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We like to think our society in 2015 has made great strides in treating everyone fairly. Too often, however, we’re reminded that just isn’t the case, whether it’s in race or gender issues. And even saying you’re pro-whatever might brand you as something you’re not. For example, I guess I’m a feminist. I’m pro-life (anti-abortion), fairly conservative when it comes to politics or “values,” but I am a feminist. Pretty simple: I believe women should be treated with the same respect as men. Women should vote, hold office, run companies, raise families, … whatever they would like to do. Their opinions should be given the same weight as men’s. They shouldn’t be abused by men, they shouldn’t be raped. These are very basic principles. Goes the other direction, too, of course: women need to treat men with respect and kindness.

Same goes for color. I was raised just believing we’re all alike. Sure, we’re all different where it counts, in our personalities, our talents, our interests, etc., but how we look certainly has no bearing on those real matters of identity. Heck, I married an Asian, we have three half-Asian, half-white kids, and we adopted a black girl. I respect whatever cultures we bring to the table, but they’re not the defining things about who we all are.

I could go on and on. But I hope you get the idea: we’re all people. And all people deserve kindness, respect, civility, hope, opportunities, the chance to pursue happiness, and so on.

I’m always disappointed, however, when I see that other people apparently don’t see others of the human race that way. The latest story in the news is just that an 8th-grade girl’s T-shirt got Photoshopped out of a class picture because it stated that she’s a “feminist.” I’m still not quite sure what about that is offensive: like I said, if you believe women and men should all be treated with respect and have equal opportunities, it’s pretty simple.

It struck home because right now I’m angry (yes, I got angry about this!) because my daughters’ high school allowed sexist (insulting, demeaning) messages on posters at a pep rally a few weeks ago. The student government/leadership group (ASB) led the charge on a “Battle of the Sexes” theme that’s been going on for some years (at least all four years my oldest, who graduated last year, attended). Done right, could be fun. But done wrong: ka-blooey. Here’s what some posters said, according to some students: “Stay in the kitchen,” “Female president? Nah” and “You woke up ugly”. Here’s a photo of one.pep rally

Anyone think these are respectful, fun, kind? This school and all the others in this system are always stressing how they are trying to instill character in the students, such as respect. The principal’s official online message even says this: “To help provide a safe and secure learning environment for everyone, staff members require students to treat every person at (our school) with respect, both in and out of the classroom.”

Hm. Curious. So in this situation, where the student “leadership” group’s members actively wrote and posted for the whole school to see messages that were disrespectful (and ridiculously antiquated: what decade IS this?), staff members who are required to be in place as overseers and advisers OK’d these messages.

I complained to the principal about this situation as soon as I could. We had a good conversation. I told him these messages were anything but respectful, and I said it would be a good opportunity for him and other staffers to use this as a learning situation for the students involved. Teach them what kind of messages we do want to send to others, whether it’s of the opposite sex or other races (can you imagine if the posters had been talking about race?!). Then have them take some responsibility for their poor choices and apologize themselves to the student body at the next rally.

Well, the next rally came and went last Friday, and the principal did none of these things. He stood up for three minutes and talked about how great the ASB is, how more students should be involved in it, and that some posters at the previous rally had bothered “some people” and he took “full responsibility.” The ASB teens were, after all, just 15- and 16-year-olds and didn’t really know what they were doing entirely. He pseudo-apologized and that was it.

This isn’t news because it’s unusual, just like the Ohio girl’s “feminist” message being censored from a class photo. It’s news because it reminds us just how much we still accept or gloss over disrespect to others, even when we know in some part of our brains that it’s “wrong” and we even get regular, “packaged” messages about respect. In practice, though, we treat people of other races differently and “less.” We accept all kinds of ridiculous messages in the media about how women should behave and look; we’re all about image, and the vast majority of us who don’t fit a certain image feel less than. Weight shaming is still tolerated. Commenters still somehow feel they’re perfectly entitled to comment online about how fat a certain celebrity is getting (see Pink or Kelly Clarkson, just in the past few weeks). In what universe does this all really seem OK? Ours, apparently.

When is this stuff going to stop? When are we going to put our collective foot down and say, “This is NOT OK!”? It’s not OK to body shame, it’s not OK to call names because of gender or race? It’s not OK to insult. Kindergarteners know this. Why do teens and adults seem to have forgotten?

