Thoughts: bell hooks

I’m reading Where We Stand: Class Matters, by bell hooks. There’s a community discussion on the first part of it today, and I wanted to share a couple quotes I think are important.

After reading the introduction and first chapter my take-away so far is that we rarely focus on class in the US. We focus on race and gender and patriarchal structures as ways that people are held back or kept in place. But hooks’ angle is that things like race and gender etc. are used as a way to maintain the status quo of the class-segregated society we’ve created. I have lots of semi-formed thoughts on this, but right now I’m going to share the quotes and keep thinking.

“While the poor are offered addiction as a way to escape thinking too much, working people are encouraged to shop.” Pg. 6

“It is impossible to talk meaningfully about ending racism without talking about class.” Pg. 7

“Yet mainstream culture, particularly mass media, was not willing to tune into a radical political discourse that was not privileging one issue over another.” Pg. 8

(Speaking of her mother’s family who were poor, self-sufficient, and lived according to their own laws instead of legal standards of the 1960s.) “No one called their lifestyle ‘alternative’ or Utopian. Even though it was the 1960s, no one called them hippies. It was just this world where the old ways remained supreme.” Pg 17

Let me know if you have any thoughts or insights about any of this, and I’ll check back in after the discussion.

 

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Black Lives Matter

I had a very upsetting/disappointing interaction today in a class I’ve been working with for almost two weeks. I don’t really know how to start, so I’m just going to jump right in.

Last Thursday and Friday I had to be at a different school, so my amazing intern taught the two afternoon classes for me. When I came in today one of the students who is pretty vocal was talking to me, and he said that he was glad that I’m back because he didn’t like my intern. Concerned, I asked if anything happened and if something had happened that upset him. My intern didn’t mention anything, so I thought that maybe he just misheard or misunderstood something. But he said, “I didn’t like her pin…” and then another student told him to be quiet and leave it alone.

So I thought, what pin does she have that he would have seen?

My intern has one pin that’s a gender equity symbol, but I also have that pin on my badge, so it can’t be that one. The only other pin she has is this one:

Pin

This student made a special effort to tell me that he didn’t like that my intern has a Black Lives Matter button on her badge. (I just added my button to my badge this afternoon when I got home.)

The organization I work for is non-political. We help and serve all youth regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or politics. I wear the pins I do in order to show the youth I work with that I am a safe person. I had a rainbow flag pin that I used to wear as well, but I’ve lost it somewhere. I can’t tell you the number of students who told me that they appreciate it. Or in this exact rural Iowa school how many students have made eye contact and smiled once they saw it (in the case of kids who aren’t out or who don’t feel safe acknowledging it out loud). I wear pins so that students can know immediately if they need to be on their guard for whether or not I’m going to judge them for their identity (which I never would anyway, but there’s no way they could know that when we first meet).

I had chosen not to wear my BLM pin because I liked it on the cork board on my door more than my name badge, but no more. I was so shocked when I registered what the student was referring to, and more disappointed in a student than I have been in a long time. This kid is a good kid. He seems to be interested in the lessons I’m teaching. He participates with meaningful and thoughtful answers and questions. He’s attentive and engaged. This can be pretty rare when I’m teaching sexual health in a rural school. I’m happy to see him every time. And then today, this. I don’t know his life. I don’t know where he learned racism. And I’m not going to treat him any different than any other day. But when I drove the half an hour home I debated whether or not to put my BLM pin on my badge.

I never want to push any student away or make them feel uncomfortable. Well, not more uncomfortable than they already might feel when discussing reproductive organs. So I thought, I’ll just wait until I’m done at this school this week and then put it on for all future interactions. Pick your battles.

And I do believe that it’s important in my career to choose when your efforts will have an impact and when it’s just emotional labor that’s not going to make a difference.

I was completely decided. I’ll just wait. But then I realized that the only reason I have this option is because I am white. My white privilege allows me to make this choice. I can decide not today. I’m not going to pick this battle in a school where I barely feel like I can make an impact teaching gender and sexuality information. But what does that say about me? I’m willing to put forward the effort if I think it’s beneficial to me? When it’s easy for me?

If I chose to ignore this that student would see me as complicit in his hate. And I would be. It’s literally my job to challenge stereotypes and to teach youth about difficult and complicated and stigmatized topics. And I won’t let him down like that. I refuse to remain silent. I can do this tiny thing that might make an impact. And it probably won’t. Worst case scenario he stops participating and starts trying to derail the lessons. I hope he doesn’t. But if he does it will give me an opportunity to talk to him about the struggles and oppressions people of color – specifically African Americans – face.

