EastFamilyPhoto

The beautiful, kind, loving East family. And a special friend 🙂

Running, almost tripping, practically flying down the twisty-turning path through green leafy branches and moss-covered logs with the sun sparkling off of the lake.

The fragrant, spicy aroma of Santosh Indian cuisine wafting up the steps to an old attic filled with mysteries waiting to be unraveled, broken into and taken apart.

Movie nights with way too much candy, movie days with scene-by-scene reenactments and Richard Simmons dance-offs.

There are certain moments that remain so fresh in your memory that you can barely believe they occurred more than 15 years ago. And so many of those memories involved John East, the wonderfully kooky, creative and kind, young and wild father of one of my best friends, Mickey.

John became a father at a young age, but he was about as unselfish as they come during our childhoods. He was an inspiration in the way he cared for his family and encouraged his daughters to follow their passions. He never held them back from anything because they were girls. He was a man who truly and firmly believed in the individual’s right to express themselves – and touched many lives because of it.

As a child, going to Mickey’s home was pure magic. There was Laura, her beautiful older sister to look up to. There was Teresa, one of the most loving, soft-spoken, bright-hearted, nurturing and warm mothers that I have met. And there was John, full of life and adventure.

I think my deep love of photography grew ten-fold because John let us use his SLR camera to do magical photo shoots in the woods below their house. Sometimes we put on red lipstick and dresses and twirled around the living room, snapping shots that are forever etched in my childhood.

I learned so much in that house – from watching films old and new, films that opened my eyes to things yet undiscovered. From listening to music and playing semi-crude, semi-educational computer games that I would never have known of otherwise.

And so importantly, John and Teresa welcomed everyone into their home. They were generous and open, the utter depiction of the more the merrier.

John has left us far too soon. He most definitely had more to teach us, and he will be sorely missed by SO MANY people. It’s hard to express the void that has been left by his departure, but I know one thing for certain – his inquisitive, seeking soul is still with us. He’ll always be there in Teresa’s poems and the love that she shares, in Mickey’s fantastical artwork and unique kindness, in Laura’s generosity of spirit and work.

One more memory comes to mind as I prepare to attend a celebration of his life at Timberline High School today. Last Christmas, my family and I ran into the Easts at the movie theater that we had both attended to watch Les Misérables. There we were – two families blessed and loved, both strong survivors of divorce and change, each with their struggles but lucky enough to be the type of families that could still come together to watch a three-hour musical on a cold December night. To me, that’s love.

I’ll never forget it. It was the last time I saw John, and the twinkle in his eye was just as bright as it had been when we were children. He will be forever and ever missed.

I asked just a few people to say something about John – and found an overwhelming fountain of love in return.

Lizeta Walker: Being a part of my formative years, John had a powerful influence on bringing about the happiness of life for me. I didn’t realize the degree to which he was consciously present and unconditionally loving, until I sought to demonstrate these qualities myself as an adult. I am grateful to the Easts for being a family to me and unselfishly sharing their father with me. He was a very special person and I know he is dancing like Tevye in the realm of the Spirit.

Evan Brodoff Grotsky: Growing up with Mickey, I always looked forward to having family dinners at her house. I vividly recall spending hours at the table, telling stories, doing weird impressions, and reenacting the best Monty Python bits. John, especially, would laugh his ass off at our jokes, which would only encourage us more! As kids (and through adulthood, too), John and Teresa always supported us and encouraged our creative self-expression. I always felt so accepted by him and his family and like I could always be myself with them. John was kind, gentle, and accepting of everyone. I love him and miss him dearly.

Lynn Grotsky & Lisa Brodoff: John was one of several important men in ours and our children’s lives. He was funny, creative, and so caring and kind and a goof-ball to boot. We spent many years laughing, worrying and sometimes crying, as we raised our children together watching them grow into the amazing adults they are today.

Tina Simcich: A memory: John rushing down the trail to the lake, jumping in the water like a crazy man, bursting up out of the lake – exuberant, with eyes shining with joy and life. Thank you, John, for sharing your heart, life and spirit with us.

Mykal Mantyla: John East was a welcoming and kind soul, nurturing the artistic in his daughters and myself, as their home was became my second home as a teenager. He is gone too soon, as there are so many more he has yet to reach with his great kindness. He will be truly missed.

John, we love you. My heart is with Mickey, Laura, Teresa, his wife Deanna and her children, and his many family and friends today.

To read John’s obituary, please visit the Woodlawn Forest Funeral Home site.

sunset

I haven’t written in a long time. I haven’t been able to.

Every time I considered starting an article or researching a new topic, I stopped myself. Instead of the intrigue and passion that I usually feel, all I found was a stinging, bitter pain.

Because I was hurting; because I was afraid.

Writing is usually like therapy for me – it allows me to vent to the world and at the same time to no one at all. If I end up writing something worthwhile, fantastic. If all I get is a sore back from hunching over my laptop and a sappy piece of nonsense that no one would ever want to read, so be it.

But for the last month, I have avoided my laptop like the plague.

Where did this pain come from? And why was it so hard to get past?

It originated with the very act of writing an article about something I care about. About something that I am so sure of that I could never have imagined the backlash that I received from expressing my beliefs – or that they could even have been interpreted the way that they were.

But as I was once told, intent is not always the same thing as effect.

The topic of the article that started it all? Self-protection through assault prevention techniques and self-defense.

The aftermath of a sexual assault is so complicated – the range of emotions  can jump from guilt to shame to anger to confusion and beyond; the reality of self-blame can be crippling; and the effect on a victim’s life is unquantifiable. Not only this, but every victim deals with and recovers from sexual assault in their own way. What is true for one person might be unthinkable for another. And no one – whether a survivor themselves or not – has the right to tell another person how they should feel in the wake of this horrendous crime.

