The Pulse on Gender Equity in Seattle & Beyond

Ruchika Tulshyan thinks it’s time to turn the tables.

Gender Equality Overall, SeattleMartha BurwellComment

For far too long we’ve been putting the work of achieving gender equality in the workplace on women.

I’ll admit it.  I’ve gone to more than one “how to negotiate” workshop. 

I can do power poses like no one’s business.  Strong eye contact, shoulders back, spine straight.  But also making sure to sit at a slight angle so I don’t look “too aggressive.” Staring at myself awkwardly in the mirror, I’ve practiced comebacks for common arguments as to why I should be paid less.  And I’ve even used cute phrases like “wiggle room” to soften the blow of –-gasp—a woman asking to be paid more!

But the truth is, I can do power poses for the rest of my life and I still won’t be paid the same as my male counterparts.  Because individuals can only get so far within a system that’s constantly pushing back on them.

As Ruchika Tulshyan writes in her new book, The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality in the Workplace, “too much of the existing narrative focuses on ‘fixing women’—getting more women to negotiate, assert, demand, be confident and ‘lean in’ to leadership.”

Author Ruchika Tulshyan   Photo by  Jama Abdirahman

Author Ruchika Tulshyan
Photo by Jama Abdirahman

Instead, if we take a closer look, we see that gender inequality is something that we unintentionally built right into the structures of our businesses.  With the example of negotiation, we know that we have social stigma against women asking for more money.  But we keep salaries secret, we keep requiring employees to negotiate, and we keep penalizing women for it. 

Perhaps we’re ready turn the tables, to evolve our workplaces so that they work for women, as well as men.  Because our old systems were designed for a different time, and a different workforce.  And frankly, we’ve outgrown them.

That doesn’t mean that we have to demolish our way of doing business altogether—but we do need to be open to a steady stream of renovations. 

The good news?  These investments will also benefit the business.

This is what Tulshyan calls “The Diversity Advantage.”  It’s the idea that “diversity isn’t just the right thing to do.  It’s also a financially savvy strategy in today’s hyper-competitive digital marketplace.”

Tulshyan’s 2015 ebook guides the reader through the many deeply-ingrained, but often unintentional, ways that businesses disadvantage women.  Being solution-oriented, it also offers a gold mine of ideas for correcting this, so that the companies may tap into the full potential of the talent of 50% of the population.

Last month, I had the chance to sit down with the Seattle author, and ask her a few questions about some of the themes in her book. 

We started with one of the most-publicized effects of gender inequality in the workplace—the gender pay gap.

The book states “one of the biggest obstacles to resolving the gender pay gap is denial.”  Yet there is so much evidence on the systemic gender pay gap. Why are people still in denial? 

Right now, a lot of businesses are still run by middle-aged, or older, white men.  And from their point of view, they see that there are more women in the workforce than there were previously.  Which is true, but the problem is that they are concentrated in lower-level jobs.  The higher up you get in leadership, the fewer women there are.  And many leaders don’t look hard enough to see this, or don’t question why, and decide to prioritize other things.  

They also may tend to think that the lack of women in leadership roles is a result of individual choices.  But in reality, this has been disproved time and again.

Or, they assume that they themselves are not sexist, and no one they work with is sexist, so they jump to the conclusion that they’re not doing anything wrong.  They may not understand the implicit biases that we all hold. 

So it really comes down to a lack of knowledge and understanding about the actual situation.  They need to understand that it is a priority that impacts the performance of the entire business.

The book demonstrates how pay secrecy is harmful to reaching pay equality, advocating instead for more pay transparency.  Right now, in Washington state legislature, we have a bill being considered that would make it illegal for employers to punish their employees for discussing wages.  Would this new law be enough?

This is a first step, but it’s not enough. 

We are very uncomfortable talking about money in this culture.  In fact, we’d rather talk about relationships and sex at work than talk about money! 

Until we have a cultural shift in which it becomes less of a taboo to discuss salaries, we’re still not going to see a lot of pay transparency.  Businesses can address this by slowly phasing in transparency, or at the very least taking a comprehensive look at how they are currently paying their employees. 

When it comes to supporting parents, the book states “the most impactful solutions are initiatives and policies that benefit both genders such as paid leave, flexibility, and child care support.”  Why is that the case?

