Thursday, March 30, 2017

Are Personal Boundaries a Bad Thing?

I saw a flash today, regarding our Vice President, who, it seems, has a personal rule that he will not dine out alone with a female colleague. He also will not go to a party involving alcohol without his wife at his side.

There is a lot of uproar over this. I'm actually inclined to side with the "other side" on this one.

Personal boundaries are healthy. Knowing your limits is healthy. Knowing where you tend to fail and planning ahead is healthy.

My marriage allows for quite a lot of leniency in terms of intimacy with the opposite gender. As an actress, I've often had to engage in romantic scenes with an acting partner. There is also a fair amount of theater intimacy that is built with a fellow actor one shares scenes with. Part of building chemistry onstage is building a relationship offstage, and there is a lot of time spent together in close quarters, either onstage or backstage, and even sometimes quite a lot of scene-related back and forth outside of rehearsal as well.

I'm glad my husband is in theater - so he isn't usually upset by text conversations happening rapid fire after dinner in the evenings, or the mentionitis of your costar's opinions. We both know that it's something that happens in the 4-5 weeks of rehearsals, and then fades once a show is open (and you're just running the show, instead of spending hours rehearsing each scene), and disappears entirely once the show has ended, and you've moved onto the next project. A lot of marriages couldn't take this. My spouse, as a director, is fond of saying "He can rip your shirt off, honey, if it's good for the show. As long as you come home to me afterward." I also trust that, when he's out for drinks with the cast after rehearsal, that women can flirt with him ALL THEY WANT ... he's not cheating on me either, and the man is charming as hell. (The actresses have tried. I've watched them at cast parties.)


There have been times in our marriage where lines have been crossed. Not intentionally. But a moment of over-exuberance early in our marriage did get my husband jealous. And in that moment, I had to decide what to do. So I decided, I will never be alone with that person again. Not because of guilt. Not because anything was happening, or would happen, or I even WANTED it to....but because my husband trusting that I had his feelings first was more important to me than being right. So, quietly, without any fuss, I unfollowed the person on social media. I carefully left rooms if we were ever about to be alone. I was friendly, and casual, but standoff-ish in social settings. And it didn't feel like an anti-feminist, "oh-I-need-my-husband's-permission" thing. I didn't even tell him I'd done it. I just wanted to be above reproach for myself. And it never became awkward.

Because my husband, who reads people brilliantly, said once "It's not what a person says that you have to worry about, it's what they're not saying."

So, since we have a weirdly theatrical union, I overshare when it comes to costars. I want my husband to meet them. I want to meet their spouses if I can, and thank them for letting me hang out with their husbands or boyfriends, and hear about their families. Because it's important to try to keep costar (and I'm assuming co-worker) relationships in the context of their other lives.

So, I don't have a lot of good things to say about our Vice President or his policies, but I feel that I have an admiration for any person who makes firm decisions regarding his own frailties. It's a shame that so many people are questioning his personal morals in a "if he needs those kinds of boundaries, he must be a real sick-o" way. That's unfair. Everyone is human. Everyone has weaknesses. If he knows what his are, either based on his personal moral code, or because of the similarly insular world of politics and political parties, that this is what he needs, so much the better for him. This is an issue for him and his conscience, and between him and his wife.

We should, regardless of politics, applaud a person who can take steps to keep themselves away from their own personal failings.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Why the refugee crisis IS actually our responsibility... Part 1: Food Waste

Like everyone else these days, I've been watching a lot of news, and reading quite a bit more of political articles than usual (I prefer to focus on people, rather than politics - but that's a luxury/privilege that isn't available anymore).

One thing that has struck me, as I listen to the pros and cons of things around me, is how much the refugee/immigration issue is spoken of in terms of distance. Those in favor feel that everyone coming in should be empathized with, and given the chance at a better life than they had in their own homes. Those opposed feel that their presence is too much of a strain on a taxed economy and services, and we should focus on our own people first. There are lots of opinions.

One opinion I'm not hearing from either side, is how we are responsible for the refugees in the world, not for moral/charitable/fellow man/ethical reasons, but actually responsible.

Our lifestyles directly contribute to most of the suffering of other people in the world.

No, really.

