Monthly Archives: February 2016

#FreeKesha, Free Us: What Kesha’s case teaches the American worker

kesha_planes_fire_26_rescue_premiere_july_2014_croppedDespite my cynical nature when it comes to dealing with celebrities and various Hollywood activities (one of the hazards of growing up here in Los Angeles), I never thought anything in entertainment would disturb me quite as much as the legal case of Kesha.

For those who don’t know her, Kesha was a pop star who was sort of the antithesis of Lady Gaga — strange, but more gritty and grimy versus the latter’s high-fashion polish. Most people were hit and miss on her music, but I always thought she was interesting; a different take on the clean, perfectly polished pop princess, and I respected her for it.

So imagine when you find out that her producer has possibly been the source of emotional manipulations, rape and abuse. How he aggravated her eating disorder and even supposedly forced her to do drugs. And that he was allowed to keep control of her career, despite allegations of committing crimes, because there was a contract between the two of them. The fact that she was a woman who probably went through hell didn’t matter, as long as there’s money on the line.

So many things scare me about the Kesha case — and it goes beyond rape, abuse and the sad reality of being a woman seeking to make a career in the entertainment industry, which are hard enough to stomach on their own. It goes to the concept of personal safety and mental wellbeing being worth a lot less than professional stakes and the almighty dollar. This should not only scare women. It should scare every working person in the United States.

As a young working woman, I have seen it firsthand. When women (and men) are in terrible, abusive romantic relationships, they are told to leave immediately. Get out, no matter the consequences, like how a person leaving an abusive situation is more likely to die in the first two weeks of leaving than any other time in the relationship. If a victim doesn’t leave, they are often viewed as weak-willed and in constant danger.

However, eight hours a day you’re at a job, and if someone is there who is psychologically manipulating you or even harassing you, you’re often told to shrug it off. Ignore it, maybe it will go away. Report it, they’ll help (and although sometimes they do, there are times that they can’t or don’t). Go find another job in the off hours, in pure secrecy, or hang in there no matter how bad things get, because things will get better. If a person does choose to leave a job when things get unbearable without another job in hand, they are often viewed as irresponsible. Yet the emotional, mental and physical drain can be just as strong, if not stronger, than the romantic situation.

Like those who stay in abusive relationships, those who opt to quit jobs due to difficult, abusive circumstances before finding another one are also viewed as weak. Somehow, this seems slightly contradictory to me. And in the case of Kesha, it is nothing short of heartbreaking.

It was unfortunate that two of my first bosses out of college were very abusive, and I witnessed the behavior above firsthand. One editor’s favorite trick was to get me into a side room on a daily basis and berate me, telling me that I was the worst writer that he had ever seen. After he was fired for sexual harassment, it turned out I wasn’t the only person he was doing this to, but I was his favorite target. Yet no matter where I was, from sobbing in my car to sitting at the dinner table, I was told to “hold on.” His behavior shaped me for years to come, although on a positive note, it made me really think about treating others better in the workplace.

Unfortunately, the next boss after that one was worse — an anti-Semite who would needle me about not having gone to UCLA and, even though I was well liked by sources and readers, would tell me I constantly needed overwhelming editing. When I finally quit because I couldn’t take his abuse anymore, he said, “Oh, so this means you’re probably going to be marrying some rich guy and having 20 babies.”

When I came home and told my now-ex that I quit, I was yelled at and told how stupid I was, how I live in a fantasy world, how dare I walk out the door on a job without another one in hand, because that was common knowledge that everyone knows you don’t do. He was the most vocal; others were tut-tutting in the background. Yet barely anyone bat an eye four years later when I walked out the door due to his behavior.

Over the years, I wanted to think that my case was singular; after all, in the years after I never had bosses quite like those two mentioned above, and some are still my favorite people. That was, until my friends started talking. Each of them had a story about people at work whose behavior was unacceptable. They were actions that would normally get people fired, but for some reason there was a blind eye turned in each case. Each of these people were in different industries, but the stories were eerily similar, and they were all hurting from their treatment at the hands of their team members and their bosses.

One friend was so upset, his head was in his hands. “I wish I could just quit,” he sighed, and he felt scared of being fired while looking for another job due to the level of harassment he was experiencing at his job. Another friend said he didn’t have enough money in his savings to quit, and if he did how he would walk out of his 50-hour a week job where he is often emotionally manipulated and never look back. One girl, who is normally so warm and fun to be around, seemed to be dimmed out by her controlling boss, and I would give anything to help her. But all I can do, sadly, is listen. Like Kesha, we can end up trapped into the spiraling bad behavior of others who seem to get away with it. And in her case, Kesha is being preventing from making a living at it.

