Let’s talk about those “5 important things women don’t know about men”

I tried to post this as a comment over at DDP but it wouldn’t let me. I’m not sure why but here are my thoughts.

I started writing for The Good Men Project recently and I admit that I don’t know much about the past issues, but my experience with them so far has been good.

I think you have a great point about compliments in our culture not being safe or appropriate for women to give in many situations, but I also think Noah has an excellent point if you think about it in the context of relationships. My husband seems surprised whenever I compliment him and he’s the sweetest man I’ve ever known so it took me awhile to understand that he had just never gotten compliments before.

I’m a proud and vocal feminist. I found Disrupting Dinner Parties around the same time as GMP(oddly enough) and have really really been enjoying it. I have linked to That’s Queen Bitch To You in more places than I can remember, it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever read online. Ever.

I’m also a mom to two sons and I’m concerned about the way men are socialized and shamed in our culture. It’s different than what we do to our girls but I can’t write it off. I know that girls are far more likely to be sexually abused, I know girls are going to be struggling for equal pay and safety and to be taken seriously and hell all of the things feminism is fighting about and all of the things you guys are talking about here at DDP. My heart breaks for what women and girls go through in our world and I am willing to work to change it. But none of that makes me ok with the bad stuff that my sons have to deal with and will have to deal with, and the more I look the more I am absolutely convinced that all of the harm being done to our girls and our boys is being done by the same system. It’s not the boys against the girls it’s the system against us all. We all buy into the system in different ways and amounts and some of people are actively supporting the system. Both men and women. That’s how the system works, it brainwashes people to do its dirty work.

Hell how many times have we been going along thinking we are not supporting the system only to uncover one more layer of privilege or one more way we didn’t realize we were helping the system keep someone down? I grew up a feminist, I later had to learn about how race and trans issues needed to be taken into account too. It’s all a journey.

I’m willing to spend some time being my feminist, equality loving self over at GMP and maybe my little drops in the bucket will make a difference in some way. I’ve certainly read some great things over there(you linked to several of them) and am happy to be posted next to some of the other contributors. I’ve also read stuff there that made me roll my eyes or think “oh hell no.” But so far I’m growing and learning from things there, and from taking the time to force myself to write with men and boys in mind. Not because they are more important than women and girls, but because as a strong feminist (and overall sassy gal) I’ve always focused on how things affect women and girls and I find it valuable as a person and as a mother to purposefully shift my focus.

I think in the past I was trying to even things out, to balance out the sexism I saw. I’m not sure any more that’s the way to make a change. I think maybe the way to make changes is to start seeing how the system hurts everyone involved in it and stop comparing who is hurting the most. Not because the hurting is equal but because it is when you accept someone’s pain that they will accept yours. When it’s a contest of who has been harmed more than everyone feels minimized and brushed off and we fight each other instead of the system. When you honor how everyone has been harmed you can all be on the same side and it will take all of us to beat the system.

Last week on our weekly writers conference call the editors were looking for more diverse writers. Maybe you could submit some articles, or encourage anyone from underrepresented groups you know to submit articles.

Disrupting Dinner Parties

The viral nature of the internet is an interesting phenomenon and The Good Men Project, like Jezabel and other hyper-popular blog groups (even DDP has gotten some awesome press lately) is no stranger to it. One of the GMP featured articles from February started showing up all over teh Facebooks a couple weeks ago and I’d like to take a moment to address it because, well, some things need to be addressed.

Before I start though I’d like to acknowledge the fact that there is a long and complicated history between feminists and The GMP. The involvement of Tom Matlack and Hugo Schwyzer is enough to keep the controversy kettle at a rolling boil but also the content is overwhelmingly heteronormative and the group has a poor track record for rape-apology. Potentially the most egregious example being this piece [note: I’m linking to Feministe‘s takedown and not the original article…

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My Life and Times in The Friend Zone

Originally posted at The Good Men Project as Congratulations! You’ve Been Friend-Zoned.

I saw an awesome poetry slam today by Dylan Garity. He talked about The Friend Zone and made me think that he was the guy version of me in high school. You see, there was a guy I wanted. Badly. For years. Badly. Did I mention badly? He wasn’t one of those totally out of reach guys, like the captain of the football team of teen movies. I didn’t want him from afar, I wanted him from up close. He would have claimed that his closest guy friend was his best friend, but I was the one he called when he was sad. I was the one he talked to for hours. He talked to me about his hard family stuff and depression and silly stuff and the girls he wanted. He talked to me about how things went when he dated those girls, or got turned down. We didn’t call it The Friend Zone back then, we called it being “just friends.”

