When our male allies harass, assault, and abuse, feminists need to choose a side and support survivors

Al Franken, Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Charlie Rose, John Conyers, Bill Clinton.

For feminists, our male allies are so few and far between, when we discover they’ve exploited others, we don’t want that reality to be true. We know from personal experience all the good things those men did for us, for women in general, we witnessed it, experienced it, and those feminist acts are incongruous with the harassment, abuse, and assault stories. The cognitive dissonance is painful and traumatic on every level. A part of us keeps repeating: “He never did that to me.” But deep down (why does it have to be so deep down?) we know: just because it didn’t happen to me doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Here’s a post I wrote in 2010, not long after a professional mentor of mine, a talk radio host, went to prison for possession and distribution of child pornography. At some point, I’ll blog my ideas about a coherent, strategic way for feminists to move forward as the list of progressive men who abuse grows as we all know it will. For now, I want to share this record of my experience when my hero fell. Please feel free to share your stories in the comment section.

Missing Bernie Ward

Mostly, I miss Bernie Ward on Sunday mornings, when I hear “Godtalk” on KGO Radio. The first time I ever met Bernie was when he was hosting that show. I’d come to San Francisco from New York, just for the weekend. My sister was having an engagement party that I traveled to California for, and I ended up never going back home. I went to Austin for a while, as a PA on a film, and after that wrapped, I got a job working for Willie Nelson on an hour length music video. (As far as I know, that particular piece of art never made it to TV or even video.) Then I came back to San Francisco. I went to KGO to see if I could get a producer job. I’d worked in New York for Alan Colmes who had, at the time,  a radio talk show out of a network called Daynet that used ABC’s studios. KGO was also out of ABC then so it all felt familiar to me.

KGO told me I could be a fill in, an on-call producer, which would probably entail late nights– Ray Taliaferro’s shift. And the weekends, odd hours. That was fine with me. I was twenty-six years old. I had no problem staying up all night.

So there I was at 6AM, light just coming up, and Bernie walked into his studio. He sat down and played a recording of “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes. It was beautiful. I remember thinking: this is so weird. How did I get here at 6AM, listening to “Amazing Grace,” listening to this guy talk about Jesus?

My mother is Jewish, my father is Episcopalian. I didn’t grow up with any religion. I was fascinated listening to Bernie go on about God, argue with the church, speak about the real messages of Jesus’ teachings, this Jewish carpenter, Bernie called him.

Not long after I met Bernie, a producer spot opened for his night time show. It was the most fun job I’ve ever had, and Bernie, in spite of his reputation  as angry, cranky, or mean, was great to work with. He was kind, attentive, brilliant and hilarious. We had many disagreements, right from the start on the issues he discussed on air. I began working for him around the time of the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal. Bernie basically believed Hillary Clinton’s whole right wing conspiracy theory. Not that I didn’t believe that, I did. But for me, there was more to the story. I’d voted for Clinton as a young woman in my twenties, and I hated that this new kind of president, who I believed would do great things for women, had messed around with an intern. Instead of advancing powerful women, Clinton’s presidency was perpetuating antiquated sexual stereotypes that go back to biblical times i.e. a young woman’s sexuality destroys a powerful man.  I was so tired of that same old imagery and pissed off Clinton was reincarnating it again. “Imagine if Madeline Albright was considered sexy because of her brilliance, position of power and stature. Imagine that her young male interns had crushes on her. Do you see the sexism now?”

“I never thought about it that way,” Bernie said, and he put me on air for the first time. It felt great to have my ideas amplified through that microphone, wafting out over the Bay Area. Bernie essentially disagreed with me, but he was able to see my point of view and then elaborate on it. That’s a talent few people have. He encouraged me to write down my thoughts. I started publishing pieces in newspapers and magazines. Then I started getting invited on TV programs– CNN, FOX News, Good Morning America. Bernie taught me how to debate, that it was OK to interrupt, that I only needed to have three points I wanted to make and to just keep re-making those points.

Producing Bernie’s show– a liberal, no-less– I realized how many more men called up than women, eager to go on air. Also, when I invited women experts to come on the show as guests, they often refused, claiming they weren’t qualified, recommending a “better” colleague, often a male. My experience at KGO inspired me to start a non-profit that provided  professional training for women including media skills.

After seven years of producing the show, I left. That’s a pretty long time to be a producer in talk radio world. I had a baby, and initially my idea was that I would take care of the baby during the day and my husband would watch her at night. But I had no clue what being a mom was really like. I was exhausted all the time. I never saw my husband. Plus, I had my writing and the non-proft to work on by that time, and I didn’t really need KGO anymore. So I quit.

