started going to the gym, my migraines would always go away with a good night’s sleep. Now, I would come out of the gym and have migraines that lasted for days. Nothing made them budge – not medication, not sleep, nothing.

And even though I knew the exercise was causing the migraines, and the diet was making it worse… I kept going.

That’s when the shit hit the fan: my migraines became light-sensitive.

I would go to school feeling fine, and after an hour under fluorescent lights, I would have a migraine bad enough that I’d need to go home immediately. I couldn’t handle any light – I closed all my shades, turned off all the lights, switched my computer off – and spent the day in the dark. I couldn’t do anything. When I tried, the pain would be so bad that I would start throwing up.

Not surprisingly, these circumstances took a psychological toll. Combine the pain from the migraines with the fact that I couldn’t do anything and you’ve got a recipe for a very unhappy Suzanne. Before I even realized what was happening, I’d landed back in the middle of the town of Total Numbington.

Once I stopped going to the gym, started eating better and kept spending all my time in the dark the migraines got better subsided. My residency in the town of Numbington, however, was far more permanent.

In a repeat of my first depression, I spent most of my time in bed, reading piles upon piles of X-Men: First Class fanfic. Fortunately, this depression didn’t seem as severe as my first, so I was still able to go to class and do work. My grades held steady.

I did not see a doctor in Montreal.

When I finally came home to Wisconsin, my parent had switched health insurance plans, and I could not longer access my long-term therapist or doctor. My new doctor asked me almost no questions before diagnosing me with depression again. Then she asked me if fluoxetine had given me any side effects when I’d first taken it.

“None that I noticed.”
“And did it help?”
“I’m not sure. I didn’t feel anything, but maybe it was subtle.”

She started me on fluoxetine again.….I am not a good advocate for myself in health situations. At all. Because I should have stopped her there and said “no, fluoxetine didn’t work, we need to try something else.” But since I still didn’t realize that you’re actually supposed to * feel * the effects of antidepressant, I just acquiesced to the fluoxetine. Again: telling people that antidepressants don’t work HAS CONSEQUENCES.

The doctor, of course, wins a gold medal in “wut” medicine for translating my “I’m not sure fluoxetine did anything” response into “let’s just throw more fluoxetine at the problem.” (In a shocking twist of events, fluoxetine did absolutely nothing. Who could have predicted that result, huh?)

Some good things did happen that summer. I found a great new therapist. I started a fairly effective migraine treatment. The lack of school-related stress from school also helped. I certainly wasn’t as depressed at the end of the summer as I was at the beginning.

Eventually, I saw another doctor. I brought up the fact that fluoxetine (still) wasn’t doing anything. She decided not to switch my medication since I was about to move back to Montreal.

“We don’t want too many changes at once.”

pride and prejudice, introduction

Fuck you, antidepressants!

I was pretty much on the “FUCK ALL ANTIDEPRESSANTS FOREVER” train by this point.

Passion, or Wellbutrin Part 1

I returned to school, still on fluoxetine. Though the fluoxetine remained useless, my depression was under control.

It was a good semester. I found a low-cost therapist. I started dating the Feminist Philosopher. I worked on my honors thesis, I enjoyed my classes, I wrote some popular blog posts.

But even in those good moments, part of me was still stuck in Numbington. And I was sick of it.

The next time I went to Wisconsin, I made an appointment with a new doctor. This was the third primary care doctor I’d seen in less than a year, and I was not optimistic.

But this time, I did my research. I wrote a list of concerns. I found a website with lots of information about antidepressants (Crazy Meds), and I read the relevant information. I knew enough that I could advocate for myself.

And this time, the doctor actually listened to me. Our appointment was supposed to be fifteen minutes long, but she spent an hour with me. We went through my list of concerns, discussing the various things that could be contributing to my mood, making a plan. She asked my opinion on various medications.

I walk out with a list of concrete suggestions and a prescription for Wellbutrin.

***
Wellbutrin, otherwise known as Bupropion, is not an SSRI. And it’s not… entirely clear how it works (you may have noticed a trend here).  Our best guess is that it inhibits the reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that, like serotonin, work as mood regulators. Since I hadn’t responded well to an SSRI (fluoxetine), my doctor bet that targeting dopamine and norepinephrine would work better than moving on to another SSRI.

Ignore the last one; I couldn’t get rid of it.

Wellbutrin works quite well with depression. It also has very few of antidepressants most infamous side effects: it doesn’t (usually) cause sexual dysfunction, weight gain or somnolence (feeling tired all the time). It occasionally leads to weight loss – which some people may feel is a plus, but which could be a problem for others.

Crucially, Wellbutrin works particularly well with people whose depression is coupled with social anxiety (*raises hand*) and people whose depression manifests through anhedonia – an inability to take pleasure from activities you usually enjoy (*raises hand*).

Wellbutrin, in other words, was an ideal antidepressant for me. It wasn’t an SSRI, it had few side effects, and it tended to work well for people whose depressions were similar to mine.

I felt so much better when I walked out of the doctor’s office, in large part because I wasn’t just taking a pill on faith. The doctor had explained her reasoning, and I felt that she was addressing my specific needs, rather than giving me a one-size-fits-all medication.

Thus, armed with a new antidepressant and a whole lot of hope, I returned to Montreal’s cold embrace.

***
Reader, Wellbutrin worked.

pride and prejudice, gif, Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy

Two and a half weeks after I’d started the pills, I woke up at nine, lounged in bed for less than five minutes, got up and started making breakfast.

Wait. Pause. If there was something I’d never been able to do during my depressions, it was actually waking up. What the hell was going on?

It kept going. I started getting out of bed with energy in the morning. I was motivated to do things. I was procrastinating less. I’d finally started outlining my honors thesis. My appetite was back. My insomnia was gone. I planned for meals and sleep. And my anxiety, the electric beast perching on the back of my head day and night, seemed to have gone to sleep. I only felt occasional prickles.

Then, reader, I had to have a bit of a sit-down. Because if a medication could make my depression better so quickly and so radically, then maybe I wasn’t the problem.

Maybe I actually did have fucked-up brain chemistry.

Elizabeth bennett, gif

You think I would have figured this out earlier. But even though I believed that depression was a disease, not a personal failure, and even though I knew the mechanics of depression, and even though I knew I couldn’t just “snap out of it – subconsciously? I was pretty sure it was my fault. I bought into the “depression as personal failure” model.

Wellbutrin knocked a couple legs off that theory.

 Part 4: Separation, or Wellbutrin, part 2

A few weeks after Wellbutrin started working, I started fainting. Plus, I had a noxious combination of dizziness, nausea, constant-never-ending hunger and hypoglycemia.

… side effects.

I was in Canada, and I had no way to pop down to my doctor’s office in Wisconsin to figure out if Wellbutrin was indeed causing these symptoms. They weren’t on the list of common side-effects, but there weren’t a lot of competing explanations. At some point, my doctor stopped responding to my emails. I was cut off of medical advice. Any doctor I could have seen in Canada would have cost a whole lot of money, and would have zero knowledge of my medical history.

And meanwhile, I was dizzy/fainting/hungry/nauseated/ freaking out.

I stopped taking Wellbutrin. Cold turkey, no titrating. It seemed like the best option at the time.

Pride and Prejudice, Mirror scene, Elizabeth Darcy

I stopped fainting. The dizziness went away. And the depression, temporarily banished to the outer atmosphere, fell straight back home. With a vengeance.

Going from “doing good!” to “severely depressed” in a week was viciously painfulI spent a lot of the month of February and March curled up in bed, watching Elementary and drawing pictures of naked women (don’t ask).

But I did return to functionality. Depressed functionality, true, but functionality. All of my assignments got turned in on time. I missed minimal classes. I finished my honors thesis with time to spare. I graduated with first class honors. I made some big life decisions; I moved apartments; I dealt with bed bugs. I started playing video games.

Three people are now rolling on the ground, laughing at this Dragon Age joke. Credit: http://falseteethcyborg.deviantart.com/art/Shale-DESTROY-ALL-PIGEONS-198074293

I was depressed, but I was okay.

Part 5: Despair

Then I stopped being okay.

It was summer. I was no longer in school. I was facing a really massive change in my life: the end of college, the beginning of my adult life, a move to a terrifying new city etc. etc. etc.

And I was now entering year two of an untreated depression.

My depressions were usually characterized by numbness, exhaustion and lack of interest in the world. I did have moments of overwhelming sadness, but they were moments. They lasted twenty minutes to an hour at the most.

Now they lasted days. My numbness now translated into constant sadness and despair. I took frequent breaks during the day to lie in bed and cry. I cried myself to sleep most nights.

And then, for the first time in my near-five years of experience with depression, I experienced suicide ideation.

Feeling suicidal is Not Fun. Especially when it’s happening 2-3 times a week, and you’re too terrified by the feeling to tell anyone. I’d always been able to handle my depression. I didn’t know how to handle this. I didn’t know how to handle the overwhelming sadness and shame and guilt that made me want to die. I’d always felt like a burden; now I felt like so much of a burden that I just wanted to disappear, to make everyone’s life easier.

Hyperbole and a half

Yes, I wanted to live; I wanted to live desperately. I had so much to live for. But I also wanted desperately not to feel, to stop the pain of living, to end my constant guilt. In those moments, I felt trapped – I couldn’t see a stopping point to the pain. I didn’t believe there would be a stopping point. I just wanted it to end.

It never got bad enough that I started planning, or even considering options. But the “not bad enough” was more than bad enough for me.

I was so scared.

A friend and I were talking over facebook around this point, and she said, “I don’t understand. You have the Feminist Philosopher. You two seem so happy together. And you’re moving to NYC, and there’ll be lots of opportunities there. Why are you depressed?”

See,  that’s what’s so terrifying about depression. It’s not necessarily a response to something. It can be caused by psychological and environmental factors, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s an illness.

It doesn’t need to be caused by anything.

Which, when you’re lying in bed thinking about death, is horrifying. Because if it isn’t caused by anything, how are you going to make it go away?

Reunification, or Paxil

Paxil!

To cut a long story short: I found a way to get back to Wisconsin (for a ridiculous amount of money). I saw my doctor and left her office with a prescription for a new antidepressant: Paxil, AKA Paroxetine

Even today, I have zero idea why I was prescribed Paxil. It’s one of the more prescribed antidepressants, but it’s not one of the most effective ones – in a lot of trials, it’s not even as effective as fluoxetine, which we’d established didn’t work for me at all. It’s also one of the worst, if not the worst, antidepressant for side effects – especially for sexual side effects.

I… was not happy about that. I really like sex. Sex was one of the things that remained wonderful despite the depression.

And, on top of the horrible side effects, Paxil has a notorious discontinuation syndrome. If Paxil didn’t work, not only would I have to find a new antidepressant, I might also have to deal with withdrawal.

At the same time… Wellbutrin was supposed to work great and cause zero side effects. But it didn’t. So maybe I wouldn’t know how Paxil would work for me until I tried it.

So I tried it! Very unhappily, but I did!

tumblr_li9vljpWlo1qcrza7o1_500

I really wasn’t expecting much.

But taking Paxil, my friends, was a good life choice, because two-and-a-half weeks later, the fog just – lifted.

I know this whole “fog-lifting” thing sounds like a figure of speech, but it did not feel that way at the time. It was as though every color in my brain had reset to a brighter setting. Two weeks.

Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy, sunrise scene

Antidepressants rising

I stopped feeling suicidal. I haven’t had a single episode of suicide ideation since I started taking Paxil. All my random crying jags ended. I mean, I still cry, but there’s always a reason – I’ve had a bad day, I’ve dropped a stack of books on my foot, I’m watching Catching Fire and I can’t handle the flashbacks to RUUUUUEEEE.

My moods made sense. I wasn’t randomly desperate or unhappy or mad. If I was sad, it was because something sad had happened. And my default was no longer “numb/sad,” it was “fairly happy.”

Yeah, when antidepressants work, they can really work.

A few weeks later, I moved to a new city – New York City, in fact. Unlike my first major move (to Montreal), this one did not provoke a new depression. In fact, I was pretty thrilled. I found a great job. I found a second job as a freelance book reviewer (!!!). I made friends. I explored the city. I spent lots of time with my boyfriend.

When people say that antidepressants squash creativity, I laugh and laugh. Sometimes I can stop laughing before they start talking about calming drinks.

Prior to Paxil, I was basically incapable of reading, much less writing. When I got to New York, I started writing again. I managed to publish a few blog posts – those had essentially disappeared during the Major Depressive Summer. I began writing fiction again for the first time in years. I taught myself how to spin yarn using a drop spindle. I started painting my nails. I took the GREs, I applied to graduate school, I got a 750 on the GRE in Literature. The three people who have taken that test are now suitably impressed.

I started volunteering.

tumblr_mayaoxQWRA1rrghlso1_500

Dear Paxil:

… yeah, I’m pretty sure the antidepressants aren’t destroying my personality.

Okay, let’s talk about the bad news – the side effects.

I’ve got a couple. The usual vivid dreams – serotonin is notorious for this one – but vivid dreams don’t really bother me. I’m sleepier, although I can’t tell whether this comes from the paxil, or from all the migraines I’ve been getting. I now shake my leg when I’m working at my desk – again, I can’t tell if this is a side effect from paxil, or if I’ve just picked it up in the last few months.

I haven’t had any sexual side effects, which is BLOODY FANTASTIC. My sex life is great, thanks for asking!

I have gained a lot of weight. Side-effect fatty over here! Obviously, it is possible that this is an unrelated weight-gain, but the evidence seems to indicate that it stems from the Paxil. I’ve also been eating less and exercising more since I started Paxil (it’s amazing how not being depressed can help you get out of the house/cook food). And I gained weight on my other SSRI, fluoxetine, which I lost it when I stopped taking the drug.

I think I’ve gone up a couple dress sizes. Am I super-happy about this? Nope!

I am a product of our society, and although intellectually, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being fat(ter), I struggle with a shit-ton of body issues. Plus, you know, having to buy new clothes sucks.

At the same time, I’d rather be bigger and happier than thinner and depressed. At least when I’m in recovery, I have the emotional resources to deal with body-image issues. When I’m depressed and thinner, I still hate my body, but I have no capacity to deal with it.

So. On balance, I’m quite pleased with Paxil. It took three medications, but I’ve finally found one that puts me in recovery, and where the side effect are tolerable.

Part 7: The end of the courtship

Having been through the whole courtship and marriage plot shindig, let me tell you, I’ve learned a lot about antidepressants. I know how to make a relationship with serotonin and other neurotransmitters work.

Let me share my secrets.

1. If you don’t feel antidepressants working, they’re not working

I wasted an incredible amount of time taking fluoxetine because I thought it might be working even though I didn’t feel any different. Now I know better: if you don’t feel an antidepressant working within six weeks, it’s not doing anything.

You definitely want to give it six weeks (although many doctors will want you to check in after three weeks to see if they should up the dose) because some antidepressants take time to work. But if you’re not feeling anything, or if what you’re feeling is so subtle that it’s meaningless, you have the right to bring it up. There’s nothing wrong with you because a treatment didn’t work. And you are not obliged to keep quiet about it to make the doctors feel better or to avoid inconveniencing anyone.

Moreover, just because one dosage of one antidepressant doesn’t work does not mean that antidepressants are wrong for you, full stop. After using fluoxetine, I was pretty sure antidepressants did nothing for me. Five years later, I can say with certainty that some antidepressants do a whole lot for me.

Is it a pain in the ass to deal with the trial-and-error of finding the right medication? Absolutely. Just like it’s a pain in the ass to do the trial-and-error of finding a new therapist.

But one experience with antidepressants does not seal your fate with psychiatric medications.

2. Doing your own research is a good idea.

Understanding how antidepressants work and having my own internal database of medications, their side effects and their efficacity went a long way to reconciling me to the idea of psychiatric medications after my bad experience with fluoxetine.

Obviously, it’s important to remember that what you find in your research doesn’t determine how you’ll react to any given antidepressant. See: my experience with Paxil. But it can help demystify the process and allow you to advocate for yourself in the doctor’s office.

You can also get an idea of what side effects are unacceptable to you. Heightened anxiety? Cognitive problems? Somnolence? Loss of libido? If you give doctors an idea of what you don’t want, they can try to tailor their prescription.

At the very least, if you’ve done your research, when your doctor says something you know is false, you can run. 

(I’m personally a big fan of the irreverent and comprehensive website Crazymeds. It’s got a ridiculous amount of information on various psychiatric medications (not just antidepressants). It’s also run by crazy people, for crazy people, which I find reassuring))

3. Advocating for yourself is important, but is also paradoxically the hardest thing to do while depressed.

Finding the right antidepressant involved a whole of lot of me standing up for myself, demanding that doctors help me and refusing to believe that it was all my fault.

In other words, it took a lot of investing in myself.

But there’s a reason it took me five years to get to that point. Because when you’re depressed, you have nothing to invest in yourself. Your resources are gone.

And depression, meanwhile, is actively convincing you that there’s no problem at all… except you. You’re the problem. You’re not sick, you’re just lazy/stupid/etc.

Which is why:

4. Getting good treatment involves supportive, continuous healthcare.

 You know when I started getting good treatment? When my doctor started listening to me. That’s how I got prescribed Wellbutrin. That’s how I got prescribed Paxil. Before then, I’d been through two separate doctors who either hadn’t listened to my problems, or hadn’t inquired further about my experience with antidepressants when I said they weren’t doing much. That… was not okay.

Mental illnesses are a chronic problem, and they need continuous care. A prescription is not the end. Often, problems will arise, the dosage will need to be adjusted, side effects will appear, or the medication won’t work at all. Healthcare here needs to be seen as a long-term process, both by the patients, and by the doctors. My biggest problem with recovery has been my lack of continuous healthcare. Even when I found medications that worked for me, I couldn’t go see my doctor for a regular check-in, because I was in Canada and she… wasn’t. I probably would have found the right antidepressant a whole lot faster if I were able to access healthcare more often.

But unfortunately, access to healthcare was geographically and economically impossible for much of my college life. (It’s still economically impossible for me at this point, which… is great! (not))

5. Who gives a shit if Antidepressants Are the Easy Way Out?

So, are antidepressants the easy way out?

Time for a rant: The idea that antidepressants are an “easy solution” to depression is such bullshit. The flip side of that coin – that therapy, exercise, diet change etc. and tackling the “root psychological problem” – are the “correct” way to solve depression is also pure BS.

Both these ideas are rooted in the narrative that depression is a personal failure, a mistake you can “correct.” Some people choose the “easy” way out and just take pills, which means they never “correct” their personal failures. Others pull themselves up by their own bootstraps by doing therapy and running 30 miles a day. Those people are actually “correcting” their personal failure by doing the hard work of personal redemption.

Yo, depression isn’t a tragic flaw in a shakespearian tragedy. It’s a disease that fundamentally changes the way your brain works. You do not “deserve” to be depressed. You aren’t depressed because you took the wrong path in childhood. You aren’t depressed because you’re lazy. You aren’t depressed because you’re weak. You’re depressed because you have an illness.

And since depression is an illness, not a character flaw, it responds to treatments like an illness. Which means that everyone’s depression will respond differently to therapies and treatments. No treatment is inherently better or worse than another. If therapy helps you, that’s great. If antidepressants help you, that’s great. If a combination of the two is an optimal solution, that’s fantastic.

Important side note: since depression is an illness that no one really understands, you won’t know what works for your depression until you’ve found it. There’s no great way to guess what’ll work for someone, which is why we shouldn’t assume that one treatment is better than another for any particular person (unless, obviously, there are allergies/side effect issues/other health factors).

Finally:  Who the fuck cares about whether something is “easy” or not when you’re severely depressed? Seriously, this is life we’re dealing with, not an endurance contest. There is no prize at the end for the person who Worked The Hardest To Solve Their Brain Chemistry Problems.

***

Disclaimer: This was my long, long, long post about my personal experience with antidepressants. As a reminder, it’s… my experience, not anyone else’s. And there are a shit-ton of problems with antidepressants beyond the fake issues people invent. Hey, it’s harder for people of color to get correctly diagnosed! Doctors make all kinds of terrible mistakes based on stigma! We don’t have the healthcare structure necessary to make sure that people who need treatment *get* continuous treatment!

Tons of problems.
Antidepressants being “easy” isn’t one of them.


What I Learned From Batwoman

Content Note: Spoilers for Batwoman, discussions of homophobia, heterosexism, Bury Your Gays

I just moved into a new place (Stressful! Fun! Exciting! Terrifying!), and I’m trying to be more organized. Instead of putting ALL the books on my desk, most of them are going on a bookshelf. Radical, I know!

I’ve decided that only my most important reference books should live on my desk.

Oh, and I also put two comic books on my desk, to accompany the big serious boys of literary criticism, gender studies and racial deconstruction.

Batwoman: Elegy

Batwoman: Elegy, JH Williams III, Greg  Rucka, Batwoman, Kate Kane
and

Batwoman: Hydrology

Batwoman: Hydrology, JH Williams III, W. Haden Blackman, Batwoman, Kate Kane

They were expensive – twenty dollars apiece. I bought them as gifts to myself.