Keeping this in mind, I tried to write my article in a way that would place blame solely on the perpetrator. I wanted to present ideas for self-protection and self-defense as possibilities for those who might find them worthwhile. Nowhere did I hint that if you eschew taking a self-defense class or find no use in my ideas it would be your fault if you were assaulted. I would never – could never – say, think or believe anything even close to that.

Others took my article differently. In fact, on the day of its publication, it caused a veritable scandal in the feminist community. I was harassed on Twitter, called a failure and a victim blamer, told that I epitomized the Patriarchy, and watched as my article was smashed to smithereens. In the opinion of the individuals making these comments, I was placing blame on victims of rape by offering ideas about prevention.

The piece was far from perfect. In fact, if I were to write it again, I would make an absolutely rigid point of trying to look at what I wrote from eyes different from my own. To read every last word from a completely different perspective. Maybe then I would have seen what these people saw.

And yet, I was also commended by the women’s self-defense community for writing it. I received emails, tweets, posts and texts from people who were as dismayed as I was about the reaction. A well-known, deeply respected self-defense instructor even wrote an article in The Hairpin about the whole mess (note: opinions in The Hairpin piece are strictly those expressed by Susan Schorn).

The thing is, it really was a huge, ugly mess. No one was to blame. It just kind of happened – and then exploded in a nasty way. But I am about as sensitive as they come (great quality in a writer, right? ha!). I was shattered. I cried for an entire day and went into bouts of depression every time I thought about it for a month afterward.

Not that I can’t take being criticized or called names. People criticize my opinions all the time, and I have been called some verrrry interesting things (especially by Men’s Rights Activists)! Generally, I welcome or endure it – to a point. I suppose the deeply reactive subject matter made everything different this time.

I felt…invalidated. Silenced. As if my experiences and beliefs could be overturned and expelled with a gust of wind.

The thing is, they can’t. Others don’t have to agree with me, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t hold true to my ideals. And more appropriate to this situation, others may not always see the intended message in my writing. There isn’t much that I can do about this except to keep moving forward, carefully, while trying to be sensitive to the feelings of the world around me.

This has been a huge lesson. And from where I stand today, it won’t stop me from writing in the future. My sadness and frustration are still there; I’ve just learned how to move beyond them and try to turn them into something more positive and healing. And that’s why I’m sitting at home writing a blog post on this rainy Friday night.

Because really – hiding my laptop behind the couch isn’t helping anyone, especially not myself.

PNWBay

As all who know me are well aware, my time in DC (4+ years in total) was completely life-altering. It was a grand, terrifying, fun, miserable, gut-wrenching and soul-searching period of my life. But it was also a period that I knew would end.

And that it has. I write to you from my cozy corner of the big red couch in my mother’s house in western Washington State, fire blazing in the hearth and a light dusting of snow outside.

It’s after midnight here and I just finished reading about 100 pages of Game of Thrones book 5, bookworm that I am. I’m thinking about my friends back on the east coast – some tucked in their beds with their lovers and some eating Jumbo Slice after a rowdy night at the bars. I miss them. A lot.

And yet I feel this sense of ease and calm that I barely remembered existed until I moved back here a few weeks ago. I feel fear too – fear that this is all too good to be true; fear that the rug is going to be pulled out from under me and that this peace will disappear.

It’s not as if you can’t find that same peace in the District. It just wasn’t there for me.

It wasn’t just the constant sound of ambulances careening by my apartment, or the everlasting bruises on my shoulders from carrying far too heavy and far too many bags of groceries home for miles. It wasn’t just the way people don’t look at you or smile when you pass on the street.

It was everything, and it was nothing. I had ceased to feel the way I wanted to feel. I’d stopped seeing the upside of things, or the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

Don’t get me wrong – DC is amazing in so many ways. I love the city’s energy and the constant rush of so many things to do and people to meet. I love the educated, fascinating, varied individuals that inhabit it. And the friends I made there…they’ll never be replaced.

I suppose I’m just not the type of person who thrives in the District long-term. Many extraordinarily smart and fantastic people do – and I applaud them. But not this girl.

This girl feels comforted sitting outside the bar in the freezing winter air while her friends drink Rainier and chain smoke. This girl lives to see the mountain on a clear day, breathtaking in all its ethereal glory. This girl likes to run on paths surrounded by evergreens with the light northwest rain messing up her way too long hair. This girl missed her family.

I guess it’s simple. I’m home.

revengepornarticle

Originally posted on Everyday Feminism under the name “Taking a Stand against Revenge Porn and Internet Exploitation in the Digital Age”

Revenge porn. Never heard of it? You probably will soon.

This new Internet craze, specifically focused on women, occurs when a person shares a sexual or nude photo or video with a partner or hookup who later decides to make the private photo public.

Promises that the photo will be kept private often disintegrate with time, especially after a breakup or falling out. But the lasting negative effects on a victim of revenge porn– not to mention the extreme difficulties of removing photos once they have hit the net – make this phenomenon a horrifying prospect for anyone who has ever taken sexy pictures for a significant other.

And in most places, it’s perfectly legal.

You read that right. Revenge porn (also known as non-consensual pornography or cyber rape) is legal in every state except California and New Jersey.

University of Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks is trying to change this by helping states write laws against revenge porn.

To naysayers who prefer to victim blame, Franks compares sharing pornographic material to making a business transaction.

“If you give your credit card to a waiter, you aren’t giving him permission to buy a yacht,” says Franks.

