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The day after the Inauguration, I had a long conversation with someone who was fighting despair. He was obviously a smart guy, educated, well-spoken, reasonable. He was trying to make sense of what was happening on the national political stage and come up with a plan to fix it, and he was failing. His failure, to which I imagine he is at least somewhat unaccustomed, was causing him a lot of distress.

I told him, “This is an unprecedented and chaotic time, and there isn’t a simple easy fix. No one knows what is this is going to lead to in the future.”

I want you to pause and let that sink in: No one knows what is going to happen.

Seriously. I don’t care how smart any one individual is. They do not know what is going to happen. Most of them do not even have all the facts. Unless X-men mutant powers have suddenly manifested around the globe, nobody knows what the future will bring. They can guess. They can analyze. They can plan. They can string together a line of facts with speculation. But they cannot know.

Why does this matter?

Fear has two sides. On the one hand, it can be an effective weapon. It can galvanize us into action, overcoming the impulses of laziness, denial, and apathy.  It can help us develop courage and integrity. It can act as a loud warning siren that something has gone wrong in the world around us.

But if left unchecked, fear can spiral out of control. It can deepen into despair and defeatist thinking. It can overwhelm and paralyze. It can lead a person into believing there is nothing they can do.

And spending too much time dwelling on and being terrified by an unknown future can lead to this spiral of despair all too easily.

How do we combat this? By aggressive self care, by acknowledging that we do not know what the future will bring, and by empowering ourselves by focusing on concrete actions we can take.

But Amy, I hear someone say, what good are my actions? They won’t make any difference.

And to that person I say, I understand how you feel. We are, each of us, tiny specks of sand being blown by the winds of history in the making. It is an uncomfortable feeling.

But you are wrong. Over and over again in this blog, I have written about the importance of the individual’s choices, about how we impact the world around us, about how living a mindful and examined life matters. And that has never been more true than at this moment.

What you believe matters. How you choose to conduct yourself matters. Acting with integrity matters. Reaching out and supporting your friends, your communities, your families, that all matters. Staying engaged and informed matters. Donating matters. Becoming engaged in the political process matters. Organizing matters. Protesting matters. What you create as an artist matters.

You do not have to conduct a very deep dive into history to find concrete examples of how these things have impact: various independence movements; women’s suffrage; the Civil Rights Movement; the LGBTQ rights movement; the Tea Party. And that’s just off the top of my head. These sorts of things are usually messy and often deeply imperfect, because we as individuals make mistakes and are deeply imperfect. But over time they can change the status quo. Our actions do matter.

And if the fear is strong in you right now, know you don’t have to do it all, and you don’t have to do it alone. That is why organizing is so important, because when it works well, you become more than the sum of your parts. You support each other. You don’t have to be an expert on every single issue. You can take breaks. You can focus on your strengths and not beat yourself up so hard over your weaknesses. You can raise up your voices together, and a million voices are a hell of a lot louder than one single voice.

As Dylan Thomas so famously wrote:

“Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Fight against despair because it will lie to you. It will tell you your integrity and your principles no longer matter. And that is simply not true.

Who you are will always matter.

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I, as a woman, have a lot of expectations placed upon me.

I, as a woman, am expected to put effort into my appearance. And I’m not talking merely practicing basic hygiene, either.

I, as a woman, am expected to toe the line of fashion. Wear one blouse that is too low-cut, by some random definition of low-cut, and I will be judged and slut-shamed. Wear formless clothes, and I will be found frumpy, ugly, not as interesting.

I, as a woman, am expected to need to have babies in order to be fulfilled.

I, as a woman, am expected to know the right thing to say in every situation.

I, as a woman, am expected to cook tasty but healthy meals. As long as you’re pretty and can cook, you’ll have a boyfriend in no time. -actual thing I’ve been told

I, as a woman, cannot win when it comes to sex. Virgin or whore, frigid or slutty, no is never as simple as it seems nor as simple as it should be.

I, as a woman, am expected to remember personal details: names, birthdays, life stories, and logistics. I am expected to coordinate. I am expected to hostess. I am expected to keep in touch.

I, as a woman, am expected to respond to egregiously bad behavior with poise and tact and compassion.

I, as a woman, am expected to be less rational, less logical, less intelligent, and more emotional. Meanwhile, my society pays lip service to valuing logic while demeaning emotions.

I, as a woman, am expected to be “more emotionally aware and available.”

I, as a woman, am expected to be bad at math.