… That’s a lie. I bought them as protection, not as gifts. I bought them the day after Amanda Todd, a victim of cyberbullying and slut-shaming, committed suicide. I’d just spent an hour on the internet, reading the horrible things people said about her both before and after her death, and I was devastated. Just – devastated. That Amanda Todd had to grow up in this world, where people treat women so despicably. That so many people would say such vile things to, and about, a child. That Todd was just one of many girls who experience this level of cruelty and bullying.

I needed something – someone – to remind that there is hope, and power, and possibility .

Batwoman, JH Williams, W.H. Blackman, DC Comics, Kate Kane,

So I bought Batwoman.

****

Last week, Batwoman co-writers J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman announced that, due to DC’s editorial interferences, they would be leaving the comic after issue 26.  J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman are largely responsible for Batwoman’s success over the last two years (with Greg Rucka, who wrote the initial Elegy storyline, and whose departure I still mourn). J. H. Williams III’s art defines Batwoman – he’s been with the comic since the beginning, and his work is so superb and distinct that I still find myself flipping through my trade books to look at the art. His artistic vision of Kate Kane  made her an instant superhero.

Williams and Blackman cite several instances where DC overruled long-outlined plot events at the eleventh hour. But the one that is receiving the most attention – and that angered Williams and Blackman the most – was DC’s edict that Kate Kane (Batwoman) could never marry her fiancee Maggie Sawyer.

Batwoman is a lesbian superhero. She’s the only one in the DC or Marvel universe, as far as I know, to have her own book. She was kicked out of the military under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, she’s had several girlfriends (including my favorite, Renee Montoya), and she’s now engaged to marry a woman.

Kate Kane, Batwoman, Renee Montoya, Batwoman, JH Williams III, Greg Rucka, DC Comics,

DC and Williams/Blackman all say that the marriage prohibition was due to creative reasons, not to Kate Kane’s sexual orientation. And I believe them – I think Dan Didio and the higher-ups at DC honestly didn’t want one of their superheroes to be married. They have a bizarre anti-marriage policy for their protagonists.

But creative decisions cannot be separated from their cultural context. And preventing a queer couple from getting married has a very different context from preventing a straight couple from getting married. As Susana Polo from The Mary Sue explains, gay characters have “a history of being disproportionately depicted in either no relationships, failed relationships, prematurely ended relationships, or terrible relationships.” Moreover, queer people in comics, movies and literature are rarely allowed to have happy endings – think Ennis/Jack from Brokeback Mountain, Willow/Tara from Buffy and Jack/Ianto from Torchwood.

Hell, DC made the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, gay – and then promptly killed off Alan’s boyfriend WHILE ALAN WAS PROPOSING.

The  “Bury Your Gays” trope isn’t an old narrative we’ve all outgrown. It’s well and alive. And harmful.

Yes, it sucks when straight couples can’t get married in the DC Universe. And yes, in my opinion, it’s shitty storytelling. But straight people can look out into a world where their relationships are validated, are legitimized and are common. They can go to literally any medium and find straight couples living happy lives and getting married. They will not find a whole pile of narratives where straight people die because of their sexuality.

Queer people, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury. They don’t get to shrug off the Batwoman marriage ban and say “okay, well, we’ve got so many other examples of happy queer couples in real life and in fiction, we’ll be fine.”

And it’s a fucked-up, oppressive and harmful trope. It makes queer people believe they have no chance at happiness – that their sexuality dooms them to failed relationships and death. It reinforces the idea that queerness is fundamentally tragic: it’s not something you want for your children, or your friends, or yourself.

Maggie Sawyer, Kate Kane, BAtwoman, JH Williams III, W Haden Blackman

There are many places in the USA where you can be fired for your sexual orientation (29 states, in fact). There are few places where you can get married to a same-sex partner. Yes, the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned this summer. But the end of DOMA didn’t magically solve the marriage problem. Charlie Morgan, an officer in the National Guard, died of breast cancer before she could see DOMA overturned. Her wife and daughter will not receive the federal benefits to which military spouses and children are entitled. Charlie Morgan spent the last few years of her life fighting to make sure her wife and child were recognized as her family. She had to fight - while dying of breast cancer – for that basic right. And she lost.

She’s not alone.

Queer children – and children who “seem” queer – are bullied, sometimes to death (MASSIVE trigger warning for that link – the stories of bullying are horrific). Some states have tried to pass anti-bullying laws, only to see them vetoed by conservative governors. Because apparently, children killing themselves due to bullying isn’t problem. Sometimes, teachers are barred by law from helping gay kids or talking about gay issues. Kids at my brother’s school still throw around the word “gay” as an insult. His gay friends are afraid to come out in Madison, one of the more progressive cities in the USA. In Russia, same-sex couples are facing a law that could take their children away from them. Their children could get taken away because of their sexuality.

So that’s the context in which Dan Didio and the DC executives decided that Kate Kane couldn’t marry her girlfriend.

That’s… not a neutral context. And that’s not a neutral choice. Even if it was well-intentioned. You can’t avoid playing into anti-queer tropes when you bar the queer protagonist of the only queer-headlined book in DC from getting married.

You just can’t avoid playing straight into those tropes. Your intentions do not matter. The tropes you are playing into reinforce the oppression that queer people have to navigate on a daily basis. I do not care about your intentions. You are now part of a long and proud tradition of grossness. Congratulations.

***

Now would be a good time to explain why Batwoman is the only trade I’ve ever bought. And why it’s the only piece of fiction on my desk. And why my computer background is a picture of Batwoman. And why this blog’s icon is Batwoman.

About a year ago, I announced on this blog that I would start a new project: I would read as many comics as I could so I could  find some that were non-oppressive and female-friendly. My friend immediately recommended Batwoman: Elegy. And since I trusted her. I immediately ordered it from the library.

That summer we had a massive heatwave in Wisconsin. No rain at all, and sweltering temperatures every day – it was pretty miserable. And I’d volunteered to take care of my family friends’ garden, which was enormous and intricate and required an extraordinary amount of water. So I had to bike there every day around five (when it started to cool down), water for about three or four hours, and then bike home. In epic heat.

By the time I got home, I very rarely had energy to read. So I kept putting Batwoman off.

One night, I brought all the comics I’d ordered from the library with me to the garden. As the sun dropped slowly towards the west, I listened to Adele and and watered the roses, the tomato plants, the lilies. I put the sprinkler on, sat on the porch and pulled out Batwoman. The garden was lit with the orange-pink light of sunset.

I read for a long time.

I’m a fast reader – a trade comic usually takes me twenty minutes to read.

But I was in that garden for at least two hours.

I read until it was dark, and I had to turn the floodlights on – and then I kept reading. And reading. And reading.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had an experience with comics as absorbing as I did that night with Batwoman. I  read pages over and over again, looking carefully at JH Williams’ artwork, flipping pages back to check relevant bits of dialogue, marveling at Kate Kane’s character and admiring Batwoman’s costume.

When I got home, I reread the entire comic.

I loved Batwoman. I love Batwoman. The art is incredible. The storytelling is engrossing and powerful and painful. Greg Rucka gives us information exactly when we least expect it, complicating our understandings of the characters and their motivations. When we feel like we can’t handle anymore, he pushes again, shattering our impressions and forcing us to reconsider everything we believed. Meanwhile, Williams’ artwork is such a perfect interpretation of Rucka’s plot: it’s arresting and beautiful and thematically resonant and disturbing all at once.

Batwoman, Batwoman: Elegy, Comics, Greg Rucka, JH Williams III

Batwoman: Elegy is a stunning, superb piece of work. I love it for many reasons, and I re-read it for many reasons.

But there’s one sequence that kept drawing me in. At this point in the story, Kate Kane is a military cadet at West Point. She’s called into her Colonel’s office and told that she’s been accused her of homosexual conduct. The Colonel tells her that if she apologizes – if she says it’s a mistake, a joke – she’ll face a disciplinary action, but she’ll stay in the army. The Colonel believes she’ll make a great officer, so he’s willing to bend the rules a little and let her stay on.

The next few panels are worth seeing in their entirety:

Batwoman Greg Rucka JH Williams III Batwoman Elegy

Kate Kane Greg Rucka JH Williams Batwoman,

[Transcript: Kate Kane, a white woman wearing a cadet's uniform, stands in the Colonel's office. He's a white man wearing a military uniform.
Kate: "Sir, all I've ever wanted since my mother and sister were murdered is to serve." 
Colonel: "Then it seems to me your choice is clear. You know what I need you to say." 
Kate: "A cadet shall not lie, cheat or steal, or suffer others to do so. I'm sorry sir, I can't." 
Kate: "I'm gay." 
Kate removes her cadet's ring and places it on the Colonel's table.]

That sequence, for me, was Batwoman. Honor. Integrity. And a desire to serve without having to compromise herself.

That’s what Kate Kane achieved when she remade herself into Batwoman after being barred from military service. She could still serve, even if her country did not want her service. She could still protect her city and her people, even if her sexuality kept her out of the military. She could serve by her own code.

It was a message I needed to hear.

For the next few days, I was in turmoil. Was I living by my own code? Was I being honest about myself? Was I even being honest to myself?

I’d identified as straight for my entire life. My only relationship was with a man. I talked about crushes on boys all the time, and I certainly never mentioned crushes on girls. Sure, I always said I wasn’t 100% positive about my sexuality. Anything could change, and it was entirely possible that I could also be attracted to women. But I wasn’t attracted to women now. And I hadn’t been at any point in the past.

I acted like I wasn’t hiding anything.

But I was. I was lying, even to myself. I was deeply attracted to women. I’d had crushes on women – only I didn’t *call* them crushes, even in my mind, even when I thought about what it would be like to kiss them, to touch the and  to hold their hands. I’d flirted with women. I’d wanted women.

Those crushes were so vivid in my mind. The incredible actress I met in high school. A friend I admired. Another friend I admired. A girl who flirted with me. I remembered them all perfectly, remembered the way they’d made me feel, the way I stared at them, and desired them. And the way I didn’t think of it as attraction at all.

The longest crush I ever had was on a woman.

And the most instant attraction I’ve ever had was to a woman. I sat down next to her in class, glanced over at her face, and it hit me right in the gut. My lips and my fingertips were tingling

Whoa.

I sat next to her all that semester. We became friends. My crush dissipated when she talked about her boyfriend, though my attraction never did.

But these weren’t crushes, even though I’d had them for just as long as I’d had crushes to men. This wasn’t attraction. I was still straight, to everyone else, and to myself.

I was scared to admit my desire towards women. Scared, because yes, queerness is dangerous. Scared of how my friends would react and what my family would think. And what it would mean for me to identify as queer, to openly admit to liking women. But I was also hopeful. I saw something in that comic – in Kate Kane’s strength, in her honesty, in the normalcy of her life as a gay woman and a gay superhero. The strength of my reaction to Batwoman - the way I kept reading and rereading it, the emotional force with which it gripped me – made me reconsider my identity. I questioned myself, questioned those memories, questioned my feelings.

A few days after reading Batwoman, I came out on my social networks as bisexual.

I told my brother when we took a trip to New Orleans. “Oh, cool,” he said, and we started talking about Octavia Butler. I’ve never really told my parents, although I’ve mentioned it on the blog, and at least one of them reads it. But even if I haven’t formally “come out” to everyone, I’ve exited that strange place of dissonance where I could be attracted to women on one level, and completely straight on the other.

And I feel… better. Much better. Much happier, and more comfortable with myself.

There’s a reason Batwoman is my avatar, and my icon.

There’s a reason the Feminist Batwoman lives on this blog.

Batwoman

***

Batwoman means a lot ot me. And part of the reason she means so much to me is because of the way she – and her writers – handle her sexuality. With honesty, integrity and simplicity.

Even though I’m a Renee/Kate shipper, I was excited for Kate’s marriage to Maggie. I knew it was a major milestone. It meant something to me, a bisexual woman, to see a queer relationship treated with so much respect. To see that Kate’s sexuality was still an integral part of her storyline , without the writers ever turning it into a token social justice commentary.

Kate Kane’s creators respected her.

I respected her.

Now we’ve got the DC executives nixing storylines at the last minute. We have them kicking off the creative team two issues earlier than they planned to go (JH Williams and W. Haden Blackman both planned to stay until Issue 26, but DC’s decided to put the book under new management starting on Issue 24). You have Dan Didio saying the company stands behind the character – while calling her Kathy Kane the whole time.

Hint, Mr. Didio: Kathy Kane is a totally different character. And Kate *never* goes by Kathy, which you would know if you’d read BatwomanElegy.

And the execs are acting like nixing Kate’s marriage isn’t problematic. At all.

Which shows how little they understand about their own creations.

This is not respect.

Batwoman inspired me to be honest about my sexual orientation. Her bravery gave me courage. Her relationships with women filled me with joy. I felt safe within the pages of those comics. I felt hopeful within the pages of those comics.

I will keep my Batwoman trades on my desk.

But I will not be buying any Batwoman comics after Issue 24.

***

Quick note:

I asked the Feminist Batwoman, who sometimes takes over my blog, what she thought of DC’s handling of Batwoman.

This was her response:

Photo on 9-7-13 at 8.14 PM

Not very mature, but what are you going to do? She’s a vigilante who sometimes steals my computer to write on my blog. She’s not exactly polite.

***

Second Note: DC is also responsible for the Harley Quinn debacle, which combines stereotyping of mental illness, casual use of suicide, mental illness/suicide as a pinup etc. DC comics is doing GREAT right now.

Comment note: please do not try to defend DC’s stance as “neutral” or non-oppressive towards queer people.


Right-Before-The-Deadline-Hugo-Nominations

[okay, apparently wordpress published this post... and then unpublished it. I don't even know. If you're getting an update twice, let me know?] 

Oh, hi everyone! Enjoying the beginning of March? (SNOW, URGH, PLEASE STOP)

Hey, what day are we? The tenth?

Why does that sound ominous?

OH CLAUDE, THE HUGO NOMINATIONS ARE DUE MARCH 10TH! TODAY! TODAY! TODAY!

Now would be a good time to panic!

MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!

I meant to put my recommendations up, oh… weeks before? But I’ve been having blog troubles (and real life troubles, which tend to lead to blog troubles), so you’re getting these much later than I would like. But hey, if you’re seeing this post, it means I managed to get my nominations written up before the deadline!

At this point, that’s a pretty major victory for me.

(we’re just going to forget the fact that it’s FOURTEEN HOURS before the deadline, okay? MAJOR VICTORY OVER DEPRESSION = forgetting how close the call was)

So! First things first! If you have no idea what these bloody awards are, let me explain!
The Hugo are arguably the most prestigious speculative fiction awards in the world. Sure, it says “Science Fiction Awards” on the tin, but let’s face it, these awards are as much for Fantasy as they are for SF, or authors like Neil Gaiman, NK Jemisin and Catherynne Valente would never be nominated.

(I do think it’s harder for fantasy material to win the Hugos, but that’s another post).

Here’s the crucial bit: the Hugos are a fan award, which means that Random Fans can, in theory, influence the process.

… Hey! Are you a fan? Do you care about awards? Do you complain about nominations for days after they’ve been announced? Consider voting (and nominating for the Hugos)! More voters = better.

Details! Important details! You need to be a member of WorldCon to nominate and vote . And the way you become a member is by paying $60.

No joke, $60 is a pretty hefty sum for the privilege of voting. At least it is for me, your friendly neighborhood feminist batwoman student blogger. There are, however, some benefits that offset the cost. As a Hugo Voter, you get the voting packet, which contains almost all the novels, short stories, novellas, movies, shows, fanzines etc. nominated for the Hugo awards. It would cost you a shitload more than $60 to get all those books/movies/novellas etc. on your own.

Another fun fact! If you buy a membership for a WorldCon, you get to nominate for the next year’s Hugos. I was a member of last year’s WorldCon (ChiCon), so I get to nominate this year, even though I haven’t bought a membership for 2013 yet.

Reminder to any fellow ChiCon members: if you paid to nominate/vote last year, or if you paid to go to ChiCon, YOU CAN NOMINATE THIS YEAR. You can’t vote without a new membership, but you can nominate. So nominate! In the next fourteen hours! Because you only have until 11:59 EST.

For everyone else – it’s too late to sign up to nominate, but if you are interested in voting this year, there’s more information on how to sign up here.

Okay! Now, without further ado, the fun part: MY super-last-minute nominations for the Hugos.

(note: not all categories are filled out, because I am just one woman, and I have not read/watched everything in the SF/F field. I’ve tried to restrict my recommendations to fields that I actually know something about).

Novel: 

1. The Killing Moon by NK Jemisin

At first, I thought I only had one nominee in the novel category because I just hadn’t read enough 2012 books. But looking back over my reading log… nope. I actually have read quite a few 2012 books. I just haven’t been impressed by very many of them (oh, BURN) (sorry, China Mielville and Elizabeth Bear. Better luck next time!)

There was one (okay, two) notable exception.

NK Jemisin’s The Killing Moon, and the sequel, The Shadowed Sun.

The Killing Moon NK Jemisin

Honestly, if NK Jemisin’s The Killing Moon doesn’t make it onto the ballot, I will side-eye fandom forever. For my money (if I had any money), it’s not only the best book Jemisin’s ever written, it’s the best novel published in SF/F last year. Jemisin’s worldbuilding and magical systems have never been better. And the plot. GAAAAH, THE PLOT.

A digression here: I think there’s a big difference between a book that should win the Hugo, and a book that CAN win the Hugo. Two years ago, I thought that Feed (Mira Grant) and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (NK Jemisin) SHOULD have won the Hugo over Blackout/All Clear. But I didn’t think The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms COULD win the Hugo (too much sex! Plus, politics).
Moreover, a someone fairly engaged in social justice, I’m always interested in seeing books nominated that deconstruct, or challenge the more conservative aspects of the SF/F genre. At the same time, I recognize that those books aren’t likely to win, precisely BECAUSE they challenge conservative (and popular) aspects of the genre.

The point of the digression? I think The Killing Moon is one of those rare books that both SHOULD and COULD win the Hugo Award for best novel.

Whenever I think about The Killing Moon, I keep coming back to one word: tight. The plot is tight. The worldbuilding is tight. The characters are tight. The prose is tight. Everything is crafted with such skill that I think the more challenging aspects of the book can just – slide by, unnoticed. Jemisin’s first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was a much more obvious confrontation and reconstruction of the epic fantasy genre, which is why I think it was so controversial. Don’t get me wrong – Jemisin’s Dreamblood books are just as engaged in challenging the epic fantasy genre. But it’s – quieter. The progressive politics of The Killing Moon can probably slide by more conservative voters in a way the politics of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms could not.

It’s sneakily political.

The second book in the duology, The Shadowed Sun was also published in 2012 (and I also loved it), but NK Jemisin specifically asked that fans nominate The Killing Moon (so her books aren’t in competition with one another), and I’m following her wishes.

I would also be very interested in seeing Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There and/or Frances Hardinge’s A Face Like Glass on the nomination ballot. I have not read either book, although I enjoy both authors and I’ve heard good things from people I trust about these particular works.

I’d like to see one of them on the ballot because they’re young adult fantasy novels written by women. While young adult novels occasionally make it onto the ballot (and win), it’s my impression that those Chosen Few tend to be by men (e.g. Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book). Again, this is just a theory, but I think there’s a tendency to assume that young adult novels written by men can still be Serious Literature, while young adult novels written by women cannot, even if those women have written Serious Literature in the past.

Thus, I would not be surprised if China Mielville’s foray into YA, Railsea, made it onto the ballot, but I think Valente or Hardinge’s novel would be far more interesting choices.

Best Fan Writer:

Wait, that’s not the category after Best Novel!

…Except for me. Because Best Fan Writer is the category I care about the most.  I love cultural criticism. YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED… since I started an entire blog for just that purpose.

Best Fan Writer is also a category that I’ve found drearily boring in past years – the same writers are usually nominated year after year after year. And, to the surprise of no one, the nominations tends to be dominated by white men (it’s been six years since the final ballot included more than one woman).

Point being: there are tons of brilliant, diverse, interesting writers talking about SF/F. More of them should be recognized.

1. Foz Meadows.

I want to be Foz Meadows when my blog grows up. Her work on racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression in SF/F is unparalleled. She’s articulate, passionate, and thorough: her arguments are brilliant, her research is impecable.

Oh, and she’s extraordinarily entertaining.

Examples: PSA: Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical, Politics, YA and Narrative, Racism, Revealing Eden and STGRB, Rape Culture in Gaming

2. Mark Oshiro of MarkReads and MarkWatches

When someone suggested Mark Oshiro for this category, I went “Oh duh, why didn’t I think of him?”

How do you even describe Mark? He’s been reading – and watching – lots of the most important shows and books in SF/F for his two sites, MarkReads and MarkWatches. His reviews are simultaneously insightful and hilarious. He’s perpetually unprepared for plot twists, and perpetually prepared to fall madly in love with new books.

You have not lived until you’ve read – or watched – a Mark Oshiro review.

I can’t tell you how much I love him. He just brings such JOY to his work (while also calling out problematic shit!)

