Teaching our Kids about Women who Kick Ass: *Rad American Women A – Z*

Every once in a while a children’s book comes out that gives me the urge to run to my nearest bookstore and buy a dozen copies, so that I can hand one to every child in my life. When I first encountered Rad American Women A – Z, I had precisely this urge. Until I sat down with my son at bedtime and read these stories of women athletes, artists and activists and activists, I hadn’t realized how deeply satisfying it was to talk my son about issues that matter. Within our first fifteen minutes of engaging with the book, we talked about sexism, beauty norms, and slavery.

Written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl, Rad American Women profiles a historic North American woman for each letter of the alphabet. It features names that many of us will easily recognize (Carol Burnett, FloJo, Patti Smith) as well as names that were new to me (Lucy Parsons, the Grimke sisters) In short, it presents compelling woman role models (something all of our children need), and introduces conversations about inclusion and representation. I’m so grateful to have had a chance to talk to Kate, the book’s author, about her vision for this book.

Page18JB: When I introduced this book to my six-year-old son, his immediate response was “Aw, why no men?” We’ve had a number of conversations about sexism and gender, but I had a hard time finding the right words to explain why it’s important to document and recognize women’s history. Do you have any advice?

Kate: First of all, I absolutely love that you read it with your 6-yr old son. This book is for girls, yes, but it’s absolutely for boys too. And I love that he asked that, because it inspires dialogue, and that’s just what we want this book to do. Yes, the questions that children ask may be challenging for us—as parents, caregivers, teachers, etc—to answer, but it’s so incredibly crucial that we do the work to answer these questions. And it’s so crucial that kids even get to ask. In the introduction to the book I made a point to address the importance of finding inspiration in all kinds of people, even the ones who don’t look like you. So to some degree, the answer to your son’s question is there: “These women are American heroes, and they’re part of all of our histories. We can find inspiration in the stories of all people, no matter who they are.”

Beyond that, though, my advice to parents, etc, faced with this kind of question, is to encourage the questioner to begin paying attention to how gender is and isn’t represented. A great place to start for young people might be money—look through a stack of bills and talk about whose face is on them. What do you notice? Why might there not be any girls? Why might it be nice to have a girl on money? The WomenOn20s campaign is taking off right now, and there’s a fantastic video that addresses this exact topic.

I’m also the mother of a son, but he’s 19 months old, so we haven’t had these talks yet.  My daughter gets it, and recently, upon learning that her dad is a feminist too (“Really daddy? You’re a feminist too?” “Yup!”) she spread her arms wide, threw back her head, and proclaimed “MY PARENTS ARE FEMINISTS!!!” I’m excited for the challenge of raising my boy, and teaching him how to navigate the tricky terrain of gender and gender expectations, because it is absolutely complex and crazy for boys too.

Page20JB: One thing that has surprised me about this book is that reading it with my son has been incredibly conversational. The other night, we didn’t start bedtime until 9 so I told him we could read three of the entries from Rad Women. Three pages later, I looked at the clock and it was ten-thirty. For us, reading it has been an ongoing project that’s really different from reading a typical story book or chapter book. We have to pause for conversations about Big Things like rules, slavery, and integrity. I’m wondering how you imagined children and their families would engage with the text.

Kate: I love hearing this! So great, and I think one of the wonderful and unique things about the book are the myriad ways that you can approach and experience it. I don’t necessarily imagine that people will read the whole thing, start to finish, if they’re reading it to a young person. I mean, they certainly can! But if you’re reading to a child, it is very likely that you’ll be stopping along the way to discuss. My daughter and I have been doing a letter per night, and aren’t going in order. She likes to flip through, look at the images, and then choose a woman to read about.

Page8JB: Another thing that surprised me was that the entries inspired conversations about racism, classism, and ableism just as much as sexism. For instance, only three sentences into the letter A (Angela Davis), I paused to answer a whole lot of questions about afros, and wound up discussing their historical significance and cultural beauty norms, etc. The book feels very naturally intersectional, but I wonder what process you might have gone through to achieve that.

