Category Archives: Social Justice & Equality

Power of Being a Girl 2017

Power of Being a Girl

YWCA Niagara is hosting it’s 11th Annual Power of Being a Girl conference within the region.
Many events lose interest of the community and participants after that many years, but this conference remains popular. Why? Maybe it has to do with the powerful impact it has on the grade 10 girls from all over the region who participate.

Throughout the years, the event has touched many lives. One of the speakers in previous years explained that at one of the conferences, some of the girls came up to her individually to self-disclose issues they have felt including thoughts of suicide and the difference the day had made to them. 12 girls that day felt empowered enough to find positives in their lives, things to look forward to as well as to speak about it. That’s some of the differences these events can make.

As huge a success as that story is, Power of Being a Girl has also inspired girls to discuss body image issues, negative feelings of loneliness. The discomfort most girls face during the ups and downs of teenage years. Some students have said:

“I felt alone and isolated. I was living in everyone’s shadow,” she said of the difficulties she once had but has since overcome. “Now I want to help others get out of the shadow and let their light shine.”  – St. Catharines Standard

More participants said:

“Your skin is the costume. Your personality is the beauty,” she says.

“If you keep trying to be what society thinks is perfect, you’ll never experience peace.

“You’re always chasing.” – St.Catharines Standard

The conference gives girls a safe place where they can check in with themselves and realize they are not alone in their feelings. They have the chance to ban together and encourage confidence in each other.

“At first, I was really nervous. And then I realized, we’re all girls here,”

“Everyone has flaws. They have to learn to love those flaws. They have to learn to love themselves.”

“Really, really good. Made me proud to be a woman.”

“My favourite part was knowing that I’m worth something and finding strengths I never thought I had.”

This year’s conference speaks to healthy relationships. We have no idea what’s truly in store for these participants in terms of revelations but we sure look forward to exploring them. If it’s anything like the last ten years, it will be a huge success, change the lives of so many.

#POBG2017

Make A Self Care Resolution

Feeling anxious? Down? Overwhelmed or even angry? I get it. We’re a few weeks into the New Year and the weather and light seem to be in perpetual November gloom. There’s no snow to brighten things here in Niagara, and spring is by no means just around the corner. Maybe you have bills piling up and no way to take care of them. Or you’re scared and raging that your neighbour next door is installing an angry billionaire as president, because, you know, he says he cares about the little guy. Or perhaps you are grieving or hurting from a loss. You might just be bone tired of slogging through life. I just want to say it won’t always feel this way.

I just want to say it won’t always feel this way.

It might feel worse, yet. But however wretched you feel, you feel. And it’s okay to feel miserable. It’s even okay to retreat a bit and rest away from the world.

But not forever. You don’t deserve interminable torment. If you feel like you can’t go on, give yourself permission to reach out and ask for help. Try a helpline, a doctor, a trained counsellor, or a friend. Join a group. Talk to someone. Getting help for your hurt is a radical act of self love.

If your pain is mild and just the temporary or situational bruises of life, resolve to look after yourself in little ways that give you joy: Go for a walk and look for ragged beauty (let’s face it, it’s dreary now and that may be the only beauty we can find); eat some ice cream; have a nap; write a letter; paint your nails; crank a tune and sing; volunteer; say “I love you” (doesn’t have to be in words and it doesn’t have to be to a human).

 

Let’s Do Something, Not Nothing

101 Men: An Innovative Approach to Ending Gender Violence

By Inspectable Todd Gilmore

November 18th, 2016, St Catharines, Ontario.

Let’s Do Something, Not Nothing.

If this event was called Men 101 it might be a training event for women to better understand why some men exhibit harmful behaviour towards women. We learned during the training that women have always taken a leadership role in ending gender violence so that’s an event that’s probably already occurred many times over. Women’s leadership on this issue was easy to see at the event itself. Behind almost all the display tables of community organizations that work to end gender violence, stood a woman. As we also found out during the training, if this event was called Men 101 it could realistically be a training program that explains why not enough is being done by men to end gender violence even after men participate in this training.

