Eldercare: The Forgotten Feminist Issue.

(This was written late last year; I pitched it a few places but received little interest. I’m posting it here because, well, it’s an important conversation.)

One of my favorite pictures of my mom.

Mom, back in the day.

 

As I write this my mother is fast asleep in a nursing home, her third stint in 15 months. It is a heartbreaking thing, watching your parent slowly succumb to her mortality. You try to prepare yourself for the call you’ll get in the middle of the night from a nurse reluctant to give you the news you’ve been dreading for years. But no amount of preparation will ready you for that call. No amount of alcohol will lessen the pain. Even writing about it is hard because it forces you to deal with an absolute, inescapable truth. She is dying, and you are powerless to stop it.

The woman I now visit several times a week is not the woman I knew five years ago, or even three years ago, when she bounded into my maternity suite with her walker, perching herself on the sofa while ordering my husband around. She is an entirely different creature, one who will ask me the same question in a five-minute span, one who is petulant and stubborn and scared. She is not the Joan who raised me, and it is difficult to reconcile this version with the one I knew. The one I miss. I watch my other friends in envy as they travel the world with their healthy, able-bodied parents, as those parents gift them with cars and weddings, top-shelf appliances and Maclaren strollers.

As a junior member of the Sandwich Generation, I’ve been my mother’s primary caregiver for the last several years, a responsibility passed on to me when my brother and his wife retired to Phoenix. A changing of the guard, so to speak, because they’d spent over 20 years juggling full-time jobs, mortgage payments and ailing elders. Statistics will tell you that the average Sandwicher is older, whiter and affluent, which makes my case somewhat unique (I suppose) because I am none of those things. Earlier this year, when my husband was laid off after 14 years of what should be considered indentured servitude, our financial situation went from “meh, it could be worse” to “oh, this is what abject poverty feels like.” If money wasn’t going to toddler care, it was going to one (or both) of our mothers.

But what I’m doing now is no different from what my brother was doing ten years ago, no different from what our mother was doing over 20 years ago when she moved my grandmother into our spartan three-bedroom apartment on Chicago’s south side. In fact, my situation isn’t a unique one at all, because growing up I was surrounded by women who lived as we did; three-to-four generations sharing 800 square-feet. For most poor/working-class single women of color, this is a familiar, albeit depressing, narrative. My mother was raising a 12 year-old and a 67 year-old on barmaid’s wages and public assistance. Her friend Mona was using her barmaid’s wages to provide for her college-bound son and a mother in a nursing home. Another friend, Sally, was raising a gaggle of kids and grandkids on Sunday dinners she’d sell from her window. Though they all made it work, there were doubtless physical and emotional strains that would manifest in the years to come.

As much as we love to pathologize the black inner-city experience, there was—is—a love that is real. Present. Corporeal. Etched in frown lines and callused hands. Displayed by women whose sense of love and obligation pushed them to their limits. According to this study on cultural diversity and caregiving, African-American caregivers had lower levels of caregiver burden and depression than their white counterparts. Given that depression is fairly underreported in the black community, I find this hard to believe. While some reports show Americans being generally averse to elder caregiving, others show just how ingrained it is in the black community, mainly because we cannot afford it. And we’re less likely to entrust the care of our Willa Maes to state institutions or private facilities because of the increasing number of abuse cases.

As writer Jane Glenn Haas pointed out, eldercare isn’t sexy enough to be a feminist issue. It lacks the naughty allure of reproductive rights, the seductive appeal of body image. It doesn’t even have a sassy Lean In-like catchphrase. But it should be a feminist issue, since the numbers show that women are most likely to shoulder the responsibility of looking after parents in their twilight years, and the most likely to live well into those twilight years. A lot of them have missed out on career and educational opportunities. A lot of them—like my mother and her friends—are doing this by the skin of their teeth, with scant to nonexistent resources. A lot of them will outlive their spouses (if they have them), exhaust their pensions (if they have them), and die alone.

