Thursday, March 14, 2013

I Should Probably Calm Down About "Having It All"

My feature profile of Oregon State House Rep Shemia Fagan was months in the making. Worth it. It ended up saying exactly what I wanted it to, although I didn't know what that was when I started:

The story was near completion when my editor asked me "what is this story about?" I wrote this op-ed for the Willamette Collegian, explaining how I learned the answer:

Shemia Fagan just had a baby. Whatever, women have babies all the time (not me though, gross).

But Fagan is also serving her first term in the Oregon legislature - - from attorney to Democratic House Representative. She started campaigning while pregnant, and popped little Alton out a few months before election day. Like, what? Who does that? It was an intense campaign too; she was up against an incumbent.

I find a kindred spirit in Liz Lemon. As a young professional woman on a focused career trajectory, I’ve considered the likelihood of “having it all.” My conclusion? “Don’t even think about it, bro.”

My mom never went to college, and stayed at home to raise my brother and me. I love her, a lot, but I’ve worked hard to ensure that I never find myself in her predicament. “You don’t need no maaaan to get by” has been my personal mantra since I was about 7. Except when I was 14 and wanted to grow up to be a professional housewife, but I got over it.

My brilliant defense is to throw myself into my work. I’m the news intern at Oregon Public Broadcasting, and report on government affairs, local politics, and sometimes the weather (it’s alright, I’m the intern).

A few months ago I chose to profile Shemia Fagan. I knew she’d just had a baby, and figured there had to be a story in there somewhere. Plus there’s more women in congress now than ever before, so it was all coming together. For weeks I showed up at her town hall meetings, followed her through the Capitol, and visit her at her home.

Something about her was off.

She’d work 12 hour days at the Capitol and constantly meet with local constituents, then on Saturday morning she’s just relaxing in front of the fireplace watching The West Wing, with I hate to admit it, the cutest baby in the universe. And she seemed fine! So nonchalant about “having it all.”

I may have had some ulterior motives when I started the project. I’ve tried so hard to convince myself that I’m just going to be this dragon-woman, killin it in the professional world, and as utterly alone as I am successful. But. But. Maybe the idea of having a family isn’t the worst. Maybe babies are OK, sometimes. Maybe I know my hypothetical offspring would be the cutest and the smartest ever. And maybe Shemia Fagan could show me how it’s done. I thought my report could end up being a “how-to” for young women all over the world struggling to find that balance.

I also worried it might end up being some awful, patronizing, “Look! Women can accomplish things too!”, or an equally patronizing “Let’s count all the sacrifices women have to make boo-hoo” story.

It ended up being none of those things.

After her baby was born, Fagan’s husband “manned up” (her words) and took family medical leave. She told me that’s what made it all possible. She head back to the campaign trail knowing her baby was well. Her husband still cares for the baby often now that she’s at the Capitol.

Then she mentioned that her dad was a single parent raising three kids, and had dreams of running for public office, but never could.

I had found my story.

It wasn’t about sacrifice. Fagan doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on anything. She works hard as a legislator but knows how to tell people no. She isn’t there for every second of her baby’s life, but still gets plenty of quality time with him (like while she breastfeeds him in the dressing room at Target).

And of course it wasn’t some miracle story. This woman is obviously qualified for the job and it’s ridiculously condescending to be surprised by that being possible.

It ended up being a story about support. For men and women, having support is enabling, and kind of necessary (no matter where that support comes from). I’ve been prioritizing my independence because I didn’t want anything to hold me back (turns out I’m not actually a psychopath though, so that plan is flawed).

But women aren’t changing - they haven’t evolved into Superwomen whose days actually consist of more than 24 hours; although they’re still willing to sacrifice a lot of themselves for their families. Careers aren’t changing - jobs are still jobs, and you need to be competent; although the increased presence of women have changed some workplace dynamics.

The point is there’s a chance that us young women won’t have to choose between professional success and love and family. I’m not trying to be as peppy and optimistic as Fagan either. What she’s doing actually is a big deal, and she’s doin a’ight, but I feel like she’s trying really hard to come off as being so composed, with everything under control.

Maybe we can be part of the change we want to see. Legislation is slowly but surely working its way towards creating a fair and equal workplace for the sexes. And society still has its doubts, but is getting used to the idea that women are a little more than childbearing vessels. But maybe the harder we try to prove ourselves, the more we interrupt that progress. Everyone needs support, but that’s OK. We’ll probably be able to accomplish a lot more with it. Unless you actually are a psychopath. In which case have fun just being CEO.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

America's Favorite Creepy Uncle Passes at 79

Whether you actually had one in your own family or not, in the 70's Richard Dawson gave all of us an opportunity to have a creepy uncle figure in our lives. He was an actor in some shows that I've never really seen, and is probably most notable for hosting Family Feud. I remember watching him, with his giant pinky-ring and incredible tan, kissing every female contestant. It's the first time I can recall thinking that I wouldn't mind being creeped on, if only it were by him. "Damnit, if only my family had enough character and enthusiasm to be chosen to play the feud. And if it were 1973."

