Some Thoughts on the State of American Politics

Sometimes I have thoughts; a lot of them. When that happens, I like to write a post made up of several (relatively) short mini-posts. I might expand on them later (okay, will definitely expand on at least one of them later) but for now, here goes.

One of the primary goals I have for this space is to create within it a resource center where you can turn if there's something you don't understand, want to learn more about, or if you want to get involved but don't know where to begin. I'm still working on building a list of links, articles, blogs, and individuals to be included in this resource center, but if you have any suggestions for something or someone to include, please let me know in the comments!

Let me be clear: as a former communications and journalism student who loves reading and writing, word choice is important to me. I firmly believe that the words we use matter and can't stand when parents tell children who are being bullied that "sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me." Words do hurt, and oftentimes that's the goal. If words didn't have meaning, we wouldn't use them; we wouldn't be able to communicate, at least not verbally. That said, there comes a point where the specific dictionary definition of something doesn't tell the full story. I'm looking at you, white people who insist they're the victims of racism because Merriam-Webster says so. 

Lately, a lot of people have been comparing Trump to Hitler; not because he has committed, or even spoken about genocide, but because his actions now, at the start of his presidency can be very easily aligned with the actions Hitler took at the start of his rise to power. I'm not saying these comparisons are entirely without fault; as a society, we have a tendency to compare people and things we don't like to Hitler. Hell, feminists and people who like grammar are regularly referred to as "nazis." So obviously there's a point where comparing the two leaders is a trigger response to something you don't like or agree with. But with Trump - a man who recently called the majority of news media outlets an enemy of the state, who is doing everything in his power to demonize people of color and immigrants, and whose supporters have been known to give him the Nazi salute and have been committing more and more hate crimes against Jewish and Muslim citizens - the comparison isn't entirely unwarranted. There are undeniably similarities between Hitler and Trump.

That's not to suggest that a couple of years from now he'll be calling for mass genocide. I honestly don't believe it will go that far, and it would be wildly offensive to survivors of the Holocaust to suggest that's where we're headed. But frankly, lecturing people on the history of World War II or on the dictionary-definition-differences between Nazis and the Alt-Right seems to me a lot like derailing. There's an important conversation going on here, and it isn't about the ideological reasons behind why the Nazis are hateful and violent vs why the Alt-Right is hateful and violent.

Over the last several weeks, I've noticed a lot of articles, social media posts, and think pieces focused on the idea that Trump has a mental illness (and even videos and articles insisting that racism in general is a mental illness). At first, I didn't pay much attention to it because I was focused on larger issues than how people chose to categorize Trump's racism, xenophobia, and sexism. But as I read more and more articles that essentially excuse his behavior on the basis of "he needs a therapist," I got angry.

People suffering from mental illnesses already face an indescribable level of difficulty in having their illness recognized, without the added problem of taking responsibility for Trump's actions. The undeniable stigma surrounding mental illness aside though, diagnosing Trump with a mental illness gives him a built-in excuse to continue treating anyone who isn't white, male, able-bodied, straight, and well-off financially as "less than." Men like Trump are a very small demographic in this country, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that they are the only demographic Trump and his supporters believe truly matter. Labeling Trump's actions and words as "mental illness" provides an excuse not only for him, but for his violent and hateful supporters. It provides protection where there shouldn't be one.

Let me be clear: hate is not a mental illness. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, and the litany of hateful messages directed at other groups, are not symptoms of any mental illness. They are symptoms of a hateful, angry person who has never tried to do any better. They are symptoms of a society that teaches and excuses racially and sexually motivated crimes while simultaneously criminalizing those people who try to fight back (for example, the wide-ranging set of excuses for police brutality, while Black Lives Matter protestors are dismissed as overly violent and their actions inexcusable).

Ultimately, perhaps Trump is mentally ill. I'm not going to pretend to hold an understanding of his health or mental state. But if he is, the wide-reaching hate he has personally exhibited and which he has brought out in millions of Americans is not a symptom of that. Pretending that his actions are symptoms is not helpful to anyone except Trump. The only result of this discussion is a level of sympathy and understanding which Trump and his supporters neither need nor deserve.

In the battle between oppressed and oppressor, I am always going to be on the side of the oppressed. That's not to say that minority groups can do no wrong, or that every form of protest is inherently okay. Violent protests are obviously not okay, and I'm not going to suggest they are. Setting fire to public buildings and stores, attacking police officers, burning flags...those things are unacceptable.

But I also know what led us to this point. I know that there is a reason protesters are as angry as they are right now, and I'm not going to pretend their actions exist in a vacuum. I'm not going to pretend they were unprovoked or that unequally horrendous crimes haven't been perpetrated against them.