I believe the group of men I was with at 101 Men Event in St Catharines, Ontario will show courage and do something, not nothing.

I’ll start with this article.

Let’s be clear the main problem when it comes to gender violence is men abusing women.  This abuse can take a number of forms including verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual. To end gender violence we learned this has to be a “men’s issue” and men in positions of power and influence, like the men with me at the 101 Men Event, need to step up. And punch up, not down, if required.

We learned that the best place to influence or intervene is by attacking language, attitudes, beliefs, and aspects of our culture that support abusive behaviour towards women or make it seem acceptable. By the time the gender violence occurs it’s too late and we’ve missed a ton of opportunities to address the root causes of gender violence that are so pervasive around us. It can be as simple as using active instead of passive language. Passive language says “how many women were raped?” while active language says “how many men raped women?”. You can easily see that using passive language takes men out of the equation when the opposite should occur and the men involved should be held accountable.

“Passive language takes men out of the equation.”

General Marsden of the Australian military said it best when he made a statement of action while dealing with inappropriate men’s behaviour in his own organization.  He said “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

On Friday November 18th, 2016 I spent 8 hours with 101 Men, community leaders from across Niagara and the surrounding regions who were there because they want to take action. I saw an outstanding group of men who were there to make a change, to not walk past, to take ownership of a men’s issue and to create higher standards in their sphere of influence in order counter gender violence.

Join me in doing something, not nothing.

(Insp Todd Gilmore, OIC RCMP HNRD)

What Goes On Behind Closed Doors

Everyone knows someone who has been, or is being abused. It may even be yourself. The problem is that nobody likes to talk about such a horrible subject. Everyone wants to believe that it will never happen to them. But the truth is if you were to look around at the people you know, there’s at least one person who is suffering in silence.

Abuse comes in many forms and may be difficult to spot at first glance. The person who is being subjected to abuse will often lie or cover up what is happening to them because they are ashamed or embarrassed.  They often live in fear and believe that they are helpless to do anything to stop the abuse. Sometimes they have been beaten down so badly that they can’t see a way out.

I know a few women who are in unhealthy relationships, but one stands out more clearly than the others.  She is someone I love very much and it kills me to watch her being treated so horribly. To the outsider it seems like she lives a privileged life. She has been married over 30 years to a successful businessman who earns a six-figure income.  They have a beautiful large home on the outskirts of town with a swimming pool and hot tub. They both drive new cars and go on vacation to the Caribbean every winter.  It looks like she’s living the dream.  But, appearances can be deceiving!  She is married to a man who controls every aspect of her life, from the way she cooks to the correct way she’s expected to stack things in the fridge and cupboards.  He decides when and where she can drive her car.  He has driven away every single one of her friends with his rude comments and obnoxious behaviour.  He has worn her down to a shell of her former self.  He undermines her confidence and tells her she isn’t capable of doing anything without his input and permission. He barks orders at her and monitors her every movement.  He talks down to her and degrades her publicly.  He beat her dog every time it did anything he perceived as being disobedient. He has had multiple affairs and she finds evidence of the gifts he buys for other women.  He hides money from her and closed their joint bank account.  He comes and goes as he pleases and never offers an explanation for his whereabouts.   He talks to her like she’s a child and treats her like an object that he owns.

We were both married in the same year to the same kind of man. Except that I left after 10 years of abuse and heartache. I left with nothing but my children and my sanity. It wasn’t always easy but I have never regretted leaving. I’ve put myself through school multiple times, I’ve travelled and experienced so many opportunities that life has to offer.  I wasn’t able to live in a big fancy house but at the end of the day I could come home with my children and lock the door behind me knowing that there was no one there to ridicule and belittle me.  I was free to make choices and learn through my mistakes without someone degrading me.  I didn’t know what life held for me when I left but I knew anything was better than living with someone who enjoyed suffocating the life out of me.

