Tucker Carlson, Jerry Garcia, and me

After I was on Fox News Saturday morning to discuss Amazon dropping its girl/ boy filters for toys and games many of you asked me about Tucker Carlson’s intro of me as his high school classmate. (I can’t figure out how to embed the video here, so if you’re more tech saavy than me, please post the link.)

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Yes, it’s true! Tucker and I went the same boarding school, though I was expelled sophomore year. Tucker went on to marry the headmaster’s daughter in the school chapel. That pretty much epitomizes our differing experiences in prepland, his successful, mine not so much.

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Here’s a blurry pic from the 80’s of us at a Grateful Dead concert. I’m in the front and Tucker is to the left wearing glasses. Jerry Garcia, looking rather skinny and two dimensional, is a cardboard cut out. Looking back on high school, I don’t know if Tucker was better behaved than me –I was suspended for smoking a cigarette in the dorm and then kicked out the following year for drinking or if he– like a lot of the kids who made it through boarding school– was just more skilled at giving the appearance of following all those seemingly endless rules.

If you watch the video, you can see I vehemently disagree with Tucker on Amazon’s decision– and most issues along with probably all of the other hosts on Fox News. Still, at least the network had me on to speak. I got a national platform to address about an issue I care about which is more than CNN or MSNBC has offered me recently.

I’ll leave one with one more nugget of prep school trivia. Julie Bowen, then known as Julie Luetkemeyer, the actress from “Modern Family” (and from kidworld “Planes: Fire and Rescue”) was in our class as well. As brilliant and beautiful then as now, she was probably the smartest kid in our class.

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Finally, I didn’t get a chance to mention it in the 3.5 minutes I was on TV, but Amazon didn’t fully drop its filters. Read the details in my update here.

 

 

 

Huzzah! Amazon drops ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ toy/ game categories

I’m deep in Fairyworld working on my book (really, almost done) but I had to visit cyberspace to bring you this amazing news! Amazon has dropped its boy/ girl categories for toys and games. This is a huge step forward for gender equality, and it was taken because of you speaking out and creating change.

Just this weekend, I was at a soccer game for my 6 year old’s team, and another mom, knowing I have three daughters, said to me, “Your house must be so girlie!” Ugh, people say this all the time. I responded: “I try to keep their worlds big and open.” She told me she has two sons and let me know when her only daughter chose what color to paint her room, she picked pink.

“That’s the problem,” I said. “It’s not really her choice. Everything marketed to girls is pink, from Toys R Us to TV, that’s what they see.” I explained how pink used to be a “boy” color.

Her reply? “So, is everything in your house beige?”

I burst out laughing, but her comment reminded me of why I’m not a fan of the term “gender-neutral.” I prefer to use “gender inclusive.” I don’t want less colors for kids, I want more. I’m so sick of having versions of these conversations with parents about the limited gender boxes they buy into, hearing again and again about how boys will bite their toast into the shapes of guns because “that’s just how boys are.” I live in progressive San Francisco and when these words come out of smart, educated liberal parents, I’m still shocked (though my poker face is pretty good now.) At best, with children growing up in a world created by thousands of years of sexist narratives, where females are sidelined and sexualized,  from the Bible to the Avengers, with brain plasticity/ development based on activities kids engage in, you’ve got to AT LEAST say that you don’t have a fucking clue what girls and boys are “naturally” like.

So when I see parents affirm girls for being quiet, reading, or doing art, admonished not to get their clothing messy, complimented on their shoes or hair (which is, of course, designed to receive those compliments) while the same parents tolerate boys being “wild,” “disruptive,” wrestling, shouting, and running around, it stuns me that people really buy into the sexism that girls and boys are just different.

I’ve blogged before that I believe that people will look back on this time and be blown away by how sexist we were in the USA, that children were segregated by gender in the aisles of Target. Didn’t we learn that separate but equal doesn’t work? That so-called utopia doesn’t exist. My whole blog Reel Girl is dedicated to imagining gender equality in the fantasy world. If we can’t imagine equality, we can’t create it. It makes me sad and angry to see a whole new generation watch Hollywood movies made for kids where girls go missing. These kids get trained to accept and expect a real world where females go missing. This sexism in kidworld is so prevalent, that, ironically, it’s invisible. Parents don’t notice it. I get mocked all the time for even writing about it, for not being a real feminist because I care about trivial issues like cartoons and toys and, you know, children.

