Think Of The Children! Analyzing Our Problem With Women’s Breasts

You could blame the slow summer news cycle for the reason why this week’s local headlines in New York City have been dominated by the proliferation of topless women in Times Square. But the real reason why everyone is clutching their pearls about this “problem” has a lot more to do with American culture’s hypocritical and puritanical attitudes about women’s bodies.

This week, both the mayor and the governor have vocalized their disdain for predatory panhandling in Times Square and promised to do something about it, from a proposed bill to limit the hours and locations that anyone can solicit tips, to completely shutting down the pedestrian walkway.CM8ThFzXAAMWKjF

But why this week? Costumed characters have harassed tourists for photos and tips in Times Square for years, and there have even been stories of altercations with angry Cookie Monsters and Spider-Men, yet the ranks of costumed characters have been growing unchecked. In fact, the Times Square Alliance counted
more than 120 costumed characters
one week in late June this year. But it’s the other hawkers they counted, a much smaller group of 11 “painted ladies” that have turned the tide for both the public and the media from viewing it as an annoying but harmless part of the New York tourist trade to something that must be at least regulated and at most stopped.

Here’s where I should point out, as many have this week, that it is 100% legal for a woman in New York City to be completely topless in public. In fact local ordinances vary, but it’s legal to some degree for women to be topless in the same locations that men can be topless—parks, beaches, public streets – in all but three states. Of course many police (including the police commissioner who suggested turning the area into a park to get rid of the topless women) and even more citizens don’t seem to know this and there are countless stories of topless women getting harassed. (Case in point: Just last week I observed a topless woman on the beach get yelled at by a woman there with two teenagers, direct quote: “put that shit away, I have kids here!”)

(The green colored states are those where it's legal for women to be topless. The orange colored ones have amibiguous state laws on the matter. The red colored ones are where the mere showing of the female breast in public is illegal according to state law. via. GoTopless.org)

(The green colored states are those where it’s legal for women to be topless.
The orange colored ones have amibiguous state laws on the matter.
The red colored ones are where the mere showing of the female breast in public is illegal according to state law.
via. GoTopless.org)

(The green colored states are those where it’s legal for women to be topless.
The orange colored ones have ambiguous state laws on the matter.
The red colored ones are  where the mere showing of the female breast in public is illegal according to state law.
via. GoTopless.org)

It’s been noted in some reports that the women, who pose in underwear bottoms with patriotic symbols painted across their bare chests, are exploited by their male “managers” who paint their bodies, presumably watch out for their safety, and take 40% of their profits. If that’s true, it’s a battle worth fighting, but it’s irrelevant to the issue of the public and governmental moral policing of women’s bodies.

Personally I wish that these women didn’t feel like the best way for them to make money was to stand in the street topless and solicit photos with bros, but you can’t regulate your moral choices on others and the lack of lucrative career options for young immigrant women won’t be solved my banning photos with painted topless women. Besides, even if it could as long as it’s not hurting anyone, government shouldn’t dictate what is an acceptable of means of making a living.

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But that’s exactly what many would have. The flurry of coverage this week has included plenty of horrified reactions from tourists whom you would think have never watched a show on HBO or needed to breastfeed away from home. From the New York Daily News:

“It’s disgusting. It should be illegal,” Jackie Castillo, 46, of Pennsylvania said. “It’s not a good example for the kids here.”

Yes, “think of the children!” is the common refrain, and that knee jerk belief that seeing a woman’s body is corrupting is exactly at what is at the heart of the real problem. Outrage over an exposed woman’s body teaches children that women are sexual objects – little boys can’t see it because they’ll get ideas of doing dirty things and little girls shouldn’t see it because they’ll think it’s OK to be “improper” and “impure.”

Things sorts of notions are absurd for 2015 and perpetuate notions like:

  1. Sex is dirty and shameful and we must pretend it doesn’t exist.
  2. Men and boys can’t control themselves.
  3. Women should cover their bodies for their safety, and because it’s “lady like.”
  4. Women’s bare chests are inherently sexual, and inappropriate for children to see, while men’s bare chests are neutral and acceptable. (It should be noted that the topless underwear-clad “naked cowboy” has been harassing tourists for over a decade and is so accepted that he’s received endorsement deals)

If you follow this logic through, it’s a short walk to the Missouri capitol where earlier this week lawmakers came up with a solution to the scandal in which two (male) lawmakers resigned over allegations of sexually inappropriate conduct toward (female) interns. Their solution? Mandate a “conservative” dress code to avoid tempting legislators into improper behavior.