After I graduated there was a dude. We had a mutual friend who would come by my work serendipitously whenever I needed to move and ask “How are you doing?” When I’d explain I had to move and had no idea how I was going to get my bed down my apartment stairs much less across town in my tiny car. He would say “Don’t worry about it! We’ll be there at 9 am.” Then on that day he would show up with the dude who would have borrowed a truck and they would help me move.

Even the second or third time that helpful dude came to my rescue he didn’t really know me because he didn’t talk to me. He just worked his ass off and then disappeared from my life until the next time. I thought he was cute, but he didn’t seem to notice me. I knew he was super smart and I figured I just wasn’t smart enough to be that interesting to him.

It wasn’t just moving either, he helped me fix my computer a few times. I wanted to pay him but he would only accept Doritos and Mountain Dew. He seemed uncomfortable with my thank yous. After I got married and moved out of state I emailed him a few times but he didn’t really keep in touch.

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When I see people talk about The Friend Zone it always seems to be in the context of a guy who made a “mistake” by being “too nice” and therefore allowing a woman to put him in the “no sex zone.” My MO is to fall for my guy friends. I spent many years living in The Friend Zone of different male friends before and after my divorce. I never thought that I had made a mistake by being a good friend. It was painful, but I figured that I just wasn’t a match for them. That didn’t keep me from daydreaming that the current friend guy would, in stereotypical movie fashion, suddenly realize that they’d been in love with me all along. As often happens to me, not getting what I wanted turns out far better than I could have dreamed.

Nine years after moving out of state, I moved back to California. I had gone through a difficult divorce and some difficult healing time. That old mutual friend looked me up. He mentioned the helpful dude and said “He’s single.” I said “Yeah, but he was never interested in me that way.” To which the friend responded, “You couldn’t be more wrong.”

I was surprised, it occurred to me that maybe I had unnecessarily put myself in The Friend Zone this time. So I emailed him. I still felt grateful to him for all of the help he had given me without ever expecting anything in return, but mostly I wanted to do something nice for him. Now that I’d been out in the world I knew how rare that kind of generous help was. So I invited him over to watch Serenity and I baked him Oatmeal cookies, his favorite. Later I went to his house and helped him do some serious cleaning for upcoming visitors. He didn’t seem to know what to do with me, but I wasn’t going to give up on having such an amazing friend so easily. We were able, finally after all of those years, to really get to know each other and became good friends.

Being good friends did not stop us from falling in love. I married my helpful dude and you guessed it, he helped me move again, this time, in with him. He is still my generous hearted best friend. There is no doubt in my mind that every time he helped me, he did so expecting nothing in return. That is one of the very special things about him. These days when I ask him for help on something he likes to smile and say “The Dude abides.”

Looking back I see that the only place I ever looked for love or sex was in The Friend Zone, that’s just how I’m wired. To the guys who have spent time in my Friend Zone, I valued you as friends and I promise I would have loved you that way if I could.

 

Dear Men: Lessons from Feminism

Originally posted at The Good Men Project here.

Dear Men:

I’ve been thinking about you alot lately and I’ve begun to wonder if anyone has been telling men the stuff I learned from feminism and my girlfriends. I’m not talking about stuff you need to know about feminism or women, I’m talking about survival tips that we gals share with each other that might be helpful to men these days. I’m talking about ways to do things differently or change the world.

First I should say that of course I can’t speak for all feminists, I can only speak to my experience with feminism. My experience has been of smart thoughtful passionate women and men working on a large scale toward equality and breaking through gender stereotypes so that individuals can thrive. But there is another level too, a level of personal support and practical suggestions among women, in some cases I would even call it a sisterhood. Over the years I’ve noticed that the men I know didn’t seem to be getting the same advice that I got. I think some of it is really good so I want to share it with you.

Don’t read magazines that make you feel like you’re not enough. Feminism is always telling women (not that they are all listening) to stop reading fashion magazines because they make you feel like crap. Is anyone telling men to take a moment and think about if that Men’s Fitness, GQ or Fortune Magazine is having a positive effect on their well being? The same goes for all kinds of media and even people you know. If the commercials during a favorite show make you feel like you are supposed to be someone you’re not, record it and skip the commercials. If you have a friend on facebook who is always posting how much money they are making and it makes you feel like crap, block their posts. The key is, does this inspire you or shame you? Does this bit of media or person inspire you to higher levels of who you are or does it it shame you for not being Brad Pitt with the abs of Joe Manganiello, the brain of Stephen Hawking, and the bank account of Bill Gates? If it inspires it stays. If it shames you then consider cutting down its access to your psyche.