A couple years later, I got a call from Bernie. He told me that federal agents had come into his home and seized his computers; he would be charged with possession and distribution of child pornography.  He was sentenced to almost seven years in prison.

Since Bernie has been in prison, I think of him often, but I haven’t written him or visited him. I can’t reconcile in my head the Bernie I knew and the Bernie that was accused of so many things. I think seven years is a harsh sentence for someone who did not create any pornography. That said, I can’t see how Bernie could look at those kinds of images and not feel anything for those little kids.

I’ve never had something like that happen in my life, watch a good friend, a mentor, someone I idolized, have his whole life fall apart. I hope I can write him. I’d like to be able to visit him. But for now, I just miss the Bernie I knew.

Reel Girl’s List of ‘Progressive’ People Who Are Sexist: #11 Joe Biden

Dear Mr. Biden,

I see you that you’re condemning Harvey Weinstein’s chronic sexual harassment and assault of women.

I’m baffled by how today you can admire women’s courage to tell the truth, but in 1991, you were instrumental in discrediting Anita Hill, one of the first women to speak publicly about being sexually harassed in the workplace by a powerful man, Clarence Thomas.

I was 23 when I watched the Thomas confirmation hearings, and your support of him helped to convince me that women’s stories don’t matter much.

Of course, people can change, but if your views on sexual harassment are different in 2017, you need to be accountable for the major role you played in silencing women for 25 more years. Today, my three daughters are growing up in a sexist America with a president elected after he bragged about sexual assault and a supreme court justice confirmed after he was accused of sexual harassment. I hope you’re thinking about how different America would be today if back in 1991, you were the champion for women that you are now. Or maybe, you’re just a hypocrite.

Reel Girl readers, if you don’t want to watch the whole video, watch key quotes that show Biden’s hypocrisy here.

See Reel Girl’s Top 10 List Of “Progressive” People, Places and Things That Are Sexist

“He was alternately generous and supportive and championing, and punitive and bullying”

Gwyneth Paltrow describes the aftermath of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment to the New York Times: “He was alternately generous and supportive and championing, and punitive and bullying.”

See Reel Girl’s post from yesterday. Like most abusers, Weinstein wasn’t abusive 100% of the time . What I wrote in a nutshell: contradictory behavior is how abusers confuse victims, keeping them paralyzed, quiet, and powerless.

No human is perfect but an abuser will rarely, or have a very hard time, taking responsibility for negative behavior. Abusers rarely give sincere apologies. Abusers don’t seek the support necessary to make change because they don’t want to change. Their behavior works for them. If their behavior doesn’t work for you, that’s your problem. Abusers lack empathy. While they may have episodes of seeming to understand your feelings, it’s from a clinical perspective, there’s little or no emotional resonance. They don’t feel what you’re feeling.

When 22 year old Paltrow told her boyfriend, Brad Pitt, about Weinstein’s abuse, Pitt approached Weinstein at a premiere. He told Weinstein never to touch Paltrow again. All of Hollywood was afraid to stand up to Weinstein, but young Pitt (“Thelma and Louise” Pitt?) did the right thing. So, men of Hollywood, the year is 2017. Why do I hear crickets? Don’t you think now is the time to publicly speak out against Weisntein and in support of your colleagues, the women of Hollywood? Women, everywhere, actually. I have to say, my whole blog, Reel Girl, feels pretty pointless when I’m trying to eek out powerful stories about women from this cesspool of misogyny.

 

How did Hugh Hefner help to fuck up your life?

Ding, dong the sleaze is dead.

I wish all the sexism and misogyny Hugh Hefner amplified and celebrated would die with him. Turns out, Hef gets to stalk into infinity: he paid $75,000 to be buried in the plot next to Marilyn Monroe.

It disgusts me that America (the world?) is celebrating this man.

Here’s an alumna’s comment from my fancy, I-was-so-lucky-to-attend-boarding school that many years later, was proven to be the site of numerous sexual assaults. Faulkner Fox writes:

At “Casino Night,” a required school event at St. George’s School, 14 and 15-year-old girls were asked to dress as playboy bunnies. Let’s just say it’s not one of my fondest childhood memories. All of the school’s sexism cannot be blamed on Hugh Hefner–of course not. But because of Hefner’s extraordinary cultural influence, one of the things we were asked to do–for fun–was dress as Playboy bunnies.”