It shouldn’t be surprising that government officials see telling women to cover up as a solution to their misconduct. Numerous schools across the country have long been in the business of policing girls’ bodies and clothing because boys simply can’t control themselves. Schools in states ranging from Illinois, Oklahoma, California, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts have banned yoga pants, saying they “distract” boys who should be paying attention in class. These arguments are all just another side of the “what was she wearing/she was asking for it” rape defense.

But it’s not just on the streets, beaches, and parks of cities and states where going topless for both genders is completely legal, or women’s clothing at their schools and jobs. Women’s bodies are censored in the name of purity on social media: both Instagram and Facebook ban images of topless women but not topless men, even when women are using their breasts for their biological purpose (to feed their offspring). It should be noted however that images of guns and violence go pretty much unchecked pretty much everywhere, and when we see those images (which we all do countless times a day), where are all the concerned parents and lawmakers saying “we need to take action and stop this, here’s what we are putting in place”? We have somehow come to accept near constant gun violence, and monthly mass shootings, but a woman’s boobs? Think of the children!

Introducing Your Perfect Beach Read: The Summer Issue Of Katastrophic Thoughts

Just in time for the dog days of summer, it’s issue #4 of Katastrophic Thoughts the zine. Issues will go out to subscribers later this week or early next week. If you’d like a subscription, single issue, or back issues, email me at kathleenerindavis at gmail dot com.

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Here’s a peek of what’s in the issue:

  • Words to the wise 
    Stop tweeting and take some action!
  • Retrospective: A Moment in Feminist History
    The two gutsy women who were the first to run the Boston Marathon.
  • World Changing Ways
    Madre:Demanding Rights, Resources & Results For Women
  • Your New Feminist BFF
    Suffragette, activist, cartoonist, drew the inspiration for Wonder Woman.
  • My Month Without Makeup (a version of this essay ran online here)
    In which I battle with the idea that my face is “unprofessional”
  • Unraveling the Woman Tax
    Seriously, how is this still a thing?
  • Required Reading
    some pretty heavy beach reads
  • Late-Breaking Lady News
    Updates on what’s happened since last time and some final thoughts.

Collect the full set of all four issues!

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My Month Without Makeup

Note: A version of this essay will appear in the forthcoming Summer Issue of the print zine version of Katastrophic Thoughts (due out in mid July). But this should hold you over for now 🙂  

In late April Amy Schumer did a perfect spoof of a One Direction ballad titled “Girl, You Don’t Need Makeup,” which instantly became a trending hashtag on Twitter.

It was perfect and struck such a cord with viewers for several reasons (it was hilarious and infectious). But the biggest reason, I think, is that it highlighted the crazy beauty expectations and extreme hypocrisy that women deal with: the virtues of “natural” beauty are constantly preached, from Beyonce’s “I woke up like this (only if she went to sleep with perfectly arched eyebrows, hair extensions and a full face of makeup) to boy band ballads like the one Schumer spoofed, to Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign.

But all of that positive messaging rings false in the face of the constant bombardment of messages about ALL OF THE FLAWS we need to discretely hide. It seems we shouldn’t actually leave the house with the face that we wake up with, but should instead camouflage ourselves to look as if we processes flawless alien DNA. Sure, the overly “made-up” look might be falling out of fashion, but it’s been replaced with a pressure to somehow sculpt a “natural” look that involves an ever increasing amount of time, products, and of course money.

Speaking of money, the U.S. cosmetics industry brought in over $55 billion in 2014 alone – that’s not counting other “beauty and grooming products, that’s just makeup.

I had been thinking about makeup long before Schumer’s sketch. I’ve worn makeup most every day of my life since early middle school (that’s well over 20 years). Like most women, I learned about makeup from my mom. But my mother, like her mother isn’t a particularly “done up” woman, so like my mother I learned how to apply makeup in the most rudimentary way – basically a cover your zits and dark circles and try to make yourself look presentable sort of method.

And while I did receive a well-meaning intervention from a gay male friend in college that got me to start plucking my eyebrows, my approach to makeup has remained pretty basic for decades (save from the few years in college that I wore white eyeliner because I read that it would make me look more “awake” – it instead made me look like I had a white line bizarrely drawn on my eyelid).

But even though I never became interested the endless makeup advertisements and tutorials proliferate so much of “women’s” media, and even though I still bought the cheapest drugstore makeup that my mother taught me with, I still felt like I had to wear makeup nearly every single day.

Of course no one had ever explicitly told me this, and I likely wouldn’t have admitted or realized that I felt like I was required to wear makeup. But still it had become ingrained in me in a much more insidious way. Wearing makeup was like showering or putting on pants – it was simply a way of making myself presentable. But why is a boy’s and a man’s face presentable on its own but from the time I was 11 years old, my face was not?