When will we all just be people: people with all kinds of fascinating diversity of backgrounds and interests and talents and personalities, people who happen to look different because of color, because of disabilities, even?

I was hoping that day would come much sooner. In the meantime, I am putting my foot down, and I am saying loudly that respect to all matters. People matter.

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Civil discourse. Sometimes it seems like an impossibility, a utopia, a thing of the past. In the age of instant publication of everyone’s thoughts to a potentially huge audience, and with no way of taking back a rash, thoughtless statement once it’s escaped one’s texting or posting fingers, it feels as if cyberspace (and, thence, real space) is clogged with outrage, name-calling, and sometimes straight-up mean-spiritedness, all because we are drawing battle lines over a variety of hot topics. New blog posts that go viral, legislation, personal experiences all get hashed out in great detail as toes and fingers dig into the lines in the cybersand.

Friendship and lines in the sand: do they mix?

Friendship and lines in the sand: do they mix?

Again, though I don’t write about the really controversial topics on this blog or go into detail about my opinions on some of them, it may be fairly simple to figure out where I stand on certain things. I am religious and conservative. As I said in my previous post, about body image and “feminism,” sometimes people’s conclusions about what I think might be different from what I actually believe, but in general, they’re probably going to be mostly right. But the reasoning and the emotion and compassion and time I’ve taken to draw my conclusions are almost NEVER going to be as cut-and-dried and automatic as some might assume, which is a point I’d really like to make clear.

The past years, for instance, have brought same-sex marriage to center stage in the national consciousness and in legislation. And it’s been interesting to have discussions with friends (and acquaintances and their acquaintances) about the various issues that tie into that hot topic. Various states are still in the process of approving or banning it (or having their voters’ decisions overturned); attorneys general are weighing in; states are introducing legislation that deals with related issues to gay marriage (Arizona’s current potential law trying to safeguard business owners who would like to exercise religious opinions on it is a biggie this week). As all these legalities make their way through the various systems to some kind of eventual, kind-of-final resolution, many still have mighty strong opinions about all the ins and outs.

Again, I won’t talk about all my opinions on this topic. There are some truly good sites out there that do better than I could for all the sides. What’s interesting to me, however, is HOW we present these ideas. And in many ways, it is NOT a pretty picture. It’s ugly out there, folks. Discourse is so far from civil it’s not even on the spectrum sometimes (is it DATcourse? ha ha).

But when I’ve talked about this topic, for example, with friends I adore and respect and think the world of in cyberspace, mostly Facebook, I’ve found that though the discussion can still get a touch heated, it’s still pretty respectful. And so far I’m talking about people who are all of my same religious persuasion and similar backgrounds, I’d roundly say. And we still have very different and strong opinions about all the issues-within-the-issue. Here’s what I love, though: that it stays respectful and devoid of name-calling or (mostly) generalizing. I’ve not changed my mind, and I am sure they haven’t, but we’ve had some interesting discussions and even insights and ideas that were generated. And we walk away still liking and loving each other.

I think about this when I drive sometimes: when there’s a driver who’s been doing something that’s “making me crazy” on the road, it’s once or twice been someone I ended up knowing! And when I know who it is, then my frustration just dribbles right out of me. I think twice now when someone’s really going slowly or ___(fill in the blank) because I wonder, “Could it be someone I really like?”

I wonder if it’s possible to do this more in public discourse. Could we imagine that the people we’re “talking” with in cyberspace, for example, are decent human beings, ones we might be friends with in real life? Can we treat them with the respect due to that kind of relationship? This isn’t a new idea: it’s all about not de-humanizing people. (In extreme situations, severe de-humanization — or objectification, if you will — has led to slavery and genocide.)

I’ve been taught from these discussions and hope I’ve said something that might give someone else “on the other side” a new insight or understanding. And if we were all together in person, I imagine us smiling, shaking hands, and heading out for a nice dinner together, laughing, joking, and just enjoying time together as friends. Now THAT’s pretty radical.

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Photo from Fox 23 News

Photo from Fox 23 News

So I saw this Yahoo news item about a little black girl whose parents withdrew her from a charter school whose dress and grooming policy forbids dreadlocks. Here’s what happened: Tiana, age 7, sometimes wears her hair styled in short, skinny dreadlocks. The school told her she didn’t look “presentable.” She cried on camera about it. The parents chose to take her out of the school and send her to a different neighborhood school, where there is no policy against dreads.

