A Few Points About The Role of Media In This Election and In Our Country

•November 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I have endless feelings about media-related issues right now.  Network news opted for ratings and focused in disproportionately on Hillary Clinton’s emails during this election; pundits read polling data the way the thought viewers wanted to hear it so no one had a clear picture of what was going on, and the media did little to hold Trump accountable.  All that is too late to change.

There are four media-related issues that I want to bring up, though.

First, good media costs.  I love online media as much as anyone, but major news organizations charge for access, and until recently, I hadn’t bothered to subscribe, because I got information from so many different sources, I couldn’t be bothered. But if you can afford a subscription, now is the time to consider subscribing to media like the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc, because we are going to need the media to be in good form.

Second, support local media–local news stations and local newspapers.  A lot of them were wiped out during the Great Recession, but they’re the ones more likely to actually investigate, track, and hold accountable state legislatures, and we have to be able to keep an eye on what is happening at the state level.  Don’t think state politics matter to you?  State legislatures control things like education spending, test requirements, infrastructure development, etc, and impact issues such as health insurance regulations, abortion access, access to birth control, access to other healthcare, LGBTQ rights, and so many other things.  We only hear about bills coming out of legislatures when they are controversial enough to gain media attention, but HUNDREDS of bills are passed through state legislatures every year that impact people’s daily lives.

Third, consider reading and/or contributing to media that exists outside of your normal spectrum of media outlets.  Hear me out: media is helping to fuel the echochambers we live in.  I don’t think that urban America is somehow not the “real America”, but I do think that we can’t solve anything if we don’t acknowledge what is happening in the rest of the country.  Ask yourself: which newspapers are big in the mid-west?  In the South?  What media sources are widely read in rural Indiana or Oklahoma?  What story about America are we not reading?  What story about America are those readers not reading?

Fourth, and this is big: we need to DEMAND better representation in films and TV shows.  The reality is that as great as it would be for people across rural America to come to big cities and meet people, they often don’t have the financial means to do so.  It’s easy to forget, especially coming from somewhere like California or the Northeast, how big this country really is.  If you have to drive ten hours to reach a mid-size or large city, you may not have the time and the money to actually get there.  The ways in which people who are relatively geographically isolated from the rest of the world interact with the rest of the world is through media.  And media still, to this day, primarily casts white men or white women as their leads, and buys into a Christianized secular American culture that allows them to depict Christmas as a normal American tradition while ignoring every other culture and tradition in this country.

Think for a minute about the media you have watched.  How many shows or movies can you think of where there are explicitly Jewish characters?  Now ask yourself this: how many of those Jewish characters actually engage with Jewish religion or culture on the show?  I can think of one off the top of my head (The West Wing), though I’m sure there are a few more.  Now ask yourself this: how many shows can you think of where there are Muslim characters?  How many of those characters are NOT terrorists or terror suspects?  How many shows or movies have you seen that even depict Buddhists, or Hindus, or Sikhs? While we’re at it, how many show Latinx people or Black people as major characters?  How about major characters who are not criminals, who don’t have any family members who are seen on the show who are criminals?  This same issue applies to sexuality-~we need more LGBTQ representation in shows, and not just where their characters end up dying.

Representation matters.  It shapes how people psychologically respond-~-if you routinely see media and news where every time a Black person in a hoodie reaches into a pocket, they pull out a gun, your brain is trained to associate those things with each other.  If every time you see a Muslim depicted in a TV show, they are a terrorist or a terror suspect, and there are no Muslims in your community, there’s no meaningful counter-narrative.  It’s time to DEMAND that Hollywood step up to the plate and provide these counter-narratives.

Besides, where these counter-narratives do exist, shows have been successful.  The West Wing was a major hit show for seven seasons and featured a Black man as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, a Black man as personal aide to the president, a Black woman as National Security Advisor, two Jewish men as White House senior staffers, and (in seasons 6 and 7) a Latino presidential candidate.  Quantico, now in its second season, stars Priyanka Chopra, a South Asian woman, and has featured a Black woman as a high-ranking FBI agent, and a Jewish man and two Muslim women as FBI agents in training; in its second season, it also features two Black characters as high-ranking CIA agents. Grey’s Anatomy has numerous Black, biracial, gay, and bisexual characters, and has, in its history, featured story-lines focused on intersex and transgender characters.  How to Get Away With Murder notably features, in its core cast, only 2 straight white men among a group of racially diverse characters.  Even family-oriented shows have handled diversity with some success, including Freeform’s Switched at Birth, which includes numerous Latinx and Deaf characters.  But it’s not enough, it’s nowhere near enough, to counter the idea that “everyone celebrates Christmas” or that white people in charge is the norm.  It’s not enough to balance against media like Zero Dark Thirty, American Sniper, or 24, in which the bad guys were all Muslim.  It’s not enough to balance against the dozens of films which come out each year which feature white men and women as their leads.