It’s kind of embarrassing that it took me this long to ask myself that question. When I started think about this several months ago and mentioned it to my husband, he acted like it was the most obvious thing in the world: “Of course you don’t need makeup, I love the way you look without it.” Many of my friends said that their husbands and boyfriends said the same thing. Of course we are are women in long term relationships, who all meant our partners while wearing makeup, so I take it with a little grain of salt.

Still, now seemed like as good of time as any to break what I never would have thought was an addiction to my decades-long routine.

So I decided to give up wearing makeup for the month of May.

As a frame of reference, here are photos I took of myself both with and without makeup on the last day of April, as well as the makeup I apply for a normal day of work (my “evening” look usually just involves darker eyeshadow and if I’m feeling really fancy, lipstick).

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(without makeup on the left and with makeup on the right)

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(my typical daily makeup)

Day 1:  Friday May 1st

I felt really self-conscious most of the day, like people would look at me and judge as unkempt.

Even though it only takes me about five minutes to put on makeup, I was surprised how short my morning routine felt without it, I took a longer walk the subway and enjoyed the beautiful spring morning to with the extra time.

Part way though the work day I realized I could touch my face as much as I wanted, which made me aware of how little I’ve been able to touch my face during the day for my entire adult life. It’s such a strange thing to realize. Of course, I rest my chin on my hand frequently and every adult woman has had the experience of crying your makeup into a disgusting mess. But after hours of staring at a computer screen I’ve at work, I’ve never been able to rub my eyes or put my hands over my face. It’s such a satisfying experience, you guys. Not being able to touch your own face for most of the waking hours of your life is pretty messed up.

Overall though, being at work without makeup felt unprofessional – I wouldn’t wear workout clothes to the office and having no make up felt similarly unprofessional – that’s kind of fucked up isn’t it? My face is unprofessional?

Days 2 & 3: Saturday & Sunday May 2nd and 3rd

It is much easier to go without makeup on the weekend because I frequently do. But when Mark took pictures at me at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden I purposely kept my sunglasses on to hide the dark circles that are always under my eyes no matter how much sleep I get.

On Sunday night Mark asked me how the experiment was going so far and when I told him about my insecurities he seemed surprised, and a little disappointed. When I asked him what he thought of it so far he said he loved it – it didn’t take me as long to get ready and he liked seeing my face, he commented that he liked that he could see my freckles, which are subtle and always get covered up with makeup.

When I pointed out the weird discoloration that surrounds my eyes making me look slightly unwell all the time he kind of shrugged “I never really noticed.” I’ve always been convinced this is my face’s biggest flaw.

First Full Work Week: Monday May 4th – Friday May 8th

I’m getting more used to my new morning routine which is only 5-10 minutes shorter, but since the weather has been so nice I used that time to walk to the next subway stop on the way to work, and get exercise and enjoy the weather.

It’s still on my mind when I talk to people at work that my face is bare and my flaws are out but no one has had any visible reaction – when I started this I half expected to get the “are you OK, you look tired (or sick)” (both I should say are comments I’ve received when I was wearing makeup). I had one meeting and one interview with a job candidate and while the “my face is unprofessional” feeling did come up, I was able to brush it off pretty easily.

Most of the time I forgot that there was anything different about my appearance. And while the first few days when I would catch my reflection I would be startled and a little repulsed, as the days went by I started to have my normal reaction: “eh, good enough.”

makeup

Week Two: Saturday May 9th – Friday May 15th

Not wearing makeup has become a natural part of my day and I’m finding myself forgetting that there’s anything different about the way I look…most of the time…

I forget my hang-ups and don’t leave sunglasses on for pictures, some of them still make me cringe and my eyes are quickly drawn to my flaws, but some are OK. It’s probably the same range as photos of me with makeup on.

At work I have several meetings and an interview and it does cross my mind the impression that I’m making, the thought is easy to pushed aside once I’m talking to people – no one treats me differently. It’s possible I’m given a “less professional” impression, but more likely people don’t pay as much attention to my face as I do.

But for all of that progress, old habits are hard to break: On Thursday I had a conference where I’d be meeting a lot of people followed by my first meeting with a new writing group. In short, I’d be making a lot of first impressions – with my bare and blemished face. Mark left before me in the morning and I spent an uncertain moment in the bathroom, my hand hovering over the makeup bag I hadn’t touched in 14 days.