It’s been well documented that creating benefits that are only for women actually harms women, because it treats them like a special population.  So the businesses will start to discriminate against them because they now come with additional expenses.  So instead, those benefits should be for all employees. 

Another reason has to do with millennials, who will soon be the largest demographic in the workforce. Both male and female millennials have shown time and again that they value those types of benefits, demonstrating that businesses must provide them if they want to be able to attract and retain talent.

Lastly, in order to truly make change, we need a cultural shift about who’s doing the caretaking and the homemaking.  Right now, women still shoulder most of that work, and it is a big burden.   We must culturally start allowing, or requiring, men to take on some of that burden.  So making these types of policies accessible to men helps achieve that.

Sponsorship is something the book advocates highly for.  What is sponsorship and how can it be implemented successfully? 

First of all, sponsorship is very different from mentorship. A mentor is generally someone who you meet with occasionally and get guidance from. A sponsor, in contrast, is someone who is in a more senior position that works with you to strategically advance your career, using his or her own reputation and connections to help you move forward.

However, a sponsor may not understand the nuances of gender.   And as more sponsors will be male, simply because there are so many more men in top leadership positions in business, it’s important that we consider gender training with sponsorships. 

For example, in many companies, networking and relationship building among leadership still occurs after hours over dinner and drinks.  This is part of what’s considered the “old boys club.”  But, if a (typically younger) female protégée is invited by her (typically older) male sponsor to these events, it is often perceived very negatively, and it can actually harm her career.  To avoid these types of situations, it’s recommended to create a more formal sponsorship program that includes guidelines and training around gender.  Formal programs also help create accountability by having points at which other leaders check in to see if the sponsor is successfully helping the protégée meet her career advancement goals.    

There are quite a few countries in Europe, and several in Asia, as well as India, that have legally mandated gender quotas for corporate boards.  In the book, it states that quotas do have some effect, but that there are other ways to get more women on boards that are more effective.  What are the recommendations?

Quotas have their ups and down.  On the one hand, they are useful in that they provide accountability.   It’s too easy for a company, without quotas, to say “we tried it and it didn’t work.” A quota requires that they keep trying.  Facebook is a surprising example.  They have only 2 women on their board, and no women of color.  This seems odd, because the most rapidly growing segments of their market are overseas, and they could clearly use diverse leadership to help understand those markets.  Facebook does not utilize quotas.

On the other hand, quotas are not enough.  There also has to be a cultural shift. 

Otherwise you may see something like what happened in Norway, in which the same few women are asked to be on 4, 5, or more boards, and most women still don’t have access.  Lastly, women are much more likely to stay on boards if there is a culture that makes them feel welcome in a leadership position. 

Here in the US, we are culturally quite far away from having legally mandated quotas. In fact, we have a Supreme Court case this year that will question whether affirmative action (which quotas fall under) is even constitutional.  Why is there such a difference between attitudes about quotas in the US, as compared to other countries?

We believe in the US that we have a meritocracy, where anyone who works hard enough will achieve success.  It’s the American Dream.  But that is simply not true for everyone.  That mindset ignores the systematic oppression that is present in our society, and fails to recognize that only some people can participate fully in our “meritocracy,” and those people happen to be mostly white men.  

We are uncomfortable with the fact that our belief in meritocracy may be an illusion, because it challenges the idea that those white men achieved success based solely on their own talent. 

The introduction to the book states “make no mistake: this is no feminist manifesto.  Sure, gender equality is a human rights issue. But engaging women in the workforce is primarily an economic issue.  Diverse leaders drive bottom-line growth and high-level innovation for global corporations.” 
After reading the book, I’d argue that it IS a feminist manifesto, as well as an economic argument.  So I’m curious why this disclaimer was included.

The book was also meant to appeal to men, so that phrase was included to emphasize that the book is first and foremost an economic argument. 

We must have men participate in this movement in order for it to be successful. There isn’t a case in history in which an oppressed group has overcome oppression without the participation of those in power. 

The only exceptions are when extreme violence was used.  In the case of gender equality, men are still largely in power, and they must participate as allies in order for us all to succeed.

Lastly, Ruchika noted that compared to other places she’s lived in (The UK, India and Singapore), in our Seattle culture, we tend to avoid tough topics like this.