All of this begs a stronger push for policy changes that no longer penalize women for making the choice to care for their elders, a push for making more resources available to help them. Innovative programs like CAPABLE can not only ease the burden of caregivers, but empower the senior citizens who need the care and improve their quality of life. But in order for this country to realize the importance of this issue, we need more voices—big and small—to amplify it.

On consent and sensitivity.

About 10 years ago, I was a staff writer for the Hyde Park Herald, a community weekly that paid in Trident Layers. One day, I was assigned a story on neighborhood chess players who’d been kicked out of a Borders bookstore for ruining the aesthetic, or something. I interviewed the store manager, who later claimed that I quoted her without permission.

Three days later, I was sacked. I was livid. I didn’t understand why the woman would lie. She never deferred to a corporate rep, nor did she state that she wanted anything off the record. It was just a story about chess players. What was the big deal? I didn’t consider that the woman might have wanted her identity hidden for reasons, and I didn’t care. I was out of a job, and over a story I didn’t even want. So I chalked it up to cowardice and started taping all of my interviews from that point on.

Yesterday, @steenfox kicked off an important conversation about rape culture by asking her followers what they were wearing at the time of their assault. She asked for permission to retweet the responses, all of which were vast and jarring. Some consented; others didn’t. Some asked her to retweet them anonymously. The conversation went on for hours, with women and men sharing their stories from all parts of the globe. It was a beautiful, communal catharsis; a perfect response to an earlier discussion about Slutwalk giving women permission to “dress like sluts.”

A few hours later, Buzzfeed writer Jessica Testa wrote up the discussion, asking for permission from everyone EXCEPT the person facilitating the discussion. (Again, I would link but I’d contract something.) To Testa’s credit, she did attempt to reach out to Steen, but Steen never saw it because her mentions were filled with people sharing their testimonies. I would’ve tried again until I got a response, but that’s just me. Anyway, Testa’s published “story” consists of little more than screencapped tweets and captions. It is the laziest piece on rape culture I’ve seen thus far, and I’ve seen a LOT of lazy stuff floating on the internet.

When Steen and Testa finally talked, Testa would echo what most of her supporters–themselves media salarymen–were saying: Twitter is a public platform, and thus these tweets were fair game. “The victims’ stories don’t belong to you or Twitter,” she told Steen. Buzzfeed brass (and a number of employees) agreed. Even Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan weighed in with a condescending post, complete with links to tweets from various people who took issue with Testa and Buzzfeed. Ironically, a Daily Dot writer who wrote about the ethical pitfalls of  using tweets didn’t bother giving me a heads-up about using one of mine.

But the real issue isn’t so much about Twitter being a public space; it’s about the absolute lack of empathy, sensitivity, and thoroughness when it comes to covering stories like these and the flippant, snarky responses that come from media outlets after the inevitable fallout. Testa’s quest to be the first to break the story alienated a number of people and did irrevocable damage not only to Buzzfeed’s brand, but the public’s trust. Some expressed relief that they didn’t share their survivor stories out of fear they’d become troll fodder. Testa didn’t take into account Steen’s safety or comfort, potentially exposing her to trolls and other unsavory characters.

It’s one thing to take down racists or make fun of bad cuisine, but it’s quite another to risk the emotional (and, in some cases, physical) safety of abuse survivors for the sake of page hits. As a friend told me earlier, “The good guys should never be collateral damage.” Sexual assault is an evergreen topic that will never lose its relevancy, and with enough thought and care, Tesla could’ve done something insightful and thought-provoking with the material given. While many of us joke about Buzzfeed only being good for cat gifs and listcles, they’ve produced some very solid journalism in the last year. Clearly, they’re capable of doing better. They just didn’t choose to do better here.

Anyway, to see how responsible journalism is done, please refer to Jenee Desmond-Harris’s interview with Steen on The Root.