I actually caught myself thinking “If I just wear makeup today, no one will know.” I would have never classified myself as “addicted” to makeup, but that thought sounded seriously addictive, and to my credit I realized it, was embarrassed for having thought it, and carried on with my day and making my first impressions with my real face.

Also this week, I am offered a small bag of makeup on the street, but it wasn’t a reaction to my bare face – it was a promotion. “No thanks, I don’t wear makeup,” I responded, feeling ever so slightly emboldened. But then, a moment later I thought “hmm…I wonder if there is anything good in there.” Hey – free stuff.

Week Three: Saturday May 16 – Friday May22

Most of the week and the weekend was the new normal: not thinking much about my looks and shedding more of the self-consciousness when photos were being taken. But again when I was with people who knew me who I hadn’t seen in a while (extended family in one case and a group of friends in another case) it crossed my mind to tell them why I wasn’t wearing makeup—but I didn’t because that felt too close to apologizing, in the same way that you politely say to guests “I’m sorry it’s such a mess in here.”

makeup 2

This week however I did make an exception to my month without makeup rule. On Monday I was asked to be in a video at work, aside from not having material prepared, I panicked because I wasn’t wearing makeup – I couldn’t have a professional video recorded of my naked face and broadcast from a major publication to the entire world. Is that even allowed?! So I put it off until the next day and broke my rule and put makeup on.

There was a noticeable difference in the way I was treated throughout my makeup day –or at least I thought so, but it very well could have a bias I was inventing. I even received a direct complement from a coworker on my make up at which point I revealed that I hadn’t been wearing makeup all month. She said she hadn’t noticed. Does this prove that makeup is unnecessary or just that a naked face just fades into the background?

Week Four: Saturday May 23 – Sunday May 31

I was on vacation most of this week (in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon), so I feel like it almost didn’t count: I would normally not think to put makeup on for something like an early morning flight or a hike, so there were some no-brainer makeup free days.  On the other hand, I “broke the rules” and wore makeup twice when we got dressed up for a fancy dinner and a show for our anniversary, because makeup felt like an obvious part of getting dressed up.

Final Thoughts

Over the last month I have become more comfortable with my face, and while I don’t think I’ll quit makeup cold turkey for the rest of my life or even only reserve it for special occasions, I am moving to a place where I no longer think my face is “unprofessional” or where I’m startled or disgusted with my reflection.

So I guess that’s where I’m landing after my makeup-free month: makeup is like high heels, it’s not something I “need” and I’m not less of a woman without it, but it’s an option available when I want play dress-up (for work or leisure).

Still, these personal revelations don’t solve the bigger problem: the subconscious feeling that as women we aren’t good enough as we are. I’m not advocating that all women forgo makeup or that we move to some sort of androgynous version of appearance. No one should be made to feel shamed for wanting to get made up and dressed up (female or male) – it can be fun, and there are talented people who have made careers out of mastering it.

But I do think that more women should question it. Do you really want to wear makeup every day or do you just feel like you should or need to for vague, yet deep seated reasons? If more women were comfortable bringing their bare faces out in the world, would we no longer feel it was “unprofessional” to do so?

Not A Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day; my Facebook feed is filled with pictures and tributes to moms, getting a table for brunch is hopeless, and the price of sending a bouquet of flowers is greater than my weekly paycheck from my first job.

I have an amazing mom that I’ve been close to my whole life. She was a single mother who raised me and my brother with barely any money and a stunning amount of determination and sacrifice. Even during the screaming matches of my teenage years I have always fiercely loved and admired her. I’ve spent most of my adult years living several states away from her, yet we still talk many times a week. Long before I met my husband, she was the person that I’ve shared everything with. I owe so much of who I am to her.

And for all of that I know I am immeasurably lucky. There are people who have lost their mothers, or who had difficult or non-existent relationships with their moms. Every year when father’s day comes around I know how it feels to be left out of the celebration because you don’t have anyone to celebrate. And I’m glad to see that there has been at least a little more attention and acknowledgement given on these days to those who are without parents in their lives for whatever reason, and especially to the single parents who have to do the work of two.

But there is a person who is almost always forgotten on Mother’s Day, a person who many people likely know but are fortunate enough to not have to think about. It’s the woman struggling with fertility, to whom today is another reminder of everything she lacks.

Think about how it feels to be single on Valentine’s Day, when the world seems to have conspired to throw the love of a million happy couples in your face. Now multiple that a thousand times. Maybe more. It still doesn’t come close. Analogies fail an experience so unlike anything else.  I know that if it’s something you have never experienced it’s difficult to understand.