Take time to be on your own after a breakup. It has always been standard among my girlfriends that when someone has a big break up, we talk about how it’s time for them to spend some time on their own. How they need to find out who they are outside of the relationship. Is anyone telling men that they need time after a breakup to get to know themselves? What about telling men that time on your own is important and healthy for you? It gives you time to deal with your issues so that when you start having relationships again you can start from the healthiest possible place. Jumping right back in is a sure way to end up with the same issues you just escaped.

You don’t have to be hot (or rich) to find a partner. I know this is counter to almost everything most of the media puts out but it’s true. Not only is it true but someone who wants to be with you because they like how you look on their arm will suck as a partner. There is a lot of “attracting” going on out there by people who are visually hot. But, if what you are after is someone who will really see and care for you and not just the boost being with you gives their ego, I guarantee it won’t be someone whose primary interest in you is your looks. Or your bank account. It’s not that it’s not ok to be attractive or have money in the bank, it’s just that if that is what draws someone to you…then you probably don’t want them anyway.

If you want someone who cares for you and not what you can bring them, stop emphasizing the surface. Start emphasizing the things about you that are part of who you are. If you don’t know what those things would be, you need to figure some out before you try to find a partner.

Size doesn’t matter (as much as you think). It seems to me that what body size is to women, penis size is to men. That’s why there are so many diet spams aimed at women and so many penis size spams aimed at men. It seems like men measure themselves like women weigh themselves, as if the answer holds a key to their value. That is bad enough but men seem to often have as much of a distorted idea of what “average” penis size is, as women often have of what the average women’s clothing size is. Not that being “average” is good enough. Feminism fights against society’s pressure on women to be an unrealistic size, the women I know support each other and share their body worries. Maybe it’s time for men to fight against the illusion of size as an indicator of manhood and have more frank discussions about their own bodies and experiences. Recently there was a great blog here on The Good Men Project about size insecurity. That is a great beginning, but you need more if you are going to even begin to make a dent in this issue. Yes, that’s right, I’m saying talk about your penises more. Talk to your partner, talk to your friends, talk to people on the internet and maybe most importantly talk to your sons. (Oh crap! I just realized I’ll have to be the one to have that talk with my sons.)

Safety matters. When my girlfriends go on a first date with someone who is not known to one of us or goes out at night alone we have a whole protocol for it. We look out for each other and we are mindful of safety. When I’ve talked to men about this, they blow me off and give an arrogant “I don’t have to worry, I’m a MAN!” attitude. Men can be, and are, targets of violence and harassment. Having a penis does not keep you safe in this world. I’ve argued with crossdressers and transfolks about this issue and I can’t seem to convince them that if they are going to present as a woman, or appear outside of the traditional male gender box at all, they are possibly at an even higher risk of being targeted than a ciswoman depending on the situation.

Straight white men are the most difficult to convince that there may be any reason for them to worry about their safety at all. Men can be the victims of domestic violence and they can be the victims of street violence.

I’m not saying be paranoid, I’m saying consider taking the time to get to know someone a bit before giving them all of your personal information and/or going out with them. I’m saying think about where you are going and if it’s safe. I’m saying allow for the possibility that you are not indestructible nor are you a super hero ninja (unless you are a super hero ninja).

If someone tries to stuff you in a gender role box, speak up. One thing feminism, in my experience, is great about is telling women to stand up for themselves and not feel bad if they don’t fit into society’s idea of what they should be. I want that for men and I don’t see it happening in very many places. If someone tries to tell you that in order to be a man you have to do or be *insert list here* tell them no. Or “HELL NO!” depending on the situation.

The other day at work one of the guys my husband works with mentioned that he likes yoga. The guys in the office started to tease him until my husband jumped in to say how cool yoga was. I know women have a reputation in some places of being competitive or petty but my experience is that we are much more willing to step out on a social limb to make sure someone else does not feel alone out there than men are. So stand up for yourself and  stand up for others.

If a company or organization tries to stuff you in a gender role box, speak up. Of course the more we change the rigid gender roles that harm men, the better for everyone. This will happen in individual moments but also in larger cultural movements. Feminists see companies, organizations media outlets etc doing things they don’t like and they make a fuss. Men have successfully done this too. For example, getting asexist Huggies commercial campaign pulled. My question is, are men actively looking around to see what other representations of men they could affect?

On the positive side, feminists actively look for organizations, media and ideas to support. If they don’t see them, they build them. Are men actively looking for organizations and media (like The Good Men Project) to support? Are men thinking about, reading about and talking about the issues that matter to them? Clearly many are, we see them here at The Good Men Project. But think of how much more progress we could make if even more men really invested the kind of time and energy into breaking stereotypes and addressing issues important to them that they invest in other things they really care about.