Let's take the way we buy food. Once upon a time, even city people were seasonal food buyers. The super rich could grow summer fruits in a greenhouse, and sometimes tropical fruits could be shipped to temperate climates, but the vast majority of people still bought food as it was available from the farms, and canned/tinned foods when fresh weren't available. But airplanes suddenly made it possible for food grown on the opposite hemisphere to be shipped to us. And food stopped being seasonal. We stopped thinking of, say, strawberries as that thing we can only get in mid-may to early-july, and now we can eat strawberries any time. In convenient plastic shells, shipped to us from South America in January. So, what's the problem with that?

There are many problems. Firstly, it takes a LOT of gas to ship fruit quickly across the planet (this is what that "carbon footprint" thing means - how much fossil fuel is burned to get you a product). Secondly, it tastes pretty crappy, as the fruit has to be picked slightly unripe, in the hope that it won't spoil before it gets to you. Thirdly, supermarket buyers have trained us to only like perfect produce. If it's a little bumpy, or not quite the right color, or without the blush, they will throw it out before it even has a chance to be sold - perfectly good food is thrown out in stores by the TON every single day. Some stores, not wanting people to go dumpster diving for food, will go so far as to pour bleach over the thrown-out produce, to keep people from trying to eat it (this is illegal in europe). Lastly, once we get the food home, we still can't be bothered to eat it all, and almost half of our food goes bad and gets thrown away anyway.

So how does this look from the side of the country GROWING us our food? American money has a lot of buying power. Much more than most of the countries who are growing our food, building our furniture, sewing our clothes. A farmer growing strawberries in South America, can probably make more selling their strawberries to an American corporation than they could selling to their own markets. So, now the people in their own country can't afford to buy the produce grown there, because the farmer gets a better rate shipping the food away. We like to think that we are "giving our money to foreign growers to help them have a better life" but in reality, we are causing the global food shortages. There is, at this point in time, plenty of food to go around....but we in the US, are taking it all. And our money gives us the power to do so.

Now lets circle back around. Here we are, in the US, buying up all of the things we don't feel like waiting to ripen in our own farms....we've bought them away from other countries, we've burned a whole lot of gas to get them here in refrigerated containers that burn even MORE fuel....and TONS of it is being thrown out by our grocery stores, and TONS more of it is being thrown out by ourselves because we purchase more food than we can eat before it goes bad. (And our own poor aren't permitted to benefit from the surplus either)

And people around the world continue to starve for want of the food that we've taken from them, and can't be bothered to eat.

Have you read The Hunger Games? There is a scene when the main characters arrive from the poverty-stricken outskirts to the Capitol city. They attend a party, where there is more food than they've ever seen in their lives....with variety beyond their imagination...and the people at the party keep drinking cordial and disappearing to the restrooms. They discover that, in order to keep eating, the people of the city gorge themselves, then vomit, so that they can eat more.

We are the Capitol.

So what is the solution? It's really very very simple...(at least from a personal consumer standpoint)....If we, as consumers, change our buying habits, the stores will fall all over themselves to give us what we want. (If you shop at a store with a customer loyalty card - you're even more powerful - they're tracking your buying habits to see what else they can sell you) Here's some ways to shop better for yourself and the planet, and influence what your stores are selling you:

1. Shop Local/Buy American (see, I put it in both the liberal and conservative terms). All produce has a location sticker. Most stores will label the local produce as well. Make an effort to buy the closest produce to you, at times when it's fresh. Root vegetables/apples are a good exception - they store pretty well year round.

2. Buy loose produce. Skip the stuff that comes in a plastic bag, or a clamshell, and go straight for the loose carrots. They taste the same, but there's less waste (carbon footprint again - the packaging adds to the fossil fuels going into that product)

3. Choose your exceptions carefully. Even the eco-books recommend a little wiggle room. For me, it's coffee, chocolate, bananas, and avocados. Those will never be local foods, but since I make an effort to buy from farmers markets year round, those minor exceptions are a carefully considered treat. And when I buy them, I buy organic/nonGMO/Fair trade/rainforest alliance certified, because those labels mean that forests weren't cut down, the farmers were paid well, and my foods weren't covered in pesticides to grow them.

