Happy International Women’s Day!

I’m not an expert in many things, but I’ve spent more than 41 years being female.

I tend to think about nearly every issue or event in terms of being a woman, but I’ve compiled five tips below that are easy, simple actions you can do (or not do) every day to make the world a little easier for a woman in your life. Human rights are not like pie; there’s not a finite amount of them. We move forward and become a better society as a whole when everyone is treated fairly.

  1. When disagreeing with a woman, don’t (a) interrupt her or (b) immediately call her a name that denigrates an entire gender (i.e., bitch, c*nt, etc.) or (c) dismiss her as mentally imbalanced. I assure you, multiple people disagree with me every day, including my husband, children, relatives, neighbors and other people in the world. On the whole, they disagree with what I’m saying, not me personally.
  2. Refrain from catcalling or wolf-whistling. Despite your intent, it’s not complimentary and reduces us to sexual beings. I read online that a good rule of thumb is never shout at a woman what you wouldn’t want a man shouting at you in prison. (Among other times, I’ve been catcalled at a train station, during the day, in 30-degree weather, wearing three layers of clothes.)
  3. Don’t tell a woman what she wants, or what she’s thinking, unless you’re repeating what she just told you to make sure you’re on the same page. You’re not a mind reader.
  4. When a woman tells you to stop touching her or you’re in her space, please step back. Women’s bodies are not inclusive. And again, see number 3.
  5. Don’t tell women to smile, unless you’re a photographer and you’re suggesting she say cheese.
Happy International Women’s Day!

A Book A Day: Cider House Rules by John Irving

I had a hard time picking one John Irving novel for the whole month: it was a tossup among Cider House Rules, The World According to Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany.

I chose Cider House Rules because it’s a frank novel about abortion, and Irving treats all the characters—the physicians who perform them despite thinking they’re immoral and the women who need to have the procedures—with grace and respect.

After a traumatic sexual encounter with a prostitute, obstetrician Wilbur Larch gives up trying to have romantic relationships and instead helps unwed mothers and establishes an orphanage where the babies are raised. He begins to train one older child, Homer Wells, as an assistant in gynecology and obstetrics, including abortions, when it becomes apparent Homer won’t be adopted.

Homer meets Candy Kendall and Wally Worthington when they come to town to see Dr. Larch for an abortion. He returns home with them to Ocean View Orchards. Homer falls in love with Candy and they begin an affair after Wally leaves for World War II and is presumed dead. Candy becomes pregnant with Homer’s child, Angel, but when Wally unexpectedly returns from war, paralyzed, they tell him Homer adopted Angel.

Angel grows up and falls in love with one of the migrant workers at the apple orchard, who is a victim of incest and becomes pregnant by her father. After performing her abortion, Homer decides to return to the orphanage and continue the work of Dr. Larch, who died.

What’s most comforting to me as a woman about the novel is that abortion is treated as healthcare. The choices and care of the patient are paramount to everything else. Homer, who disagrees ethically and morally, still performs them because he can do them safely. If he doesn’t, he knows that women could be harmed from back-alley abortions that for many women are the only other option.

Regardless of how you feel about abortion, it’s legal in this country, and women deserve the care and concern Dr. Larch and Homer Wells deliver in this novel during one of the most difficult times they can face.

A Book A Day: Cider House Rules by John Irving

It’s About Time We Got Wonder Woman (Spoilers Ahead)

Comic books aren’t my thing. I have to constantly ask my kids who is Marvel and who is DC, the difference between the Justice League and the Avengers, and then I sat through Suicide Squad wondering what the point was.

Photo credit: Clay Enos; image taken from IMDb.com

Wonder Woman, the television show, came out when I was very small, but I caught reruns from time to time. It was the first action show I remember where the woman wasn’t a sidekick or a love interest or just a female version of a superhero (Batgirl, Spidergirl, Supergirl). Along with thousands of other girls, I twirled around in an enclosed space pretending I was going to change into Wonder Woman.

After two generations of Batman, Superman and Spider-Man movies; after Thor and Hulk and Deadpool; we get Wonder Woman.

She kicked ass. Diana Prince might not twirl around to change into Wonder Woman anymore, but she still kicked ass.