Kate: First of all, your son sounds like an amazingly curious and awesome kiddo. I love that he’s asking these questions—imagine if all children were allowed exposure to these complicated issues at an early age, and were then allowed to ask questions. And yes, I define the KKK in the first sentence of the book. In a bio about Angela Davis no less. Race, class, ability, sexuality—it’s all in there, because it’s all connected. I recently encountered a woman in a bookstore who was buying several copies and she told me “I can’t wait to teach my niece about intersectionality!” And I was like YES.

As the writer, the intersectionality part came easy, at least in terms of addressing it. I was lucky to get my feminist schooling in the Women’s (now Feminist) Studies department at UC Santa Cruz, and vividly remember my first quarter, where I was thrilled to take a class with Bettina Aptheker whose lectures never ignored the connections between race, class, gender, and ability. Now as for how to break all that down in 300 words that a kid can read and process—that was the challenge.  I tried to approach it all in an open and honest manner: how would I explain this to my kid? Often the simplest explanation is best. How do you explain the KKK? Well, they were a group of racist white men. How do you explain that Bessie Coleman couldn’t enroll in aviation school? You say they wouldn’t accept a black woman. I also had help from my fantastic editors, Michelle Tea and Elaine Katzenberger, along with many friends who read along the way.

Page42JB: Something that my son has loved about the book is the way the women often appear with an object or in a pose that reveals what they were famous for. My son likes to stare at each picture for a while and then guess. I got to explain to him what a typewriter was, and he guessed that maybe Lucy Parsons was famous for “being fancy”. The bold style of the images is such a perfect match that it seems inevitable, but I’m curious at what point different stylistic decisions were made–how did the look of the book evolve?

Kate: Miriam and I agreed that we wanted the images to be as dynamic and varied as possible—we didn’t want just portraits, but we also didn’t want everyone to be in motion. We wanted a mix. We looked at many images of each woman, and Miriam selected ones to base the paper-cuts off of. We added the objects for some to help readers connect to what the woman did—microscope, tennis racket, guitar, etc—and to add more texture and variety. Once we decided to collaborate, Miriam was off and running, and would text me pictures of the paper-cuts as she created them. That was thrilling! I loved getting texts and seeing these amazing pieces of art, and I was always, always struck by how well she’s able to capture the spirit and energy of each woman.


JB: Do you have an entry you are particularly fond of, maybe one that you hope readers notice or pay special attention to?

Kate: Well, X of course. That’s a special one because it’s so different from the others, and it’s a place for readers to kind of pause and think. It was emotional to write, for sure—I definitely cried while crafting that one, both because it made me think of the thousands of women whose contributions remain invisible, but also because of the hopeful aspect of the entry, as it looks to the future. My hope is that it expands the reader’s perception of the book and all its meanings by personalizing it. That entry is a favorite for many people—I know Miriam’s 8 year old daughter reads it over and over, and my daughter loves to look at the images, pointing out which ones are “her” and which ones are “me.” I especially love that she’s never ridden a skateboard, but she still chooses that image as one that’s “her”!

You can purchase your copy of Rad American Women A – Z from City Lights Press, or ask your local bookseller.

poster 26 things

I am not ready to build a coffin for my libido .

So, this post from the website Scary Mommy has recently gone viral:

The Five Types of Sex Parents with Young Kids Have

When it passed through my news feed in Facebook, I clicked.

I clicked because I’m a sucker for funny listicles, and because I hoped to be mildly entertained. I clicked because I hoped that I might see something of myself reflected there. I clicked because, let’s face it, as the mother of two young kids I can only come up with three types of sex, and so I was hoping to find some inspiration.

But this post did not inspire me. What it did was bum me out by repeatedly suggesting that, to mothers of young children, sex is rarely more than an unpleasant chore.

For instance, in item #2 on the list, Half Sex, the author describes a scenario wherein one half of the couple discovers, mid-intercourse, that he is the only one enjoying himself.

This is usually the man, who later, in a paroxysm of bitterness and resentment, stays up until the wee hours Google stalking his hot high school ex-girlfriend who used to “really like making [him] happy.”

Ouch. Am I the only one who isn’t laughing yet?

