Category Archives: Female

On Tuesday We Wear White

white-dressThere is a dress that is sprawled out over the stool in the corner of my bedroom. It is a beautiful, gauzy white dress with an intricate sky blue detailing in the middle. It is one of my favorite dresses. And on Tuesday I will wear it.

I bought it from the Fox Hills Mall just before I left to go to Israel three years ago. I wanted to wear white on my Shabbat in Jerusalem, as the Kabbalists believe that Shabbat is a taste of the world to come, right down to the white of our garments. This was the closest to white that I could find, but it didn’t matter that it wasn’t all white; to me, there was perfection in the blue.

It reminded me on the little blue flowers on the Corelle dishware in my mother’s cabinet, or the Ottoman style fabrics that would make me think of my great grandmother’s life in Turkey. Yet it was long and dramatic, a statement of sorts. Just like the girl who would be wearing it.

I remembered how proud I felt wandering around the Old City in it wearing a white cardigan over my shoulders. I will never forget walking through the courtyards just above the Kotel and how it flowed around my body; the magic in the fabric was unmistakable. I would wear it many times after that, including on Tu B’Av, where Jewish women would go into the fields in white dresses and dance, and from there the men would pick a wife.

I am an American citizen, the third generation of proud Jewish women living here. When my family came here in the early 1900s, the world did not know of Auschwitz. It could barely conceive of the birth of a Jewish state. We were Jews seeking a better life, where the boys wouldn’t be sent to war and my family could be safe.

I remember sitting in my grandmother’s tiny kitchen with its warm wood paneling, cooking the delightful delicacies passed on to her from the centuries of life in the diaspora, and how thrilled she would be when she got an envelope that said jury duty.

“I love it,” she would say in that honey husky tone that was uniquely hers, yearning for another letter to call her for service. She hoped to learn and to understand the American justice system, to be a part of something bigger than herself, as my grandfather blared C-SPAN in the other room. How she told me in secret how she missed working and going to school. She was born in 1918; two years before the women got the vote.

Her daughter and I got into many battles together. My mom was born in 1945, almost 25 years after women got the vote. Being a woman in this country for her meant not necessarily pursuing her dreams the way her brother was able to, because women had certain expectations put on them. But she believed, even as the medical bills piled up in and the hair fell out of her head due to chemo, that this was the best place in the world to live as Jews.

“How can you not love this country?” she would yell at me when I would write one of my questioning American blog pieces. And there, watching her die and my opportunities fade as I tried to take care of her, I wondered how she could.

Neither of these women lived to cast their ballots in this presidential election. Six months ago, my mother was wrapped in a white shawl and buried in the ground in a pine box, per our custom. And on Tuesday, I will be wearing white too.

It’s because when I was 18 I discovered a copy of The Vagina Monologues in my mother’s bathroom. She didn’t understand those words of Eve Ensler’s, but I did. It was my voice as a woman who grew up in a town where girls were supposed to be quiet and accept their treatment at the hands of men. I was already 5’11 and had a voice that boomed, and a brain that was just as smart as anyone else’s. Why should I be silent?

My words spoke better on paper than they did in my vocal tones, scary as they may be. Yet they were meant to capture the distaste of what the world told me to be as a woman, let alone as a person. How I was told my aptitude for the written word was no match for the power of math and science. Yet even though I understood and respected logic and reason, I understood the heart is just as powerful. Why should I be silent?

Standing alongside me were the women who I came to know throughout my life, beautiful and strong, yet somehow felt silenced in telling their stories. They couldn’t speak their truths, ranging from sexual assault to health issues and discrimination in the workplace, for fear of retaliation. I understood the fears, yet I knew that their stories were also mine and should never be shamed or scrutinized. Why should I stay silent?

When the suffragettes of the early 1900s donned their colors, of purple, gold and white, they saw that we could be so much more. We didn’t need to stay silent. We were voices in this place just as much as others. We were battered and bruised, with women who pursued the presidency such as Victoria Woodhull (actually the first female candidate for president, even before the suffragettes were successful in their quest for voting) described as Satan incarnate. And we got that right, and for 96 years we have exercised it accordingly.

Now, after 96 years there is a woman running for president on a national-level ticket. She believes in what I believe in, as does the Democratic Party platform, so I am casting my vote for her. There is far too much to lose in this race as women if we don’t; I sometimes wish the men in our lives would see that.

For over 24 years, she has faced opposition to who she is as a woman: One who doesn’t stay silent. Who is ambitious and determined, and has every word thrown at her in the book. So have we all who have decided to take a different path than our mothers, who decide not to hide behind what we should be and instead strive for what we could be. We are loud and strong. She wears white. And we must too.

So Tuesday, I will wear white when I go to cast my ballot. The blue pattern in my dress, I realized, is to represent my matriarchs who gave my faith to me. Our Jewish faith instructs us to wear our prayer shawls with a thread of blue, and I believe truly that we pray with our hearts as much as our words. And my vote is a holy act.

My mother and grandmother believed in and loved this country, probably a lot more than my questioning mind does. They would have loved to vote for a woman for president. I am but one, but as one I am the culmination of generations and years of love and proud heritage, and will vote in their spirit. That is what I will be on Tuesday, standing with the rippling fabric that once flowed with divinity in my homeland, and will flow around me again.

My mother would always say to me, “Remember who you are.” I am an American Jewish woman, one of many. And on Tuesday we will wear white.

