chakras1

Healing Vibes: My First Sound Bath

Many of the coolest things I’ve done in my life have been spontaneous, last-minute “that sounds interesting” kinds of decisions. The night before the Women’s March, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a post about a sound bath hosted by the Acoustic Mandala Project, whom I knew about through Brooklyn Raga Massive. As I happen to be working on a series of art pieces based on sacred geometry and mandalas, their name jumped out at me, and I asked my mother if she’d like to go directly after the march. We agreed it would be a stark contrast and hoped we wouldn’t be too tired to fully experience it, but we were both so intrigued we couldn’t resist. Not surprisingly, it turned out to be one of the better decisions we’ve ever made.

A sound bath is a meditative experience using specific frequencies of sound (kind of like notes or tones) that – forgive the pun – strike a chord in people. The mathematical relationship among the frequencies touches something visceral and fundamental in the body and mind, and people generally experience incredible healing and a profound meditative experience. These guys carefully explained the concepts, how they derived the tones and discovered the ways different sounds resonate with one another to form chord-like harmonies. They blended electronically purified tones with raga-inflected rhythms, instrumentation, chimes, flutes, and singing bowls struck in person to make an unbelievably rich tapestry of sound and vibrations. I don’t mean vibration in the sort of airy-fairy sense, but actual physical vibrations that coursed through the body head-to-toe for several minutes at a time. But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.

After the introduction, everyone in the group laid down on yoga mats in a wobbly semi-circle, covered with woven blankets and wearing eye masks. After our day of marching and feeling so connected with women and humanity on a universal level, it was a vertiginous dive into the mind and the self. The first few minutes felt like a psychedelic clearing-out of everything my mind had been processing, just loads of colors and shapes, invented cartoon characters, and as close as what I imagine LSD hallucinations might look like. I typically experience mild synesthesia in response to sound (which is part of why I am so obsessed with music), so any time I close my eyes and listen, it’s a bit like watching abstract paintings swim around. The purity of these tones evoked something much more intense and emotional than usual, which I felt to be the core of myself. The sound bath lasted a bit more than an hour, I think, with various instruments and tones being introduced, moved around the room, and bringing our bodies and minds on an extraordinary journey with them.



I have spent a lot of time trying to wrap my head around the idea of resonance, as it was the basis for the NMR research we did at Pratt and generally a very cool concept (I highly suggest reading more about acoustic resonance and then helping me explain it better). If you imagine two frequencies of energy like waves in the ocean that run into one another, they first go higher (amplification) then move together thereafter (sympathetic vibrations) at a sweet spot that causes more waves around them. It’s a bit more complex, but certain frequencies resonate in relationships that form chords that just feel right, like the brightness of the I-III-V relationship of major triads in music.

They had a pair of singing bowls that not only resonated with one another, but did so in a I-V relationship (I think – it might have been I-IV), so that when one was struck by the feet and the other by the head, the body joined in the brightness of that sound, and you could literally feel every molecule of yourself vibrating like an open chord. Maybe it is helpful to picture a bunch of particles spinning in random directions. When the tones were struck, imagine every one aligning like a crystalline grid and briefly spinning in the same direction, in a way that made the mind experience pure joy and luminous energy. There is more neuroscience and physics to it, but the sensation was like having goosebumps all over, shivering with pleasure, and feeling every part of oneself melt into another state.



Prayer wheels at Sarnath, the site of the bodhi tree where the Buddha attained enlightenment.
(Prints available)

I thought that might be the height of the experience, but it continued through a whole bunch of other similar body and mind sensations, choreographed in waves and beautiful complexity. It felt like my soul was dancing, simultaneously a particle and a wave in some quantum state of existence and non-existence. I felt utterly, completely free, like metaphysical flying, but also intensely grounded and connected with the raw physicality of being human.

The “finale” of the sound bath is one of those sensations I will keep with me the rest of my life. They went around to each person and struck tuning forks to a pitch that once again resonated perfectly with the softer tones washing over the room, then placed the forks on everyone’s foreheads. I am struggling to think of any way to describe it except as a soul-level orgasm. The frequencies are known to be healing, for reasons not yet fully understood, unlocking blocked emotions and energies within the body and kind of making them sing. Having this pure vibration reverberate from the head through the entire body for several minutes of exquisite being-in-this-moment presence is like nothing I’ve ever known before. I’ve never felt more awake, yet at peace, aware of everything in my mind, yet open. It was like stretching, seeing stars, and slipping through a crack into some surreality of pleasure and beauty.

I was afraid of the come-down from such a great high, that as the vibrations ceased all the muddy and dark stuff in my brain would gunk it up again. I was astonished to find that never happened. I wasn’t able to pinpoint when the vibrations ceased – I just kind of rode the wave back into myself. I preserved the clarity and purity of that moment for the rest of the session – and since then – as if all the little subatomic particles in my mind and body got right and just stayed that way.