Sending sexual or nude photos to another person does not give them the right to share what they’ve received on a public forum such as the Internet – especially within the context of trust and under an agreement that the photos will be kept private.

Now, profiteers have even discovered a way to make revenge porn profitable. Many popular revenge porn sites, such as MyEx.Com – a website that boasts the tagline “Get Revenge! Naked Pics of Your Ex” – offers victims with a “take-down” option.

Pay up, and the site will remove your photos.

And prices are steep.

MyEx.Com has an option to “Remove My Name” which takes you to the payment site “Reputation Guard” and demands $500 for the deletion of photos and personal information from MyEx.

Simply put, this is blackmail. MyEx.Com is working along with Reputation Guard to extort money from victims of internet exploitation – and no one is stopping them.

Moreover, paying $500 will only ensure that the photos are removed from the MyEx site. Everyone knows that once a picture is on the Internet, it is there to stay.

Reputation Guard has no authority to remove the exact same photos and personal information from the possibly hundreds of other low-life websites or personal blogs on which they have ended up.

Sometimes revenge porn doesn’t include personal information or naked photos – but it can still be damaging. I know – from personal experience.

A few summers ago, on the way home from a fantastic beach vacation with a group of close friends, I got a call that broke my heart.

It was my best friend calling to tell me that pictures of me had surfaced on AutoAdmit.com, a site for Internet trolls working in the law profession or attending law school with the laughable motto “The most prestigious law school discussion board in the world.”

The pictures were all taken directly from my Facebook albums. My name wasn’t included, and the photo locations ranged from formal events to cab rides to mini golf.

We quickly discovered that I wasn’t the only victim – my friend had a page of her own. This man, whoever he was, had pilfered about thirty photos of us from our Facebook profiles and written dehumanizing and scary descriptions of the sexual things he planned to do to us.

He even claimed to be close to having a threesome with us – an utterly inexplicable lie. About eighty of his site cronies then chimed in with comments so vile that I have spent years trying to forget them.

No nudity, no personal contact info, and no names were shared. And yet I felt utterly and completely violated. I wanted the photos down, and I wanted them down now.

However, AutoAdmit (like many revenge porn sites) is unmonitored and unstaffed. It is a forum for women-bashing and body-shaming by faceless trolls sitting behind computer screens.

So what can be done in these types of situations?

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many options – yet. But let’s look at the ones that do we have.

Contact the Photo Hosting Service

First, get your photos taken down if you can.

In my case, my friend and I realized that our photos were being hosted on imgur.com, so we wrote to the photo editor of imgur through their Removal Request option and demanded their deletion.

It worked. The photos were down within forty-eight hours.

Photo hosting websites like imgur are looking to avoid lawsuits. They are not as interested in protecting the creeps who post revenge pictures as they are of not being sued.

Be firm, be forceful, and threaten legal action. This is the easiest way to get your photos removed from a public image hosting site.

But what about sites like MyEx where the photos are hosted internally?

Although revenge porn itself is not yet illegal in most places, there are legal guidelines concerning ownership of photos.

A recent survey discloses that 80% of revenge porn victims took the pictures in question themselves – giving them the legal rights to those photos.

Under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998 (DCMA), victims can submit a DMCA take-down request to offending websites that are using their photos without consent.

Rights protection group DMCA Defender provides relatively low-cost services to victims who want help submitting a claim.

While these are viable options, they are only marginally successful at removing images, and do nothing to punish the criminals behind online sexual harassment. So what more can we do?

We need to go further. We need to change the law.

Making Revenge Porn Illegal

When Annmarie Chiarini, a Maryland college professor and victim of an immense revenge porn battle that nearly ended her career and brought her close to taking her own life, went to the police with evidence that her ex-boyfriend had posted and sold naked photos of her online, the police shrugged her away.

There was nothing they could do because no crime had been committed, they said.

Similarly, advocacy group End Revenge Porn creator Dr. Holly Jacobs suffered three-and-a-half years of unrelenting fallout when police failed to prosecute her ex-boyfriend for posting her personal data and photos online.

Now women like Jacobs and Chiarini are fighting back hard to make revenge porn unlawful. They are working around the clock to get bills passed in states nationwide that will make this type of online sexual harassment illegal and create real consequences for perpetrators.

The fact that revenge porn can have deadly consequences also lends great credibility to the idea of making it a crime. Releasing a victim’s image, hometown, full name, age, and occupation can lead to stalking and physical endangerment. It can also lead to deep emotional distress and even victim suicide.

Other groups leading the fight in the US include the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, Without My Consent, Army of She, Women Against Revenge Porn, and Bullyville. These sites provide fantastic resources that help victims join the fight to make revenge porn illegal.

Seek Mental and Emotional Support

The number of suicides linked to online sexual exploitation and revenge porn has skyrocketed in recent years.

Many arise from online harassment following a sexual assault, such as in the case of California teen Audrie Potts, who hung herself after photos of her rape were distributed online.

Others come from shame brought on by revenge porn.

Such is the case of Amanda Todd, who committed suicide after facing unending torment from school bullies over topless photos that she was pressured to send to an older man. She was in the seventh grade when she sent the photos and fifteen when she ended her life.

Revenge porn and Internet sexual harassment seek to demoralize, debase, and shame women on social, sexual, and professional levels. They are deeply painful and effective ways of making victims feel alienated, unloved, and even worthless.

Finding a psychologist or therapist who can help you navigate through the negativity is a key step to overcoming the pain induced by internet sexual harassment.

If you or someone you know begins to feel suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which provides a 24-hour hotline (1-800-273-TALK) and a therapy finder by geographical region. Using the therapy finder, you can search for licensed mental health professionals, support groups, government services, and more.

