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Feminism, Teaching, Uncategorized, women

The Killer in Me

I’ve heard this question a lot lately:

How do we reach Trump voters?

I hear it in my activist women’s group. I hear it over dinner with friends. I see it on Facebook and on Twitter. I read about it in New York Times think pieces. My reactions to this question are as predictable as you would expect.

Anger: Man, fuck those guys.

Philosophical: Let’s examine the existential crises of said Trump voters.

Buddhist: We need to have compassion for those suffering Trump voters.

Marxist: We need to examine the shifting socio-economic labor conditions that led to Trump voters.

And Back to Anger: No, seriously, fuck those guys.

One trend I’ve seen a lot in these think pieces is how threatened Trump voters feel by so-called “identity politics” that leave them feeling “left out” by progressive aims. Essentially, these are a call for BLM protestors to tone it down because, hey, guys, a suburban woman is starting to feel uncomfortable. In essence, placating butt hurt Trump voters is a re-centering of whiteness and white supremacy. Time and again, the “real” story here is why rural Trump voters feel so disenfranchised in Nowhere, Wisconsin…but not how many black voters were disenfranchised in Milwaukee by the voter ID law or purged from voter records in North Carolina. It’s hard to give a shit, honestly. Even as I sit here on my own little hill in Nowhere, Wisconsin and watch as factories close, as technology and robotics take over decent, middle class jobs, as heroin use rises to pandemic proportions, and the jobs that do exist are left to vastly underpaid, exploited, freelance undocumented workers. I need to care. I must care. As a community member, as a citizen, as a Marxist critic, as a Buddhist. And yet, when the question comes up in my women’s group, I have to resist rolling my eyes and heaving a heavy sigh because inside all I’m thinking to myself is…man, fuck those guys.

And it’s not because I’m a cruel, uncaring person. It’s because we circle this question over and over with no concrete answers. The only answers I am hearing is that black folks, LGBT folks, feminists need to chill the fuck out. And, well, I won’t be watering down my feminism any time soon, I can tell you that much.

I called up my BFF, a long-time practicing Buddhist and my personal spiritual advisor in all things Buddha-related. I asked her, “How can we have compassion for Trump voters but still want to dismantle the patriarchy and racism?”

She paused for a moment, and said, “That’s the ultimate question, isn’t it? How do you love a racist?”

She told me a story of a recent confrontation that had occurred in her life. Someone close to her had said something blatantly and unapologetically racist. My friend called her out in a calm way, clearly articulating why that utterance was racist, but the result was this person didn’t talk to her for weeks. It was painful, the tension between them. She finally sat this person down and said, “I told you this was racist not because I’m angry with you. I told you this was racist because I love you.”

Showing up to dismantle the oppressive systems of racism and sexism is the ultimate act of love and compassion. How many of us called off Thanksgiving because we couldn’t stand to be in the same room with our Trump-voting relatives? How many of us have unfriended and blocked people who voted for Trump? How many of us have ducked out of the break room and avoided conversations with our coworkers because we know they voted for Trump? I’ve done it all, and when I sit down and really think about why, it comes back to betrayal. Deep, soul-crushing betrayal. And I can only feel that way because of love. Love! Can you imagine?

Four years ago, I had developed a close and very cozy relationship to vodka. I don’t know how it started, but I can tell you how it ended—with my husband telling me I had a problem. That cocktail on Friday night had somehow crept into a nightly routine. And that nightly routine bloomed from one to four. It simply wasn’t healthy. Of course I lashed out, made excuses, accused him of trying to control me. But he said, “I’m not telling you this because I’m trying to control you. I’m telling you this because I love you.” Sexism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, et al. are sicknesses of the mind. As addictive and seductive as vodka. The cure for so many personal ills, but ultimately destructive. When we show up to directly dismantle these systems of oppression, it’s an incredible act of love. It’s a commitment to the best side of a person.

But how? How do we do this work? My friend recommended I return to bell hooks, a social critic who writes extensively on racism and sexism AND is practices a fluid Buddhist-Christian path. I sat down to reread Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope. I thought to myself, “Okay, here we go. I know bell hooks is going to give me some good strategies.” I dove into the chapter “Teaching Race and Racism,” and I was struck by the extent to which bell hooks works to dismantle her own internalized racism in this essay. She writes how she begins every workshop by working with students on their earliest memories of learning about race and racism. She writes, “I have found confronting racial biases, and more important, white-supremacist thinking, usually requires all of us take a critical look at what we learned early in life about the nature of race” (26). Note the phrase all of us. Teacher and students. Students and teachers. It’s what Freire calls critical pedagogy wherein students and teachers engage in a critical process of the interrogation of ideas. It requires the teacher position herself as the student…and the student position herself as teacher.