Amazon’s decision to refuse gender segregation is inspiring and exciting, but we have more work to do. Toys we sell come from the stories we tell. As I blogged in the posts If a stormtrooper had no epic, would he exist?  and When Hollywood excludes girls, how can Lego market to them? until females are recognized as heroic protagonists in narratives, removing gender labels from the merchandise will only take equality so far. Kids– girls and boys– need to experience stories where females (plural, not just one, not a Minority Feisty) are front and center, being brave, making choices, and taking risks. Which reminds me, I better get back to writing mine. Huzzah Amazon! THANK YOU

Update: On her blog, Melissa Wardy, founder of Pigtail Pals writes:

But Amazon didn’t drop the gendered categories. It just moved them. To the top of the page and under the “Toys & Games” heading above the item images.

amazonOn the left side bar under “Age Ranges” we used to see “Gender” and the binary options of “Boys” or “Girls”. Now we see the left side bar offering search options of “Popular Features”, “Shop By Price”, “Age Ranges”, “Toys & Games”, “Featured Character & Brand”, and “Interest”.

 

This is truly great and reflects how merchants should offer toys to children and families: age and interest.

The problem is, I still see “Boy’s Toys” and “Girl’s Toys” pages, as well as this when I go in to shop “Toys & Games”…

 

If there were a word for that deflated sound a party blower horn makes when it runs out of air, I’d insert it here. Because shoppers will still get the following message:

Boys go out into the world, build the world, explore the world, save the world, and play hard when they play outside. Girls, on the other hand, stick close to home, think of home, decorate the home, need things to be pink, play with dolls, and sit in pink folding chairs during “Sports and Outdoor Play”.

There are no robots, globes, vehicles, nor firefighters for girls. There is no pink, dolls, princess dresses, nor homey items for boys.

 

On SFGate, Amy Graff makes a similar observation about moving the gender category to another area of the site, but sees consistency with Amazon refusing stereotypes:

 Amazon still features special girls and boys pages noted at the top of the toys page and the current highlights on the girls’ page seem to be further proof that Amazon is taking a stand against gender stereotyping. On the girls’ page, you’ll find a plug for summer outdoor equipment such as swing sets, an ad for STEM toys and games and a promotion for package toy deals that allow you to bundle everything from Barbies and Avengers figurines for discounts.

 

I will do my own research on this, but it seems pretty obvious that keeping ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ categories for selling toys is archaic and meaningless. Amazon should get rid of them all together.

Update: As reported by Melissa and Amy, on the Amazon site, if you click on ‘Toys and Games, you’ll see this:

Toys & Games

Shop for dolls, action figures, games, and gifts for boys and girls. Explore Editors’ Picks in our Best Toys of the Month.

 

The good news is this small print, gender sub category is much harder to get to now. The bad news is its still there. I’m hoping Amazon is phasing the gender category out, and taking it off Amazon’s main page is the first step.

I will continue to research what Amazon is selling under ‘boy’ and ‘girl,’ but at this point, when I click on “girls,” I see a sea of pink and dolls. When I click on “boys” as Melissa wrote, I see robots, globes, and colors (except for pink.) I’m still blowing my horn, but I hope Amazon makes another move very soon to completely give up these limiting categories.

Amazon, are you listening? Your customers don’t need this kind of sexist assistance shopping, except maybe one, who wrote on Reel Girl’s Facebook page: “But my little lady brain is too small to figure out what to buy my kids without gender categories!”

Is Laverne Cox posing nude cause for celebration?

Transgender actress Laverne Cox poses naked in this month’s Allure, telling the magazine:

“I said no initially, thought about it, and said no again. But I’m a black transgender woman. I felt this could be really powerful for the communities that I represent. Black women are not often told that we’re beautiful unless we align with certain standards. Trans women certainly are not told we’re beautiful. Seeing a black transgender woman embracing and loving everything about her body might be inspiring for some folks. There’s a beauty in the things we think are imperfect. It sounds very cliché, but its true.”