When we took our eye masks off, I saw everyone else’s eyes were wide and shining like mine, as they described things they felt and “saw” and experienced throughout. It was the spiritual equivalent of the sun coming out from behind clouds after rain and lighting up the mind like the sky. My mother described dramatic visuals in shades of purple, which are supposed to be associated with the crown chakra in meditation. I joked with her that purple is the color I’ve always associated with her, so of course her soul would be purple too.

I am still mesmerized by what an extraordinary experience it was, and I doubt I can ever adequately convey to someone what it felt like in that moment. When I think back, it reminds me of the time I jumped off a cliff into a glacial river in Iceland – saying the words and telling the story kept horrifying me every time I repeated it, like I still couldn’t believe I’d actually done that. This sound bath was a similar sort of jumping-off-a-cliff into something exhilaratingly beautiful and unknown, and yet at the same time, diving within, to the parts of my mind and existence I know best because they’ve been with me all along. I will cherish it forever.

Progressive Postcards

I believe strongly in contacting our representatives because the pen is forever mightier than the sword. So I was delighted when the 10 Actions for the First 100 Days began with postcards to senators outlining concerns and requests.

And it turns out, I had quite a lot to say to mine.



I made postcards for 13 of the many, many issues that concern me, then I wrote specific requests for rights I want protected and actions I want taken. With each card, I focused my intentions, and it was a powerful meditative and emotional experience.

I’ve made my designs available for download, if you’d like to print them on cardstock or photo paper to send your own. The PDF download is formatted to print two 4″x6″ postcards (for each of your senators) or you can print one at a time by downloading the JPGs. If you follow USPS postcard regulations, you should be able to mail them using a 34-cent postcard stamp.

If you’d like the whole set, you can download it from Dropbox here (JPGs also on Flickr).




Mni Wiconi: Water Is Life
Download – JPG | PDF




Women’s Rights
Download – JPG | PDF




Environment
Download – JPG | PDF




Health Care is a Human Right
Download – JPG | PDF




Don’t Turn Our Backs On Humanity: Immigration, Refugees, and Ethical Foreign Policy
Download – JPG | PDF




Love Is Love: LGBTQIA Rights and Freedoms
Download – JPG | PDF




Support for Veterans and First Responders
Download – JPG | PDF




Black Lives Matter: Addressing Institutionalized Racism
Download – JPG | PDF




Make America Think Again: Education
Download – JPG | PDF




Disability Access, Independence, and Opportunity
Download – JPG | PDF




End the Epidemic of Gun Violence
Download – JPG | PDF


ERA

Equal Rights Amendment
Download – JPG | PDF


Workers_Rights

Treat Workers Like People: Fair and Humane Labor Policies
Download – JPG | PDF

I feel obliged to put the usual disclaimers that while our values may differ, I think it is essential that you also communicate yours. I’m happy to share what specifically I wrote about each issue, if you’re struggling to find words or have questions about my stances. Politics are nuanced and complex, as our conversations should be.

And while I doubt it’s necessary, I also feel obliged to remind you to please use respectful, clear, and concise language while communicating with your representatives.

The Women’s March on NYC

I had hoped to just write about what participating in this weekend’s Women’s March on NYC, a sister protest of the Women’s March on Washington, meant to me personally. But I also see there are a number of misunderstandings about what the march was about, what it was like, what marchers personally stood for, how marchers behaved, and general purpose nay-saying, so I will address that a bit too.



First, some background. The Women’s March movement was begun with a Facebook post by a woman in Hawaii, shared with friends, and it went viral, gathering momentum through the stages of grassroots organization into something global. With the need to organize millions of people and apply for legal permits, they gained partners and sponsors. (If you are inclined to think it was a bunch of women acting like sheep and somehow organized or funded under the aegis of George Soros, the DNC, the Clinton Foundation, or some vast left-wing conspiracy, I suggest you stop reading right now and if we are friends on social media, do me the favor of changing that.) There were a lot of questions in the early phases of planning, which coalesced into the decisions to include sister cities and to march the day after the Inauguration, in part so that the marchers would not be included in the administration’s attempts to fudge Inaugural attendance numbers (of course they still tried, #alternativefacts).

The march was not simply anti-Trump or pro-abortion, as I’ve seen many falsely claim, but in fact has a number of Unity Principles, which clearly reflect the nonviolence built into the Women’s March Mission and Vision. Not every marcher supported every principle, but the consensus agreement was to use First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly in nonviolent protest. This march was not affiliated with any protests that occurred on Inauguration Day, including those that advocated violence or destruction of property and were characterized on the news as riots. I was surprised that my brother and father still texted us a few times during the day to check if we were safe, but when I later saw how the first wave of protests were covered, I understood a little better how they misunderstood the nonviolent missions of ours.

(I don’t like that I keep feeling like I must have such a defensive or over-explaining tone, but it seems like a lot of basic facts I’ve taken for granted are being warped and not getting across to all my friends and family, so I am trying to be perhaps excessively clear. I am, of course, always happy to discuss anything further one-on-one or in the comments.)