The question, “How do we reach these Trump voters?” suggests that teaching racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia are a list of talking points that we can, if gained access by Jedi mind tricks or some other sorcery, we can somehow “deposit” into our racist relatives. If we’re somehow nice, make cupcakes, talk in gentle tones and hypnotize them with a PowerPoint, we’ll somehow convince them to knock it off. But I think the work we need to do first is the kind of work bell hooks suggests. Before we can reach anyone and engage in this critical work, we have to dismantle the racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia in ourselves.

I was recently at a conference with a friend of mine—a woman of color. I watched as she folded her beautiful curls into a bun, and I felt this wild compulsion to touch her hair. Me. After years of reading, after writing a dissertation informed by postcolonial theory, I wanted to touch my friend’s hair. How many times had I taught Baldwin’s “Stranger in the Village” and pored over the passage wherein he discusses the pain of black objectification? And yet, here I was, standing in our hotel room and suddenly aware of the strange imperialist impulse running through me. It was there, inside of me as sure as my white DNA. Learned, internalized, systemic, and oppressive racism. And if I cannot overcome the racism in myself, how can I reach a Trump voter?

Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh famously wrote, “Peace is every step.” This means that peace can only begin within ourselves. We cannot work for peace when there is a war in our minds. If instead of turning outward, what if we started the work of dismantling oppression within ourselves? What if white people made a goal this month, this year (!) to read or reread bell hooks, Edward Said, Ta Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison, Debbie Reese, John Lewis, Judith Butler, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Gloria Anzaldúa? What if we took a hard look at the ways in which we have learned systems of oppression and analyzed the ways in which they now play a role in our adult lives? What if the revolution we’re looking for is not “out there,” but in ourselves? And then, and only then, armed with love, we might be able to answer that question.

Feminism, Uncategorized, women

Stopping the Show

Trigger warning for sexual assault.

When I was fourteen, I started going to rock-n-roll shows. Sometimes dragging my older brother along, sometimes with my friends, and sometimes with whatever useless idiot I was dating at the time. They were loud, violent, glorious, intense. The distorted guitars, the grunge, the angst, the anger, the rage–it shattered something I desperately needed broken. In the dirty, smoky, crowded rooms with the lights flashing and the bass rolling through me, it felt like living. It felt important and necessary in a way I still can’t explain. In my converse and flannel, my hair sweaty and sticking to my face, I broke through the quiet, awkward thing I was and emerged on the other side someone braver, reckless even. Every generation has stories like these, every coming-of-age tale starts with this. Maybe not everyone’s starts with Gwar and Marilyn Manson, but I was a child of the 90s, so mine did.

But what I knew, and every girl who went to these shows knew, is that such freedom and abandonment came at a price. We knew at some point in the night, maybe multiple times over the course of the show, someone would grab our ass, our breasts, and yes, even our pussy. We would push and shove, knock those stray hands away, but inside we knew, at least I quietly assumed at the time, it was something we had to put up with. To exist in male spaces meant putting up with male nastiness. This was the message we had heard all our lives. If some man grabs your pussy at a rock-n-roll show, well, you shouldn’t have been there in the first place. That’s not where nice girls go.

You will recognize this as “rape culture,” but I didn’t know that term at the time. We didn’t have a language for it yet. I only knew that my body did not always belong to me, and at any moment it could shift into the collective entertainment of the objectifying male gaze. But when I look back at it now, I know I did have a right to stand in those smoky clubs and listen to rock-n-roll, to sway and dance, and jump and scream without being the victim of sexual assault. Those men were not entitled to my body just because I wanted to go to a show and listen to music. And yet, when it happened, it was a secret shame, something I felt on some level, was my fault. I’ve never talked about this, actually. Never told my brother when it happened, never told my boyfriends, and definitely never told my parents. It would have meant the end of the music, to that catharsis I so desperately needed in those formative years.

The tapes brought me back. I know it’s peak white feminism to speak out now after so many awful things that man has said about Muslims, about Mexicans, about veterans. But the tapes reminded me of another story. Not just a story of pussy grabbing, but a story when someone spoke out against it.

It was 1995 and I was at the Sunken Gardens amphitheater in San Antonio. I had saved up all my money for the show, and I was stoked. White Zombie was headlining and Melvin and Babes in Toyland were opening. I could barely breathe in the press of people in the crowd, but when Babes in Toyland came on, I was transcended. I had never seen an all-girl band before, and the echoes of their female voices as they ricocheted across the stone walls burned through me, igniting some incredible inner-fire. I was moshing and jumping with my friends, high as kites and getting even higher with each song. And then suddenly–the music stopped.

The mic screeched with feedback, and one of the band members (it must have been Maureen Herman because she had dark hair) screamed across the crowd. “Did you just grab her? Did you just fucking grab her?”

