#MeToo: 7 Ways that Men Can Help Dismantle the Patriarchy Everyday

A new male friend and I were chatting last night and I was describing to him how the waterfall effect of the Harvey Weinstein revelations has affected my relationships. He made a flip comment about it being “the new thing these days.” I was flabbergasted and replied that it was not a trend from where I sit; it’s the beginning of a revolution. He apologized for the comment, but I don’t think he had any sense of the implications.

This is a dark and confusing time for all of us where bedrock social norms no longer apply and I have observed a lot of bewildered behavior from men as a result of this steady stream of reports that men behave badly on a regular basis.

To try and put the MeToo thing in context, I’ll use myself as an example. At the age of fifteen, I lost my virginity to a boy I had met two hours before. He was one of the popular boys, I had a huge crush and his sudden attention caught me completely off guard. He and his friends convinced me and my girlfriends to ditch and go to someone’s house nearby.

I had no idea that once he got me in a room alone he was going to try and go “all the way.” It’s an understatement to say that I didn’t know how to say no to this boy that I really liked and I was the last girl in my group to remain a virgin. I was so confused and ashamed that even when my girlfriends tried to barge the room, I told them to get out. After he was done, he told me not to tell anyone.

By the end of the school day, everyone knew and one girl saw me in the hall and started screaming his name, imitating me having sex with him. He called me that night and asked me why I told everybody, that he was talking to this other girl and now I had wrecked his chances with her.

Boys who had ignored me all year were suddenly swarming. I kept a brave face and pretended to my friends like I was in control of all this, but everyday, I came close to running away just so I didn’t have to face going to school.

This treatment was normal and it branded me.

Historically, my interactions with men are commonly characterized by: interruption, aggression, manipulation, and inappropriate comments and touching. I’ve experienced lying, gaslighting, emotional abuse, stalking, catfishing, and I was targeted by a romantic con artist.

So when these stories started to come out, it may have broadsided men, but no woman I know was surprised. The thing that surprised us was that there are actual consequences for this behavior. When we say #MeToo, we don’t mean once. We mean this is the toxic atmosphere we live in. We mean predators of all stripes count on a complicit system.

So I direct this list of action items specifically to men in this new territory. If you want to know how to be part of the solution, here are a few places you can start:

1. Be brave. I’m not talking about the kind of brave where you save a baby from a burning building. You guys are pretty good at that. But frankly, you suck at having emotionally vulnerable conversations with the women and men in your lives. It’s not your fault, we can squarely place the blame on the patriarchy, but you still have work to do. It’s time to have some tough conversations, to confront our collective complicity. Be ready to be wrong about some things. Be ready to change your mind and develop more awareness.

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Sacramentos’ Women’s March, January 20, 2017.

 

2. Do an inventory and clean house. My brother and I had a profound conversation a few days ago. There was someone in our midst who required unfriending and I took the opportunity to point out to him that he had crossed a line himself. He apologized to me and made amends in a way that I thought was really brave. Men should know that an apology for even a mild transgression has enormous healing potential for women who regularly deal with this onslaught and go their entire lives without ever hearing the words “I’m sorry.” Think back to the times that a woman told you that your friend did something gross. Did you blow her off? Do you still hang out with that guy? If so, maybe a conversation is in order.

And if you know someone who has a considerable track record of bad boundaries with women, you’ve got two choices: decide he can improve and work with him, or disengage. Does this seem like a tough choice? Well, it is.  And we do it all the time.

I know this is going to make some of my loved ones uncomfortable, but it enrages me to this day that they still have my ex-husband to dinner when he catfished me on the Internet, hacked my cloud, and posted revenge porn. When I told them all this as it was unfolding, my friends would shake their heads and say, “wow, that’s fucked up.” And then two weeks later, he would stay the weekend at their house with his latest girlfriend.

Again, my brother said he’d witnessed a lot of shitty behavior from my ex and he sees now that he could’ve said something.  By saying that, my brother showed me that he’s my advocate.

3. Listen without interrupting. I read a great piece in the Washington Post about how at the beginning of the Obama administration, there were two women in his cabinet and 2/3 of his staff were men. Numerous studies have been conducted in the business world that show men are more likely to interrupt women in a professional setting, and more likely to take credit for their ideas. Interrupting is a subtle but tactical method of debasement and so these female Obama staffers started to employ a countermeasure they referred to as “amplifying”. If one of them got cut off, the other would circle back and open up the opportunity for the first woman to complete her thought. They would also echo each other’s ideas by attributing: “Going back to Valerie’s idea…” It must have worked because at the end of Obama’s second term, his staff was comprised of 50% women.

 Men need to do this for women too.