I have many sources of privilege, and I’m not going to be afraid to stand up for others whose oppression I benefit from every day. I hate that I do. But this is the world we live in, and I can do this one small thing to show others that I support them and that I want to lift up their voices in the fight for their lives. I don’t know if this is the perfect solution to this instance. Maybe there isn’t one. But it’s better than remaining silent without even attempting to challenge the racism I saw today.

I’m not writing this to be self-congratulatory. There are so many more people doing much bigger and better things, and this is just me wearing a pin. I wrote this to process through this interaction and to remind myself and maybe others who read this that we have to do what we can to let people know that we will not tolerate hate. I didn’t immediately register what he was referring to, and so I didn’t handle his comments in the moment, and this might be too little and too late. I don’t know.

Black Lives Matter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another School Shooter

In less than an hour I’m going to walk into a school to teach for most of the day. On the day after one individual person walked into a school in Florida and killed 17 people. We’re going to talk about media literacy and protective factors – that is, as long as the children I’m working with are able to concentrate. I can guarantee you that almost all of them will have heard about the shooting. They’ll be afraid or sad or even numb to what happened. This is their reality. In their limited experience on the planet it’s not uncommon for kids to get shot while they’re at school.
 
All sorts of thoughts have gone through my mind this morning – fear being a steady theme. I experience this reality in a limited capacity. I’m not in schools every single day. I’m not a student who goes to school with the knowledge that one of their classmates might have had thoughts similar to the Florida shooter. I’m not a teacher who has to worry that they might have to use some of their school shooter training to protect their students’ lives. I can only imagine the fear and unease that students and teachers face every day. 
We have let this happen. We are responsible for changing the laws around gun access and ownership, and we have failed. We have failed every single student who goes to school literally scared for their life. There have been 18 school shootings in the less than two months of 2018. We have to do better.

Gender and Health: Thoughts on how Preconceived Gender Bias can Be Physically Harmful

Friends! Hello! It’s been ages since I’ve written anything. Work has been crazy, but now it’s summer, and I can finally breathe. I want to start by acknowledging the fact that not only is my title really long, it only barely begins to scratch the surface of this issue. My thoughts below are entirely centered on this article that I have just read about trans women/transfeminine individuals experiencing period and PMS symptoms:

Yes, Trans Women Can Get Period Symptoms

Specifically, this sentiment jumped out at me:

Whether it’s in a conversation with our medical providers, friends, or even immediate family, trans people  – AMAB folks in particular –  have historically been met with violent opposition when discussing their feelings and medical needs.

We’re often told we’re exaggerating things, seeking attention or sympathy, and that our reality can’t possibly be as we describe it. Sometimes these verbal assaults turn physical.

AMAB = Assigned Male at Birth

This sentiment (other people denying the severity of menstrual pain) was not surprising to me, because I am constantly reminding the classes I see that debilitating periods are not normal. A person should be able to go about most of their daily routines while on their period. If PMS or menstrual symptoms are so painful that you can’t get out of bed or cause you to vomit because of how much pain you’re experiencing or in any other way make it so you can’t function for a day or more you should talk to your doctor. What I don’t say is that you might have to convince your doctor that you’re not exaggerating, or you might even have to switch doctors until you find someone who believes you. The downplaying of women’s pain is systemic in our health care system. This gendered bias does real physical harm to some women and non-binary AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) individuals. I think that it is this and the toxic nature of masculinity in our society combined that culminate in this experienced “violent opposition” that trans people tend to experience when “discussing their feelings and medical needs.”

I want to take a second to take a step back and explain that I am a cisgender woman, and I have a degree in Women’s and Gender Studies. In no universe do I believe that this makes me an expert on trans experience. I want to acknowledge that my thoughts on this are largely theory-based, and if anyone has any type of constructive criticism of anything you’re about to read please do not hesitate to let me know.

According to Sam Riedel, the author of the article I’m talking about,  trans people are often told that they don’t know what they’re actually feeling, exaggerating for attention, and seeking sympathy. This sounds familiar. Women are constantly told this bullshit. We are ignored and told that we’re too emotional to handle things or make good decisions, and our bodies are used against us constantly. Women with trans experience are not excluded from this. By the very fact that they are women they are susceptible to this damaging and inflammatory rhetoric. Pages and pages of books and articles have been written about this treatment of women, and so I’m not going to dive any deeper than that. What I do what to think about is what Riedel says about AMAB trans experience specifically.