Item # 5 on the list, Birthday Sex, is introduced this way:

Obviously, I am referring to the guy’s birthday here, because often, the mother of small children would like her birthday present to be a signed (in blood) and notarized contract stating that no sex will be asked for during the entire month preceding her birthday.

Not only am I still not laughing, but I am flummoxed, tired, and disappointed. In the end, this list turns out to not so much be about how parents are having sex, but about all of the ways that mothers are avoiding sex, or not enjoying sex, or getting burned by husbands.

[Side note: At the end of this post, there’s a link to another post by a different author called 5 Ways to Please Your Man! (Or, Not). This one presents a list of hypothetical scenarios where a wife goes to great lengths to initiate a sexual encounter with her husband, and they all end in the wife’s humiliation. In one scenario her husband responds to her advances by pointing out that she has spinach in her teeth. In another, her son makes fun of her ass.]

Maybe, as lesbian, I shouldn’t even be responding to these posts. Maybe they really do speak to universal truths that have nothing to do with me. Who am I to argue with 190K likes on Facebook?

But something is nagging at me. It’s this narrative of the wife who struggles (and fails) to keep up with her husband’s sex drive after having children. She’s no longer desirable to herself or her partner. Every attempt at intimacy ends with her as the butt of a joke.

Why is this the only story I see represented? For every woman out there who eschews sex after motherhood, I’m sure there’s a woman who wants more sex than she’s getting, and also a woman who’s more or less happily aligned with her partner. We mothers, we’re not all sexless fools, furiously trying to distract our partners from their adolescent fantasies.

bellyIt’s true for me that motherhood  has changed my relationship to sex. I live in a different body than I did seven years ago, before I had ever been pregnant. It’s a body that has been stretched beyond its former limits, a body shaped by the daily demands my kids place on it. My arms are toned from years of lifting toddlers. My belly sags. On any given day my breasts grow and shrink, lift and drop from the practical work of lactation. And it’s true that most nights, more than anything, I just want to reclaim my own body, to spread out across the bed alone and sleep.

But motherhood has also freed me of some of the cultural myths I’ve learned about sex. I no longer have to close my eyes and pretend to be perfect. Sex is no longer the Very Serious Thing it once was. It’s okay if I haven’t showered since yesterday morning, or if I’m fatter than I was two weeks ago, if there’s spinach in my teeth, or if I can hear Barney songs playing in the background.

None of that matters, because my body is still capable of pleasure. And isn’t that the point? Sex isn’t just for the young and the firm. Sex is also for the aging, the broken, the sagging, for those of us tethered to earth by this thing we call a body. We might as well use it for as long as it lasts.

Unwanted Hugs

Earlier this week, Smoke reported to me that a girl in his class keeps on hugging him. Every time he sat down on the carpet for circle time she embraced him and wouldn’t let him go until the class had settled. Not only that, but this girl was chasing him on the playground at recess, and grabbing his shirt when she caught him so that he couldn’t get away. He held the edge of his own shirt to demonstrate, and pulled on it to reveal his lean, pale belly, his inability to move without stretching his shirt further and revealing more of his body. The more he talked about it, the more distressed he sounded.

“Did you tell her to stop?” I asked.

“She laughs at me when I tell her!” Smoke said. His voice broke around the edges.

I pulled a piece of paper off the kitchen table. It was a handout that Mrs. N had sent home about Kelso’s choices. It looked like this.


“Have you tried any of these choices?” I asked him, aware that I was an outsider to this new social landscape. I offered the page tentatively.

“Saying stop is one of the choices,” he explained, not even looking at the list. “Also I tried ignoring, and joining a new game, but she just follows me everywhere.”

“Do you want me to tell Mrs. N?” I asked him.

He thought about it for a moment, and decided he did.

Several years ago, I heard a public school teacher comment on how much time she spent in recent years simply answering emails from parents—parents who wanted to know why their kid got a 92 rather than a 98 on a spelling test, or parents demanding a rationale for the novel they were reading in Language Arts. I told myself I wouldn’t add to the burden; I wouldn’t be a parent emailer.

But then, in our orientation meeting with Mrs. N, she reassured us: “Please don’t ever hesitate to email me. Even if it seems like a little problem.”