Hollywood needs to cast more representative stories.  It’s not about including a couple of people of color in our media though; it’s about actually telling some of their stories.  It’s about casting them in roles that aren’t dependent on color, because white shouldn’t be treated as a default.  It’s about actually depicting lives outside the white, Christianized secular bubble we’ve come to treat as the norm, even though it isn’t for so many people.  We need better stories, and we need more diverse groups of people cast as heroes, as supporting characters, as love interests, on our TV shows and on the big screen.  And we should support media that accomplishes this, because it plays a hugely important role in how our society thinks about people.


Everything Feels Terrible. Here’s What You Can Do.

•November 9, 2016 • Leave a Comment

If you are like me, you are probably still reeling from last night’s election.

I know I have not posted much over the course of this election cycle. It would have been hard to pick what upset me the most, because every issue I care about has been on the table: sexual and reproductive healthcare, healthcare in general, people’s jobs, immigration, the list goes on and on. Not to mention that Donald Trump is a repeated accused rapist and abuser, who has used emotional abuse tactics on television.

I am heartbroken. I am angry. I feel let down by a country that has told me once again that people like me do not deserve respect or consideration. That my friends do not deserve to be safe, or to have opportunities to seek good jobs. That a more equal society is unwanted because there are angry white people who want their experiences to be the only normal.

If you’re heartbroken, let yourself be heartbroken. If you’re mad. let yourself be mad. I want you to remember how this feels, because it’s the only way we are going to change anything.  Everything feels terrible right now.  Here’s what you can do

1 Take care of yourself.

Hydrate. Sleep. Be with your friends. Read a book you love. Watch a show you love. Watch the West Wing for the 300th time. Eat. Pay your bills.  Engage in the radical acts of self-care that keep you going. Cry if you need to.  Yell if you need to. It’s okay that you need to take care of yourself.

2. Get support if you need it.

If you don’t already have these hotlines on hand, grab a pen:

RAINN: 1-800-656-4673 (they also have an online chat at http://www.rainn.org)

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:  1-800-273-8255

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233

Gay & Lesbian National Hotline: 1-888-THE-GLNH

You can also look at free or low-cost therapy if therapy seems like it would help:

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has resources to help identify sources of help, and an app called TalkSpace will let you connect to a trained counselor through as many texts as you want for $25/week

3. Donate

Organizations like Planned Parenthood, RAINN, your local domestic violence shelter, and local community health organizations are going to need all the help they can get, and the people they help are going to be among the hardest hit.

You can also donate to organizations like Legal Aid or immigration advocacy organizations that can provide legal counsel to those whose immigration cases are about to get more complicated, as well as local and national organizations supporting LGBTQ persons.

Other organizations to consider supporting: the ACLU, the NAACP, Lambda Legal, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Center for Reproductive Rights, GLAAD, the Disability Rights Legal Center, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Association of Community Health Centers, and any other great local organizations in your community you see helping people in need.

4. Be there for each other

I know it sounds cheesy, but solidarity and support are going to matter a LOT in the next few months.  There is no way to know what is going to happen once President-Elect Trump is inaugurated; there is no way to predict exactly what Congress will or won’t support. So listen to each other’s fears. Validate each other’s concerns. Be the community that each of us needs right now.

5. Volunteer

Organizations like Planned Parenthood, RAINN, domestic violence and rape crisis centers, all need volunteers. If you have the time, helping out can help to ensure that these organizations continue to be able to provide critical services in our communities as well as nationally.

6. Stay involved

Write to your congressional representatives and senators. Pay attention to state-level policies, which are the most likely to impact things like local program funding, education, abortion access, family law, etc.

7. Support media that holds politicians, government officials, and judges accountable.

Our media sources too-often failed us in this election, and our government officials and politicians need to be held accountable for the actions they take and the rhetoric they invoke. Support media outlets that actually fulfill this obligation so that come next election cycle, we get better coverage, and so that every day, we get more accountability and transparency.

8. Support local businesses.

During times of economic downturn, it’s generally smaller businesses that get hit the hardest. In case the shock of having Donald Trump elected does in fact disturb our markets, support your local businesses when you can; they help create jobs in your community, and are more likely to re-invest in the community.