I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to get my friend to understand that she has so much more power than she’s aware of. I’ve tried to explain to her that she holds the cards to her future and that she has more power than she realizes.  She would never be destitute because he would have to give her a very generous settlement, in spite of his underhanded ways.  And yet, she still feels trapped in her golden cage.  It should be illegal for someone to abuse their spouse but until she’s ready to make a move, all I can do is offer her unconditional love and support.

If the day ever comes that she finds the strength to detach herself from this selfish, arrogant, abusive sociopath I will be there to help her pick up the pieces of her life.

Year End Motivation: Move Forward, Not Backward

“Don’t agonize, organize”

Florynce “Flo” Kennedy was known, among other things, for her biting wit, intelligence, and ability to incite and organize protest in the 1960s and 1970s civil rights and feminist movements. Among her famous quotes is the above, and this:

“I’m just a loud-mouthed middle-aged colored lady with a fused spine and three feet of intestines missing and a lot of people think I’m crazy. Maybe you do too, but I never stop to wonder why I’m not like other people. The mystery to me is why more people aren’t like me.”

The story is that this is what she said after she organized a mass public pissing (erm, urination) at Harvard university in 1973, to protest the lack of female bathrooms.
died in 2000, but her words live on, and so should her methods. I kind of like her idea of “making noise” and “rattling your cage door”. This past year has battered a lot of people emotionally. In the grander scheme, it has been another year of war and political turbulence, where we’ve seen the relentless pummelling of parts of Syria and the most disheartening return to fear and loathing in politics with the U.S. presidential election. In Niagara, it has been another year of economic stagnation that presents challenges for individuals living on the edge and the organizations (such as the YWCA) that work on their behalf.

What Progress?

Many moons ago, when I was in university, I recall a political philosophy professor telling my class he wasn’t so sure about human “progress”. He was sure about scientific progress, and ever so grateful for advances in medical technology, but progress in human nature? That is what he wanted us to read on about, ponder, and determine for ourselves. It is, for me, a nagging doubt that surfaces in times of strife or crisis. Are we better humans than our ancestors? Despite our supposed sophistication, have we learned anything?

The hind-end of 2016 left a lot of people anxious about the future and fearing a resurgence of racist and sexist ideals from the past. In North America, Trump’s ascendency seemed to embolden a lot of haters. In the U.K. and Europe, far-right ideas seemed to drown-out good-will and love. A lot of people were and are demoralized. Have we really forgotten our history and the brutal, blood-soaked lessons of the past? Are we moving into a new age of dystopian futility where people believe hate is right and good? Is this our era of De-Enlightenment?

I hope not. I don’t want to go there. And I’ve got work to do (with others) to help ensure we don’t. Flo Kennedy advocated grand acts of rebellion, but just as importantly, small acts of resistance, to bring about change. She clearly had faith in human progress and believed in moving forward. As she said:

“the biggest sin is sitting on your ass.”

Eyes of Love

What if we looked at others through eyes that could only see the good in them? What would our world be like? What would our daily life be like? Could the way we see others influence our every interaction?

At first I was afraid. When I would see someone who looked a little different than me, I would start to notice their imperfections, I would look at their facial deformities or their lack of responsiveness and awareness and I would, for a brief moment, feel bad for them. I would look at people with missing limbs or bones and feel sorry for them. I would look at someone who had no “quality of life” and wonder, is this kind of life really worth living?

It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize that this fear was something very deeply rooted in me that was very wrong. This fear, was more that I was shy and I didn’t always know what to say. It was more an ugly part of myself that thought beauty and the quality of the life we live was based on how we look and how close to perfect we are.

It is these very people that I looked at, and learned how to interact with, that taught me some of the most valuable lessons of my life. The most important parts of my personality. The best qualities of myself that I could ever hope for. It is the people that I was able to support that showed me what compassion looks like. Showed me what love looks like. Showed me what acceptance is. Showed me, a girl who thought she was kind, gentle, patient…what kindness, gentleness, and patience actually is.