4. Buy bulk wherever possible. This is the nummiest little secret in the grocery stores. Most of the food in those bulk bins is organic. It isn't labelled as such. But if you look at the tiny print, most of the bags they're emptying into bins are from organic brands. If you walk right around the corner into the "eco-section" the same flour will cost you dollars more per pound, but in bulk, it's cheaper than the non-organic counterpart....because they didn't have to cover the cost of packaging into their product. "Convenience foods" are the biggest consumer rip-off - costing the consumer hugely, but yet, we're trained to think that organic foods are too expensive for the average consumer...and yet, organic foods are right under our noses, quietly, and without's better food for you, and grown under better conditions for the farmers.

I used to waste food. I never quite managed to get through that last bite on my plate. I was mortified on tour when a homestay chewed me out for leaving lima beans (I don't like them - and she dished out our servings). It was horrible having her serve me for the rest of my stay spoonful by spoonful, because "we don't waste food in this house." But, 10 years later, I recognize that my food waste is taking food out of someone else's mouth. If I only eat half of a portion at a restaurant, I take the rest away for leftovers. I try to buy only a few days food at a time, so that I don't have loads of produce I've forgotten about going bad.

I'm not the type of person who can "un-know" things. I don't want to become militant, either, in policing other people's shopping/eating habits (though it *does* hurt me, just a bit, to see carts full of food in individual vacuum sealed pouches) but I will manage my own food traffic as stringently as I can. I will use up what I can, and manage my waste, and try very hard not to add to the sufferings of the world by consuming more than my fair share.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Debt-Free (soon) - and how just $4,000 almost broke me, and almost turned it all back around again

I was debt-free at the end of my 20s. I'd paid off my student loans. I'd paid off my car.

And then I moved to Seattle to pursue a career in the Arts.

Needless to say, I am no-longer debt-free. I've worked really hard for the past 9 years. I've accomplished a rarity - I've managed to scrape together a living in the Arts, without having a regular, year-round, 9-5 job. Oh, I've supplemented with waitressing here and there, and I've been hemming pants for a retail store for 7 of those years (you never know how many pants there will be in a load, but overall, it's paid rent each month). I started an Etsy shop, that brings in a steady trickle. I've been a Nanny. I've put clothes on almost every other actor in Seattle. I have been paid to act several times at the "big houses" - in the ensemble!

But I couldn't keep ahead, completely. The recession hit, and my husband (then fiance) was laid off while we were dating. Temp work was helpful, but often my income had to stretch for both of us, with little warning. Without being able to afford health insurance, one emergency room visit blew through half of my wedding savings, so the reception went on a credit card. And here and there, a theater wouldn't be able to pay me on time ... and my little bit of savings was blown through each time as I paid bills and hoped that the money would show up before I ran out. And there was a year that I had to stop working for a theater for their ethics violations....and suddenly lost $4,000 of income in a single season. And that same season, several theaters in a row weren't able to issue budget, or didn't pay on time, so budget from the next show had to sit in my checking account, covering for the theater that didn't pay me on time....while purchases for that show maxed out my business credit card....and those credit card balances just kept creeping up, as more and more of my monthly payments went towards interest on the debt, instead of paying down principle.

(This gets good, eventually!)

This season, things turned around, without much warning. I was called into stitch in a Costume Shop for one of the "Big Houses" - which gave me 6 weeks of steady income at a time when I would normally be scraping by on a couple of design gigs. While that was happening, I caught wind of a chance to be a dresser for a Christmas Show at another "Big House." It paid really well over the Holiday (last year's Christmas had been miserable - I'd just lost income, and scraped by all year long), and I knew I could at least easily cover my husband's geeky wishlist without stress. And then, I was chatting with a friend who works at a third "Big House" - and got a quick week of work during my gap between gigs, which led to my being hired again for a 5-week assignment AND being paid to costume their touring school show. Which paid $4,000.

That's it. Just $4,000 - that made all of the difference this year.

I'd already been working at it. In 2016 I'd already decided to take my Etsy shop sales, which are steady but sporadic, and divert all of my sales into Credit Card Payments (usually in $20-30 bits, which wouldn't break the bank, living expenses-wise, but at least would allow me to start chipping away at some principle between payments). Any time I was making steady pay, I would send another 10% of my paychecks towards my credit cards as well. This 2016/2017 Season, I decided to put all of my design fees/acting stipends directly towards principle as well (Anywhere from $250-$1,000 at a time...don't get me started on how many hours of work went into some of those stipends!! Welcome to the Arts!).