Yes, we were 14 and 15. Sexism was so insidious at St. George’s and in life that all I remember caring about was how I looked in my bunny suit. I took down the yearbook pictures on Reel Girl of Casino Night and every sexist photo I had up of St. George’s that didn’t include me, because though the shame is on the school and not the girls shown, our culture is messed up and too many people don’t get that. I don’t have me in a bunny suit but I have this gem to share, a yearbook photo from St. George’s captioned: “Todd’s Toys.”

Do too many high school victims and witnesses of sexism grow up to perpetuate misogyny instead of becoming warriors for gender equality? Faulkner Fox thinks so. She wrote an open letter to another St. George’s alumn, Billy Bush, in the Providence Journal last year:

 

 Don’t worry: I don’t blame entitled guys like you for all the sexism and misogyny at St. George’s. You were young. I’m willing to give you some leeway. Plus I didn’t overlap with you at St. George’s — I am class of ’81; you are class of ’90 — so I don’t know how you actually behaved back then. Let’s say you never said or did one sexist or abusive thing before you got on that bus with Donald Trump in 2005.

What you did on that bus in talking with Donald Trump in 2005 directly relates to what happened to your St. George’s classmates. I’m talking about the creation and perpetuation of rape culture, the entrenched belief that women and girls don’t matter the way men do, that we are here to be grabbed, harassed, raped. Whatever a guy can get away with is fair game, worthy of laughter and high-fiving from other guys on the same messed-up bus.

Hugh Hefner helped to normalize and mainstream objectification of women. His vision touched us all. Got a personal story of how this “cultural icon” helped to infect your life with sexism? Please share it on Reel Girl.

To the white people waiting for the perfect protest: You’re on the wrong side of history

While teaching my three daughters about the importance of speaking out and taking action for what they believe in, most recently around the white nationalists coming to San Francisco, I’ve had to confront messages they’ve received that there’s no point to protesting. My kids learn the “I have a Dream Speech in school,” but that time had a beloved hero and was a clear case of right and wrong, while the current political situation is less noble, more unclear. I work to counter that narrative, telling them that their own seemingly small actions do have purpose and meaning, but I never made an analogy that the MLK’s time was also imperfect. I didn’t realize the same critiques from white moderates waiting on the sidelines, who agreed with the goal of equality but weren’t willing to do much yet, were just prevalent back then. I’m going to share with my kids this op-ed by clergy from the New York Times: “Waiting for a Perfect Protest? Here are some excerpts:

“Thanks to the sanitized images of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement that dominate our nation’s classrooms and our national discourse, many Americans imagine that protests organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and countless local organizations fighting for justice did not fall victim to violent outbreaks…

The reality — which is underdiscussed but essential to an understanding of our current situation — is that the civil rights work of Dr. King and other leaders was loudly opposed by overt racists and quietly sabotaged by cautious moderates. We believe that current moderates sincerely want to condemn racism and to see an end to its effects. The problem is that this desire is outweighed by the comfort of their current circumstances and a perception of themselves as above some of the messy implications of fighting for liberation. This is nothing new. In fact, Dr. King’s 1963 “Letter From Birmingham Jail” is as relevant today as it was then. He wrote in part:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action.”…

 

The civil rights movement was messy, disorderly, confrontational and yes, sometimes violent. Those standing on the sidelines of the current racial-justice movement, waiting for a pristine or flawless exercise of righteous protest, will have a long wait. They, we suspect, will be this generation’s version of the millions who claim that they were one of the thousands who marched with Dr. King. Each of us should realize that what we do now is most likely what we would have done during those celebrated protests 50 years ago. Rather than critique from afar, come out of your homes, follow those who are closest to the pain, and help us to redeem this country, and yourselves, in the process.”

Sexist Americans want female politicians to be pure

Every morning, when my jaw drops as I scroll my feed, taking in new lows of the corruption in Trump’s administration, I wonder: Americans, do you still care about Hillary’s emails?

(Photo is of my dog and me hiding under the covers after reading about Ben Carson’s comments comparing slaves to immigrants coming to ‘a land of dreams.’ Carson is Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.)

Trumpitis has infected the USA but a side effect of this disease is that I no longer have to live in a reality that people claim is post-feminist. While this may not seem like much, when you’re a feminist blogger/ writer/ speaker/ thinker and people are incessantly informing you that your subject matter isn’t real, isn’t important, or doesn’t exist, it’s actually a pretty big deal not to crash into that wall of denial many times a day, every day. I can’t remember a time where 99% of my work towards gender equality wasn’t just pointing out that sexism exists.