Along with a full retinue of resplendent Amazon warriors, Diana ceaselessly trains for the day she will kill the god of war, Ares, and restore peace to Earth. Her coach is the fabulous Robin Wright (who constantly tells Diana she’s stronger than she thinks) and after Diana rescues an American spy posing as a German pilot, who’s chased by the real Germans, Robin and the rest of the ladies BRING IT in a battle on their shores.

(I spent most of the movie thinking the pilot, Steve Trevor, played by Chris Pine, was supposed to be Captain America. I don’t know why and I finally remembered Pine played Captain Kirk. We need someone else besides a guy named Chris in future superhero movies. Please and thank you.)

I spend the rest of the movie as anxious as Diana to kill Ares. Friends, Wonder Woman Gets Shit Done. Steve, and his ragtag group of buddies, and his bosses, and the Germans, all try to sidetrack Diana. The movie went a little long so I can tell you there was an ill-advised shopping trip, a dancing lesson and many strategic arguments with Steve. Diana shrugs and then does things her way. You can put any feminist saying behind it: she persists; she fights the patriarchy. She slogged through a battlefield because she was determined to save a village. She gets some help from Steve, but it’s her battle. She eventually has a showdown with Ares, who of course tries to mansplain her destiny and manipulate her. No one comes to her rescue. She has to figure her shit out. And as soon as she realizes she’s fighting for love, she’s indestructible. She’s stronger than she ever thought.

Gal Gadot is stunning, but the movie is smart enough not to stoop down and make her beauty a big deal; it’s sort of incidental. During the aforementioned shopping trip, which I feared would be a ripoff of Pretty Woman, Diana is surprisingly uncomfortable. The expensive clothes don’t suit her, because she’s a warrior. Steve at no point overshadows or detracts from Diana. He’s merely trying to channel her in the right direction.

The battle scenes were immensely satisfying and my favorite part of the movie, probably because I feel so helpless sometimes in the current political climate. The Amazons mow down Germans. Wonder Woman singlehandedly battles legions of them and eventually defeats the GOD OF WAR all by herself. And as a brilliant woman told her, she was stronger than she thought.

[EDITED TO ADD:] Last week, I worked out with a different group of people at the gym; I’d seen them around but didn’t know them personally. As we went through our rounds of exercises, one woman would surreptitiously watch me and then say, “You need to use a heavier weight.” I dutifully went back to the rack to choose a larger dumbbell and and she just shook her head. “Come on, you can go up at least 20 more pounds.” She made me go higher on every single exercise, and the workout was that much more challenging. Her message, like Antiope to Diana, was “you’re stronger than you think you are.” I was back with my regular group today and I saw the woman on the other side of the training room. I shouted over that I was going with a heavier weight and she just replied that she’d continue to keep her eye on me.

It’s About Time We Got Wonder Woman (Spoilers Ahead)

Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and a Toxic Work Culture

My first, very cynical thought when reading this thoroughly reported New York Times story about Fox News settling harassment claims–to the tune of $13 million–against mega-star and cash cow Bill O’Reilly was, “how can anyone be surprised.”

After all, it’s been, what–nearly nine months?–since the cable channel’s founder, Roger Ailes, was ousted after creating and fostering a toxic work culture that thrived on misogyny, paranoia and corruption. To reward all his years of service and for his pesky habit of demanding sexual favors from his female employees in exchange for career advice, Ailes departed Fox News with a $40 million severance package.

Many predicted the channel would implode, but then Donald Trump won the election and despite having the highest security clearance in the nation, he chooses to get his news from–and live-tweet–Fox News programs. (To say nothing of the numerous sexual harassment claims filed against HIM.)

Bill O’Reilly’s response was that he’s a target because he’s famous and successful, and that none of the women–whom his network determined had serious enough causes to settle their claims–had followed proper procedure and documented their concerns with human resources or called a hotline specifically created to address sexual harassment complaints. Indeed, the network has doubled down on its star and extended his contract.

Lots of men in the network news business are famous and successful: Jake Tapper. Anderson Cooper. Scott Pelley. None of them have had to field sexual harassment complaints. And if you work for a company whose founder and CEO has encouraged a culture of sexual harassment, how comfortable are you going to be going through official channels at said company?