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Ideals of female beauty vary over time and geography, but what’s consistent in patriarchal culture, whether the idealized body happens to be Rubenesque or Twiggyish, is that women are shown naked. (For a gallery of images, please see my post Why do men feel entitled to women? A gallery of reasons) Cox has has a unique opportunity to publicly redefine what it means to be a woman, and I’m disappointed she’s sexualized here. There’s nothing new or celebratory or original about a woman posing naked.

I don’t get why all of a sudden, if the naked woman is over 50 (like Julia Louis Dreyfus on the cover of Rolling Stone) or plus size, we’re supposed to do a 180 and be grateful for the sexism. Look, she’s 50 and topless! Isn’t that wonderful? People still think she’s pretty, men still want to fuck her, she has value in the world!

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After the Swimsuits for All image was hailed all over the internet, I posted: Memo to the world, objectifying fat women is objectifying women and wrote: “Do you think I’d be any happier if my 3 daughters saw the Swimsuits for All picture in the Safeway checkout line instead of the Sports Illustrated one?”

 

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Fat women, trans women, women over 50 beauty contests don’t represent progress. What’s progress? When it’s no longer normal for my daughters to see women paraded as meat everywhere they look.

‘Did you do something to your nose? It looks smaller’

I love this video by Isabel Magowan, my talented cousin and Yale MFA candidate. To me, the video depicts, with scary accuracy, the backhanded compliments people relentlessly give each other in the name of support; how often people use ‘honesty’ to justify being inappropriate or dismissive, and how girls and women are trained to cut each other– and themselves– down. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my 46 years, it’s that the awful voice inside my head, the one constantly doubting, asking– how do you know? are you sure? can you prove it? — is fueled by fear and anxiety. It’s not protective but abusive. It doesn’t help me grow but paralyzes me and keeps me small. Thank God I took the risk to stop listening. I’m so impressed Issy gets this before age 30! I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next. Take a look at her startling video ‘Conversation.’

 

Here’s what Issy has to say about it:

Normally when I made things I am fairly improvisational, the same was the case for this piece. I thought about making a piece where all these voices are heard, the voices would be saying things I fear people think or say about me. Then I thought about all the cruel things I say to myself. I normalized this negative voice. Too often a critical thought I have about myself I just take as a truth, I forget to cognitively recognize that these negative beliefs, from an objective stand point are not true and if they were true to question what extent they might really matter. I am interested in psychology insofar as the idea of the conditions, the symptom, the diagnosis. I am interested in the ways in which our understanding of self is shaped by our upbringing, the values taught to us, the things that were presented to us as “normal.” Similarly, I interested in the extent to which one is self aware, their ability to be perceptive, to have a sense of the many factors historically and socially at work that complicate that individuals sense of self. So I combined these ideas and improvised a conversation. It is myself with myself, that being said the negative Issy is saying things she actually thinks and tells herself, but is also embodying the passive aggressive people she has encountered, people who have tried to control her through acts of physical modification (often out of love and in thinking these suggestions are helpful) quintessential mean girls, and things she fears and to a certain level knows people could say about her. Because I did not have a script editing afterward was a bit spotty. But I was amazed, delighted, and horrified by the result. It also made me sad. And that I could feel all these things, despite the fact that the piece could use a bit of a final edit, and about a minute or two or dialogue cut out, a success. The irony of course is that the success, even here, is always defined first by its imperfection. It, “will never be good enough” why this should matter, why I should care, why does approval matter, why enough is never enough is what I grapple with and is central somewhere in the core of the work I make. At a basic level I am scared of myself. I care psychologically about how we come to believe to see the world as do and how our perceptions and beliefs form. Of course I worry this inner dialogue will always haunt me, the enlightenment I seek is the acceptance of self.