Everyone is welcome at the table. I’ve always thought the most important thing I experienced in feminist groups was a striving toward not marginalizing women who fall outside of the narrow box of femininity society supports. Obviously it’s a journey not a done deal, but it’s a journey worth taking. If you want to change the world you will need to embrace the parts of you that make you uncomfortable. Then keep going and embrace the way other men live ‘manhood’ even when it makes you cringe.

I Wear Rainbows

Originally posted at The Good Men Project as I Got My Rainbow On.

rainbow-delegation

When I was in high school there was a girl that everyone knew liked girls. Not that she told anyone, we just knew. I remember being in a small work group with her and two other students, in class one day. I don’t remember what it was that they said, but they began making gay jokes and looking pointedly at her. She was a tough girl, I expected her to say something sharp and tough. I figured they would realize she could kick their asses. Instead she sat there looking frozen, as if she could not move or speak. So I said something to them. I don’t remember what, but I’m certain it was not as witty as what I had imagined her saying. There was a moment’s pause and then the jokers and the girl went on as if nothing had happened.

I didn’t understand at the time why this smart tough girl did not just tell them what they were saying was not acceptable. Several years later in our senior year I was in a sort of club with that girl and we had a group retreat. We all sat around in a circle and talked about things. I don’t remember what we were talking about or anything that anyone else said but I remember vividly that girl began to cry. She apologized for lying to us all and said she was afraid we would hate her. She told us she was gay and when we didn’t freak out about that, she began to share the awful ways in which she had been bullied before she had moved to our town. I began to understand why she had been frozen by the jokes.

I wear rainbows. I’m a straight woman and I wear rainbows. I started wearing rainbows a few years ago when I came acrossThe Rainbow Delegation. There had been several publicized suicides of LGBT youth and the idea was that if those youth had been able to see people in the world around them that would not judge them…then maybe, just maybe, it would have given them hope and they would still be here. So The Rainbow Delegation was giving out free rainbow bracelets to anyone who was an ally. That way anyone who was hiding or afraid could look around and see “that person won’t hate me for who I am.”  I am honored to participate in this silent but powerful show of acceptance. I wish there were bracelets to let people know that someone is a person who will not judge them on race/gender identity/religion/lack of religion/mental illness/homelessness/weight/able bodiedness/etc.
I’ve never noticed anyone having a bad reaction to my rainbows, but I have had people I’ve never met before whisper “Nice Bracelet” and smile and continue with the meeting or discussion as if it never happened. The people who have done this have never had rainbows on. After a few times of this happening, I thought about that girl in high school. I realized that as a straight person it was especially important that I show support, and for the same reason it was so important that I be the one to stand up to the jokers in high school. I don’t know how many people assume I identify as lesbian, bisexual or transgender (Well except the lady who hit on me, I’m pretty sure she thought I was some flavor of L, B or T) but I do know that I don’t care. I have no fear of being judged or found out, since I have nothing to be found out for. I have no history of being bullied to keep me quiet. It’s easy for me to not care because it’s not my tender spot.

We need to stand up for people in the areas that are their tender spots. But more than that, it’s important that straight people see straight people standing up for LGBT equality. It’s important that white people see white people stand up for everyone else. It’s important that men see other men stick up for women and that women see other women stick up for men.

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Standing up for ourselves and our communities is an extremely personal struggle for most of us. Standing up for other people and other communities makes us all stronger. I saw an insightful video today onUpworthy called One Easy Thing All White People Could Do That Would Make The World A Better Place in which Joy Degruy talks about a trip to the grocery store where her white looking sister in law stands up for her and it makes all the difference. She asks “would it have had the same impact” if she spoke up for herself or would they have brushed her off as “an angry black woman.”

Years ago I was in front of the courthouse in Buffalo, N.Y. My ex and I were waiting for one of the clerk’s offices to open and I was watching people as they walked by or found parking spaces. I saw a small well kept car pull up and begin to park. Behind it a giant raised truck that looked like it had been through a combat zone zoomed in behind the small car and tapped it’s bumper. At this point a large man in torn pants and a dirty shirt got out of the raised truck and a much shorter man in a suit got out of the car. The large man began to use physical intimidation, towering over and screaming at the man who’d gotten out of the car. He was using racial slurs and telling the smaller man that he should go back to his own country. I was stunned. I grew up in California and maybe that sort of thing happens here but I had never witnessed it. Then I watched as no one did anything. I don’t remember making any decision to move or say anything, but suddenly I was walking toward the men and yelling at the large man in my best scolding mom voice. He barely glanced at me, but he looked long enough to see a woman so white she glows who looked about 12 months pregnant. He stopped immediately, angrily got back in his truck and backed it away from the small car. The man in the suit grabbed his briefcase, locked his car and hurried, eyes down, into the courthouse. My husband at the time had a fit. He did not understand how I could get involved like that.