Riedel says that AMAB trans folks specifically “have historically been met with violent opposition when discussing their feelings and medical needs.” I think that we can probably find the root of this in the toxic masculinity that we force on (more than) half of our population. This, either overtly due to transphobia or inadvertently due to internalized bias and genuine misunderstanding of trans-ness, gets projected onto AMAB individuals regardless of their gender identity.

Boys aren’t supposed to cry. Men don’t really feel pain. Man-up. Men don’t talk about (or have) feelings. Men don’t need doctors – just walk it off. All of these ridiculous things are said all the time. This rhetoric is so ingrained into our subconscious that it even affects the way we care for children. Immediately comforting a girl toddler when she falls and hurts herself but waiting to see if the boy toddler cries or is bleeding before he receives comfort. People who are assigned male at birth and/or perceived to be male or masculine constantly experience pressure to be strong and stoic. Men and boys who don’t meet these expectations are often ridiculed or even punished for failing to fit into the mold. Violence is an inherent part of masculinity expectations, so it’s not a big leap to assume that a person ignoring and subverting these expectations because of their gender identity would experience a heightened risk for violence for talking about their feelings or their medical reality.

Trans women are experiencing bias on two fronts. They are discriminated against for being the women they are and they are punished for refusing to follow the rules of the label they were given when they were infants. This culminates in trans people not receiving the medical care they need, which is a systemic problem in all areas of health and not just menstrual. This dearth of care is putting people in the hospital and is forcing others to experience sometimes debilitating pain silently.

I wish I had a concrete solution to this. How do we make medical providers confront their bias? How do we train clinic and hospital staff on the specifics of trans health when we face budget cuts and a deprioritization of informed healthcare? I spend my time going into middle and high school classes talking about issues related to this, but even now I’m occasionally met with push-back and defiance of scientifically proven fact. My job is often vilified and has begun to lose funding. We live in a scary and uncertain time.

As always, please let me know your thoughts.

~Tristin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Day Without Women

If a day came where all women somehow temporarily disappeared the world would come to an abrupt and messy full stop. I truly believe this. This Wednesday, March 8, 2017, is International Women’s Day, and the Day Without a Woman strike is planned. Women are encouraged to take the day off from paid and unpaid labor, avoid spending money unless it is in/at a women-owned business, and to wear red to shoe solidarity. I really appreciate that the organizers acknowledged that not all women will be able to take the day off, and they have come up with ways that women can be supportive even if they can’t take the day off.

I have given this strike a lot of thought over the last weeks since they announced the plan. I am very conflicted as to whether or not I should take the day off, but I have reached a decision. I will not be taking the day off. I support the strike and all of the women who are able to honor it. I know that it will be a sacrifice for many, and direct actions such as this are so important. The world noticed the Women’s March, and it made a difference. I think that this strike will be similar. However, I work in somewhat unique circumstances.

As a Health Educator I believe that the work I am allowed to participate in is an integral part of the resistance. I know that I am biased in this, but that doesn’t mean that I believe it any less. I work in an organization with around 30 employees. Three of them are men. We also have one male volunteer. There is no doubt in my mind that each one of them is very much aware and sympathetic towards the fact that women are very important in the work we do. The majority of us work directly with clients under the age of 25, most under the age of 19. If we all took the day off a large group of a variety of vulnerable populations would feel the loss. But they already feel so much of the inequality and bias and neglect that the rest of the country exhibits on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, they are strong and they are resilient. We work with extraordinary young people, and I am constantly learning from and awed by them.

And this is exactly why I’m going to work on Wednesday. After our staff meeting, which is as much self-care and support as it is anything else, I’m going to meet with a regular group of 6th grade girls to make art. We’re making boards that represent all of the best things they see in themselves. And it was a struggle for some of them to actually think of positive aspects of themselves. We work on self esteem and confidence and positive thinking. We practice self affirmation and supportive-community building. Many of them don’t have support systems outside of school, and they get to come to group and laugh and have fun and remember that they are loved and that they are important. And I’m going to be there with them.

For all of the women participating in the strike, I support you. For all the women who are unable to strike, I support you. For all the women who haven’t heard about it because they don’t have the privilege or time that I do, I support you. I’m going to be at group just like I am every Wednesday supporting the amazing young women that I have the privilege to work with. Because that’s what this is about for me. Women building women up and making them see just how amazing they are in a world that tries to tell them that they are deficient in so many ways.

We will demand that our voices are heard. We will show the nation that women are invaluable in our efforts to exist in the world and to maybe even make it a better place. We will resist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today We Marched

womens-march-flag

Today I went to the Women’s March in Des Moines, and it was awesome. The crowd was so passionate and enthusiastic. There was also a feeling of commonality and camaraderie unlike anything I’ve ever felt outside of a Pride Parade.