Isabel Magowan is finishing her MFA in photography at Yale University this coming May. She began photographing back in 2010, during the end of her junior year of college at Wesleyan University. She is drawn to images that are quirky and is intrigued by the bizarre that can be found in the mundane. Her images attempt to offer a heightened reality that critiques the very thing she has taken an image of. See more of her work at www.isabelmagowan.com 

Reason #1,001 to skip Disney’s new (ha!) “Cinderella”

I’ve seen so many movies for you guys and for this blog. I’ve sat through “Spongebob” and “Planes” and “Tintin.” I’m so sorry, but I don’t think I can do another fucking “Cinderella.” “Ever After” is great. If your kids want to see a Cinderella movie, please show them Drew Barrymore’s fantastic feminist version of this fairytale. If you’re somehow mystified as to why “Cinderella” should be skipped, please read the About section of my blog. In fact, read any post on my blog, or better yet, get off the internet and read Peggy Orenstein’s fabulous book Cinderella Ate My Daughter. But here’s a bonus, reason 1,001 to skip Disney’s latest money grab. (Yes, that number is random, only not far larger because I didn’t want to use up characters in my blog title with infinite zeros.)  Today, I read on Jezebel:

Lily James went on a partial liquid diet to accommodate that stupid corset. In a recent interview with E!, James explained how she made it work on set by foregoing solid food.

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No solid food. That’s right children, our female protagonist did not transform into her best, most beautiful, desired self through her Fairy Godmother’s magic but by not eating. Yes, little girls, you too can starve and make all of your dreams come true!

Reel Girl rates “Cinderella” without even seeing the movie ***SSS***

 

Academy Awards for adults only, rated Triple S for gender stereotyping

In a patriarchal dystopia, once a year the public gathers for PR blitz that serves to solidify the foundations of this sexist society. This annual event celebrates narratives created by men, starring men, and produced by men with prestigious awards (golden men) bestowed by an organization made up of men. The messaging is clear: women’s stories don’t matter. Males attending this event, required to dress alike, are peppered with questions from journalists about their work while the females are encouraged to wear extravagant gowns to outdo each other. For the women, the competition is relegated to yet another beauty contest, where their looks– from hair to make-up to jewelry– are picked apart, the most common question: Who are you wearing? This ritual shuts down challenges or protests to the mantra of the civilization: Men are valued for what they do, women are valued for how they appear. This is the way it has always been and the way it will always be. It is human nature.

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No, this is not a synopsis of Hunger Games 4, but the 87th Academy Awards, created by the good old United States of America, a country devoted to liberty and justice for all.

So how we explain this sexism? In 2015, 100% of the nominees for the greatest writers, the Best Adapted and Best Original Screenplay awards, the creators of our stories, are men. I really don’t get it. I thought girls were supposed to be verbal….

 

Cinematography– the eyes, the perspective, how we see– also 100% male nominees. What about the whole vision, the genius? The Best Director category is also made up of 100% males. No actor of color was nominated for both genders including the supporting actor category. A black woman has never never never been nominated for Best Director. This year Ava DuVernay was not chosen for her movie “Selma.”

 

Here’s a funny coincidence: The LA Times reports that the members the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the voting body, is 94 percent white, 2 percent African American, less than 2 percent Latino, and 77 percent male with the average age of 62. On Sunday night, the majority of winners will be middle aged white males.

 

Much has been written about the sexism and racism of the Academy Awards. I’m really blogging now to ask you to please consider not allowing your kids to see the show. Watching the Academy Awards is often a family event. It’s on early, a Sunday night, children are often lurking about. But this kind of TV is not mindless fun for kids; it’s one of the worst programs a child can take in. It’s not only the actual performance, where men win and win and win again, but the people watching in your living room, parents, relatives, friends, people who your kids look up to, will invariably be commenting on how the women look, who’s pretty, who’s neckline dips too low, and who looks too old ladyish. We are trained to judge and value women for how they appear, and if we can spare kids and their malleable brains this immersion in sexism, they will be better off for it. My advice is that if you’re watching the show, as I am, not to forbid your children from joining you because that will only make it appealing. Instead, distract them. Let them see a Miyazaki movie or something else good (links at the end of this post to great lists of Reel Girl’s recommended movies for kids) or set them up with an art project or have a friend over or play a board game if your spouse doesn’t want to watch (like mine.)