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Every Woman’s Story

the_blackmailWe were in the underground parking lot below the synagogue several years back. A group of us had just gotten out of Torah study. I was wearing one of my favorite outfits, with my knee high boots and a long denim tunic. I wore my leather jacket over it; it made me feel strong and tough.

I always sensed he liked me. He was overly flirty, and I brushed off his advances. He was pushy, bragging about his family’s money, how much they donated to the temple. He was a board member for the young professionals chapter there, and now a group of us were standing in the parking lot, him being one of them.

He knew I was looking for work. He said to me that he could walk me to my car, telling me he might have a job for me. I couldn’t say no. I needed the work.

We walked up the ramp to where my silver Saturn was. “What are your skills?” he asked me.

“Well, I write and edit blog content, work with HTML and SEO…”

“Are you a good kisser?”

What? What was he talking about?

“Um, I don’t know how that applies to my job skills,” I replied awkwardly. “But I’d like to think I’m a good kisser.”

“Because I’d really like to kiss you right now.”

Alarmed, my feet moved faster. My mouth became dry, because I realized how he manipulated the situation. I eventually was stuck by the front door of my car, but he had cornered me next to it. I couldn’t run; where would I go?

I told him that I didn’t want to kiss him, tried to steer the conversation back to work, but it was to no avail.

“I know you want me,” he said.

“No, not really,” I replied.

“Look me in the eye and tell me you’re not attracted to me!”

Looking him square in the eye, I said loudly, enunciating every word, “I am not attracted to you.”

There was a pause as if to register what I just said. Then, as if he hadn’t heard it, “C’mon, just one kiss.”

I kept saying no, and he kept trying to negotiate. Eventually, he asked for a kiss on the cheek. I agreed tepidly, hoping it would satiate him. But then he tried to move into my denim tunic — the v-neck on it was a little low, and I am rather busty. I pulled away as best as I could, but he kept kissing my cheeks, trying to get me to change my mind. It didn’t work.

Eventually he walked away, and I sped from the parking lot. A part of me was so angry that I wanted to run him over, but instead I just sped back to my then-apartment in Culver City.

When I got home, I realized several things about that interaction, like how it wasn’t my first inappropriate encounter, not even at this temple (that came from a middle-aged drunken gentleman one Shabbat dinner asking me to sit on his lap). It wouldn’t be my last. Also this guy was so powerful at this temple that I immediately knew there was no way in hell the men in charge would believe me. I stopped going to this organization’s events for the most part, unless I had friends who would be there to protect me.

My story isn’t rare; in fact, it’s more common than you think. When you have a community structure full of organizations that are dependent on the money of wealthy individuals to function, those individuals are dealt a hand of power. There are many who use it lovingly, but then there are those who use that power to use others and then make their transgressions disappear.

When I read in the Jewish Journal about Danielle Barrin’s story, I was happy about her courage, but slightly angry. She was explaining a story that happened in Los Angeles, but her assailant wasn’t from here; he was from Israel. The guy from my story above lives in the greater Los Angeles area, probably not far from the guesthouse in Beverly Hills that I call my home now. That temple isn’t far away either.

In many ways, it’s easy to dismiss it. Jews are usually upper middle class, owning homes and nice cars, donating money to charities and temples. There are many issues that we see as “over there” problems, particularly with social issues such as domestic violence and sexual harassment and assault. They’re so heinous we think that they can’t happen here, or we’re too scared to report it when it’s in our backyards.

Yet the first place that I can argue I was groped was at a Jewish day camp. I had just turned 12. The boys wouldn’t leave me alone, grabbing at me in the swimming pool and jumping so they could try to kiss my cheeks due to my height. I told my counselors. The result? “Well, they’re just doing that because they like you.” It was normal for boys to treat girls like a jungle gym; they weren’t reprimanded and I had to learn it was a “thing” and live with my isolation.

I never talked about that summer until very recently. I blocked it out of my memory almost completely, until therapy brought it back to life again. It colored my life and relationships even from a young age — that I was a plaything, not worthy of my voice, opinions or objections.

Up until recently, I felt alone. But in the age of social media we have become more open, particularly about our experiences with abuse and sexual assault. Sure, the social media age has given us some not-so-great things, but when it came to sharing our truths, it was an amazing place to be. It let us know that this wasn’t just an isolated problem, but an epidemic.

When the Trump assaults came up, I saw the echoes of my womanhood past, where we were forced to pretend it didn’t exist or, “that’s what men do.” There were many people who stood up against it. I saw people who were confused, and that’s okay too. But then there were those who excused it away, as if it didn’t happen. Not here. Not right in front of our eyes where we could see it and then pretend it wasn’t real.

Now these stories have a national voice, and hopefully it trickles down and gives hope to others going through those situations. I feel more confident coming forward with my story because of the one in the Jewish Journal, and maybe another woman will become comfortable coming forward from mine. There’s a reason why when a public figure is accused of sexual assault they come forward in groups; because when one person comes forward, it gives strength to others. I want to share my voice.

As for my story above, it came with somewhat of a happy ending. A friend of mine was on that same young professionals board of that temple, and he asked me why I didn’t attend events. As a close friend I confided in him, and as a decent human being he was absolutely livid.

“You know, I always sensed something off about him,” he told me. “I couldn’t put my finger on it. But I think I know what it is now.”

I swore him to secrecy; I was afraid of the backlash. I loved my Jewish community and wanted to still be involved; there was no way to do it if I was saying I was sexually assaulted in any way, especially by someone who had more power than me.