But Seattle, we’ve got to talk about it.  And more than that, we’ve got to take responsibility and act on improving gender equality in the workplace.  If the ethical case doesn’t sway you, the business case can’t be ignored. 

You can purchase Ruchika’s book on Forbes.  A paper version will also be available soon. 

Where is RooshV’s opposite?

Gender Equality OverallMartha BurwellComment

I’m sure many of you saw the headlines last week.  “Pro-rape blogger organizes meetings for men across U.S.—Including Seattle, Everett” “Pro-Rape International Meetup Day” “RooshV Plans ‘Rape Should Be Legal’ Meetups”.  If you haven’t heard, this was a day of meetups around the world planned by Roosh Valizadeh, the owner of the misogynistic blog “Return of Kings.

RooshV is second from right.     IMG_0423   by  Joe Loong  is  licensed under   CC BY 2.0.

RooshV is second from right.  IMG_0423 by Joe Loong is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Thankfully, the meetups did not happen, at least officially, because there was an uproar on social media protesting them. 

This uproar was inspiring, and overall, effective.  But it made me think: where is the radical feminism pulling our culture in the opposite direction, to counterbalance the RooshVs of the world? 

First, I’m happy that there are no direct equivalents to RooshV in the feminist world.  His hate-filled doctrines are of a tone and intention that do not belong in any movement. 

But the point stands: when it comes to certain aspects of gender, particularly with women’s sexuality and reproductive health, the scales seem to be tipping in a conservative direction over the past few years.   And those radical voices, as much as we try to discount them, matter a lot

You might be thinking, instead of more radical feminism, wouldn’t it be better to have an increase in more moderates? 

I would love an increase there too, but we can’t do without our radical feminists.

This is because of something called the Overton Window.  This fancy term basically just refers to the range of ideas around a topic that the public will accept.  It changes constantly, being pulled in one direction or another.   

Let me explain. If you’ve seen the movie Selma (which I highly recommend), there’s a scene that portrays this concept well.  Martin Luther King Junior is planning a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, demanding equal voting rights for black Americans.  He has been treading extremely carefully, because he knows this action has the potential to influence national law, and supporters have been facing severe violence.

A few days before the march, Malcolm X shows up.  He wants to give a speech in favor of MLJK’s march.  But Malcolm X does not exactly have a reputation for treading carefully, so when he meets with Coretta Scott King, the decision maker in this case, she initially denies his proposition, because of the risk of damaging their movement. 

But she changes her mind when Malcolm X says one thing.

“I thought that if the white people understood what the alternative was that they would be more inclined to listen to your husband. And so that’s why I came.”

In other words, Malcolm X was offering to use his radical reputation to pull the Overton Window --what the public would accept--in the direction of civil rights.  This would move MLKJ’s more moderate views towards the center of the window, garnering him more public support.  

A more local example of this concept is Dan Savage, Seattle LGBTQ activist, who explained his role in moving the Overton Window for LGBTQ rights in an interview with Seattle Met last year.  As he put it, “When you’re trying to move the center, you need people at the edges screaming and yelling.  You need the unreasonable people for the reasonable people to move in.  This is my life.”

When it comes to gender in the past few years, particularly with women’s reproductive health, the Overton Window has had a lot of weight put on the conservative end. 

Ted Cruz, presidential candidate who opposes abortion in all cases, even incest and rape.        03072015_TedCruz_001_3x2_1080   by  iprimages  is  licensed under   CC BY 2.0.

Ted Cruz, presidential candidate who opposes abortion in all cases, even incest and rape. 03072015_TedCruz_001_3x2_1080 by iprimages is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Women’s health clinics being violently attacked and intimidated.  Politicians making misogynist comments with little consequence to their career. False Planned Parenthood smear campaigns (which have been disproved).  Leading 2016 presidential candidates demanding to ban abortion in all cases, even rape and incest. Our government threatening to defund women’s health services.

These actions are extreme.  What’s worrying is that they seem mainstream.  A sure sign that the Overton Window has been pulled sharply in a conservative direction, and away from gender equity.