I did not understand how he could just stand there.

photo: rainbowdelegation.org

Dear Husband: Stop Being Afraid

Originally posted on The Good Men Project here.

Dear Husband,

Stop being afraid of so much. I’ve talked to you about each of these things but maybe if I announce it to the world you will be able to really feel each of them deep in your bones.

Please please, stop being afraid you are not enough. You are more than I ever thought possible. You don’t have to be the most handsome/rich/confident/genius/manly man. You don’t have to be the most because it’s not about being the most. It’s about being the puzzle piece that fits mine. It’s about your strangeness fitting so well with my strangeness. It’s about that beloved sense of ease and peace and comfort I get when we are together, except when it’s about the silly excited feeling I get when I get to see you after a day apart. It’s about having contrasting and complementary levels of awesomeness and suckyness. It’s about you being the most authentic person I know.

Stop being afraid that I’m mad at you and just not telling you. Seriously…it’s been years and even though it’s rare that I get angry with you has there ever been a time when I was mad, and you couldn’t tell? I’ll tell you what, if I’m ever angry with you and I don’t tell you I am, I give you permission to ignore it until I get off my ass and tell you. Deal?

Stop being afraid I won’t like things. Things you like, things you do for me, things that have nothing to do with you. Really! It’s ok if I don’t like the same things as you. I can think the thing/show/movie you are totally into is ridiculous and still think you are amazing. You know me really well so it’s rare that I don’t like things you do for me, let’s just get that out of the way. But let’s say you did do something for me that I wasn’t excited about. I’m still excited that you thought to do something for me! I am still happy. Now let’s say that you did something for me and it actually made me crabby. It’s ok for me to be crabby. I am not entitled to a lack of irritation in my life and it’s not your responsibility to keep my life irritation free at all times. Just be thoughtful about things you have influence over. Most of all stop worrying if I’m irritated by things outside of your control. No matter what you were taught, it is not the husband’s job to fix everything. I totally appreciate that you care for my comfort, it’s one of my favorite things about you. I just care more about you being happy and worry free than I care about me being irritated once in awhile.

Stop being afraid that I don’t find you attractive. I get that you look in the mirror and can’t see why I would find you attractive…you think men are icky. I, on the other hand, am a straight woman so while I’m certainly not attracted to all men, I am absolutely attracted to you. Including all of the parts you think are so funny looking. I’m the expert on who I find attractive so just trust me on this one, you are totally my type.

Stop being afraid to tell me when you need help. It seems like somewhere along the way you got the message that you aren’t supposed to need help, and that you most certainly are not supposed to ask for it. But if you don’t tell me what you need, if you won’t let me help you, you are cheating me out of being able to be a strong partner for you. You are cheating me out of opportunities to support you. Think about it, how would you feel if I didn’t let you help me do anything? Now realize that I feel the same way when you don’t let me help you. I know you don’t always know what you need but when you do, please tell me.

Stop being afraid to tell me what you want. I’m a big girl, if you want something from me I’m not willing or able to give I’ll say so. If you want something I don’t think is a good idea for our family we’ll talk about it. Maybe we’ll decide we can’t afford that big screen tv right now…but if you tell me you really want it, we will start saving for it because you rarely ask for anything for yourself. Getting what we want doesn’t necessarily make us happy, but I still love hearing about what you think might make your life easier or bring you pleasure.

Stop being afraid that I’m going to decide I don’t want you anymore. I can’t guarantee my feelings for all eternity to come, but I can tell you that as of this day I love you deeply, I want you intensely and you are my best friend. I can’t imagine not being with you. But, I can easily imagine how much of the joy of us you could miss while you’re busy being afraid it’s not going to last, so please stop being afraid.

Love,
Your Wife

The Ugly Way Home

Originally posted here at The Good Men Project.

 

There is a story going around facebook about a rickshaw driver named Bai Fangli. When Bai retired at age 75 went home to his village and discovered children who could not afford to go to school. So he returned to the city and continued working for 15 more years, living in simplicity that would be shocking to most people in the United States. He wore only clothing others threw away and ate food that others had discarded, not because he couldn’t afford to buy food and clothes but because he felt that giving that money to the children was a better use of it.

There is an interesting phenomenon in the United States. The higher someone’s income the less they tend to give to charitable causes. When higher income people do give, they give very little to causes that help the down and out. They tend to give to the arts, or a college instead of to food pantries or homeless shelters.

There are different theories on why that is. Some people assume that wealthy people are jerks so it makes sense to them that even with the tax deduction, they wouldn’t give at the same rate as lower income people. Even I am cynical enough to wonder how many higher income giver’s donations begin with a discussion with a tax person about tax breaks.