(And to be inclusive in all the nasty, here’s a woman at Fox News, an employee for two decades, who was fired for saying completely inappropriate things.)

How far do we have to go to believe women at face value when they claim they were harassed? A lot of the media world right now is bending over backward to accommodate O’Reilly’s response so the reporting is perceived fairly. How long do you think those employees had put up with the innuendo, the unwanted advances, the leers, before they had enough and filed suit? In those situations, women are subtly encouraged to just suck it up and deal for the sake of their careers.

Someone, somewhere had to do the math and risk analysis to come to the conclusion that O’Reilly is worth so much to Fox News that paying out $13 million worth of settlements was a necessary expense. That’s what makes this whole episode so sad and strange to me. Brian Stelter, CNN media critic, in his email newsletter compared O’Reilly to a troublesome sports star whose off-field antics begin to distract fans from his success in the game. But that analogy doesn’t work for me. I can’t think of many sports stars who were accused of harassing their colleagues in their work environment, like O’Reilly. (The only example that comes to mind is Richie Incognito.)

Finally, Fox News is one of the most successful networks, despite its toxic work environment. At this point, owner Rupert Murdoch is willing to look the other way as long as the channel makes money. How depressing.

Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and a Toxic Work Culture

On Leggings and Michael Pence

My 11-year-old daughter, on the cusp of puberty, is rapidly transforming into Lady Longlegs. She is uncomfortable in denim and wears dresses maybe twice a year, mainly because she can’t stand tights.

What does that leave her? Cotton pants, jeggings and leggings. (A post for another time: girls’ clothes aren’t nearly as sturdy and well made as boys’ clothes.) 

Her school has a dress code and since my daughter is a conscientious person it’s always at the back of her mind. Like most dress codes, it’s mainly written for girls and/or women. I imagine it’s similar to the dress code United Airlines has for people flying on buddy passes. 

My point here is not to argue about the dress codes in and of themselves, but how they perpetuate the assumption that girls and women need to be modest and cover themselves up. Otherwise, they become wanton temptations for boys and men. This argument not only does a disservice to girls and boys, reducing them to objects and urges, but also reinforces rape culture, a term I hate but is the most accurate in a society’s way of blithely assuming that women and girls are “asking for it” when they are sexually assaulted.

When other parents tell me they’re teaching their daughters to be modest, I immediately ask them what they’re instructing their sons. That girls have brains and feelings? That they should be respected and be considered persons in their own right, regardless of how many piercings they have or how their clothes fit? That they’re not objects of temptations, but the sum of more than their body parts, and future colleagues and bosses? 

When my son tells me he has a crush on a girl, he usually tells me it’s because the girl is cute, but I try to make him understand, even though he’s only 8, that girls can be attractive because they’re smart and funny, too. After all, those qualities have nothing to do with what clothes the girls are wearing.

There’s still a lot of work to do, because women (including me) have been harassed while fully clothed and wearing a winter coat. But I think it’s an important first step, to teach and reinforce these ideas in boys starting when they’re young and as they become teens.

To illustrate my point, we have Vice President Mike Pence, who considers women other than his wife to be such a distraction he won’t eat alone with them or attend functions alone with them where alcohol is served. Again, I don’t want to criticize his marriage. You do you, Mike and Karen! But I am concerned about how this affects Pence’s view of women in government and in places of power? Will Pence dine with Angela Merkel or Theresa May to discuss sensitive political matters without his wife? Nancy Pelosi? Elizabeth Warren? Does this policy mean he won’t hire women as high-level staffers in his own office, because there’s a chance he might have to dine with them alone? I mean, according to Pence, women are such distractions and objects of temptation there’s no way men can have platonic relationships with them. They’re not more than the sum of their parts. They’re solely objects.

On Leggings and Michael Pence

My Children Brought the Drama to the Polling Place

I’ve brought my daughter and son with me to vote as far back as I can remember, and I vote in every election I can. After all, a whole lot of people went to a whole lot of trouble to ensure that I can vote. When my son was very young, he got his bs and vs confused, so he thought we were going to a lake instead of fulfilling my civic obligation.