Fighting over what protestors do and don't have the right to do is not getting us anywhere. Perhaps instead of focusing on what a small group of protestors did that was unacceptable, we should be focusing on the larger reason why they are protesting in the first place. Perhaps instead of excusing Trump voters on the basis of "these violent protests are why people voted for him," we should be discussing and working to fix what has been broken in this country for so long.

My Top 5 Feminist Reads

It's no secret that I love both books and feminism; in fact, those two topics are largely the basis of this blog. But I've only dipped my toes into the feminist genre of books more recently. In the past, when I thought of "feminist" books, I thought of highly theoretical textbooks with a great many quotes and statistics that I would find boring and difficult to get through. Don't get me wrong - I'm sure there are a great many books in the genre that fit that description, if that's what you enjoy. Personally though, I was happy to learn that the idea in my mind didn't describe every feminist book out there. Since learning that, I've read a ton of books both on the subject of feminism and/or which have overt feminist themes. Today I want to suggest a few of my favorites if you're thinking of giving the genre a chance.

It's been a couple of years since I read Bad Feminist, but it always comes to mind when I try to think of my favorite feminist books. If there's one thing we can all relate to, it's Roxane Gay's writings about trying - and sometimes failing - to be the best feminist we can be. None of us are perfect, but that doesn't mean we can't work hard to do better.

I finished this book over the course of about an hour one day, and kept texting my cousin the entire time I was reading it. The Vagina Monologues is, in case you haven't already read the book or seen the play, a compilation of different women's stories. I guess part of my love of this book is, when else have you ever seen/heard women talk openly about their vaginas?

I've had this book sitting on my shelf for at least a year now, but I just read it for the first time last month. And let me tell you, I can't believe I waited that long to read it. The Handmaid's Tale falls under one of my favorite genres: dystopian, and focuses on a future where women are treated secondary to men, but within a class system that places some women higher up than others. The story is told by a woman, Ofred, at the bottom of that system. Luckily, Hulu is releasing a series based on the book this April, so if you're going to read The Handmaid's Tale, make sure you do it soon.

Shrill is a collection of essays, a memoir format I absolutely adore no matter what the subject matter. I read this book a couple of months ago, and could not have been more in love with it. Lindy West's writing is hilarious, and the stories she tells are both relatable and insightful.

Written by Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey is a collection of poetry broken into sections on hurting, loving, breaking, and healing. Because Kaur's poems are short - often fewer than five lines each - this collection is a quick read. In Kaur's words, Milk and Honey "is the journey of surviving through poetry."

4 Books to Help You Think and Recharge

I wrote on Tuesday about how important it is to actively get involved in politics and the world around you when fighting for your feminism. But just as important as action, is self-care. Fighting a government and a society that both seem focused solely on helping those people who are already in a place of privilege can be exhausting, and it's important to make sure you're taking care of yourself. One way I've always been able to disconnect and recharge is by reading, and there are some books that make that easier than others.

This collection of poetry from Sarah Kay is absolutely beautiful. Maybe I'm biased because admittedly, I've always adored Kay's poetry (If you haven't already, go listen to "If I Should Have a Daughter" right now. I'll wait). The poems Kay included in this collection are beautiful, inspiring, and hard to put down, even if you're not usually a fan of poetry. And if you're looking for another incredible collection when you're finished with No Matter the Wreckage, I also loved Today Means Amen by Sierra DeMulder.

I just finished Funny in Farsi, by Firoozeh Dumas a couple of weeks ago, and it was such an easier read than I was anticipating. Dumas immigrated to America as a child and writes in an easy, funny, and eloquent way about her life first in Iran and then in California (then in Iran again...and then in California again). I've always loved memoirs, but Funny in Farsi is particularly relevant right now given the political climate in the United States. If you're looking for something that will help you to unwind and laugh while also learning, this is the perfect book.

I read We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for the first time over a year ago, but it's always stuck with me; and when I need a reminder of why I'm a feminist, or just that I'm not alone, I pick it back up and read through it again. The small book is based on Adichie's TedX talk from 2012 so if you're not a big reader, give that a listen. Of course, I suggest doing both...

I've always found Neil Gaiman's writing a tad difficult to get into; but once I do, I'm always glad. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was one of the first things I read by him, and I absolutely adored it. This book would likely be classified as a short story but it's about 200 pages, so it's not too short. I've always loved magical realism, which is exactly how I would describe...well...everything Gaiman writes, this book included.

On Getting (and Staying) Involved

I'll be honest here: I'm a lazy feminist.

I guess feminism has always been a part of my ideology, but I didn't discover the name for it until sometime in college. Since then, I've become increasingly outspoken both in my writing and with friends and family. I've blogged, written articles for web-based publications, and relentlessly tweeted my political frustrations. What I haven't done is participate in any protests, joined any local groups, contacted my political leaders, or taken any specific actions towards making my ideals a reality. In fact, the Philadelphia-based Women's March on Washington that took place on January 21 was the first protest I've ever taken part in; and it wasn't until Trump enacted a ban on travel coming from seven Middle Eastern countries that I ever contacted my political representatives regarding...well...anything. I've always figured that my physical presence was irrelevant and, because of my anxiety, have talked myself out of participating in any real way.