It’s a rare writer who can critique a genre while simultaneously reminding you of why you’re in love with it.

Examples: Mark Reads Revealing Eden (if you want to see Mark dying over terrible writing and racism), Mark Watches Doctor Who: The Angels Take Manhattan, Mark Watches The Legend of Korra: The Revelation, Mark Reads Wild Magic Chapter 3

3. Ana Mardoll of Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings

Ana Mardoll’s website is filled with smart, thorough deconstructions of important genre books – Twilight, the Narnia Books, Buffy, The Hunger Games etc. Her coverage of disability in SF/F is particularly interesting. Like Mark Oshiro, she’s incredibly thorough with her analysis – her deconstructions often go chapter by chapter, and each post can go well over 2000 words.

I suspect she’s overlooked by the SF/F community because she doesn’t fit our model of a fan writer – she’s a feminist/social justice blogger who writes about genre fiction a lot. And that’s part of the reason I’d like to see her and Mark Oshiro on the ballot – their very presence would expand what we see as “fan writing.”
Plus, I am personally a fan of bloggers like Ana Mardoll, who talk about genre fiction in one post, feminism in the next, and the wives of Henry VIII in the third. Because fuck, that’s the kind of blogger I want to be – so I do love seeing it done well.

Examples: “L” is for Madonna-Whore Complex (deconstructing an article about Twilight that is, if possible, EVEN MORE problematic than Twilight), Twilight: Carried in the Arms of Assholes (fascinating exploration of the appropriation of disability in the Twilight series), Buffy: Freebird (talks the character of Joyce and emotional abuse, and WHOA, I DID NOT SEE IT BEFORE, BUT NOW I DO), The Hunger Games: A Question of Agency

4. Catherynne Valente

I am a huge fan of Catherynne Valente as a fiction writer – but I am, if possible, an even bigger fan of her as a non-fiction writer. No joke, I’ve re-read her Guest of Honor speech for MythCon… five times?

Valente is particularly important as a commentator on fandom and fan writing itself. Yes, very meta of me! Christopher Priest ranted about the Clarke Awards; Catherynne Valente looked at the fan reaction to his post, and turned it into an entire discussion of sexism in fandom. Her post on the Readercon debacle reminded us that Genevieve Valentine’s experience was actually workplace harassment. And when people attacked Valente for refusing to repudiate Requires Hate, Valente wrote a post that simultaneously explored her own problematic behavior (cultural appropriation), and discussed a wider fandom problem. 

Valente does not write often, but when she does, she is on fire.

Other examples: Girl Grit: Feminism, Westerns, Sherlock and Erasure

5. NK Jemisin:

I almost didn’t put NK Jemisin on my final ballot, because I didn’t want more than two professional authors in the fanwriter category. And then I was all “What are you even doing, Suzanne?” because Jemisin’s voice is so critical to the way I think about the field. She, like Valente, has some of the best commentary on fandom on the interwebs. Her posts on sexism, racism and oppression in fan spaces are brilliant and provocative (example discussing racism in fandom)

She also wrote smart posts about video games, on why magic doesn’t need to make sense, and on the use of  sexual violence in her own books.

Yes, it’s frustrating that Jemisin can simultaneously be both a brilliant fiction writer, and a brilliant fan writer. But she is, so I must recognize her.

Honorable Mentions: I read so many people who deserve a nomination, and sadly, not all of them can end up on my final ballot.

Tansy Rayner Roberts, for her discussions of Domesticity in Doctor Who, her series on Women in Comic Books, her Xena posts, and her article on Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy.

Liz Bourke, for her series Sleeps With Monsters on Tor.com (The Smurfette Principle is a good example of the series)

Abigail Nussbaum, for being the essayist and reviewer I wish I were, and for her spectacular, worldview-changing article Women and Horses, which asks: “Why are we, on the one hand, outraged by the deaths of horses on the set of Luck, and on the other, casually accepting of the potential mistreatment of human women on the set of Game of Thrones?” (particularly when those women are underage).

Best Related Work: 

Chicks Dig Comics edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Sigrid Ellis. Has lots of very fun, very smart articles, and is responsible for introducing me to Kelly Sue Deconnick, Amanda Connor, Greg Rucka and Marjorie Liu.

Best Graphic Story:

1. Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

Saga is… strangely unepic, for a story named “Saga” that opens with a tale of star-crossed lovers from warring civilizations. Rather than aiming for obvious epic themes, Vaughn makes the comic an intimate, almost domestic, story about an odd couple escaping from the forces that want them dead… all while trying to take care of their newborn (urgh, diapers!)
The plot is weird and brutal. The worldbuilding is ridiculous, and I mean that as a compliment. Staples and Vaughn’s worldbuilding strategy seems to consist of throwing random stuff at the wall, and seeing what sticks – but they’re talented enough that it works out beautifully. And the characters are both atypical and compelling.

2. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

A ridiculously fun, well-drawn webcomic I stumbled on a few weeks ago. It chronicles how the adventures of Lord Balister Blackheart, the biggest name in Supervillainy, go terribly wrong when he takes on a sidekick: Nimona, a shapechanging teenager.

It’s hilarious and it has lots of fun meta-commentary about superheroes, epic fantasy and villains. I’m in internet love.

Also, Sir Ambrosius Goldenlion (Lord Ballister Blackheart’s greatest enemy) has The Best Hair. Nomination for that alone, quite frankly.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: 

I’m not going to talk about my reasons for these, because they’re not strikingly different from what I’ve seen on other lists.

1. The Hunger Games
2. The Avengers
3. The Dark Knight Rises
4. Brave
5. The Legend of Korra, Season One.

Okay, about the last: I had some SERIOUS problems with the first season of The Legend of Korra (LOK). In fact, I just finished it last night, and spent a good hour ranting at my boyfriend. But I still think the series had incredible animation, some brilliant plots (alongside less-than-brilliant-ones) and wonderful characters (Tenzin! Chief Bei Fong! Korra! Asami!)
Is it perfect?
No.
But I would like to see it on the ballot. 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: 

I have zero nominations here, because I am so not caught up on current SF/F television. I will say that I would be very happy to see episodes that AREN’T from Doctor Who on this list. Have you considered The Legend of Korra, My Little Pony, Community or Fringe for nominations? You should!

Best Professional Artist: 

Listen, I’m not an expert on art, and usually, I wouldn’t care about this category. But because I am a professional misandrist and I hate all men* – and also because very few women are ever nominated in this category – I wanted to find women artists who deserved a nomination.

And yes, this is rather necessary. From my cursory research, I don’t think a single woman has been nominated for this category in the last DECADE.

*(May Not Be A Factual Statement)

1. Julie Dillon (AKA: Why The Hell Hasn’t She Been Nominated)

I regularly use her art as wallpaper for my computer. Can you blame me?

Julie Dillon breaking through

Breaking Through

The Dala Horse (Julie Dillon)

The Dala Horse (Julie Dillon)

2. Fiona Staples

Stapes is responsible for both the interior illustrations, and the covers for Saga. I don’t usually notice the art in comic books, but Staples’ work is so richly, gloriously bizarre that I can’t NOT notice.

Saga Issue one cover fiona staples

Saga, issue one

Saga Chapter 3 Fiona Staples

Saga chapter 3

Saga Fiona Staples

The Stalk (Saga)

3. Kathleen Jennings 

I’m a huge fan of Jennings’ lovely, whimsical book covers – I particularly love how she uses wraparound effects. Her illustrations for Eclipse Online are also wonderful.

Kat Jennings

The Memcordist by Lavie Tidhar, illustrated by Kat Jennings

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

Cover and Dustjacket for Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

4. Amy Reeder 

I’ve been a fan of Amy Reeder’s for a very long time – even though I wasn’t aware of it. My wordpress icon? The Batwoman picture?

Amy Reeder Batwoman

Batwoman by Amy Reeder

Yep! Drawn by Amy Reeder.

Although the Batwoman franchise tends to be known for JH Williams’ artwork, some of the most iconic covers come from Reeder’s pen (I am using one of them as my wallpaper right now). And her artwork on the creator-owned Halloween Eve is stunning. I wish I’d known I was a fan of hers before!

Amy Reeder Halloween Eve

Halloween Eve

Batwoman Amy Reeder

Batwoman, Issue 9 by Amy Reeder

5. Ana Juan

Hat Tip to The Book Smugglers for this recommendation – I was trying to find a fifth nominee, to no avail, when their post on Hugo nominations came out. I’ve loved the artwork in Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland books, but I never looked up the artist. Juan’s work is beautiful, whimsical, and a bit off-kilter.

Fairyland Ana Juan

Ana Juan

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland And Led The Revels There by Catherynne Valente

Best Fan Artist 

1. Kathleen Jennings, for all her daleks on her blog – and specifically, for drawing Daleks into all of our favorite books and movies.

2. Noelle Stevenson for Nimona (not a professional work – she’s not, as far as I can tell, getting paid). Because her work is fun and beautiful and witty, and reminds me of nothing so much as Kate Beaton

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Best Semi-Prozine: 

The Mary Sue: A guide to geek girl culture. I love The Mary Sue, and they serve my primary source of SF/F news. The writers are funny and incisive, the coverage is wide-ranging, the politics are feminist and progressive.

Best Fanzine: The Book Smugglers: I am counting The Book Smugglers as a fanzine rather than as fan writers, because there are TWO writers on The Book Smugglers. And they deserve a nomination for all the work they do. My god, they publish a post a day, and although Ana and Thea don’t cover speculative fiction exclusively, they do write a whole lot about the genre. Their book reviews are wonderful and incisive, and their genre commentary is always on-point.

Ana and Thea also host an annual blog event called Smugglivus, when they invite authors and bloggers to talk about the year past. It is responsible for introducing me to waaaaaaay too many good books.

Best Fancast: 

Galactic Suburbia (and not just because they put me on their award honors list!)

Galactic Suburbia is a feminist podcast, and thus I am contractually obligated to love them. Fortunately, they make it easy on me, by being perpetually wonderful, and funny, and outraged. Plus, they keep me up to date with all of the Australian Speculative Fiction news (important, since I am a provincial USian).

Last year, I said I was nominating them “because they are awesome. And they make me read ALL the good books.”

And they are still awesome, and making me read all the good books. I really hope they make the ballot again this year.

****

PHEW.

And with that, my friends, my Hugo Nominations are in!

*****

A couple brief announcements, for those of you who haven’t fallen asleep yet!

1. For the purposes of me not getting super-confused ALL THE TIME, I’m now going by the name I use in non-internet life (Suzanne). I get SUPER-CONFUSED whenever anyone uses the name “CD” to refer to me. And although this is a pseudonymous blog, I don’t think using my real name will cause anyone to figure out my ultra-secret identity.
So yes, from now on, I am Suzanne (and my preferred pronoun is “she”).

Of course, you are also welcome to refer to the blog name, full stop (Culturally Disoriented), or to call me The Feminist Batwoman (even though I am NOT the Feminist Batwoman. LET’S BE CLEAR).

2. I have a tumblr! Which has absolutely zero original content. I just reblog a lot of kittens and GIFS. But if you’re interested, I’m over at Feminist Batwoman (although, again, I AM NOT THE FEMINIST BATWOMAN).

3. Content has been slow here! For lots of reasons. Mostly, but not solely medical. I switched antidepressants over winter break, and unfortunately, the new medications caused some pretty brutal side effects. So I am now OFF those antidepressants, which means I am off antidepressants completely, and the transition has been… rough. I also ended up at the ER twice for totally unrelated reasons, because my body hates me right now.
Anyway, content is likely to REMAIN slow for a bit. But I am still here, so bear with me! There’s a GIANT POST OF DOOM coming up. It has lots and lots of statistics! About women in SF/F television! IT IS GIANT! The research is DONE. So it is ALMOST READY.


Boys don’t read Girl Books and other lies my Society Told Me

“It’s a cliché but mostly true that while teenage girls will read books about boys, teenage boys will rarely read books with predominately female characters.” (Robert Lipsyte, “Boys and Reading: Is there Any Hope?“)

Toph GIF Avatar: The Last Airbender

Oh, Fuck, not this bullshit again.

(I hear you, Toph)

****
I like giving my younger brother (R) books. Correction: I really like giving my younger brother books. And he loves reading, so we’re quite compatible. Well played, universe!

Anyway. The last time I took R on a book-buying expedition, it took us three hours to narrow down the choices. By the end, we were down to two options: Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw, which I described as “Jane Austen if all of Jane Austen’s characters were dragons! Tea time meets DRAGONS” and Malinda Lo’s Huntress, which I described as “Adventure! Fairies! Hunting! Lesbian romance! More adventure! HORSES!”

(My eloquence: admire it)

At some point in R’s difficult decision, I swooped in with big-sister wisdom: “You know, I’m worried you won’t enjoy Tooth and Claw as much. Don’t get me wrong – I love it. But it’s not really an adventure story. It’s basically a family story, and about people’s relationships and marriages. Except with dragons.”

My younger brother gave me a Look: “No, but that’s what I like.”

Me: “Whazit?”

Brother: “Those are my favorite kinds of books! I like reading about families, and about how people relate to each other.”

This would be the moment I massively facepalmed.

Zuko GIF angst Avatar the last airbender

AAAARGH

I’m a feminist. I think about idiotic gender roles a lot. I try to avoid perpetuating sexism as much as I can. I especially try to avoid perpetuating stupid gender roles around my brother. And I have always believed that there is no such thing as a “girl” book and a “boy” book.

Yet I assumed my brother would like an adventure book more than he would a family-drama book.

Because he’s a thirteen-year-old-boy.

Massive.

Facepalm.

Aang GIF Avatar headdesk

Me, to brother: “… just ignore me, I’m an idiot.”

Conclusion of the story: I ended up buying R. both books, because I am the best sister on the planet

(Yes! yes I am aware of how awesome I am! But more accolades are always welcome!).

He loved Huntress, like I thought he would. But he loved Tooth and Claw even more. He sent me an email from his vacation where he told me it was now “one of his favorite books.” And when I saw him again, he asked me if I could lend him my Jane Austen novels.

Because Tooth and Claw had inspired him to read Jane Austen.

BOOM, BABY.

Emperor's New Groove Boom Baby

(I really love Jane Austen, okay?)

***

This post is not about how gender stereotypes are incredibly difficult to unlearn – although it could be, since that is a true and important topic. Gender stereotypes are incredibly difficult to unlearn! Even for feminists! Tell your friends.

It is, as all my favorite posts are, about my brother. My brother read a lot. And as it happens, a fair number of the books he reads either a) are written by women b) have female protagonists, or c) center on “girl” issues like “family” and “relationships.”

This fact makes him the Miracle Boy Foretold By the Prophecy. Because boys can’t read girl books. Didn’t you get the memo?

[Note: In this post, I will use the term "girl" books to designate books that are USUALLY ASSOCIATED with women, either because they were written by women, have female protagonists, or tackle subjects that are coded as feminine (gossip! pink!). I don't mean to imply that there are actual "girl" books and "boy" books. Books are for everyone! I promise! They don't have cooties!]

***

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young boy who desires to read must be in want of a “boy” book. However little known the feelings or views of such a boy may be on his first entering  a bookstore, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding adults that he is carefully kept away from any book with the slightest whiff of the feminine about it.”

Okay, that’s not the first line of Pride and Prejudice, BUT IT COULD BE.

One of the most frustrating myths floating around the world of reading is the “boys aren’t reading because there are too many girly books, and boys can’t read girly books because EVERYONE KNOWS boys can’t read girly books.”

Cat and bath

How Boys Feel About “Girl” Books.

And sadly, this narrative just keeps popping up out of the fertile internet ground every thirty seconds. Like zombies! Or DAISIES. or ZOMBIE DAISIES.

Robert Lipsyte’s self-congratulatory and entirely unimaginative article for The New York Times deplores the explosion of YA aimed towards girls because “while teenage girls will read books about boys, teenage boys will rarely read books with predominately female characters.” Meanwhile, YA author A. E. Rought called female protagonists a “trope” they hoped the publishing industry would get over. Then Sarah Mesle wrote an article for the LA Review of Books where she expresses concern at the proper lack of “male roles” for boys.

Hell, just yesterday, I was treated to an article that deplored the lack of male protagonists, because the author was sick of girls who only cared about gossip and instead wanted a boy protagonist who just wanted to put gas in his car.

Apaa Flying Bison Avatar GIF

Think about your life, anonymous author. Think about your choices.

Urgh.

SO MANY ZOMBIE DAISIES.

Okay, first off, I want to make sure our facts are straight. Because it is provably not true that there are no YA books “for boys.” In fact, there are still more male protagonists than female ones in YA. There are just about as many male authors as there are female ones. THESE ARE THE FACTS, PEOPLE (here is one study, among many). And it is depressing as hell that people look at women achieving parity in one field – ONE FIELD – and interpret it as men being blotted out.

Toph Earthbending Avatar The Last Airbender GIF

ON POINT

Let’s get to the important part.
Now that you’ve read all this “evidence” about how boys can’t read “girl” books and it’s a HUGE CATASTROPHE, OH NOES, let me remind you that my brother regularly reads lots of “girl” books.
BUT BOYS CAN’T READ BOOKS ABOUT GIRLS!  HOW COULD THIS POSSIBLY HAPPEN?
The answer, my friends, is the Great Feminist Experiment:
Azula GIF Avatar the Last Airbender

THE GREAT FEMINIST EXPERIMENT. Scared yet?

Ahem. So. The Great Feminist Experiment.
I have known about this whole “boys can’t read “girl” books” since I was… oh, eight or so? It’s been around for at least that long. I vividly remember reading an interview of Eoin Colfer where he claimed he specifically chose a male protagonist for the Artemis Fowl series because it would attract more male readers – and female readers would just pick up the book anyway. I also remember JK Rowling explaining that she used her initials (instead of her first name, Joanne) to avoid scaring off male readers.
I knew what was up.
And when I acquired a baby brother, I decided he would be an ideal Test Subject for a Great Feminist Experiment.

By the time I was ten, I had a plan. I would make it a point to give him books with female protagonists. On his birthday, on Christmas, at random occasions – I would give him books with girls. I would give him books about girls. I would give him books by women. I would give him books about “girly” topics like family and gossip and clothes.

Not to mention books with kickass women being kickass!

Katara GIF waterbending Avatar: THe Last Airbender Waterbending

Example Chosen at Total Random (I <3 you Katara!)

I wouldn’t force him to read them. And I wouldn’t deprive him of books with male protagonists either. I would simply make sure he had lots of access to “girl” books.

It was a deviously simple plan.

And it worked.

Tiny Fey Amy Poehler SNL GIF Bitches Get Stuff Done

Of the books my brother reads, I’d say somewhere near 50-60% have female protagonists. The first chapter book my brother ever read was Roald Dahl’s Mathilda.  His stuffed hedgehog is named “Wizard Howl” after Dianne Wynne Jones’ novel Howl’s Moving Castle. He loves Lyra from The Golden Compass. He reads Tamora Pierce and Libba Bray and Meg Cabot and Diane Duane. He will talk for hours about Robin Mckinley and the Blue Sword novels. His stuffed hedgehog is named “Wizard Howl.” Right now, his favorite authors include NK Jemisin, Jo Walton, Octavia Butler and Mira Grant.

Don’t get me wrong, the brother reads a lot of “boy” books too (one of his other favorite authors is China Mielville, and his favorite novel is Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk). But R. has never complained about a book with a female protagonist. To him, they’re just as normal as books with male protagonists. And it would never occur to him not to pick up a book because the author was female.

And now he’s even recommending books by female authors TO ME. It was my brother who first discovered Mira Grant, and who pestered me until I read her (and I never looked back).

THE GREAT FEMINIST EXPERIMENT WORKED!

Azula Avatar the last Airbender GIF madness

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

YES I AM THE EVIL FEMINIST ALL YOUR FRIENDS WARNED YOU ABOUT.

I can’t stress how easy this “experiment” was. I mean, it was easy because I started early, before all the societal sexism could sink in. But it’s not like my brother’s Y chromosome was allergic to “girl” cooties. So whenever I read a Robert Lipsyte, say, spouting the old ” teenage girls will read books about boys, teenage boys will rarely read books with predominately female characters” line, I roll my eyes pretty hard.

You know what? I’ve got a teenage boy in my life, and he reads “girl” stuff just fine. My outlandish theory is that if boys aren’t belittled for reading books about girls, if they’re not taught that girls are lesser, if they’re not teased about cooties, if we don’t teach them to fear the feminine… they’d probably like more “girl” stuff.

Boys don’t read “girl” books because they’re taught, in a thousand small, subtle, insidious ways, that they’re not supposed to.

What if boys weren’t ashamed to read books that were coded “girly” because they didn’t think it was shameful to be a girl? (thanks, Iggy Pop!)

What if we taught them something else?

Iggy Pop

Think about it.

***

Quick story to wrap things up!

So, obviously I’m a feminist. And I read lots of feminist fiction. And since my brother steals all my books, he ends up reading quite a bit of feminist fiction himself.
On the other hand, I’ve never told my brother he *should* be a feminist, or that he needs to combat sexism or anything. Because I don’t want to tell him what to think.