But that unexpected money - when my bills were already covered, and my grocery needs were met - allowed me to pay off one card, and one small business tax loan....which allowed me to take one payment I was already making, and add it to my sewing machine loan payment, to pay it off 4 months early (on a zero-interest for 12 month deal, so yippie! - because that company sets up a minimum payment, which "surprise" won't pay off the card in time, and you'll be suddenly hit with 12 months of compounding interest)... which allowed me to add another $100 to the last of my credit cards...which I've now got well below the maximum, and heading towards the halfway point. At the current time, if I only continue rolling one payment into the next payment until they are all paid off, I will have paid off my final credit card in 12 months.

For lack of $4,000 - my credit cards maxed out, my bills mounted, and I was completely frazzled and struggling for the better part of a year. That $4,000 of missing income led to $12,000 of debt load (I know- it's incredible that so little missing money can compound into a so much bigger problem so quickly!)

With $4,000 - I was able to quickly dig myself out of the hole, pay everything back off, and my credit score, which had dipped to "fair" - will be back to "good" with 6 months of work.

The personal lesson for me is: It sucks that I had to do this again, but it was far less debt this time around, and I'd already learned the skills I needed to pay it off quickly, once my personal finances turned around. I'd also kept up some principles from before, and have some savings and a Roth IRA this time around.

The life lesson I've learned is: When you have nothing, tiny changes in income can have a compounding effect very quickly. One medical bill, one missed paycheck, one lost budget reimbursal check, could make the difference between thriving and starving. There have been many articles about how horrible "middle class frugality" advice is for people scraping by...because most of them assume a basic level of spending power that isn't possible when you're flat broke. (It's easy to say "buy bulk" because it saves money, but what if you don't have $40 for that super pack of toilet paper, and can only afford the $2 to get the much more expensive by volume 4-pack) It's also well documented that small setbacks can have a cascading effect. Regardless of political rhetoric, it's also been well-studied and documented that the "welfare queen living off the government" happens so little, that it's almost a myth. What happens much more often is this.
I feel like a leech. I’m told by my friendly clergymen, my wonderful politicians, and by people I know and once called friends that I am a burden on society. I’m a taker. If only I worked harder. If only I wanted to stop being poor and getting handouts, then everything would turn around and I would be rich. If only I would pray harder, attend the correct church, and read an ancient book that I have read cover to cover many times in the past. Then God would just bestow His blessings upon me. Or, I should really just consider putting some positive energy out into the Universe. If I meditate and tell the Universe that I want money, money will come and everything will be fixed. The constant shouts from society’s peanut gallery telling me how the poor or worthless and damned help shape my inner dialogue and I begin to agree with them. I am worthless. I deserve the shame I feel.

I learned, from this past year (and the past 9 years as an artist), that without a social safety net, it's so easy to fall behind through a combination of circumstances. Myself, I had worked 80-90 hours per week. I'd shoehorned gigs around each other to make sure that each bill cycle was covered, and each bill paid on time. It wasn't my fault that one company suddenly couldn't find the money to pay me on time. It wasn't my "lack of planning" or "failure to think ahead" each and every time that the corporate office would mysteriously "lose" the stores invoices, requiring me to bite my nails and hound my poor store liaison to force them to find it, because corporate won't answer emails from their contract employees. And in the end, it didn't matter how hard I worked, or how much I screamed to be paid (with my contract in hand) didn't cause the money to show up quickly enough to stop the next cascade. I had overdraft protection, and two emergency credit cards, and one emergency personal loan account "just in case" - and it still didn't matter, because one paycheck, 1-2 weeks late, could start a cascade that would take me 3-4 months to recover. And I'd be met with employers, both corporate and non-profit, who would adopt a condescending smile and tell me that I "shouldn't count on this money" or "If I wanted to keep having a place to work, I should take the pay whenever they were able to give it to me."

I learned, and keep learning, that it's important to have empathy for the people in our nation that depend on the safety nets. It's easy to say "get a job" during a recession when the college-educated are taking fast-food jobs. It's easy to say "have a six month backup" to someone who can't afford groceries. Yep, it's a good idea...but when you're just trying to put out brushfires all. the. time....all you can do is think of the next bill, and there is no more after that. I learned that $5 extra for a latte makes you feel luxurious for half a second (and don't tell broke people they should save that $5 - quality of life is important, and teeny, tiny splurges are good for the soul, and won't actually do much to help if they'd been spent "wisely.")

