How To Be a Nice Human

In our current {American} culture—where me-first attitudes and thinly veiled racism and sanctioned bullying have become commonplace—I frequently ponder how I can better prepare the Agents to be forces for good as they grow up. Here are some things I want them to know.

Line drawing of three human figures inside a heart shape.
  • Privilege is a thing. If you don’t understand it, learn. If you have it {spoiler alert: you do} acknowledge it. Then use it to help someone who doesn’t. 
  • You can care about more than one issue, problem, or group at a time. Compassion does not limit you to a dichotomy of caring about this at the expense of that. 
  • People always take precedence over symbols, rituals, or traditions. You can still respect the symbols, rituals, or traditions, but people always come first.
  • No one aspect of your personality defines you. Or anyone else. So don’t judge someone by the one thing you know about them.
  • In general support what you love rather than bash what you hate, but sometimes a little edginess is required and appropriate. It may be the only way to break through.
  • If you think someone else deserves less than what you have because  . . . reasons . . . you might want to evaluate those reasons.

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Yes; We Still Need Feminism

Just off the top of my head {I am sure there are more} these scenarios have happened in the past year or so:

  • Leaving Starbucks and I held the door open for the man behind me. He asked me if I also wanted to accompany him to his car and help him with anything else.
  • Visiting Hollywood and trying to take a picture of one of the stars on the walk of fame. I asked a man to move and he refused and called me a bitch.
  • Walking back to our hotel {just me and my oldest daughter} on one of our many Disneyland visits. Random man at a bus stop cat-called some things I won’t repeat here.
  • Told a photographer {at Walt Disney World, no less} we weren’t interested in a particular pose he suggested. He said we were difficult and “accidentally” misplaced several of our already paid for photos.
  • Someone going door-to-door trying to get us to switch to their cable/Internet package. I told him we weren’t interested in hearing his spiel; we were quite happy with our current choices. He yelled at me that I “owed” him to listen to what he had to say, then swore at me under his breath as he walked away.
  • Being on vacation and consciously choosing not leave the hotel room in the morning to pick up coffee {even though I am an early bird and craving some alone time}. Why? Because I would have to walk outside through a secluded walkway and across a parking lot in the pre-dawn darkness alone.
  • Being told I should smile more, ad infinitum. Because apparently that is what good girls do.

And people wonder why we lose our shit when it happens again and again—and yet again. 

Pink flowers against a pink background.

What exactly is feminism anyway?

When my now eleven-year-old daughter first asked me what feminism meant, I found that as with most things in life, the simplest explanation was the best. I told her that feminism is the belief that women deserve to be viewed as fully human and not treated as inferior to men in any capacity {socially, politically, economically, or personally}.

She was confused. Not that she did not understand the words I said, but legit perplexed that people don’t already accept this as fact and there needs to be a word for it.

Of course, she understands history. We’ve talked about what things were {are} like in this country and around the world, specifically regarding the rights of women and girls, both in the past and present. She’s mature enough that we can have a serious conversation about inequities. It’s not that she truly doesn’t get that the world treats some people better than others for reasons that are not reasons; she does.

But still, her gut reaction was how is this not just recognized as normal?

This is what I would like to tell her {and you}

Her humanity—her life—is just as important and valued as any other person on this earth. That all people deserve equal rights. That everyone—regardless of what gender they identify as—is worthy of dignity and respect. And we need to continue to strive to treat all humans decently and fairly because it’s the right thing to do.

You should never be made to feel bad by responding negatively to any query. If no is not an option, it was a demand not a question.

You are not responsible for another person’s feelings or reaction. You do not need to appease someone else at your own expense because it is “nicer” to do so. 

No is a perfectly acceptable answer to any question. Say yes if you want, no if not, and don’t feel bad about it.

Just because someone is trying to engage you does not mean you need to respond.

If you thought feminism was about burning bras and working versus staying at home, I would like to welcome you to reality.

Here’s the problem, though

Women and girls are culturally conditioned to be nice, to not ruffle feathers, to make things comfortable for those around them. It can be nearly impossible to rid yourself of this ingrained feeling. It becomes an automatic reply.

When we do speak up, often the reaction can be less than positive, or in some cases downright dangerous. 

What if the person cat-calling you is not just an asshat, but an asshat with a gun? What if the guy on the elevator gets grabby when you don’t politely laugh at his pathetic attempts at humor? Maybe the man walking quickly behind you is just trying to get to his car; maybe he’s trying to catch up to you.

So I remain torn between wanting to stand up for myself {and my girls} and give the person in question a big old STFU—and worrying that they are going to wind up being some freaking nut job that follows us or threatens violence. 

It is not a victim mentality or simply a matter of not having courage or being paranoid. We are not asking to have some special bubble of protection. We still need feminism so we can simply live out our lives without a constant internal debate of potential consequences.

Because those consequences are what women and girls in our society have to balance every. single. fucking. day. 

If you have never had to consider any of these options, you are probably a man. {And probably a straight, cisgender, white man at that, but that is a whole other post.}

So how do we fix this?

We hope like hell that we can raise our children differently. Talk to your daughters and your sons about it. Do not let another generation come to pass that thinks this it normal to treat people this way. It. is. not. normal.

Take the women and girls in your life seriously when they say no. Don’t second-guess their choices or view their rejection of your ideas as some sort of character flaw.

Stop misogynistic behavior  in its tracks when you are able and it is safe to do so. Defend other women and girls when you see it happening. Even if you don’t confront the perpetrator. Even if “all” you do is express a small sign of recognition and solidarity. It means something.

Most importantly, recognize that we still need feminism. It is not a thing of the past or an idea to be mocked. It is still an every day battle we need to wage. 

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Choice: Understanding the Other Side

During my freshman year of college, I joined the campus group Students for Life, because abortion was definitely the worst thing ever and needed to be stopped. We were going to make all those crazy pro-abortionists see reason and save all the babies. 

I had never been pregnant. I had never used birth control. I had never had sex. I had never made a decision more complicated than which morning to schedule chem lab. 

Yet I knew women who aborted must be awful and callous and selfish, and clearly I made better choices. So it would certainly be up to me and my pro-life cohorts to put an end to this evil. 

Dark blue sky meets light blue water.

It seems ridiculous to recount now, but this really, really bothered me. Like, I thought about it a lot. I worried about it almost obsessively. At one point I considered devoting a career to it {as in, getting into politics to effect changes and/or switching majors to journalism so I could do investigative reporting to share the “facts” on the issue}. 

Oh, and I was definitely going to write a strongly worded book on the matter. {I had outlines, y’all.}

By my junior year, however, I placed myself firmly in the pro-choice camp. What prompted my change of heart was the simplest thing: I went to a debate/forum to basically cheer on “my” side, and as I listened intently to the “other” side {with the intention of planning the perfect retort, of course} it occurred to me—they were doing more to help my cause than I was.

These pro-choice folks whom I thought were the enemy—they were doing more to reduce the number of abortions than anyone I had ever met in the pro-life crowd. They were disseminating accurate information, talking about birth control, advocating for better sex education, and {most importantly} actually listening to women. With the exception of allowing abortions to occur “in the meantime,” they wanted everything I wanted, and were doing more to make it happen. I had it all wrong.

I never forgot that sobering moment, and I often think of this epiphany when I think I have all the answers other people need.

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