It is the very people that I looked at and felt sorry for that opened my heart to the idea that I was very blessed to have the opportunity to even communicate with the people that I supported. That I was so very fortunate to be a part of their lives, a part of their care, a part of their success, their failure, their joy, and their sadness. I didn’t include them, they included me.

They included me in ways that I could not have ever asked for. I’ve looked into the eyes of people and I have sometimes thought, is what I’m doing even worth it? Do they even know that I’m here? Who I am? They can’t communicate with me, they barely even look in my direction, what could I possibly be doing to benefit them? To make their quality of life better?

It turns out that they were making my quality of life better. With one smile, with one laugh, with one gentle touch of the hand, with one brief second of eye contact; to remind me that, they are here, they are human, they are a valuable life. It may seem like they have limited functional abilities, but they see you, and they know that you care for them.

They know that you include them. They know that their life matters to you. They know that you will not be another person who looks at them and doesn’t see them. Who looks at them and doesn’t know how to communicate or interact with them. They know that you will try and fail at being good at this and they will appreciate when you finally let go of your own insecurities and just see them for who they are. A beautiful creation worthy of love and belonging. A beautiful soul within a body that was made to look different, but perfect just the same.

They will know that you see them through eyes of love for all people. How beautiful it is to connect and relate to a person despite our differences. The greatest feeling I’ve experienced might just be this. A heart filled with joy, certain, that it has deeply connected with another heart, through eyes of love.

Question of the Month – Inclusiveness

In recent news, there has been a devastating display and promotion of exclusivity – people targeting minority groups with hate, promoting racism, and suggesting that inequality is just. This month, we tackle the question, Why are people afraid of inclusiveness and diversity? 

Kaitlyn

Why must we fear inclusion?
Why do we foster hate?
Why do we blame those oppressed
for the oppression we create?

Diversity is Canada’s strength,
but at each turn, we try and deny the Other
the same status as us at the table,
refusing to break bread together.

We chant Progress! Progress! Progress!
As we continue to work toward a future
that keeps tight reigns on the past;
Don’t rip the status quo for we can’t amend the suture!

Our verbiage gives us away as
to love becomes to tolerate
and action reduced still to a noun:
tolerance. Some claim it’s fate…

That a system built to oppress,
built to deny, to bully, to kill, to silence
is here because we worked for it fairly
and because human nature is violence.

Those differently abled, a rainbow of gender,
of skin tone, those who come to dinner
with different experiences and different voices
somehow deserve a smaller table, deserve to grow thinner.

We build a wall so we cannot hear their voices
The stories run into one another, too much the same
The problems too repetitious, too much proof
that we’re the ones to blame.

“The Problem,” we cry, “lies not with Us!”
When we are denied opportunity, justice,
we may take up the call that we have not
been provided for – trust us.

Yet, when millions of sufferers cry for help
– we have no problem pointing out,
That perhaps they have played their hand
with error, and they deserve to go without.

Or that somehow despite all the facts
that we are the ones who sit with power,
We have been screwed over by them
a visible minority, a lower class turned sour.

When we wish to exclude, the Other
suddenly has ability to control a nation.
When we cannot shoulder responsibility,
do we seek out the aberration.

It’s not the rich evading taxes through loopholes
not to mention the hidden offshore accounts.
It’s not the corporations syphoning billions
in a gluttonous attempt to heap amounts

of our resources away, keeping them inaccessible
to First Nations Peoples in a First World Country.
It can’t be the fact that we don’t earn a living wage
even though CEOs make 147 times as much as their lowest paid employee.

Our problems cannot be blamed on the fact we own too much stuff,
That we’re convinced our happiness can be bought with the newest shoes.
It’s certainly not an oil company lobbying for a 21st century genocide
all in the name of profit – but now I just sing the blues.

We would far prefer to blame the women
who won’t cooperate in being likable.
Or the people of colour demanding that
their lives could possibly matter.