I think it's more important than ever to fill the food banks, fund the shelters, and support social programs like welfare, food stamps, medicare, and medicaid. Those programs can literally mean life and death, digging out, or continuing to sink. The difference between housed and living under a bridge, or in a car, is a few hundred dollars.

In a time when social programs are being slashed, and a stupid F*CKING wall is being built....those of us with a little extra should please, look around, and donate our latte money that day to someone who is struggling. Find a homeless shelter, or a GoFundMe account, and give a tiny bit of relief to someone else who is struggling. And liberal, blue-state friends - perhaps one way we can show compassion in a time of anger and division, is seek out loans to people in underfunded, red states (or red parts of our own states)...and maybe leave a little note saying who you are and why. The pundits and analysts are pretty certain that those hit the hardest are going to be those who voted for the current administration. And it's easy to sit back and say "they asked for it." But compassion wins over being "right."

I want to choose compassion.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Celebrating International Women's Day

March 8th was International Women's Day!

I had a message from my Father that morning, wanting to know if it was just for women, or if a heterosexual man was supposed to be/not supposed to be participating. I told him that the day was for everyone - whether you are a woman, or just know one... (he has three daughters, so I think a red shirt wouldn't be out of line) a day to celebrate women, acknowledge us as equal partners in society, and recognize just how far things have come, and how far things still need to go to reach equality.

1. Women earn 78 cents for every dollar a man makes.
2. Only 17% of the seats in Congress are held by women.
3. One out of every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
4. One out of every six women will be sexually assaulted and/or raped in her lifetime.
5. Although 48% of law school graduates and 45% of law firm associates are female, women make up only 22% of federal-level and 26% of state-level judgeships.
6. Even in the 10 top paying jobs for women, females earn less than men; only one career— speech pathology—pays the same regardless of gender.
7. It's not any better at the top. America's top female CEOs earn, on average, 33 cents for every dollar earned by a male CEO.
8. There's nothing in the U.S. Constitution that guarantees women the same rights as a man. Despite attempts to add an Equal Rights Amendment, there is no guarantee of equal rights for women in any legal document or any piece of legislation.
9. Despite previous attempts to ratify a UN treaty guaranteeing the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, the U.S. refuses to support an international bill of rights for women signed by nearly every other nation on the planet.
10. The World Economic Forum's 2009 report on the Global Gender Gap ranked 134 countries for gender parity. The U.S. didn't even make the top 10—it came in at number 31.

I knew that International Women's Day used to be "International Working Women's Day" - but I didn't know that it has been celebrated since 1909.

It was a great day to be in a costume shop working with a team of women. Historically, theatrical costume shops have been the largest group of women in theater in a single department - almost all of the management positions, and technical jobs are held by men. Onstage, men's roles still outrank women's roles by 2:1. Most of the women's roles in theater wouldn't pass the Bechdel Test. I have found that women working in costume shops are some of the most articulate, well-read, passionate, crafty, DIY-y, informed, and literate women I have ever had the pleasure of being around. Since our hands stay busy, but the active troubleshooting comes in fits and starts as the work progresses, there is plenty of time in the day to discuss current events, social issues, the latest books and films, thoughts on productions, the latest new crafty skill, techniques of the trade, classes we're taking....I'm inspired daily. Recently, as the theatre community begins planning for next season, with a hiatus looming, the stitchers were discussing volunteer opportunities during the layoff.

I've been reluctant, in the past, to call myself a feminist. Not because, as it turns out, that I wasn't ... but because the word has been used, even in this day and age, to imply things about women who would call themselves the same way that Suffragette was used 100 years ago, as women (well, white women at least - the POC point of view on the Suffragette movement is fascinating) fought for civil liberties.

Feminism is for everyone. Men can be feminists, too. Our society is better when every member of it is actively fighting for each person in turn. The current political situation has more people aware of more issues, and there are people to support, rallies to attend, congress people to call on a daily basis. Now is not the time to sit back. It is the time to notice the injustices around us, and speak out.

Happy International Women's Day!!