Why I Stopped Identifying With White Feminism

karnythia:

There’s something amazing about white feminist who are willing to do their own heavy lifting.

Originally posted on ofcourseitsaboutyou:

(Inspired by @SamAmbreen’s post here: We will not let white feminism divide and conquer us )

Today I’ve been talking with @HadleyFreeman about a series of posts she made to @JudeinLondon earlier in the day. Short story: Freeman wrote a problematic article, Jude discussed it on Twitter without linking to Freeman, someone emailed Freeman about Jude’s response and Freeman demanded, repeatedly, that Jude take the discussion offline. In my opinion, she abused her platform and privilege. She called Jude’s preemptive blocking of her account “childish” when it was an act of self care. Eventually, she used the same tone policing on me and I believe she has blocked my account, although I fully admit to blocking her and not checking back. Maybe later. It was yet another example of why I don’t belong in White feminism and why many other white feminists feel the same way. Today, @SamAmbreen asked for…

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On the expendability of rape victims and irresponsible journalism.

Today in “WTF, White Feminists?!” News, Slate’s Amanda Marcotte jumps on another train to Wrongville, siding with a Washington State prosecutor’s decision to arrest an alleged rape victim for refusing to cooperate:

…it seems naive to believe that all you need to work with victims of domestic assault is more outreach. (The charges are against the second man, but the boyfriend is the one who instigated the kidnapping, suggesting that the domestic violence framework is in play here.) Victims have minds of their own, and sometimes no amount of victim outreach or counseling will change their minds.

The victim’s refusal to cooperate is a problem endemic to the prosecution of domestic violence, as I wrote in September. In Queens, N.Y., law enforcement reports that victims recant their testimony in 9 out of 10 cases. It’s not necessarily, as Rose suggests, simply because they are so traumatized by the violence itself that rehashing it with prosecutors feels too overwhelming. Research shows that a victim’s refusal to cooperate with a prosecution is more about her relationship to the abuser. In this particular case, the victim has a long-standing history with one of her attackers, which suggests that she probably doesn’t see this in the same way that someone kidnapped and assaulted by complete strangers would. While there are some interventions that can help reduce the problem of victims who recant out of these complex feelings, there’s no silver bullet of counseling that will get all victims to see things the way prosecutors want them to.

Clearly the only way these women are going to learn is if they’re victimized all over again? This is nonsense. Dangerous nonsense. Dangerous nonsense that will most likely result in fewer victims coming forward, and more rapists walking free.

It’s easy to get caught up in the facts and figures and forget that these are actual human beings, ones who have experienced a horrible trauma. Ones who have to figure out how to deal with that trauma and still attempt to be fully functioning people. What Marcotte and others fail to realize is that for some, the victimization doesn’t end with the rape. Or with pressing charges. Or with a conviction. Some perpetrators can and do continue to torment their victims, even after the final bang of the gavel. And, depending on how powerful said perps are, that torment can be life-threatening.

The sad, unavoidable truth is that we can’t be mad about victims changing their minds when our collective handling of sexual assault victims borders on obscene. Between bizarre laws and thousands of backlogged rape kits and oh!–our time-honored tradition of treating alleged victims like suspects, we should expect more of them to pass on turning to the legal system for help. We should also realize that greenlighting thoughtless clickbait like Marcotte’s only traumatizes people more. Always erring on the side of profit and pageviews means putting some really egregious shit into the world. If that’s a price worth paying, OK, but it’s also understandable that other people who identify as feminists will come for your fucking card.

 

 

Welcome to Intersectionality. Sometimes it’s hard.

Helen Lewis’s rebuttal of Julie Burchill’s ridiculous and horribly formatted Spectator essay on intersectionality (I won’t link it because I may contract something) left many of us doing this:

…because for all of their good intentions, white feminists still cannot get it right. Maybe they don’t want to get it right. For all of this talk about infighting and hurt feelings and waxing!–the things we really need to address keep getting ignored. When Piers Morgan went after Janet Mock–the first time–only two notable white feminists took to their sizable platforms to address it. Unfortunately, neither of them were very helpful, and seemed more sympathetic to Morgan. (Oh, how I miss the days when he was regulated to judging 80 year-old ballerinas on talent shows.)