There is evidence that may go against the “Jerk Theory.” This NYTimes article, points out that Paul K. Piff found that if you show people a sympathy-eliciting video that the disparity between higher income and lower income giving disappeared. One theory to explain this is that being wealthy insulates you from seeing suffering, while the lower your income the more suffering you see around you. They even did further research and found that people of higher incomes that lived in diverse income neighborhoods gave more than people with the same income who lived in homogeneously wealthy neighborhoods.

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The unique makeup of my neighborhood means that there are three ways you can get to my house. One of them is through an expensive neighborhood, one is near an apartment and a strip mall and the other goes along the area in our town known for homeless people, and prostitutes. That route then goes past a mobile home park so trashed it wishes it was a rundown trailer park.

When I drive through the expensive neighborhood I notice how small and plain my house is. When I drive past the strip mall and the apartment complex I notice how generic my neighborhood is. I make it a point to drive the ugly way home.

There are days when I drive past a homeless person and it hits me how unnecessary the crap I just bought at the store is. There are days I drive by a woman looking so hopeless and broken I cry. There are days I drive by the trailer park and see so many people suffering in so many different ways that I feel hopeless about our country and how many people fall through the cracks. Most days it makes me feel helpless in the face of such deep issues. There are no easy answers for the people there, no quick fixes or ways to save them.

Some days when I drive by I remember that when I was born my mom brought me home from the hospital to a somewhat nicer trailer park. After my biological father left she needed public assistance and food stamps to help make ends meet while she worked as a waitress. Then I count the blessings that I can bring my sons home to a safe place.

Driving the ugly way home isn’t comfortable. It brings up emotions, it brings difficult questions from my sons, it reminds me that things don’t always work out ok.

I’m no Bai Fangli, but when I drive the ugly way home I notice how huge and safe my home is. I come home with my heart open, my gratitude engaged and a renewed focus on figuring out what it is I am meant to do in this world to help people who are suffering.

The Value of a Man

Originally posted on The Good Men Project here.

I was laid off from my job a few months ago. I knew I would be worried about money and finding a new job. What I didn’t know is that I would experience a deep sense of having lost my value. I have never consciously seen money and job success as a measure of the value of a person, so I was shocked when I realized that I was feeling the loss of my job as a loss of my value.

NBC News Investigations recently did a story on Goodwill Industries and how they make use of Section 14 (c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act in order to pay disabled workers based on their ‘abilities’ with no lower wage limit. Let me say that again, there is NO bottom limit to how little they can pay these disabled workers. The lowest wage found by NBC News was 22 cents an hour. There are inmates in federal prison who make almost twice that.

I find that fairly horrifying but what was more astounding is that they pay so many of their regional managers over $400,000 a year, and at least one of them over a million dollars a year. They determine how much they will pay the disabled workers by a system where every six months a ‘regular’ employee stands behind them with a stopwatch and times how quickly they hang clothing. What I want to know is how do they determine that the million dollar employees are worth a million dollars. What measurement system comes up with the answer that says the least vulnerable employee making far more than they need is worth more than all of the most vulnerable employees making far below a living wage.

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Clearly how a business like Goodwill determines a person’s value is beyond my comprehension, but what about myself and the people closest to me?

When I realized I was feeling less valuable, I put quite a bit of thought into why. I realized I was feeling less because I perceived myself to be doing less for my family and my community. I began focusing on spending extra time on my family. I began volunteering for a local non-profit agency and committing to do more for my spiritual communities. I still worry about my monetary contribution to my family but it’s not so personal anymore. I don’t feel like I have no value because my time and effort are my most valuable offerings to the people I care for. Putting in that time and effort brings me a feeling of worth disconnected from the financial value placed on my contributions.

♦◊♦

This was not the case for my husband. About 6 years ago, not long after we got married, my husband was laid off from his job. The whole area was hit extremely hard by the housing crisis and the economy was completely tanked. He couldn’t find work for 18 months, and during that time I worked full time while he took my sons to school and cared for them when they were home. He moved us to a new home, did extensive repairs on that new home. He started a personal business and rarely ever had a day off. No matter how much he did, he felt like he was failing us because he wasn’t bringing in a ‘regular’ pay check.

I pointed out that he was working extremely hard, with less down time than when he had been working. I pointed out that because he had a long and successful employment history we were getting the best possible unemployment benefits and he had an excellent chance of finding another good job. I pointed out that, while we lost the home he had owned, the boys were now in a much better school. I told him I appreciated him, I told him I loved having him home. I explained that if I had my wish I would love for him to stay home as long as he wanted. I told him I wasn’t sure how we could have made it through that time with both of us working and so much to do. None of it sunk in deeply enough.