The months passed, and at one point I was in the elevator with that male friend and a girl friend. Apparently the same guy did that to her, and several other girls. That male friend then reported him, to which my parking lot assailant was reprimanded immediately. I attended one of the organization’s events recently, and he was nowhere to be found.

That ending was only somewhat happy. I felt shamed into not reporting due to the power that person in their organization had, and that is a place no one should be. Then I wondered if the only reason why it might have been taken seriously was because a man with power reported it. And when I spoke to a friend of mine the other day, I realized he continued to be friends with him only until recently, knowing two of his female friends had been groped by this guy. The reason why the friendship ended? Ironically, it was because the guy supported Donald Trump.

It was in this moment that I realized the power of patriarchy: not only does it not trust women or dismiss their claims, but it also silences women from the men who care about us, who want to be our allies. I tell the stories above, stories I told to my mother and female friends. Then I look at my father, and realized he doesn’t know them.

My father is as decent of a man that ever was, lovable, sweet and fair. He is truly the definition of a feminist ally, but I never told him about what the boys did to us. We shared it with our mothers and sisters, but not our fathers and brothers.

So one day, I took my dad to brunch. And it’s wasn’t about what I told him; it was what he taught me.

Why I have given up on online dating… possibly for good

2061329074_05077d0272_bIn the past almost five years I’ve been single, online dating has been the norm. I’ve done them all — swiped left, right and in between, shoved myself into various dating algorithms and marketing ploys. I’ve downloaded a variety of dating apps, ranging from the Hinge to Tinder, or the dating app known as John Oliver puts it, “A barrage of unwanted d**ks.”

But this Sunday, I was done. Seriously done.

I’ve said that phrase quite a few times. I have uninstalled and installed, disabled accounts and bitched plenty of times over coffee with both girl and guy friends. But I never gave up on the potential of finding a lifelong connection online. After all, several of my friends have ended up with partners from OKCupid. I have several friends who have met on Coffee Meets Bagel. One friend even met her guy on JSwipe.

Yet within the past several weeks, I realized that the modern dating atmosphere wasn’t fitting me. My criteria isn’t crazy — I’m looking for a guy who isn’t an a-hole, is semi-stable, fun, has good values, a great personality, can hold an intellectual conversation and preferably smells nice (you’d be shocked how important this is). I’m not looking for a guy to sweep me off my feet; rather, I’m seeking my best friend… who I just so happen to have sex and will live with, and is most likely male.

The longest I’ve ever dated anyone in these past five years is two months. On average, I go about three dates with any one guy. I have my share of horror stories like everyone else. Yet after experiencing the equivalent of dating whiplash, where I went from receiving flowers and making plans for ten zillion future dates to being dumped in a week, I was tired. I couldn’t do it anymore.

Although I have turned off my dating profiles in the past, the constant pressure of, “You need to find someone,” rings in your ears to where you feel forced to turn them back on. But after this past deleting, I decided to take a look at current dating culture, including my place in it. Why did I feel so miserable? Why wasn’t it working for me? And it seemed to boil down to five different categories:

Us In a Nutshell

We are walking, talking collections of various human experiences, from nights up until 1:30 in the morning drunkenly making pancakes to the loving bonds we share with our family members and friends. Each of us has something special that we contribute to the universe, and many great things that we can give to others in our relationships.

Yet online dating is telling us, “Please reduce yourself to a short description with a few emojis, as well as several selfies that show off your body, but not your spirit. Then everyone can play a game of hot or not with you.” How depressing is that? And how can you even think about forming a loving connection with anyone based on that type of mentality?

The online dating world doesn’t give a lot of room for bonding and getting to know another person, and we can be dismissed with the swipe of a finger. It’s not a great place to be. We deserve better.

Let Me Upgrade You

At one point, a guy online asked me if I was into interracial dating. I was alarmed by the question, as race never factors into it. And yet I realized that I am a strange breed, because many of my friends will veto a guy by any variety of things (including race), or hold out for that one that fits their exact type. After falling in love with a guy that was shorter than me. brown-eyed and bald when I prefer tall, light eyes and a luxurious dark head of hair, I’ve learned better.

Online dating makes it worse because both the computer and us don’t think of the person behind the profile. This includes those algorithms sites set up with “personality questions.” Some will show me a 90 percent and he’s boring as hell. Meanwhile, I have met people who were given 65 percent and we had lots of fun.

There is such a thing as too picky, and the online dating world makes us think that there are so many fish in the sea we can get exactly what we want without compromises, which is what dating and relationships are founded on. It’s comparable to ordering a pizza. And speaking of…

Sex or Pizza?

At one point, I had a guy try to get me to come to his house. No coffee, no nothing, just me walking to his door at 10 p.m. My response? “I don’t come hot and fresh to your door in 30 minutes or less, I’m not a pizza.” And yet, that’s what we seem to expect from many of our apps.

Due to the anonymity of online courtship, we treat people as afterthoughts, like what we’re having for dinner tonight. I can’t even begin to count the number of times the opening message I got from a guy was “DTF?” That guy saw me as a place to put his penis, not a person. Otherwise, he would remember that meeting in a public place first is ideal not only for common courtesy, but also for my safety as a woman.

As mentioned before, we are human beings with complex inner worlds. Trying to reduce us into tools for others’ pleasure makes us into commodities, and that’s not right. If you want to hook up from there, I’m not judging — trust me, I have used them for that, too. But with any human encounter, including sex, respect should come with the territory.

The Accountability Dilemma

Usually the best way to find someone is being set up by friends — except in my case, where I hear, “He’s socially awkward/slightly autistic, but he’s really nice!” (Not a joke. Those actually happened.) There is a sense of accountability and shared values with friends. And if he does anything stupid, that friend can promptly yell at him.