Our polling place is our local firehouse, and the workers are so kind. Last November, they created a computer program for kids to use while the adults are voting; the children get to vote for their favorite cartoon animal. Because my daughter has an away softball game after school that will involve me traveling during rush hour to a town 20 minutes away while constantly feeding weather updates to said daughter (it’s April in Pennsylvania; thunderstorms are pretty common), I decided to bring them with me before school.

Luckily, there was no line, and once my son determined that no one had any candy for him, he made a beeline to the computer with the kids’ game on it, waving off all attempts by the dear poll workers trying to explain how it worked. I finished up my ballot pretty quickly (I have to color in squares like I’m taking a standardized test) and after it was scanned in and I got my confirmation, I noticed there was some action near the kids’ computer. By now my daughter was voting and my son was entertaining young and old with a soulful rendition of “Red Solo Cup.” My daughter loudly complained and my son rejoined with a j’accuse! of his own: he claimed his sister rushed him through his vote, which wasn’t recorded and she merely changed his answers to hers and then submitted her ballot.

I usually get a picture of us outside the polling place, but they weren’t talking to each other at that point and my son decided to steal candy from the people waiting outside the entrance. That started a whole new fight and my lecture on voter intimidation was NOT appreciated by either party. There were tears. I gave out strikes. At least we didn’t miss the bus.

Anyway, I voted, and despite this morning’s shenanigans, I’m always grateful for the right and opportunity to do so.

My Children Brought the Drama to the Polling Place

What I Have in Common With Celebrity Moms Who Attended the Oscars

We both were encouraged to pump breastmilk in a bathroom.

I worked at a healthcare organization when I learned I would be expecting our second child. I’d planned to return to work, and asked the director of human resources if I could use a private office for 15 minutes, three times a day, to pump. I’d store the milk myself; I’d use my lunch hour to offset the time I’d be away from my desk.

He asked, “Why can’t you just go in the bathroom?”

It took every ounce of my self-control–I was nine months pregnant and I had very little self-control on my non-pregnant best days–to breathe deeply and merely reply as politely as I could, “Would you ingest something that was expressed in a bathroom?”

He looked appropriately disgusted, nodded, and said, “No, I wouldn’t. I’ll see that you have a room.”

I was surprised that I had to talk to the human resources department at all. When I returned to work after having our first child, my boss let me know without me having to ask about an office that was currently being used as a supply closet where I could pump.

I pumped every day at work until each of my kids turned 1. I’m not writing this to trying to guilt anyone into breastfeeding, the La Leche League does a superb job of making women feel like crap in that way. It was a decision I made as a working mother. Nursing helped ease some of the anguish I felt when I ultimately chose to go back to work, and it allowed  me to maintain a close bond with my children when they were small. My husband was supportive; he did not have the ability to lactate so he wasn’t losing as much sleep as I was and had no room to negotiate otherwise.

As I said before, I didn’t pay attention to the Oscars at all. The next day, I got an email from my mom, who was irate that Chris Rock pushed Girl Scout cookies on a bunch of rich people without revealing that most of the money raised from the cookies goes to local Girl Scout Councils, not local troops. (Our troop receives about 40 cents a box, or 10 percent of the cost. To compare, when my son sells popcorn for Cub Scouts, about 70 percent of the cost goes to his troop.) I told her that yes, it’s annoying, but Chris Rock had other things to talk about and his efforts led to the Girl Scouts making more than $65,000 that night.

But what’s confusing to me is how elaborate the Oscars have become, with the absurdly expensive swag bags and the hours upon hours upon hours of pre-ceremony coverage that features elaborate sets so E! and other channels can most conveniently insult starlets and their outfits. Following the event, there are after-parties, where starlets can steel themselves for even more critiques from entertainment channels. Think of all the logistics that E! and co. require, and it will seem even more ludicrous that no one could think to have a small, private room with a locked door so new moms could pump.

In all seriousness, if the Academy does get their act together and provides a space for breastfeeding moms next year, I’d watch all the coverage just to see Nursing Mom Couture Gowns and Glittering Pump Accessories.