I know because for most of my life I never thought about it, because I never thought I’d have to. But you likely know women who know exactly what I’m talking about. These women understand how painful it can be to see what feels like a constant stream of pregnant bellies and baby pictures and how it’s even more amplified on a day when everyone celebrates “the most important job in the world,” a job that your body or circumstance has betrayed you for, a job that fate has deemed you unqualified for.

We celebrate mothers because even if we aren’t parents ourselves we know that it’s an extremely difficult and very often thankless job. So we take a day to buy overpriced flowers and make handmade cards and wait an hour for omelets in a token attempt to acknowledge that struggle and sacrifice.  Many of these holidays are commercialized, but at their heart we are honoring people for who they are and what they manage against all odds to do.

But there is no specially sanctioned day to honor the couple who has lost their baby, or the woman who has endured a litany of monthly difficulties and disappointments in hopes of one day having a bratty teenager who will slam doors. And honestly I don’t think that most of us would want one. We don’t want the type of pity that would imply. But infertility and pregnancy loss often feel very isolating. Some days, some moments, are worse than others.

This morning as I picked up my phone to call my mom to say Happy Mother’s Day I received a text from a friend who is nine months pregnant. Her road to motherhood was delayed by cancer in her early thirties. It began “For years this day was really hard for me…” It was just what I needed. To be remembered. To be acknowledged. To know that even though it feels like it, I’m not actually alone. Mark constantly reminds me, “We are doing everything we can. It’s out of our control.” I can’t control this, I didn’t choose it, and I don’t know if I’ll get to celebrate Mother’s Day next year, or ever. And I can’t expect everyone to understand exactly what that feels like, or to even care.

But if you do know someone who is on a road to parenthood that isn’t as smooth as we all assume it should be, it will likely make a big difference to them to know that there are people taking a pause from their lives to think about them too.

Happy Spring! Issue #3 Of Katastrophic Thoughts Now Available!

It’s my birthday and you get the present! The Spring 2015 issue (#3) of Katastrophic Thoughts (the analog zine version) is now available. It will go out to subscribers next week, and if you are in New York I’ll have all three issues at the Brooklyn Zine Fest on Sunday April 28th.

Otherwise send me an email to get your hand on a copy: kathleenerindavis at gmail dot com

Here’s a taste of what’s in this issue:

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What’s in this issue:

  • Words to the wise
    Screw up your courage to the sticking point
  • Retrospective: A Moment in Feminist History
    When over 1,000 women flew planes in WWII
  • World Changing Ways
    Honoring a beautiful spirit by helping others.
  • Your New Feminist BFF
    You know Rosa Parks, but do you know the other women behind the Montgomery bus boycott? Now you will.
  • I’m not sexist, but…
    Exploring the subtle ways unconscious bias creeps into our daily lives
  • Talkin’ Bout Revolution 
    How We Can Do More Than Just “Raise Awareness”
  • Beyond Ball Gowns and Place Settings
    Giving The First Ladies at The Smithsonian The Respect They Deserve
  • The Happy Feminist
    There is a lot to be angry about, but we should celebrate our wins as well.
  • Required Reading
    Books I’ve loved, books I hope to love and now comic and zine recommendations!

What’s In A Name?

Note: This essay is from the Winter Issue of the print version of Katastrophic Thoughts. Due to a mistake in pagination this article was printed and mailed to readers with two missing sentences. In the interest of getting the whole story, it is re-printed here in its entirety. Issues #1 and #2 are still available, please contact me at kathleenerindavis at gmail dot com if you are interested in a single issue or a subscription. 

In the last issue I wrote about your new feminist best friend (from the 1800s) Lucy Stone. She was an awesome woman who was both a suffragist and feminist as well as an abolitionist (which is more than can be said of many of the other more well known suffragists). One of the things that Lucy Stone was most known for keeping her own name when she married and fighting for other women’s right to do so. This woman was born nearly 200 years ago. Two Hundred.

Yet, as recently as 2011, according to an NBC poll, 50% of Americans believed that women should be legally required to change their last names to their husbands when they get married. That’s not 50% that believe that women should do it – there are no doubt even more than 50% of people ready to tell women what they should do – that’s 50% that believe there should be a law that requires women to change their names.

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This is, I hope we can all agree, completely preposterous. There are many things people should be legally required to do: not murder people, stop at red lights, refrain from robbing banks. Why anyone would care what someone else does with their own name is insane. People name their children after fruit and consumer goods or characters in tween vampire romance novels. I would think keeping the name that you have lived with for 20-40 years or more would be among one of the most benign things a person could do. But I would be wrong.

So since we can all agree that legally requiring women to change their names is crazy pants, let’s back up and get the origin of that other thing that many more people believe: That women (and only women) should do it.