Reach out to your family and friends as well. They can provide you with a strong backbone of support in times of need.

If you don’t feel like you have anyone to turn to, a support/survivor group can also provide you with comfort and understanding. Check the websites of local sexual abuse agencies for more resources, or visit the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) site to search for other options.

Remember: This is Rape Culture, Not Normality

Our culture prefers to blame the victim in situations like these, saying “Why did she send this photo?” or “She got what was coming to her for being careless/slutty/sexual.”

As should be painfully obvious, and as Professor Franks demonstrates in a recent Cosmopolitan article, this is rape culture at work:

“When we say, ‘What was she doing giving out this picture?’ what we’re really saying is if you’re sexual with one person, society is entitled to treat you as sexual for all purposes,” Franks states.

“We’re telling women and girls that revenge porn is justified punishment for giving a sexy picture to a trusted partner, and that’s exactly the same thing as telling women and girls that rape is justified punishment for drinking or wearing a short skirt.”

So before you start apologizing about sending a sexy photo, think.

You are an adult. You are free to do what you want with your body (within legal boundaries). No one can tell you that you deserve to be publicly humiliated and have your trust violated because you are a sexual person. Remember that.

That said, there are undeniable risks involved with sending sexual photos to another person. Once a picture is given to someone else – whether your spouse, a friend, or a casual hookup – it is out of your immediate control.

Even if made illegal everywhere, the Internet is a big place. People will still find ways to get away with online sexual harassment and revenge porn.

But hopefully making it a crime will make it harder for them.

With prospective bills to make revenge porn and other forms of sexual Internet harassment illegal in New York and other places nationwide, the future looks a little bit brighter.

In the meantime, education about revenge porn is crucial.

***

The more people that know about this phenomenon and how to stop it, the harder it will be for creeps to get away with. And hopefully, it will become less common and accepted as people realize that it has dangerous results.

It’s just one more battle in the war against rape culture, but it’s one that we can all take part in by calling this exploitation out, educating people about why it’s not okay, and working towards making it illegal. Claim your rights.

Protect yourself. You are worth it.

Brady1 Brady2
Brady3
Yesterday I experienced one of the scariest moments of my life.

Anyone who knows me or has ever read my blog knows that I love animals. So very dearly. And when I get to know an animal well, I love them as my own. So that’s part of why what happened yesterday was so utterly terrifying.

I walk Brady, the adorable 7-month old chocolate lab puppy pictured above, three times a week. He is my joy during long workdays as I prepare to move across the country. I adore him.

Yesterday afternoon, we were taking a long stroll on Embassy Row when he was suddenly, viciously attacked by two Pit Bulls.

He did not provoke them. Brady is one of the sweetest, most loving dogs I have ever met. He barely even barks. He does loving chasing squirrels, but I’m not even sure what he’d do if he ever caught one.

It started when the owner of the Pit Bulls, a nice looking young woman, smiled, said hello, and stopped so that the dogs could become acquainted. I barely had time to say a word to her before one of the Pits lunged at Brady’s throat and sunk its teeth into his flesh.

I couldn’t breath. My heart almost stopped. And like they always say in the movies, time seemed to turn to slow motion for an instant.

But then it sped up again. And it became damn obvious that this dog was not letting go. This dog was going for the kill.

Hysterical, I started screaming for help and hitting the Pit Bulls as hard as I could on their rumps (they didn’t notice).

Both of them were now ferociously attacking Brady while their owner tried in vain to remove them from his throat. At one point one of them had his entire ear in his mouth and I was afraid that if I pulled too hard, his ear would come off too.

And the worst part – the most horrible, agonizing part – was listening to Brady. He was screaming. It sounded so human. I was at a loss; I just kept shrieking “Someone, do SOMETHING!”

Finally, some angel of a man ran up and somehow wrestled the most aggressive Pit off of Brady. The owner then held back the other one as he continued to aggressively lung and snap at Brady from within her grasp.

And then by some act of God, Brady was free. Staring into his wounded face, I had a moment of secondary panic while I wondered if he would turn on me out of pure fear and pain. But he looked up at me with his soulful eyes and licked me right on the nose.

Cradling Brady in my arms, I sobbed on the sidewalk. I could see his little ear, wet with slobber and twisted. I could feel a deep gash on his beautiful neck bleeding down his coat. But as the first minute passed and he kept licking me with all the love that only a dog can provide, I realized that he was probably going to be okay.

Brady was lucky. The vet gave him stitches and he is recovering. And I have no doubt that I was also extremely lucky that one of the dogs didn’t injure me. In my panic I had clawed at their jaws, coming far too close for my own safety. But I just wanted to save him from them. I felt this maternal instinct that was so primal. It told me  to protect him, at all costs.

When I’m upset, I write about things. And I’m damn upset right now. What if the next victim of these dogs is a smaller, more defenseless dog? What if, God forbid, it is a child?

A smaller dog wouldn’t have even stood a chance against those machines of rippling muscle and sharp teeth.

And a child? A child wouldn’t have the same loose skin and fur to protect their vulnerable throat from unforgiving jaws. A child would have lifelong emotional scars if they even survived such an attack.

I don’t even want to think about how bad it could have been, but I can’t help it.

People HAVE to be responsible dog owners. This is the second time I’ve come into contact with this type of irresponsibility in the last six months. Early this summer, my ten year old cousin was attacked by her violin teacher’s dog. She was rushed to the ER and had to have plastic surgery and stitches because the dog ripped off part of her lip. Turns out, it wasn’t the first time that the dog had tried to bite a kid. But the teacher hadn’t taken the proper precautions after seeing warning signs.