However, Dawson can be seen at his best on the game show Matchgame. Among my other favorite panelists like Charles Nelson Reilly and Betty White (before she got way too played out), watching was like being at happy-hour with your best bad-influencing friends. The humor was dry and so were the cocktails (presumably). The-dirty-without-being-too-dirty jokes were often juvenile, but brilliantly charming. I'm sure the fill-in-the-blank skills I've learned watching endless seasons of Matchgame will be useful eventually, but when they are, I'll know who to thank.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Small Town Wonders

N3 reporter Chris Lehman and I took off to Silverton, Oregon first thing this morning to do an interview for a radio spot about small-town movie theaters.There we met Stu Rasmussen. He's the owner of The Palace Theater, and has often been found during the day selling popcorn in the lobby.

He's also the mayor.

Oh, and he's also the only transgendered mayor in the country.

A local landmark since its opening in 1935, The Palace Theater,  its one giant screen and stadium seating, is an absolute treasure. Standing under the marquee, Stu recounted the history of the theater and his own personal experience growing up in it when his father was the owner. Since he was knee-high he's worked upstairs threading the projector.

Unfortunately, in April of this year The Palace suffered a devastating fire which compromised its brand new digital projector and required that the entire building be stripped bare bone. But that's not going to stop Stu....

 He took us on a tour of what remains of the interior. Even the ceiling had been removed, and we had to work our way through the maze of scaffolding that's currently supporting the building. However, despite its state, Stu still found beauty in the layout of the structure, and his giant screen. Renovations are underway, and he couldn't be more passionate about coming back better than ever.

The small town of Silverton amazed me. Between the all-volunteer fire department and tremendous support from the community, Stu could hardly stand to recount the weeks following the fire without getting choked up. Absolutely everyone wanted to know what they could do to help. I can't imagine a better mayor than one who loves his town as much as Stu Rasmussen.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Back From Hiatus

I have just commenced my internship with the Northwest News Network (N3), and am working out of the press-room of Oregon's capitol building. With reporter Chris Lehman as my mentor, I'll begin recapping our coverage of state and regional issues, as well as the progress of my research for the Northwest Latino Survey Project.

Here Goes!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

How Neil deGrasse Tyson will save America

                                      Neil deGrasse Tyson - now here's a guy with all the answers.

Plato submit that "those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber." Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson illuminates a similar situation in America’s current political climate, but shows that we are all the ones being punished.

Neil (as I familiarly refer to him) is the director at the Hayden Planetarium, author, columnist, PBS host, and People’s Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive (clearly). He may also be one of the most inspiring and insightful voices of our generation.

His message?  To reestablish America’s progressive innovative culture, and invest in our economy by investing in NASA.

In an interview with Bill Maher last year, Neil explained that half of congress states their profession as law, with a few businessmen mixed in.  Even from a young age he questioned “where are the scientists? Where are the engineers?”

Of law, he states “the act of arguing and not agreeing seems to be fundamental to that profession, and congress is half that profession.”  Herein lays a fundamental indicator of our current predicament. In a 2010 interview with NPR's Linda Holmes he expressed that "you can't have people making decisions about the future of the world who are scientifically illiterate”. And he wasn’t just referring to politicians themselves, but the general public who is responsible for voting them in.

Neil is accustomed to putting things into a cosmic perspective, so it’s understandable that he is able to imagine the systemic overhauls needed to assuage our woes. From the way we stifle our children’s’ scientific curiosity to our ineffective policy and budgeting, the problem is the culture. We have collectively decided to stop investing in our excellence and accept mediocrity.

Our country seems to be facing too many problems to count these days, and we apply the same solution across the board. We throw money at each issue directly. We try to fix things one at a time.

Neil declares that “by my read of history, by my read of human behavior, by my read of government funding streams, these efforts amount to no more than Band-Aids on sores that have opened up in our society caused by a much deeper absence – the absence of an innovation culture.”

Innovation and space exploration are “the foundations of tomorrow’s economy” and we should learn to value this whether or not we’re a scientist or technologist.

NASA was founded on the fear revolving around Sputnik, but threat of war shouldn’t be the driver for our development. In the end "we reaped the benefits of economic growth because we had people who wanted to become scientists and engineers, who are the people who enable tomorrow to come today.”

Despite their recent budget cuts, Neil proposes that NASA’s budget be doubled. Although this is a hard sell in our current fiscal condition, it sounds reasonable when juxtaposed against the two-year U.S. military budget which exceeds the entirety of NASA’s half-century budget.