Our fear is distilled to visible minorities
with NO. VISIBLE. POWER.
When they dare share their voices,
we feel threatened and cower.

When what we should do is
learn about FEAR.
Where does it come from,
and why don’t I know what’s really going on here?

We should learn about solutions to poverty,
to homelessness, to sexism and racism.
We should have the education we claim to hold,
we should move from ignorance to activism.

Stop the useless fear and worry,
open your hearts to love.
Learn about all Others
Inclusiveness here and now, not below above.

Ones Without Power will not take your job,
They’re not out to take your material possessions,
They won’t ransack your house or even kill you.
Disregard those false impressions!

If you have to rage at all, direct your anger
with more meaning.
Look at who really controls your life
Change the false belief to which you’re leaning.

Have courage to change the world.
Be inclusive and be kind.
Hard to believe as it is,
It starts with changing your mind.

Find peace in your own home.
Love your fellow human being.
You need not fear inclusiveness.
Leave fear behind – it’s freeing.

Youth are Leading

I’ve struggled writing this piece. In fact, I started it about five times. Each time, my intro sounded lame. Then I would try a different approach. And then that would feel disingenuous or half-cocked, or again, lame. Realizing I wasn’t going to whip this off, I decided to examine why the subject of youth leadership was difficult for me to write about. The only thing I could come up with was that I wasn’t as in tune with youth as I thought I was. It’s like I suddenly realized I was kind of, well, old-er-ish. Or if not that, I realized that I’d turned the corner from “everyone is my contemporary or older”, to “my god, the young folk have taken over…and it is a good thing indeed.”

Following Breadcrumbs of the Young

I think I first realized this when I began following Instagram profiles of young people (I feel at times that I should be using the term “youngins” to point to my ignorance, and I also feel that I should put a disclaimer in here: I’m not quite sure if “profiles” is the right term…Instagram sites? Feeds? See how I am just reinforcing my old-er-ish status here?) What I mean to say is, I followed quite a few young people before realizing that they were young people. I followed because I was interested in what they had to say, the way I follow my contemporaries, or older writers, performers, and politicians because I was and am interested in what they have to say. I was following these feminist profiles/feeds, that had lovely, thoughtful, and brilliant posts. As is the way with social media, these profiles lead me to follow others. Before I knew it, I was reading, and feeling a wee bit like a creeper, the feed of a 15-year-old who is, quite frankly, my new role model. And the thing is, she is exceptional, but seemingly not so much beyond her contemporaries. Believe me, my natural suspicion made me try to find some fault (beyond her obvious class and race privilege, but crikey, she’s even aware and acknowledges those!) She’s part of a clever cohort of young leaders who are bringing their brands of feminist leadership to the fore. I feel this way about pretty much every young woman I know and meet nowadays.

A New, New Wave

By the way, the 15-year-old that I follow is actress Rowan Blanchard. But, I didn’t know she was an actress until I Googled her name for this piece (or 15 for that matter, although I knew she was young). I’d been reading her posts for a few years before learning she was a Disney star. Seriously. A Disney kid. A few weeks ago, she posted this on her definition of feminism (it isn’t her writing, but she borrowed it): “These days, I feel as though feminism must interrogate gender itself with an awareness of its myriad social intersections. What does it mean to be a woman, and why? Who gets to decide what a woman is? If one woman is different from another woman, then what unites them as women? White, cis gender women have an institutional history as so-called feminists—but their liberation has proven tenuous, irrelevant, or violent to millions of other women. When experience can vary so radically from woman to woman, is there any point in pursuing a single definition of feminism?”

Wow.

Dullard History

When I was 15, I’m pretty sure I had what could be described as a somewhat protofeminist consciousness, to coin a term for my own semi-conscious mind and circumstances. I had an insular Catholic upbringing, in a parish community with the most infamous sexual predator priest in 20th Century southwestern Ontario. I think those circumstances and others helped me follow the breadcrumbs to full-on feminism. But it took me years of epiphanies and banging my head against the wall to learn what Rowan Blanchard knows already. Earlier this month, she posted a photo of her holding a #girlpossible campaign poster that said: “Equality is possible when…we recognize our privileges and use them to help other people.”

