How Do Homeless, Female War Heroes Live?

bpwfoundation.orgI just read a headline that blew my mind: “Women veterans becoming the fastest-growing homeless population in the U.S.”

There are so many things troubling about that, it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the fact that veterans in general are increasingly more likely to wind up homeless or in severe poverty once they re-enter civilian life. The Center for American Progress cites that 1 out of 7 homeless adults are veterans. And while the end to the war in Afghanistan is most certainly a good thing, it will bring an estimated 100,000 veterans home to live lives they may not know how to handle. Physical and mental injuries are all but guaranteed for most of them, yet social programs that support assistance such as mental health care, extended disability insurance and job training are quick to wind up on the Congressional cutting room floor. Oh, and the VA can’t find their application forms anyway. Continue reading

The Feminist Impact of Queen Latifah

QueenLatifahWhen I first met Queen Latifah, I called her “ma’am” and got a lecture.

“Who you calling ma’am? My mother is not around.”

I was mortified. I was a newbie entertainment journalist who scored the dream of talking to one of my heroes. It was in 1999 when Latifah launched her (short-lived) eponymous talk show. I couldn’t figure out what to call her and show both respect and knowledge of her influential career. Do I call her Dana? Ms. Owens? Latifah? The Queen? (For the record, it’s “Latifah.”) I got nervous and fumbled, but quickly redeemed myself by gushing about how I grew up with her TV show, “Living Single,” and most of all was changed by her music. She told me, “You’re all right,” which I so wish she had written on a napkin so I could have framed it and looked to it in moments of self-doubt over all these years.

Listening to her music offers an equal ego boost.

Today she’s a Cover Girl and an Oscar-nominated actress, but when the world first met Queen Latifah, she was nothing short of a feminist revolutionary. Her debut album, “All Hail The Queen,” tackled topics such as black-on-black crime, socialized poverty and pretty much every pertinent feminist issue–from rape to domestic patriarchy–in the iconic single, “Ladies First.” Her flow–on par with LL Cool J and Chuck D–was as penetrating as her message: Look at me, respect me, listen to me–and bow down. The album sold more than 1 million copies. She was 19.

There were plenty of female pop icons in 1989, but none exhibited the confidence that Latifah oozed. I remember watching her videos, admiring her regal, African clothing and flawless skin and thinking: She is such a badass! I wanted to be Madonna, but I wanted to listen to what Latifah had to say–which was a lot.  Continue reading

Jessica Alba Makes Conscious Parenting Trendy

JAlbaBeyond being one of the most gorgeous creatures on the planet with an equally hot husband and successful film career, Jessica Alba is becoming a tycoon in the mommy business world—and she’s making a feminist mark doing so.
Her green kid-gear line, Honest, just sold to super-trendy Zulily. And she has a new book of parenting advice coming out that focuses on teaching kids to learn about and care for the world community.
Is conscious parenting the new buzz term?
 
It’s been around for awhile, of course, with moms such as Gwyneth Paltrow pushing localism (and other weird, admittedly fascinating stuff) via her website, Goop; Soleil Moon Frye helping sustain a market for overpriced organic cotton onesies through her boutique, The Little Seed; and Alicia Silverstone showing us just how kind—and also weird—it can be to feed your kid a vegan diet.
And every other celeb mom has her face or name on a charity whether she really means it (and I believe most do) or whether it just looks good for her image (I believe that too).
Jessica, however, is taking this approach to the boardroom and also her own dinner table. She’s raising her kids to be the kinds of people she herself is aspiring to become. “First and foremost, we try to model and practice eco-friendly habits for the girls,” she told Celebrity Baby Scoop. “Otherwise, we talk to them about being mindful and explain that things can be turned into something else one day.”  Continue reading

To Have It All, Just Ask

jobinterview

The media is obsessed with examining the pursuit of women trying to “have it all,” almost always blaming feminism. But I just experienced what that ideal really means, at least to me.