The story of this tradition goes back to the bible, upon marrying Abraham, his new wife no longer existed as herself but as the “wife of Abraham.” This kind of shit went on for a really long time and has been used to justify some of the biggest battles that feminists have fought: one of the pieces of logic keeping women from getting the vote was that most women were married and they would just vote the way their husbands did anyways.

Women couldn’t own property because they weren’t real people, husbands could rape their wives because their wives where essentially their property, and even as recent as the 1970s a woman couldn’t get a credit card without her husband’s permission. Fast forward to 2015 and married women receive mail addressed to Mrs. Her Husband’s name, as if we’re all still just “wife of Abraham.”

If you think that a married woman is still a person, the logic behind why women should change their last names seems pretty flimsy.

The other reason for the existence of the tradition stems from having children (something we all know not all married couples do). The child was given the father’s name to prove that he was the rightful heir and not “a bastard”, this is the same logic I would assume that’s vaguely behind the propensity for unmarried women to give their children the father’s last name even when the father has no role in raising the child.

Just as we all agreed a few sentences ago that married women are in fact still human beings, can we now all agree that there is no such thing as an “illegitimate” child? No matter what’s going on in your parent’s life when you’re born or trendy thing they name you after you are still a person and still part of family.

So we can hopefully all agree that the tradition as a tradition is pretty ludicrous. But most traditions come from places that are irrelevant to our lives today. And this one is one that’s holding on. More than 90% of women change their name when they get married (statistics of men who change their name when they get married are so slim that their basically never reported on).

Now for the not-at-all-surprising news that I didn’t change my last name when I got married. It was a decision that I made when I was a little girl and one that I shared with my husband early on. He response was something like “Well, it’s your name.” I know there is part of him that would have liked me sharing his last name, but it was a pretty easy thing for him to get past. I am no less part of his family for having my own name, just as he is no less part of mine for keeping his.

A person’s name is the most fundamental marker of their identity and although the majority of women who change their names when they get married do not associate themselves with surrendering their identity to their husbands and certainly view themselves as individuals not property, that’s still what’s at the heart of altering your identity on the most basic level.

Once you start considering it there are so many reasons why a woman would want to keep her own name: in an age when women are getting married later in life and building careers, changing your name erases the most searchable marker to your past accomplishments, plus changing your name in the modern world is a pain in the ass (in fact there is so much paper work involved with getting a new version of everything that entire companies have been built around helping women navigate the process).

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All that said, I don’t think that women should keep their names or even that men should change their names. When it comes to personal choices that don’t hurt others I am all for freedom of choice. If you want to take your husband’s last name, who am I to tell you that you can’t? You can change your name to Scrimhorn Shacklebot for all I care. I just hope you have a good reason for doing so, one that you’ve come to on your own rather than just following what every one else made you believe you should do.

Changing your name when you get married and giving babies their father’s surname is so staggeringly unquestioned. And that’s all I’m really making an argument for – a little critical thinking about the most visible symbol of personal identity.

And that goes for men too. In the United States, only eight states have an official name change for a man as part of their marriage process, others may petition a court. So few men even let the issue of name change cross their minds. For a world of true equality to happen all couple would start at zero in the discussion – his name, her name, any combination there of, a new name all together – everything should be equally considered if everyone is truly equal.

There was an excellent article by Molly Caro May for The Hairpin a few months back titled “What Happened When We Gave Our Daughter My Last Name” (spoiler: people acted shocked but the world did in fact keep spinning). She says:

I would never advocate for all children having their mother’s last names. But imagine if 50% them did. Imagine the social impact on our collective unconscious. It would be a movement requiring no money, no lobbying, no elbow grease. It’s a choice anyone of any background can make—harder for some, I know. And our naming system would actually be diverse. No one gender would occupy it.

People might say these are small peanuts, but language is never small. Language shapes how we view things before we even know we are viewing them. How we name something determines how we value it. If women’s last names are consistently absent from history, never passed down, then where is their—our—value?

Issue #2 Of Katastrophic Thoughts Now Available!

Yes, January is officially the bleakest, most depressing month of the year, but now you have something to brighten your month: A brand new (and still free!) issue of Katastrophic Thoughts (analog zine version).

If you’d like a copy send me your mailing address to kathleenerindavis at gmail dot com

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Here’s a sneak peek at what’s in the issue:

  • Words to the wise
    Eleanor Roosevelt Edition
  • Retrospective: A Moment in Feminist History
    The night the two most admired women in the world snuck off for a nighttime flight in evening gowns.