Can you think of any actions on the other side that are this extreme? Any individuals or groups that are as radical?  It’s quite difficult to draw many to mind. Though the radical feminist movement had quite a large participation rate in the 1960s and 70s, with explicit goals to achieve personal and political equity, that movement has dwindled. This can be seen as a success in some regard, because the things they were fighting for have become normalized.  But certainly not everything. 

We cannot ignore the fact that we're slipping back.  Rights we thought we had firmly won have become eroded.   We’re starting to think that restricting women’s sexuality and reproductive health is normal.

So yes, we need radical feminism.  We need those people at the edges to drag the center forward.  Though we may not always agree with everything they do, as feminists, we cannot, we must not, dismiss them.  Even if we don’t agree with each other 100% of the time, we still must respect and acknowledge their role in the movement towards gender equity.    

What’s the call to action?  I’m not sure yet.  I was hoping you would help me out with that one. 

In part, it’s a call to the media to cover more radical feminism stories.  In fact, to make women’s voices heard more overall. There is much more action around gender equity than we are aware of, because our media chooses not to cover those stories.  And that, in itself, is an act of misogyny.

In part, it’s a call to our political representatives to actually represent us women—not represent what they think we should be. 

In part, it’s a call to us, feminists, to be radical, and to support radical feminism.  We tend to be hard on ourselves, and each other, in the feminist movement, and I think we can work on that. 

In part, it's a call to everyone, to be politically active and demand change that actually works for us. We tend to think we're powerless when it comes to politics and determining laws.  We're not. 

Let’s get our window back, bitches. 

Defined From Birth

Gender Equality OverallMartha BurwellComment

By Alec Connon
Edited by Martha Burwell

Male preschool teacher Alec Connon discusses how strict gender roles act as a limitation even in early childhood.

"I mg_1748 " by  Cappugino .  is  licensed under   CC BY 2.0.

"Img_1748" by Cappugino . is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

“You can’t be a teacher,” said Erin, a widely smiling four year old and my newest pupil.

“Why?” I asked, understandably enough, given that I am in fact a teacher.

“You’re a boy,” she replied, not missing a beat.

In my 6 months working as a male pre-school teacher, comments such as Erin’s have not been rare. “I can’t put on my bedsheets. I’m not a girl,’ said three year old Julian. “You can’t wear a bracelet,” four year old Juliette informed me confidently, “You’re a boy.”

Now it should hardly need explaining why such concrete perceptions of gender and binary gender roles are apparent in kids as young as three: parents’ and teachers’ conscious and unconscious modeling of gender stereotypes, the mass media portrayals of gender-specific roles and the gender-based gendered assignment of colors, toys and clothes all play a role in creating gender specific expectations from a very young age – sometimes even pre-birth.

“Too quickly kids are placed on either a blue or pink path. And they are expected to follow it” writes author and gender activist, Lori Duran. And my own experience of spending 6 months working in a Seattle preschool only vouches for this claim.

To follow the logic of many pre-schoolers today, a man cannot be allowed to flourish in a role such as a teacher, a man cannot wear a bracelet (even a tattered, old and faded one like my own) and, rather cripplingly, a man cannot even be expected to put on his own bedsheets. The limitations this puts on me as a man are, of course, significant. I will forever have to sleep on a bare mattress, I cannot wear jewelry, and I cannot work in a role such as a preschool teacher where skills such as empathy, patience and compassion are salient.

The fate for women is even worse. A woman must forever be putting on bedsheets for incapable men, she should wear jewelry, and she cannot excel in sports (just last week a five year old informed me that she wasn’t playing with the soccer ball because “that was a boys’ game.”)

A five year old thinking in this way is, of course, a tragedy. It is natural that as life progresses doors will be closed on us forever, opportunities will be lost. Life is funnel-shaped and the list of our potential futures, aspirations and our sense of the achievable only grows ever narrower as we get older. That is perhaps unavoidable, and to an extent there may even be nothing wrong with that. But for us to live in a society where the doors of opportunity are being closed on children as young as three because of how we define gender is, in my humble opinion as someone who is charged with the teaching of our children, a deep and truly grave wrong.

Now, this does not mean I’m advocating to dissolve gender altogether.  People often imagine scenes of gray, uniform androgyny when hearing this argument.  Like some kind of dystopian future where we all wear monotone jumpsuits and have the same haircut.  But in fact, what I’m suggesting is the exact opposite. I’m envisioning a world in which we don’t put such stringent and uniform limitations of gender on our children, and instead, remove some of the restrictions of our expectations and see what amazing, vibrant identities they create for themselves.