 

The alternative, if your child must watch, is to point out the sexism to her. Include her in Tweeting #AskHerMore every time you and she see an actress asked first, only, or mostly about her outfit. (I hope you will be Tweeting #AskHerMore if you’re watching at all) While Oscar media criticism can be educational for older kids, say 11 and up, I wouldn’t saddle younger ones with this vigilance. But I still advise not letting older kids watch. There’s the issue that you can’t control what other adults say, so unless you’re going to respond every time someone talks about how a woman looks, it’s better to have your kids out of the room. As parents, we need to do our best to create a world for our children that is the opposite of the one that the Academy Awards presents. We need to show them through conditioning that women’s stories are important.

 

The Academy’s snub of “Wild” really says it all.The star of the movie, Reese Witherspoon, is nominated for Best Actress and her co-star Laura Dern is nominated for Best Supporting Actress. “Wild” is beautifully directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, whose last movie, “Dallas Buyers Club,” was nominated for Best Picture and 4 other awards. In Slate, Dan Kois asks what’s the difference?

 

 

Well, Wild has sold more tickets. Wild is more artfully made—a more confident piece of filmmaking, one that finds an ingenious cinematic method to tell its intricate, emotional story. But the chief difference, of course, is that Wild is about a woman’s journey, not a man’s…

 

In some ways, the dismissal of Wild, and the frequent non-nomination of movies about women, calls to mind the ongoing debate in the literary world about the way critics and awards-givers dismiss “domestic fiction.” Wild is determinedly one woman’s story, and it doesn’t make a claim that Cheryl Strayed is an exceptional woman. She’s not a queen or a muse. She’s not a wife or a girlfriend. She’s flawed and sad in many of the same ways that all of us have been flawed and sad, especially in our early 20s. Her struggles are not world-historical but instead have to do with her mother, who dies unfairly early in life; with her ex-husband, whom she betrays again and again; with her body, which she numbs with heroin and casual sex, and then brutalizes hiking a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. Her struggle, in the end, is with herself.

That is to say, Cheryl’s story is a prototypical “woman’s story,” and thus one not worthy of a Best Picture nomination, apparently. In the past 20 years, only 21 movies that primarily tell the stories of women have been nominated for Best Picture, out of 125 movies nominated overall. This disparity reflects the reality of moviemaking in Hollywood, sure, but it also influences that reality. When the stories of women—those out in the world, living real human lives, existing not as auxiliary characters but as the heroes of their own stories—are deemed unsuitable of the industry’s biggest prize, it becomes harder to convince studios and producers to make those movies.

 

Teach your children that stories about girls and women matter. Don’t let them watch the Academy Awards.

 

Reel Girl rates the 87th Academy Awards ***SSS***

If you’re watching the Academy Awards on Sunday night, and you want to let your kids watch a movie, Reel Girl recommends the titles on these lists:

Movies for younger kids (up to age 9)

Movies for older kids (10 and up)

10 best movies for kids starring heroic girls

 

Put on your oxygen mask first, then help your child

After my post Dear Pope, having kids can be selfish too I got several comments about how parents need to put children first. I disagree. I believe that it’s crucial for a parent to take care of her own needs including stuff like eating when you’re hungry, sleeping when you’re tired, and taking a break from your kids when you need it. Obviously, this isn’t always possible, but the idea of taking care of yourself first is a useful notion to keep in your head, something to strive for. Meeting your own needs directly instead of meeting them through your kids (or food, alcohol, and various other addictions) is better for everybody. Rather than being something to feel guilty or ashamed about, taking care of yourself is healthy.

At first, it can be kind of scary, admitting you need to take care of yourself. When I was in my twenties, I smoked a pack of Marlboros a day, and one of the hardest things about quitting was that I valued that five minutes, the break I used to take to smoke. It was easier to say, “I need a cigarette” than “I need 5 minutes of solitude.”

Sometimes, taking care of me just has to do with the narrative I tell myself. For example, if my kids want to go the park and I don’t, I’ll try to think of a way to make it appealing to me. “I’ll sit in the sun,” or “I’ll chase them and get some exercise.” If they want to see a movie, I think “I can blog about it.”