Of course, as the parent of a little 6-year-old black girl, I had some immediate knee-jerk reactions: “How dare they?!” “They must not know how difficult it can be to style black hair.” “That poor little girl!”

But here are the facts: the school is a charter school, which can set whatever policies it feels are best. The policies have been in place for a while, and parents have read them and are aware of them. According to comments from other readers, the school has mostly black students, as well as an “all-black” school board.

So that rules out racism, as well as school leaders not understanding what it’s like to style black hair. What this boils down to now is a parent knowing full well what the policies are (ludicrous as some seem to many of us, including me), ignoring them, and throwing his child to the wolves. When he sent his daughter to school in violation of the rules, he was the one who exposed her to school leadership telling her that she couldn’t wear that hairdo and it wasn’t “presentable.” His actions led to her crying.

Also to note: the school didn’t toss her out; her parents chose to withdraw her because of that hair policy.

Honestly, I don’t quite understand what the school board’s problem is with that particular way of styling hair; it seems neat and not “faddish” to me (a big “fro,” however, I can see as being faddish and more likely to attract attention and therefore distract from schoolwork). But the board must have some reasons for the decision they made. If Tiana’s parents disagreed with the policy, their first responsibility was to go discuss it with the board and even rally support to possibly have that particular part of the policy changed. Then, if the board still stood its ground, the parents would have had a decision to make: either follow the policy, disobey it, or leave the school. In this case, they just went straight to disobeying it.

Schools can be crazy, and school policies can seem completely random. And so many things about rules and school leadership can make ME crazy. But the only thing we as parents can do is to address the policies we disagree with with school leadership and try to make change. If the problems are bigger, we can address those with political leaders. We can then try to raise awareness in the community, in part by bringing the item to the attention of news outlets.

I think in this case, the parents went straight to disobedience of a policy and then whining to the media. I definitely understand their concerns, but they didn’t handle them well.

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nursing

Courtesy of Twitter/News 6, via Yahoo

So a few hours after reading this news item on Yahoo, I find myself not being able to keep quiet about it: once again, breast-feeding moms are finding themselves being asked to stop feeding their babies in a public place. This time, it was at a Chick-fil-A in Tennessee. Honestly, though, the location is pretty much not important. What is important is the fact that it keeps happening.

Disclaimer: I am not a breast-feeding activist. I only gave birth to three daughters and breast-fed them all up until they were about a year old. I adopted one daughter after them and just bottle-fed. I enjoyed nursing my girls, but it was a heck of a lot of work and was literally draining. It was really, really tough to be THE on-call food for the babies. And my girls didn’t nurse for 20 or 30 minutes every four hours, giving me a solid break in between. They would nurse for a shorter time every two to three hours, making it feel as if they constantly needed me, just for sustenance (let alone all the other needs an infant has). It was exhausting and a HUGE invasion of my personal space. It made me kind of crazy. Even so, I breast-fed them. It was healthiest for them, which was important to me, and it was nearly free, whereas formula is super-expensive.

I never went to a La Leche League meeting or consulted a lactation specialist or read a book about breast-feeding or anything. I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I just fed my babies. And here’s why I feel the need to weigh in on this news item: it is a pain in the rear to breast-feed a baby in public. My oldest child is 17 and the youngest that I nursed is 11, so it’s been a decade since I’ve been in the situation of needing to feed a fussy child while out and about. No matter how well you plan and feed a baby before leaving the house, etc., there are darn sure going to be times that baby has to eat while you are outside of your house. And here’s the plain truth in our society even now: you almost never see a woman publicly nursing her baby, whether it’s at a store of some type, a restaurant, or a park. But that doesn’t mean they’re settling in to a nice, quiet, private room designated for nursing at any of these places, because VERY FEW public places have rooms for mothers to feed their children. There are more and more family bathrooms available different places, at least, which is definitely helpful, but still not a lot of spots for nursing.

What does this mean, then? There’s nowhere to go to “privately” breast-feed a baby. Restaurants, especially not fast-food restaurants, do not have somewhere to go if a baby gets hungry fast. So you either pack up and leave, with the baby wailing all the way home, before you’ve gotten to eat yourself, or you stay and feed the baby.  But since we still so rarely do see anyone else breast-feeding in public places (whereas you can see plenty of women and men handing babies their bottles out and about), none of us feel comfortable with the notion, even breast-feeding moms themselves, in many cases.