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Modesty Culture - and other odd revalations from World Hijab Day

I've been reading Miyam Bialik's blog Grok Nation lately, and as a practicing Orthodox Jew, she occasionally has mentioned on the blog, and in her What Not To Wear appearance, that modesty is very important to her. I found this very intriguing. As an actress, I am very comfortable being unclothed in rooms of people, and I am very comfortable (in character) showing lots of cleavage, leg, or whatever the costume/role calls for (I play a lot of gun molls). As a normal person, I tend to wear a lot of skirts, I love a zip up turtleneck, and there's usually tights and a sweater. I don't think about this very much. I live in the Pacific Northwest. It rains 9 months a year here, so my winter clothes are nearly worn year-round, with a little careful layering.

In the costume shop yesterday, we were discussing hijabs, and it came up in conversation that the WHD site had asked that women wearing the hijab please dress modestly that day. Which strikes a modern, western woman weirdly at first read. The notion of "covering" seems very antiquated in our culture, and our women's lib movement has worked very hard lately to convey the notion of consent, and there is no such thing as "asking for it" based on what a woman is wearing or not wearing. I agree with all of those things. I also noticed, as I was choosing something to wear with my own hijab, that (outside of bathing suits and some formal wear), I don't own anything that wouldn't qualify as "modest." The girls and I were talking, and several of them realized that they also don't wear anything that wouldn't count as "modest." One comment that had come from many women on the WHD forum was, "why do Western Women think that the only way to be empowered is to be naked? By covering, I choose how I present myself, and I choose how much of my body I allow people to see." This was a new thought.

What I realized about myself from that experience is: I, too, choose to cover.

I've spent some time trying to delve if this is something I consciously choose, or if it is in my upbringing. I haven't come to firm conclusions, but I have figured out a few things about it:

I do come from a religious background, I was homeschooled (sort of), but we were not a particularly conservative family, and were kind of the liberal ones of the homeschoolers I knew. I don't remember my parents ever tacitly trying to instill "modesty" into me as a child. I liked wearing dresses - I wore them through junior high daily. I felt stupid in jeans for 4 years in high school, and finally discovered vintage fashions in college and hardly ever went back to pants.

As a short woman, who tends to be on the curvy side, I am aware of how easy it is for people to see down my shirts so I have a collection of lace edged tanks that add a pop of color and keep my breasts under wraps.

I get cold easily. I tend to like a lot of lightweight layers (rather than one heavy sweater) to keep warm. On an average day my layering will include sweater tights, knit socks, lace edged tank top, real knit top, sweater vest/wool vest, pleated wool skirt, cardigan, pashmina.

I don't love my knees. They're perfectly functional knees. They bend and everything. I kind-of agree with fashion designers going into the 1920's thinking "why would anyone one to show their knees - they're very unattractive?!" My skirts tend to cover them. Luckily I love vintage, so all of my skirts sit just below my knees anyway. I don't wear longer skirts, 'cause I am short - but I love a good 80's pleated plaid skirt (thank you, You've Got Mail), so I wear them almost daily. If I'm wearing a knit dress, there's usually a skirt under it to add a few more inches.

I love color. I love lots of color, and I love to combine it, layer it, coordinate it with one piece of my ensemble that has all of the colors mixed. I spend the winter in slightly steampunky space outfit recombinations of my vintage pieces and knitwear. I have steampunky belts and a collection of book and geek themed jewelry. I want to be River Song when I grow up, so that's part of it, too.

In doing my research for World Hijab Day, I was struck by women telling me that it was ok to NOT want to show my body off. I found other women in my own culture, who also don't feel the need to reveal themselves all of the time. And these are not "repressed" women. These are not frumpy women. I am not a frumpy woman. I am a What Not To Wear fan. I know how to layer, and fit, and find clothing that fits me. We all work at a costume shop (some of the most quirky dressers you will ever find!). I dress people for a living. We are modern, liberal, feminists that (we hadn't realized until we noticed that any or all of our own clothing fits the "modest" bill) feel empowered in clothing.