I got into feminism in my twenties. Studying philosophy at NYU, I suddenly realized there was not one– not one— female philosopher in my curriculum. How could I be engaged in a search for truth and meaning that is void of any women’s thoughts, voices, or experiences? How, philosophically, did that make any sense?

Mind you, this was the 90s. Feminism, as a social movement, was not cool or hip. If you wanted to be those things, you were post-feminist. I think part of the reason my peers, women in their twenties, saw little reason for feminism is because, for some of us, inequality hadn’t hit yet. Still In low-level jobs, pre-kids, women’s gains were noticed more than our setbacks. Again, for me, this was not the case. I witnessed blatant gender disparity because I grew up in a very “privileged” world where men and women seemed like different species: all the men were running the world and all the women were dieting. As a kid, I’m not sure I saw anything “wrong” with this yet, but it struck me.

Though I don’t have to encounter, for the most part, people telling me misogyny isn’t real, I do get pushback, mostly from progressive men and white women, when I point out their sexism. Recently, a progressive male friend of mine posted on Facebook a meme of Kellyanne Conway captioned “Sewer Rat Barbie.” I commented something like: “There are so many reasons to criticize KC for her policies and words, but focusing on her appearance is sexist.” The guy responded that I was overreacting and had no sense of humor. Weeks later (and part of the inspiration for this blog) a New York Times headline came out that read: Sexist Political Criticism Finds a New Target: Kellyanne Conway. The NYT post came out after a Democrat told a joke — hahhahahahaha– alluding to KC’s position on a couch, that it looked like she was giving a blow job.

Here’s the thing: we will not get a woman president until white women and progressive men vote for her, until these groups make gender equality a priority. No matter how hard they search, white women and progressive men will never find a totally pure female candidate to vote for. I’ve blogged before about how many women who hated Hillary assured me they weren’t being sexist (and let’s remember here, yes, women can be sexist. As bell hooks writes “patriarchy has no gender”). They would campaign for Elizabeth Warren. She’s a woman, right? Well, yes, she’s a woman, but, um, she’s not running for president. That, my friends, is what made her so pure and perfect. She wasn’t tainted by ambition, the worst of all female traits. A powerful woman threatens the very foundation of our society and women and men are terrified of her. Recently, Vanity Fair posted: Elizabeth Warren Gets a Reality Check with the subhead: A new poll finds that while Donald Trump would easily lose to a generic Democrat in 2020, the president would wipe the floor with Warren.

In their book, Half the Sky, Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn argue that gender equality is the paramount moral challenge of our time. We must recognize the ubiquity of misogyny affects so much of America from who we choose as president, to the wars we choose to wage (or not wage) around the world. Until combating sexism is a priority for our citizens, leaders like Trump will rise to power.

 

‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare’

To cope, I keep repeating to myself: “Self-care, self-care, self-care.” That’s how I’m managing to crawl out of bed, get my kids breakfast, drive them to school, and just now, I finished writing the last chapter of my book, a project that I’ve been working on for six years. While I have another voice in my head consistently telling me everything I try to do is pointless, all my work is for nothing, my actions have no effect, the poet Audre Lorde motivates me now: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

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Caring for myself is an act of political warfare.

Self-destruction, depression, hopelessness is so easy, but Lorde helps me see that is the self-indulgence. That is not to say I’m not grieving and crying and throwing up and in despair. But I’m also finishing my book and writing this blog. I also read this stat today:

The exit polls are in. Despite all of the fair and empirical reservations Black Women had on putting our future in a Clinton presidency for a second time, 91 percent of Black Women with a college degree voted for HRC. Without a college degree? 95%

Don’t believe the narrative that feminists who enthusiastically supported Hillary were out of touch with the “real” America. It’s just another story telling us that women’s lives don’t matter.

Another great post is titled I’m a Coastal Elite From the Midwest: The Real Bubble is Rural America:

To pin this election on the coastal elite is a cop-out. It’s intellectually dishonest, and it’s beneath us.

We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country. More Americans need to see more of the United States. They need to shake hands with a Muslim, or talk soccer with a middle aged lesbian, or attend a lecture by a female business executive.

We must start asking all Americans to be their better selves. We must all understand that America is a melting pot and that none of us has a more authentic American experience.

Do what you can to take care of yourself today. Please share you actions here, no matter how small.