I chose to see my participation as a march FOR and not AGAINST, though I was marching for both. To this end, among other things I was marching FOR:

  • equality and sanctity of humanity regardless of gender, race, religion, age, sexual orientation, wealth, or family status
  • human rights, civil rights, reproductive rights, and freedom of conscience
  • environmental protection and responsible policies in the face of climate change
  • ethical treatment of Native American and First Nations people and respect for their lands and culture
  • equitable and ethical treatment under the law for Black lives and all people of color because extrajudicial executions and institutionalized racism are reprehensible
  • immigrants and refugees, who deserve a safe haven in the world and a path to citizenship
  • universal, affordable health care because I believe health care is a human right
  • veterans and service members whose health care, benefits, and job assistance services should be nonnegotiable; increased access to mental health care and support for PTSD
  • preservation of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, along with the other social safety nets that protect vulnerable people when they need help
  • protecting disability rights and ensuring disabled people have access to education, independence, and opportunities to work and thrive in society
  • a living wage for hourly employees, expanded family leave, and protections for workers’ rights
  • protection of women against violence, rape, and sexual assault, including removing the biased institutional policies that protect perpetrators at the expense of survivors (Brock Turner, for example)
  • preservation of voting rights for all citizens and expansion of access to polls by making Election Day a federal holiday and removing discriminatory voting registration laws
  • peace and not waging untenable wars that destabilize entire regions over oil
  • honesty and transparency in our government, answerable to all citizens and not just corporate donors or SuperPACs



And that is the short list. The thing is, I was marching for everyone, as some of these concerns don’t affect me personally, though others do or could. That is what “Liberty and Justice for All” means. Mostly I was marching for what I believe is right, for the principles our nation is built on, and for what I consider ethical and morally responsible comportment in the world. I know that not everyone will agree with where I land on every issue, but some are nonnegotiable. If you are okay with the government making policies that are specifically designed to disenfranchise people of color because it benefits your candidate, you are supporting institutionalized racism. If you are okay with our government discriminating against poverty or disability in the guise of “fiscal responsibility,” then we have a much bigger discussion about morality and the role of government ahead.

So now that we’ve established just some of the reasons why I marched (I could go on), I want to move on to how incredible it was to be part of it.

A few weeks ago my mother and I started discussing the Inauguration and people planning to protest it. We discussed the Women’s March on Washington and what a peaceful demonstration could plausibly achieve. One of us pointed out there was a sister march in NYC, and I said it meant more to me to march in my beloved city than the Capitol. I wanted to be with fellow New Yorkers, to make our presence known where I live. We continued a then-hypothetical conversation about the goals of the march, the history and spirit of nonviolent protest, and by the end, we both felt compelled to join the Women’s March in NYC. I registered us with the organizers (so they could apply for an appropriate amount of permits), we worked out our logistics, and we were in. I don’t know what possessed me to, but I asked my mother, “Will Dad be cool with you marching?” and she laughed, “Frankly, it’s not his decision, now is it?” (He was, for the record, not only cool with it, but wholly supportive, proud, and said, “This is something really important.” You can’t grow up with a strong mother and five sisters and marry my mother without being an avowed feminist.)

A few days before the march, I decided to knit our protest hats. At first my mother and I weren’t going to wear any, as we were concerned they were infantilizing or made light of seriously life-or-death concerns. The more I read about the Pussyhat Project and discussed it with fellow knitters, the better I understood its power as a unifying symbol, summarized well in this article. I appreciated that these hats were handmade, as individualized as the people making them, and they served a practical purpose in January weather. Some knitters and crocheters made and donated dozens of hats for other marchers, and I wish I’d made more than our two.



The night before the march, we ate pizza, talked at length, and painted our signs. I went with Hillary Clinton’s quote, “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” and my mother made a more specific message, “Complacent Is Complicit / Strong Women Stand Together” in a somewhat retro style to reflect that she has been fighting for equality and basic human decency her whole life. As we made our way to Midtown through subway delays and extra transfers, we started to see more and more pink hats and marchers, and it was a genuine treat to feel like we were joining our tribe. People stopped us to take photos of our hats and signs, and we instantly bonded with other New Yorkers in ways I wouldn’t have considered possible before. By the time we got to Grand Central, there were hundreds of marchers in every direction, and I’ve never seen such a pleasant, considerate mood in New York.



The start times of the march were staggered by last name, so we could already hear thousands of people marching down 42nd Street as we made our way to the start point. It was an astonishingly beautiful sound. When we got to the plaza where the march was assembling, we were amazed at the sheer volume of people, dazzled by so many hats, signs, and such beauty in literally resplendent afternoon light (I have a mild sunburn on my cheeks to show for it even though I was wearing SPF 30). As we waited for our start time, we participated in chants and pointed out particularly clever or emotionally impactful signs to one another. Say what you will about New Yorkers, but our reputation for being an exceptionally literary city is well-earned. I can be hypersensitive to spelling and grammar mistakes, and I saw almost none. Just pause for a second to recognize that of the thousands of signs I read over several hours, I may have seen a total of three grammar errors or misspellings. That by itself is kind of miraculous.