The idea of taking care of myself also helps me try to keep my kids healthy, driving them to various activities or staying calm when they have tantrums. The narrative I tell myself is something like, “I need to help my kids experience their emotions, because in the long run, that’s better for me. They’re less likely to have problems as they grow which would be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive for me to deal with. It’s better for me to try my best to keep my kids healthy.” It’s kind of a mind trick, but it works for me. Taking care of my marriage, spending time with my husband, is good for my kids because it’s easier for happy parents to help create happy kids.

Another example: I get up at 5AM so I can drink coffee, meditate, and write before my kids get up. If we all rise at the same time, I feel angry and impatient. I need to take care of my needs first in the morning. I don’t drink alcohol because that affects my sleeping, and when I don’t sleep well, I tend to yell at my kids. When I do feel angry at my children, I often try to separate myself, take a break to let the feeling pass through me, rather than shout at them. I always think of that phrase they tell you on airplanes, to put on your oxygen mask first, and then help your child. I believe that humans need a huge amount of self care, and it’s better, at least for me, to admit that and deal with it, rather than use my kids to take care of me. I don’t know if that makes sense to you, but it’s been helpful so far.

Sometimes yoga pants make me uncomfortable. Am I bad feminist or just old?

Yoga pants have been going through some tough times. Lululemon’s founder got in trouble for implying his clothes are only for skinny women, schools have created sexist policies focusing on what girls wear, and now Rep. David Moore of Montana, like some kind of American Taliban, wants to make them against the law.

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A few years ago, back when I didn’t know what yoga pants were, I got into an argument with my 7 yr old daughter about them. She wanted to wear what she called “soft pants” to school. I explained they went under clothes, that their real name was “leggings.” I’m 46 and that’s what we called them. We wore them with skirts or maybe a super long sweater. My daughter argued that they’re comfortable, and all her friends wear them “just plain.” I didn’t believe her, not because I was thinking about sexualization but to me, it felt like wearing pajamas to class.

Once I started to pay attention, I saw yoga pants everywhere. All the girls in my daughter’s class were wearing them. You know how when you learn a new word, you start to see it constantly? “Yoga pants” stories kept popping up on my Facebook page. News alerts reported schools were policing what girls wear (usually for kids older than my daughter.) Once again, the bad behavior of boys was getting blamed on girls. Why not focus on male behavior, teach them not to harass or rape instead of instructing women how not to get harassed or raped?

Everyone wears yoga pants now. I live in California, so maybe it’s more trendy in the mild weather and casual vibe here, but I’m totally surrounded. I get the sexualized issue when I see women and older girls wear them. I admit, it’s taking some getting used to on my part. I still feel like everyone is in pajamas, not finished getting dressed. That also seems appealing to me: cozy, comfortable, casual. Sometimes, I feel like people are outside in their underwear. I’ve noticed in myself the opposite, though equally biased reaction, from the Lululemon founder. I may silently cheer on a heavier woman but roll my eyes at a skinny one with lots of make up. But here’s what’s obvious to me: Whether my reaction is because of my age or that I’m a bad feminist, whatever complex conditions and training got me to this emotion, my reaction is mine. Women and girls shouldn’t choose what to wear based on how I feel about their outfit. It’s about me, not them. That Rep David Moore thinks he has the right to put women in prison because of how he feels about their clothing shows how backwards the mentality of a male dominated world can be.

Dear Pope, having kids can be selfish too

Dear Pope Francis,

Today, you told the world that “the choice not to have children is selfish” referring to a “greedy generation” who is not reproducing enough. Since you don’t have any kids yourself, and I’m the mother of three, I thought it might be helpful to hear about my experience. Becoming a parent is probably the most selfish thing I ever did, and I’m far from unique.

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Before I had children, like lots of people, I was busy contributing to society. I created a non-profit organization to foster and train ethical women leaders, produced top-rated talk radio programs, and wrote about politics and culture for newspapers, magazines, and the internet. I also spoke on radio and TV programs about these issues. At that time, I dated, but had no interest in having children or getting married ever. But when I was 32, I fell in love. I was so into this guy that I started to wonder what it would be like to create another human with him. The idea that you could make a baby with someone you love seemed  crazy magical to me, so beautiful, like a miracle. I decided I wanted to have that experience. He felt the same way.