9. Make a plan

Are you saving money in case there’s economic downturn? Are you considering long-lasting reversible contraception in case access to contraception and/or abortion is compromised? Do you have a support system in place to help you cope with difficult social and economic changes on the horizon? If not, it’s time to think through what you are going to do if things get messy.  I’m here with you, hoping for the best, but I like to say that in general, it’s good to have a plan-~-because you never know what will happen.

8. Stay compassionate

There has been a lot of hatred in this election cycle, and it would be easy to just push back with even more anger and hatred. I see where you’re coming from, I really do. But part of the problem with what has happened in this country is that for all the strides we have made forward, there are people we have left behind, and progressives are guilty of it too.  If you identify as liberal, consider how you or your other liberal friends talk about people from the South and the Midwest, people in small towns, people who identify as religious. We need to bring compassion and humanity back into our national conversations, and that is something every one of us needs to be a part of.




A Jumble of Thoughts for NEDA Week

•February 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) Week in the US, and I’m not as well-equipped to write about it as I’d like to be, but it’s worth highlighting whether I feel prepared or not.

Eating disorders impact thousands of young people in the United States every year.  They’re also hugely misunderstood, often painted as being about wanting to be thin, as opposed to wanting control or wanting approval, which is what they’re more often really about.  As a result, eating disorders get characterized by simply some of their symptoms-~-over-eating, over-exercising, counting calories-~-instead of being seen holistically for the psychological struggle that they are.  What this also means is that recovery is more than just a battle to consume food; it can also be a battle to face the underlying issues that push people to develop eating disorders, and that can be incredibly difficult.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or you think you may have an eating disorder, you should know that you are not alone. If you want to be screened, the National Eating Disorders Assocation has an online screening tool to help assess your behaviors.  They also have some resources available through their website, including a directory of support groups and an online chat if you need to talk.  You can also find an additional director of support groups here.  MentorConnect is an online mentorship program that pairs people going through recovery with individuals who have made it through recovery; I have personally heard great thing from people who have used MentorConnect as a support system during recovery.

There are also any number of tools out there to support recovery, and while a therapist can do a better job of helping you to assemble a toolkit that is right for you, there are a number of resources out there even if you have not yet taken steps to find formal therapy or a formal recovery program.  Recovery Record is designed to help individuals struggling with anorexia, bulemia, and binge eating disorder, but has been used positively by individuals with other disordered eating behaviors as well; it helps track both the foods you eat and the moods you associate with them to track patterns in your recovery, and lets you connect with other users for support.  The app is also designed to supplement therapy and allow clinicians to monitor progress.  Rise Up + Recover has similar food and mood tracking tools, and also includes a coping skills menu to provide additional support.

Given that eating disorders interact with mental health as well as physical health, there are a few additional resources that might be worth taking a look at.  SAM is an app that can help you monitor your anxiety, track your triggers, and develop coping strategies.  7 Cups of Tea is a free app that can connect you with a trained volunteer who can provide short-term support and counseling; it can be helpful if you’re feeling stressed or anxious and need someone to talk to.  MindShift is designed to help you learn to manage stress, identify triggers, and reign in anxiety.  PTSD Coach is specifically designed to allow individuals who experience symptoms of post-traummatic stress to identify and cope with the ways PTSD can impact them; remember, eating disorders can be linked to post-traummatic stress, so it’s worth having a plan to deal with both if you suffer from both.

Remember, an app is not a substitute for a clinician, a nutritionist, or any other support network.  Recovery can be difficult and it can take time, and it’s always best to do it with as much support and professional guidance as possible.  If you aren’t sure where to start, many of the support groups included in the directories mentioned above are led by therapists who may be able to provide guidance.

Also remember this: the road to recovery is long and it is far from a straight line.  If you are struggling with reocvery, fear you may be relapsing, or simply need support, reach out.  Recovery may feel difficult, but it is possible, so give yourself the time, the space, and the support you need to get there.



An Open Love Letter For Everyone This Valentine’s Day

•February 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I have never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day, but I am a fan of relationships.  To a point.  My problem with our celebration with romantic love is three-fold, and whether you’re in a relationship or not, this may be something you need to hear.  I say all of this with love, and because all of these things I needed to hear.