Okay, minor aside here, the #girlpossible campaign is a Barneys NY, department store nod to the United Nations International Day of the Girl. And yes, Barneys is a place where those dripping with privilege do their conspicuous consumption (confession: I may have purchased a Le Labo body cream at Barneys at some point in my life) but hey, the campaign is a lot more of something than nothing. And Rowan’s post was a world more self-aware than some of the other posts ( the “Anything is possible when you…map a plan to achieve your goals” post, or billionaire daughter and entrepreneur Hannah Bronfman’s contribution: “Anything is possible when…you work hard enough.” Sigh, she means well.) I think awareness is one of the most impressive things about many young feminist leaders today. Most have a firm understanding of intersectionality and an equally firm commitment to using their positions and privilege to change the world and level the playing field.

Using Power to Change

I don’t remember this being a big thing when I was young. It’s likely that I was just oblivious and unaware. There were probably more of the smaller gestures of solidarity and leadership that made it possible to live life and not be suffocated. I thought about this recently while working on a children’s book on Jazz Jennings, the young transgender activist and reality television star. Holy crikey, here is a young person who has their head on straight (and loving, decent family supports). Her main focus for coming out in public was to help other trans kids who don’t have her supports and privilege. But she and Rowan are high profile examples. I’m also impressed by the young feminists who surround me who make the quieter gestures. They too are leaders, and they are in every community. They act as Big Sisters (or Little Sisters who teach far more than they learn), they join community groups with an intent to do something for someone else, they start school fundraisers, and they read books and spread ideas about feminist activism through small everyday gestures. They wow me, educate me, and make me proud.

 

Hang In There, Baby

Hang In There, Baby

I remember hearing this saying for the first time in the 70s. I also remember all the hype about the Women’s Lib movement in the news and other media.  It gave me my first awareness that all was not peaches & cream in the land of females. I quickly learned that women were tired of being pushed around and treated like second-class citizens. They were very vocal about the rights of women being overlooked or ignored. Women everywhere were tired of the status quo. They wanted more out of their lives than the generation before them had experienced. They were not content with subscribing to the roles played out on TV shows like I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show or The Honeymooners. Women wanted to get out into the workforce and have careers of their own. They wanted to carve out their own identity and make their mark on this world. They wanted equal rights, equal opportunity and equal pay that many men just take for granted. They wanted to be protected from sexual harassment and discrimination. They wanted the chance to pursue and fulfill their dreams and career ambitions. They wanted to be leaders not only in the home, but also in the world at large.

What actually happened was that women worked harder than ever each and every day of their lives. Most women are still expected to shoulder the majority of housework and child-rearing while juggling their own career or other personal goals. They are expected to keep a tidy house, cook meals, and raise kids; all while putting in a full day in the workplace. In addition to the previous mentioned responsibilities women have; many are also taking care of elderly relatives in some form or another. And I know I’m not the only one who values the relationships we have with our loved ones. We know how important it is to cultivate and maintain healthy, positive relationships that will produce happy, well-adjusted people for generations to come.

I have been taking Criminal Psychology & Behaviour courses for the last 4 years in order to pursue a new career.  Due to some injuries and health problems I am no longer able to do the physical tasks required in many of the fields I’ve worked in. It took me many years to accept my limitations and believe that I could still find meaningful employment. But what really shocked me was other peoples’ perceptions of what my days are like. Unfortunately, I’ve had to correct and educate friends and family about the importance of my time. This isn’t the 50s and I’m not your average housewife. I don’t watch soap operas or game shows. In fact, I don’t even turn the TV on during the day. I don’t lounge around the house with my hair in curlers waiting for my man to come home so I can wait on him hand and foot. My courses are intense and require lots of uninterrupted time and attention. My average grade is 94%. I don’t say that to brag; although I’m surprisingly pleased.