I’m not suggesting giving up when things get difficult; we do have to work through them. We have extensive obligations that we have to make sacrifices for, like long days and difficult people, and sometimes that’s necessary to push through. What are we sacrificing over the long term, though, is the most important question. If we are placing on the altar our mental stability, physical health or emotional well being for the sake of money, this is not freedom. When you see a woman forced to work for someone who has abused her, having to relive unspeakable trauma over and over again and fighting desperately for her livelihood, that is not liberty. And we, as people who have friends who love us and family who need us to be there, should not tolerate this.

We need to think about Kesha as well as the work culture we have created. We need to solve these problems together: Human relations, upper management and those who are willing to make workplaces easier places to be on a day-to-day basis must combine forces. We don’t necessarily need fancy lunches, ping pong tables and open floor plans to be happy. We do need to feel safe when we come in, be able to work with level-headed people and not be put on trial if we are being treated horribly. People as individuals who can change the world are worth more than just their jobs, and it’s time we start acting like it.

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Trails of Broken Hearts

hqdefaultOver four years ago, with the emotional maturity of a college student, I ventured back into the dating universe like an explorer heading to the new world. Sure, that broken heart was there from the tumultuous past seven years, but the possibilities felt endless. As my best friend encouraged me to open an OK Cupid profile, I felt an exhilaration and nervousness as I had to go through all my firsts again — first date, first kiss, first time sleeping with someone new in over seven years.

All those firsts went to a guy named Jason, a Samoan with pillowy lips, soft brown eyes and a bald head. As we were talking, I explained to him that I was fresh out my marriage — it hadn’t even been a month since I left. My wants and needs were made explicit: No relationship, no commitment, and if anything expect only a friends-with-benefits type scenario.

So, naturally, he asked me to marry him after two dates.

When I told him no (after all, I had just left my marriage less than a month before), he began crying. “Well, apparently our making love didn’t mean anything to you,” he said, leaving me flabbergasted and crawling through the dark looking for a proper response.

And thus began my trail of breadcrumbs and broken hearts. Some were necessary, as the people were desperately clingy, incredibly toxic and didn’t need to be around in my life. Others were just cases of ghosting and, “I’m just not feeling it.” But I walk on eggshells despite my best intentions, emotions I have cracked because I’ve been searching for true love for quite a while now.

I only began thinking of Jason again last night when I was meandering through my local Trader Joe’s around 8:30, my favorite time to go shop for my wants and needs. After a warm, relaxing bath, I decided to head out, my hair wet, dark circles of makeup the remover hadn’t gotten under my eyes, slipping on my Star Wars t-shirt and a pair of jeans with no underwear because, hey, no one else had to know.

Given my disheveled state, it only made sense that, while wandering through the produce, the front door opened to reveal Ryan. He had that standard outfit of Adidas track pants, little round glasses and white t-shirt that I had previously grown so accustomed to him wearing. My heart started pounding as I rounded the corner, pretending I didn’t see him, agitated by my shopping solitude being broken.

Ryan and I had never dated per say; rather, he was my hook-up guy for over six months, that random 10:45 pm call where I would head to his house in the hot summer months and end up lying in the grass and having sex with him on a blanket under a full moon. It was a mutually-agreed upon situation, and I enjoyed it. My friends jokingly call him “the cookie guy,” as one night I showed up his house around midnight and he was randomly baking chocolate chip cookies. But the sex was hot and it was a nice distraction from the more difficult moments. Best of all for me, there was no attachment and promises that I had to make if he was more involved in my life. It allowed me to keep things separate, divided, private — the way I liked it.

I hadn’t heard from Ryan in over a month. The last time I did, it was a cold January night, and we switched to the guest bedroom instead of the lawn. I remember getting up from the bed, slipping on my clothes and looking down at him. He looked up at me in desperation, as if his eyes and gaping mouth were begging me not to leave. Yet the aggression in me was seething; while we were in the middle of the act, he asked me about things I don’t like talking about, wanted me to do things I didn’t want to do once we were back to our non-sex reality, which forced me to come up with a lie to get him off my case. The anger was palpable on my face, but given our casual relationship, it didn’t feel right to explain myself. And with that, he disappeared.

And now here he was in the Trader Joe’s, seeing this person with my basket overflowing, my hair matted and my ass unprotected under my jeans. It was only in this moment that I finally understood Arnold Schwarzenegger and his calls to, “GET TO THE CHOPPA!!!”

I didn’t bother to track Ryan down by the dairy; rather, I wanted out as soon as I could. My cynical mind scoffed with the thought of: If he wants to see me, he could text me at 10:45 like he always does. Anger, shame, the parts of my life that I did my best to keep separate from each other were gathering under the fluorescent lights and among the employees’ Hawaiian shirts.