© Jenny Sowry, via Mashable, #WokeBaby

I observed an incredible diversity of people marching, representing more causes than I could possibly list, with varying levels of specificity, complex emotional nuance, and unbelievable creativity. As an artist, I was deeply touched at all the people who took the time to express themselves visually, and I was stunned by how truly effective many of the signs were (including, of course, #WokeBaby from the Charlotte march, above).

The march picked up as we turned the corner onto 42nd Street, down a corridor of amazing architecture toward the gleaming Chrysler Building. I have literally never seen so many people in my life, a sea of humanity united as far as I could see, and it was just plain staggering. The family behind us lifted their children onto their shoulders to show them how far the march stretched in both directions, and their mother said, “Look at how many people are marching for what they believe in,” as my mother and I simultaneously became overwhelmed with emotion.

They continued to explain how everyone was marching for people like those in the children’s lives, whom they named by name and cause, including “so Grandma can still have her medicine,” which hit me right in the feels. They told the brother how all these people want to make sure his sister and mother have the same rights and freedoms as him and Daddy. Right about when I’d regained my composure, they said, “But it’s important that no matter what, you decide what you believe and that you care about that as much as we care about this.” Considering our family motto growing up might as well have been, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you what to think, including us,” my mother and I both turned to thank the parents for raising socially conscious children and encouraging them to think for themselves. That family gives me so much hope for the future.



I didn’t take many photos, but I will never forget some of my favorite signs, chants, and experiences:

  • The Resistance is Fertile (imagery of plants and the earth)
  • A photo of Malala Yousafzai captioned just, “EDUCATION”
  • A young woman marching in memory of her grandmother, a feminist and civil rights activist who had passed away in 2017, noted “With Us In Spirit”
  • A 9- or 10-year old girl beside us shouting, “My Body, My Choice!” at the top of her lungs
  • The call-and-response style of men chanting “Her Body, Her Choice!” after women
  • People playing upbeat songs out of their apartment windows to energize the marchers; one guy saying he didn’t like the song one group was playing and his friend quipping, “Hey man, her apartment, her choice.”
  • A man in head-to-toe rainbow clothes waving a Pride flag joking, “How did they know I love this song??” when “YMCA” came on
  • The same strength and enthusiasm of chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “No DAPL” as everything else (this shouldn’t be remarkable, but it still is)
  • A group of women marching with the Statue of Liberty’s torch
  • The incredible feeling of shouting, “This is what democracy looks like!” and knowing it was true
  • In Grand Central, a man carrying a sign as tall as him reading Don’t Be a Dick
  • The admittedly somewhat petty and slightly mean-spirited chant of, “Hands Too Small, Can’t Build the Wall!”
  • The second line and drum bands leading the marchers in singalongs of “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful”
  • Several police officers being given pink hats to wear over their uniform hats, cheering for various signs and chanting along with “Black Lives Matter”
  • Speaking with several college-aged women about how for some marchers like my mother, it wasn’t clear if they were protesting Again or Still; the awe in their eyes as they asked how she could stand it, and the fire in my mother’s as she said, “By insisting we don’t go backwards.”
  • An image of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia with “A woman’s place is in the resistance”
  • Pithy one-word signs that got the point across, “UGH!” and “NOPE.”
  • An elaborate drawing of the earth surrounded by flowers and hearts, against a backdrop of space, “I Love the Whole Universe”
  • The spectacular echo under an overpass as we chanted, “This is not normal!”
  • Signs in Spanish that repeated 70s-era feminist slogans like, “I am woman, hear me roar”
  • Weak Men Fear Strong Women (one of my badass friends in Los Angeles had a great version of this one)
  • Fight Like a Girl
  • Shortly after an anti-Wall chant, “Have no fear, you’re welcome here!”
  • “We need a leader, not a creepy Tweeter”
  • You Don’t Need to Suppress the Press If You’re Not Doing Anything Wrong
  • Very young boy’s sign decorated with the Twitter logo Xed out, “Quit Tweeting and Get to Work!”; his explanation, “Sometimes I play video games when I’m supposed to do my homework, but the President shouldn’t be bad.”
  • Save the ACA If You Insist On Making Us Sick
  • I’m With Her, with arrows pointing in every direction
  • A moment I shared with a Black woman in about her late 70s, when she stumbled in a low spot and I reflexively offered her my arm. She looked me in the eyes, nodded, smiled, then said, “Thanks, sister” like she meant it.
  • A group of young women starting the Meredith Brooks song “Bitch,” but everyone forgetting the words past the intro, mumbling to the refrain, then one yelling, “The point is bitches are complex and beautiful!”
  • A quote from Hillary Clinton’s graceful and inspiring concession speech, “[To] all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world…”
  • The fact that very few of the chants mentioned the President by name, and none of them had expletives (the latter by request of the organizers)
  • Science is Not a Partisan Issue
  • Without the Arts, I Would Be Dead
  • Without the Arts, I Couldn’t Make Such a *Glorious* Sign (beautifully lettered with loads of glitter)
  • Incredible quotes by MLK and other nonviolent civil rights leaders and thinkers from history
  • And lastly, this guy, who truly pulled off that bow:


  • (You can see loads more here.)