  • World Changing Ways 
    A cause that you should care about.
  • Your New Feminist BFF
    A woman so powerful she was called “her “the best man in the cabinet.” In the 1930s

  • Speaking About The Unspeakable
    An essay about one of the few remaining taboos about a woman’s body.

  • What’s in A Name?
    In which we all agree that women are people and think about what a name really means.

  • That’s Not All She Wrote: Short Fiction
    Twenty Dollars…A story about money, and the people we appear to be.

  • Required Reading: Books You Need to Love
    A book about trying to get pregnant, the odd history of Wonder Woman, and other must reads.

 

Katastropic Thoughts the zine is a quarterly ad-free print-only publication and is currently funded, written, produced, printed and distributed all by yours truly. If you’d like more information, have ideas or questions or want to contribute in any way please send me an email!

 

The 2014 That Was

Happy New Years Eve Eve!

It’s the prescribed thing to reflect on the last 12 months this time of year. And I love this sort of thing (see past recap posts here).  Mark and I sent a year-end recap Holiday letter out this year with our Christmas cards. So I’ll share that here (with some extras I wasn’t able to fit into the printed version):

Dear  Friends,

We had an eventful year in 2014, filled with many trips. In the winter we embraced the Polar Vortex by travelling to the Poconos in January for a long weekend of winter sports. In February Kate travelled to Massachusetts for a baby shower, one of several she’d attend, as many of our friends became parents for the first time this year!

JAN

 

 

 

In March we travelled to Peru for the trip of a lifetime: nine days hiking the Inca Trail, exploring the Amazon jungle and visiting the mountain towns and people.

peru

 

When spring finally came in April and May we got outside more, enjoying the cherry blossoms at the botanical garden, participating in two bike tours, and our first 5K (at the Bronx Zoo!). We also welcomed a new niece, Reagan, to our family, celebrated Kate’s 33rd birthday with friends, and celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary with a long weekend trip to Niagara Falls.

falls

 

 

Summer was a busy season as usual. Kate took an eight-week sign language course, and marched in the annual Mermaid Parade with the Gotham Girls Roller Derby Jeerleaders and Mark played softball with Marvel’s team. In between trips to the Governor’s island, baseball games, and cookouts, we travelled to Michigan to visit Kate’s family in both the upper and lower peninsulas.

summer

 

We celebrated Mark’s 37th birthday with a long weekend trip to a cabin in Lake George with friends over Labor Day. Later in September we travelled to Chicago for Kate to speak on a panel at the American Society of News Editors and were able to squeeze in another quick visit with family in Michigan.

lake

 

Fall brought hikes enjoying the foliage, pumpkin and apple picking, and of course our annual Spooktacular (Mark dressed as Hans Solo and Kate as Rosie the Riveter). In October we adopted a little orange kitten that we named Snuffleupagus Pumpkin.

pumpkin

 

Our Thanksgiving was relaxing and low-key at home, followed by Kate’s mom’s visit to NYC and the whirlwind of Christmas season.

mom

 

We also experienced a lot of loss this year, but we are grateful that we had each other and our friends and families to get us though. We wish you comfort and joy this holiday season and a year of adventures and happiness in 2015!

 

Love,

Kate & Mark

 

 

Bonus pictures:

springrunarijazz33

The Street Harassment Explainer That Shouldn’t Have To Be Written

By this point most people on the Internet have seen the video of Shoshana B. Roberts getting harassed more than 100 times over the course of 10 hours of walking the streets of New York.  If not, watch it now:

First of all, if watching that video doesn’t make you uncomfortable and angry,  I don’t want to know you.

Second of all, I’ve worked in online media for many years, so I’m well aware that the comments section is often where the worst of humanity lives, but the some of the response to this video is shocking.

So when misconceptions are as widespread as the ones around this video and the subject of street harassment are I feel like I need to set the record straight for whoever is listening.

The most pervasive comment was some take on “But most of those guys were just saying Hello, they were being nice and she should be happy to receive positive attention.”

Nope.

As a general rule shouting something out to a stranger walking by you on the street is not how human interactions happen. Conversations do not start by blurting out something(no matter how “nice” or “simple”) at some one you don’t know who is walking past you. Shouting anything to a stranger is threatening behavior. Period.

The assertion that she should have “just smiled” or said “hello” or “thank you”  was universally given by men.  There is not a single women who advise doing any of those things because all women have experienced what sometimes happens when you do that: sometimes nothing, but sometimes the “perfectly nice” men view that small acknowledgment as an invitation to start following you, talking to you, say wildly obscene things to you.  As evidenced by the video, she received men doing all of those things after giving them no response.