I wasn’t sure what kind of problem this was. Certainly it seemed like the sort of thing kids typically did to each other, the sort of thing that thirty years ago kids would have worked out on their own. I remember epic boy vs. girl battles that happened at the very edge of the recess field, which was also the bottom of a hill, far away from any grown-up gaze. I remember a kid named Billy Duffy whose face was always stained with meat sauce, who had earned a reputation for kissing girls against their will. Playground problems weren’t teacher problems, and unless you were bleeding, the recess aides didn’t want to hear about it.

But it’s 2014, and as much as I worry about overprotecting my kids, I feel grateful that the system seems to care a little more. (Okay, a lot more.) Also, these days I read a lot about consent, and I brood over how to teach my sons to honor bodies and boundaries. So when a problem like this emerges, even if it’s a little one, I feel that there’s a lot at stake.

I mean, Smoke’s discomfort at having his shirt pulled or being hugged goes beyond annoyance. I could tell by his distress that he felt trapped. I also sensed that he, like me, wasn’t sure how much attention his situation warranted.

That night, awake in bed, I entertained the following thoughts.

  • I felt some alignment with the girl who so badly wanted Smoke’s attention. I know how it feels to want a friend so badly. And I understood why she had chosen Smoke, who is quiet and kind and funny.
  • I considered what it feels like to be physically trapped, and what a common feeling that was in childhood. Well-meaning grown-ups pinch your cheeks and kiss you with their bad breath. Bossy friends convince you to let them roll you up in blankets.
  • I imagined Smoke, some years from now, chasing girls around the playground and lifting their skirts. Maybe some would see this as a little problem, but to me it would be a Big Problem.

I emailed Mrs. N before school the following morning. As we arrived two hours later, she approached us and squatted so she could talk to Smoke at his level. “I told [redacted] that she needs to leave you alone and save all of her hugs for her family at home.” Smoke’s eyes widened. “Will you please tell me if that didn’t solve the problem?” He nodded.

Every moment of Mrs. N’s time is precious. The line of kids was already moving toward the classroom, and she was already moving with them, but as she got farther and farther away she thanked me for letting her know, and then gave me the thumbs-up sign as she disappeared through the door.

I’m glad that it’s 2014. I’m glad that my son’s teacher cares about what happens on the playground.

Speaking of Rotten…In Response to Time’s “Sorry, Emma Watson”

Earlier this week, Emma Watson gave a speech to the UN that launched HeForShe, a campaign designed to mainstream feminism and attract male allies. Watson’s tone was careful as she reminded her audience that “feminism by definition is: ‘The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.’” She went on to enumerate ways that the oppression of women also hurts men and to point out that currently no country in the world can claim that they’ve achieved full gender equality.

It was a speech that I would have thought only MRA Trolls would take issue with, but yesterday Time Magazine ran an article titled “Sorry, Emma Watson, But HeForShe is Rotten for Men” in which author Cathy Young argues that “feminism in its present form has too often ignored sexist biases against males, and sometimes has actively contributed to them. Until that changes, the movement for gender equality will be incomplete.”

This is a strange argument to level at a speech that focuses largely on how men suffer when they are not valued as parents or allowed to express their feelings. Young is unable to articulate precisely what HeForShe should be doing to directly support male allies; the most specific complaint she offers is that Watson didn’t use any of her 12 minutes to call out man-hating feminists. According to Young, misandry is a pervasive problem in the feminist movement, and yet she’s unable to provide a single compelling example of it.

For instance, Young asserts that “It is true that in the 1970s and 1980s, feminist challenges to discriminatory, sex-specific laws helped end formal preferences for mothers in child custody matters. But as fathers began to fight against more covert anti-male biases in the court system, most feminists sided with mothers.” Apparently, neither Young nor Time Magazine thinks this statement requires any kind of elaboration or data. But I can’t help but wonder who Young refers to when she says “most feminists”. A few people she met in the eighties?