My husband is not all that stereotypically male. He’s a sweet shy genius type with a wicked sense of humor. He definitely has his ‘Tim the Toolman’ moments but he never seemed that into being The Man. That is one of the things that attracted me to him, that is one of the reasons I wanted to build a life with him. That is why it was a surprise to me when he felt shame for not being able to support his family in that traditional way. That is why I was even more surprised when no amount of logical examination would vanish this shame.

Fast forward to now, I’m the one who is not working but this idea that his value lies in supporting his family through his job is hitting him again! He is now ashamed that I have to worry about having a job. This reaction is not as overpowering as the one to his own unemployment, but it still strikes me as extremely unfair that society has taught him such unrealistic expectations of what it means to be a husband and father.

I don’t know how the people working for Goodwill making $2 or 22 cents an hour feel about their value. I do know that how much our work is valued as indicated by our paycheck has a huge impact on many people’s sense of worth.

We need to find a way to instill a powerful sense of realistic responsibility in all of us around hard work and caring for our families. This sense of responsibility can not be enforced through shame. Shame makes people feel hopeless and unequal to the task, it works against the very thing it is trying to enforce. We need to value dedication to family, not crush people with impossible generic standards of what that means.

The Boy Who Was Really Good at Kindergarten

Originally posted as part of The Good Men Project here

 

When my younger son was 4 he came to me one day, and climbed into my lap between me and my laptop. He took my face in his little hands and made me look straight at him and he said very earnestly “Mama…I’m The Love.” Now part of my brain was going wha? huh? whatever thought I’d been having still hanging there…and where did this come from? what does that even mean? But part of my brain with complete clarity said “YES!” Because of course he is The Love.

It wasn’t long after that day that he started school and many of my favorite things about him turned out to be symptoms that he was wired differently than other kids. I celebrate difference so that didn’t bother me. What bothered me was that he was struggling and suffering in the school environment. What broke my heart was that he went from being my peaceful pixie of love to being extremely anxious and unsure of himself. His first kindergarten teacher could not evaluate his reading because he was too scared to read in front of her.

By the end of that first school year the long wait to have him evaluated for Autism had begun. There was a meeting with me and his teacher and assorted other school people where they worked very hard to gently let me know that they couldn’t hold him back without my permission, but that they strongly believed that he needed to repeat kindergarten. I agreed wholeheartedly. There was no way I was going to push him forward into a new situation he was not prepared for.

There was a boy in my son’s class that year that he spoke about in hushed admiring tones. “He is really good at kindergarten” my son would say. So I sat down with him after that meeting at the school and I told him that I knew this year had been hard but that I thought if he had a chance to do it again, he could be “really good at being in kindergarten” just like the boy he was so amazed by. He nodded wisely accepting this with absolute trust that made me want to cry in appreciation and fear that if he couldn’t do it this time he would feel betrayed.

♦◊♦

The second year of kindergarten was completely different, beginning on the first day. Instead of being a stiff anxious robot who would not speak or even draw, he walked right up to the pile of paper and the crayons and wrote his name and drew a picture of himself. He was still a stranger in this land of “normal” kids but he now knew how things worked.

Now starting 5th grade, my son reads at a grade level far above his own and leads his school in AR points. He routinely stands up in front of his class to answer questions and his biggest complaints about school are that it takes up too much of his reading time, and it’s too boring and loud.

Things are not perfect at school of course, we work with a counselor to try to convince my son that talking to his classmates, saying good morning back to his teacher or even making a friend might be something he should consider. So far he goes back and forth between being uncomfortable with the idea, to rolling his eyes at the concept of taking time away from his reading for these “illogical” things.

This morning when I got up my son flung himself into my arms (he does this part every morning) and without any preamble the following conversation occurred.

Him: “If there wasn’t love there would be no life”…pause for thinking…“or it would be only amino acid life…If there wasn’t love there would be no intelligence.”

Me: “Why are you so smart about love?”

Him: “Most people are.”

Me: (not sure I agreed but keeping that to myself): “But you *really* think about it.”

Him: (As always in his Professor Spock Logical voice): “Love is very interesting. More interesting than Star Trek even.”

Me: “More interesting than Star Trek?!? Wow”

At some point some expert gave us some letters to describe my son, PDD-NOS. Over the years I have spent quite a bit of time reading and I often hear that people on the autism spectrum have no feelings and are incapable of empathy. I think that’s complete crap. I think the problem is that people don’t understand emotions and empathy when they are expressed differently, not that people on the spectrum don’t have or express them.

After breakfast my son and I snuggled up on the couch and talked.

Him: “I am a genius.”

Me: “What are you a genius at?”

Him: “Legos… hugging… being happy.”

I Told My Son He Was Going to Fail

Originally posted at The Good Men Project here.