Online dating has none of this. There’s a reason why you see so many articles about girls who send horrible text messages from guys to their mothers: because for the first time, these guys are being held accountable. We can feel degraded, or even worse, threatened. And while some sites have moderators to take inappropriate people out, many times we don’t report — or worse, they are the moderators.

When we are strangers on the Internet or with phones in between us, we feel like we can get away with a lot more that we would never do in person. Dating is hard enough without any extra problems.

Fear of FOMO

Several times, I’ve been with a guy where everything seems to be perfect: Solid chemistry and lots of fun. Everything falls into place very, very quickly, as if it was always meant to be there. They were amazing human beings, treating me like a goddess when they were dating me.

Yet all of these times, I have been left because “the one who got away” shows up and they want to try to make it work with them. And almost every time, these guys try to come back into my life after the other one doesn’t take. It never works; the spark is gone and any potential trust has disappeared.

Sometimes we think so much about what else is out there that we don’t see the potential in front of us; it’s called FOMO, or fear of missing out. The online dating world makes it easy jump from person to person, because look at all the people we might be missing if we “settle” for someone. As a result, we are left unsatisfied yet again.

And yet…

My swearing off of online dating may be all for naught, because let’s face it: When was the last time someone picked you up in a bar or approached you at an event? Or you were the subject of mixed signals from a person to the point where you just assumed they weren’t interested? Sometimes the only way to even date is by going online; at least you know where the intentions are.

I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve actually dated someone from a bar or event. Hell, it’s pretty rare when a guy openly hits on me or buys me a drink. (Unless my friend Justin is around. For some odd reason, if he’s there I’m getting hit on like mad.) We have grown so adjusted to a screen between us that the idea of courting someone in person is downright antiquated, and the idea of potential, face-forward rejection poisons our minds. And it’s not only with guys — I’m horrible at approaching guys for dating.

There is this great desperation for me to give up online dating, to let go of the toxic culture we have built. It seems like any solid relationship that I could have has to be built organically, not digitally. And yet I’m not sure if I can; the indirectness of online dating has been programmed into our generation’s mind to the point where we can barely talk to people on the phone anymore, sending everything via text.

There has to be another way. We all deserve love if we seek it, finding our match and building great connections. That shouldn’t mean dodging various pictures of guys’ junk, feeling disrespected, devalued or threatened. It should mean building the foundations of trust that come with any solid relationship with a person who wants to break through the bonds that hold us back from one another.

When you figure out how to do this, could you tell me how?

The Privilege Question

hqdefaultI have to ask about privilege. I have to ask.

My mind has been restless, turning over and over. Images from the news circle through my head: Convicted rapist Brock Turner in a button-down shirt exiting prison; opinion columns about Nate Parker’s rape accusations and the idea of consent; having an accused rapist in the NFL say that the most horrible thing that could happen is one of their players not standing for the national anthem.

You see why I have to ask. I can’t leave this question unasked anymore. There is too much at stake.

It’s because the question lingers in the back of my mind as I am sitting with her — at a dinner table, on her couch, over the phone, in a Laundromat. My dear friends, amongst so many, who tells me a story that might only be her story, that I wish could say was unique. I have heard her story before. One in five women have it.

I think about the night where I stood in a synagogue parking lot, or the one where I was lying in his bed in Marina Del Rey. One tricked me into letting him walk me to my car because he said he had a job for me, and I was looking for work; the other told me that he loved me before I forced myself to gather all my strength to throw him off of me while he was forcing me. In both cases, how I desperately tried to escape, and felt scared.

Then I watched how it disappeared so fast. The money was too powerful in both those cases. A flash of cash, and it all goes away.

Yet is it that alone? Nate Parker was the recipient of the largest distribution deal to come out of Sundance — $17 million. Yet in the wake of his rape allegations members of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences swear they won’t see his movie. Yet they don’t blink for Woody Allen and his numerous cases. They gave an Oscar to Roman Polanski, who can’t even come back into the country. So maybe it’s not money after all.

The question lingers in the air. I have to ask about privilege. I have to because it’s been there my whole life.

Even as a young girl, as my body matured into womanhood and my libido starting racing faster than I could, we were told to BE for men. Wear this makeup to impress boys. Wear this perfume to entice. Lose that weight, no man will find you attractive if you don’t. Men were the ones who told us what beauty was, and we had to follow.

But not too much, though — you don’t want to rile them up. As Britney Spears proclaimed her virginity, we were expected to be chaste too. The purity culture was overwhelming. It tore us apart, and it made us question, but in secret.

We couldn’t wear midriff shirts in school because they would tempt men, yet they could change their shirts in the parking lot. I asked this as a freshman in my newspaper class in a corner. One of the editors decided to publish it into my high school paper; as a result I almost got beat up by the football team. You weren’t supposed to say anything; why couldn’t I be quiet like the other girls?

It was the same school where the wrestling team got suspended my sophomore year for raping several boys with a broomstick lovingly known as Pedro. It took months for the school officials to find out, but the girls all knew; we were threatened with Pedro by some of the boys with a twinkle in their eyes. We were the victims, and in many ways the perpetrators; our silence, unknowingly, betrayed others.

I think of those boys, of the ones who took advantage. They felt like they could, it was their right. The need to feel powerful in weak-kneed adolescence was overwhelming, so they took an option those in charge allowed them to take. In many ways, whether it was through words or the actions and inactions of others, they were told that it was okay. It wasn’t. It still isn’t.