Now that’s plain ridiculous. But here’s why: people who’ve either not been around breast-feeding mothers very much or who have absorbed our upside-down society’s notions that baring a little portion of breast while getting a baby latched on or off is somehow public indecency either outright make comments or ask women to leave or “cover up” or they stare or make weird faces at them because they are uncomfortable.

The problem is not that women are being inconsiderate and not “covering up”. The problem is that in our backwards, inside-out, upside-down society, it’s somehow acceptable for women to wear teeny tank tops and blouses that are so low-cut they show a solid third of a breast, and no one bats an eyelash. No one asks a woman showing a ton of cleavage to leave a public place. But if a woman doing her best to “discreetly” breast-feed her baby happens to show for a split second a good portion of her breast (maybe even her nipple, for heaven’s sake!), then it’s lewd.

And that’s what has my hackles up. Because when I see other people posting about this topic, and still so many people, EVEN WOMEN, EVEN MOTHERS, comment that they think these women should be more careful about “covering up,” I know we have a big problem in our culture. Women stage “milk-ins” to raise awareness whenever these news items pop up. A lot of commenters say these are unnecessary. I’m thinking, however, they’re still very necessary. We need men, women, and children, of all ages, to see mothers breast-feeding their children, enough that they become comfortable with it. Because most people clearly aren’t comfortable with it. And it’s not because it’s dirty or lewd or filthy. It’s because they just don’t see it happen often enough.

If nursing moms still need to stage “milk-ins” or “nurse-ins” to finally get our generally very-non-prudish society comfortable with a really healthy and natural activity, then I support them all the way.

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royal baby bumpYes, the world has gone crazy over the royal baby. And people have plenty to say about how this very soft news has eclipsed some other very important news. I could say lots about that, being a journalist myself, but for right now let me just say that even as a journalist who does like to stay informed about vital news events, who doesn’t like to take a little break from all that is depressing and frustrating to enjoy a cute little baby? My own four daughters are now getting sadly far past the baby stage, the youngest now going into first grade (!), and I find myself missing a little bit those sweet days of their infancies. So yeah, I’m feeling a little nostalgic and enjoying the baby photos.

A secondary focus of talk around the blogosphere has been Kate’s post-baby belly. There are many who are applauding her willingness to just let everyone see the reality that is a woman’s belly right after birth: it’s still quite large. I remember looking down at my own belly after giving birth each time and thinking it looked like a huge lump of bread dough (enough for probably four loaves) that had risen for hours and then just been punched down. Soft, squishy, lined and utterly non-sexy. I honestly have to join in and say, thanks, Kate, for not trying to hide that belly. I’m sure with all her resources, she could have minimized its size or shape by dressing a certain way or wearing Spanx or… something. But she didn’t.

On the other hand, other observers have noted it’s sad any of us are focused on the Duchess’s appearance at all. The fact we’re applauding her for her “honesty” just shows we’re still focused as a society on a woman’s appearance rather than other much more important attributes. And I have to say I agree with that as well. (Another point made within this same observation is that aside from the belly, Kate looks pretty darn good: her hair and makeup look great. And not many new moms get that kind of beauty treatment the day after giving birth. Sure, that’s true. But at the same time, how many of us have to step out of the hospital a day after giving birth to show off our baby to billions of people? The fact is, Kate and the whole royal family have a role to play, and when it comes down to it, she’s doing it with a lot of grace. So if she gets stylists to spiff her up a bit for photo ops, so be it.)

But my conclusion is this: we still live in an appearance-obsessed society. I think most of us would like to see that change. I know I would like to make people more aware of just how much we all think about looks, so that’s why I write occasionally about the topic. But I don’t think our society is going to change overnight. I’m OK with “baby steps.” And if Kate, playing the role she does in British society and even on the world stage, feels best about fixing her hair and donning nice makeup and a pretty but simple dress to show off the newest heir to the throne, even while feeling comfortable enough to show off the reality of the post-pregnancy belly, more power to her. The belly is a baby step. I say, focus on the ways we’re making progress, celebrate and applaud those, and then still remember that we can make more progress in the future.