Our children are as wonderfully diverse and unique as the infinite variations of colors in a prism, and instead of limiting them to blue or pink, let’s consider that all colors are for everyone.  

But we should note that this needs to work both ways.

As a culture, we’re far more comfortable allowing girls to act and dress like boys. But we must also start allowing our boys to explore and portray traditionally feminine traits. The reasons for this are clear: 79% of all suicides in the US are men who are not culturally allowed to ask for help; our jails are filled with men who were not taught to express their emotions except through anger. We need to make it okay for young boys to do humble things like put on their own bedsheets, to know that they can work in vocations that require empathy and compassion - we need to let them know that it is not unmanly to be caring, loving, and gentle.  That it is not unmanly to ask for help.  And likewise, we need to let our young women know that it is okay for them to be strong and confident, to be fit and funny, to be assertive and to play sports.  

So, as caregivers, teachers, and parents, as siblings, friends and peers, let’s pay attention to when the doors are slamming shut on our young children, and work to prop them open instead. Let’s challenge our own perceptions of gender roles daily, and ask why? Why is this type of clothing only for girls? Why is this game only for boys? Why do we not feel capable of doing a certain type of chore? Let’s stop saying (and, as importantly, showing) limiting things like “boys can’t do this” and “only girls can do this,” for things that clearly any child could do, if given the chance.  

Let’s continue to evolve and develop what it means to be feminine, and what it means to be masculine. Because, quite simply, what it means to be human is far more significant.  

" Children Playing " by  Sanshoot  is  licensed under   CC BY 2.0.

"Children Playing" by Sanshoot is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Learn more:

“Dear Parents, let’s talk about kids and gender roles” an article by The Good Men Project

A quick clarification.  When I’m talking about gender, I mean the social construction of what it means to be male, female, or another sex.  The specific biology or anatomy is referred to as the sex of a person. 

About the Author, Alec Connon:

Alec’s first novel, The Activist, is due to be released in summer 2016 by Ringwood Publishing. Alec is also a founder and organizer of Gates Divest, a Seattle organization that is calling on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to divest from fossil fuels.

Alec has also published "Patriarchy and Climate Change" on EqualiSea. 


12 gift ideas for the feminist Seattleites in your life

SeattleMartha BurwellComment

Ahhhh the holidays.  What to get for the feminists in your life? Something practical? Something silly?  Something with a Hermione Granger quote on it? 

And if you don’t want to buy a material gift, what kids of experiences would they appreciate?  Or do you opt out all together, and just plan to make a special meal or host a get-together?

Here are a few ideas! I wasn’t endorsed by any of these brands, the choices are just based on my opinion of what I think are fun gifts. 

I always encourage you to shop from small, local business owners, or from the original author/artist/creator, when possible.  Avoiding big corporations that have a bad reputation for gender equity, like Amazon and Walmart, is always a plus.   

A membership to Town Hall Seattle

Town Hall "is like where your brain keeps getting to go when your body stops going to college." 
With "music, humanities, civic discourse, and world culture events,” Town Hall often hosts gender equity activists, authors, and organizers.  For example,  Alicia Garza of BlackLivesMatter, Kris Hermanns of Pride Foundation, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of "Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family" are a few of the feminist leaders they’ve recently hosted.

In fact, as I'm writing this I just returned home from an event at Town Hall featuring the amazing civil rights leader and feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw.

A feminist magazine subscription

Ms. Magazine has excellent journalism about the most pressing issues in gender equity in the US.  You can purchase their subscription here, which has 4 issues per year. 

Or you could go more local, and choose the Portland-Based Bitch Magazine, “a nonprofit, independent, feminist media organization dedicated to providing and encouraging an engaged, thoughtful feminist response to mainstream media and popular culture."

A good book.

There's nothing like snuggling up to a good book while learning about breaking down the patriarchy.  Here are a few ideas:

The Year of Yes by Shonda Rimes (November 2015). “The mega-talented creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder chronicles how saying YES for one year changed her life―and how it can change yours, too.”