It’s the privilege that creates the world we live in, with rape culture, racism and income inequality taking their tolls. However, the privilege also lives in the silence, because we don’t feel pressured enough to speak out. We talk in corners, but not openly with each other and not as often as we should. We live in a world where rape victims feel the need to hide because they are told that it’s all in their heads and not to accuse falsely while very few rapists get punished for their crimes. And in some parts of the world, there is rape that is legal.

So I have to ask about privilege. I have to ask because I refuse to stay silent anymore.

Privilege gives others the right to tell you what to wear on my body, whether it’s a bikini or a burkini, when in truth it doesn’t belong to you. It gives others the permission to say what you should do with your uterus when they don’t have one. And there is no room for questions or consent; it’s “my way.” Privilege means taking freedom that doesn’t belong to you. It means enforcing silence.

Yet I am standing here. I am asking because I have a voice that refuses to listen to regulations on my body that have no foundation in reason. Who sees the suffering of my friends, from warped body images, racism and rape, and told to “get over it.” Who are told that we have to be what the world tells us to. We don’t. And we won’t.

So as long as my voice is clear, I’m going to keep asking about privilege. And you won’t shut me up.

Dear Hillary

819px-hillary_clinton_official_secretary_of_state_portrait_cropDear Hillary,

When I was 10 years old, on a chilly day in January, my mother sat us down at the kitchen table and made us write letters to our elected officials. Although I was too young to really understand what I was doing, one of those letters was to your husband, then president Bill Clinton. I haven’t written another one since then, but feel that now is the time.

You have to understand something about my mother: She loved this country. She was a Democrat, but proudly displayed the American flag on national holidays and put up a green light outside for veterans. When I challenged this country in my writings, she would write comments and say this country meant more to her and should mean more to me, to us and the future generation.

I was the rebellious one, taller than almost all the boys; the headstrong granddaughter of Turkish Jews blessed with my grandmother’s name, her bubbliness, savvy and sneaky sense of humor. The matriarch of our family who could have easily been a CEO if the times permitted, she could never have imagined America as it is today.

All my life, I heard things from outside my family structure; things that I can never shake out of my head, no matter how I try.

“Don’t be so bossy.”

“Sit still and be quiet!”

“Boys will never like a girl with so many opinions.”

“You don’t have to be so loud!”

As I got older, they morphed into other words, like “weird” and “strange.” And then there were my ex’s favorites: “You’re out of touch with reality” and “You f**ing b*tch.”

(As I am addressing what will hopefully be my future commander-in-chief, I hope you’ll forgive the language above.)

I’m sure you’ve heard all of these and worse. I’m sure my mother heard them too. We get them as strong women trying to break the mold. My mother, who was told “nice girls don’t go to college” in the early ’60s, worked part-time in packing at an ant farm factory to pay tuition at UCLA while her mother worried about her finding a husband. Fortunately for her, she found my father, a uniquely compassionate and feminist man.

My mom wanted to be a doctor, but “girls don’t become doctors.” Her brother did, and my mom worked in his office. She was wife to a theater artist and eventual entertainment tech executive, helping him type his MBA papers while enormously pregnant with my older sister. He encouraged her to finish her bachelor’s degree and her master’s, but at the end of the day my mother was the support for her ailing parents, two daughters and one niece, who had lost both her parents before she turned 30. She was the backbone of our family.

Growing up, while the world told me to stop being stubborn, she loved my resilience in disappointment. When I never gave up while others told me to quit, she was inspired. I made her laugh so much she nicknamed me, “the human Xanax.” Sure, as mothers and daughters go, we fought quite a bit. Although she was an active second wave feminist before I was born, we often disagreed about the ideas of men versus women. But at the end of the day, she was my strong, dutiful mother, with a dash of silly whenever she put on her light-up Mickey Mouse ears while working in her home office.

Meanwhile, I got my degree and married a man who was strongly and abusively conservative. I was too scared to speak up with my liberal leanings in fear of his rage. When the day came where I realized that he was too mentally unstable for the future, I fought my way out. My mother was there that terrifying night I left, calling me practically every five seconds to advise me, with my aunt giving me resources I needed to get out safely and legally protected and my friend offering me a safe house. In your own words, it took a village to get me out. I was broken, but determined to put myself back together.

Free of the constraints of marital censorship, the fight of feminism was mine to take on as a part of the younger generation, to shape how I wanted my future: Living independently and on my own terms, eventually working freelance in communications and obtaining national-level clients. Hoping for a full-time job to help pay off my student loans, but even when I didn’t get there, to keep applying. Keep moving. Be strong. Not necessarily with a man, but seeking one who longs to be my partner in family and the fight for equality. We as women can be the backbones, but we can be also the hands that hold tight to our dreams and work for them every day. The fight morphs and changes from generation to generation. And for many of those days, there was my mother, not always understanding but respecting.

I’m writing this letter to you because in April I cried at her hospital bedside because her face was so jaundiced and she was struggling to breathe. Her fingernails were the lightest shade of pink and she was running them through my hair. She told me she was proud of me and glad she got to know me as an adult. Less than two days later, I was wailing at the bedside, sitting on the hard floor holding that same hand, cold as ice while whimpering like a child, “I want my mommy.”