Anyway!

One night at dinner a few years ago, my stepbrother started teasing my stepmother about the muscles in her arms. My father said: “Stepbrother! It’s rude to discuss women’s arm muscles.”

And I, the random feminist, replied: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with discussing women’s arm muscles, since there’s nothing wrong with women having arm muscles. But teasing people about their appearance isn’t okay.”

My brother: “Yeah, Dad. Because you know what me and Suzanne are into? FEMINIST SCIENCE FICTION. So if you say sexist stuff, we’re going to get super-mad!”

After I finished dying of laughter, I knew that giving my brother “girl” books to read had been worth it. MY EVIL FEMINIST PLANS HAD ALL COME TO FRUITION.

Avatar GIF Avatar the Last Airbender

THE FEMINIST BORG HAD ASSIMILATED HIM.

[No, but in all seriousness, I was super-proud of him. I mean, once I stopped laughing]

Azula Avatar: The Last Airbender

Scary Feminist Out!

Notes:

1. I should note that as I got older and more aware, I also made a conscious effort to steer my brother toward books with protagonists of color and queer protagonists. Which worked out quite well!

2. I want to be clear that just because this “experiment” (such as is) worked for me, it doesn’t mean it would work for everyone. There was a whole lot of privilege and luck that went into it! Like the fact that I started when the brother was super-young. And that he turned out to love reading. And that both he and I had lots of time and opportunities to read, and were both encouraged to do so. This is not supposed to be a how-to for how to get boys to read more. Nor is it meant to be a critique of people who can’t get the boys in their life to read more. If that doesn’t comes across, let me know, and I will fix it!

3. My brother has been fully aware of the “experiment” since he was seven or eight. I promise, I’m not manipulating him behind his back. We’ve had conversations about it, where I ask whether he’s okay if I keep giving him books by women/with female protagonists and he’s like “So… you’re asking if I’m okay with you giving me books? Is this some kind of evil trick?”

4. Hey, notice all the Avatar: The Last Airbender GIFs? The Feminist Philosopher introduced me to the show, and I just finished watching it. IT IS AWESOME, and full of awesome male and female characters AND YOU SHOULD ALL GO WATCH IT. NO, SERIOUSLY, DROP EVERYTHING YOU’RE DOING AND GO WATCH THE SHOW.

Katar waterbending Avatar The Last Airbender GIF

Stop Everything and GO WATCH.

Thank you, Feminist Philosopher. I will forever blame you when I tear up at GIFs of Zuko and Uncle Iroh hugging.

Further reading: 

The Book Smugglers: The Airing of the Grievances 
The Problem is Not the Books
Gender Balance in YA awards

Return of the Feminist Batwoman: Post-Election Edition!

Psst! You! Readers! is CD around?

No? Oh, FANTASTIC. I’m just going to let myself in, then! You guys don’t mind if I take over blogging duties for the day, right? Right!

Feminist Batwoman Returns Bat Woman

Hello!

Yes, yes, it’s me. The Feminist Batwoman. Champion of Intersectional Feminism and Enemy of Restrictive Gender Roles!

I know. Very exciting. I keep meaning to drop in and blog, but C.D. is kinda paranoid, and she doesn’t want me around. Something about the police putting her in jail for being harboring a vigilante blah blah blah.

Also, she’s convinced that people think SHE’S the Feminist Batwoman. Which is obviously not true. CD and I have actually never met! How can we be the same person if we’ve never met!

Anyway. I think the problem with C.D. is that she just doesn’t have trust. I mean, I love that woman, but… seriously. You guys aren’t going to turn me in, right? I’m the Feminist Batwoman! I fight for Intersectional Feminism and Gender Equality Throughout the Shadows of the Interwebs.

AND I have a fabulous mask. Why would anyone turn me in?

Feminist batwoman Returns 2

See what I mean about the fabulous mask?

So now that we’ve established that you aren’t going to turn me in, let’s turn back to CD.

Have you guys noticed that she’s a bit… off, recently? She keeps writing about all this UBER-depressing stuff, and going on long rants and freakouts. Now, as the Feminist Batwoman, I fully support long rants and freakouts, but…

I’m worried that CD has lost her joy.

I mean – did you SEE what happened two weeks ago? The American Election? SHE SHOULD BE OVER THE MOON ABOUT THAT! She should be blogging kitten GIFs and celebratory confetti and explosions ALL THE TIME.

The activist joy should be EVERYWHERE!

Feminist Batwoman Returns 4

So, you know. I thought I would cheer up CD (and bring on the return of the Kitten GIFS!) by reminding her of all of our Great Victories this month.

Maybe if CD remembers all the happy things that happened, she’ll be happier! Can’t hurt, right?

Let’s start at the top:

#1:  Mitt Romney, oppressive douchebag and plutocrat supreme… Defeated!

I will not have to spend the next four years tracking down and defeating his Legion of Anti-Roe judges! I will not have to fight his attempts to turn over Obamacare and get us in more wars and cut the budget for food stamps and medicare and medicaid and social security and education. And hey, we won’t have to deal with his racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and classicism and general… barfiness.

My costume is already SUFFICIENTLY covered in the Barf of Oppression just from fighting to defeat Mitt Romney’s campaign. I’ve had to go to the dry cleaners ten times this election cycle. They’re giving me REALLY weird looks.

Imagine what I would look like if he were president. *shudder*

The Batwoman Bat Woman Hydrology

Just COVERED in slimy oppressive barf

2. President Obama (a somewhat too-conservative-for-my-taste but generally pretty-decent- president) won. And President Obama is someone I can work with. He’s the man who brought us Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan and Obamacare and who ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and who passed the mini-dream act. He saved the economy and made insurance companies cover contraceptives and signed the Lilly Ledbetter fair pay law. He passed a bill that made it a hate-crime to commit an assault on someone based on their sexual orientation; he extended employment benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees and he became the FIRST SITTING US PRESIDENT to come out in favor of marriage equality. Oh, and he extended health insurance to four million uninsured kids (why, in the name of the Holy Batmobile, do we have FOUR MILLION uninsured kids in the richest country in the world? QUESTIONS).

Like I said. I can work with this guy.

Batman and Batwoman, Batwoman comics, Batwoman hydrology, feminist batwoman

It can’t be any harder than dealing with Batman.

All good news so far, right? All news that should make CD happy, right?

It gets better.

3. In Maryland, Maine and Washington, people voted to legalize same-sex marriage. YES THEY DID. We broke the 32-state losing streak (including a loss in my – I MEAN CD’s – home state of Wisconsin) with a three state victory! We finally got a popular victory for same-sex marriage!

(although I object to people’s fundamental human rights being put on the ballot, but if they’re going to be put on the ballot, this is the desired outcome)

Batwoman Kate Kane Gay Batwoman Comics JH Williams Greg Rucka

Gay rights being of particular interest to the Feminist Batwoman for… obvious reasons.

Moreover, Minnesota had an amendment on the ballot that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman. You know what happened? Voters said NO. AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME

Batwoman Bat Woman Kate Kane Batwoman 0 JH Williams

BOOOOOM

I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate my fellow Anti-Oppression Superhero Alliance member, The Queer Question (also known as Renee Montoya), who led the charge in the fight for same-sex marriage. The Question knows how to stop the Forces of Oppression, y’all.

Renee Montoya The Question Rene Montoya Batman Comics DC

Renee Montoya AKA The Queer Question

Has CD cheered up by now? If she hasn’t, I have even MORE good news for her (because this election is just the gift that keeps on giving).

4. The next American congress will have the highest number of female senators in recorded history: twenty

(which: it is super-gross that 20 is a HIGH number of women in the senate. But we’re getting better).

And let’s talk about those women! Because it’s not just that we’ve got more women senators and representatives – it’s that the ones we’ve got are incredible.

Elizabeth Warren won a senate seat in Massachusetts. I’m quite fond of that woman. She scares Wall Street half-to-death, and is already fighting the Forces of Economic Oppression. Go Warren!

Elizabeth Warren for Senate, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Warren Elizabeth

All she needs is an awesome mask. attribution: Tim Pierce

Tammy Baldwin WON A SENATE SEAT in Wisconsin! Tammy Baldwin is now Wisconsin’s first female senator – and the first openly gay member of the senate in US HISTORY.

I’m a huge fan of Tammy Baldwin’s. She’s been my CD’s representative for years (since I’m CD is from Madison).  Her work in the House was incredible; and I fully expect great things in the Senate.

CD, of course, was terrified that Tammy Baldwin – an openly gay woman from the hellmouth of hippie-liberalville (Madison) would have no chance of being elected in Wisconsin. And I do like proving CD wrong.

Tammy Baldwin Senate Tammy Baldwin Senator Wisconsin Senate Race 2012

She’d also look pretty great in a mask

Claire McCaskill defeated Todd Akin (aka: “Mr. Legitimate Rape”). She won the Mississippi Senate seat – one that almost  NO ONE thought a democrat could hang onto – by fourteen points. Because she is an incredible campaigner and she knew how to let Todd Akin hang himself by his own rope.

Claire McCaskill Senate McCaskill Claire Missouri Senate Race

Totally deserves an awesome mask

And to cap off our list of amazing women senators, Mazie Hirono won Hawaii’s open senate seat, thus making history as the USA’S first Asian American female senator. Whoo!

Mazie Hirono Senate Mazie Hirono 2012 Senate Hawaii

She needs a mask, pronto

My good friend and fellow Anti-Oppression Superhero, the Anti-Racist Black Bat (Cassandra Cain) (who happens to be one of the few Asian members of the DC Universe) is REALLY excited about Mazi Hirono’s election.

Cassandra is also rather pissed that it took until 2012 for an Asian-American woman to be elected to the Senate.

Cassandra Cain Batgirl Bat Girl DC Black Bat

Cassandra Cain AKA the AntiRacism Black Bat

The fun doesn’t even stop with senators! The great state of Illinois elected Tammy Duckworth to the House of Representatives. Duckworth served in the Iraq war, where she lost both legs. She is the first female war veteran with disabilities elected to the US House of Representatives.

Tammy Duckworth US Congressional Repreentative Illinois 2012

Awesome woman would also look awesome with mask

You will not be surprised to know that Disability Rights Oracle (Barbara Gordon) was thoroughly pleased by Duckworth’s election!

Batman Barbara Gordon Oracle Disability

Barbara Gordon AKA Disability Rights Oracle

And the great State of Hawaii elected Tulsi Gabbard, another female war veteran – AND the first Hindu member of the US House of Representatives.

Tulsi Gabbard Hawaii, US Representative Hawaii 2012 Hindu

Representative-Elect Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who would  look fabulous in a mask

But the best part of this election – and yes, we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet – wasn’t just that a League of Awesome Women were elected.

5. It was that the League of Awesome Women (in conjunction with the Anti-Oppression Superheroes) defeated the Evil Alliance of Rape Apologists.

Richard Mourdock Paul Ryan Todd Akin League of Rape Apologists

The Alliance’s Leaders are pictured above.

OH YEAH.

Senate candidate Richard “Rape Babies are a Gift From God” Mourdock? DEFEATED.

Senate candidate Todd “If It’s A Legitimate Rape, the Female Body has ways to Shut That Whole Thing Down” Akin? DEFEATED!

House candidate John “The Rape thing” Koster? DEFEATED.

House candidate Joe “‘there is no such exception as life of the mother” Walsh? DEFEATED. By the way, Mr. Walsh, if pregnancy can’t actually kill women, what happened to  Savita Halappanavar?

Vice Presidential Candidate Paul “Rape is just another method of conception” Ryan? DEFEATED.

All congratulations are due to The Consent Culture Batgirl (Stephanie Brown) who took point in the Anti-Oppression Superhero Alliance’s battle with the Evil League of Rape Apologists. I think we can agree she did a pretty fabulous job, no?

Batgirl Stephanie Brown Batgirl Robin Spoiler Consent Culture

Stephanie Brown AKA Consent Culture Batgirl

So, overall, I think the forces of Anti-Oppression did pretty well this election cycle, no?

We defeated the forces of oppression and darkness and plutocracy! We brought down the Evil Alliance of Rape Apologists! We elected a swath of Awesome Women!

Feminist Batwoman Returns Election 5

Time to celebrate, Feminist Batwoman style!

Its definitely party time at the Anti-Oppression Superhero Alliance Headquarters, if you know what I mean!

(No, I don’t mean an orgy. Get your minds out of the gutter).

Stephanie Brown Cassandra Cain Black Bat Batgirl Party

Anti-Racism Black Bat and Consent Culture Batgirl Hugging it Out!
(art by 89g)

Party! Party! Party!

Batwoman Batman February Cover Kate Kane JH Williams

I bought SO MANY STREAMERS

And I totally think CD should join us in this great party of activist joy, don’t you? Now that she’s undoubtedly been cheered up by all our good news!

Wonder woman batman wonder woman pictures

Kyriarchy-Blasting Wonder Woman is Bringing ALL the Confetti!

I mean, come on. We won! Time to stop moping and stop ranting and smell the Victory Flowers, no? Or else CD is going to go all Batman, and be angsty 99% of the time, and no one wants that, do they?

Ordinary Batman Adventures Cat Litter

See what I mean? ALWAYS Angsty. Even around kittens!

It’s time to bring the joy to CD, ANTI-OPPRESSION PARTY STYLE!

I’m just going to check CD’s agenda book and see when she’s got a free slot for the party, shall I? Then we can all persuade her to go.

Huh. Can’t find CD.’s agenda, but… there’s this blog post draft on CD’s computer. I’ll just go ahead and read it (Hey, I’M not Consent Culture Batgirl. Privacy is not my only priority. Also, CD and I are the same person friends!)

Feminist Batwoman Election Returns 6

Well, this blog post is disturbing.

And by disturbing, I mean:

What.

The Everloving.

Fuck?

Montana voters passed a state ballot measure that puts in place a parental notification law: any person under the age of 16 who seeks an abortion needs to notify their parents.  A PARENTAL NOTIFICATION LAW?

Well, HOW COULD THAT POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

OH GREAT, and IT KEEPS GOING.

After helping to pass Texas’ abortion sonogram law, Texas State Senator Dan Patrick is trying to cut off Rural Texans’ access to abortion. Because there’s nothing Dan Patrick cares about more than controlling women’s personal medical decisions!

The head of the Maine Republican party thinks there was voter fraud, because “dozens’ of black people showed up to vote, and no one in rural Maine knows any black people! Mitt Romney says Obama won because he gave “gifts” to women, young people, Latinos etc. Paul Ryan blames the urban vote (*cough* people of color *cough*).

Okay, I know I was complaining that CD seems really pissed off these days? BUT THIS? THIS IS PISSING ME OFF ALL OVER AGAIN.

Scott Walker is trying to end same-day registration in Wisconsin, because the best way to follow up an election full of voter suppression is MORE voter suppression.

In Kansas, the city of Selina passed a proposition that overturns the city’s protections from discrimination for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The City of Hutchinson also overturned their city’s discrimination protections.

ARGLEBARGLE.

Proposition 35 passed in California. It raises the penalty for those convicted of sex trafficking to as high as life in prison, which SOUNDS great, until you figure out that survivor groups were against the proposition. Why? Because the bill conflates sex trafficking and sex work, which means that both sex workers and sex trafficking survivors could be penalized, put in jail, put on sex offender registries etc. The bill will probably have a much worse effect on sex workers and victims than it will on actual bad guys. Melissa Gira Grant wrote a smarter and longer analysis of the problems with Proposition 35.

… And Oklahoma passed a constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action practices in state government hiring, education and contracting. But that’s okay, because apparently they weren’t using affirmative action anyway! And it’s not like there’s institutional racism or sexism in the USA, because, as everyone knows, we live in a post-racist and sexist society.

Feminist Batwoman Election 7

… yeah, okay. Maybe there’s a reason CD is still angry. Hell, I’M ANGRY.

You know what? Victory party canceled. We can have a victory party later. I can use the streamers to tie up some misogynists. Kyriarchy-Blasting Wonder Woman can use the helium from the balloons to power her invisible jet. We can throw the confetti in the eyes of the racists.

CD’s right. Our activism isn’t over, not even after this victory. People are still being oppressive asshats. A woman’s ability to choose is still under fire. People of color are still being targetted. Homophobia is still ruining lives. Misogyny is still rampant.

Time to get back to work.

ANTI-OPPRESSION SUPERHERO ALLIANCE, ASSEMBLE!

Batgirl Incorporated Barbara Gordon Oracle Batgirl Stephanie Brown Batgirl Incorporated Stephanie Brown Batgirl Cassandra Cain Black Bat Barbara Gordon Oracle

Renee Montoya Batman Comics the Question Batwoman Bat woman Kate Kane Batman Hydrology

Oh, uh – before I leave to go fight oppression, could you guys do me a favor?

Could you NOT tell CD that I was here?

Like, keep it all hush-hush?

Feminist Batwoman Election Returns 9

Also, you really don’t have to mention that I changed my mind and actually, we can’t celebrate yet because there are so many other things wrong in the world we need to deal with.

She doesn’t need to know she was right. That woman is not a gracious winner.

Just keep it… quiet, is my point. Okay? Okay!

Feminist Batwoman Election Returns 10

Great! I’ll be back soon, faithful readers! In the meantime, I will go forth into the Shadowy Corners of the Interwebs and Fight  Against Restrictive Gender Roles and All the Other Forces of Oppression!

Until next time.

- Your Friendly Interweb Feminist Batwoman.

Feminist Batwoman Election Returns 11

EDIT:

CD HERE. WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO WITH MY BLOG, FEMINIST BATWOMAN?

… oh, fuck. I knew I shouldn’t have had that half-glass of beer and put on the mask left my computer unattended. The Feminist Batwoman is devious. Super-devious. And in no way related to me. Ignore the shot of my shoulder in the last picture. That’s not my shoulder. I’m not the Feminist Batwoman. Yeah. I had nothing to do with this.

I need to change my passwords. AGAIN.

Anyway. Sorry about that, everyone. I’ll try to stay away from the mask keep a better eye on my computer in the future.

Although I do agree with the Feminist Batwoman’s point. We did win a big victory this November, and we should celebrate. But we should remember that there’s still a war on. It’s not time to lay down our weapons yet.

As Consent Culture Batgirl always says:

Stephanie Brown Batgirl Batman comics Bryan Q. Miller
I’m not ready for this to be the end of the fight. There’s so much ground to cover still. More misogyny and racism and homophobia and ableism and transphobia and oppression to uncover and stop. A new, better society to build.
What are you still fighting for?
ETA 2: Okay, FINE, ONE CELEBRATORY KITTEN GIF. But only because of the marriage victories in Maryland, Maine and Washington and Minnesota. And because of Tammy Duckworth and Tammy Baldwin and Claire McCaskill and Elizabeth Warren and Maizie Hirono and Tulsi Gabbard.
Kitten GIF kitten and mother GIF

Have a celebratory kitte

(Hat Tip to Flyover Feminism, The Rachel Maddow Show, The Melissa Harris Perry Show and Shakesville for giving me (and the Feminist Batwoman) all our election news, both good and bad)


Mitt Romney: Runaway Jane Austen Character

Did you fear I would never address the Obama/Romney election on this blog? Fear no more! The day of reckoning is here, and my ranting powers are at their full potential.

After all, it’s election time in the USA! Will we manage to survive yet another racist-ass, anti-woman, queerphobic disaster of a Republican Candidate (Mitt Romney) and elect a moderately conservative dude instead (Barack Obama)? Only time will tell!

Is Mitt Romney as horrible a slimeball as he appears? … YES!

Now, I know you don’t need me to tell you that Romney is a slimeball. And I know you don’t need me to tell you that he’s a racist, queerphobic, classist misogynist with big entitlement issues. Those things are pretty damn obvious.

kurt chris colfer duh gif

But there IS something I have to tell you. Hell, I put my entire blog schedule on hold for this huge insight into the character of Mitt Romney. It’s GAME CHANGING.

You should probably hold onto something.

Or sit down.

Mitt Romney…

Is a runaway Jane Austen character.

Mr. Collins waving GIF

Remember Mr. Collins?

MIND.

BLOWN.

RIGHT?

Oh yeah, I just brought in Jane Austen.

I… I think I just lost half my readership there. SORRY GUYS! I LOVE YOU! I PROMISE I’LL STOP TALKING ABOUT REGENCY  LITERATURE IN MY NEXT POST. I’LL STOP MAKING VERY BIZARRE SPECULATIONS! COME BAAAAACK.

Then again, the three literature/poli-sci geeks in the room just started fist-pumping. “Austen – Romney FTW!”

And as I am a literature/poli-sci geek… well.

So. Random fact:  I am totally obsessed with Jane Austen. I became an English literature student because of Jane Austen. I’ve read every novel Jane Austen ever published. I’ve read Jane Austen’s juvenilia. I’ve taken classes on Jane Austen. I’ve planned book-length projects on Jane Austen. I think about Jane Austen a LOT.