Young goes on to complain that the women’s movement has neglected male victims of abuse. She writes, “Despite several recent high-profile recent sexual assault cases in which the victims were teenage girls, disturbing cases in which boys were victimized — by other boys or by girls — have received far less publicity and sparked little outrage.” You’ll note that Young has provided live links to prove her point. But click on the example of boy-on-boy violence and you’ll see a story about a thirteen-year-old who was hazed. The example of girl-on-boy violence links to the story of a seventeen-year-old girl who assaulted an autistic boy. She’s comparing these examples to the Steubenville rape case, but of course there is no comparison. The Steubenville story gained traction because on so many levels it revealed how systemic rape culture is: there were multiple perpetrators, and both the community and the justice system initially jumped to the defense of these perpetrators. Furthermore, Young’s examples connect to a larger problem about which we actually are having a national conversation and taking action. It’s called bullying. This is its own problem, and it happens to be outside the scope of feminism.

All of this brings me back to what might be the strangest part of Young’s essay: it’s title. By what logic is feminism “rotten for men”? Young of course works very hard to prove that there are some man-hating feminists out there (she still hasn’t shown me any, but she’s tried), but no matter how far I reach I can’t quite grasp what men risk losing via this movement. These guys who are taking selfies and tagging them #HeForShe, they actually look pretty happy.

I can’t help but think through some parallel titles, e.g. “Marriage Equality is Rotten for Straights” or “Civil Rights is Rotten for Whites”. Really, when you get down to the basics of allyship, isn’t that beside the point? I mean, say I’m a straight person (I’m not, but let’s just say) putting a sticker in support of marriage equality on my car. I’m not doing so thinking “What’s in it for me?” And if, later that day, I park in the grocery store and someone catches sight of my bumper sticker and gives me the finger, I don’t conclude “Damn, I really wish the gay rights movement would address the problem of how straight people get harassed sometimes. Until they take up that issue, I just can’t sign on.”

And here’s the kicker: Emma Watson’s U.N. speech was specifically designed to invite more people to the table, to engage them in the conversation, to look more deeply at how the oppression of women negatively impacts all world citizens. For some reason (we know the reason: click bait) Time and Cathy Young decide to arrive at the table, insult the hosts, and attempt to turn the whole thing into a drunken brawl.

Gender Identity, Parenting, and Thank God for Frozen

I have an essay in Brain, Child today about how I’ve found the topic of gender identity to be both interesting and challenging to navigate as a parent. Here’s a clip:

Now that my son is old enough to dress himself, his drawers are filled with Spiderman shirts, Star Wars pajamas, and Transformers underwear. It seems the best that I can do is just embrace and love his boy-identity while trying to make room for balance. Right now balance means that we snuggle in Star Wars pajamas, encourage him to cry when he is sad, and have a “yes” answer on the ready if he ever asks for a pink bike or a Barbie—two things that I’m pretty sure will never happen. (read the full essay here)

I wrote this essay a few months ago, and things have shifted ever so slightly. My son has fallen in love with the princess-movie Frozen. I won’t go into analysis of gender roles in Frozen. I’m not going to claim that it’s a feminist film, but I am grateful for it. I speculate that my son loves Frozen for the following reasons:

1. Lowbrow Humor: Frozen does a great job of balancing comedy and drama. No matter how many times my son and I watch the film, we chuckle when Kristoff takes a bit of his reindeer’s slobbery carrot, or when Olaf the Snowman sings longingly about a day at the beach. We like that these princesses–or, Anna at least–don’t take themselves too seriously.

2. The Universal Theme of Childhood Loneliness: What kid (or adult) can’t relate to the Anna’s longing for companionship, her continual rejection, and her frustration in trying to solve the mystery of that rejection? Elsa too grapples with a universal conflict: she has a gift that she is told to hide from the world. I love that these princess characters are given meaty conflicts, and I suspect it is one reason my son finds the film compelling.

3. No one Holds Back: When I watch Frozen, I often feel like I am bearing witness to a small miracle of synchronicity that happens when all the right people were hired and cast for a particular project. This is how I feel when watching The Wizard of Oz or The Shining.  It feels clear to me that everyone who was hired for this project–the screenwriters, the songwriters, the actors, and the animators–gave it their all. That makes it so infectious, that even my ninja-wannabe son sings along to “Let it go” without self consciousness. Everyone in the world, it seems, sings along to “Let it go.” We just can’t help ourselves.