For two years, we fought the battle of breast cancer with her, sacrificing almost everything for her care. She died of a lung complication that took numerous doctors, plenty of “I don’t knows,” and eventually her life. It has been three months since then and there are still bills coming in that scare my father, her partner of almost 50 years, wondering how he’ll survive without his love. I think of your fight for health care and how my mother wanted to see it come full circle. How she cared about women’s health, teaching us at a young age that our bodies were not a place of shame but of pride. That being a woman was, in so many ways, an incredible thing.

And tonight, how I long for her to see you at this moment of your life, when “girls don’t become doctors” becomes “girls can become President of the United States.” It’s because she loved this country with her whole heart. And tonight, for the first time in a long time, I can say the same.

There are people out there who don’t trust you; many of them are women. It’s easy to throw labels around, toss words like they’re playthings: Corrupt. Criminal. Crooked. For almost 24 years, since you have come into the national spotlight as First Lady, you have heard them all yet remain stronger than Wonder Woman. You aren’t perfect, but as my mother used to say, you remembered who you are and kept moving. That is an incredible feat.

But the bigger task is at hand. The future of this country needs you: Allowing us to obtain quality educations without spending years in debt. Helping Planned Parenthood stay open and strong alongside access to birth control across the board. Making sure there are not only jobs for us, but equal pay for equal work. Letting us live without the fear of someone grabbing a gun and killing us. Allowing our parents to be comfortable in retirement, not scared of insane prescription and medical costs. Making sure that America is safe for all of us, no matter the color of skins we wear, those who we love and the places we pray. Yet still being someone who will be able to reach across the aisle, avoiding the dogged partisan politics of the past.

We, as the younger generation, need you to do this for us. We know what’s at stake in this election as you do. You have served as both Secretary of State and in Congress. You are beyond being a woman in this race; you are utterly qualified, and I put my faith in you.

One of my favorite stories is that, when you were a girl, you wanted to be an astronaut and you were told, “NASA doesn’t hire girls.” Well, guess what? I want to hire a woman for my president, and I have to believe that the rest of this country will too, for the sake of democracy. I hope you take that torch all the way to the White House for the memory of my mother, Jacqueline Amira Slutske, whose smile I saw reflected in yours Wednesday night after President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. So let’s get out there and show them what we’ve got.

Sincerely,

Reina V. Slutske

We Were Girls: A Rape Culture Story

blonde-826027_960_720Once upon a time, we were girls.

We clomped in our mother’s high-heeled shoes around the house and tried on her makeup, wondering what it was like to get older. We watched television shows with adventurous, curious and confident female characters, whether we wanted to slay with Buffy, fight evil with Sailor Moon or even be smart like Penny from Inspector Gadget.

We drew hearts around boy’s initials with ours on our middle school binders and dreamed about our various superstar crushes. We dreamed of falling in love, not knowing of the consequences.

We developed our own styles. Some of us put on red lipstick and vintage prints, wanting to be Gwen Stefani. There were the girls who dreamed of being Courtney Love, wearing baby doll dresses and grunge flannel shirts. Others wore cute little plaid skirts and danced, hoping to transform into Britney Spears. But we loved being girls.

We then got older, and our bodies started growing. And that’s when the talking began.

“Girls don’t say that! Girls shouldn’t do that! Girls can’t wear that!” they growled.

“Why not?” we asked.

“Boys will get distracted!”

We wanted to argue it wasn’t true, and our education was just as valuable as boys. Yet there we were, being groped in the hallways and pressured into things we didn’t want to do. When we tried to tell, the administration told us it was our imaginations. That doesn’t happen here. Yet tell that to the boy at my high school who was assaulted with the end of a broom. It made girls scared; if boys could do that to each other, what could they do to us?

There were also the lecherous teachers who purposefully sat the girls in miniskirts in the first row or paid particular attention to certain girls in their classes. We knew who they were. They were adults and we were “children.” They would fight for their own, not for us. We were sexualized long before we were ready to have sex, and the code was silence. If you were smart, loud and stood up for what you believed in, like I did, you were punished.

We were girls. We deserved better.

And these were the girls who were sent off to colleges across the United States. A lot of them rebelled from the mentality of “sit still, look pretty,” or at least I hope they did. They probably learned more about themselves during these days than they did during puberty’s grip. But unfortunately, as these girls turned into women, some of them turned into victims of rape, which according to most statistics are one in five women (there are very few statistics on men, but there are estimates of one in 71).

A lot of these victims have no name. In the Stanford rape case against Brock Turner, she is only identified as “Emily Doe.” On my college campus, she was known as a Jane Doe assaulted in the hallway of the business building my senior year. In fact, in journalism one of the first lessons I was taught in reporting was that you name everyone in relation to any crime — except for rape and sexual assault victims.

To this day many of them still have no names. It’s sometimes because they are one of the over 80 percent of rapes that are never reported to police, or they are victims who refuse to tell anyone, even their own families. Perhaps it’s because of the idea that they might be told it was all in their heads and targeted as false accusers. Maybe it’s worse than that.

I wish I could say rape stopped in college and as soon as we left we were safe. But we weren’t. We still aren’t. I hear the story about my cousin finding out she had been drugged at a party, and telling her friends so they could get her out before it’s too late. The sobs from my friend when she woke up the at a friend’s house blacked out with her pants off still ring in my ears. Another woman is on her couch passionately talking about her own rape on a fourth date as I talk about the boy that told me he loved me, and about an hour later I threw off of me when he tried to force me to have sex with him. When I told my mother a year ago, she told me a similar story from when she was dating.