    When we were finished marching we walked back down Fifth Avenue near the New York Public Library, where an impromptu gallery of signs had been set up (a much larger display was being established at the President’s tower). I’ve seen another misguided criticism of the marches that slams people for “leaving their trash behind” as if the signs were just discarded litter, but it was clear that this was an intentional installation so the message could continue to be considered and spread after the march. We saw crowds of pedestrians and tourists thoughtfully reading and photographing the signs, clusters of conversation among strangers discussing the issues presented in the signs, and we were stopped to have our photos taken by people who particularly responded to our messages.

    After the march, we had one of the coolest, most healing experiences of my life (I will write all about that soon) and I went home positively glowing.

    As I looked at photos and read accounts from literally every continent on the globe the next morning, the full reality of what we’d participated in hit home. We marched at the same time as millions of people in other states, for causes so important that women around the world organized in solidarity. The collective positive energy of nonviolent protest and determination was palpable, and I believe we were heard. We participated in a powerful moment in history, and I will be proud for the rest of my life that we refused to be complacent. I felt more connected to humanity and the universe in that one day than I ever have in my life, and it was more beautiful than I could have imagined.

    Naturally, I have also seen plenty of cynicism and criticism, misconstruing the tone and intent in ways that seem woefully ignorant and needlessly partisan. The march was held on a Saturday so most people would not have to miss work, yet there are still plenty of people sneering that maybe if the marchers had jobs they wouldn’t be protesting. I’ve seen attempts to bash the Women’s March as a bunch of self-involved, overprivileged white women whining because our candidate didn’t win an election, using the gaslighting technique of criticizing marchers for not doing anything about oppressed women in other parts of the world; to this I say, it’s not either / or, and I was specifically marching for their rights too. (Also, do you support NGOs that help women in India escape domestic violence or sex slavery to achieve self-sufficiency and economic freedom? Because I do, and I have met these women – it’s part of why I’m so passionate about women’s rights.)

    I’ve seen friends ordered by out-of-touch relatives to stop posting “such vulgarities” because “men are watching this!” and I’ve seen people suggest that if every marcher cooked a meal for a veteran or homeless person that day we could actually make a difference (but of course, they didn’t do anything charitable that day – I think they had something really important to do like go grocery shopping, run errands, and comment on Facebook posts). There is a common and mystifying misconception that the women who marched aren’t also actively involved in volunteer work and community organizations because they took one day to make a stand against bigoted institutional policies. As I learned about other causes and efforts made by my fellow marchers, I saw how that couldn’t be further from the truth. But while we’re at it, when did it become okay to police how others spend their free time??

    The work, obviously, is just beginning, and it’s never too late to join. Check out the 10 Actions for 100 Days, and don’t hesitate to contact your representatives to make your voice heard. Seek out local and grassroots organizations where you can volunteer or donate to national organizations to help the causes you believe in. Even something seemingly small like tutoring for adult literacy or ESL can make a world of difference in someone’s life. Above all, please never stop speaking up for what is right, and never stop standing up for what you believe in.

    I, for one, refuse to sit down, shut up, and behave myself ever again.

The Fairer Sex and Why I March

I’m writing this post in advance of the Women’s March on NYC this Saturday, to express some of the reasons Why I March. There are, unfortunately, many other reasons, but let’s start with the first: I am a woman, and that still means I am a second-class citizen in America in 2017.



Unless you are a woman, there are some experiences of discrimination and misogyny I don’t think you can ever fully understand. For the sake of not airing all my grievances at once (a lady must keep some semblance of mystery), let’s say I haven’t lived everything on this list, just most of it, and it’s nowhere near a complete list. But if it hasn’t happened to me, it’s definitely happened to a woman I know and probably someone you know too.

It probably goes without saying, but fair warning, there is discussion of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence, among other things below.