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4. Take responsibility for the ways that the patriarchy has benefited you. To say “I’m not most men,” is akin to white folks saying to African American people, “I didn’t enslave you, so racism has nothing to with me.” No one wants you to personally apologize for racism or sexism (unless you have behaved in a racist or sexist way), but understand that you live in a world that was designed for men and by men. Understand that women are just gaining agency over their lives for the first time in the last few thousand years and if it seems like we have a hair trigger about language or tone, we do.  We’ve gotten punched in the face since the dawn of Western Civilization.

5. Stop minimizing. This one is also subtle, but it has powerful consequences and it’s one step away from gaslighting. Matthew Remski writes about this in a brutally honest blog post titled On Minimization as a Patriarchal Reflex: “My minimizing reflex is mobilized in an instant. The speed is a clue. My partner gives me feedback. Whatever the content is I instantly reframe it so I can feel like it’s either personal attack on me, or — and this is harder to see – as a problem that I am now responsible for, on behalf of someone who I instantly tell myself is overreacting. Both reframes are designed to render the incoming data dismissible.”

In the context of sexual misconduct, it’s harmful for men to point out that what Louis CK did isn’t the same as what Harvey Weinstein did.  it’s true, Louis didn’t lure women into his hotel rooms and rape them, but these are part and parcel of the same sick system whereby women have to make life decisions based on some man’s out of control libido. Let’s not split hairs.  Let’s just give their jobs to women.

6. Call out shitty male behavior in groups. A male friend of mine described sitting at lunch with a bunch of male co-workers when a heavy woman walked by wearing athletic pants. The men took the opportunity to complain that she didn’t have the body to wear those pants and my friend said, “Hey, wait a minute. She gets to wear whatever she wants. You don’t have to be into it, but you don’t get to decide what she wears because of what she looks like. That’s her choice.” He wasn’t mean and he wasn’t righteous, but because of the way he said it, he instantly called these guys’ misogyny to the mat and they retracted.

 No one gets a pass for hating anymore.

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American Girl in Italy by Ruth Orkin

7. If you have questions, don’t pose them on social media.  A new acquaintance of mine did something ingenious on Facebook, a platform she uses for political discourse and organization.  She asked the men on her feed to bow out the discussion for the purposes of the post and then posted questions from men so they could remain anonymous.  This was a really effective way (as far as I could tell) to allow men to listen to a range of female responses without starting a flame war.  If this option isn’t available to you, consider approaching one female friend in person and start the conversation with “I need help understanding this.”

We are in the middle of a reckoning. All these actions take practice. They take effort and they will necessarily make for some discomfort. But guess what? Women have been uncomfortable this whole time!

It gives me tremendous hope that our voices are starting to be heard. We will no longer be ignored, paid off, silenced or otherwise punished for someone else’s actions. There is a groundswell happening, an indirect response to having a predator in chief.

If any one group is capable of turning the ugly turmoil we are seeing, it’s women. Men only stand to benefit from empowering us. And it’s time. We’ve all waited long enough.

 

 

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Do What You Can Do Today: My Yogic Mental Health Toolkit

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The average stay at the crisis center where I teach yoga is 30 days, and since it’s an opt-in facility, there are no gates, searches or hospital gowns. When I go into my group meeting every Tuesday at 1:00, there are usually some familiar faces and some new patients.

There is also a broad range of mental illnesses ranging from suicidal depression to schizophrenia, OCD to psychosis. Group is a required part of the program and when many of them come in and hear they are about to practice yoga, the wall goes up.

So I start each class by saying, “Do what you can do today. If that’s just sitting still and listening, that counts. If you can do the breathing piece, even better. You still benefit from being in the room.”

The relief is palpable and more often than not, being in the room leads them to participate. That same reticent patient will likely put in even more effort at the next class. Some of the residents actually get really excited about the prospect of yoga because the results are empiric. That’s why it’s called yogic science; they see it for themselves.

I try to apply some of that spirit to my own practice. It’s hard with juggling a kid and multiple jobs and creative projects and my own mental resistance. Mornings are unusually accompanied by an internal groan, rather than a chipper “yay!”

But just asking myself, “what can I do today?” opens me up to more than doing nothing at all.

One of my teachers told me that when she was having a mental block against practicing, her teacher said, just roll out your mat everyday. Eventually, you’ll step onto it. She said just that act compelled the next act: breathing. Which compelled the next act: moving.

Yoga is no different than any other progression: there are days when nothing gets done. Acknowledging this lets my students apply what some teachers like to call, “imperfect action.” They are freed from the mental burden of having to perform. In a headspace where even the smallest demand feels unconquerable, and an environment where so much of their day is regimented, I give them permission to do whatever they can do.

Another thing that seems to help is giving my students tricks. I teach them easy poses, stretches, even awareness techniques that might come in handy during a bout of rage or extreme anxiety in a public place. I tell them why these actions help, what is going on in the brain, and it gives the smallest effort credibility.