I, as a woman, am expected to smooth things over and make social interactions a little bit easier and little bit less awkward.

I, as a woman, am expected to put my male partner’s career before my own.

I, as a woman, am expected to never look old. Wrinkles and silver temples do not translate as dignified and experienced on me. They translate to washed-up.

I, as a woman, am expected to know and say less valuable things and therefore not mind when I am interrupted or when basic things upon which I am an expert are explained to me.

I, as a woman, am expected to be more unassuming and careful and less confident when I speak.

I, as a woman, am expected to really like pink.

I, as a woman, am expected to be catty and judgmental of other women’s appearances and sexuality.

I, as a woman, am expected to smile.

I, as a woman, have to think very carefully about career issues such as whether to use my initials instead of my first name if I ever publish a science fiction novel so that readers won’t know I’m a woman.

I, as a woman, am expected to be interested in domestic subjects. And also yoga. (True story: the Boyfriend and I randomly met another couple at a restaurant and were going to go explore some ruins with them, but then the other woman got scared because it was dark. The other man said to her and me, “Oh, you two would rather stay up top doing yoga while we explore.” And I thought, “Why on earth would I choose yoga over exploring ruins?” Yeesh. Needless to say, I explored those fucking ruins. Thoroughly. Sprained toe and all.)

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Some of these things are true. I do like pink. I put effort into my appearance. I like clothes and musical theater. I know my way around an emotional landscape.

Some of these things are not true. I explicitly do not cook (and I could write a whole post on why I am so explicit about it). Most domestic subjects bore me. I am good at math. I don’t always remember names. I don’t always feel poised and tactful.

Some of these things I am working on. I do not want to be judgmental about other women’s choices. I do not want to be less than confident when speaking about things I know. I do not want to smooth over every awkwardness and insult at my own expense. I do not want to smile on command.

Mostly, I don’t want to care. I don’t want to care about the expectations, and I don’t want to internalize them, and I don’t want to be held back because of my gender identity. I don’t want you to be held back either, whatever your gender.

I don’t want to be less than.

None of us do.

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Gilmore Girls seems to have a reputation for being in a certain demographic. A very female demographic. Which is particuarly interesting because, according to Wikipedia, for its first four seasons (which I would argue are its strongest), it ranked first in the 18-25 demographic for women and second in the 18-25 demographic for men. Meaning, people really liked it regardless of gender.

That being said, one of my male friends was embarrassed to admit he’d watched and enjoyed the show. Another one scoffed at the idea of watching it because it has “girls” in the title, so it obviously wasn’t for him. I think maybe it has an (undeserved) reputation for being like a Lifetime movie, something that would only appeal to women (and yes, there are all kinds of problems with that statement).

Of course, this tension is not universal. There is also the guy I was dating last year who was watching through the series and would tell me his thoughts on the episodes. And the popular two-guy podcast Gilmore Guys, hosted by one guy who loves the show and one guy who had never seen it before.

I started watching Gilmore Girls for the first time several years after it had concluded, when I was in the process of getting a divorce. I loved it at that time, and will probably always love it, because the show centers around Lorelai Gilmore, a (off-and-on) single woman in her 30s (she’s 32 when the show starts and 39 when it ends) who is not mostly defined by her relationships with men. She is smart, she is stylish (sometimes), she is assertive, she is ambitious, she is very good at her job and eventually becomes a successful entrepreneur, and her most important relationship throughout the seven years of the show is not a romantic one with a man (although she has those too!) but with her daughter. And as a smart woman in my 30s who didn’t want to define myself primarily by my relationship to men, I found watching stories of this fictional woman’s life vastly reassuring.

But as I continued watching, I came to realize Gilmore Girls is more than just a reassuring reflection for me. It’s really funny! (In an absurd way, which is my favorite.) It’s a smart, witty, show with a fast pace, a quirky style, and tons of pop culture references. It brings its characters and its setting of the idealized but bizarre small town of Stars Hollow (which is a character in and of itself) into vivid being. And it happens to center around the lives of a mother and daughter.

gilmore girls still

Yesterday, I read Penelope Trunk saying, “Men don’t need to see themselves reflected back to themselves in a relationship. They need to see themselves reflected back as some sort of hero. Women want to see themselves reflected back as being competent in relationships.” She goes on to say this because most women want kids, and it won’t be relatable for them to watch other women putting a career before family.