The point I’m trying to make is that I study and work very hard on every assignment I’m given. I take my studies very seriously and hope that one day I will be able to help others with the knowledge I’ve learned. Between my life experiences and lifelong interest in human psychology & behaviour, I believe I have finally found myself on the right path to the next part of my life journey. So when people assume I’m not doing anything all day long because I don’t punch a time clock, I am insulted and offended by their presumptions. I am annoyed when someone calls and expects me to give an accounting of my days to justify my reasons for declining to do them a favour. I find it astonishing that anyone could actually think that because I currently work from home that I’m not doing anything or that I should just drop whatever I’m doing and do their bidding. Nobody would ever call my husband and expect him to account for his time. Nobody would ever assume that he wasn’t busy or that he should be out doing everything for everyone else on his days off. Nobody would ever call him at the end of his work day and expect him to run errands for them. Instead, he is respected for his dedication to his career. He is admired and rewarded for his achievements.  And I am very happy for him and proud of his accomplishments.  We are partners and we support each other through the many changes life continues to bring us.

I still take great pride in creating a warm loving sanctuary for me and my family. I love preparing and cooking nutritious, delicious meals. I thoroughly enjoy my painting & decorating projects. I love the smell of a fresh clean house. I start every day by doing a load of laundry. I plan our social events and family gatherings. I work hard maintaining the gardens that surround our house and I love the serenity I get from doing so. I babysit my grand babies and help care for my elderly uncle. I enjoy my volunteer work with the YW.  But, all of these things require a lot of my time and attention. There is no magic wand I can wave and poof…all of my dreams and wishes come true. Instead, it all requires hard work and dedication.  My time is the most precious gift I can offer anyone. It is spread so thinly sometimes that I don’t think I’ll accomplish my goals. So when I choose to do something for someone I expect them to respect my time and not make assumptions about what they perceive my life to be. I am never bored or lacking in things to do. Sacrificing my precious time to help someone out is time that could be used to further help me achieve my personal goals. When I find myself being pulled in too many different directions I feel the need to step back and re-evaluate things. If I feel that my time is being taken for granted I become resentful and less willing to help others who are being selfish or demanding.  I definitely don’t respond well to “guilt trips” from people who try to manipulate me. Especially from people who say they love me.

When I look back over my life and review the expectations weighing heavily on most women who work and have a family I  can’t help but feel that women usually get the short end of the stick. What I’m trying to say is that women are still being overworked and underpaid. When we enter the workforce our workloads double. In addition to the pressures and stresses at work, most of us still carry the majority of the workload at home. We are expected to be everything to everyone. We are expected to have perfect homes while bringing home the bacon. We are encouraged to pursue a career as long as it doesn’t interfere with our family duties. Women have fought hard to advance the women’s movement and yet things haven’t changed enough. We are still expected to put others and their needs ahead of ourselves. It’s ok to return to school in order to better ourselves as long as we are still available to everyone. That is the message I hear when women are criticized or judged for the choices they make that make them less available to everyone. We are still judged by how clean our house is, regardless of how many hours we put into our careers or education.  The Women’s Liberation movement was started because so many women were tired of living the mundane life of a stereotypical housewife. It was supposed to free us up to be able to pursue our dreams and goals. Mostly though, it just added to our already-heavy workload. In the workplace we are expected to be multi-tasking robots that don’t dare call in sick or leave early to care for an ill child or elderly relative. The movement was created with the most noble of intentions.  However, that was over 45 years ago and I’m sad to say that we really haven’t come all that far in our quest to achieve those goals. We are still trying to achieve a healthy balance in our work/home lives but most women I know are still exhausted at the end of the day.  I’ve never worn a poodle skirt, I’m not sedated from valium and I’ll never be Mrs. Cleaver. This isn’t the 50s anymore and I’m never crawling into that box that just doesn’t fit me.