Frozen has opened a door for my son, and now he’s interested in watching The Pirate Fairy. This might seem like a small thing, but it has larger implications. Some months ago, he dismissed girls as potential friends because they “only care about princesses, not awesome stuff like ninjas.” Now that he’s in on the princess phenomenon his world is a little larger.

So, um, thank you Disney Corporation.  (That is a sentence I never thought I’d write.)

Reasons to Love PMS


Early this morning, as my partner prepared to leave for work, some part of me thought it would be a good idea to engage her in an argument. Stump had woken up at 4:30, and so I’d been lying in bed for over an hour, trying to nurse him back to sleep, while simultaneously nursing my resentment over a comment my partner had made several days earlier. At 5:30, when Stump sat up and decided he was awake for good, I got up, found Kellie in the shower, opened my mouth, and released all of my venom. My period is due in two days.

I’m not normally like this, and therein lies the problem. Brooding comes naturally to me, but complaining doesn’t. All day long and into the night, every day and every night, I feel things and I think about them. I think about whether or not I should say them out loud. Usually, I choose not to.

Kellie is the opposite. She complains as she goes. She doesn’t brood. My emotions are a mystery to her—and by “mystery”, I don’t mean a puzzle that she longs to solve; I mean simply that she doesn’t know about them. I mean, she does in theory know that I have feelings, but if she’s not thinking about her own feelings, if she’s not constantly gauging every word she hears or says, assessing her own reactions, why would she be worried about mine?

Because of this, Kellie does not understand my PMS. She thinks it’s an annoyance that she has to put up with as part of the contract of being married to me. She does not see the benefit to me losing my cool—quite predictably—once a month.

Here’s an analogy. Some years ago, I took my dog Winston to a trainer because he was exhibiting aggressive behaviors, growling at kids as they ran by him, nipping at me if I tried to look at his hurt paw. The trainer introduced me to the concept of bite threshold.


All dogs, she said, are capable of biting another dog or human, but some dogs require far more to provoke them than others. The way she explained it, even Lassie could bite Timmy, but it would require the perfect combination of circumstances, say a thunderstorm at night and Timmy is wearing a mask and approaching Lassie while holding a large stick. But say you get a dog with an ultra-low threshold. It might just take a toddler waddling towards his food dish and he’s all up in her face.

Illustration of how triggers,  individually, may not provoke an aggressive response
Illustration of how triggers, when combined, may push a dog to snap

So let’s say most days my bite threshold is relatively high. I’m no Lassie. I’m prone to growling in the evenings when I’m tired and the kids are tired and everyone’s resisting each other. But I also let a lot of stuff roll off my back.

On PMS days, my threshold suddenly drops. I’m like the sick dog in the above graphic. I might never like “getting my head touched” but on the average day, you’re never going to know that. But scratch me between the ears on a low threshold day and—SNAP! Now you know.

And here’s where the analogy breaks down. I realize that you don’t ever want your dog to snap, but in the case of your partner, you want her to say what’s on her mind sometimes, even if it comes out at 5:30 am when you are in the middle of enjoying your morning shower and expected the house to be quiet for the next forty-five minutes or so. You need her to explain to you, in no uncertain terms, the various reasons why she hates it when you scratch her head, and you do this All The Time. Come on. You want that. Don’t you?

What a teenage barista at Starbucks can teach us about lactivism

I was thrilled to come across this story the other day. (It’s almost as good as this one about the American student getting stuck inside a vagina sculpture in Germany.) To sum it up, a mother was nursing her 5-month-old baby at a Starbucks in Ottowa, when a fifty-year-old woman walked up to the counter to complain, referring to the action as “disgusting.” The barista, reportedly a teenage male, reassured the complainer that he’d handle it. He then proceeded to offer the nursing mom a free drink along with one of those sweet Starbucks vouchers for another free drink upon her next visit. To top it off, he apologized for the complainer’s poor behavior.

Win, win, win!