Which is what is at the crux of the problem of street harassment. Some men protest that they are “just complimenting” or “saying hello” to women or even that they don’t do it but don’t see the problem with it. But all women (#YesAllWomen) have a story (or several) of a time when they felt unsafe walking down the street.

In a myriad of circumstances: wearing any combination of clothing, during any time of day, in any public place. I have had things shouted at my walking down the sidewalk in the after in the small town I grew up in in Michigan when I was a teenager walking with mom. I’ve had men try to feel me up on crowded trains. I’ve been approached, honked at, propositioned, yelled at, and told “to smile” more times than I can count. And so has every woman I know.

This kind of attention isn’t flattering, it’s frightening. 

The fact that this never happens when I’m walking with my husband or any other male speaks volumes as to what’s really behind even these “simple hellos”: ownership and power. If I’m with a man (any man) the assumption is that I’m in some way his property and their comments would be disrespectful to him. I have in fact experienced men apologizing to the man that I was with after a catcall when they didn’t first see that we were together.

It’s been said eloquently before but it bears repeating: women do not walk outside for approval, praise, or comment. They, like all humans walk outside to get from place to place. If another human being isn’t smiling it isn’t your job to command them to smile. I am the boss of my facial expressions.

Other perplexing responses came from many sources, including some women whose views  I’ve agreed with on other topics. The main being that the video is racist because the majority of men were minorities and because she appeared to be walking in minority neighborhoods like Harlem. This is frustrating for several reasons: First, the implication is that there are certain places that aren’t appropriate for women to walk, that’s a small slippery slope to saying that a woman in a short skirt is “asking for it.” Secondly, it’s my impression that the video was a document of her normal day and included several neighborhoods in NYC including Midtown. To be clear, as the non-profit Hollaback who commissioned the video mentioned on their site:  “Street harassment is a “cultural” thing in the sense that it emerges from a culture of sexism — and unfortunately — that is everyone’s culture.” White men, Black men, Hispanic men, Indian men, Asian men, and more have made women feel uncomfortable and unsafe.

And finally, as if to prove the entire point of the video,  Roberts received threats of rape and violence after the video was posted, because it seems that whenever a woman publicly expresses any kind of opinion (or in this case appears in a video online silently walking down the street) that makes her fair game for the worst degradation.

I don’t have an easy to tie up with a ribbon solution, but I think that as misconstrued by some people this video was, it’s a good start. Drawing attention to this issue as non-profits like Hollaback, and Jessica Williams’ reports at “The Daily Show” (and maybe blog posts like this) do, hopefully open the eyes of some men to rethink their behavior and other men to stand up to them when they think that shouting at strangers on the street is complementary.

Never Forget To Say Thank You: Honoring Yosra El-Essawy

Very rarely in life do you meet people who truly inspire you to be a better person. Who are kind and generous and talented. Who genuinely want to make the world a better, more beautiful place and then set about trying to make that happen.

Yosra El-Essawy was one of those people.

She died last week after her year-long battle with cancer. The world has lost such a beautiful human being. Someone who not only created so much beautiful art but brought so much love and compassion to everyone she met.

I feel so honored to be among the hundreds (if not thousands) of people mourning this loss because I got, for even a short time, to be her friend and stand near the light that she brought to the world.

Yosra was an amazingly talented painter and a remarkable photographer. She captured love in such a beautiful and honest way, and her talent was recognized on one of the biggest platforms in the world as Beyonce’s official world tour photographer.

When she learned that she had terminal cancer at only 32 years old, she fought it with so much strength, positivity, and gratitude… in the face of what would make most people (myself certainly included) curse their misfortune and become angry and bitter she always ended her posts and updates with #neverforgettosaythankyou.

That love and gratitude that she put out into the world was reflected back at her — she was surrounded by so much love, from her friends and family. One of the most beautiful things to come out of social media is that my Facebook feed is now filled with messages of tribute and love.

After her service this weekend  her family posted this on her Facebook page:

At her service yesterday we were reminded of the need to pray for her and to do good deeds in her name. Yosra was deeply moved by acts of kindness. She cared so deeply for others. We know that the greatest gift we could offer her now would be to show that same kindness to others. The next time we each find someone in need, we give a helping hand, a smile, some support. That we go a little further out of our way to do a little something that will make a big difference. And we do it in her name. We turn the love she gave into love we give. We pay it forward, for Yosra. And we ‪#‎neverforgettosaythankyou‬.

So for Yosra, in her memory, I plan to find more ways to say thank you for my life, my opportunity, to make the most of my time on earth and to make it better for other people.