Jane Austen Cassandra Austen sketch

Jane Austen, on the other hand, does not think about me at all. *sigh*

And a couple weeks ago, I was walking to the library, thinking about Jane Austen (as you do), and how interesting it is that her marriage plot, which appears so stuffy to modern readers, was actually radical and revolutionary, because she gave her female characters the right to say “No” to marriage proposals. And isn’t it interesting how this “no” always shocked male suitors? The entire thing really exposes the way the clueless male suitors felt so damn entitled to getting women… wait… you know who else seems to have that massive sense of entitlement to getting people’s support?

Mitt Romney.

And I was all “OH MY GOD, I’VE GOT IT.”

Mitt Romney is the clueless suitor.

I immediately raced to twitter. “Romney,” I said. “Is like every boorish male suitor in Austen’s novels – Mr. Elton, Mr. Collins, Henry Crawford. The suitor asks the protagonist to marry him, and is shocked she could say “no, because, after all, they have MONEY. Just like Mitt Romney runs for president, and is shocked that people won’t vote for him, because after all, he has MONEY.”

I spent the rest of the day tweeting about this. People needed to know. They needed to know that Mitt Romney is a runaway Jane Austen character.

Now, I imagine you aren’t convinced by my brilliant thesis yet. Neither was I, at first. But the evidence kept piling up.

Let’s have a checklist!

1. The Longing Gaze

Jane Austen’s clueless suitors are known for gazing longingly at their object of their affection. In fact, Mr. Darcy’s longing stares at  Elizabeth Bennet are so epic, they’ve given rise to the term “Firthing” (longing, silent stares) in honor of Colin Firth, the actor who portrayed Mr. Darcy in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice.

Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth, Firthing.

“Firthing”: I will gaze creepily at you while never bothering to talk to you.

And Mr. Mittens Romney, Clueless Presidential Suitor?

ALSO known for his (vaguely disturbing) longing stares!

Mitt Romney longing gaze John McCain

“Oh, John McCain… will you ever return my affections?’

2. Sense of Entitlement

Austen’s Clueless Suitors are always shocked that the objects of their affection actually expect them to behave WELL. Notable in the Mr. Collins proposal scene, where Mr. Collins is all “what are you talking about with your “no thank you”? I have everything a woman needs!” Or, in Mansfield Park, Henry Crawford’s total confusion at the fact that Fanny doesn’t love him: “Sure, I behaved like a total manipulative douchebag for the past two hundred pages. But I’m hot! And thus entitled to your affections!”

Or the Mr. Darcy proposal scene, where Mr. Darcy finds it incredible that Elizabeth Bennet expects him not to act like an asshole. Yo, I’m already asking you to marry me, Lady. And now you want me to act like a decent human being?

Mr. Darcy proposal GIF OMG I can't Even

“I asked you to marry me, aren’t you just supposed to say “YES?”

Next thing you know, these pesky women will expect you to treat them like human beings!

The suitors, in other words, are very entitled.

And Mitt Romney has a very similar sense of douchebag entitlement.

“What, you mean campaigns involve work? And scrutiny? and QUESTIONS? Yo, I’m being nice enough to run, let’s not raise expectations too high, okay?”

Mitt ROmney confused

“Wait, I specifically told you not to ask me what my political positions are. That’s BASIC COURTESY, MEDIA.”

The poor man gets increasingly annoyed every time voters or the media dare to presume to ask basic questions, like “where are your tax returns?” or “can we get a press conference over here?” or “would you mind clarifying your position, please?” He seems to expect that we should just go along with his whole “don’t look at my record! Don’t look at my business record! Just look at the parts I want you to look at, and only as long as I want you to look at them!” schtick.

Note Ann Romney’s infamous quote on the subject of Mitt Romney’s invisible tax returns:

“We’ve given you people all you need to know!”

Ann Romney We've given you people all you need to know

Entitlement?

Check!

3. Hating Poor People

Jane Austen’s clueless suitors tend to also be giant snobs who highly dislike anyone in a lower class.

Example: Mr. Darcy, to Elizabeth Bennet, the woman he’s proposing marriage to: “Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?”

Mr. Darcy snob OMG so many peasants
And then we have the fabulous Mr. Mittens Romney! Mr. Romney, do tell us how you feel about poor people in the United States!

“There are 47 percent [of Americans] who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. (…) My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Mitt Romney mother jones video personal responsibility 47%

… I can’t even.

Or, translated into Austen speech:

Mr. Romney, courting the American vote: “”Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of 47% of the country? To congratulate myself on the entitlement of Americans, whose conditions in life are so decidedly beneath my own?”

SEE THE SIMILARITIES?

Mitt ROmney I'm not concerned about the very poor

Check!

4. Acting like people are lucky to be able to vote for/marry them?

Going along with the “sense of entitlement” thing: Austenian suitors usually act like the women they propose to are LUCKY to have someone so handsome/rich/competent asking for their hand in marriage.

Mr. Collins to Elizabeth Bennet, asking her to marry him:  “It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy your acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would be any other than highly desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of De Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in its favor; and you should take it into farther consideration that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you.”

mr. Collins pride and prejudice proposal scene movie

TL;DR: You are SOOOO lucky I want to marry you.

And Mr. Mitt Romney? Does he ever show any of this “you people are so lucky I want to be President” attitude?

Surely not! That would be too ridiculous! And entitled and…

Ann Romney: “It is time for all Americans to realize how significant this election is and how lucky we are to have someone with Mitt’s qualifications and experience and know-how to be able to have the opportunity to run this country.”

Mulan matchmaker GIF

… wow.

WOW.

(uh, HUGE CHECK) 3

5. Last, but not least: Super Awkward!

Indeed, Jane Austen’s clueless suitors tend to be catastrophically awkward and stiff (which makes them all the more hilarious).

Mr. Collins, as unstudied an air as possible.

SUPER AWKWARD!

Mr. Collins waving GIF

Mr. Romney, what sayeth you to this? Are you stiff and awkward?

Well, he loves laughter. So much.

And he’s so genuine.

… Your honor, I rest my case.

Legally Blonde courtroom scene

I REST. MY CASE.

… I’m telling you. It shocked me too, but it is TRUE. Mitt Romney is a clueless suitor. He has escaped from one of Austen’s novels to our world, and is now plotting his evil evil ways.

As Dani Alexis (@danialexis) reminded me on twitter: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a Presidency.”

Romney angry speech

Romney: “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My desire to be President will not be repressed.” (credit for quote: @danialexis)

HIS DESIRE TO BE PRESIDENT WILL NOT BE REPRESSED!

… quite a scary concept, actually.

You know what else? If Mitt Romney is actually a Jane Austen character (which I believe I’ve thoroughly proved by this point), it also explains why Mitt Romney has so many problems with women!

Yes, indeed! For, as Mr. Collins tells us: “As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall chuse to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.”

You see, women don’t have a problem with Mitt Romney because he’s from a party of giant misogynists who want to take us back to the stone ages. No! We’re just PRETENDING we’ve not going to vote for him, in order to increase his love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.

I JUST EXPLAINED THE GENDER GAP EVERYONE!

Cher clueless pushing guy EW

ELEGANT! FEMALE!

[She really loves him, she's just increasing his suspense]

So basically, we need Mittens Romney to ask women to vote for him a few more times, and we’ll totally change our minds!

Clueless Cher GIF Alicia Silverstone

… yeah, no.

I mean, I don’t want to make assumptions about anyone else’s political decisions, but… let’s just say I don’t think Mr. Romney’s “courtship” of my vote is going to end any better for him than Mr. Collins’ courtship of Lizzie Bennet’s hand.

Hey, Mittens, sorry, but I’m sending my absentee ballot off to the states just as soon as I find an American witness to… witness me voting.

And the name I checked?

Not Yours.

But hey, good luck with your attempt to court all us elegant females!

And all you elegant females? And males? Be forewarned! Mitt Romney’s desire to be President will not be suppressed! He’s going to be courting you pretty hard!

And as a runaway Jane Austen character, I think there’s a good chance he’ll start organizing formal balls.

Be.

Prepared.

Mr. Collins dancing GIF

Mr. Collins Style!

Mitt Romney Style!

*Many many thanks to Dani Alexis (@danialexis) and Celeloriel (@celeloriel) on twitter for putting up with my Austen/Romney ramblings, and for playing along and generally being awesome and brilliant.

** Before you ask, yes, I am aware that Mitt Romney is PROBABLY not a Jane Austen character. It’s a joke! I know it’s a joke! Moving on.


The Tale of The Gentleman Groper

Interesting thing you might not know about me: I often think in colors. In my head, for example, Jane Austen’s Emma is saffron-red (while Pride and Prejudice is yolk-yellow). English literature as a subject is a foggy blue. My first year of middle school in France evokes orange tones. My Future Wife makes me think of purples and browns.

And sexual harassment is bright lime-green and noodle-yellow.

Very cheery!

Okay, I get that was a bit of a random tangent. Everyone’s very confused. Everyone’s all “Uh, C.D., why is sexual harassment lime-green and noodle-yellow in the bizarre color-lexicon of your brain?”

Faithful reader, I will tell you. You see, a year ago, I got a summer job as a waitress/cashier/garnisher/busser/whatever at a local Noodles and Company.

Noodles and Company

You will note the presence of green! There are a lot of green decorations and signs and things at Noodle and Company. Also a lot of yellow, what with the omnipresence of noodles.

So when I think of Noodles and Company, I think of green and yellow.

… I see you using that deductive reasoning, dear reader! You are thinking “C.D. says sexual harassment makes her think of yellow and green, and Noodles and Company was yellow and green, so she must have been sexually harassed at Noodles and Company! LOGIC.”

And hey, if that was your thought process, you’d be right! I was sexually harassed at Noodles and Company, and that is why I associate yellow and green with sexual harassment!

Story time!

Mulan, Shang, Let's Get Down To Business GIF

“Let’s get down to business… to defeat sexual harassment!”

The summer-before-last, your faithful blogger (me) got a job at Noodles and Company, where she pulled long hell-shifts of doom (eight hours behind a cash register… one fifteen minute break… blaaaargh) and got paid a ridiculously small amount of money.

But hey, I have to admit, I enjoyed the work. If the pay hadn’t been so terrible, I would go so far as to say I enjoyed the experience.

Well, okay. That’s not strictly accurate. I would have enjoyed the job if:

a) the pay had been better and

b) I had not been confronted with The Gentlemen Groper

Mr. Collins Pride and Prejudice GIF

Think Mr. Collins, but without the charm.

I didn’t particularly like the Gentleman Groper. In fact, I rather loathed him. He didn’t do his job; he avoided managers; he was rude to customers; he made inappropriate jokes; he made life more difficult for everyone on his shift.

I was not a fan.

But whatever. I gritted my teeth and indulged in fantasies of chopping him up into noodle-garnish, meanwhile reminding myself that he was only seventeen, and that he might – MIGHT – eventually get over it.

And then he started poking me.

Sadly, I’m not talking a casual, one-time, “Hey, look at the giant Elephant eating the kangaroo over there!” poke.

Poke, starfire teen titans Robin GIF

Like that, but with more giggling.

The Gentlemen Groper (who should really be called The Gentlemen Poker, but that would ruin the alliteration) usually targeted my waist, my torso or my arms. His charming technique was to poke me until I yelped, and then giggle.

And he would not stop.

I’m not kidding, he would do this like, five or six times an hour. It was ridiculous (it also meant he wasn’t doing his job, which meant *I* was doing his job… all while getting poked).

Because all terrible things must get worst, the poking evolved.
After a few days, any time there was an excuse to touch me, the Gentlemen Groper took it. Dish to garnish? He grabbed my wrist to correct my sprinkling technique. Customer to talk to? He’d steer me towards them by grabbing my waist, even when I pushed him away. A break in the customer madness? Then it was time for spontaneous hugs! Eventually, he started pinching my arms and “accidentally” brushing against my breasts and ass.

Mulan butt slap GIF

Harassment: not okay, even when Mulan’s doing it.

And the poking continued.

Now, in “real life,” – in situations where I can’t get fired for punching people – things might have ended rather painfully for the Gentlemen Groper.

Because I am the Feminist Batwoman, and All Shall Fear My Wrath.

Lilo and Stitch GIF Batwoman

FEMINIST BATWOMAN RAAAGE

But I was at work, where stepping on The Gentlemen Groper’s foot or pinching the nerves in his forearms would not go over well. [hey, I knew a lot about self-defense. Where do you think I got these mad batwoman skillz from?)

So I tried a different technique:

"Stop."

"Please stop touching me."

"Gentlemen Groper, stop poking me."

"Listen to what I am saying to you. You need to stop touching me."

"I don't want you to hug me. Don't hug me."

"Don't grab my arm, Gentlemen Groper."

"Stop. Touching. Me."

"You do not have my permission to touch me."

"Stop."

"Gentlemen Groper, I'm not kidding. Stop touching me."

"Don't poke me."

I kept my voice low and serious. I refused to laugh. I did everything the textbooks on harassment say to do: I was clear, concise and forceful. And I'm pretty sure I used every variation on "stop" in the book.

None of them worked. The Gentlemen Groper would just laugh, and accuse me of being oversensitive. A few minutes later, he'd touch me again, and I'd suppress the urge to scream.

Lilo apology Lilo and Stitch

I WISH this had happened.

I told my friends and parents about the harassment. They were all supportive, especially my mother (who offered to come to the store and threaten the Gentlemen Groper with the force of her awesomeness), but at some point in our conversation, she said what I’d dreaded hearing ever since the harassment started:

“You know, maybe he’s just really bad at flirting.”

Jennifer Lawrence Oh Yeah GIF

What she said.

HAHAHAHAHAAHA… no

No.

No.

There is a difference between harassment and flirting.  I don’t care how terrible you are at flirting, the words “no” and”stop” always, always, ALWAYS mean STOP. And if you refuse to stop, then it’s not flirting anymore.

It’s harassment.

But even if I knew my mother was wrong, there was a reason I’d been dreading the flirting line. I was afraid. I was afraid that my supervisors wouldn’t see the Gentlemen Groper’s behavior as harassment. Or that my harassment wasn’t bad enough to “count” as real. That it would just be interpreted as harmless flirtation. That I would be accused of making waves for no reason.

So I didn’t ask to file a harassment form.

Instead, I started having minor panic attacks every time anyone came near me at my job. I was tense for entire shifts, waiting for the pokes and gropes and hugs that (inevitably) came. When work was done, I noticed that my muscles were actually sore with pain because I’d been holding them tight for so long. I approached shifts with the Gentlemen Groper by putting on tunnel-vision glasses so I couldn’t concentrate on anything but my job and the words I would (inevitably) need: “Stop.” “Don’t touch me.”

I used to love closing the restaurant; now, I hated working late at night. Closing shifts meant there was no one in the store except me, the Gentlemen Groper, and a manager. No witnesses. Worse was all the space between me and my bike, out in a dark parking lot with no one around. If the Gentlemen Groper wouldn’t stop touching me in public, what would he do in private, at night, where no one could see? How far would he go?

Once I got on the bike, though, I felt safe – finally. I’m a fairly fast rider at the best of times, but fear of the Gentlemen Groper made me exponentially faster.

Mulan horse GIF storm

Me on my bike (shut up, it’s an awesome bike)

I was safe.
Until the next shift.

There was a point when I actually started timing how long it took for me to get from the restaurant door to my bike.

That’s when I knew I was terrified.

That’s when I knew something had to be done. This was not okay. I couldn’t go through more shifts of constantly being touched. I couldn’t go through more shifts of wondering if things would get worse. I needed to do something.

Unfortunately, I was still too scared to file an official harassment report. So I did the next best thing. I started making a point of saying “No,” in front of managers. That way, I thought, they’d see what was happening, and they would back me up.

Oooh boy, was I wrong.

My new strategy worked about as well as my old one. I made sure to stick around the managers, so they wouldn’t be able to miss the Gentlemen Groper’s actions. Then Gentlemen Groper would poke me, or grab me, and I’d say “Gentlemen Groper, I’ve said this a hundred times. You need to stop touching me.”

I’d steal a glance at the managers to make sure they’d heard me. They had.

But they didn’t back me up.

Most of the managers said nothing, either to me or to the Gentlemen Groper. Worse, some of them encouraged him.

Examples!

Once, when I told the Gentlemen Groper I didn’t like being touched, a manager started laughing, telling the Gentlemen Groper I was playing “hard to get.”

After another poking incident, the Gentlemen Groper said: “I just poke you because I like you!”

To which a manager near us said: “Bet you don’t have any good replies for that one, C.D. He’s got a good point!”

Good point? GOOD POINT? I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware that the Gentlemen Groper’s good disposition towards me gave him unrestricted access to my body. I thought *I* was the only one who could grant that access.

Stitch fake death GIF lilo and stitch

My reaction

From those interactions, it was pretty clear to me that management just did not care. Correctly or not, I assumed that if I filed a formal complaint, the reaction would be the same – indifference or worse.

Discouraged, but not yet defeated, I continued my campaign of snapping at the Gentlemen Groper every time he touched me. I might not be able to stop him, but damn it, if I was going to deal with panic attacks, I was at least going to get the satisfaction of telling him off.

And it turned out I’d been wrong. One member of the management did care.

The restaurant’s single female manager had been on vacation leave for the past few weeks. The day she came back, the Gentlemen Caller and I had another one of our lovely interactions.

“Stop touching me.”

“But why?”

“Because I asked you not to, that’s why.”

“That’s not a good enough reason!”

Suddenly, the Managing Savior stepped in: “Yeah, but Gentlemen Groper, you need to stop touching C.D. If she says she doesn’t want you to touch her, then you don’t touch her.”

And then he stopped.

Sherlock fainting gif

I am not even joking. He didn’t touch me again for another two weeks (and then he started again, but that’s another story).
Talk about the power of management! I’d been telling the Gentlemen Groper to stop for weeks; the manager says one sentence, and BOOM.

Snape slapping Ron GIF

BOOM

***

Here’s the thing. My story  isn’t interesting because it’s rare. My story is interesting because of how fucking banal it is.

After the Gentlemen Groper stopped touching me, I found out that he’d done the same thing to every single woman on staff who was in my age range.

Every. Single. One.

He wasn’t just a Gentlemen Groper. He was a Serial Gentlemen Groper.

[Sidenote: you know how all the other women got him to stop? By telling the Gentlemen Groper that they had boyfriends. Because we live in a fucking patriarchy, where an invisible boyfriend has more authority over a woman's body than she does.]

Like I said, my harassment story is ridiculously banal. Even within my workplace, I was the rule, not the exception.

And out of my workplace?

31% of women report that they’ve been sexually harassed at work

7% of men report that they’ve been sexually harassed at work

62% of the targets took no action.

Sexual harassment isn’t some kind of rare crime that happens to people you don’t know. It happens everywhere. It happens to everyone. A third of the working women you know have been sexually harassed.

ONE.

THIRD.

And close to one-tenth of all the working men you know have also been sexually harassed.

Whooooooops.

Malificent Sleeping Beauty GIF Oh Dear What An Awkward Situation

Yeeaaaahhh…. I’m not sure “awkward” is the word I’d use.

Rage-inducing might be more like it.

WHY IS THIS EVEN A FUCKING PROBLEM?

I mean, I realize I’m reinventing the feminism wheel over here, but seriously. This is a problem that should never even be a problem, because people should know that “no” means “no.” They should know that people’s bodies are their own, and you don’t touch people without their consent. And managers should ENFORCE THOSE RULES, and pay attention when their employees are all “NO TOUCHING.”

Didn’t we learn this in kindergarten?

No touching! Arrested Development, George Bluth GIF

Here’s the end of the story:

My summer ended. I left to go back to school. And the Gentlemen Groper? He’s still there.

Other women will come and work at that store, and I don’t doubt he’ll do the same things to them that he did to me.

I know there are people reading this who will think I didn’t do enough. That I should have reported him, formally. That I must have been inviting the attention, somehow. I fear I’ll get a bunch of comments in the vein of “well, if you’d told him to stop in this very particular way, he would have stopped!”

Heck, there’s a part of me that believes that I could have done something differently. That I was inviting the attention, or that I’m responsible for the Gentlemen Groper’s future actions.

But let’s dissect that for a minute, my fair readers.

I was harassed. I was poked and prodded and groped. I lived in a near-constant state of panic attacks. And because all these shitty things happened to me, I’ve also been endowed with some magic responsibility to control The Gentlemen Groper’s actions for all of eternity?

With Great Victimhood comes Great Responsibility?

Tyrion Lannister Game of Thrones GIF

Tyrion Lannister Does Not Approve

What is this Reverse Spiderman crap?

I mean, seriously. Not only do I get sexually harassed (hurrah), but on top of everything else, my being sexually harassed gives me EXTRA responsibilities? The fact that I was harassed means I need to be subjected to even more more scrutiny and humiliation? I have to put my job and my safety even more in danger in order to report the harassment to supervisors who, let’s face it, didn’t look particularly interested in stopping it?

I told the Gentlemen Groper to stop in no uncertain terms. I did it repeatedly. I did it fifteen times a shift, occasionally.

And he did nothing.

My managers saw the Gentlemen Groper harassing me; they saw me tell him to stop; they saw him keep doing it.

And they did nothing.