There is a lot to learn here, but I’ve got a couple of takeaways:

1. Supporting breastfeeding moms is good PR. I’m serious. You know that international breastfeeding symbol, the one that businesses can put in their window to let women know that it’s a breastfeeding-safe zone ?


When I was a first-time mom toting a newborn around, navigating a brand new world and unsure of  what reactions I’d get to my discreet but public nursing, these stickers reassured me that someone had my back. Of course these stickers might not have prevented anyone from harassing me as I ate breakfast with my right hand and cradled my baby’s head with my left, but they at least reassured me that the employees wouldn’t kick me out or demand that I cover up.* Stump is old enough now that I rarely nurse in public, but for the rest of my life I imagine I’ll see these stickers as a kind of endorsement, a sign that this business respects women and shares some of my fundamental values.

In the end, Starbucks got some decent press around this incident. The original Facebook post that featured this story has already collected 27,508 likes and 1,759 shares. Lactivists are loyal customers. Trust me, you want them with you, not against you.

2. Don’t hate the asshole; love the underdog. Who is this awesome teen barista, and how did he get so wise? If I had stood behind the complainer in line, I would have turned red in the face and called her out. In our North American culture, I see breasts featured everywhere all the time to sell things like beer and shoes and video games, but somehow when they’re used to feed an infant they’re suddenly “disgusting”?

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times
David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

But our barista, in a flash, knew that there was nothing to be gained from engaging with this woman directly. He focused his energy on giving a mom and her baby the compassion they needed. And that, I’m learning, is what nursing advocacy should be all about.

*As a first-time mom, I did buy a hooter hider and used it occasionally for the first month or two, but in the end, there are some reasons why covering up doesn’t work for me and many of the other moms I know.

a. My nipple is bare for less than a second. I’ve never caught anyone looking at it. Apparently, the vast majority of people have the discretion to look away.

b. It’s a nipple. So what?

c. I actually kind of need to see what’s going on down there.

d. It seems kind of weird to hide your baby under a piece of fabric.


For this and so many other reasons, I’m ready to boycott Woody Allen

I’ve been baffled by Woody Allen for most of my adult life. In 1996, as I watched Everyone Says I Love You, my stomach turned at the sight of Woody Allen getting it on with Julia Roberts.  I was only nineteen at a time, and not especially critical of any film that entertained me, but this didn’t strike me as high art, or even effective comedy. It seemed more like the wet dream of an aging man who had the money and the clout to bring such dreams to life.

Two years later I wasted my money again when I went to see Celebrity. In this film Allen enlists a younger and better-looking doppelganger—in this case played by Kenneth Branagh—to go through the same tired routine, but this is little consolation. And then a year ago, I couldn’t escape the publicity campaign for To Rome with Love. Every preview and interview contained the same clip, where Greta Gerwig’s character attempts to convince Jesse Eisenberg’s character that he will like her old friend from college:

Is there a woman in the world who would reference her friend’s “sexual vibe” as a selling point when talking to her boyfriend? After over half a century of screenwriting is this the best dialogue that Woody Allen can write?

Don’t even get me started on all of the friendly prostitutes who populate Woody Allen’s films.

And yet it seems that no matter how many times Woody Allen has written the same tired story, which is at best clueless and at worst misogynistic, Hollywood actors happily sign on, and critics offer mild praise, shrugging their shoulders and saying “well, it’s not his best.”

And then today I read Dylan Farrow’s open letter which details her sexual abuse, at the age of seven, at the hands of her adoptive father.  As an American, I suppose, I should give Woody Allen the benefit of a doubt. But as a woman and a mother, I’ve seen plenty from this man, and I am ready to say: enough. I don’t need to see his face anymore, or to spend my money or hours of my life on his stories. Even without these allegations, his films on their own have given me enough reasons to boycott his future endeavors.

It strikes me that the world has done plenty for Woody Allen, and to cut him off now—even without a judge and jury—would be no great crime. If we all get fifteen minutes of fame, then Woody Allen has had hours of it. He’s had his chance to leave his mark and then some. While I don’t presume that the amount of fame in the world is finite, I do wonder what other stories might have been told, what other voices might have been heard with the money that’s gone to fund Woody Allen’s filmography in the last three decades.