The Diversity Advantage, (October 2015) an eBook by Seattle author Ruchika Tulshyan is an thorough resource for anyone serious about A) managing a successful business B) gender equity or C) both.  She hyperlinks facts and figures so you can access the original sources easily.  It’s an excellent piece of scholarship that’s written in an easy-to-read style. 

The Sisters are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America. (July 2015) The author Tamara Winfrey Harris “exposes anti-Black-woman propaganda and shows how real Black women are pushing back against distorted cartoon versions of themselves.”

Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria E. Anzaldúa (1999).  This classic book is just as relevant today as in 1999 when it was first published.  “Anzaldua, a Chicana native of Texas, explores in prose and poetry the murky, precarious existence of those living on the frontier between cultures and languages."

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg (October 2015) chronicles the life of America’s most kickass feminist supreme court justice. Plus, there's pictures.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem, released October 2015, is the first book published in 20 years by this iconic feminist. 

Disgruntled by Asali Solomon (February 2015).  “A coming-of-age tale, a portrait of Philadelphia in the late eighties and early nineties, an examination of the impossible double-binds of race, "Disgruntled" is a novel about the desire to rise above the limitations of the narratives we're given and the painful struggle to craft fresh ones we can call our own.”

Under the Bus: How Working Women are Being Run over (April 2015) Lawyer Caroline Fredrickson offers "A forceful response to Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter, speaking for the majority of women who have been failed by their workplaces and the economy."

A coloring book! 

Coloring books are all the rage this year.  Bring out your inner child, and inner artist with “Color Her,” where you can “Mix and match fabulous female icons – from mythological to modern day.” 

Psssst....check out the "for the kiddos" section below for another great coloring book.  It's for grownups too!

A witty t-shirt

Feminist Apparel, a nonprofit, has fun shirts and a great mission: “We hold the idea that you can be a feminist if you simply believe and act on equality. Men, women, and people who say no to the gender binary are all welcome to the movement. That’s why we create t-shirts that range from XS-5XL, cover issues ranging from street harassment to gender stereotypes, and feature designs from our Feminist Creatives community that gives up and coming feminist designers an opportunity to share their work and get paid for it.”

Local Music

We have some pretty killer feminist bands in Seattle. Pick up a couple of albums or a ticket to a show as a gift.  In fact, get two tickets so you can go too! 

 Pony Time has a punk vibe, while TacoCat is upbeat and chill, like the song “Crimson Wave,” which is about Aunt Flo’s monthly visit. Chastity Belt is another local band that shares frontwoman Julia Shapiro with the band Childbirth.  In fact, ChildBirth is a 'supergroup,' borrowing members from all three previously mentioned bands. Finally The Julie Ruin features Kathleen Hanna of the iconic Bikini Kill, which was a 90s Riot Grrrl band based in Olympia.  (for more ideas, see this playlist).

Tickets to the Dixie Chicks concert

Speaking of kickass musicians, on July 8th 2016, the Dixie Chicks will be back, playing their blend of country and pop music at the Whiteriver Amphitheater South of Seattle.  This is the first US tour for the iconic trio in over 10 years.  Tickets available at http://www.livenation.com

A donation to a local organization

There are plenty of local organizations doing amazing work for gender equity.  Here are just a few ideas.   

Legal Voice, which I’ve written about previously, “pursues justice for all women and girls in the Northwest, through ground-breaking litigation, legislative advocacy, and legal rights education.” 

NARAL pro-choice Washington “is the leading grassroots pro-choice advocacy organization in Washington state, and we believe that every woman should be able to make personal decisions about the full range of reproductive health options.”

Mary’s Place, which I’ve also written about previously, “is a leading voice for homeless women, children, and families in emergency situations,” and can always use donations. 

Feminist Frequency, though not local, is “a video webseries that explores the representations of women in pop culture narratives. The video series was created by Anita Sarkeesian in 2009 and largely serves as an educational resource to encourage critical media literacy and provide resources for media makers to improve their works of fiction.”

 It goes without saying that all Planned Parenthood locations could use donations at the moment. 

The King County YWCA, whose mission is “eliminating racism, empowering women” is another great option. 

Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA) “is an award-winning, nationally recognized nonprofit that provides holistic services to help refugee and immigrant women and families thrive.”