I had a phone interview with a prospective employer. She was impressed by my credentials, I was attracted to the job. We discussed pay, logistics, etc. and then I didn’t hesitate to mention my son, who is now two. “Finding a job that values its employees’ commitment to their own lives, particularly their children, is paramount in my decision,” I told her. “I don’t want to apologize for sick days, or pretend that I’m not a mother.”

I waited.

Her response: “I feel you. When I first started working I was one of the first faculty hired and no one was having babies, certainly not talking about wanting them. Things have changed so much, at least around here, that I now stock kids’ toys in my desk’s bottom drawer in case someone needs to bring her child to work.”

I got the job. I was hired because I am qualified and enthusiastic. I took the job because I will be valued for those skills and not devalued for being a mother. I feel so much better knowing this going in rather than wading in the waters to figure out the climate of my new workplace.  Continue reading

Volunteering With Kids: It’s About Them

I have good news for anyone who’s lived most of her life as a narcissistic, materialistic navel-gazer: if you have kids, you have a second chance at becoming a better person.

kidsrecycleI am fortunate to have been raised by conscious parents and lived most of my life tuned in to how my actions affect others. I’m green (the for-real, every purchase is evaluated kind, not the “OMG, this Prius is so cute!” variety). I started volunteering in high school and kept it up for most of my adulthood. I donate monthly to a handful of charities. But these actions, while incredibly important and valuable to me, have become so routine that I’ve lost that sense of purpose they once provided. I don’t get as excited about what my $20 to Amnesty International is doing; I just write the check.

But as I have begun to filter the world through my child’s eyes, the passion in my compassion has returned with full force. My son is just shy of 2 years old and he has learned to recycle, gets most of his books from the library, and excitedly donates the change from mommy’s purse to every charity cup he sees. These actions are, of course, a result of my guiding hand—and I understand his excitement often has more to do with fine-motor achievements (I got the nickel in the slot—hooray!) than a passion for empathy. But he’s going to get there, and sooner than I ever did.

I take the responsibility of raising a kind, conscious and compassionate person extremely seriously. His future depends on me investing in him now. This is why parenting is hard fucking work. It involves a level of commitment that is all consuming. Show me a CEO who is concurrently on a surgical internship and launching a record label and I will show you a mother who is working even harder.

Every day is a challenge, yes, but every moment offers the opportunity to shape this little mind for better or for worse—daunting stuff! I seek to fill my son’s schedule with learning activities (the messier, the better), free play and exploration of the world around him. Getting our books from the library provides a fun field trip, but also a lesson in borrowing, taking care of shared goods, and waste reduction. Recycling is a fun sorting brain-teaser but we also talk about where the trash goes. I know he’s two, but this stuff is going to sink in and probably already is. I believe the earlier you introduce your child to activities that make a difference, the more difference he or she can make.  Continue reading

Number Two?

When I am out with my son, we always attract attention. I’d like to think it’s because he is the most beautiful person on the planet (don’t try to tell me otherwise!) but there are other reasons. Most often it’s his appearance. He has cocoa skin, dark brown, curly hair and deep brown eyes (swoon, right?) I am fair, freckled, blue eyed and blond. Yeah, his dad is another race than I: duh. But this duh moment is lost on so many. I can’t count how many times strangers have assumed I am a nanny or that he is adopted. “Is he your baby?” Yes. “Wow, interesting.”

Interesting, really? Our president is biracial, how is this shocking to anyone? And we live in California!

Another note—which I know I should elaborate on in a separate post but I am quite tired and at the end of my late-evening office hours, so it will have to wait—is that black women always know. They know my husband is African-American. They know Malcolm is my child. They know people have babies with other races. This fact—which contributes to our nation’s diversity—is lost on average white people or Eastern Europeans. What gives? … Oh, I’ll have to write about race relations and motherhood in another post (I told you I was tired).

Anyway, reason number two people often stop and talk to us is that he is almost 2 years old. His age seems to signify to any stranger to ask me about my future reproductive plans.