I get anxious in public places on occasion, and I have bouts of rage too. In the moment, it can be difficult to think strategically, but that’s why we call it practice. With enough repetition, we can automate these tricks. Hopefully, we achieve the clarity to label them and activate the antidote. Or at least try.

Yoga is not a silver bullet. Meditation takes a certain amount of stillness and diligence that many of us, for whatever reason, don’t have. Sometimes it doesn’t work.

But to see these patients go from negative and lethargic to awake and relaxed in the course of 35 minutes, I’ll just say the practice continues to prove its worth. Just keep trying, and one of the valves will relieve the pressure.

Go Go Penguin Made My Summer

Alright, growing up in Los Angeles made me a sucker for hiphop, underground hiphop specifically, that nursed from the veins of truly great jazz.  It’s phenomenal to me that the tech has fed the human capacity for sound, Rob Turner manages to mimic the crisp drum tracks only previously capable on Logic.

It’s not just the precision that these dudes execute, it’s also the inviting melodies, the easy phrasing that feels so effortless and free. It all works just as well with Autumn, I recommend:

 

 

 

Diamonds & Gold: Neil Diamond at the Golden 1 Center

Yesterday started out great: I quit my job and almost like the universe was rewarding me, my friend Mike sent me a text asking if I wanted to see Neil Diamond at the Golden 1 Arena in downtown Sacramento.

A quick side note: After much reasonable protesting, Sacramento now has its very own, taxpayer funded, shiny new arena. I was ambivalent for many reasons, but I have to say that unlike other arenas, the acoustics are actually quite decent.  The only other show I’ve been to at the Golden 1 Center was Electric Christmas, a hipster rock, millennials-only affair put on every winter by local radio station 94.7.

So the first thing we noticed last night was that every section in the stadium was open and the place was packed to the nosebleeds with avid fans.

When the band took the stage and the lights dropped, a giant 3D Diamond appeared, spinning and refracting images of Neil from the past.  The diamond screen remained throughout the performance, lighting up and bouncing images that supported the songs.

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The bandstand split with a walk down the center and when Neil emerged and started to come down front and center, Mike couldn’t resist saying, “Oh that’s nice, they gave him the old people ramp”.

Neil is 76, but he sings with the same voice as he did in 1976: his pipes are undiminished by time, his rich, sultry tone and phrasing as swoon-worthy as ever.  

He launched into Solitary Man and this crowd that easily had 20-30 years on the previous show I’d seen, erupted with such glee, it was hard to believe.

Diamond had a bit of Elvis in him in the younger days, he borrowed some showmanship from the King for sure.  But his brand of flash seems positively tame compared with younger, more modern performers.  His charisma is so powerful that all he had to do was lift a hand beatifically and the audience would rise to their feet as though they were at a megachurch.

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A couple songs in, he strolled to the right side of the stage and the far right section cheered so vehemently, Neil said, “these folks are the most lively in the building, so I’m going to stay over here for this one.”  Then he sang the opening lines of Love on the Rocks. He continued to tease the other sections by pointing to the right and saying, “you going to beat these folks?”

His easy banter and playfulness cut up the often wistful themes of his ballads and he undulated between up tempo goodies like I’m a Believer and lonely  I am, I Said.  He is still songwriting and he managed to tuck some newer tunes into the set, one called Dry Your Eyes about the Manchester bombing.

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One of my favorite moments was Brooklyn Roads, accompanied by diamond-shaped, grainy Super8 footage of his family.  A line I deeply related to:

Mama’d come to school
And as I’d sit there softly crying
Teacher’d say, “He’s just not trying
He’s got a good head if he’d apply it”
But you know yourself
It’s always somewhere else

I built me a castle
With dragons and kings
And I’d ride off with them
As I stood by my window
And looked out on those
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Diamond also did something I hadn’t seen a rock star of his caliber do before: to introduce the band, he let each one of his musicians play a short, solo song of their own choosing.  His two back up singers are sisters, and his guitarist of 40 years, Richard Bennett, who helped write Forever in Blue Jeans, was on stage with his son, Nick, also on guitar.  These little showcases gave him a chance to encourage and publically thank the folks that support him.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the entire auditorium stood and danced for Sweet Caroline, except maybe those in wheelchairs. If there was some way to gauge the energy in the room, this crown far exceeded the hipster extravaganza I mentioned.  By a long shot.

The finale was, of course, Coming to America, a tune I used to see as a bit nationalistic, but again, he managed to strike the perfect tone; the diamond screen shone old black and white images of immigrants boarding boats, waving happily from the deck, hoping for a new life.  As the son of  Jewish immigrants from Poland, it was a loving gesture, and a reminder of what actually makes America great.