I saw him watching me from one of the aisles as I stood at the checkout stand, making the cashier laugh with one of my jokes. Heading out to the parking lot, I noticed his car parked next to mine, not beginning to believe this string of coincidences. And for the first time in a while, I really thought about Ryan; how scared I was before that he was actually falling for me, how he didn’t really know me from a hole in the wall, how I missed his 6’3 lithe, strong body wrapped in mine. How us being sexual together is so natural, but knew that he was leaving me so unsatisfied and unhappy in other ways that maybe it was best we weren’t doing anything at this moment. How I sought romance, love and monogamy, and knew that this was probably not the person who would give me those things.

As I drove home, I was forced to think about my dating sins — from Jason to Ryan, there were plenty of boys who broke my heart, but there were those whose hearts I destroyed along the way. For the first time in four years, I had to admit the truth: No matter how good my intentions were, how I thought I was being altruistic, how my body slept with boys and left them with no emotions attached, I was just as bad as the guys who did it to me and my girlfriends. I hurt men and did things that I hated other people for doing to me. I refused true intimacy, putting up walls to protect my highly sensitive romantic ego from everyone, which over the years has meant everything from pretending certain people who hurt me didn’t exist in the room I was in to running out of a random Trader Joe’s at 8:45 at night.

It took me all this time to feel guilty, to ask what had become of me. I used to be a loving partner; what cynical creature had I morphed into? I generally liked who I have become over the past four years, but not in a dating sense; I was the girl who seemed to have no filter, get angry and irritated over little things and shoot myself in the foot constantly when there was someone giving me romantic attention. It was one of the reasons why I checked out of the dating process in recent months, shutting down my OK Cupid and deleting all my dating apps; there was enough pain and difficulty in my life with pressing commitments to family and work without having to deal with all the games we play and the hurdles we jump.

The truth is that there are no innocents in the dating game, and we have to learn to accept this and come to terms with ourselves and our guilty consciences. When taking two random people from different backgrounds and experiences and combining them to create something, whether a sexual connection or a love match, it’s inevitable. And, in turn, it sometimes means seeing ourselves for our faults as well as our strengths.

Yet somewhere inside of me, I believe love is possible. That it’s difficult, and yet we can find someone right for us. That we can be together and not hurt each other time and time again without healing and forgiveness. I have to believe that we don’t have to play into the games that swiping right and left and the numerous options that the online world gives us, ordering a person like ordering a pizza and having a list 10 guys long. Somewhere in me, I hope we are more than that, and I no longer have to walk the trail, leaving broken hearts behind me.

The Dawning of the Age of the Feminist

2000px-woman-power_emblem-svgAt 19 years of age, I shocked the entire staff of the Pierce College Roundup when I was the first to receive a first place award at a state conference for an on-the-spot opinion piece on feminism. It led with a line from the piece that inspired my feminism, The Vagina Monologues: “Down there? You want me to go down there?”

Going down to try to claim the written copy of my piece after the awards, I was approached by members of the judging panel.

“We liked it,” he said. “It was terrific. But it would never be published.”

“Why not?” I asked.

I never really got a direct answer to that question, but it boiled down to somehow comparing the word feminist to the word vagina in the dirty-word pantheon was unacceptable for mainstream America to hear.

In my younger world, feminism was a dirty word, a thing you never talked about. Feminists were man-hating ball-bashers, pantsuit wearing frigid “femi-nazis” who were so into the cause of women that they didn’t see anything else around them. They isolated men and were too radical for the mainstream.

Yet when I snatched my mom’s copy of The Vagina Monologues to read it at 18, it changed me. Eve Ensler, the famous playwright, told me in her wonderful words that I was a woman, and that was really okay. I would be hurt and things would be difficult, but it was all about getting back up and fighting the good fight until it was won. It even led me to participate in The Vagina Monologues at Cal State Fullerton my senior year of college.

Reading the forward from Gloria Steinem, I realized I could be smart and bold, fierce and seeing more to the world than what it had given me as a woman growing up in a conservative Christian town. I was left thinking back to several years before in high school, when my teachers would yell at me for having an opinion and asked me why I couldn’t be quiet and a good girl like my older sister. They called me trouble, when in truth I wasn’t; rather, I am everything that Gloria wrote about.

So imagine my betrayal when she was in the news last week about how supporting Bernie Sanders was more about my libido than about my mind. How I should support Hillary instead. This wasn’t my Gloria. This wasn’t the woman who taught me to think for myself and be a powerful woman in my own right. This wasn’t one of the women who inspired my feminism.