And the owner of the Pit Bulls? Amidst sobs, I asked her whether this had ever happened before. She didn’t look me in the eye and she didn’t give me a straight answer.

Unacceptable. Unforgivable.

If you know that your dog is dangerous, do something about it. Put them through extensive training. Don’t bring them anywhere near children or other dogs. Don’t let them off leash. Sometimes, as horrible as it sounds, the only answer is that a vicious dog has to be put to sleep.

Be aware if you have a dog breed that is more likely to attack so that you can be on the lookout for aggressive behavior and take precautions. Although some Pit Bulls are extremely sweet and never attack anyone, the cold hard truth is that over the past  five years, almost 60 percent of all fatal dog attacks in the US were committed by Pit Bulls. Other dog breeds that are more likely to be aggressive include German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Boxers and even Huskies. If you have one of these breeds, you HAVE to be more careful. [Update:] But the truth is that no matter what type of dog you have, you have to work your ass off to train them and make sure that they won’t become aggressive or dangerous. As my friend pointed out after reading my article, she grew up with Pits who were as sweet as lambs and then later had a Beagle who attacked people in wheel chairs! Every dog has its own particular personality, and much of that is based on training.

Think about the consequences of inaction. Think about how your dog could hurt someone else…or even ruin another life.

I’m just so damn thankful that Brady is going to be okay.

More information on dog fights, dog attacks and what to do:

censusgap

Cross-posted from my article in Everyday Feminism

In 2012, women were statistically much poorer than men. And women that were already poor in 2011 stayed that way.

Wait a minute – you say – I’m always hearing that women make up over half of the nation’s workforce and are increasingly becoming the primary (or sole) breadwinner in families with children! Plus, isn’t the Recession over? Shouldn’t people be getting out of poverty by now?

While it’s true that our nation is in “recovery,” that’s not the whole story.

A lot of Americans are still struggling with extreme poverty – and women are getting the short end of the stick on pretty much all fronts.

Every year, the United States Census Bureau releases their findings about poverty, health insurance, and much more in September.

This year, the Census data revealed that one in seven women live in poverty. One in seven. That’s almost 17.8 million women – or 14.5% of the female population. For men, this percentage is lower, at 11%.

These crazy-high numbers of poor American women are nothing new – they are almost identical to the 2011 figures. But they’re still unacceptable.

And certain groups of women are having an even harder time than the rest.

Black, Latina, and Native American women are disproportionately poor, as are women who are the primary breadwinners in a household. And shockingly, women 65 years of age and older got drastically poorer in 2012.

In order to understand why this is happening, let’s first look at these statistics in greater detail – and at what else the newest Census data has to tell us about these different groups of women and how the post-Recession recovery period is treating them.

Women of Color Have Exceedingly High Poverty Rates

Women of Color have not prospered during the economic recovery.

The Census data shows that Black women have a whopping poverty rate of 25.1%, and Latina women come in right below them at 24.8%. Even more drastic is the plight of Native American women – one in three Native women were poor in 2012.

Poverty disproportionately affects all People of Color – not just women. Non-white children and men also suffer from poverty disproportionately across the board. As I explained in this article about American poverty, this inequality is a product of a longstanding structure of racial oppression that refuses to go away despite civil rights advances.

Poor Women Heading Households Are Getting Poorer

Studies show that in today’s working economy, four in ten households with kids under 18 years of age have a woman as the chief (or only) breadwinner.

While that fact is exciting in the sense that women are truly viable players in the workforce and completely capable of providing for their families, it doesn’t negate the fact that almost 41% of the women heading these households were poor in 2012.

Not only that, but this poverty isn’t just affecting the women themselves – it’s hurting their children.

A stunning 56% of poor kids live in families in which a woman is the main wage-earner. We’ll get to just why this is later.

Elderly Women Are Suffering More Than Before

Getting older isn’t easy on anyone, and definitely not on poor women.

Health problems become more numerous and costly, menopause changes the body dramatically, and just getting around becomes more difficult. Andeverything costs.

Luckily, many of us have spent a lifetime saving up for retirement to protect ourselves financially in the face of illness or other issues.

We’ve saved a bit from each paycheck, contributed to a 401K retirement plan, or made investments that will (hopefully) help see us through our old age. And ideally, we have family to back us up and take care of us as well.

But what about women who didn’t have the financial flexibility to save for retirement while they were working – or had to use their savings to help another family member in a time of need?

What about the grandmas who are still helping their children and grandchildren get by because those children are struggling with poverty themselves?

A staggering amount of elderly women are poor – and things only got worse in 2012.

According to the United States Census, the number of women 65 years or older living in extreme poverty increased by 23% last year.

That’s unacceptable. After a lifetime of contributing to our economy and society, our grandmothers should not have to worry about how they are going to afford food.

“Why is this happening?” you are probably asking yourself.

Well, there are plenty of reasons why an unequal number of women are poor.

The Wage Gap Is Partially to Blame

The ever-looming gender wage gap is one big reason.

Thanks to the Census, we know that – just like in 2011 – women who work full-time, year-round are only paid 77 cents on the dollar compared to their male coworkers – and that’s only in reference to white folk.

If you are thinking that a few cents doesn’t make much of a difference, think again.

Let’s look at what that wage gap translates into over the course of a year: Over $11k less in yearly earnings. And thus, a much smaller economic safety net. For a woman struggling with poverty, that $11 thousand could make a world of difference.

These numbers get a lot worse when you’re talking about Women of Color. Black and Latina women earn, respectively, 64 cents and 54 cents on the dollar compared to White, non-Latino men.

This inequality is a heinous relic of an oppressive, racist culture that seems to be hanging on for far too long – and yet it seems like no one is even talking about it.