The Women's Funding Alliance improves the lives of women and girls in Washington State. "We shine a spotlight on the most pressing issues and bring actionable solutions to philanthropy, community-based organizations, business and government."

A membership to the Good Men Project

Though of course anything on this list could be for feminists of any gender, a membership to the Good Men Project is particularly relevant for men.  The Good Men Project is “a diverse community of 21st century thought leaders who are actively participating in a conversation about the way men’s roles are changing in modern life—and the way those changes affect everyone.”  Though most of their content is free, a membership unlocks bonus content and other perks, plus it supports their work.



For the kiddos

"Ruby Rails" Skydive action figure, by GoldieBlox

"Ruby Rails" Skydive action figure, by GoldieBlox

The Dream Big Coloring Book features images of diverse women doing cool things and is fun for all ages and genders.

GoldieBlox, though controversial for initially not including girls of color in their ads, has now expanded with new characters, and just has really cool toys that teach kids to build things and use their imaginations.  Again, appropriate for any gender (though marketed to girls).  

Finally, Rad American Women from A-Z is a new take on learning the alphabet, featuring, you guessed it, cool women from American history. 

I encourage you shy away from ultra-gendered toys, even “career Barbie,” and to remember that all colors are for everyone.

For teens

Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel

Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel

There are some fun new comics that appeal to teens (and adults).  One is the *new* Ms. Marvel featuring Kamala Khan, the fourth publication of which was just released on November 24.  Make sure you get the one featuring Kamala Khan, not Carol Danvers, or you’ll be disappointed. 

Lumberjanes is also a keeper.  “Friendship to the max! Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are five best pals determined to have an awesome summer together...and they’re not gonna let any insane quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way!” 

You can pick them up at Zanadu Comics in Seattle.   Ada’s Bookstore on Capitol Hill also carries Lumberjanes in case you can’t find it at Zanadu. 

Not into comics?  Here’s Ms. Magazine’s list of books for young feminists, for some more ideas.

Don’t buy anything at all!

Finally, consider not buying anything, and instead learning more about the idea that feminism (or any kind of anti-oppression movement) may not be as compatible with capitalism as we once thought.  I’m new to this idea myself, and I’ll be doing a mix of buying material gifts and experiences, and simply spending time with friends and family as a way of opting out of consumerism.  You could host your friends or family for a dinner, have a crafts or games night, or compose a thoughtful, handwritten letter to each person.  Sometimes those things are worth so much more than an item.

Whatever is your unique way to celebrate the holidays, I hope you have a fabulous time!

With peace and love,


Why I Don't Carry Pepper Spray

Gender Equality OverallMartha BurwellComment

I remember in 6th grade fighting the Red Man. 

No, it wasn’t some racist activity where we played ‘Cowboys and Indians.’  The Red Man was literally a man dressed in a puffy red foam outfit that we, sixth grade girls, had to "escape" from.  The scenario was that he was grabbing us to kidnap/kill/assault/rape us.  And we had just learned all our defense moves, which we were now supposed to practice on this poor guy, whose job it was to spend all day pretending to attack 11-year-old girls. 

Eye poke. Throat punch.  Palm to the nose, upwards, to shove the bone into the brain. Knee to the scrotum.  If he has you in a neck lock, wiggle so your throat is in his elbow and you can breathe.  Then use your heel to kick in his knee, or slide it down his shin and try to stomp his toes till they break.  Luckily for him, the Red Man was wrapped in foam and we couldn’t actually do him any harm.

But this was terrifying to 11-year-old me.  Which is why I remember it so well to this day. 

And the boys?  I don’t know how they got to spend that afternoon, but it certainly wasn’t being taught how not to kidnap/kill/assault/rape girls (or even how to physically defend themselves, like the girls). They never had a class on what consent means.  Or what healthy relationships look like.  Or what to do if you see someone being harassed.  They definitely weren’t taught how to recognize if they themselves, or their friends, are harassing or being violent. And what they learned on their own, through pop culture, porn, friends, and family, clearly left a lot of them dangerously confused (or even feeling entitled), based on our appalling rates of violence against women.

I don’t necessarily think it was wrong for Monroe Middle School to teach girls self-defense. 