He wanted to get married, and I didn’t. For most of my life, I thought marriage was oppressive to women, taking his name, wearing virginal white, being given away by your father to another man etc. If you’re committed, you don’t need a piece of paper. But something happened to change my mind. I I live in San Francisco, and gay people were organizing and fighting hard for the right to get married. Witnessing people advocate for something I’d always taken for granted forced me to rethink the institution. I realized that since Biblical times (and even earlier) when women were property traded by men, marriage has been evolving and will continue to. Being a part of that movement felt inspiring, so we got married.

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Over the next six years, we had two more kids, mostly because making babies and raising humans is as selfishly magical as I expected. It’s really fun creating little people and watching them grow. I love my children and my husband deeply, but in no way were the choices I made generous to society. I mean, you’re reproducing yourself. And after having kids, in some ways, I struggle to keep my world from getting smaller and myopic. I long for more time to write, create, and contribute to the world at the rate that I used to.

Women are the world’s biggest untapped resource. The status and education of women is directly linked to how many babies they have. The more children they have, the poorer women are.  We all lose out. Deciding to have kids or not is a personal choice, but I have a lot of admiration for people who don’t. People like you, Pope Francis, who dedicate their lives to pursuing what they believe in to make the world a better place. Don’t you think women deserve to make that choice too?

Sincerely,

Margot Magowan

Margot Magowan is a writer and commentator. Her articles on politics and culture have been in Salon, Glamour, the San Jose Mercury News, and numerous other newspapers and online sites. She has appeared on “Good Morning America,” CNN, Fox News, and other TV and radio programs. For  many years, Margot worked as talk radio producer creating top-rated programs. In 1998, Margot co-founded the Woodhull Institute an organization that trains young women to be leaders and change agents. Margot’s short story “Light Me Up” is featured in the anthology Sugar In My Bowl (Ecco 2011) and she is currently writing a Middle Grade novel about the fairy world. Margot lives with her husband and their three daughters in San Francisco.

 

Catholic school parent protests new teachers’ handbook calling masturbation “gravely evil”

This is a guest post from a concerned parent in the Bay Area in response to a chilling policy from the Archbishop of San Francisco.  I appreciate the words written below because they show how torn, conflicted, and frightened people can be about speaking out and making change in a church they love and grew up in. (I chose this picture because at least the guy likes pink.)
cordileone

I am writing this statement anonymously.  I am a parent at a Catholic school in San Francisco.  I must remain anonymous so that I do not affect my child adversely for expressing views contrary to those of the Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone.

The Archbishop released a new policy statement which will be inserted into the teachers handbooks in the four high schools the Archdiocese controls. He asserts that to affirm or believe in masturbation, artificial insemination, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage and abortion is “gravely evil.”  Not only does he judge these as “gravely evil,” he is forbidding teachers in these four highschools from asserting contrary views and/or participating in communication or activities or organizations that express contrary views. He states that violation of this policy will be determined on a case by case basis.  For example, you can attend a same sex wedding ceremony, but you cannot be on the Board of Planned Parenthood. In other words, whatever action the Archbishop happens to decide does not meet his “standards” gives him the power to terminate the teacher. His policy is chilling of speech, capricious, threatening and wrong.

I attended Catholic grammar school and high school, and University of San Francisco Law School, a Catholic Jesuit University.  I am so grateful for the incredible education I received at these Catholic institutions.  I experienced thought provoking discussions and analysis in high school religion and English classes.  I was taught to think for myself.  Both students and teachers represented and argued for a myriad of viewpoints and ideas.  I was challenged on Sundays, not just to sit through mass with an empty stomach — as we had to fast before Communion in the old days– but to listen to the stories of kindness and love almost beyond human capacity.  The Father who gives a huge celebration for the prodigal son.  The good son who works hard for many years while his brother squanders his money and drinks and plays.  It was the jealous brother, not the frivolous one, who was chastised in the story.  So we are challenged to give love, kindness and forgiveness even when an unfairness gives advantage to another who wants redemption. These kind of stories, of radical forgiveness, acceptance and love, I hold in my heart as the ideals I strive for — to welcome my reckless brother, to celebrate and love my irresponsible child on his/her return to my home, to be the better person.