We became a part of a never-ending rape culture, so we began to follow a survival creed, whether we were single or with someone. Instead of adventurous and curious, we had to be cautious. Watch your drink. Be careful how you dress when you go out, don’t wear too much makeup. Don’t go out by yourself, particularly at night. Feel free to drink, but don’t drink too much. And for heaven’s sake, don’t be easy, because who would believe you if something happened?

We had to stop being girls, because being girls meant being naïve and possibly becoming prey. We had to become women to take responsibility for our own safety. But then we’d hear the calls throughout out lives: “Well, boys will be boys!” Boys never had to stop being boys. They can be boys for as long as they feel like, even into adulthood because it was “cute” or “fixable.”

On the playground, boys could hurt girls until they cried and then have the girls be told, “Well, that just means he likes you.” It meant boys trying to act more aggressive, screaming obscenities at those whom they thought to be less manly. And yes, that sometimes included showing their junk off, whether flashing or sending that sexually harassing text with an inappropriate picture in it.

There were fewer limitations. They were expected to be rowdy and act like wild ruffians. They were allowed to be dominant. There was no one judging what they wore to class or whether they spoke up too much. They were boys.

Even though they didn’t have to stop being boys, most of them wanted to be men, too. The pressure for obtaining masculinity was high. They had to be physically strong and fit a mold. Don’t cry, be tough, don’t show that you feel anything other than anger. The goal was to be so powerful that they dominated others, including other boys who were “different” — gay, brown, black, Asian or even differently abled. This was called patriarchy.

They were also told about being men was that, in order to be good enough, you needed to get two things: money and girls. In that mentality, we were not people. We were things to be possessed, purchased, conquered. And if you had enough money and privilege, you could.

A lot of boys hated it. They were the boys who never made the football team, never got the girls, couldn’t get the fancy jobs that were supposed to bring them everything they could ever want. Quite a few got smart, seeing that there was another way to be men, and they found that there was often a great power in respect for others.

But others began blaming, finding anyone to target, often hurting women because they felt slighted by them or there was no other way to obtain them. On both sides of the spectrum, whether rebelling against traditional masculinity or embracing it, it was all about dominating women and girls, being stronger than us. We were surrounded, harassed with open threats of rape online and subtle hints of it in real life. Women couldn’t stop looking over our shoulders, sometimes wondering if we could trust our male friends, as often the perpetrators of rape are people we know.

We were girls. So is every woman who is a victim of rape or has to thwart an attempt. We rally together to take back the night and help protect each other in bars. Yet there is something lacking in those conversations: The men aren’t there. They don’t hear the stories we tell one another about rapes and sexual assault. But if we talked as openly with the men in our lives about it as we do the women, they would.

It’s time to change the conversation. We are better than this, both men and women, and the power of sisterhood and brotherhood means we should act as one human family. We are partners in making this world not only better but also safer. And it’s time that we act like it.

We need to talk about what rape means, what male to female relationships boil down to. There have to be discussions about the over-sexualization of our society. We need for them to understand that our friendships with one another don’t mean the other owes us anything. We need to teach boys that it is not having girls, money or privilege that makes them powerful, but their own individual contributions to this world that do. That it’s okay to feel. That women count just as much as men, and in order to dismantle the roles that society has given us and let go of rape culture we have to do it together. It’s because rape culture began when we were children and grew into a weed wrapping us up with it, and we need to kill it now.

There is a new generation of boys and girls, watching new shows that tell them all the amazing things they can be, with fashion icons and crushes to draw hearts around. But what are we telling them about each other when we can’t figure out as adults how we relate to one another? They deserve to have a safe world, to know that the way of adulthood is not where men and women become enemies on a battlefield. It’s where we become partners in figuring it out, because somewhere inside of us we are still the children on the playground before the world told us what we should and shouldn’t be.

We are women and men. But we are also boys. We are also girls. And at the end of it all, we are people, so it’s time to start acting like it.

Reina’s 10 Rules of Dating Etiquette

take_a_good_look_adams_kovacs_1960Since I became single four years ago, my change in relationship status meant that, if I ever wanted to have sex again or even think about finding love, I would have to dive back into the cesspool that is dating. After seven years of being out of that world, it was like mingling in a river of toxic waste and trying to figure out the lay of the land from all the people with three heads.

At the time, I was 29, and I hadn’t dated since I was 22, let alone in the technology era. Seeking a relationship really was a different language, and everything you did had a message, like how a friend of mine told me there was a hierarchy of dating places: Coffee for friends and casual dalliances into friends-with-benefits territory; drinks for friends, potential hookups and the slightest chance of a relationship; and dinner for potential hookups and half-possible relationships. Or how when you give your number to a guy you’re interested in them dating-wise and if you add them on Facebook you think of them as a friend. (That one I don’t follow. I’d probably add you on Facebook either way.)

Then of course there are the requirements and rules: Don’t have sex on the first date. Don’t reveal too much about yourself. Don’t show too much cleavage, but don’t be a prude. I can’t even begin to list the hundreds of don’ts that I’ve been told. Meanwhile, there was a whole online dating vernacular to acclimatize to beyond that combined with hundreds upon hundreds of unsolicited pictures of human male junk and requests for pictures in return. For example, I had to learn that a guy asking for more body shots in online dating is a secret way that he’s trying to make sure you’re not fat, because that’s men’s greatest fear while online dating. I guess it’s nice to not have to worry about going out with a person and them possibly taking advantage of you. Either that or I guess it doesn’t matter if I would gouge your eyes out, as long as I’m not overweight while doing it.

The truth was there are so many little variables and squabbles that I couldn’t pull them apart. Don’t post that picture, post this picture; don’t say this, do say that. Let them pay for the meal, or pay your own way to show your independence. Pay for your Match.com account for quality men, or why would you spend money on such an endeavor? It’s very confusing.