“Are you trying for number two?”

“When are you having the next one?”  Continue reading

Mommy Wars: Perspective Is Everything

She and I fight a lot and it’s mostly over misunderstandings, hurt feelings or assumptions gone un-clarified. We are different, sure, but also the same:

She works at a brick-and-mortar job full-time and brings in the primary salary for her household.

I work part-time from home as a writer, online teacher and author while caring for my son.

She has familial day care five days a week, free of charge.

I have zero child care.

Her husband shares the load of household and parental responsibilities equally, if not carrying the majority of the load.

My husband works insane hours and we treasure the very brief times we even see each other each day.

She must cram all errands and chores into weekends which could otherwise be spent going to museums and parks with her family.

I enjoy museums and parks with my son as a means to survive 24 hours with a toddler, cramming all errands and chores into the brief intervals of time when my child does not need my 100-percent attention; the same intervals during which I must do everything else.

Every mother has a different set of challenges, but none of us is better off or better than the other. We should respect each other’s schedules and demands and not assume that things are easier on the other side merely because it looks so different than our own.

The Problem With Making ‘Mommy Friends’

I’ve never cared much for making new friends. I have always been a bit of a lone wolf, preferred solo activities such as running, reading and writing, the latter of which I’ve made into my career, and often recoiled at social engagements where the only conversation was inane small talk.

Of course I have friends, and they are awesome. Perhaps this is why I don’t actively seek out new ones. The friends I hold dear have been in my life for a while. They know my flaws and my favorite things, and we already have a lot in common.

When I became pregnant, I understood the importance of finding a support network of women going through the same things as me. Taking on the job of motherhood for the first time is, at times, like a practical joke that everyone but you is in on. You need to know other women are going through the same ridiculous shit as you are if only to know that you haven’t completely lost your mind. Continue reading

Dang, Feminist Mommys Are Busy!

Holy crap, it’s been two months since I posted a blog here. I guess that’s called parenting a toddler.

Well, I have many, many things to say about parenting, mommying and related feminist issues. Some bullets:

Jessica Valenti’s Why Have Kids?: Read it

Gwyneth Paltrow admitting to postpartum depression: Hugely important

Analyzing gay parenting through science: Interesting, provocative, but accurate?

Moms at the Emmys: Heidi Klum, Julie Bowen, Tina Fey and adorably pregnant Claire Danes all looked un-flipping-believable! Go, girls!

I’ll muse in more depth soon. Meanwhile, check out the goings-on at sexyfeminist.com. We’re gearing up to celebrate the release of our first book, SEXY FEMINISM on March 12, and have many events and appearances in the works — stay tuned!

Women’s Health: Know Before You Vote

This campaign season has seen a flurry of women’s health issues come to the forefront of political debates, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming to keep track of which women’s health issues are being discussed, where proceedings stand, and what the major implications of decisions are. Here’s a quick guide to what matters most when it comes to bureaucrats governing your lady parts.

ABORTION RIGHTS
Michigan passes abortion “superbill” in the House. In early June, the Michigan State House of Representatives passed a bill (HB 5711, 5712, and 5713) which puts severe restrictions on abortion clinics and services. One of the most notable provisions of the bill mandates abortion clinics performing six or more abortions per month to become licensed surgical centers, even if they only perform non-surgical abortions. The bill awaits a Senate vote (likely in September) and discussion on further provisions, such as criminalizing abortions, even in the case of rape or incest, after 20 weeks. Notably, two female Michigan legislators were banned from speaking on the House floor after Rep. Lisa Brown used the term “vagina” while discussing the bill.

Virginia bill requiring ultrasound prior to abortion went into effect July 1. Women in Virginia seeking abortion services must now undergo an ultrasound before the abortion can be performed, regardless of whether a physician deems it medically necessary. The original version of the bill received major press by requiring an invasive transvaginal ultrasound, but Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell called for revision to the transvaginal requirement after legal advisors counseled him that such a requirement could violate the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.  Continue reading