Dear white women who didn’t vote for Hillary or who did so ‘holding their noses’

Dear white women who didn’t vote for Hillary or who did so ‘holding their noses,’

You fucked up. I know ‘blaming women’ for Hillary’s defeat is yet another way to blame women, and where does that get us? I’m hoping the internalized misogyny will finally stop, because as long as white women choose the illusory safety of the patriarchy over the risk of supporting women, change won’t happen. Do you want change? Or do you want to keep electing presidents who are sexual predators, who multiple women accuse of assault, who confess to assault? Do you want this dark future for your daughters?

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White women, I know it can feel like you’re in the “okay “category, like you’re safe and accepted, like you’re successfully hedging your bets if you label another woman a slut, or loose, or cheap, or ugly, or say her skirt is too short, she’s too thin or fat, wears too much make up, on and on and on but the patriarchy will never embrace you, will never value you, will never love you.

Yes, Hillary Clinton is flawed just like you are flawed. Just like every human being is flawed. Just like every presidential candidate is flawed. And no, Hillary’s flaws weren’t worse or more dramatic than those others, and previous presidents had the same email issue as she did and on and on. But Hillary is female, along with all those other flaws, and that meant you needed to risk standing by her. Instead, you turned away. Her campaign could not survive  the drip, drip, drip of vitriol, the vitriol you let happen, because along with how you just didn’t like her, how you let people call her “crooked” and “corrupt” or a bitch, she was fighting a monster. When she needed you, your money, your stickers, your support, your good words, you abandoned her. The best you could give her was holding your nose?

Instead of supporting Hillary, you let the world humiliate her in countless, public ways. You punished a woman for being ambitious and following her dreams. Now, my three daughters have a completely different future than the one they would’ve had. I pray that the next generation will risk something you didn’t: choosing feminism over patriarchy. I hope to lead by example because my daughters are watching me.

 

 

Jon Stewart is a pussy! That’s where Trump and I agree.

My favorite part of Jon Stewart’s Twitter war is when Trump Tweets: “John Stewart is a little pussy.” There’s where we agree.  You’ve got to watch this video if you haven’t seen it yet.

I’m sending Stewart a shirt. #GoTeamPussy #johnstewartisapussy

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Don’t forget to vote November 8!

Are you on Team Pussy or Team Trump? Show your support and get a shirt!

Buy a #TeamPussy shirt or tote, get one free! #GoTeamPussy

Buy a #TeamPussy shirt or tote, get one free! #GoTeamPussy

Last week, I launched #TeamPussy to help get out the vote. Whose face returns to my TV right after? Anthony Weiner. You cannot make this stuff up. Weiner’s sexting a 15 year old girl threatens to derail the election of our first female president. As Rebecca Traister says, I’m paraphrasing: it’s no coincidence that the bad behavior of men, their sexual misconduct, is playing such a big role in this election. So what can we do to fight back? Join #TeamPussy right now! Everything is about November 8 and inspiring people to go to the polls and vote for Hillary. For the next 24 hours, I‘m offering a two for one sale: Buy a shirt or tote,  get one free. These are high quality 100% cotton shirts, bright colors, original art, with a slick navy blue background. Totes are durable and stunning. Is this pic gorgeous or what? Learn more about the artist, Theamat. (She also did the Reel Girl logo based on photos of my daughters.)

teampussy

If you want to know more about how #TeamPussy came to be, read my post. Here’s an excerpt about the art:

Our #TeamPussy cat is worn out and pissed off, but she’s a fighter. She’s going to be out there every day with all of you, working hard to make sure Hillary Clinton wins big on November 8 with results that even Donald Trump won’t dare contest. Please join her. Thanks, #pussies! Go team!

Here’s me in my shirt. The colors are off because the photo was dark so my daughter used a filter to brighten it. The cat looks gray, but she’s actually blue as you see above.

14563315_1151909881530447_3056037351267079397_nAnd if you’re wondering, all my daughters (I have 3 ages 7, 10, and 13) are on #TeamPussy. Yes, I spoke to them about Trump’s misogyny and the huge role sexism is playing in this election. My kids know about what Trump says and thinks about girls and women. The way Trump demeans half the population is not something I’ve hushed up or hidden away from my children. As I wrote in my original post, I wish more of America understood the really offensive word Trump used isn’t “pussy” but “grab.” Trump’s problem isn’t vulgarity but bragging about sexual assault. If you join #TeamPussy, you will help to change the way America views female sexuality, anatomy, and the epidemic of violence against women in the USA.

You can pre-order shirts with just the pussy, no words.

Follow #TeamPussy on Instagram @team.pussies.unite and Twitter @Pussiesvote

Visit our #Team Pussy store now! Free shirt promotion valid for as long as supplies last.

Get out the vote, #pussies!!!!!