The GOP is Waging a War on Safety Net Programs That Help Women

Republicans and Tea Party members in Congress and in-state chambers across the nation have their sights set on dismantling the programs that provide government assistance to needy women and families.

Nutrition aide for babies and pregnant or nursing mothers in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is on the chopping block.

So are early learning programs for kids and desperately needed food assistance for poor families.

Nothing is actually safe when it comes to the safety net – no matter how many times these programs are proven to lift millions of people out of poverty and save lives.

When these programs are cut, women and their families take the hit.

Pregnant women who lose their WIC benefits don’t get the proper help they need. Single mothers with hungry children have their food taken away from them. Mothers who rely on childcare assistance to be able to work and earn money for their families are forced to stay home.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, is a prime example.

The Census data revealed that SNAP helped 4 million people out of poverty and reduced hardship for millions of others in 2012 alone. Simply put, it is a highly effective program that made tens of millions of people less poor last year, as it does every year.

Despite these proven benefits of the program, all SNAP recipients will lose about $30 from their monthly food allotment starting November 1, 2013.

This decrease comes on top of many other cuts to the program driven by government sequestration and the threat of a $40 billion cut in the House’s proposed farm bill legislation.

Women and children will directly suffer from these cuts to SNAP. If pursued to fruition, it is very likely that next year’s Census data will disclose even more severe poverty rates for women.

With so many politicians seemingly working to keep low-income women and families in poverty – and so many other factors negatively affecting low-income women – what can be done?

Educate, Proliferate, Infiltrate!

For starters, you can share this information with everyone that you know.

I truly believe that a big reason that people vote for politicians who want to cut government assistance to the poor is that they just don’t have the facts.

If they knew who they were taking food, education, and medical services from –infants, young children, struggling families, seniors – I have a hard time believing that so many people would still agree with stripping the safety net bare.

Also, remember that the poverty data revealed by the Census is proof that low-income women are struggling – and that things are not getting much better as the economic recovery continues.

When naysayers try to tell you that the government can’t give any more money to food stamps because there are more people enrolled in the program than ever before, remind them that this is the direct result of the Great Recession.

It’s simple when you think about it.

More people fell into poverty because of a recession = more people were hungry = more people became eligible (and signed up for) nutrition assistance programs.

And since we haven’t fully “recovered” as a nation, these numbers have yet to drop back down.

Back up your arguments with facts and people will have a much harder time shooting you down.

Educate your community.

Post about these important poverty statistics on social media, e-mail articles about the Census findings to your family and friends, tweet at your members of Congress asking them to support safety net programs, or write an op-ed for your local newspaper. The Op Ed Project has some great guidelines to get you started on writing your first article.

Volunteering at community organizations that work to secure funding for low-income women is another good way to combat women’s poverty.

Look at a comprehensive volunteer site like VolunteerMatch.org to find opportunities in mentoring, educational services and much more across the country. You can also check out your local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) for more ways to get involved in supporting anti-poverty measures for women.

You have the facts. Now go out there and do something about this inequality, with the whole force of the Census data backing you up.

Don’t let partisan politicians take necessary assistance away those who need it most.

Show them that you will fight to protect needy children, mothers, and grandmothers from falling deeper into poverty.

minimum_wage_1018
Cross-posted from my article in Everyday Feminism

Most of us have had a shitty job or two.

Maybe it was a job that barely paid, where the managers acted like tyrants, and the hours were inconvenient and unforgiving. Maybe in high school, we had to work at the local Gap to save up for gas money or after college, we waited tables to pay off student debt.

But how many of us have actually had to support ourselves fully – let alone support a family – on a job like this?

There are a lot of people out there who have to do just that.

They earn the minimum wage at a thankless job that is their only form of income.

And that income is extremely low.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour. That means $15,080 per year for a full-time worker.

Minimum wage varies depending on the state you live in, but most states have chosen to remain at the bottom of the wage scale.

Simply put, the minimum wage is too low and has been that way for far too long.

Why Is the Minimum Wage So Low?

In 2007, the federal minimum wage was raised for the first time after a full decade of stagnancy.

This increase was modest at best, and was completely incapable of measuring up to the intense increases in energy and food prices over that same ten years.

And since then?

The wage has remained fixed at this low rate.

Many workers employed at restaurants, nail salons, car washes, and other service jobs are even worse off.

Employers are allowed to legally pay these workers only the tipped minimum wage – a ridiculous sum of $2.13/hour. This wage has not been raised in twenty-two years.

Granted, the Fair Standards Labor Act (FSLA) mandates that if a worker’s total wages (tips plus the hourly $2.13) do not add up to the federal minimum, the employer must make up the difference.

But this is small consolation when all of the worker’s tip money has been used to close that gap.

Who Is a Typical Minimum Wage Worker?

The typical minimum wage worker is not who you’d think.

They are not, in fact, the stoner high school student looking to make extra cash or the aspiring post-grad working on their acting career.

They are the average low-income working adult, struggling to get by and provide for a family on a wage that is simply not high enough to pay for the expenses of modern day life.

In fact, 88% of minimum wage workers are over the age of 20, and astoundingly, more than one third are older than 40.

Sadder yet, these workers’ minimum wage salaries account for half of their total family income, on average. These are not side jobs used to earn vacation money. They are jobs that adult workers are trying to build their lives around.

Check out this infographic from the Economic Policy Institute for a visual portrayal of myths versus reality about minimum wage workers:

minwageEPI

How Challenging Is it to “Make It” on the Minimum Wage?

Let’s take that average full-time minimum wage worker income of $15k/year and $7.25/hour and dissect it a little bit.

Living in the most expensive US state, Hawaii, you would have to work 175 hours per week to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment on the minimum wage.