It was too faraway to hear the response, but she started screaming back. “Fuck you! Fucking apologize! You don’t fucking grab her!”

The other women gathered behind their band mate, frowning. There was a rumble of thick male voices, a lot of back and forth. Finally, the lead singer flipped the bird, and one by one, they left the stage.

The crowd grew quiet. No one knew what was happening. My friends and I stared at each other, trying to understand, to make sense of what we had just seen. Hushed whispers swept through the vast amphitheater and made our way to us. Apparently, Maureen Herman had seen a man sexually assault a girl. She told him to apologize and he refused, so they just…stopped the show. Think about that for a second. Babes in Toyland would rather not play at all than play in an unsafe space for women. What if all musicians did that? What if everyone made that promise–that we will not carry on with “business as usual” if this space is unsafe?

I think that night I experienced a profound shift in my post-adolescent self, a revelation that somehow the violence enacted on my person had nothing to do with the music I listened to, but with the assholes who dared to perpetuate it unchecked. But Babes in Toyland, in their own way, checked it. They stopped the show.

That memory came back to me this weekend in a rush as I saw women tweet by the millions, the millions, about their experiences with sexual assault. I wanted to share this story because this is where I see myself and my sisters now. I’m not fourteen anymore, and I’m not ashamed. Fuck rape culture. It’s time to stop the show. It’s time to speak up, to call out, to name names. And it’s time for men, our comrades in struggle, to do the same.

 

 

History, Ireland, Uncategorized, women

Four Badass Women from Irish History

People often ask me why I love to write about Ireland. Is it the beauty of the scenery? Ireland’s warm and wonderful people? It’s music and poetry? The answer is yes to all of this.

But the number one reason I love writing about Ireland is that Irish history is full of badass bitches.

Whenever I feel insecure about myself, whenever I have to face a frightful foe, whenever I need to speak up, speak out (even if my voice shakes!), I call upon the spirits of these brave women.

So today, on this brilliant St. Patrick’s Day, I bring to you my top four badass women from Irish history.

Queen Medb (early Bronze Age)

MedbQueen Medb (also known as Queen Maeve) was chilling in bed with her husband Ailill one night and they got into an argument about who had more wealth (this is actually what I imagine Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s marital spats to be about). When she discovered that Ailill was one stud bull richer than she was, she decided to attack her ex-husband King Conchobar and steal his prize bull, Don Cúalinge.

Why Medb was Such a Badass…

Medb had three conditions for a husband: that he be without fear, meanness, or jealousy. A warrior herself, she couldn’t abide a weakling. She had also escaped an abusive relationship from King Conchobar and refused to put up with any mess. But the last condition was perhaps the most vital because she had several lovers in her lifetime and possessed an insatiable appetite for all the Celtic hotness in the universe. All of it.

During her last stand with the Irish Hercules Cuchulain, she had vicious cramps and so she got the hell out of there. See ya, suckers. I’m off to drink wine, eat chocolate and binge watch some Gilmore Girls. Not really, but she wouldn’t let a menstrual cycle ruin her Ulster cycle, and in spite of having epic PMS, she stole Conchobar’s bull anyway. Because she was a badass. And badass is as badass does.

Check out this exchange from the Táin Bó Cualinge with her chief warrior hottie  and part-time lover, Fergus:

  Then Medb got her gush of blood.
‘Fergus,’ she said, ‘take over the shelter of shields at the rear of the men of    Ireland until I relieve myself.’
“By god,” Fergus said, ‘you have picked a bad time for this.’
‘I can’t help it,’ Medb said. ‘I’ll die if I can’t do it.’

Seriously, Fergus, do your fucking job.

(Badass).

Grace O’Malley (c. 1530 – c. 1603)

Also known as Grainne Ní Mháille, GracGrace O'Malleye O’Malley was a pirate (an actual girl pirate!!!), who amassed incredible wealth for a woman of her time and even went toe to toe with Queen Elizabeth.

Why Grace O’Malley was Such a Badass…

Oh, where do I even begin? As a young girl, she begged her father to take her on a trading voyage to Spain, but he refused, saying her hair will catch on the ropes. So right before they set sail, she showed up with all her hair cut off, because GOTCHA!

Like many women, Grace had to be a bit crafty to gain power, and she was not above using marriage to see to her own political ends. So with all that in mind she married this dude named Bourke, and under the ancient Brehon Laws a couple could decide after a year if they wanted to split up or not. Well. Grace was not pleased with Bourke, and legend has it that after a year she kicked him out of his own castle, calling out the window, “Bourke, I dismiss you.” Total badass move.