This might have been okay in the past (I say "might" because, as a straight white woman, my inaction hasn't ever impacted me directly; but that doesn't mean it hasn't been problematic). But with the United States facing a political situation where we learn of several new unconstitutional Executive Orders each week from a president who can only be described as wildly incompetent, I (and the rest of the country) can't afford to be silent anymore.

That said, I know that participating can be daunting, confusing, and frankly, unclear. For someone who has never gotten involved before, it can be hard to know where and how to begin. Luckily, social media and print journalism has done a fantastic job of showing us exactly where and how to show up; so today, I want to share a few of those ideas and suggestions.

(This post is heavy on links. That's because I am by no means a wealth of information on this subject, and I'm still learning how to get involved. Where I don't have the answer, I defer to those who do)

I mentioned above that I (and my parents) attended the Women's March on Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago. This was a march that drew crowds of about 3 million people throughout the United States, and millions more throughout the world with people in more than 60 countries marching in solidarity. The size of this march was wildly unprecedented. In fact, crowds at the Women's March were three times the size of crowds at Trump's inauguration the day before, and comprised the largest inauguration-related protest in American history! That's crazy to think about, but it also means that we are capable of getting involved. So why weren't similarly-sized crowds found at all the Black Lives Matters protests over the past several years? Why weren't we protesting before we reached a point where Trump was able to sit comfortably in the Oval Office? I say "we" because I am included in this; because while people of color marched throughout my city and others, I sat comfortable in my room tweeting from the safety of my laptop.

This can't be the last time I, or anyone else gets involved. We need to continue to march every time we are called over the next four years and beyond. Our voices do make a difference if we demand they be heard.

This is something I just did for the first time a couple of weeks ago and let me be honest: I was nervous, my voice was probably shaking, and I had to read off of a script I wrote for myself to avoid saying "uhm" too much. But when I hung up, I was glad I'd done it. I received a response (via email) a couple of days later which specifically addressed every point in the voicemail I had left. Granted, the email basically said "I hear you, but I don't care and will continue to support Trump anyway," but I'd made my voice heard. The more of us who do that, who reach out to our representatives and reiterate how unacceptable this all is, the more likely they are to listen to us and do something differently.

And if you're like me - nervous and with no idea how to articulate your fears and anger in a way befitting a conversation with a political representative - there are plenty of amazing activists and news sites prepared for just that. If you need to, you can write down what you want to say (I typed it up on Evernote and read off of my computer screen) or borrow ideas from one of the great articles and reference pages I linked above. Many representatives provide email addresses so that if making a phone call isn't something you can handle, you can still make yourself heard. Do what you need to do; just do something.

This isn't an option for everyone, and I'm certainly not talking about hundreds of dollars. But right now is a good time to consider donating however much you're able - even if it's $5 a month - to an organization you support. For me, that means Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, but there are literally hundreds of other options, big and small, local and macro that you can choose from. If donating money isn't an option for you, and I know it's not for everyone, consider donating your time to a nearby organization, charity, or shelter.

Above all, make sure you're listening to people in a position of less privilege than you. Trump and co. have spent the last two and a half weeks since his inauguration dumping everything they can possibly think of on us, and that's absolutely intentional. It's meant to make it hard for us to focus on any one act of discrimination. It's meant to separate us into factions focused on what's most likely to impact us and our lives. Don't let it work. You may not be able to get involved everywhere, with every act of resistance, and that's okay! But make sure that while you're fighting for what's most important to you, you're making time to listen to what's most important to others, and to keep yourself informed of what changes from day to day.

Starting Over

I'm back!

And, well, it's been a while. I'm not sure where to begin, but I do know where I want this blog to end up. I want to start a conversation about feminism, current events, and some really great books I get to read along the way. I have so much I want to say, but right now I'm struggling with how to say it.

The last several months in the United States have been a whirlwind, and most of it has been terrifying. But out of that has come a resistance that I'm proud to be a part of, a resistance that is never going to stay silent again. And that's where (hopefully) Feministerly comes in. I guess you could call this a lifestyle blog, but you won't find brunch recaps or weekly round-ups here. Instead, you'll find personal essays about feminism, current events and politics, books I've been reading, and blogging. You'll find my opinion - an abundance of it. And of course, there will be cats, succulents, and Netflix recommendations thrown in for good measure.

The writing I've done since I abandoned She is Fierce two years ago can't really be compared to the writing I want to bring to this blog. I'm still working on re-finding my voice, but I promise I'll get there if you're willing to stick with me.
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