However, this a legitimate impossibility, as one week contains a total of only 168 hours.

Even in the much cheaper housing markets like Illinois – where the minimum wage is higher, at $8.25/hour, and the rents are lower – you’d have to work for a whopping 82 hours per week to be able to rent a two-bedroom.

So if you can’t house yourself, can you at least afford food?

According to the USDA, the cost of a healthy diet for a family of four ranges from $146-$289 per week. But even that lowest sum means buying the cheapest fruits and vegetables and doing considerable weekly planning as well as at-home preparation.

Many low-income working families do not have the luxury of free time to do these things.

And if both parents are working, who will take care of children? Daycare probably isn’t an option if you are living on a minimum wage salary.

Forget trying to raise a family, sending your kids to get an education with clothes that fit and supplies to do their homework. Forget living in a safe neighborhood with good schools. Forget fresh, healthy food.

Not to mention, minimum wage jobs almost never provide the necessary living wage benefits such as paid sick days, health care benefits, and retirement packages.

Make Minimum Wage? You Probably Need Welfare

For a minimum wage worker, it’s almost impossible to make it without relying on the assistance of federal programs.

When people use the age-old adage about how “lazy welfare recipients need to get a job,” they seem to forget the fact that many people who receive some form of government assistance are employed – but that the wages that they make are simply not sufficient to get by.

They are not “living wages.”

Huge corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s pay such low wages that their full-time workers live in poverty and are eligible to receive food assistance through SNAP, the program formerly known as food stamps.

What criticizers of welfare don’t (or pretend not to) realize is that the most effective way to reduce government spending on food stamps would be – you guessed it! – to raise the minimum wage.

If we want low-income people to work and be able to provide for themselves and their families without government assistance, we absolutely have to pay them a living wage.

Has the Minimum Wage Increased Appropriately Along with Inflation?

This is a simple answer: No.

In the year 1968, the minimum wage of $1.60/hour was substantial enough to lift a family of three out of poverty – even a family with only one income.

If the minimum wage had risen according to inflation over the years, it would be over $10 today.

And yet it remains stuck at a pitiful $7.25.

While the price of basic necessities like food and fuel has skyrocketed in recent years, minimum wage workers are trapped earning a wage that would have only been suitable decades ago.

Legislation on the Federal Minimum Wage

The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 would raise the nationwide mandated wage to $10.10/hour by the year 2015, by way of three separate 95 cent increases. It would also increase the tipped minimum wage to 70% of the full rate.

Starting in 2016, the wage would also be “indexed” for inflation – meaning that it would rise according to how much the cost of living increases in the years to come.

The act would give 30 million workers a much-needed raise. Fifty-six percent of these are low-income women and almost half are workers of color. It would also mean a substantial income increase for the parents of over 17 million children.

Additionally, increasing the tipped federal minimum wage would mean a substantial step forward in women’s pay equity, as 71% of tipped wage workers are female. This makes raising the minimum wage a feminist issue as well as a labor and poverty issue.

In short, passing the Fair Minimum Wage Act would create a substantially better chance for working families to actually support themselves on a minimum wage salary.

How to Help Raise the Minimum Wage

If you think this is a good idea, you aren’t alone.

Recent polls show that two thirds of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $10 and indexing it so that it increases with the cost of living.

Call your elected officials in Congress and ask them to support the Fair Minimum Wage Act.

Join the email listservs and campaigns of pro-worker groups like the National Employment Law Project , NELP’s Raise the Minimum Wage campaign, the Economic Policy Institute or the National Women’s Law Center, who focus attention on raising the federal minimum wage and addressing pay inequity.

And get active on Twitter using the hashtag #RaisetheWage to spread awareness.

How Much Political Support for Exists for the Minimum Wage?

Slowly but surely, things are beginning to change – whether it be extending the minimum wage to those who do not currently have it or enacting higher state wages across the country – but there are still many who oppose a minimum wage raise with hellfire, claiming that there are “better ways to help the poor” because of the assertion that a raise will hurt small businesses, lead to further unemployment and cause economic downturn.

Economic studies show that these assumptions are wrong.

By a 4-to-1 marginlead economists agree that raising the minimum wage does not reduce employment and that the economic benefit of doing so outweighs the cost.

Furthermore, more than two-thirds of small business owners support an increase of the minimum wage as well as indexing it for inflation.

In recent months, some strides forward have been made.

On September 17 of this year, the US Department of Labor announced the extension of overtime protections and minimum wage laws to home care workers.

After almost four decades of injustice, this monumental step will extend this crucial law to the two million American workers who care for the elderly and disabled in their homes. This measure is timely and much-needed, as home care assistance is one of the fastest-growing industries in our nation.

In another recent leap forward, the state of California is on track to pass the highest state minimum wage yet – $10/hour by the year 2016 (at present, the highest state wage can be found in Washington state at $9.19/hour). If enacted, this important increase is likely to lead the way for many other states to raise their minimum wages as well.

Raising the minimum wage will help boost the economy.

It will help families in need making a living wage and protect their children.

It will help people earn enough to not need government assistance to get by.

And it will help women and people of color.

To me, it’s a no-brainer.

Let’s #RaisetheWage – and let’s do it now. It’s been a long time coming.

ConsumerBased

It’s 10/10 and I support HR 1010 that will #RaisetheWage to $10.10 an hour. It’s #Timefor1010

Right now, the House is working on its version (HR 1010) of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, an incredibly important piece of legislation that will raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 in three steps and then index it for inflation henceforth.

Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would help over 30 million Americans by boosting their paychecks and giving them the ability to spend during the holidays…thus contributing to and growing our continually-weak economy.