So you know what? If you’ve read this post and your first reaction is “well, you could have done THIS differently” or “why didn’t YOU file a harassment report”?

Then I could give a fuck about what you think.

IDGAF Janelle Monae GIF

The person responsible for my sexual harassment?

The Gentlemen Groper.

The people who should have helped, but didn’t? [and who, in some cases, actively encouraged the Gentlemen Groper]

The managers.

Their behavior should be the issue, not mine. I know the extent of my responsibility in the incident of the Gentlemen Groper.

I know what I can do. I know what I “should” do.

***
Quick tangent: You know what the most annoying thing about this whole situation is?

The guilt.

I still feel guilty, two years out. There are parts of me that still feel like I should have been able to “handle it.”  I should have been able to have that legendary sense of humor. I should not have “overreacted.” I shouldn’t have bothered everyone with this. It wasn’t that bad.

Hell, why am I even writing this blog post? It’s not that big a deal! I should stop bothering all of you with my silly stories. There are people out there experiencing real sexual harassment, as opposed to… whatever happened to me.

Those feelings? Those are the most annoying part.

And that’s why I didn’t report the harassment.

That’s also why, I suspect, most people don’t report sexual harassment. Because we as a culture teach people – and especially women – that they just need to put up with this crap. We as a culture refuse to stand behind harassment victims. We teach people that they should be “flattered” by the attention. That they shouldn’t make a big deal. We remind people that their harassers have lives too: “Do you want to ruin the Gentlemen Groper’s life, C.D.? Do you want to ruin your manager’s lives by bothering them?”

Sexual harassment happens because our culture encourages harassers and silences victims.

***

I’ve gotten (somewhat) over blaming myself for the harassment. I’ve moved to a place where I can be proud of myself for recognizing what was happening, and for standing up for myself.

I’ve gotten over telling myself I could have done something different.

I’ve gotten over the whole idea that victims have a special responsibility to confront their harassers and magically end sexual harassment through the power of gumption and bootstraps.

But I wanted to do something.

My story is banal. There are millions others like it. But sexual harassment thrives in a culture of silence. We just don’t talk about it. *I* didn’t talk about it.

But I wanted to do something.

So I wrote about it.

Because the first thing we can do – the first thing I can do – is talk about the harassment. Stop pretending it doesn’t happen.  Tell people what it looks like. Make it clear that it’s not okay.

Sexual harassment thrives in silence. And no matter how guilty I feel for speaking up, I will not be silent anymore.

***

Resources: If you or someone you know is being sexually harassed, remember: the harasser’s behavior is not your fault or your responsibility.

Some people want help and advice. Hell, I could have used help and advice while I was being harassed. If you’re one of those people (and you don’t have to be)  here’s a good listing of sexual harassment hotlines and resources.

Another, less formal resource is Captain Awkward’s post on the Creepy Dude. It’s brilliant, funny and the  advice therein (and in the comments section) is remarkably not-victim-blamey and useful.

***

Comments policy: any victim-blaming bullshit will either be deleted or mocked. If you write an entire screed about what I “should” have done, you are warned, I will mock you, and I will not be nice about it.

General advice for sexual harassment victims  is okay, within limits. Tread carefully. Do not use the word “should.” Remember that people experiencing harassment have enough to deal with without being made to feel inadequate for not behaving “correctly.” Also, if your comment is anything like “well, you can magically control your reactions to being constantly groped,” I will mock you.

And if your comment is ANYWHERE near “but will all flirting be banned then?” or “it’s so hard for men; they constantly have to watch themselves to make sure they’re not making people uncomfortable” (wait, this is a bad thing?) I will mock you SO HARD.

Finally any comments diagnosing the Gentlemen Groper with some kind of mental illness or disability will similarly be deleted or mocked. Excusing the Groper’s behavior because of a disability/illness is insulting to other people with mental illnesses (like me) or mental disabilities, because it assumes that people with mental illnesses/disabilities are a) all assholes and b) are incapable of understanding the word “no.” The topic has been well covered elsewhere, but I’ll say it again: people with mental and social disabilities are still perfectly capable of understanding the words “stop” and “no.”

Stitch Lilo and Stitch caffeine rampage GIF

I will be like Stitch on a caffeine high with victim-blaming comments. You are warned.


A Bra Of One’s Own

A day late, but yes, this is the long-promised blog post where I talk about boobs. Watch my search ranking shoot up 1000%!

Yes, an entire 4000 word post on boobs!

Joan Christina Hendricks Mad Men Get Your Tits On

GET YOUR TITS ON, EVERYONE.

Let’s start with story time:

In the early days of my college years, I accompanied my Future Wife* on her first trip bra shopping. Or rather, her first trip shopping for an underwire bra: until the fateful bra-shopping day, Future wife had been a very happy sports-bra aficionado.
But now she wanted to try “traditional” brassieres. And I, the resident expert, stepped in to help.

[What is a resident expert, you ask? Well, on top of all my other wonderful qualifications, I have a PhD in lingerie. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement]

Now, faithful reader, if you yourself do not wear bras, you may be wondering what the difference is between a sports bra and a more traditional – or “underwire” – bra.

Quick Demonstration:

1. Underwire Bra: has individual cups that are usually molded to fit the shape of the wearer’s breast. [I mean, that's the theory. For 90% of bra-wearers, not so much]

fat heffalump plus size model bra

UNDERWIRE

2. Sports Bras: Sports bras restrict the movement of breasts, and are thus particularly useful for athletic activity (hence the name). They can be – and often are – worn in non-athletic contexts.

Venus and Serena Williams NY Times Magazine Deuce Sports Bra

Venus and Serena Williams, both wearing sports bra.

Bra-wearing folks sometimes prefer one type of bra to the other, and sometimes wear a combination of the two, depending on the occasion/ the clothes/ the physical activity/ what’s not in the laundry. It’s entirely a matter of personal taste.

Clear?

Clear!

Great. Let’s move back to the story.

Now, although I don’t have a PhD in lingerie (OKAY I LIED ABOUT THAT, SORRY), I had purchased underwire bras before. I therefore had a pretty decent idea of where Future Wife and I should shop. Since Future Wife and I were both poor college students, I steered her towards H&M, a magical store where you could buy an underwire bra for less than $20.

[Another random fact for non-bra-wearers: $20 is CHEAP for a bra. For comparison, bras at Victoria Secret, the most (in)famous lingerie store in the USA, usually cost at around $50.]

Future Wife liked H&M. But Future Wife also likes to try new things. Future Wife likes adventures. Future Wife likes to explore.

Future Wife wanted to go to the Victoria’s Secret store.

Victoria's Secret Store

Victoria’s Secret Store

Miranda Kerr, Victoria's Secret Commerical Boobs

Average Victoria’s Secret Commercial

Oh boy. OH BOY.

See, even though I was slightly more of an underwire bra expert than Future Wife, I had never been into a Victoria’s Secret store. In fact, I’d been avoiding it for most of my bra-possessing lifetime.

And I did not think putting a Modern-Day Hippie (Future Wife) and a Humorless Feminist (Me) in a Victoria’s Secret store was going to end well.

Victoria's secret Advertisement Miranda Kerr

Women as Christmas presents. Stay classy, Victoria’s Secret. Stay Classy.

But I was wrong. So, so, so wrong.

Putting a Humorless Feminist and a Modern-Day Hippie in Victoria’s Secret? HILARIOUS.

***

First: Future Wife discovers the Victoria’s Secret price tag

“This is eighty dollars! Why is it eighty dollars? It’s a piece of CLOTH.”

“To be fair, I’m sure there are at least four pieces of cloth involved in there.”

“I could sew a bra together for less than TEN dollars.”

“But would it have a pink-leopard-spot pattern? WOULD IT?”

“True. I’m not sure if I could live without the pink leopard spots.”

Victoria's Secret Pink Leopard Spotted Bra

PINK LEOPARD SPOTS. You’re welcome, Internet.

Second: Future Wife discovers the concept of a Push-Up bra

“What is this?”

“Oh, that’s padding. It’s a push-up bra.”

“… A push-up bra? Are you supposed to do push-ups in them?”

“No, you see, the inserted padding pushes your breasts up and makes them look bigger and bouncier.”

“Like balloons?”

“I mean, kind of – okay, yes. Like balloons.”

Victoria's Secret, Bra, Zebra Print Push-Up

At least a LITTLE like balloons.

“But what’s the point?”

“You’re asking me? What do I know?”

“Well, you’re the expert.”

“I mean – I think guys are supposed to like bigger boobs more? Maybe?”

“Yeah, well, I like being able to walk around without my breasts looking like balloons.”

“Me too.”

“The guys will just have to live with my non-balloon-y breasts.”

“A true tragedy, but I think they’ll live.”

“Where are the non-push-up bras?”

“They’ve got to be around here somewhere.”

*ten minutes of futile searching later*

“I told you we should have stuck with H&M.”

“Wait, this one doesn’t have padding.”

“That’s because it’s for triple D breasts. What about this one – OH MY GOD.”

“WHAT?”

“WHERE DO THE BOOBS GO?”

I had just discovered Victoria’s Secret’s Crowning Achievement: the double-padded bra. That’s right. DOUBLE. PADDED.

Inside of a 2 cup size bra

This image does not do justice to the ENORMITY of the padding. It was almost overflowing.

Maidenform Bra, Victoria's Secret, Giraffe Print d

The Add-two-cups Bra is now called the “Maidenform.” Also, what’s with the animal print, Victoria’s Secret?

“I don’t – I don’t understand. There’s so much padding, there’s no room for the breasts.”

“No, see, I think if you insert the nipple here and like, tape it down, it might be doable.”

“Yeah, cause I really want to tape down my nipple.”

“Fair point.

“What is this, one inch of padding?”

“Are you kidding? I think it’s two inches deep near the bottom.”

“Oh, I found the tag. Apparently it’s an “add-two-cup-sizes” bra.”

“Two cups? TWO CUPS? Why don’t you just stick two cups down your T-shirt? It would have the same effect.’

“Although much less comfortable.”

“True. This padding is very squishy. Wonder what’s in it.”

“Probably foam.”

” WAIT, WHAT DOES SHAVING CREAM HAVE TO DO WITH ANY OF THIS?”

I should note that as of the time I found the double-padded bra section of Victoria’s Secret, we were basically crying with laughter. You have to imagine this entire exchange interrupted with hysterical giggles. And an increasingly worried-looking staff hovering nearby.

Andrew Garfield laughing GIF

Like this, but with two people

“Some cups are made of foam. STYRO-foam.”

“WORST JOKE EVER.”

“GAH. Why would you even wear this? It practically makes your breasts levitate! It’s like putting them on a TRAY.”

“No, I think I’ve figured it out! There’s some kind of horrible boob-punching gang running around Wisconsin, and in order to protect our breasts from terrible damage, we need to wear extra padding!”

“That must be it! Why weren’t we informed?”

“Seriously. This is a major health risk.”

“We should ask the clerks if these bras protect effectively against boob-punching.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t. They’re looking at us like they want to call the asylum.”

“Fair point. Let’s get out of here.”

Add two cups victoria's secret

Sadly, we left the double-padded bra behind, and were thus without protection from the boob-punchers.

[I would like to belatedly apologize to the staff of that Victoria's Secret Store. We were really losing control there. Sorry guys]

***

Here’s the end of the story. We calmed down. We had a coffee. We stifled our giggles. We went to H&M. We found reasonably-priced bras.

All of them were padded.

Now, the difference with Victoria’s Secret was that with the H&M bras, the padding was removable. So Future Wife and I just bought the bras we liked… and removed the padding.

silicone bra inserts

I have a mini-pile of these in my closet.

*sigh*

Why did I tell this story (other than the hilarity)?
It’s the best illustration of my continued frustrations with bra-shopping in the United States. For indeed, since the dawn of my bra-shopping days, I have searched for that holiest of holy grails: the affordable un-padded bra for the small-breasted woman. I have enlisted knights and pages and armies; I have scoured vast stretches of Malls and Specialty Stores; I have even taken to the internet, and still, the grail remains out of reach.

Unlike the Knights of old, I do not seek the Grail for glory alone. I need the grail. You see, I am a card-carrying member of the Association of Small-Breasted Women. I usually wear a cup-size A, although I can go as low as an AA, and as high as a B, depending on the store.

If you have no idea what any of those numbers mean: I wear the lowest or second-lowest bra size. I’ve played a couple male characters in theater, and when I do, all I have to do for my chest to virtually disappear is wear a sports bra.

Yep. I have small breasts.

OH NO!

Professor Chang Angry Community

VERY UPSET

OH THE PAIN! OH THE HORROR! OH THE SUFFER -

Okay, yeah, I can’t do this.

I realize that according to the beauty standard for women, I’m supposed to be upset about my bra size. Very upset.

[blah-blah, Horror of Not Being A "Real Woman" blah-blah, The Terrible Curse Of Men Not Being Attracted To You etc. etc.]

But you know what? Fuck that noise.

My breasts are fine. I happen to like them. They’re easy to deal with. I like the way they look – and honestly, I’m the one who has to live with them, so my opinion is the only one that really matters.

That’s not, by the way, to say that there’s anything wrong with having larger breasts (or any size breasts!). My acceptance of my size is not a put-down of other people’s breasts. Breasts are great! Big breasts are great! Small breasts are great! Medium breasts are great! Lopsided breasts are great! ALL BREASTS ARE GREAT. The configuration of adipose tissue on one’s chest has absolutely no relationship with a their worth or with their beauty.

Tyra Banks You Wanna Be On top ANTM GIF

Tyra Banks says: Don’t Judge People For Their Boobz

Unfortunately, there are few things I hate more than bra-shopping. Because, as previously mentioned, finding an unpadded bra in my size?

Holy-grail level of impossible.

I tried this summer. I wanted one bra. A single one. No padding. I went to five stores, including Target, Boston Store, H&M.

I didn’t find a single one.

Padded bras? Sure. SUPER-padded bras? Yep. Add-one-cup-size bras? Everywhere. Add-two-cup-size-bras? WALLS of them. Push-ups? Absolutely.

Hell, I even found bras with INFLATABLE padding (and I thought that was an urban legend).

But despite groping enough bras for the cops to put me in a harassment registry, the unpadded size A bra remained elusive. I couldn’t even find the push-up bras with removable inserts. And worst, I’d spent days bombarded with dozens of advertisements explaining how I could turn my “A” into a “C” or explaining how push-up bras would make me “sexy.”

Because obviously the only way to be sexy is to have a “conventional” breast size. Urgh. I say again: URRRGH.

I’ve derived a few conclusions from the lack of unpadded bras:

1. If you have small breasts, you can’t possibly want to LOOK like you have small breasts.

2. If you have small breasts, your bra needs to fix you.

3. A small breast size is an inconvenient problem to be fixed.

4. One cannot have small breasts and still be sexy.

Most of these stores claim that their lingerie will make women feel “sexy” and “empowered.”*

But I don’t feel empowered when I walk out of those stores. I don’t feel confident. At best, I feel mad. At worst I feel discouraged Or ashamed. Because the constant barrage of “push-ups” purporting to “fix” my chest is enough to make even the most confident girl feel like there’s something wrong with her.

{*Women are certainly not the only ones who wear lingerie – a fact that none of the stores I frequent seem to be aware of. But that’s a rant for a different day]

***

Here’s the thing: I’m not inherently opposed to push-up bras. I don’t personally like wearing them, but I don’t begrudge anyone who does. Some of my similarly-sized friends buy them because they find that push-ups provide more support, or are more comfortable. Some people like for their breasts to appear bigger/rounder/fuller. Some clothes fit better if you’re wearing a push-up. One friend explained that she likes wearing push-up bras when she’s on her period because her breasts are sore, and the padding helps mitigate the pain.

All of these things are valid preferences. I am not at all trying to set up a dichotomy between good “natural” bras and bad “push-up” bras (and if that sentiment comes across, TELL ME, because I will fix it). If you want to wear a push-up bra, you should be able to wear a push-up bra (and you should not have to feel ashamed of that choice).

But what I resent is the lack of choice. What I resent is that wearing a push-up has become an OBLIGATION. I can’t choose not to wear one, because they don’t bloody well exist.

[in point of fact, they DO exist, but I have to go to more expensive stores to find them. Yes, it's more expensive to buy a bra without padding than a bra with padding. Excuse me, I need to pick my brain up off the floor]

Clearly, the stores I frequent think that if a woman has small breasts, she must want to wear padded bras. They’re only providing me one option because what other option could I possibly want? Un-padded?

HA! WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT THAT?

Merida shoot arrow gif brave

Next thing you know, you’ll be telling me some princesses would rather shoot arrows than get married. HAHAHAHAHAHA

This impossibility of finding an unpadded bra for small sizes is part and parcel of the our beauty standard – the same beauty standard that tells women there’s only one way to be beautiful. You must be thin and small-waisted and big-breasted, you must be white, or, if you can’t be white, you must be “exotic.” You must be tall, but not too tall, because if you’re too tall, you will emasculate men. You must be fit, but not muscled, because then you are too manly. Your hair must have volume and not too much curl. You need to pluck your hair here and shave it there, and there are no lines allowed on your face, because you don’t want to look old, do you?

Tyra Banks Angry Gif

Impossible Beauty Standard Make Tyra Banks Hulk ANGRY

And if your body does not conform, in some way, to this  impossible beauty standard, then you have an obligation to change it. You must wear spanx, shave your legs, wear black (because black is slimming. You must spend hours straightening (or curling) your hair. You must spend years on diets that may well ruin your health. You must spend hundreds of dollars on anti-aging products, and on bras that mold your breasts into the “perfect” size.

Whatever you do, don’t forget: You cannot sag. You cannot have lumps or bumps. You cannot have visible veins or scars. You cannot look like a fucking human being. You need to look PERFECT.

Healthy is the new skinny, Barbie as a real woman, Katie Halchishick

Kate Halchishick. What Barbie proportions look like on a real woman.

Listen, I love fashion. And I am no innocent when it comes to conforming to the beauty standard. I used to diet – I’ve even walked to the edge of an eating disorder. I shave my legs. I wear makeup. I use anti-aging products. I care way too much about which clothes make me look “skinny.”

I don’t think adhering to aspects of the beauty standard makes you a bad person or a bad feminist. But adhering to the beauty standard should be a CHOICE, not an obligation.

That’s the key. Clothes are not currently designed to fit the person who buys them. They are designed to make that woman fit into the beauty standard.

Underwire bras are supposed to be MOLDED to the shape of one’s breast. Instead, they now mold breasts into fitting an arbitrary standard of beauty and sexiness.

And if all clothes are designed to make women fit an arbitrary beauty standard, then there’s no choice at all.

Which is a problem, because one of the best ways to get rid of this ridiculous “objective” beauty standard is through the natural human diversity of appearances. But of course, if all clothes make you fit the beauty standard, then there will be no natural diversity of appearances, because everyone (AND ALL BOOBS) will look the same.

On one of my favorite shows, What Not to Wear(which has TONS of problems, but does a good job with body acceptance), the hosts have a great mantra: “If clothing doesn’t fit you, the problem is with the clothing, not with your body.”

(that was a total paraphrase, so don’t quote me)

Therefore, I say unto the bras of North America: y’all got problems.

What Not To Wear Stacy Clinton

Stacy and Clinton Disapprove of the Bras, Not of the People Wearing Them

***

Moreover, let us assume, for one second, that women are ONLY beautiful if they have larger breasts. It is a highly stupid assumption, but let us assume it, if only for the sake of argument.

So: women are only beautiful when they are large-breasted. Women are only attractive and sexy when they are large-breasted. Padded bras allow Unfortunate Small Breasted People like me to experience the joys of sexiness! Hurrah for padded bras!

But here’s the thing:

Being sexy is NOT the only reason I wear a bra.

I know.

Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother, Barney Stinson Mind Blown

*EXPLOSION*

Shocking, but true: A bra is not JUST an Instrument of Sexiness.

[On another note, I now want to create a line of musical instruments called "Instruments of Sexiness." There will be a lot of violas. Violas are very sexy]

The primary reason I buy – and wear – bras is not so that I look sexy/beautiful/attractive/whatever. And according to my bra-wearing friends, sexiness is not the primary reason they wear bras EITHER.

I wear a bra so that my chest stays still while I’m running around on campus. I wear a bra so my clothes fit semi-correctly. I wear a bra to provide a minimum of support for my breasts. I wear a bra to provide a second level of protection against accidentally flashing people.

A lot of my friends wear bras so that they can play sports. Some of them wear bras to help with back pain. Some wear bras to help with soreness.

There are tons of other reasons that people wear bras that are not directly related to enhancing their personal attractiveness.

Hell, on our epic Underwire Bra Shopping Expedition, my Future Wife almost didn’t buy her first underwire bra, because she thought it looked *sexy* and she didn’t WANT her bras to look sexy.

So yeah, people wear bras for other reasons than sexiness.

Again: Le shock.

The idea that women need – and want – to be sexy and attractive every second of every minute of every goddamn day needs to die in a fire.

I don’t need to be sexy every minute of every day. 90% of my bra-wearing time is spent in front of my computer, or in class, or cleaning my kitchen. Even assuming that people are only seduced by large breasts and that I, of course, want to seduce these people…

I’m not trying to seduce my fucking mop.