Unless you are a woman, you probably haven’t…

  • Had adult men leer at your pre-teen adolescent body and make suggestive, hypersexualizing statements about how you are developing.
  • Been groped or fondled by a complete stranger in public, with no one saying or doing anything. Or had it suggested that you had it coming for dressing the way you did and smiling too much.
  • Been told your choice of a major in math or science “isn’t easy, you know,” and been told repeatedly that you would maybe prefer something like English or communications “where girls seem to thrive.”
  • Sat through an exam or a work meeting with menstrual cramps that are as painful as a heart attack, knowing you can’t flinch or react because it’s not appropriate to talk about that kind of pain.
  • Discovered you were pregnant when you started to have a miscarriage at work, then not being given any time off except the actual time you may have been hospitalized.
  • Sought treatment for mental health concerns, asked if better regulating your hormones might help, and learning that antidepressants and mood stabilizers make it that oral contraceptives don’t work; asking why this fact isn’t better known, and your doctor just shrugging because people don’t really research “that kind of stuff.”
  • Dated a man who fully expected you to give up your career one day to raise his children and referred to your degree as your academic interest, even when you earned more than him.
  • Worked yourself sick at a job while struggling to make ends meet, then learned the men at your office were making easily 2-3 times what you earned and none of the other women had ever gotten a raise.
  • Had a construction foreman pantomime to your boss that you should be put over his knee and spanked for a small mistake, then your boss laughing along with everyone on the site who you were supposed to be supervising, even when you asked, “Would you make that joke if [my male coworker] forgot his keys??” (Okay, yeah, this one really happened to me in Paris and it broke my heart.)
  • Had a man shove his hand up your dress on the subway with such force that he left bloody scratch marks on your inner thigh, arrived at the office late because you needed to sit in a park and cry for a bit, then been reprimanded for not being friendly when your coworker greeted you with objectifying comments about the dress you would now like to burn. (Yes, this one is also me, and I still can’t wear that dress.)
  • Had every bite of food you eat in public monitored and judged, as everyone feels they should offer advice on your weight and fitness level.
  • Suffered severe post-partum depression and been told by everyone in your life you just need to shake it off and concentrate on the joy of your new baby.
  • Been kept as a contractor for over a decade so your employer could deny you benefits; been repeatedly passed up for promotions because your boss felt the male employees should be prioritized as “they have families to support.”
  • Been denied a promotion because it is assumed you are going to marry your boyfriend and quit in a few years to have children.
  • Gained 20 pounds when you went on medication and been told “you have gotten so fat I can’t even see you as a woman anymore, let alone find you attractive.” (Yeah, I am not ever going to forgive him for that.)
  • Seriously assessed your safety level at a party or bar and concluded if you don’t want to be raped, you need to leave immediately.
  • Been told by a professor that you should probably focus on marrying well.
  • Known that everywhere you go and at any time, a man can rape you, and you may not legally be able to terminate a resulting pregnancy.
  • Been told you should take sexual objectification as a compliment and “enjoy it while it lasts.”
  • Dated a man who declared you were solely responsible for birth control, mostly because he didn’t want to wear a condom. Dated another man who refused to discuss birth control or what would happen if you became pregnant because, “That’s your problem, baby.”
  • Considered the ways you could make suicide look like an accident if it turned out you were pregnant and not just missing your period from the stress of an abusive relationship.
  • Mentioned how encouraging it was to work with an all-women team of scientists at a research symposium and having several men make jokes about your periods syncing.
  • Had your neighbors suggest a pattern you could knock on their wall if you ever needed them to call the police on your boyfriend or kick down your door to help you.
  • Participated in political conversations about reproductive rights characterizing women seeking affordable contraception as morally loose “sluts” because men didn’t want their health insurance to pay for family planning, while wondering if they considered their wives sluts too.
  • Given a presentation while a classmate, professor, or professional colleague openly stared at your breasts the entire time, wishing you could crawl out of your skin.
  • Had a strange man masturbate, to completion, while you were alone on a subway car being held between stations, petrified and trying not to react at all. Reported it to the conductor at the next stop and been told the train crew watched it in the cameras laughing, but it didn’t occur to them to intervene.
  • Requested an estimate for a car repair and been told you should come back with your husband or father, so he can help you understand it.
  • Been raped by a friend and had a mutual friend say it was your fault for leading him on.
  • Been screamed at and assaulted at work then had your HR complaint disregarded because you were being “overly emotional” about it. Later having your job threatened because you still seemed upset and uncomfortable and it was bumming people out.
  • Been called a bitch repeatedly in the same day, more days than you can count.
  • Developed a habit of figuring out how to escape every room and building you enter on a date, in case he decides to pin you against a wall somewhere and gets violent.
  • Weighed the odds of a man seriously hurting or killing you against your ability to talk or fight your way out of an aggressive sexual assault.
  • Learned that you were hired as a bartender with the intent to convince you to also become a prostitute for the owner, who assumed you understood that’s why he hired you despite your lack of experience.
  • Invited a man for dinner to discuss a contract job you’d like to hire him for, and had him say, “Okay, if you bring your best friend so I have something nice to look at while we talk.”
  • Discussed stories of the many ways your body has been violated and had a male friend say he is surprised because “you’re cute and all,” but not the kind of woman you’d expect to “get hit on” so much.
  • Had a seemingly sane guy you had spent a few hours dancing with wrap his arm around your neck, holding you in some kind of headlock so he could show you the money in his wallet that he offered you if you would go to a hotel room with him right then. (This just happened on my birthday.)
  • Expressed a controversial opinion on Facebook and had your face photoshopped on pornographic images and pasted all over your page and messaged to several of your friends.
  • Felt forced to choose between education and a career or starting a family. Been called crazy by men who don’t have an expiration date on their reproductive years and can’t understand why you are concerned with not wasting time. Been treated as if you are trying to “trap” a man when you say you only pursue monogamous relationships.
  • Only been able to deter a would-be rapist by saying you have a husband, and it happens to be someone he knows.
  • Had your concerns about pay equality, reproductive freedom, sexual assault survivors’ rights, and women’s health care coverage dismissed as “whining” and been told, “If you want higher pay, you should work harder for it or get better at negotiating” by men who have known nothing but privilege in life.
  • Told your friends and family about a new job and been asked repeatedly, “And are there any handsome men there? Anyone who might make a nice boyfriend?”
  • Been sent unsolicited dick pics by more than ten of your completely platonic male friends and anyone you’ve met online, including men pretending they are interested in commissioning art from you or hiring you for a job.
  • Spent a date deflecting attempts to steer the conversation toward a man’s salary because you don’t want to be called a “gold-digging whore” when you don’t agree to a second date on the basis of his personality.
  • Been referred to as “the girl” well into your 30s and called infantilizing names like honey, sweetie, baby, and dear in public and professional settings by strangers and vendors, whether you object or not.
  • Had a rumor spread to all of your coworkers that you got your promotion from $7 to $11 an hour by sleeping with your supervisor and having an entire receiving department of a clothing store pantomime you performing oral sex and telling you everything they’d like to do with you every time they saw you.
  • Formed a sincere friendship with a married man and had your coworkers start a rumor that you must be trying to lure him into an affair because they can’t see any other reason he would want to talk with you.
  • Been sexually assaulted, then told it wasn’t his fault because he was drunk.
  • Gone to an art exhibit and dinner with a professor on the guise of talking about painting, pretended you didn’t notice his “accidental” hand on your thigh or brush of your breast when he helped you with your coat, turned your head and pretended he was just kissing you goodbye on the cheek as he licked your face, then went home to frantically calculate how much of your grade in his class could still be affected. Felt genuinely grateful a few weeks later that he didn’t punish you for rejecting his advances.
  • Called the super of your building for repairs to the oven in your first apartment and been cornered in your kitchen with one hand squeezing your neck while he shoved the other up your blouse, thrusting against you. Later had his wife come to threaten you for telling the building owner what he did in your tearful request that he never come into your apartment unaccompanied again.
  • Dyed your hair red for several months after a friend of a friend shoved into a bar bathroom with you and tried to force himself on you, excusing himself with, “I can never control myself around blondes.”
  • Engaged in constant and exhausting self-monitoring of your posture, bodily position, use of language that could be misinterpreted as suggestive, and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to dress to hide as much of your figure as possible at work so your boss and colleagues don’t treat you as a sex object all day.
  • Believed the way men mistreat you is all your fault, or that maybe the way you’re treated really is your only worth.