Neil Diamond performed for over two hours, with such obvious relish, such candor and very little of the bravado that made him so famous.  His voice was eclipsed only by the sheer poetic vulnerability of his lyrics and that spaghetti western style that has become his signature.

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I had my doubts about the Golden 1 arena, but last night, I was so grateful for this massive, shiny venue because it was filled to the brim with eager fans who spent far less time on their phones and far more time cheering and dancing: daughters and dads, grandparents and grandchildren.  And after 50 years of writing and performing, Neil Diamond deserves a golden arena.

 

  1. Written by Neil Diamond • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

Sacramento Trees: Greatest Hits

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This blog has been on ice for a bit, but I’ve been ruminating on refashioning it.  I’d like to create a resource and a laugh for other single moms like me in the Sacramento area.

But first, let’s look at some trees.  Even people who live here don’t realize that Sacramento has one of the densest tree populations in the US per capita, a fact that has recently been confirmed by a study at MIT.

I will intermittently be posting some beauties for no other reason than, you know, beauty.

You’re welcome.

 

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Trigger Warning: Trump is Your President

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When the map went red, it bled.  That uniform block of frustration and alienation is as visible as an open wound.  

For me, this election is personal.  I haven’t spoken publicly about it until now, but last summer, I was ensnared by a romantic sociopath and when I discovered the depth of this person’s lies, I had a mental health crisis complete with panic, anxiety/depression, PTSD, insomnia, the whole shebang.

At the time, I was working at a mental health facility teaching yoga to acute patients.  These vulnerable people had often sustained ongoing childhood abuse.  I could not teach anymore because I was now a patient and I couldn’t separate myself from my students; I was lost in empathy, my own pain mixing with their’s.

When the map went that red last night, it was like watching a dear friend willingly return to the home of her abusive husband. Our nation voted for a sociopath because it has Stockholm Syndrome.  Our red states feel powerless and so they reach for and identify with power, even if that power is their oppressor.

We have to wonder about free will in this moment and how much we are actually exercising it if we put the tax-evading bully in the driver’s seat.

I’m grieving a future that is not fraught with draconian repeals and abusive cycles that grind up our best and brightest.

I’m in the second phase of grief: denial.

Followed closely by bargaining: your mind just keeps trying to peel back time and rewrite the event, bending it another way. It happens repeatedly throughout your day, your mind doing impossible gymnastics to make that one moment of shock disappear. I’m going to let myself feel it, so I can move onto guilty, anger and eventually hope.
I am already tired from the work that must be done.  I see with fresh awareness that my privilege has afforded me the ability to opt out of activism.  The Obama years were a piece of cake I ate daily without realizing it.  But none of us, not one American, will have that luxury anymore.
I have one perspective I learned through my experience with the sociopath that is both disheartening and hopeful as it applies to Trump: sociopaths usually self-destruct.  because they are not conscience-bound at all, they do not apply loyalty to their interactions.  His loose cannon antics will continue once he gets into the White House and while we can count on him disposing of Obamacare, overturning Roe v. Wade, and setting up shop for his billionaire friends, he will also be bored, cruel, and destructive with the wrong people.
Malcolm Gladwell predicts Trump will be hip-deep in a lawyer huddle, if not in jail within the first year. I sort of hope he is right; I’d be really surprised if Trump makes it through a first term.
In the meantime, we need to bind together tighter, we need to reach back out to the middle, and bravely carry the torch of love, inclusion, forgiveness.  We need to see this as it is, a wound that needs healing.
Let’s be ready, friends, neighbors, families, communities, cities and allies.  Let’s start to build a model of what we do want so when this thing comes crashing down, we can create again.
May we eradicate hate.  One world, one people, one love.

No Handshake at the Last Debate: A Tactical Decision to Abandon Manners

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I have always watched these debates and marveled at the politician’s strange ability to cut someone down in front of millions and then smile and shake hands afterward.  I think of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, how that nicety is sort of creepy but entirely necessary, a shred of good sportsmanship.

According to the news outlets, Trump stacked his entourage with the women who have accused Bill Clinton of misconduct; that would force Bill to shake hands with them. The Clinton camp negotiated at the last minute for no greeting and no handshake at the beginning or end of the debate.

I can’t say I blame HRC for not wanting to touch that dastardly paw, but then again, she’s shaken hands with Trump hundreds of times.  There are plenty of photos of all of them bouging it up at some gala or another.

When those racism jackasses shouted at President Obama during his State of the Union Address, it had similar implications.  There is no place now, not even the formal stronghold of the presidency, that hatred cannot invade.

We’ve really let this discourse descend into the Sub Abyssal Zone.  I’ll be really grateful when this nightmarish election is over.