“Intersectionality is really, really hard, guys!” Yes, it is. And no one expects white feminists to be perfect. We DO expect you to try, and not expect people to be nice to you or hold your hand when you fuck up. If Helen Lewis’s idea of handling criticism is to call out another white woman for referring to herself as a womanist? I just…I don’t know.

At some point you have to give up the ghost. In the case of us “marginalized people” (I hate that term) it might be time to stop getting angry over the latest mainstream feminist blunder and look at them the same way you would a puppy that pooped on your floor. Or an old Three Stooges episode. Because the best we can expect at this point is some really great slapstick comedy.

Anyway, enjoy this kickass piece from Bitch’s Tina Vasquez on the mainstream movement’s failure on transgender issues, if you haven’t already.

#DangerousBlackKids A Love Letter From Hood Feminists to Our Children

We were on the phone yesterday, still reeling from yet another bizarre court case where a murdered child was on trial for existing in public. My oldest son is 14, taller than me, with a man’s voice and the over-sized hands and feet that come with imminent, but not yet reached physical maturity. To me, he is the embodiment of a roaming piece of my heart. I carried him, nursed him, and taught him. He will always be my baby. He is his father’s buddy. They communicate in a language of comics, art, video games, and jokes that are so very them. My youngest son adores his big brother, and while he is also my baby, I can see that like his older brother some day he will be a giant in my house. I worry for all of them in that way that you do when society says that the people you love are worth less, and frames their very existence as a crime. Trayvon Martin’s death and Jordan Davis’ death are the most recent, but far from the only examples of this phenomenon that they called lynching until very recently.

They worry for me, because violence doesn’t observe gender lines and Rekia Boyd’s death wasn’t that long ago. Renisha McBride’s death is even more recent. And each time, the slain are on trial first, long before their killers have to worry about consequences. These stories have become so common that my friends and I have developed our own rituals around the outrage cycles required to force a trial, and around the results of the trials. We talk online and off, suggest self care tactics, and hug each other’s babies regularly. I am Tete Mikki to Jamie’s son, and while I fuss about his tiny size and random toddler outbursts, he is my baby as much as any of the others. Jamie knows my sons, has babysat them, nagged them, and demanded they stop teasing her about being so short. So, when we sat on the phone, we were half going through our normal rituals and half boiling over from outrage exhaustion. It does some thing awful to your spirit to constantly have to insist on your humanity, and the humanity of those you love. To be part of a community so frequently demonized, in refutation of documented history and current events, is to be forced to fight for your life and the lives of strangers constantly. We talked about a baby picture posted by @miss_hellion, the myth of black danger, and we started brainstorming hashtags.

#DangerousBlackKids is not about proving our worthiness to live to those who would handwave our murders. It is not about being respectable enough to deserve life. It is about being human in public, with each other, for each other. It is a reminder to ourselves that we will never be the monsters society would like us to be, that we are complex, complicated, and eminently worthy of life because we are here. We will always be here. We will fuss, feud, fight, and be a family regardless of what outsiders want to see. Our children are precious to us, to their friends, to the communities that we inhabit. And no matter how many times we have to fight for them, or for ourselves, we will keep fighting for as long as it takes to win. Because we are always worth it. We will never stand silent in the face of destructive forces. Just as we work within our communities to heal them, we will work outside our communities to stop the next generation of traumas from being inflicted.