But in neglecting to educate the boys, they put the responsibility of avoiding violence on girls and women.  Rather than putting the responsibility of not being violent on boys and men. This planted the seed of fear in us girls that only grew as we aged and began to see the horrifying statistics of violence come true in our own groups of friends.

And as practically all women (at least in the US) will tell you, that fear is still a daily part of life, and we have good reason for it.

They’ll tell you that they put their keys between their fingers if they’re walking alone.  They’ll tell you about how excited they are for the new app that tells your friends when you get home safely.

They’ll tell you that every dark walk down an unfamiliar street means you automatically scan for a safe escape.  Where can I run?  Is my phone accessible? What weapons do I have?  Who would help me? 

An example of the "Stop Telling Women To Smile" series:   Street Sign 2   by  Jeffrey Zeldman  is  licensed under   CC BY 2.0.

An example of the "Stop Telling Women To Smile" series: Street Sign 2 by Jeffrey Zeldman is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I myself, like most other women, have often changed my route while walking home to avoid harassment.  But harassment is so common that it’s sometimes not even avoidable.  In fact, if I want to go out at night on Capitol Hill (where I live in Seattle) I have to factor in whether I have the energy to deal with street harassment that night, because it happens almost Every. Single. Time.

Carrying fear of violence is so ingrained in women's minds that it is almost unconscious.  And it’s an enormous drain on ourselves, as countless women have told us, such as "Stop Telling Women to Smile" artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, and as blogger Gretchen Kelly wrote recently

So over the past few years, I began to think, why is it my job to avoid harassment?  Why is it my job to change my route?  Why is my job to spend money on self-defense items?

This is why I don’t carry pepper spray. 

Because for me, carrying pepper spray is like letting those who would harm me win before they ever lay a finger on me.  It would be a physical reminder dangling from my keychain that I should always be afraid, always be ready. 

Not carrying pepper spray is my way of saying “you can’t win. I can choose whether to be afraid, and how much to be afraid.  And I’m choosing not to be *as* afraid every day.”  

It doesn’t mean I’ve somehow solved the problem of street harassment.  It means that I’m becoming more conscious of how we, women, have been conditioned to be afraid, and it means I’m not letting that fear drag me around as much as I’ve been trained to.

Of course, every person deals with this issue differently, and I’m absolutely not judging those people that do carry pepper spray or other defense mechanisms.  Everyone handles harassment differently and there is nothing wrong with carrying pepper spray or getting trained in self-defense if that’s what works for you!

But for me, when I need some inspiration, I like to think of this passage from Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild. Near the end of her iconic solo hike along the 2,650 mile-long Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), she’s joking with her 3 male friends about how she got the nick-name “Queen of the PCT.”

Best Book of 2014   by  Heather  is  licensed under   CC BY 2.0.

Best Book of 2014 by Heather is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

(Queen of the PCT is your nickname) “ ‘Because people always want to give you things and do things for you,’ added Rick. ‘They never give us anything.  They don’t do a damn thing for us, in fact.’

I lowered my sleeping bag and looked at them, and we all laughed.  All the time that I’d been fielding questions about whether I was afraid to be a woman alone—the assumption that a woman alone would be preyed upon—I’d been the recipient of one kindness after another.  Aside from the creepy experience with the sandy-haired buy who’d jammed my water purifier and the couple who’d booted me from the campground in California, I had nothing but generosity to report.  The world and it’s people had opened their arms to me at every turn.”

I want to help create a world that has open arms, a world that is safe for all.  And so instead of carrying pepper spray, I’m asking us to educate boys and men, and even more, I’m asking boys and men to educate themselves. 

Will you join me?

Learn more:  For teaching boys and men about consent, see “The Good Men Project,” which has quite a few teaching guides for all ages, including this one.

Take Action: If you’re a parent or involved with schools, call your school and ask them if they include quality training for all children about consent and avoiding violence.  If they do not, urge them to include this critical topic in their health classes or special curriculum.  If they continue to only have self-defense training only for girls, explain to them the danger of leaving boys out of the conversation.  

Take Action: If you identify as male, I encourage you to explore Seattle’s own Wholehearted Masculine, which provides a dialogue about masculinity and how we can widen the definition.  Dan Mahle, the founder, offers occasional workshops in Seattle on masculinity.