One of the reasons I love Gilmore Girls is because, while what Ms. Trunk says may or may not be true on a wider scale (and if it is true, it’s because of what our society raises women to value, so if our pop culture changed, this truth would most likely change as well), I know that I personally love seeing myself reflected back as some sort of hero. Who wouldn’t like that? Why can’t I be a hero and care about my relationships all at the same time? And it is a joy to watch a female character in her 30s be so competent, successful at business, and with a full and fulfilling life.

Also, it’s great to see other people, including women, who aren’t super competent at relationships (which Lorelai patently is not). Not only does that provide much-needed drama to sustain a longer-running television series, but come on! Relationships are difficult. None of us is perfect at them. And it’s affirming to see that lack of perfection reflected back in our media. In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown says that feeling like we’re not alone and that our personal experience is relatable and not unique to us is very important for shame resilience. Which is one reason why what the media portrays (and does not portray) is so critical.

Ultimately I’d like to see all kinds of characters reflected as heroes in media: female and male and non-binary genders, white people and people of color, young people and old people, straight and gay and bi people, people who are the same as me and people who are different from me. I want to see people being great at relationships and I want to see people who are messing up at relationships. I want to see warm family connections and I want to see troubled ones. I don’t really want to see absolute perfection because flaws are what make characters–and more generally human beings–interesting and three-dimensional and who they really are.

So dislike Gilmore Girls all you want, but dislike it because of its flaws as a show: the mess of seasons six and seven, the way it’s depressing to watch Rory descend into the dystopia her mother had escaped a generation before, the inconsistencies of the world, the way it deals with economic and class privilege. Dislike it because you don’t like watching dysfunctional family relationships or because it’s not a show centered around mysteries or action or whatever genres really engage you.

But don’t dislike it because it’s a show for women. It’s not, no more than Sherlock or Star Trek are shows for men (to mention two other shows I really like).

It’s a show for everyone.

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I have not had an easy life.

I lived through significant trauma in my adolescence. I had to deal with some serious shit. When I tell people the highlights of that part of my history, they don’t know what to say. It’s okay. I don’t know what to say either. I tend to downplay it, because sometimes it seems like the only redemptive part of the story is that I survived basically intact to tell it.

That kind of prolonged trauma reverberates through the years. I have made unfortunate choices based on the dysfunction I learned as a teenager. I have health problems now because of the stress of the past. My brain developed differently than it might otherwise have done, leaving me, for example, with the tendency of being hypervigilant. I have trouble convincing myself being hypervigilant isn’t a useful and basically good thing (it isn’t, it really isn’t, but it still seems so very practical).

I have had to teach myself what having a safe and happy and functional life looks like. And I have had to draw some hard lines I never wanted to draw and make some difficult choices I never wanted to make.

I am also incredibly fucking privileged.

I am a white, heterosexual, attractive, thin, intelligent woman. I was raised middle class in California in one of the richest counties in one of the richest countries in the world. I received a college education without accruing huge amounts of debt. I know how to speak, how to dress, how to behave in order to receive better treatment.

People are not randomly afraid of me. People are more likely to give me the benefit of the doubt. People are more likely to assume positive things about me. People are more likely to return my smiles. People are more likely to give me opportunities. People are more likely to assume I’m competent and that my work will be good. People are more likely to offer me assistance. I have access to better medical care, to better dental care, to resources that mean I have a lot more choices and control of my life.

I am oozing in privilege.

I have had a hard life.

These two statements are not incompatible.

What I see so often in conversations about privilege is this insistence on “I.” We all want empathy. We all want to be heard and recognized. We all want acknowledgment of our suffering. And, you know, Buddha said life is suffering, and there’s more than enough of it to go around.

This desire for empathy is normal. It is supremely human. And we all deserve it.

Photo Credit: Herr Olsen via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Herr Olsen via Compfight cc

But. It is possible to receive empathy and give empathy to ourselves while also recognizing our privilege. It is possible to gently remind ourselves that actually, not everything is about us and our particular concerns. That our pain and our problems do not always need to get time in the spotlight, that sometimes other people’s problems and pain needs the exposure, the airtime, the discussion, the push for change, more. That injustice, oppression, lack of privilege, these are systemic issues that are woven into the very fabric of our society, and changing these things, it is a long slow painful process that necessarily shifts the focus from individual problems to societal problems. That even if we have valid points, if part of the purpose or result of those valid points is to shift the focus back to us, that is not always a net win.

I have had a hard life.

I am extremely privileged.

These statements are both true.

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Dating as a feminist has been … eye-opening.