The High Cost of Bravery TW: Child Abuse

By now, most of the internet has voiced their opinion on Dylan Farrow & Woody Allen. There are hashtags, articles, counter articles, & an obscene number of abusers & enablers showing the world not to trust them. Some of those people are feminists, renowned journalists, or just plain old enough to know better. This isn’t a step by step dissection of them, their motives, or their impact. I could do that. Again. But to be honest, I’m so tired of pointing out that the emperor has no clothes that I could just scream. I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I’ve written that out a lot of the years. And I’m fortunate in that my primary abuser is dead. Unfortunately, he was a family friend & to this day some of my relatives speak of him with a certain amount of fondness. I…mostly don’t speak to them. It’s easier that way than it is to wade into the waters of not being believed, or worse yet being blamed for what I did or didn’t do as a child. Now, as the debates rage on and on, all I can think of is how Dylan must feel to have people who weren’t in that house, in that attic, debating whether or not she knows what happened to her. There were only two people present, and only one of them benefits from lying. But she doesn’t fit the popular narratives about victims of sexual abuse any more than Allen falls into the stereotypes so often depicted on cop shows and afterschool specials.

I wasn’t in an attic. I was in a basement, and in a room off a kitchen that always smelled like fishsticks. The basement smelled of mold, had severe vermin issues, and figures heavily in my nightmares to this day. I still hate unfinished basements. And no, there were no witnesses. There was very little in the way of physical evidence I imagine, since my abuser was my baby sitter and expected to bathe me if I got messy. I can’t prove anything. Probably never could to be honest. I was very young when it started, and as I got older (and I displayed some behavioral issues), there was little or no discussion of anything, but how I should be better behaved. Because that’s what happens to so many of us. So, for Dylan to be brave enough to tell, to be unable to keep telling (at 7 no less), and for her to still suffer emotionally to this day makes perfect sense to me.  I’ve had the therapy, the peace of knowing he can never touch me again, and I’m still not over it.  I pretend I am, because I need some space to try to be who I could have been in a different life.

We laud bravery, especially when it is displayed by folks who are laying it all on the line. We don’t talk about what that bravery costs. What happens when it is displayed and not honored, or worse yet, it is honored, but the trauma of telling isn’t going to lead to any real closure. Woody Allen has never spent a day in jail for the crimes that Dylan has detailed. That’s an incredibly common occurrence in these cases. Telling as a child is difficult, sometimes impossible, the process of telling over and over again as is required to report this crime to the police is incredibly damaging. So when the decisions are made to protect the kids (and conveniently allow alleged abusers to never face charges), it makes perfect sense. What doesn’t make sense is the way adults that report are treated. Just because a child couldn’t face telling, couldn’t withstand family and social pressures, the shame, the guilt, or sometimes the self loathing doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean the child isn’t brave. It means that bravery costs, and sometimes the price is too high.

I will always believe the kids. Because I was one of them. And I was never as brave as Dylan. I’m still not that brave. I’ve talked to the internet about what happened, to friends, my husband, even a few therapists. But most of my family doesn’t know, and the ones who probably suspect will never ask. I don’t fault them for that. I have no idea what I’d say. It’s easier to be the family black sheep, that wild child who no one really understands, than to be anything else. I could tell you about the damage done, and how it shaped me for good and for ill. But this isn’t that kind of post either. It’s just a statement of fact. Here at Hood Feminism we will not be making excuses, tolerating enabling, or apologists. And no, I will not deluge you with stats, but I will point out that after the bravery comes the consequences. The hard part of all of this isn’t just right now when the news cycle is so focused. The hard part is in a few months or a few years when this hasn’t gone away from Dylan’s life. Because it never ever goes away. That’s not obsession, that’s not sick, that’s not a failure to heal…it’s a wound that runs deep, and visible scars that folks may well trip over. We’re not easy people to understand, accept, or even love. But we’re here. It’s not just about being a kid that was molested, it’s about being an adult who has to live with what happened in a world that says your abuser was right. Most people won’t believe you, and even it they do, you’ll be blamed. Because bravery at any age costs more than most of us can stand to pay.