I feel challenged to embrace this Archbishop even though his careless and callous unkindness espouses universal control over classrooms, teachers and thereby students.  He threatens teachers with dismissal if they dissent from his view of sexual morality and his description of all matter of practices of sexuality as “gravely evil”.  This harsh and narrow-minded judge who maintains unfettered control of the Archdiocese that includes San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties, even he who is doing such harsh and harmful work, I must find a way to show love and kindness toward him.  I must try to find compassion.  This is the kind of challenge posed to me as a Catholic, to love someone who is threatening me and those I love and care for, my child, my child’s teachers, his school and the church itself.  I am struggling with this.  That is what Catholicism challenges me to do — to love all, no matter what they do, no matter who they are, prisoner, prostitute, bishop, teacher, homeless, myself, my children, my enemy, each and everyone.  Love and kindness is our code as Catholics.

 

I am struggling with holding love and compassion for this Archbishop.  I find his imposition of his views on sexual morality on the teachers of the Archdiocese unkind, unloving, chilling of speech and intellectual discourse and development.  Putting these particular ideas and the threat of termination of teachers who offer contrary views or publicly support entities that embody contrary views, is threatening to the teachers livelihood, their personhood, their ability to speak and to teach well.  The Archbishop’s representative was on Forum this morning, a nationally broadcast radio program out of San Francisco.  He indicated over and over that the teachers are to hold the Archbishop’s sexual morality belief, allow kids to say what they want, and to persuade the kids, bring them back to the Archbishop’s position.  I am Catholic and this is NOT what I want.  I do not want my kids to be persuaded/indoctrinated in these views.  I do not want anyone to persuade them of their views. I want my kids to develop their own views and to become their own person in the context of a Catholic community that promotes love, kindness, tolerance, compassion.  I want to trust that these tools are enough to guide my child into adulthood and into becoming a good person, maybe even a good Catholic person.  I do not want them to learn to control, dominate, judge, restrain others.

 

Any expression, sexual or otherwise, when done to excess or to hurt yourself or another person is wrong.  Unkindness is wrong.  Hate is wrong.  Violence is wrong.  Hurting another intentionally or with callous disregard is wrong.  There are plenty of things that are wrong.  There are very few acts or people who are “gravely evil”.  And many evil acts are perpetrated by people who appear evil, but in fact are simply gravely ill and need our love, compassion and kindness.  War is wrong.  Killing is wrong.  Terrorizing others is wrong.  Abuse is wrong.  This policy is terrorizing teachers, staff and thereby potentially terrorizing students, parents, others who, for example, use assistance from doctors to get pregnant, or who live in a homosexual relationship, or God forbid, disagree with the Archbishop’s view of sexual morality.

 

Recently, I wrote a letter to the Vatican representative in Washington DC to ask for help to return civility, love and kindness to our Archdiocese.  I hope that Archbishop Vigano will pass along our concerns to Pope Francis who represents fully the Catholic ideals of love and kindness I learned, experienced and strive to embody in my own life.

 

An anonymous, terrified, saddened parent of a student in a Catholic high school.

 

The following is the letter I wrote to Archbishop Vigano, the Vatican’s representative in Washington D.C.:

 

 

Your Excellency Vigano,

 

With all due respect, I submit a letter I received from my son’s high school.  It is a very nice letter and includes all the wonderful and amazing principles supported by Pope Francis — love, inclusion, respect, et cetera.  I am so grateful for the kindness of the staff at (my child’s school).

 

I am concerned about the letter from Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone that is on (the Archdiocese of San Francisco) website, and is linked in the body of this letter.  The letter threatens to chill dialogue in school and beyond, and threatens the secure employment of teachers and staff.  The tone is very upsetting to me as a person and a lifelong Catholic. Further, the text of the policy was not included with the letter, making the insinuations in the letter that much more frightening and unnerving.  The words in the policy were reported in the newspaper, and were also extremely upsetting.

 

The action taken with publishing this letter and the policy statement does not reflect the love and kindness that Pope Francis has so consistently shown through his words and actions.  Please help to restore to our Archdiocese, the love, kindness, respect and all the virtues that Pope Francis has so eloquently demonstrated in his work as the head of our church.

 

Thank you and God bless you.