So when Dylan Farrow describes the panic she’s felt reliving her abuse every time she sees Woody Allen’s face “on a poster, on a t-shirt, on television” I feel like, as a country, can’t we get together and offer her a little solace? Can’t we make him go away, or at the very least let him fade a bit?

In Response to Maria Kang’s ‘Apology’: Moms Need to Eat

ImageSo, I may be coming into this discussion a little late, but I recently started reading about Maria Kang. She’s the one who posted the above image on Facebook. After it went viral, she posted what she called her “First and Final Apology”, addressed to her so-called “haters”. I’ve included it below.

I’ve been getting an influx of new followers, emails and comments (on my profile pic) recently. Some saying I’m a bully, I’m fat-shaming and I need to apologize for the hurt I’ve caused women. I get it. SO here’s my First and Final Apology:

I’m sorry you took an image and resonated with it in such a negative way. I won’t go into details that I struggled with my genetics, had an eating disorder, work full time owning two business’, have no nanny, am not naturally skinny and do not work as a personal trainer. I won’t even mention how I didn’t give into cravings for ice cream, french fries or chocolate while pregnant or use my growing belly as an excuse to be inactive.

What I WILL say is this. What you interpret is not MY fault. It’s Yours. The first step in owning your life, your body and your destiny is to OWN the thoughts that come out of your own head. I didn’t create them. You created them. So if you want to continue ‘hating’ this image, get used to hating many other things for the rest of your life. You can either blame, complain or obtain a new level of thought by challenging the negative words that come out of your own brain.

With that said, obesity and those who struggle with health-related diseases is literally a ‘bigger’ issue than this photo. Maybe it’s time we stop tip-toeing around people’s feelings and get to the point. So What’s Your Excuse?

(Here’s the original post on Facebook.)

First of all, um, that is not an apology.

Instead of apologizing, Kang is basically claiming that anything offensive we might see in this image reflects our own self-loathing and has nothing to with her message or the image itself.

Maria Kang, you are acting as if you posted an inkblot and inside that inkblot we saw the darkness of our own souls.

But that is not accurate. You posted an image with a clear message. The clarity of that message is what makes it effective. It’s what made it go viral and no doubt jump-start your career. Here’s what the image + words say to me:  

  1. You are incredibly fit and incredibly thin.
  2. You are a mother of three.
  3. Because you are incredibly fit and incredibly thin, and a mother of three, other women have no excuse to not be similarly fit and thin.

A and B are fine, but C has some implications that offend me.

C implies that if my body doesn’t look like yours, I need an excuse; I need to defend myself, to ask forgiveness. Why? Is it my job to be small, to take up as little room as possible? Is it my responsibility to be as beautiful as humanly possible at any cost? For whom?

C also implies that no excuse that I can offer is valid. It suggests that your body, as pictured in the photo, is an achievable goal for most women. The discussions I’ve seen online reveal that plenty of people share the view that all women could achieve that level of thinness without significant risk to their health. (When I look over the comments that follow your apology, I note that many of your fans dismiss your critics (you prefer to call them “haters”) as lazy and fat, e.g. on January 19: “FAT ASSES got angry ahaha Keep inspiring people Maria. And keep making fat asses angry. After all it’s a good sign that they get angry although they express it in an un-healthy (again) way by hating on you lol!” ) Beyond that, they assume that thinness itself is a sign of health; the thinner you are, the healthier you are. I question that assumption.

And yet it’s true that my interpretation of your photo reflects more than the image itself and the words you chose to accompany it. It also reflects a lifetime of cultural messaging that my body will not be acceptable until I’ve tamed it, until my legs and underarms are hairless, my stomach is flat, and no part of me jiggles (except of course, my boobs). But I did not “create” this reaction, as you suggest. No, my reaction is the tension between the knowledge that these messages are wrong and the reality that they still have the power to affect me, to make me feel inadequate.

Still, I don’t want to be stuck in that negativity. I want to be free of it. I want to eat until I’m full—healthy delicious food that contains fat, calories, protein, and nutrients. I want to make cookies with my kids AND eat them. I want to run in my tight pants without worrying if my ass looks too big to the people behind me.