Another legend claims that after a local family the MacMahons killed her lover, Hugh de Lacey, she led a group of warriors to Doona Castle and went Kill Bill style on their entire tribe, slaying everyone responsible. She kicked them out and took the castle for herself. Not satisfied, she even stalked one of the MacMahons who was seeking sanctuary in a local church. In the olden days, her seeking this dude out in a church was against the blood-feud code. Even Shakespeare knew that! But Grace didn’t care. Grace was out for revenge.

When the English kidnapped her brothers, this pirate queen walked right into Queen Elizabeth’s court and demanded their release. Grace didn’t speak English, so she had to list her terms in Latin because, you know, a true badass speaks the language of the Enlightenment. Queen Elizabeth agreed, and Grace O’Malley saved the day.

Sydney Owenson (c. 1781-1859)

Sydney OwensonSydney Owenson, later Lady Morgan, was the penniless daughter of a poor, drunken, itinerant actor. Determined to take care of her sickly sister, she started working as a governess, but back then the work was pretty much slave labor. Owenson had to take matters into her own hands, and so she steered her sights to the only other real option for educated ladies at that time: novel writing.

Her book The Wild Irish Girl became a smashing success, and Owenson decided go a little wild herself by dressing up as the “wild” Irish heroine in her story. Her performance of “Glorvina” was so convincing that the ton confused her for an actual chieftain’s daughter, masquerading her around as a “real” Irish native. There was a run on harp brooches and green mantles in all the Dublin stores, and in London she visited all the major households, singing, playing the harp, and basically pulling a right old Michael Flately on anyone who would give her shenanigans an audience.

But the joke was on them because Owenson’s books were scathing critiques of Regency politics, English imperialism, and racism. Her book The Missionary was upheld by the Romantic poets of the day as a revolutionary text and a cautionary tale of the evils of colonial rule.

Why Sydney Owenson was Such a Badass

Aside from being a wild party girl and literary genius, Owenson had a wicked sense of humor and never backed down from a fight. One of her most infamous critics was this dickhole named John Wilson Croker whose antipathy for Owenson bordered on the pathological (Owenson was to Beyonce as Croker was to Bill O’Reilly) and he couldn’t stand her popularity. Here’s a condensed list of the critiques he threw at her:

“Attempting to vitiate mankind…undermine morality sophistry…bad spelling.”

            Bad spelling? Really? That’s all you got?

            Oh, but he’s just getting started.

“Bad taste—Bombast and Nonsense—Blunders—General Ignorance—Jacobinism—          Falsehood—Licentiousness and Impiety.”

            And THEN…

“she…gets drunk before noon.”

          spill

Well.

You would think Owenson would get all upset, but badass bitches don’t get upset. They don’t cry.

They write assholes like Croker into their novels.

Oh, yeah, that’s right. In her book Florence McCarthy, Owenson created the character Con Crawley, a small-minded, sniveling middleman who exploits the Irish and is basically just horrible at life. He became the laughing stock of the Irish literary scene while Owenson sat back with her morning mimosa and twirled all her haters. Because she was a badass.

Countess Markievicz (1868-1927)

Young CountessCountess Markievicz gave absolutely zero fucks during her lifetime. None. She started out the daughter of an Anglo-Irish landowner and died in solidarity with the impoverished people of Ireland she so desperately fought for. She was a celebrated landscape painter and married a wealthy Polish count, but after settling in Dublin, her life took a drastic political turn. She worked tirelessly as a suffragist and then later joined James Connelly in the 1913 Lockout to fight for better working conditions amongst the Irish. She started several nationalist women’s movements and became a key player in the fight against English rule.

Why Countess Markievicz was Such a Badass

Funny thing about being rich. You learn some pretty handy things like good marksmanship. Bearing this knowledge, Countess Markeivicz trained an entire generation of Irish revolutionaries how to shoot. During the Easter 1916 uprising, she stood at the frontlines to fight and inspired other women to stand with her. And she did it all wearing this killer hat:

Countess Markievicz

“I came here to slay, bitch.” ~ Countess Markievicz, probably

When the male martyrs of the revolution were tried and executed, she begged to be among them so she could die alongside her friends. But the English refused because she was a woman. Nevertheless, the Countess went on to play a key role in the new Irish government, and her legacy continues to live on today, particularly with her fashion advice for badass bitches everywhere:

“Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.”

Solid, Countess. Solid.

Of course, Irish history is filled with badass women, and this blog post cannot possibly contain all that awesome. Do you know a badass woman from Irish history? Maybe it was your grandmother or your aunt? Please share in the comments below!

Also, if you like badass Irish women, you might want to check out my latest release Through the Veil from Entangled publishing. There are girl pirates, sharp shooters, tons of warrior women, and maybe even some drinking before noon.

Now available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Amazon UK, and Amazon Canada

Also, there’s still a badass giveaway going on for Three the Veil. Check it out! It’s full of great goodies!

Here’s the direct link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/1cb55495746/