We left early this morning and headed to Des Moines in a dense fog, and the closer we got the more pink “pussy” hats we saw in the cars alongside us. Groups of two and three and five women were at the rest stop. An older woman in a pink pussy hat stopped to pose with a younger woman at the entrance to the restroom. And then we watched as she went and got in the car with her husband. They were on their way just as we were.

The excitement was palpable from the minute we stepped out of the car onto the soggy street. We followed a family with three young children up the hill to the Capital building, and I just kept thinking how they were learning so early to stand up for their rights. As we got closer to the crowd gathered listening to the opening speech I felt like I was back in grad school. I had my backpack on and was surrounded by hundreds of people who felt just like I do. There was anger on some of the signs I saw in the crowd, but there was also a lot of support and hope there too.

womens-march-hands-off

We learned chants and call and response and set off to march around the capital building. There were so many people there that I think the end of the line was just leaving as the beginning was coming back. There was an estimated 26,000 people in attendance. More than twice as many as expected.

womens-march-crowd
This was after we had made it back around to where the speeches were setting up, and we were completely surrounded by a sea of marchers. 

It has been a long and exhilarating day, and I’m not doing justice to how amazing this experience was. One of the speakers was an 88 year old woman, and there were tiny babies. All of those people were there because they agree that Predator in Chief is unfit. He and his administration of inexperienced, biased billionaires are a farce that will do a lot of harm. But we’re not going to just accept it as the status quo. We’re going to protest and demonstrate and march and talk to our legislatures. One of the biggest themes that I saw in the signs today is that we will not be silent. This march and the original D.C. march and all of the other marches around the globe sent an important message today. For the first time in months I have hope. It’s going to be rough. The damage has already started with important sections disappearing ogg of whitehouse.gov. But the attitude today was not that we were there to prove our point and then to just stop making the effort. This was just the beginning. I have a feeling that I’m going to learn a lot about about organizing and marching and protesting and direct action in the next four years.

I hope anyone reading this can find a way to participate. Even if it’s just keeping yourself informed and making phone calls to your representatives. Or showing your support online. This is a marathon and not a sprint.

I’m exhausted from the long day, and it is entirely possible that this post is a rambling mess as I’m not going to take the time to proofread it. But I’m still holding on to that feeling of hope. We can be the change. We have to be.

womens-march-selfie

 

Minimalism?

Minimalism. I recently watched a documentary about minimalism on Netflix. It’s called, “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.” And it made me realize that I am not a minimalist. (Also, side note: I felt like the documentary as a whole was full of privileged white men talking about how they quit their six figure jobs and sold all their expensive stuff, while completely unaware of how their economic and racial privilege actually allowed them to do this. That’s just my opinion. You should watch the documentary yourself and then come back and we can talk about it. Seriously.)

So, anyways. I’m not a minimalist. I don’t want to live in a bare apartment with one chair and only five shirts. I know this is a simplification (pun intended) of what the minimalist lifestyle actually is, and that it will mean different things to different people. That said, however, I want to use my version of minimalism to de-clutter and organize my life. But I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a minimalist. (Wow, I’ve said that word a lot in just two paragraphs.) So, I’m not going to label this new effort of mine, other than to say that the end goal is a clutter-free and organized space. And less stuff. But not no stuff. So..

I’m about to show you a picture that I’m not proud of. I’m embarrassed that I allow myself to clutter in the way that I do. It’s a character flaw that I’m working on. It’s also tied fairly directly to my depression, and how well I’m handling it. But I’m not saying that as an excuse. So, here we go. My shame:

clutter

Okay, stop looking at it. Scroll so it’s off your screen.

This is my house after the holidays. I did a lot of craft projects for Christmas including making an entire quilt in the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the crafting supplies appear to have exploded all over part of the living room and dining room. I also have a terrible habit of leaving clothes everywhere. But there it is. The before, if you will.

I’m planning on moving within the next few months to a smaller place, and I need to downsize, organize, and prioritize. A lot of ize-ing. And today begins the process. I spent all day yesterday watching A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix, and so I have absolutely no excuse as to why I shouldn’t make a ton of progress today (other than the fact that I’m blogging about it instead of actually doing it…). I’m going to post a New Years Resolutions blog post in a few days which will explain more of my 2017 goals and thoughts, but this is part of it. A lifestyle change, and not just a clean-up. (I have a lot of mixed feelings about resolutions.)

Okay, I’ve gotta get to work.