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It’s been six months since this incident but somehow I have managed to miss any news of it. And it’s certainly the type of story that should have lit up my Facebook newsfeed and the blogosphere: a man in his 20s with Down syndrome died of asphyxiation after a scuffle with off-duty sheriff’s deputies who tried to forcibly remove him from a second showing of a movie. Just reading this makes my heart seize up and fall a few inches within my chest and makes me want to scrub the knowledge of it from my mind.

Robert Ethan Saylor is the young man with Down syndrome who died after an encounter with off-duty deputies; this family photo ran in the Washington Post.

Robert Ethan Saylor is the young man with Down syndrome who died after an encounter with off-duty deputies; this family photo ran in the Washington Post.

How is it that in the intervening months this hasn’t been passed around more? How did I miss it? Somehow I know that Kanye and Kim named their baby girl North West (just confirming yet again why I do not watch their shows/buy their products or support them in any way, monetarily or with my viewing/listening time), but I didn’t know that a young man with mental disabilities who idolized the police died because of people’s lack of training or sensitivity or understanding or … I don’t know what. I love this editorial from the Washington Post: where’s the outrage, indeed?

As the mother of a nearly-15-year-old daughter with Down’s, who is getting to be a full-size adolescent (still quite short, which isn’t unusual, but a solid 85 pounds), and who certainly has her own opinions and desires that sometimes don’t quite mesh with mine (which isn’t unusual for an adolescent, either!), I am honestly just sickened by this.

I can totally see this happening to her if she were in the same situation: went to see a movie she really liked, decided to just stay seated for a second show, makes a bit of a fuss about being asked to leave. Even if I have explained to her some of the societal norms and expectations for this, she either may have forgotten, not understood, or just chosen to forget. So she stays. Some security officers at the mall who happen to also be sheriff’s deputies or police officers (who in this case aren’t even in any kind of recognizable uniform) tell her to leave; she stubbornly digs in her heels and stays. They pick her up and she resists (wouldn’t you?), and she somehow ends up asphyxiated. It’s a nightmare scenario, all the more so because it’s so easy to imagine happening.

What’s more sickening is knowing that if just one of those officers/deputies had any experience spending time with someone with a mental disability, they might have just simply quietly sat and waited. Waited for someone in uniform, talked to someone who knew the young man, taken a moment to make a phone call, just waited for him to stop panicking or being scared, throwing a fit, whatever. Even just let it pass; was it worth tossing him out of the theater? My daughter, even in situations at home where she’s throwing a little tantrum, tends to recover within a couple of minutes and then just nicely go about doing what I’ve asked, as if she never resisted. So simple, so safe.

So, as the Post asks: Why did Robert Ethan Saylor die? Where is the outrage? Here’s the Post’s editorial on the topic that just ran a couple of weeks ago: I know I’d like to make this news more widely known.

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Amazon-Goodreads comboSo I learned the other day through a publishing-news email that Amazon.com is buying Goodreads. Since I read voraciously and use Goodreads as a simple way of keeping track of what I’ve read and want to read, this news popped out at me. On one hand, I thought, yes, it will be handy to be able to tie together some information from the two places because, yes, I do use Amazon a lot and I have a Kindle. But on the other hand, I did have to agree with some writers, like Rob Spillman on Salon.com, that this is not necessarily great news. As much as I do like using Amazon, I concur that I don’t want it pushing its way into the Goodreads community. Because that’s what Goodreads feels like: a cozy little reading community. It’s a library in which we can all mosey in and out, chatting quietly with each other about what we’ve read recently and getting and giving feedback. Now, it’s indeed going to feel like the Big Brother of Book Sales is going to be looking over our shoulders the whole visit, listening in and taking notes

truman show angles

(well, really, more like recording all our interactions via cameras on every wall, maybe in all kinds of other places, “Truman Show”-style).

 

 

Nope, I’m not thinking I’m liking this. Sometimes it’s still nice to have neutral places to visit and gather information (and people have to ask why I don’t watch any television news! ha!). And Goodreads has been great for that. Now, not so much. What’s also a little disturbing is that I don’t see any mention of this looming takeover anywhere on Goodreads. You’d think that the site would be sharing this news in a clear, obvious spot on its site, but nope. So I’m guessing most Goodreads users still have no idea this is happening. And that doesn’t seem quite right, either.

So. Time for someone to start up a new site that is actually neutral again? Any takers?

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