 

When Motivational Memes Serve to Shame

In between the click bait of things “you won’t believe,” recipes for the “best brownies ever,” articles speculating on how Donald Trump isn’t even human (hmm, perhaps not just conjecture), and the usual shots of friend’s children and vacations, my Facebook feed (and Instagram) seems to offer a lot of advice on how I should live my life. I mean, a lot.

On any given day, I can scroll through 20 different memes of motivation that, quite frankly, don’t do much beyond exercise my eyeballs. I mean, I wish they would do more. I wish it was that easy. I also wish it was easy to ignore most of them. I know some people say they can, but I call bullshit. Unless you ignore social media altogether (and yes, there are people who can and do), you will be inundated with motivational memes. And some will catch your eye. But so what, right? They’re harmless, right? Well, yes and no. I think we know words can hurt, no matter the intention.

Take this one I recently spied on Instagram:

“If you want to be happy, you have to be happy on purpose. When you wake up, you can’t just wait to see what kind of day you’ll have. You have to be the one to decide what kind of day you’ll have.”

or this:

“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.”

Or this:

“Just do it. No more excuses. Just do.”

Fair enough. I’d like to have a great day, thank you. In fact, I’m a naturally happy person, I’ll just come out and assume I will have a great day. And if I’m sent challenges to my happiness, I’ll just put on my impenetrable cloak of joy, and I will repel the sad-making stuff. There. Done.

Not So Fair Enough

Get hit by a car on the way to work? Choose positivity! Loved one diagnosed with brain cancer? Think on the bright side! Lose your job? Your home? Your hope? Just go out and change your life! If this take sounds harsh to you, it’s because it is meant to be critical. I am skeptical about most inspirational memes. I want to question their premise. I want some critical thinking used on their validity. And the reason I want to do this is because I feel that often they are empty words. I know words can work as a placebo, and that is something, but I think many memes are a misdirection. And misdirection is a technique used by snake oil salesmen, sneaky politicians (not all mind you, not all), skilled statesmen, and dodgy preachers. Worse than that though, inspiration memes can be sticks and stones that do harm.

Sometimes Choices Aren’t Choices

I say this because sometimes choices aren’t choices. Sometimes they are illnesses that have nothing to do with free will. And sometimes those illnesses lead to other illnesses: addictions. Fighting occasional blue funks with memes that amount to inspirational porn is one thing. Believing that a person with a mental health issue, a clinical disorder, can be prodded into health with positive messages is another. It’s like saying good thoughts cure cancer or lung disease. (And if you believe they can, then I’ve got some swampland in Florida just waiting for you.) Good thoughts are important, but they aren’t the cure or an enduring or effective treatment, even when they are meant to encourage good practices. This is particularly true for addictions. One thing we know about addiction is that it anesthetizes pain. For people in pain—those suffering from undiagnosed and diagnosed mental health issues, addiction is a double burden. A judgey meme isn’t going to galvanize change. The “just do it” mentality serves mostly to remind people that they aren’t worthy. This opens wounds and personalizes blame. It makes things seem simple when they aren’t. It prefers to assign blame to irrational things; to ascribe great power to people who are in many ways powerless to their illnesses. All you need to do is get your act together, one minute or second at a time and all will end well… Simple words for a Sisyphean task.

Motivational Porn

Much like inspiration porn, where people with disabilities are called inspirational just because they live with a disability, this mental health and addiction motivational porn serves to make people who don’t have a mental health or addiction issue feel like they don’t have a responsibility, or part to play in turning things around (beyond posting encouragements). It largely forgets that mental illness is in some measure, structural and the treatment of it requires more than a few encouraging words. It requires money. Money for treatment and continuing care. Money for housing. Money for teams of professionals doing research into the medical, psychological, and social conditions that create and perpetuate mental illness and addictions. People don’t fail to “conquer” their mental health and addiction issues because they aren’t courageous, or clever, or fighting hard. Getting healthy does require great, and often repeated effort. But it isn’t just a personal thing. It has more to do with decent support systems and societal advantages than shaming people with “change your thoughts, change your life” memes.