First off, romantic love is far from the only love worth having, but it’s the only one we seem to feel deserves its own holiday.  No matter what Facebook does with our photos, or how subgroups like the Nerdfighters choose to celebrate non-romantic love, the reality is that only romantic love seems to get the big hoorah.  This is a problem for both aromantic folks and for folks who just happen to not be taking part in a romantic relationship; it’s another way of society telling us that having a romantic partner is a benchmark for success that we are not reaching.  That’s an unpleasant thing to think and feel, but it’s also rooted in an idea that we can never be complete without another person.

So this Valentine’s Day, I want to tell you that you are complete, even if you don’t have a partner.  You deserve to be able to stand alone, even if you have a partner, or more than one partner.  This idea of finding our “other half” lets us buy into the idea that we ourselves can never be enough, and while having someone in your corner is always great, that person does not need to be a romantic or sexual partner, and no matter what, you are the person you need in your corner the most.

The second problem I have with Valentine’s Day also has to do with elevating romantic love as a marker of success.  This kind of thinking tells us that we need to engage in a dating market that may or may not be skewed against us;  it teaches us to feel like failures for not being able to find someone who matches what we want or need in a partner-~-but worse, it can teach us to accept relationships where we aren’t getting what we want or need from our partners.  This mentality can make us feel like we’re failures for walking away from people who ultimately aren’t good for us, just because now we are alone.  I’m sure I don’t need to point out the number of ways this can be problematic; it sets us up for unhappiness, or can even make it difficult to leave abusive relationships, because we’re afraid of the social consequences, or afraid to be on our own.

Let me say this: a relationship is only as good as it makes you feel or inspires you to be.  Be someone who makes you happy, and be with someone who encourages you to be that person-~-even if that person is just you.  If you’re going to have a partner, make sure it’s someone who builds you up instead of puts you down, someone who supports your dreams, someone who has dreams of their own and won’t make you feel bad for wanting things when they don’t know what they want.  Make sure you find someone who can actually be your partner, and don’t be afraid or ashamed to walk away if that’s not what you’re getting.

This Valentine’s Day, let me also say that if you are on your own having walked away from a relationship that wasn’t what you wanted or needed, I am proud of you.  I am proud of you for recognizing that you deserve more than the idea of someone; you deserve the real thing.  I am proud of you for recognizing that you deserve to be happy.  You deserve a relationship that lets you feel happy and safe, and it’s okay for the relationship to be with yourself.  And if you are in a relationship and you aren’t sure you’re happy, and you’re not sure how to make it work, you should know that you are not alone.  There are people you can talk to, and resources you can draw on.  You deserve to be happy and safe no matter what you choose to do.

My third problem with Valentine’s Day is this: our cultural fixation with being paired up can blind us to all the things that being on our own has to offer.  Being on your own teaches you what you can really handle.  It lets you figure out what you want out of life, without accounting for someone else’s goals, so that if you do decide to find a partner, you can find one whose goals genuinely fit with what you actually desire.  Being on your own lets you develop your own independent sense of self, teaches you to explore parts of you and interests you might have without any pressure or sense of obligation.  Being on your own can be scary, sure, but it can also be liberating.

Our relationships with ourselves ultimately dictate our relationships with everyone else in our lives, and while we spend a ton of time celebrating relationships with significant others, we never really talk about what it means to get to know ourselves, or to really love ourselves.  Self-love can’t just be a catchphrase; it has to be an active journey that we continue to take throughout our lives, and until we can embrace that, being with other people can be really difficult.  So if you feel like you’re still struggling to figure things out, ask yourself seriously: what do I want, and what do I need?  It’s okay not to have all the answers yet, but give yourself a chance to figure it out.  You might be surprised how much clarity you’ll find in those answers.

Finally, let me say this: whether you’re single or coupled up or in a polyamorous relationship, please remember that today is just a day on the calendar.  Love isn’t about candy or flowers or fancy dinners; don’t let corporate America convince you that it is.  Love is about having someone there who can support you, make you laugh, be there when you cry, and help you be the person you want to be, and there are so many places that love can come from, and so many ways a person can show it, that have nothing to do with our idealized version of Valentine’s Day.  In the grand scheme of a relationship, and in our lives, Valentine’s Day is just one small data point-~-don’t let it skew your perception of everything else you have going on.

#FreedomForKesha: What Kesha’s Legal Battle Says About the State of Our Dialogue on Sexual Abuse

•February 4, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Kesha (full name: Kesha Rose Sebert), the pop musician best known for songs like “Your Love is My Drug” and “Tik Tok”, has been embroiled with court cases since fall of 2014.  If you haven’t been following her case, now might be the time to start, because her hearing date is coming up, and for those who profess to stand with survivors of sexual violence, it’s a big deal.