When I began dating, I didn’t really think about this being a sticking point. I didn’t see myself as being particularly noteworthy in my opinions about sexism. I was happy to pay for myself or be treated (as long as I could tell what was happening). I didn’t mind having doors held open for me (especially with a sprain, this is actually super helpful). I didn’t even mind having car doors opened for me, even if it does feel a little bit silly. After all, we all still know I am capable of opening the car door myself, right? Right?

But I was wrong. Dating as a feminist has been different. And I have stopped dating more than one person at least partially because of their beliefs, attitudes, and statements about gender.

Photo Credit: armigeress via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: armigeress via Compfight cc

 

The first time I stopped dating someone because of this, I cried while delivering the news. I cried partly because I was having trouble believing it was actually happening, that this was a reason that had actually come up in my life. But I felt very strongly that it would be hypocritical of me to date this person, given my own feminist beliefs. I was also concerned it would affect my attitudes about my writing career, that I would internalize these sexists ideas I was hearing and they would make me less ambitious, less capable, and less confident.

I learned to never explicitly state that sexist attitudes were a reason for discontinuing dating. (Yeah, I had to learn this through experience. Oops. Trust me, this mistake wasn’t pretty.)

And I learned that a certain degree of sexism is a deal breaker for me.

Really, dealing with sexism is hard enough as it is. It is so easy to internalize all the messages we are receiving from media, from society, from our peers. And the little things do matter.

For example, I heard a sexist remark over the weekend, and I knew at the time it was sexist. And even still, I found myself revisiting it the next day and feeling anxiety as to how I personally fit into the scheme of the joke. At which point I had to remind myself it was sexist and that if anybody was thinking about me in that way, it was somebody about whose opinion I wouldn’t care anyway.

So much effort, because of one stupid off-hand “joke.” Meanwhile, none of the guys who heard this joke had to think about it the next day and talk themselves out of worrying that it applied to them. And this was actually a better outcome than it would have been if I hadn’t noticed and if I’d unconsciously incorporated it into my opinion of myself. This kind of cognitive load is largely invisible, but it can add up to become quite significant.

Now, imagine you’re dating someone who has a lot of unexamined sexist beliefs and who makes a lot of these kinds of jokes and generalizations and is unable to check routine mansplaining (I know a lot of you hate this word, but I don’t have another one that means what I want to say, so we’ll go with it for now). How much cognitive load would it take to avoid internalizing these self-limiting beliefs? And how many would slip through without notice?

Sometimes people laugh at my post about how I think shared interests don’t matter that much in dating. And it’s true I was supporting a rather extreme point of view. Of course it’s nice to share interests with your partner. Of course it’s nice to have fun stuff to do together.

But the longer I’ve been dating, the more convinced I’ve become about what matters more to me. Kindness, honest and clear communication, respect and compassion for each other as we are, not as we wish we were. And how can someone who sees me as a mystery or thinks women are “crazy” or doesn’t trust my basic competence truly respect me? How can they see who I am?

And why would I want to spend a lot of time with someone who listens to and shares ideas that tear me down, that make who I’m allowed to be smaller and more limited, and thinks they’re an amusing joke?

Once you discover respect for yourself, you begin to demand respect from the people around you. This is an important part of dating. And it is also part of what being a feminist means to me.

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Facebook is an amazing social tool. I know a lot of us love to hate it, and it has its problems, but we don’t leave for a reason, that reason being its extreme usefulness.

Aside from allowing me to stay in some kind of light touch with people who live far away and giving me a curated set of articles to read, Facebook is the single easiest way I’ve found to grow my local social life. You friend someone and then they invite you to their events, and then you meet people at those events and friend them, and they invite you to their events, and your social circle grows with much less effort on your part than back when you had to wait to be on email address exchange terms to get an invitation. (Or phone number exchange terms, heaven forbid!)

Likewise, I’ve found Facebook to be indispensable for dating. Basically, there are two ways most of the single people I know date. One way is to use internet dating sites: OKCupid is super popular among my friends, but there are a whole slew of sites to choose between. You don’t even have to choose! Some people are on a bunch of them all at once.  (And I guess a corollary of this would be speed dating, which I kind of want to do just because then I could write a hilarious blog post about it, and we’d all have fun with that.)

The other way, the Facebook way, works like this: You go to a social event. Any event where there are people will do; parties are perhaps the most common, but this also works with game nights, group dinners, conventions, classes, dances, etc. You meet another single person and spend some time chatting. Maybe a lot of time. Sometimes they then pull out their phones and add you on Facebook on the spot. Other times you friend each other in the next day or two or three. Regardless, now Facebook is your main point of contact.