I could easily go on for another thousand words, but I’m getting exhausted remembering all these experiences. I know that for every man who has treated me as nothing but a body he was entitled to use for gratification, there are other truly good, kind, feminist men out there who would never dream of treating a woman this way. I am grateful that so many of my friends who are fathers are as concerned with protecting the sanctity of women’s lives and bodies as I am, and I have hope that they are raising their sons to treat women better than past generations have. I know there are men who recognized the pay gap and encouraged me to ask for raises, and there are men who have seen me as their equal, or respected me personally or professionally – but they are few and far between. I still find it so incredibly frustrating to discuss issues of professional inequality, objectification, sexual predation, and institutionalized misogyny with most men because they just don’t see it.

I think about all of the experiences above that have happened to me and women I know, and I know not to trust most men to pass laws that affect women’s bodies and access to healthcare. I’ve discussed trans-phobic bathroom discrimination bills with men at length, and they’ve often come back to the myth of a man claiming to be a trans woman so he can expose himself to young women in a bathroom or locker room. They don’t seem capable of understanding that by the time a girl is old enough to go to the bathroom by herself, odds are high she’s already seen more unwelcome male genitalia than she can count, and she would be relieved if this strawman were able to just stick to flashing.

We don’t talk about the manifold ways girls’ and women’s bodies are violated, in part because we live in a victim-blaming culture that repeatedly casts women as wanton temptresses and their sexual assaulters as red-blooded American males feeling their oats. When the president-elect bragged about sexually assaulting women, it was dismissed by some as “locker room talk,” but just about every woman I know recoiled at the memory of their own assaults. Plural – often repeatedly, and violently, by people they should have been able to trust in settings where they should have been safe. I can’t accept that state of being as anywhere near okay.

I don’t know if it is helpful to share these experiences with men and confront them with what it’s really like to be a woman, but I think we should try. Or maybe share them with women and work on ways to prevent them from happening again to others. Because somehow women are still not being treated as equal human beings, and that needs to change right now.

As with other forms of discrimination, I believe that codifying unjust treatment of women by laws that restrict reproductive rights or limit access to healthcare is a way of sanctioning our treatment as lesser, making it the law of the land that our bodies are not our own, but open for others to possess and legislate. I feel it is crucial to protect women’s rights and keep on fighting for equality, now more than ever.