What, exactly, is going on?  In October of 2014, Kesha filed against her producer, Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald) in Los Angeles Superior Court.  Her suit alleged that Dr. Luke drugged and raped her, and that she was the subject of significant emotional abuse at his hands.  The 28-page complaint was the talk of the music industry for days, but unfortunately it has proven to be just the beginning of Kesha’s legal journey.  The goal of her suit was to be freed from her contract, which has prevented her from producing music with anyone but Dr. Luke; Dr. Luke proceeded to file a counter-suit against Kesha, her mother, and her manager, alleging that they are attempting to exort him in order to free her of her contract.

The initial response opened a slew of questions all too familiar in the sexual violence advocacy world: why didn’t Kesha report the assault to the police?  Why choose a civil suit as opposed to a criminal action?  Why is there no rape kit?  Her attorney, Mark Geragos, has handled these questions reasonably well, arguing that a civil suit allows for greater discovery by Kesha’s legal team, and that fear of her abuser has made additional action difficult.

I’ll go further, though, and say this: there are any number of reasons why rape survivors do not report to the police.  They may feel pressured not to create criminal consequences for their attackers.  They may not feel emotionally able of dealing with a criminal trial.  Rape kits, while useful, can also feel invasive and have to be completed relatively quickly after an individual is attacked; any action, including peeing, can diminish the evidence available through a SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner) exam.  On top of that, a civil suit may offer not only additional opportunity to gain evidence, but may also offer greater likelihood of a positive outcome for the complainant, since civil suits rely on a preponderance of the evidence as their standard (meaning it is more likely than not that an action was committed), as opposed to criminal cases, which require that a person be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

But most of all, the implication that a person might just be making up their assault because they have not involved the police is simply false, and the response to Kesha’s suit is just another example of survivors not being taken seriously because they don’t fit the mold of the “perfect survivor”.

In March of 2015, the judge in charge of the New York cases determined that the suit initially filed in California should be determined first, meaning that Dr. Luke’s counter-suit against Kesha would be tabled until after her case against him had been heard.  Unfortunately, this was later undone by a California judge halting her case in June of 2015, because her record contract with Dr. Luke required her to settle in New York.

Her lawyers commented: Kesha now faces an abysmal decision: Work with her alleged abuser…or idly and passively wait as her career tick-tocks away. Kesha’s window of opportunity is nearly shut: She has not been recording, touring or able to market merchandise for nearly a year — an eternity in the industry. If Kesha is not permitted to resume working immediately with the backing of a major record label, her window will forever close.”

Her court case WAS set for Tuesday, January 24 of 2016; unfortunately, it was further delayed as a result of the recent snowstorm, leaving Kesha to continue to wait.  Her case is now set for Friday, February 19, when the singer and her fans hope that she will be released from her contract and able to take back her career.  The February 19th court date is an injunction hearing, a request by the singer that she be allowed to begin producing music without Dr. Luke, since her forced hiatus has caused damage to her music career.

The allegations included in Kesha’s suit are heartbreaking, dating back to shortly after she left high school in Nashville and moved to Los Angeles to pursue music as a career.  It’s easy enough for opponents to claim that she is making up these allegations to get out of her contract, but her conversations with her record label, Sony, from October of 2015 reveal that she is willing to record a new album under their label, as long as she does not have to work with Dr. Luke; the record label refused this, insisting that the exclusivity clause that pairs her with Dr. Luke is still in effect, and forcing her to continue her hiatus from recording and touring.

A culture that too-often paints survivors of abuse and sexual assault as liars sets up individuals like Kesha who have a lot to lose to be seen as making things up to get something they want, and watchng that happen so publicly is miserable.  The reality is that as much as skeptics may want to claim that Kesha stands to gain from severing her contract with Dr. Luke, he has perhaps even more to gain by denying all allegations and insisting that she fulfill the full six-album obligation of her current agreement.  And in any case, Kesha has lost out significantly through her case, as a result of her determination not to be forced to work with a man who has so mistreated her, and her experience is one that deserves support and solidarity.




A Note About My Absence

•January 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Those who follow this blog may have noticed that recently there has been little new material. I apologize for the unplanned hiatus; it was due to a confluence of professional and personal commitments that left me with less time than usual to devote to this blog.  I plan to resume posting with semi-regularity in the next few weeks, so please keep your eye out for new material!