It was so unfortunate, because now is an amazing time to be a feminist. Strangely enough, it has transformed into a modern buzzword, the pendulum swinging to it actually being cool. The single most influential female pop star in the world, Beyonce, showed up at an awards show with the word “feminist” in big giant letters flashing behind her. Younger starlets embrace it, and I have had conversations with plenty of my male friends about their feminist leanings, both gay and straight. This is the biggest step of all; when men start to embrace feminism as their creed, they help bring women to the forefront. They have done random things such as come up with hashtags such as #fuckthepatriarchy (which is still in the running for sexiest hashtag ever for me) or speak publicly about why they believe in feminism.

It’s so rare from my father’s generation, where men were put in cookie cutter boxes of masculinity that they had to break (like my dad did), but it’s now more common. I think it’s partially because these men are our friends, brothers and devoted sons to their mothers, our comrades in arms against the large, big bad world. They worked with us, studied with us, partied with us, took care of us as we took care of them. They saw the injustices as we faced them and saw our struggle, taking it to heart, seeing us through horrific things they can barely dream of: date rape, sexual harassment, abusive relationships and discrimination for being women. They may not always call themselves feminists, but they support us in any way they can, and that is truly special.

When I see people like Madeline Albright saying that there is a special place in hell for me for not supporting a candidate just because she is a woman (although she has since retracted), I wonder about my feminism. I see my mother and the women who pioneered the cause, who are deathly concerned about a Republican who seeks to outlaw abortion yet again in the position to appoint Supreme Court justices. I’m frightened too, but I can’t elect out of fear. And I see my sisterhood, the younger women who also are looking for hope rather than fear, and want to vote accordingly.

This is how we become divided as women. Messages like this in the media is how we fracture, wage war on one another, when in truth we need to unite to see the bigger picture. Others who don’t support women want us who do fractured and splintered, transform us into stereotypes of cat fighters and gossip mongers, feeling the need to fit with the box given to us rather than follow our own instincts. And then seeing women who normally I respect play into it made me feel downright wrong. We should stand together, old and new, never apart.

However, I have to keep reminding myself of the stories my mother told me from when she grew up: About her high school classmate who sought a back-alley abortion and was left to die on her parents’ lawn. Remembering all the money put into her brother for college because the boys went to school, and how she was unable to go to Berkeley like she always dreamed because she was a girl and should be more focused on finding a husband, paying for college out of her own wages. How there wasn’t always the term “Ms.,” let alone birth control that was readily accessible. There are things that, as a woman who was born years later, that I take for granted because… well, in my lifetime they were always there.

Yet I remember that day at 19, standing there and hearing that a part of my body was considered to be a dirty word unacceptable for mainstream America. When, after my divorce, I began to become sexually promiscuous that, although my closest friends celebrated it, I was shamed by others and even lost friends due to it. How, even when I loudly proclaimed my feminism for years before it became “cool” and “mainstream,” that my ex used to refer to it as “cute,” dismissing the cause. Dismissing us.

Yet I see how it used to be versus now, like when everyone would snicker at my last name of Slutske, and now how women I come across tell me how cool it is, that I should be proud of who I am and own it. How I see everyone involved in the conversation of feminism — black women, Latinas, white and even transgender women asking those inclusive questions, sharing their feelings and garnering love and support from each other. Empathy and support is just as important to our feminism, and it helps build something better for the future.

One day, I was sitting with my friend and her two young boys. While she and I enjoyed some grown up conversation, the boys were distracted watching television. They were watching a fantasy kids show with multiple main female characters, totally invested in the story arc. There was no one shushing them, ridiculing the characters or calls to watch a more “boy” show. This was the show they were following, in fact highly invested in, with strong female characters and strong male characters both equally involved in the adventures. This was feminism in action: The ability to see male and female as equal partners, as if it was no big deal.

We still have a ways to go, problems they won’t know about until they’re older. Abortion is constantly threatened, Planned Parenthood is always in risk of having money taken away for women’s health and the depictions of women as simply sexy is sadly still more commonplace than it should be. Yet I see people fighting these stereotypes head on, both men and women. We are getting closer to the dream of equality between genders, although the fight is still on for a more inclusive voice. We are at the beginning of something great, where even kids are being raised with these ideas, and they’re becoming the backbone of our society. We just need to go a little further.

Feminism is not about anger, and it’s not about frigidity. It is a living, breathing, beautiful thing that everyone is starting to see blossom and grow, and in turn nourish by seeing more, asking more. It is the opportunity to be more, to strive further, to tap greatness from everyone on a level playing field, no matter who they are. And, despite everything, I’m truly excited for the future.