So, the flip side of this discussion ... we, as liberal, western women, should examine our own knee-jerk reaction when we see a woman in a hijab. I know my "repression" alarm goes off. And it doesn't need to. Just as wearing a piece of fabric on my head doesn't make my brain turn off, wearing clothes that cover me from my neck to my toes doesn't make me ashamed of my body, or less of an independent woman. There *are* women who are "forced" to hijab/dress modestly/stay at home/etc. We should continue to advocate strongly for a woman's autonomy. But we should also be ready to address our own pre-conditioning, and realize that as part of a woman's "right to choose" she may also choose to cover.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Thoughts on Wearing a Hijab and Intersectional Feminism

This has been an interesting time (and not in a good way). As someone who has always been passionate about making life changes based on new information - I can't learn something and not apply it - I find myself thrust into activism in a way I couldn't previously imagine. I think at this time in history, every person should be vocal about things that are important to them - on any side of the political spectrum. Decisions are being made based on base fear, and the lowest common denominator of society, and everyone needs to make their voice heard, regardless of conservative or progressive. There is enough protest for us all....

That being said.

I went to my airport to protest on behalf of the legal immigrants/refugees caught in the gristmill when the "Immigrant Ban" went through, suddenly finding themselves detained or deported after having already been vetted. After that, there was a lot of discussion about "how we can help our Muslim neighbors" specifically those who "cover" (a term that encompasses anything from a simple scarf to a full burka). In my reading, I stumbled across "World Hijab Day." This is a program started by the Muslim world inviting non-muslims to participate in hijab wear for one day, to show support, solidarity, and walk a mile in a Hijabi Woman's Shoes. In my inter-sectional feminism readings (yes, this is a thing I read, now), I was struck by how often white women get all fired up in support of a cause, and quickly dash around to hold events - without stopping to see what is already being done by the group in question (The Pussy Hat March is a good example - it took a lot of time for the inexperienced women who were organizing the early march to pass the reigns off to several black women who had been organizing marches for years). In the post-Muslim Ban days, women in my circle were talking a lot about how to support Muslim women in our communities, to provide solidarity, to help deflect attention from their Hijabs, step in to protect them from harassment - all very important conversations.

So, having found World Hijab Day - I shared the link.

It was an intersectional disaster.

I was dismayed at how quickly (usually within seconds) WHD was dismissed as "cultural appropriation." "But they'll be offended." "They wouldn't want us to do that." "What if I offend someone." "I can't do that, it would be insulting to their culture." These knee-jerk responses came so quickly that the women clearly could not have even clicked on the link to read the heading to learn:

1. Muslims started the event.
2. Muslim women host the event yearly.
3. Muslim women who cover invited non-Muslim women to participate.
4. Muslim women host a Q&A every year to offer feedback about hijabs, why they wear them, are they forced to cover by their parents/husbands/religious leaders/culture, and how do they feel about other women wearing them

And I understood, at that moment, (after three different separate conversations - hand-wringing about how to show support, the event was mentioned, and liberal women shot down the idea, and rushed off to their own echo-chamber discussions) what those Black Lives Matter women meant when they said that liberal white women are often the most difficult to deal with in their causes. We rush in, we decide to be on-board now. And we take each cause over without stopping to listen to the voices of the actual people affected. We asked how to show support. Muslim Women told us how they would feel supported. We rejected their day, and rushed off to find a "better way to properly show support for our Muslim sisters who are too suppressed to know that they shouldn't feel good about either wearing a hijab themselves, or for asking us to wear one, too." It was sad.

Here's what I learned about myself from wearing a Hijab for a day.

1. I didn't feel Muslim at all that day. I *looked* very Jewish.
2. Bless Seattle, no one even batted an eyelash at me.
3. A headscarf doesn't change me on the inside. It's just a piece of fabric (granted, only one day).
4. I was very aware that I was conspicuous.
5. I had some great conversations at work about hijab wear and what I'd learned.
6. I was ASTONISHED at the liberal response.
7. I read that H&M was a great shop partly designed with cool fashions that are covered enough for Hijabi women to shop off the rack. I went into one. I found loads of stuff!
8. I discovered that I don't own anything in my wardrobe (outside of bathing suits and some formal wear) that I couldn't wear with a hijab.
9. I found my local Muslim shopping center right up the road from my house, and a very nice lady in a burka, and another really nice lady in a hijab, and the first lady's two grandsons, helped me choose my lovely hijab - as I wanted to shop from an actual Muslim business owner as well.
10. A headscarf doesn't change how my brain works, how I think, how I feel, but it does change how I feel about encountering strangers. Suddenly I knew I was very visible, and any person I passed *might* hassle me. This was particularly true if I was *trapped* anywhere - on busses, in elevators, etc.

....I have more thoughts, but have run out of time to type for today...