Learning racism is present-tense




We were about this age.

I vividly remember when I learned that racism was not just an historical problem. We were driving from New Jersey to Virginia to visit family for Thanksgiving. After several long hours in the car, we stopped to get gas in Manassas at a station with a market attached. There was a queue for an available pump, so my mother took my brother and me into the market to get snacks and drinks. We were elated when she said, “Get anything you want, but just one thing,” and we took our time carefully selecting packets of cookies and chips, with the plan that we’d split them and effectively each get two snacks (we were in first and second grade, this was the height of cleverness for us). As my brother hemmed and hawed over whether he actually wanted chips (which he knew I did) or maybe beef jerky instead (yuck) my mother got drinks and hustled us along to the register queue about a half dozen or so people deep.

“Ma’am, you come on up here, I can ring you up,” the cashier said, waving my mother ahead of everyone else waiting. She looked around confused, and it slowly started to sink in that he was waving her ahead of all the Black customers waiting. She shook her head, said, “No, I’m not next.”

I saw a shadow cast over my mother’s face as she realized what we hadn’t yet, as the cashier insisted, “Oh yes you are, come on up.”

Another customer turned to my mother and said, “Just go. He’s not going to ring any of us up until he’s done with you.”

My mother was aghast, grabbed everything out of our eager hands, and plunked it all on the counter. “I don’t want any of this anymore,” she said in a measured tone, “and I don’t want to do business with anyone who treats their customers like this.” She gestured toward the queue and finished, “You should be ashamed of yourself, man,” then pulled us out the door.

We caught up with my father just before he was about to start pumping gas and she insisted we leave. He protested that he didn’t want to stop again in holiday traffic, and she gave him that hell-hath-no-fury-like-an-Irishwoman-scorned look we all know so well. We all got back in the car and left, stopping at the next exit we saw for by then badly needed gas.

My brother and I were perplexed and tried to make sense of what all that had been about, when my father said quietly, “I just can’t understand racism. What a hateful thing.” I remember piping up, “Daddy, what do you mean racism?” and my parents started a conversation that has been going on in our family ever since. He is a big Civil War buff, so he started with a refresher crash course on slavery and how some people in the South or other parts of the country still mistreat Black people.

“Because they were on the other side of the war?” I asked naively, and he backed up to clarify that no, the abolitionists in our family fought against slavery, that it was never white people versus Black people, and my brother asked, “Then why did we make them slaves if they weren’t our enemies?”

God bless my parents, they kept on unflinching through our onslaught of questions and confusions for the rest of the car ride, tackling white supremacy, the KKK, the Civil Rights movement, and Affirmative Action, which was all over the news in the early 1980s as people were bitterly calling it “reverse discrimination.” We kept coming back to the question that started it all for us, “So why was that man waving Mommy ahead of everyone else?” We literally couldn’t wrap our minds around the idea that he was showing preferential treatment not because my mother was young and pretty with small children – as there were Black mothers with even younger children than us waiting – but he wanted the Black customers to know he thought less of them than us. That he wasn’t being polite, he was being pointedly hostile because he had hate in his heart. We were appropriately stunned.

Once our eyes were open, we started to actually see racism around us, to notice the way people of color were treated compared with us, to hear the names they were called and the way people spoke about them or made them feel threatened. We were raised to have empathy and recognize people of all races as just like us, but we were also made aware of the unfair privilege we sometimes had for being white and how that was used against other people. We tried to follow my parents’ example of speaking up and not supporting people who were racist, and I wish I could say it was easy, but I still fail to do enough to this day. I’m trying a lot harder now.




© Michael Galinsky, Malls Across America, via RUMUR

Later on that same trip, my mother took my brother and me to a shopping mall to get school clothes at the post-Thanksgiving sales (this was before Black Friday was such a huge thing as it is now). As we approached the entry to the mall, we saw a Black woman with a stroller and two small children, struggling to get through the door without letting go of the children’s hands. A parade of white customers walked by her through another door without helping, some pointing at her, laughing, and talking to each other about her. A mall security guard stood nearby looking on with amusement. As we got into earshot, we saw two women shove by, sneering loudly, “If she can’t manage them all, maybe she shouldn’t have so many children,” then letting the door slam on the stroller.

“That woman looks like she needs some help,” my mother said, and we rushed over. My mother helped pull the stroller through while my brother held the children’s hands to keep them close by. The woman looked sadder than I’d ever seen an adult look in public and said to my mother with her eyes downcast, “Thank you, ma’am. You didn’t have to do that.” My mother just said breezily, “Oh come on, every mother needs help sometimes. I can’t believe everyone else was ignoring you.” “Oh, I guess you’re not from around here,” the woman said. They shared a meaningful glance and wished each other a good day.

As we were walking away, I said something cheerful and self-congratulatory like, “I’m glad you stood up for that lady, Mommy! And I’m glad we held the door for her because she’s Black.”

My mother was quick to correct me, “No, baby, we hold the door for other people and help them when they need it because it’s the right thing to do.”