[Hell, I don't need to seduce it. I bought the damn thing, it's going to do it's job or I'll buy a NEW ONE.]

Ditto for my laptop: trust me, my computer  could care less if my breasts are twice as full as they are when un-bra-ed.

And same for most of my friends! My friends are lovely people. I think most of them can live with the heartbreak of seeing me wearing an unpadded bra (I mean, the bra is under my clothes, so it’s not like they’ve seen the bra full-stop. But you know what I mean).

Someday, the bra industry will realize that people wear bras for reasons other than sexiness, and it will be possible to buy a bra that is not sexy-fied to the maximum.

That will be a glorious day.

If only because I don’t want to send my mop the wrong messages.

[I mean, darling, you're a wonderful mop. Don't get me wrong. But I just don't feel that way about you]

***

I want to be super-clear that I’m not harping on individual bra-wearers who choose to wear push-up bras. Heck, I own a push-up bra. And I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be able to feel sexy while mopping, if that’s what they like. I like getting dressed up – in fact, I’m more likely to dress up if I’m staying home than if I’m going out (but I’m bizarre that way).

[Actually, ALL of my bras are push-ups (with one exception). I just removed the padding from three of them. The fourth has padding that cannot be removed by my skill]

What bothers me is the expectation that ALL bra-wearers wear bras to:

a) look sexy

and

b) enlarge their breasts (particularly we of the small-breasted variety)

And these two assumptions, which seem to govern the way bras are built and marketed, are NOT TRUE. Someone tell the fashion houses.

The problem with these two assumptions, moreover, is that it makes it nearly impossible for anyone – small-breasted, large-breasted, whatever – to get bras that actually WORK for them. Often bras are made to be sexy at the expense of other things, like comfort, fit, structure etc.

In spite of my complaints, I am extraordinarily privileged in terms of bras. I wear straight sizes, which means I can find bras that fit me (even if they are padded) at most stores. I can also find cheap bras in my size. Moreover, as a relatively small-breasted person, I can wear the vast majority of clothes- since most fashion is designed with a size D-or-under in mind.

If you do not fit these (very narrow) parameters – if you are not straight-sized, A-D-cup-sized; if your breasts are not symmetrical -  there are far more pitfalls in the world of bra shopping. Bras cost more, are harder to find, and often do not do their jobs (support). Others have written far more eloquently than I on this subject (I particularly like this post from Shapely Prose), but yeah: my problems are pretty small in comparison.

Bras are supposed to be items that help us. Support us. Fit our bodies. Now they’re just items that try to fit our bodies into the dominant paradigm.

Fuck One-Size-Fits-All-Beauty Standard, man. One size does NOT fit all, and Clothes are supposed to fit US.

I dream of a day when push-up bras of every size are next to un-padded bras of every size. When every bra-wearer can find affordable, comfortable garments that support their chest (or, in my case, lack thereof) properly. When every bra-wearer can decide for themselves what kind of bra makes them feel sexy, or healthy, or comfortable without issues of price or access. When people can own many types of bras – push-ups and unpadded bras and lace bras and leopard print and sport and extra-support.

Perhaps it’s not a big dream. But sometimes it seems like an impossible one.

Vonnie Seiyuki Chan beauty in all shapes and sizes

Image created by Vonnie Seiyuki Chan. I’m like, a third from the left.

I have been on this quest for my personal holy grail (a Bra of My Own).  And I do not think it will end soon.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there really IS a notorious boob-punching gang roaming around North America. Maybe that’s why we all need padding. THE BOOB PUNCHERS ARE COMING FOR ALL OF US!

Anyone here has bra-related quests/dreams of their own? We could team up and have a giant holy-grail team! Or we could have a giant anti-boob-punching-gang team. WE WILL DEFEAT THE BOOB-PUNCHERS!

Tyra Banks boobs gif

We can protect our breasts using the patented Tyra Banks method!

***

Notes:

* Future Wife and I are not yet married. We’re planning a fall wedding sometime in the next forty years or so. We’re not in a rush. We’d like a very long engagement. You are, of course, ALL INVITED.

** Interestingly, since I’ve returned to school in Canada, my friends have informed me of a couple places where I could probably find these holy-grail bras. They’re more expensive, admittedly, but they EXIST somewhere. My friends in the USA, on the other hand, were all “Yeah, you’re kind of screwed.”

*** Fun story about the usefulness (or not) of padded bras. The last costume I wore in a show was a dress with room for a very generous bosom. When I tried it on, there was a lot of… empty space, as it were. My director looked at me critically “What?” she said, waving her hands in front of my chest. “Are we going to do about this?”
Then she asked, looking guilty: “Have you considered… push-up bras?”
Me: “This is a push-up bra.”
Still the best moment of my theater career to date.
(I ended up taking all the padding I’d taken out of my OTHER push-up bras and stuffing them into my push-up. Not very comfortable, but it worked)
Oh, and hey, if you’re still not sure whether you should read this blog, feel free to read my new page: Objections/Praise for This Blog


“We need to start a movement”: My brother and I talk about middle-school bullying

[Trigger Warning for bullying, violence, homophobia, harassment, suicide]

I usually apologize for long blog posts. I have a short attention span; I’m sure my readers do too. But I’m not apologizing this time.

This post is different.

As most of my regular readers know, quite a few of my blog posts are inspired by my younger brother, R. Mostly because R. is awesome, and has great ideas.

This post is different.

Two years ago, during our winter break, R. and I went on a long walk through the streets of Madison. It was night, it was cold, I had heavy bags, but we were enjoying ourselves. We were talking about important things – books, our parents, movies, school etc.

At some point, I asked R. if he liked having an iPod.

Yes, he said. I listen to it on the bus back from school. After the day is over, I often feel frustrated and upset. So I turn on my iPod and listen to Adele or Coldplay, and it helps get rid of the stress.

Now usually, my brother likes school. I mean, obviously, there are good days and bad days and good teachers and bad teachers, but for the most part, he really enjoys it. He loves learning; he has lots of friends… school is good.

So hearing that R. was often frustrated or upset after a day at school was a huge red flag for me – and I asked him why.

That’s when he told me about bullying.

***

Discussions of teen bullying have been everywhere recently, from Lady Gaga’s anti-bullying campaign and Dan Savage’s It Gets Better movement, to worries about cyberbullying and the surge of teen suicide attempts. The most recent government survey indicates that 28% of kids in grades 6-12 have experienced bullying. I wouldn’t be shocked if it were more.

I knew bullying existed. It was still a punch in the gut when R. told me it was happening in his school.

I had a very mature reaction to the situation. My brother was going to drop out of school and never, ever go there again. And if that wasn’t feasible, I was going to drop out of college and follow him around with a baseball bat.

…yeah, that was a pretty terrible plan.

Eventually, I realized there wasn’t anything I could do except listen and offer advice. My brother, after all, isn’t getting physically bullied. He isn’t even getting harassed that much – at least in comparison to other students. He just goes to a school where bullying is constant and ubiquitous. He sees it happen every day. Sometimes it happens to him. Often it happens to his friends.

Over the past two years, I’ve listened with increasing horror to my brother’s stories. The kid whose facebook and email was spammed with “accusations” that he was gay. The guy who pushes other kids into lockers. The insults students yell at each other. The teasing. The shunning. The ubiquitous, constant, malicious gossip.

“You’re gay.” “You’re stupid.” “You’re fat.”

It never ends.

No wonder R. needs his music to calm down every day. It’s impossible not to be affected by it.

I can tell. My brother doesn’t enjoy school as much as he used to. He’s more stressed, and it’s not just because of homework or teachers. He often comes home angry and frustrated, needing to talk about the latest catastrophe.

I remember telling R. that Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, bullied a closeted gay student when he was in prep school. I’ve rarely seen my brother that outraged.

Worse was when R. saw the Rolling Stones article about the Anoka-Hennepin school district, where students who appear to be LGBTQ are constantly harassed, teachers are forbidden to offer them help and nine students committed suicide within two years. Reading the article, he went dead silent. After a few minutes, he turned to me and asked, in a tone I’ll never forget:

“How can people let this happen?”

[Although I highly recommend the article, it is extraordinarily difficult to read. Warning for homophobia, bullying, suicide, violence]

Bullying poisons children’s lives. It destroys their safety. Sometimes, it even kills them.

Not to mention that it’s ruining their education. No matter how good a teacher or a school is, kids aren’t going to learn well if they’re constantly scared.

I think the anti-bullying campaigns are good, I do.  I’m glad bullying is finally getting discussed in the media. I’m glad people are starting to see it as a valid issue. I’m glad they’re trying to find solutions.

But sometimes, I look at the pundits talking and the teachers worrying and the celebrities campaigning, and I worry that the kids voices are getting lost. Adults have found a problem, and adults will impose solutions.

One of the most important things we can do is to listen to students. To provide a space for them to tell us their stories, their experiences, their ideas. After all, it’s their fight. We’re not going to end bullying without them.

So before my brother left for France, I interviewed him about bullying at his school. I used my computer to record our discussion. With his permission – and his help – I’ve now transcribed the recording, with a few minor edits for length and for clarity.

We need to hear more of these stories.

A few important notes: My brother is entering the eighth grade and goes to school in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s male, cisgendered, white, and currently identifies as straight (I say “currently” because he’s twelve – any conclusion about his sexual orientation is premature at best). I’m a college student now, but I went to the same middle school he now attends, and he’ll be going to my former high school.

Also important: no real names were used in the interview – I swapped out any names my brother mentioned with pseudonymns.

***

CD:  Testing one – two – three. Okay, so… We’re recording as of now.

R: Wait, how does that thing work?

CD: It’s just recording our voices.

R: That’s so creepy!

CD: *laughs* You want to listen to this section back?

R: Sure. *rewind and listen*

CD: Aha! We’re recording again. First, I want to thank you, R. for agreeing to get interviewed by me.

R:… you’re welcome? *laughs*

CD: Yeah, you don’t have to act like we’re in a formal interview… everyone knows we’re bizarre. Anyways. The idea for this interview came when I asked you what kind of blog post I should write next, and you said I should write about bullying in middle school. And I said – well, I don’t know that much about bullying in middle school. Maybe I should ask you.

R: Yeah. That sounded like a good idea.

CD: It was interesting for me over the past two years or so because middle school… was not the best time of my life. But I didn’t get bullied in American middle-school, and I don’t remember other people getting bullied either. Which doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but I don’t remember it at all. I did get bullied in French middle-school and that was really unpleasant; it just didn’t happen when I went to our American middle-school. But you’ve been saying that now there’s a lot of bullying at your school.

R: But wait. Didn’t you get bullied when people made fun of you for being French?

CD: Yeah. But that was mostly in high school, actually. And wasn’t… constant. It just happened sometimes.

R: Teasing?

CD: Exactly. Which I gather is a big problem at your school too -

R: Yeah, there is a lot of bullying at my school. And the teachers aren’t solving it, even though they’re trying to. They don’t have the right approach.

CD: What’s their approach right now?

R: Doing a two-million dollar anti-bullying program called Hawk talk -

CD: Wait – Hawk as in the bird?

R: *rolls eyes* It’s our school mascot.

CD: *laughs* Oh god. That’s so -  Okay, okay. Hawk. So what’s the Hawk Talk?

R: Pretty much – every morning, you get thirty minutes extra with your homeroom teacher. And your homeroom teacher opens up this anti-bullying booklet and then talks about stuff we’ve covered millions of times over the years. Again. And Again. And Again. It’s really cheesy. No one likes it. And then the teacher make you fill out worksheets about what you would do in a bad situation. But nobody actually pays attention.

CD: Yeah.

R: They also have bullying forms, so if you’re bullied you can fill it out. They say it’s confidential, but it’s really not. I’m sure tons of people are afraid that if they’re bullied and they fill out the application, the bully will -

CD: Find out.

R: Find out and… kill them.

CD: Aaaaah! Seriously?

R: Well, not kill them. But you know what I mean.

CD: Yeah. Retaliation. So… what do they talk about, the teachers? Is it just telling you that bullying is bad? Or -

R: Exactly. They just talk about how bullying is bad. But everyone already knows that – and they still do it.

CD: Right.

R: They’re covering the same material. Nobody really cares anymore. And bullying hasn’t gone down by a significant margin since they started. It’s not working. So they need to find some other way of stopping bullying.

CD: I though – one of the things that’s really striking for me – when I listen to you talk about bullying, it seems like it’s everywhere. And it seems like it’s everyone, almost.

R: I think a lot of people bully and they almost – don’t realize it. I’ve seen kids saying that the new law in North Carolina that’s prejudiced against gay rights is bad – and then I hear the same kids turn around and taunt other students for being gay.*

[*He's referring to the newly passed North Carolina law that bans gay marriage]

CD: Seriously? Wow.

R: Right? It’s… very weird. People don’t realize they’re being bullies; they don’t realize that they’re being that hurtful. And, you know, if you make enemies of popular kids, they’ll gossip about you. If you made enemies of some people, they spread information throughout the school, and you turn into someone to be made fun of. It’s happened to several kids and – it’s really horrible.

CD: Right.

R: It’s  – it’s a little like – you know, you make any little mistake. If you accidentally push over a popular girl, she might spread gossip about you to everyone else, and within five minutes, people will be laughing and pointing and you won’t even know why. So that’s a really big problem.

CD: Yeah… *long pause* Now we’re smiling at each other like dolts, because we do that all the time.

R: I’m smiling because you’re weird.

CD: Too true. Moving on. From our conversations – it also feels like almost everyone gets bullied.

R: Um -

CD: Or am I misreading?

R: No, I’d say that’s true. Almost everyone gets bullied, but some people get bullied a lot more than others. Especially kids who aren’t popular.
You know, right now it’s like a hierarchy. When students try to move up in the world, they get made fun of a lot. I see this at school all the time, and I saw it at my last camp. There was a kid who joined a group of people – because at camp, people divide up into groups, which is very similar to what happens at school. He was trying to be friends with them, and they would act totally friendly, but when he left, I would overhear them saying “oh, he’s so weird” and stuff like that. So people started looking at him funny, and more people started making fun of him. I was one of his other friends, and luckily, he started moving away from that group.

CD: That’s good.

R: Right. But that doesn’t always happen. Bullying victims – often they don’t get support, even from friends. And at school, people can pretend to be nice, but they can be horrible behind your back – make fun of you, and bully you.

CD: I heard about one kid at your school – people started spreading a rumor that he was gay, and it was all over – on Facebook, email etc. And everyone was talking about it behind his back.

R: That’s happened two or three times.

CD: It’s happened more than once?

R: Yeah. And I feel horrible for those people, because – first of all, being gay shouldn’t be a bad thing. Second of all – I mean, who is cruel enough to do that? It’s horrible.  The poor guy, he’s probably being made fun of all the time. I mean, I’m sure he was really damaged, especially if it was all over facebook. I don’t have a facebook, but I know if you put stuff on facebook, two hundred people know within two hours.

CD:  The joys of the internet.

R: Yes.

CD: And I know – you’ve been called gay once or twice.

R: I was doing a presentation for Health and Wellness, and I was being falsely cheerful, because I hate Health and Wellness.

CD: *laughs* Ouch.

[I hated Health and Wellness too, for the record]

R: I ended the presentation, and someone shouted out “gay.” But it was really nice – you know, my feelings were hurt, absolutely. But the rest of the class just told that person they were being mean, and to stop it. Which was really nice, and that actually helped me. There are some things where people realize that you’re being bullied and they -

CD: And they tell people to stop.

R: The school slogan is “Name it, Claim it, Stop it.” Name the bullying, tell the bully what it is, and say stop it. Which… sometimes works, but most of the time, the bully totally ignores it. It’s hard – you see some people try to stand up for others, but it’s really hard to stand up against a bully who is popular, or who has a lot of friends who are bullies.

CD: Yeah, because you don’t want to be the one who becomes bullied.

R: Exactly. That’s risky.

CD: It seems like the word “gay” has sort of become – the problem isn’t that people are gay. It’s just a fact of life. Some people are  gay, some people are straight, some people are bisexual, some people have other orientations. The problem is that the word has become -

R: An Insult. It’s like saying “you’re stupid.” Or “You dress weird.” It’s pretty much: “You dress weird, talk weird, are really strange” – all in one word. That’s what it’s become, and that’s just not good.

CD: Yeah.

R: Bullying – comes from a lot of things. One of them is, if you’re bullied, the bully might actually be afraid of you. Bullying is a lot like, you know -racism and sexism. It’s a lot because people are afraid of people who are different. So they discriminate. Or they bully.

CD: I know you have a friend who is openly gay. Does he get bullied more than other students, or are people okay with it?

R: Well, actually, he’s not openly gay.

CD: Ah. Hold that thought.

R: Yeah. He has told a couple people – his close friends – and we are totally fine with it.  But if he was openly gay… I think he made a very good decision in not coming out. Being openly gay is a good thing. And people should absolutely feel safe enough to do that. But if you’re in middle school, and especially in my school, if you were openly gay – life would turn into a living hell for you. For sure.

CD: WOW.

R: Absolutely. People you thought were your friends would probably just – be repulsed.

CD: You know what I find really disturbing about this is… we live in Madison. And Madison is like, socialist hippieville. We’re one of the most liberal places in the country. So if even here, it isn’t safe to be gay, or lesbian or bisexual in middle school, that’s really sad.

R: It is really sad. And even when people believe gay people shouldn’t be discriminated against – as I said before, the guy who was against the North Carolina law also makes fun of kids by calling them gay. It’s like – what the hell is wrong with you?

CD: Do you not realize you’re contributing to the problem?

R: Exactly. And you know, I think the adults really don’t discriminate against gay kids – the adults in our school. But with the kids, it’s become this thing. You know, you’re gay – that means you’re different. I mean, racism is still present in the school, but it’s not that present. It’s a very minor problem. Well – what I mean is, in terms of insults – people aren’t made fun of for their race. Now “gay” is the new big insult.

CD: It feels like -  if someone were to make fun of someone else for being Black or Hispanic or Asian – that would not be cool. But it’s still sort of cool to make fun of people for seeming gay.

R: Calling someone gay is – now people think of it as, it’s not that big of a deal to say. You won’t get in trouble. If you’re racist towards someone, the teachers will immediately – kill you.

CD: *laughs*

R: It’s over. But insulting someone for their sexuality… you won’t get in trouble. And in some schools, I know teachers aren’t even allowed to express their opinions on that, or help kids who are being harassed for being gay (he’s referring to the Rolling Stones article). They can’t tell someone to stop calling another kid gay.

CD:So – people get made fun of for being or acting gay – whatever that means. What other kinds of things do people get made fun of for?

R: Being gay – or acting “gay” -  is the top thing. But, after that, it’s a lot of small thing. Appearance is big. If you dress different, or you dress “weird,” you’ll get teased. If you’re fat, you’ll get teased. Even if you’re not fat, but you just look – different – you’ll get teased. If you do something wrong, you might be teased about it too. Bullying is a major problem in our school, but most of it has to do with gossip.

CD: That’s interesting.

R:  People think it’s just a girl problem, but it’s really not. I think the story about girls gossiping more than boys might be sort of true – I don’t know, I’ve never been a girl – but boys still gossip a lot. I think the blame is just about equal. Girls do gossip a lot; boys gossip a lot -

CD: The girls gossiping more than boys might be a bit of a stereotype.

R: I think so. I mean, I know boys gossip a lot. It’s horrible, because the gossiping thing – one thing will spread around the school in five seconds. It goes very fast, because you have tons of people.

CD: And gossip is really hard to fight because – it’s a form of bullying, and it contributes to bullying, but it’s also a way people bond, and it’s often an important part of people’s friendships. You want to be able to tell your friends secrets.

R: Right. It’s a big thing, to be able to trust someone with your secrets. But at my school, you have to make absolute certain, if you’re going to tell someone something, you have to be 120% sure that they’re not going to tell anyone. If you 100% trust them – that’s not good enough.

CD: *laughs* Wow

R: One of my friends told me who he had a crush on, and I didn’t tell anyone. He told another close friend, and that person didn’t tell anyone. He told another person, but he made a mistake, and that person told everyone.

CD: Oh no!

R: In a matter of days, he thought that his crush now knows that he likes her, which… is horrible. Then that makes the whole situation really awkward. And of course, people were making fun of my friend for liking this girl, and they were making fun of the girl too. So yeah. Gossip is huge. And things get twisted as people tell them to each other.

CD: Right. It’s not “Jess likes Samira” anymore, it’s “Jess went up to Samira and asked her to get married.”

R: Exactly.

CD: I know there were times when you didn’t want to go to school – I mean, okay – there are lots of reasons you don’t want to go to school. But there were times when it felt like the atmosphere was so negative, you just didn’t want to be there.