 

I sat my son down for a very important discussion. I had him get comfortable and I said to him in my ‘this is really important’ mom voice. “I need you to know that you are going to fail.” He blew me off. He smiled and laughed and thought it was a joke. So I said “No, I need you to know that you are going to fail and then you are going to fail again. You will fail your whole life. You will fail beyond your wildest fears. You WILL Fail. You will fail over and over again. Then you will fail some more”

It was at that point that he got that I was serious and started giving me the ‘you have finally lost your mom marbles’ look, because that is not what the rest of the world is telling him. It is not something I had told him before, but I had been reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown and I had been stopped cold by her discussion of perfectionism:

“Perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds.

Last, Perfectionism is not a way to avoid shame. Perfectionism is a form of shame. Where we struggle with perfectionism, we struggle with shame.”

My son is a perfectionist. Worse than that, the world keeps telling him that he should be able to do things perfectly…the first time. Everywhere are these messages about the boy (or man) who took a wild risk and it all turned out with fame and fortune. He is realistic enough to know that wild risks rarely work, but he is surethat if wild risks can succeed in nearly every movie he sees and story he reads, then his perfectly planned ideas should not fail. When they fail he is crushed, not only because he didn’t win the lego building contest (that had a secret prize of all the legos you can play with for life) but because he thinks that means he sucks. He is disappointed that he failed, but he feels shame for being a failure.

Screw that. I am done letting our culture give him the uncontested impression that people routinely succeed on the first try. I know the world will keep sending him the message that you just have to put yourself out there and try in order to be good at things. I will have to counter that with examples of hard work and long term perseverance, while also battling the idea that “practice makes perfect.” Every bit of his brain that is taken up with the idea that he can achieve perfection instead of excellence is setting him up for shame.

So once I knew he was really listening by his expression, I continued. I told him that I needed him to really truly understand that he was going to fail, because otherwise when it happened he might give up, or worse he might think it meant that he was a failure. I told him that everyone fails. Every single person fails, all of the time. I told him that success doesn’t happens when you do things perfectly, success happens when you keep working toward excellence after you fail.

I also told him that if he could really learn this he would not only achieve his goal of being successful, but also be happier which is my goal for him.

Since that day, I tell my son he is going to fail and I tell him often.

More importantly I tell him when I fail. I search out stories of success that include: how many times the person failed before they succeeded, or how a mistake turned out to be an amazing success and I share them with him.

Most importantly I tell him I love him, just him, no perfection required.

Rubbing Shoulders With The World

I watched a documentary on the Amish today. While I disagree with them on some very important issues, I found myself feeling a kinship with them when they began to talk about raising their children with very different beliefs from the world around them. One man said

“We want to be a society of people that are separate from the world, but still we want to be friends with the world, but it’s tough, you rub shoulders with the outside world and after awhile you’re just like they are and it happens fast.”

There was a story related about an Amish man who is asked by a group of tourists how the Amish are different. The story goes that the man asked the group how many of them have televisions at home and everyone raised their hand. He then asked them how many of them thought that their family might be better off without television and almost all of the group raised their hands. He then asked how many of them were going to go home and get rid of the TV and no one raised their hand. He told them that the difference was that the Amish would get rid of things that they felt were bad for their families.

Much like the Amish I look around at the things mainstream Americans feed their children’s minds, bodies and souls and I worry. We are all on our own paths and I have no room to judge. I am not a perfect parent, I make mistakes. I’m fumbling to find my way, but my ideal is if it is bad for my family then I will do my best to change it. Many people think I go to extremes. They wonder, “What is a little bit of artificially colored sugary junk going to hurt?” They think my sons are missing out on all of the latest shows and video games. They think I am ruining Christmas with my refusal to lie about Santa or make it a day of many gifts.

People often comment on how wonderful my sons are. They will even say in amazed respect “Wow, there are still kids who drink water?” or “They are so good!” but so often they have a disconnect from their complimentary opinion of my sons and how they are being raised. They seem to believe that my sons are good kids and I don’t need to be so extreme.

I agree that my sons are wonderful. They are two of my favorite people in the world. They are kind, smart, sassy, funny, good people. I don’t just think this because I’ve brainwashed them to agree with me either. I make the parental decisions, but they bring me respectful, well thought out debates(and a few temper tantrums) about the way our family works. I do my best to listen(when I’m not having a temper tantrum).

The thing people seem to not understand is that the reason my sons are different is because we live a different life. It is not a case of my just being handed two amazing kids so I don’t have to do much, they are who they are in part because of how we raise them. They read like crazy because the TV is rarely ever on, the adults are always reading books and we go to the library every week. They drink water because soda is not an option. They eat tons of vegetables because we worked for years to make that happen. They are respectful because I treat them with respect and they are used to having boundaries.

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