Photo Credit: Peter Samis via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Peter Samis via Compfight cc

“But Amy,” you say, “surely you could exchange phone numbers or email addresses instead!” Yes, you are right. Surely you could, and occasionally you even do. But I’d say ninety percent of the time, you don’t. You friend each other on Facebook. And then maybe you switch to email or texting after that. Maybe. At some point. Or not.

Anyway, now you’re Facebook friends, and you begin messaging back and forth. There may be some banter. At some point the possibility of hanging out in person is discussed. All of this is very casual. After all, this is the exact same way you might go about creating any new friendship. Occasionally someone is very explicit about asking the other person on a date, but more often than not it’s all unspoken subtext. (I know from my Maybe-Date post we all have lots of opinions about this. Regardless, this is in my experience what tends to happen without making deliberate effort to make it happen differently. Not always, but often.)

I was talking to my friend about hipsters because I find the hipster movement fascinating and slightly confusing, and the conversation turned to hipster dating conventions (of course it did). My friend said that for hipsters, it’s all about plausible deniability and avoiding possible embarrassment. I don’t know if my friend is right, but the relaxed technique of hanging out and testing the waters with potential romantic interests happens all the time. And Facebook forms a cornerstone of this strategy.

(Of course, my friend went on to say, “Limbo can continue for months.” Months! Who has the patience for months? I certainly don’t. I’d simply turn my attention elsewhere. But apparently this too is a thing.)

In any case, I would not want to be dating right now without Facebook. It is simply too ubiquitous and useful. Plus I haven’t done any online dating since January because I was so appalled by Creepy Neighbor Guy (met on OKCupid, for those keeping track) that I just got annoyed with the whole thing. So at this point in time my dating prospects are all people I’m meeting first in person, and Facebook is the easiest way to facilitate that.

Of course, Facebook is a convenient way to encourage new friendships and grow existing friendships in general. Dating is just one facet of that. But it’s definitely an interesting part of the Facebook experience!

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Yes, I know “nobody” talks on the phone anymore. Somewhere along the way it became trendy to have phones that work poorly as phones, and we really only need to communicate in text-based ways anyway, and I’m a writer so this is all to my benefit. But haven’t we all been part of a frustrating text-based communication string that takes forever and would have taken three or less minutes to clear up over the phone? Haven’t we?

The truth is, I was never one of the people who hated talking on the phone. Sure, given the choice, I’ve always preferred face-to-face, but back in the day the phone was a useful tool for staying in touch, and I used it that way. I wasn’t one of those people whose ear was permanently glued to my receiver, but I did spend some non-business-related time on the phone. Until everyone stopped using the phone, and the mere idea began to feel…weird.

Photo Credit: alexkerhead via Compfight cc

Old School! Photo Credit: alexkerhead via Compfight cc

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t plenty of communications that are much more convenient and effective via email or text or choose-your-text-based-method-of-choice. And I don’t want to go back to the days when there were fewer options (those options being telephone, snail mail, or knocking on my friend’s door and asking if they could play).

But I realized recently that just like with snail mail, for me telephone calls have gained a certain kind of cachet because they happen more rarely. Meaning, they’re more likely to feel SPECIAL.

When I finished my novel a couple of weeks ago, I was having a great time texting and messaging a bunch of friends to celebrate. One friend responded by calling me up, and I have to say, that made my day.

Last month I got a text from a friend that mentioned crying. I instantly called him up. Next best thing to being able to be there in person.

One of my good friends phones me up for a chat every week or so. We’re both busy people, and we can’t always find time to see each other, and even when we do, we’re often going to group events together and such. But finding twenty or thirty minutes to talk is usually doable, and our phone chats allow us to stay up-to-date with the personal details of each other’s lives.

Honestly I like the phone for the same reason I like Skype; talking on the phone doesn’t strip away as many cues as text-only does. With Skype, I still get all (or at least most) of the body language. With phone calls, I miss most of those, but at least I get tone of voice and intonation. I use emoticons and exclamation points and asterisks and capital letters liberally in text to give it some of the same nuance as speaking, but honestly, there’s only so much I can do.

I still don’t call people on the phone a lot myself. There’s so many people who hate talking on the phone that it feels like a potential minefield. So I tend to save it for those moments when it will potentially make a big difference, when a friend is celebrating or struggling, or when I am.

But sometimes I think a phone call is exactly the right thing to do.

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