R: When people are being extremely mean to each other, and bullying is super common, and my friends are being bullied – yeah, I don’t want to be there. One thing that happened recently, for example: a guy who I knew was a bully became friends with my best friend Joseph. And I was… I didn’t judge Joseph, but I was sort of worried. And one day, Joseph was really sad because this friend started to harass him. He started being mean to him, and tease him. Joseph asked him to stop, but the guy didn’t. So Joseph said, if you don’t stop making fun of me, I can’t be friends with you.  And the guy was just like – it doesn’t matter, I have lots of other friends. That was really bad. It was horrible, actually. Even after Joseph stopped hanging out with him, the guy just kept harassing him. And Joseph was upset for a really long time.  So it’s really hard to trust people.

CD: I can imagine. Question: do people get physically bullied? Like – pushed, punched, poked, whatever.

R: Physical bullying is not that common at all. It’s very rare. It’s the kind of bullying – it’s old school bullying. Back in the day, if you beat someone up, the teachers didn’t care. But now – if you beat someone up, you’re suspended, you’re expelled – you get in deep trouble. On the other hand, if you just call someone names, nothing will happen to you. And that brings me to the other kind of bullying that’s a huge problem at our middle school, and that’s – cyberbullying. It’s extremely common at our school. It’s probably even bigger than in high school. Maybe. I don’t know, because I’ve never been to high school. But I know you have – so was there a lot of cyberbullying when you were in high school?

CD: There wasn’t with me. But when I was in high school, I wasn’t really involved in the online scene. And things like facebook were new back then, so I think people hadn’t figured out how to take full advantage of it for its bullying potential. How does cyberbullying work at your school?

R: Well, obviously the trolls. People who just go on your facebook or your email, and write “I hate you, I hate you.”

CD: You guys already have to deal with trolling?

R: Yeah. And a lot of it is on email. People send tons mean emails to other students. And I’ve heard that on facebook, there’s a lot of bullying.

CD: Like – how? People writing mean things on other people’s walls -

R: That. That, and also, negative information can be spread very fast that way.

CD: Yeah. Like “Hey R. I hear you’re in love with your teacher Mrs. Mendelsohn.”

R: Aaaah. CD… that’s weird. Ewwwwwwwwwww. Anyways. What was I going to say?

CD: How would I know? Oh, right, my secret power as a mind reader.

R: *rolls eyes* My point was that my dad thought I had facebook at one point, and he was worried because he knew a lot of cyberbullying at my school. My parents have received emails about cyberbullying incidents. And on facebook, you’re extremely vulnerable to cyberbullying. And now that everyone has cell phones – it’s texting. People texting all the time, especially mean gossip. So it spreads extremely quickly.
And now, it even spreads to people who aren’t at your school – who are at other schools.

CD; Right. So you could just show up to another middle school, and say “Hi, I’m R.” and everyone would be like “Oh, hi R. We know everything about you! Like how you’re married to Mrs. Livingstone! And you’re in love with… Miguel and you’re gay and…”

R: Exactly. And I think it’s more harmful because when you’re on the internet or your cell phone, people say meaner things. You might not call someone stupid to their face, but you might send them an email or a text that says “you’re stupid” or “you’re ugly’ or “you’re gay.”

CD: Right. So, let’s talk about solutions. Or the current lack thereof. Right now, your school has a big anti-bullying campaign and it’s been going on for what – two years? Three years?

R: Something like that. A while.

CD: And it doesn’t seem to be doing very much.

R: Nooo.

CD: It just seems to – almost – it makes everyone bored.

R: It might even make it worst, if possible.

CD: It almost makes it cool to be a bully, because the adults are uncool.

R: Exactly.

CD: Do you think the adults understand the bullying problem? Okay – let me rephrase -

R: One thing I don’t think the adults understand is the hierarchy in the school. Even if the bullying stops, you will be regarded as a lower being and gossip will be spread about you. The problem is that the hierarchy makes people unsafe.

CD: Right. I think maybe – adults understand physical bullying. And they understand if someone were constantly called stupid or gay. But stuff like gossip, I don’t think they necessarily see why -

R: Even when someone is called stupid or gay, I think it’s really hard for adults to stop the bullying. They can’t give the bully a valid threat or a good reason to stop.

CD: Okay. That’s a problem. Actually, now that I think of it: you know the story you told about the kid calling you gay in front of the class? I find it really striking that it was the students who shut him down, not the teacher. Did the teacher say anything?

R: No, she didn’t say anything. She didn’t try to stop him.

CD: Well – urgh. Because if your peers hadn’t stood up for you, it would have made it seem like name-calling was okay.

R: I agree. The thing is, I don’t think the adults know how to help people who are bullied. And I think the best thing adults can do is strengthen the victim. To get the victim to a place where they can feel safe standing up for themselves. It’s not that they need to feel strong enough to stand up for themselves, they just have to feel safe. But right now, our school isn’t safe. Some people are very vulnerable. So we also need to work on ways to get the bully to stop, and that’s… difficult. Bullying is a problem where there might not be a real solution.

CD: I think – I think bullying is a problem that requires a lot of work and it requires a lot of different small solutions.

R: Exactly. I think it’s not something where there won’t be one magic pill that solves everything. Unfortunately. One bullying program is not going to do much.

CD: Are there times where you’ve seen, with your friends or your peers, where you’ve seen bullying get stopped? Like the incident where you were called gay, and your classmates shut it down.

R: Yes. That was one instance where it got stopped.

CD: Can you think of other ones?

R: Unfortunately… no.

CD: That’s bad.

R: It’s possible, but I’ve not been there. I think a lot of people are afraid to stand up. The exception is:  when something is really mean, people do stand up. The problem is, when it gets really mean, it’s usually after the bullying has been going for a while. So the victim will be grateful for the help, but they’ll still be hurt. A lot. The damage will already have been done. What you need to do is stop the small stuff. We have to stop it when it starts.

CD: I think one of the things it has to be is – it has to be a really individual commitment. Which is hard. Especially with things like gossip. It has to be an individual decision – something like: “I have decided that I’m not going to gossip.” And then, telling other people, if they try to gossip with you: “Guys, I love you, but I don’t want to gossip with you, because I know that that often hurts people’s feelings, and I don’t want to be part of that”

R: Yeah.

CD: Yeah, sorry. I know I sound really cheesy right now. There are better ways of saying it. “Let’s not gossip, let’s go play Frisbee instead.”

R: Right. Exactly. *laughs* Playing Frisbee solves all the problem.

CD: It’s how I solved all my problems. It’s not that we need to sit around and say “we love everyone and want to be friends with everyone.” It’s just getting to a place where people aren’t feeling attacked all the time.

R: And the individual commitment – it’s hard to be committed when you’re a bully.

CD: Well, you’re certainly committed to something… you’re just not committed to stopping bullying.

R: No duh. Being individually committed to stopping bullying would really help – if people would just try to stand up for people who are being bullied. And the more people that do that, the less weird it’ll seem when someone stands up.

CD: I think that’s part of it. Right now, there’s almost a peer pressure to bully. Or at least, if you’re not going to bully, not to stop people from bullying. And instead, there needs to be a peer pressure to stop people from bullying.

R: Exactly. More people just need to start doing it. Start trying to stop it.

CD: And I think that’s really tough – don’t get me wrong.

[At this point, we're interrupted by two phone calls. Then our stepsister asks if we want to go to the beach with her. We say yes and resume recording after our beach trip.]

CD: And we’re back, ladies and gentlemen and listeners of all ages and genders. Before I forget – one of the things I said to you while we were at the beach, which I think is interesting more generally is – in social justice, or in anti-oppression politics, we talk a lot about how there are people who believe that words don’t matter. They think the only kind of violence that can hurt people is physical violence. But it seems like that’s really not true with bullying.

R: Yeah…. no. Those people are just wrong in every possible way. So many problems, so little time. I’d say that words hurts people a lot more than violence does, especially these days. Gossip, cyberbullying – those are all words. And they really do hurt people.

CD: And if words didn’t matter, you could just go around and say “Who cares who calls me stupid?” But it does hurt, and it does matter, and it does make a difference.

R: There’s an old saying that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But that’s wrong, ladies and gentlemen. That’s just wrong. There are things that people have said to me that still hurt, a year or two later.

CD: I agree. I’ve heard the saying re-worded as “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can scar me forever.”

R: Yeah. I think that’s a much more accurate phrase.

CD: Before we left, we were talking about solutions…

R: Yes. We were. And we were talking about how individual commitment is really important. and how we should stand up more for victims.

CD: But standing up for others is hard if you yourself feel vulnerable.

R: It’s a vicious cycle, because you get bullied, so you feel vulnerable. So you don’t stand up for other people. So more people get bullied, and they feel more vulnerable, so they don’t stand up for other people. So more and more people are bullied, and there are more and more victims. You have to get out of the cycle somehow. It’s tricky.

CD: One thing is: if you and your friends – For one thing, you can always stand up for friends that are being bullied.

R: Yes. That’s a lot easier than doing it for people you don’t know.

CD: It’s easier to say “Oh, people are saying mean things about my friend Jess, so I’m going to tell them “no, you guys, this is not okay.”

R: Or you can say “I’m not going to talk to you guys if you say mean things about my friend Jess.”

CD: Exactly. And maybe it’s also a good thing if your group of friends makes a decision that you’re all going to stand up for each other. So everyone knows – in an explicit way – that you guys will always help each other out. That way, if you’re being bullied, R., you know that you can go to your friends Joseph and Tom and Miguel and say “Guys, can you help me?” And you’re not embarrassed, and you’re not worried that they’ll say no, because you guys have already talked about it.

R: Yeah. Exactly.

CD: And even starting with a couple of friends that you know you guys have decided amongst yourselves that you will stand up for each other – that helps. Then when you as a group feel safe – and when you feel comfortable, you can say “okay, that guy over there isn’t our friend, but we know him and we like him. People are calling him gay, so we’re going to go over there and say “not cool guys.” In a less cheesy way. Because your sister is the king of cheese.

R: I mean, that’s the only way I’ve seen bullying get stopped. When friends stand up for you, or when other people tell the bully to stop.

CD: That’s true: from all the conversations we’ve had, and from everything you’ve said to me, it seems to me that the only way bullying will stop is through peer-to-peer techniques. I don’t think a top-down, teacher-and-administration effort will work.

R: It’s never really going to stop. I think we need to reduce it dramatically, and do a lot more to help the victim. It’s a little like – hunger will never stop -

CD: – but that’s not a reason not to try and make it better.

R: Exactly. And I agree – I think adults imposing a program is not very effective at all.

CD: Our stepsister* was telling us that kids actually bully other kids using the anti-bullying program. Like, they make fun of the program, and then they make fun of other kids using the program – or kids who participate in the program, or who try to follow the lessons -

[*Our stepsister is in R.'s grade, and goes to the same school]

R: Yeah exactly. Because they’re like “that’s so stupid.” It’s just another weapon.

CD: So I guess the question I have is – I’m not really an adult, but in your life, I’m sort-of an adult. And as a sort-of adult, I can completely understand that if you were a teacher or another adult, you would want to help kids. You would want so stop bullying. So do you think there are ways to do that without making it worse? Without just saying “bullying is bad, don’t do it?”

R: Yeah, I think there are better ways teachers can help. You know, I think one of the big lies adults tell you in middle-school and high-school is that they’re always there for you. And sometimes, they’re really not.

CD: Yeah.

R: One thing is, if they could make the victim feel safer in reporting. It needs to be confidential, or the victim might be afraid that they won’t be able to tell the teacher without being harassed by the bully again. They need to change the way harassment forms work, so that kids are more willing to confide in adults. Because right now, we feel like if we tell a teacher, it won’t be confidential. And that’s really frightening.

CD: It probably keeps students from looking for help.

R: Exactly. Harassment form – people are embarrassed to do it. We need to make them realize that they shouldn’t be and that -

CD: It happens to everyone. Or – you’re not a bad person for reporting it. Or a weak person. Being bullied is not a sign of weakness.

R: Exactly. And also: a lot of people say “Oh, everyone goes through bullying.” And what they mean is “it’s not a big deal” But even though everyone goes through it, that doesn’t make it -

CD: 0kay.

R: Yes.

CD: Everyone used to get smallpox, but we still got rid of it.

R: Yeah, if everyone does it, it doesn’t make it good.

CD: Bullying can have really bad long-term effects on your psychological health.

R: And your emotional health.

CD; Yes. And on society at large. Because we don’t want to be a society that’s just bullies and victims.

R: That’s really really really big. I’ve heard my parents say before: “Oh, it’ll die down eventually.” And I think that’s… *in a very quiet voice* bullshit.*

[yes, my twelve year old brother swore. Everyone clutch your pearls]

CD: It kind of is bullshit. In my experience, bullying is everywhere, not just in school.

R: It’s just horrible. I really hate when people say that, because it doesn’t make the problem better. It just makes the person feel like a jerk – like “oh, why am I complaining, it happens to everyone.”

CD: There are some things where “it’ll die down” is vaguely legitimate. I’m trying to get an example here – if you’re a girl and you’re getting period cramps, you’ll get that once a month and it will die down eventually – actually, I’ve changed my mind. Even if you get period cramps once a month, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever complain about it.

R: Also, bullying is really different from period cramps.

CD: …Yeah. Bullying is like not period cramps! You heard it here first, folks.

R: I remember I was in Paris, and I was talking about some people bullying me, and my parents’ friends said “oh, that happens to everyone. They’re just going through a phase. Everyone goes through a phase where they bully people, and she’ll get over it.”

CD: That’s still not okay.

R: That’s still not okay. And I was like – blink. blink. What? How does that make sense?

CD: Yes. And like we’ve been saying, there are really negative results that come from bullying. For example, if people are bullying you by calling you gay – first, it sets up a thing where people who are gay are uncomfortable coming out. Which is completely unfair, because I’m not uncomfortable coming out as straight, and there’s nothing better or worse about being gay than being straight. No one’s going to bully me for being straight. And of course, the other problem is that bullying people by calling them gay makes it seem like being gay is a bad thing. And it’s not; it’s just a fact of life.

R: Yeah, exactly. It’s just a fact of life. Its like – I have curly hair. And that’s a fact of life.

CD: It’s not something to be ashamed of.

R: That’s what bullying does. It makes people feel ashamed of what they do, what they wear etc.

CD: Who they are. What they like. Who they like.

R: So there are a lot of problems with bullying. And there are not a lot of solutions that are very effective.

CD: Well, I think a lot of the solutions that are effective are very long term

R: But we also need some short-term solutions that help the victim and the bully. While the long term effects are working out. Or else the victim’s just going to keep getting hurt.You know – asking their friends if they’ll stand up. Or asking their friends to just be with that kid and listen to them.

CD: I think that’s somewhere where teachers can really help. Providing a safe space so victims feel safe to come to them and say “Hey, I’m having a real problem with bullying.” And sometimes the only thing the teacher will be able to do is listen, because doing something else would break confidentiality, or would make the student unsafe. Not being able to do anything except listen – that’s not great. But at the same time, it’s really important because listening tells the victim that what they’re going through is legitimate. And it means they have a place can talk.

R: We really don’t have that right now. I don’t have a lot of people I can talk to – especially adults. And I’m not really being bullied, so I can’t imagine what it’s like if you’re being bullied all the time – not having anyone to talk to.

CD:  The other thing is – the teacher can also be the person who says “I know R. and Joseph and Miguel are really anti-bullying, so if you talk to them – or I can talk to them for you – I know they’ll go with you to the cafeteria where people are making fun of you and they’ll eat with you.”

R: Exactly.

CD: I think we have to put a lot of trust in students and in kids to get rid of the bullying problem. That doesn’t mean we can’t help them, but it can’t be something we impose. It does mean that -

R: It has to be the students and the teachers working together. You know, we could implement a program where students who are being bullied at lunch – other kids can eat with them. And other students can volunteer to help other kids with bullying problems. Mostly, I think teachers need to get closer to students. Because right now, I don’t think people trust them. They say that you can come to them, but it doesn’t really feel like it. I think that’s the problem.

CD: I was thinking – you haven’t read Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series, right?

R: No.

[everyone should go read Protector of the Small now, if not sooner]

CD: It’s Pierce’s third series. It’s about Keladry, who is the first girl to openly try for knighthood – because Alanna dressed up like a boy during her training, right? And Keladry is bullied when she’s a page, because almost everyone is bullied their first year as a page.

R: Right.

CD: But in Keladry’s first and second years, she goes out and she fights the people who are physically bullying other people. And all her friends says “why are you doing this? It happens to everyone, everyone goes through it So why are you doing this? It’s called hazing.” Kel says: “I know that, but it’s not okay. People are getting pushed, people are getting beaten, people are getting seriously hurt and humiliated, and it needs to stop.” And eventually her friends start to join her, so then you have patrols of two or three people roaming through the halls and stopping bullies. And more people join – five or six, and then seven and eight. It takes time, but it becomes an entire movement of her friends who are like “You know what, at first I didn’t see why this was important, but now I do, and now I’m going help out.” It took a lot of effort for Keladry to do it, because she had to do most of the work at the beginning, and she got beat up a couple times. But at the end, the movement was so big that all people had to do was go out and check the halls once a night, and that was it. The bullying problem was over.

R: And I’m sure it really helped the kids who were being bullied.

CD: Yeah, because what would happen is they’d chase the bullies away, and then they’d say to the kid who was being bullied: “Hey, you want to come study with us?”

R: Yeah. Those are probably the most effective solutions. Because I think what makes it worse for me – and for other people who are being bullied – is feeling like you’re alone. Or like other people won’t help you, or like the school doesn’t care.

CD: Yeah. Like your problem isn’t legitimate.

R: Exactly. So that’s part of the solution: breaking the isolation, and making people feel less ashamed. And let them know that there are people who are there for them, and who will help them.
The long term solution is the one where people take a stand, and where they try to help and participate in the work of ending bullying. And the short term solution is teachers supporting kids, and making sure they have resources, and places where they can talk and feel safe.

CD: Is there anything else we need to talk about? Ideas, stories -

R: I can’t think of anything.

CD: Actually – I remember a story on This American Life, where there was a kid with anger management issues because he had a bad home life. And so at school, he was a jerk, and his classmates made fun of him all the time. getting bullied all the time. One day, the other students were really teasing him, so the teacher sent everyone out of the room except the three most popular girls. Not necessarily the most popular kids, actually – kids who are sort of like you: they’re diplomatic, and everyone likes them, but they’re not necessarily the most popular. And the teacher sat them down, and she said “Look, this is why Brendan – I made up that name – is angry all the time. First, please don’t tell anyone. And second, I need you to help me stop people from bullying him.”  when the other students came back, the girls started working with their friends, and saying “No, we’re not going to make fun of him.” And that eventually made the bullying stop.

R: That’s a really good example of how a solution like that would work. I’m not surprised it was so effective. It takes a group of people who decide to do it. Who decide to start a movement. We need a movement.

CD: Yes. We need an anti-bullying movement from the ground up.

R: Exactly.

CD: Okay. That’s a good note to end on. This is us signing off. Everyone: don’t bully.

R: Yes. It’s not good, as the teachers say.

CD: And if you’ve been bullied, there are resources. And we will find them.

***

There are two things that really resonate with me from this interview. One is:

“You know, I think one of the big lies adults tell you in middle-school is that they’re always there for you. And sometimes, they’re really not.”

And the other is:

“Being bullied is not a sign of weakness”

We need to fix the first problem. We need to be there for those who are being bullied. We need to stop dismissing it as drama, or as something everyone goes through, or as a phase they’ll get over, or as “character building.” We need to stop pretending that kids who complain about bullying are “oversensitive” or need to toughen up. And we need to stop ignoring the problem just because it happens to kids. It’s all well and good to say “it gets better.” But we need to make it better now.

If all you can do is listen, do that. I cannot stress how important listening – or just being there – is.

And we need to make sure everyone knows the second part: Being bullied is not a sign of weakness.

Thanks for reading, everyone.

Note on Comments: I’m usually pretty light on the moderation – so far, I’ve never deleted a comment. I don’t even mind people who insult me personally. However, if you go after my brother, I will stuff your comment up into the place where the sun don’t shine so fast I’ll set a new speed record. Frankly, if you go after any of the bullied kids we talked about – or bullied kids in the abstract – the same thing will happen. And homophobia? Not an option. You have been warned.

Resources:

How to support kids involved in bullying

Where to get help

Trevor Hotline for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth: 1- 866-488-7386. (Important note: If you are called gay, or harassed for acting/seeming gay, the Trevor hotline will help you even if you don‘t identify as LGBTQ. In other words, the service is not exclusively for LGBTQ teens)

National Hotline for Children and Teens: 1-800-448-3000 (They will help you with bullying problems; sexual, physical or emotional abuse; suicide prevention; school issues; depression etc. They’re wonderful, and very well trained – no matter what your problem, they can help (and if they can’t, they will find someone who can)).

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

If you are being bullied, or if you know someone being bullied, and you don’t know who to talk to, these hotlines will help you. PLEASE call them (or find someone you trust to talk with), even if you think your problem isn’t important, or that it doesn’t count as bullying, or that it’s your fault. Call them.

Unfortunately, these are USA-specific numbers (any suggestions for other countries?) If you know of other resources or other hotlines, please let me know and I’ll add them to the list. I’m particularly frustrated that I can’t find a dedicated national hotline for bullying victims…


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