Washington seems to have trouble comprehending the fact that their return on investment would come in the form of innovation and technological advancement. By attempting to draw America and her policy-makers away from their fixation with immediate gratification, we can attempt to look towards a future where we live up to the type of greatness we ourselves once defined.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nothing freaky, please

This article was published in Willamette University's The Collegian, March 14, 2012

Most of the recent women’s health debate concerns a detail of The Affordable Care Act (which passed), and the Republicans’ attempt to shoot it down (which failed). All this fuss is over a sensible contraception rule which is hardly a significant change in standing law. The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission already ruled in 2000 that failure to provide contraception coverage violates the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Polls also show that the majority of voters, even Catholic voters, are in favor of Obama’s measure.

So given Rush Limbaugh’s apparently minimal impact on policy and public opinion, what are the effects of his psycho misogynistic remarks about Sandra Fluke?

The media storm that followed was shocking considering these comments were made by a man notorious for hyperbolic, foundationless, and insulting claims. How can we allow ourselves to be so offended by someone who is clearly insane? And then there’s the feminist movement, so afraid to take a real stand that they’re only emphasizing the non-sexual importance of contraceptives.

I don’t care to defend Fluke as a non-slut. Rather than implying that having sex somehow devalues a woman’s insight, we should be clarifying that contraceptive coverage is a basic healthcare right despite a woman’s sex life.

Our sexuality is clearly being politicized, and one danger of our current defense is it perpetuates a culture of shame. For young women in conservative and religious environments we should not only ensure that their care is covered, but that they won’t be too ashamed or embarrassed to take advantage of it.

So must we all become nymphomaniacal sex-machines for this message to be effective? No.

If the conversation is about our rights, we needn’t discuss to what degree we are sexual beings. Whether we be more prudent or promiscuous, as sexually active women we assume nearly all the risk associated with each sexual encounter. A call to solidarity among sluts doesn’t make this fact anymore obvious to the world.  

We should acknowledge that we enjoy sex for many reasons. However, as healthy and important embracing our sexuality is it has little influence on the policies that affect it. We also cannot generalize our sexuality or advocate promiscuity as a way to disarm our opposition’s offense.

It’s ignorant and beside the point. We can do better.

Clearly we should try to distance ourselves from our designated societal roles as non-sexual child-bearing vessels, but to win legal battles we can’t get distracted or defensive. We have an opportunity here to bring attention to our policies and the lack of women behind them. Women hold 17% of congressional seats, 4% are women of color (Uganda and Afghanistan literally have more women in their national legislatures), and we can no longer afford to entrust old white men with the wellbeing of our vaginas.

When we act either apologetic or radical we just look nuts and give the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world exactly what they want. We have plenty of reasonable arguments and we should stick to them. Don’t be dragged into rhetorical abstraction by a big fat nobody. Instead, use your voice to explain intelligently how “women’s health” is not only a women’s issue, and maybe then we can make some progress.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Here's to 364 Days of International White Male Days: A Message to the Broletariat

In lieu of the recently belated Black History Month, and current Women's History Month, white men the world over are starting to feel the neglect and bitter sting of BROpression. BUT WAIT! Did you know that despite the 364 days of the year unofficially devoted to celebrating men, International Mens Day is on November 19th?

So just try to wait it out boys. Soon enough it will be November, and in the midst of growing out your beards, if you're lucky, you could end up like these guys - happy just to be in an interracial testosterone pool, politely touching one another's shoulders (that guy in the back looks particularly happy).

I know that it's hard to be a dude these days, but don't forget, you guys do have plenty of support systems in place to assuage this constant stress. For instance, this site to tell quaint anecdotes celebrating conquests of blowjobs and sandwiches, or this official literature dictating your rules for social decorum. However, Stephen Colbert brings to light the true threat you are facing today:
Today's political landscape is now dominated by Black Men and White Women, while one group has been completely marginalized: the White Male. Sure, you can still find the occasional example of white men in power. A token 389 in Congress. A conciliatory seven or so on the Supreme Court. One in the White House.
Yes, men control only 485 out of the Fortune 500 companies, and a mere 3 branches of government, yet the systematic disenfranchising runs deeper everyday. It's predicted that within about a generation, white people will no longer compose the majority of the country. Slowly the white vision of meritocracy is disintegrating. The recession hit so many hardworking blue-collared men, that now according to author Tim Wise, they have been forced to share unemployment lines with "those people" - black and brown.
For the first time since the Great Depression, white Americans have been confronted with a level of economic insecurity that we're not used to. It's not so new for black and brown folks, but for white folks, this is something we haven't seen since the Depression.
But don't get defensive, take action. Economic insecurity is what Colby Bohannan says convinced him to form the "Former Majority Association for Equality." The association is awarding $500 scholarships to five deserving white men because they aren't eligible for scholarships reserved for women and minorities, he says. See? There is hope for you after all (even though unfortunately "Whiteness Studies" programs only exist in a very limited number of universities). Don't let the ladies and non-white people threaten your brotalitarian regime, take your jobs, question your worth, or deny your history. Because after all, "isn't the greatest victimization of all being robbed of your ability to be the victim?" So make everyday an opportunity to celebrate men, just don't ask me to join you at the keg party. 

                    Worry not. You shall brovercome.