But will they REALLY help the economy? Think about it for a minute.

Low-income people don’t save their money. They use it in order to get by and provide for their families. They don’t hide their money in off-shore accounts in the Caymans to avoid taxation. They don’t put their money in safe deposit box for a gloomy day.

What DO they do? Why, they spend it. They contribute to the consumer-based economy by purchasing. And in doing so, they create the need for the more products and new jobs.

Call Congress and let them know that you want the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 to pass – and that supporting HR 1010 is incremental to that success. Remind them that our workers need a living wage – so that they can spend, and so that our economy can prosper.

Show your support. Today is October 10th… that’s also 10/10. The bill number in the House is HR 1010. Don’t you think it’s far past #Timefor1010?

For much more detail on the minimum wage, look for my new Everyday Feminism article on the minimum wage, coming out later this week!

Family5

Amended from my latest Human Needs Report article.

Most people will need to take time away from their job to deal with an illness or care for a family member at some point in their career – and yet only eleven percent of workers in the United States receive employer-paid family and medical leave. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), new legislation sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), would provide all eligible employees with as much as twelve weeks of paid leave. This leave could be used to deal with their own serious illness or health condition; the illness of a spouse, domestic partner, parent or child; the birth or adoption of a child; or the injury of a family member in the military or other emergency arising from their deployment.

Currently, less than 40 percent of American workers are eligible for an employer-provided temporary disability program. Due to this, as well as the fact that so few American workers are eligible for employer-paid family leave, many people are forced to make an impossible choice: take unpaid leave to care for a sick loved one (or see to their own care) or continue to work to earn the money they need to keep their families afloat. The FAMILY Act would provide working families with a better option, believe advocacy groups like the National Partnership for Women & Families.

On Friday, September 27 Senator Gillibrand stated her support for the bill in a Huffington Post article. She made the case that the FAMILY Act is desperately needed in today’s changing economy, in which forty percent of households with minor children have a woman as the primary breadwinner. (Read more about women’s participation in the American workforce in this fact sheet from the National Women’s Law Center.)

Administered through the Social Security Administration, the FAMILY Act would insure workers for benefits equal to 66 percent of their monthly income (up to a capped monthly amount). Eligibility for the program would be determined by a worker’s eligibility for Social Security disability benefits.

The insurance program is paid for through payroll contributions from both employers and their workers, with an extremely low premium of two cents for every $10 in income. For most workers, this means less than $2.00/week.

Advocates are pushing for passage of the FAMILY Act as an improvement on 1993’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires businesses employing fifty or more workers to provide their employees with the option of taking up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for an infant less than one year of age, adopt a child, care for a sick family member, or tend to a personal illness.

Although the FMLA has protected millions of workers from losing their jobs, it only guarantees unpaid leave and fails to cover 40 percent of the US workforce. The FAMILY Act offers a much more comprehensive way of helping workers by providing millions of families as well as young, part-time and low wage workers with a much-needed safety net in times of great distress.

The legislation is expected to be introduced within the next few weeks, delayed temporarily because of the federal government shutdown. Advocates will continue to ramp up support for the bill in the coming weeks.

shaming
Photo from Voice of Russia

So, there is this disgusting, misogynist, homophobic loser website called Return of Kings, and their contributor “Tuthmosis” (oooh, big man, using a fake name and all!) wants to educate us all about how you can tell if a girl is a “slut” or not in his article “24 Signs She’s a Slut.” I won’t degrade my blog by linking to it and giving him more web traffic, but a few of the most memorable “signs” include:

  • Having a tattoo, non-ear piercing or dyed hair follicles
  • Using swear words
  • Having divorced parents
  • Not being ticklish (because, of course, that means that she has been HANDLED by a lot of men)
  • Calling herself a feminist

This is what he SHOULD have written, because this is what he really wants to say:

How to Tell if She’s a Slut

Is she female? Then, boom! You’ve got your answer – she’s a slut.

I also have a response post for Tuthmosis:

How to Tell if You’re a Clueless Asshole with Shit for Brains

Did you just call someone a slut based on your own personal chauvinistic views of gender roles and pathetic ideas about how women should behave? BOOM BOOM! You’ve got your answer! Automatic Asshole. (Congrats!)

I know it makes more sense to simply ignore sad misinformed losers like this dude and everyone who contributes to the ROK website (which, coincidentally, also features articles entitled “All Women Are Sheep” and “How to Control Your Woman’s Diet”). But there’s something about the way it was written that made me stop. And that worries me.

It’s just that I can imagine a large number of people I know – both men and women – reading this and not being bothered. Not that I think they would wholeheartedly agree with his 24 Signs of Sluttiness (some of which are just SO ridiculous it’s hard to believe he didn’t write the post as a parody) – but that they might not see how wrong it is foster this type of sexist, slut-shaming mentality in the first place.

I’ve said it once before, and I’ll say it again. STOP slut-shaming! Shaming women for their sexuality is counter-productive. It leads to lower self-esteem for everyone. It perpetuates archaic gender stereotypes. It takes away any semblance of free will and choice that women have in their sexual lives and unfairly labels them as either a Madonna or a Whore.

That’s why I’ve stopped using the word “slut” entirely.  If you ever hear me slip up, please notify me. It’s a word that serves no helpful purpose in our society and only works to keep misogyny alive and well.

I mean, really…if YOU aren’t comfortable with SOMEONE ELSE’s sexual behavior, shouldn’t you be looking at yourself and wondering why what they are doing makes you so freaked out?

Why can’t you just go about your life the way you want and let others do the same, as long as they aren’t causing harm to anyone?

Sounds like a personal problem to me.