What I Have in Common With Celebrity Moms Who Attended the Oscars

A Vacancy on the Court

These are the thoughts I had, in quick succession, after learning of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death on Saturday night:

  1. I feel so sad for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I remember reading about their friendship years ago, and how Scalia had wept at Ginsburg’s husband’s funeral. I lost my college roommate a few years ago; she had been 37 and the mother of four children. We weren’t even that close and didn’t even get along as roommates, but I felt such shock and grief when I heard of her death. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose a longtime colleague and close friend.
  2. If the Court were like a normal company in the economy today, Scalia wouldn’t be replaced at all; the other justices would assume his workload and his managerial responsibilities without compensation. In PR speak, his position would be “absorbed.”
  3. Is Justice Clarence Thomas going to talk now?
  4. Scalia was enormously influential on the current conservative movement for being a judicial Doctor Who and treating the constitution in the way our country’s Founding Fathers–a bunch of white guys from the 18th century who owned people as property–strictly intended it, not as a guideline or framework on how to treat future issues of which they’d have no concept. (Ben Franklin would RULE on Tinder, though.)
  5. This obstructionist Congress, which has been rather spectacular in not doing its job for the past eight years or so, has thrown down and requested the President to not do his job and nominate a replacement for Scalia. This particular part of the presidential job description literally is in the Constitution; it’s what the old white guys strictly intended. So now this generation of old white guys are trying to do something that the guy they are trying to replace would vociferously object to.
  6. I pretty much object to everything that Scalia stood for, and I hope the Court starts to lean left again.
A Vacancy on the Court

Super Bowl Saturday

I planned a really righteously indignant post today about American football.

I was going to write how I was indifferent about it until I went to college in Pittsburgh and became an obnoxious Steelers fan, complete with a Terrible Towel of my very own. It is very, very hard to live in Pittsburgh and not be a Steelers fan.

I was going to discuss at length the NFL and CTE; the NFL and domestic violence in the context of Ray Rice; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and arbitrary punishment; how the Rams’ move to Los Angeles reveals an egregious level of corporate welfare, with the taxpayers being on the hook for infrastructure costs yet receiving little to no revenue from team profits; and then throw in some thoughts about the commercials being available for viewing even before the event.

Then halftime co-performer Beyonce dropped Formation a few hours ago, and it’s such a brilliant move on so many levels that I really have nothing left to say.

Super Bowl Saturday

Man as the Norm of Medicine

February, among other things, is Heart Awareness Month. Heart disease is by far the most common health threat to both men and women.

Breast cancer gets a lot of attention because boobs are sexy, and it affects roughly one out of every eight women. I have two aunts who are breast cancer survivors, and a close friend who is about to end treatment. Another neighbor is about to undergo a radical mastectomy because she has the BRCA 1 gene. Breasts are a fundamental part of who a woman is; they represent sensuality, fertility and motherhood–even if you choose not to procreate or breastfeed. Everything is plastered pink in October to celebrate, even though a lot of the profits raised from “awareness campaigns” don’t actually fund research or prevention.

To compare, one in three women will get heart disease, making it a much more common killer. Despite this alarming statistic, heart disease is still considered to be a “man’s problem,” and a lot of heart disease research, especially in terms of symptoms, is framed this way: men are the “normal” of medicine, and anything that deviates from the norm, namely women, are “different,” “unique,” “not equal.”

I wouldn’t make such a big deal out of this but I’ve looked and other than one sentence in one article telling me that women’s arteries are smaller than men’s and a few paragraphs telling me that women’s hearts are smaller, no one can explain why women have different symptoms of heart disease than men. Why is it that women are different? Women make up roughly half the world’s population. (Taking into account that people in many countries abort or kill female fetuses and babies, I believe that number could be higher.) They can’t be too different, can they? It’s not as though I’m talking about a rare creature that can’t be studied.

In medicine, women are usually considered in terms of their reproductive systems; after all, it’s what makes us different than men. When something is wrong with me, the first thing I’m asked is if my menstrual cycle is regular. I don’t know what my periods have to do with a sinus infection or how a family history of high cholesterol can affect my chances for heart disease. Men are usually considered more holistically.

But considering that heart disease is so common and it affects so many women, why does funding go to research and clinical trials for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease in men?


Man as the Norm of Medicine