My friend Ron gave me a challenge: Write a list of dating etiquette principles that people should follow. Being single and slightly removed from the dating scene as of late (but not enough so that I don’t remember the hell it is), I welcomed the task. As I started coming up with a list, I realized it really boiled down to ten simple, extremely blunt rules that I’m pretty confident most daters and generally nice human beings can agree on:

  1. Don’t be an asshole.
    This may seem like a simple concept, but even if you just look at the standard comments section of a Facebook post, you would be amazed at how many people have a problem with it. Not being an asshole simply means respect for the fact that everyone in the dating world is looking for their better half, and it’s hard to find someone. It means being straightforward in what you want: If you want a hookup, by all means, say so and don’t lead them on. It means that, if someone tells you they’re not interested, not attacking them. Were you listening in Sunday school to the golden rule? No? Well it’s that whole, “Do unto others as they would do unto you” thing. So don’t be rude. And don’t contact people in the form of a proposition of, “Hey, dtf?” Not only does it mean you’re an asshole, but you’re lazy.
  2. Stop thinking with your junk.
    We live in an age where we are programmed to think with our respective genitalia, from dating to what kind of hamburger we buy. Therefore, when we look at online dating profiles or go to singles mixers, all we see is, “Hot or not?” or, in Tinder terms, “Swipe right or left?” Hate to break it to you, but looks fade or change. Also, you’re not going to have sex with this person 24/7 — you’re going to have to talk to them and reason with them eventually if you want to keep that person around. Sure, we all have physical types, but a relationship has to go deeper than that to work. So don’t think in those terms and talk to someone new. It’s amazing what you’ll find, and personally I find people more attractive if they’re smart, funny, decent and can carry a conversation rather than if they have six-pack abs. And speaking of…
  3. Be open to new possibilities.
    I have two examples of this. One was where a 5’6 guy contacted me on a dating site (please note I am 5’11). Normally I don’t go for shorter guys, but he was so easy to talk to and fun to be around we actually dated for a while after that. The second was a girl I used to work with who went on a date with a guy who liked baseball. She said, “He likes baseball, and I don’t like baseball. So I’m not going to pursue it.” That guy could have been her perfect guy, and she threw him out simply because there was one interest that they didn’t have in common. Meanwhile, I took a chance and explored something that I would have never done before, and even though it didn’t work out, I loved the time we had together. Being open means new opportunities, meeting wonderful people and who knows what else? Possibly meeting the love of your life and not having to worry about this dating thing anymore.
  4. Stop texting, you idiot.
    The text is great for many things, ranging from finding each other in a large, crowded shopping center to getting into a car accident for doing it while driving. However, it can also be one of the greatest hindrances to dating and being able to get to know each other. It’s so bad my friend once had to dump a guy via text because he wouldn’t take calls. If you’re trying to date someone, opt for more connection and not less. Texting and even its cousin, Facebook messenger, is a great starting point for getting to know someone, but it can’t communicate the full picture of a person — what jokes they laugh at, how they respond to different topics and their tones of voice. If you have the time and the ability to call, do it. If you don’t like phone calls, impromptu visits work too. Make the effort. Which leads me into…
  5. Don’t be lazy.
    Oh, the lazies, the procrastinators, the shiftless dreamers who hope a person will sweep them off their feet instead of going to get them. They come in many forms, to the girl who contacts a guy on a dating site to say, “Hey, let me know if you have any questions,” to the guy who is too scared and/or lackadaisical to pursue a girl, and when she finds someone else, he decides that it’s the perfect time to declare his love. If this is the approach they take to dating, it’ll probably be the same in a relationship, so avoid them and be better than that. If you like him/her, ask them out. If you’re interested, don’t play games; just say it. One of my favorite instances of this was at a coffee shop in Eagle Rock after I performed at a comedy open mic. He told me flat out he was interested. I was so impressed that he was straightforward that I immediately grabbed a drink with him.
  6. Focus on the other person.
    You know that electronic leash you have in your pocket that you call a cell phone? Yes, technology is grand, with all the pretty lights and dinging sounds, not to mention the ten zillion dating apps and your queue of 20 guys and/or girls in various states of flirty texting. Guess what? If you intend to connect to anyone in human form, it’s got to go into hibernation. If you’re going on a date, don’t play with your phone and don’t answer calls unless it’s an emergency. Same goes for darting eyes around the room and paying too much attention to distractions. Also, if a person says something to you,listen. Ask questions and find out things. Respond with your own experiences. We live in a constant state of FOMO (fear of missing out) that we actually do miss out on great things, even if that person is sitting in front of us.
  7. Follow basic topic discussion guidelines.
    When I went on my first date post-split, I called a former friend of mine in New York for advice. He got very nervous when I asked him, so he started making a list of all the topics that I shouldn’t talk about: No politics, no religion and no mentions of my ex or any previous relationships. When I gawked and asked him what I should talk about, he said, “Anything else.” Years later, the advice still works, but I would add any personal topics that you don’t feel comfortable sharing, like medical or family issues. In the first few times of meeting, it’s all about whether or not you click, and you can only see that if both people are comfortable with the conversation. Topical, touchy issues and possible deal breakers can be dealt with later.
  8. However, throw the rulebook out the window when it’s time.
    When I was dating a chef several years back, the initial chemistry between us was so hot that everything else seemed like a refrigerator. As a result, the above basic topic discussion guidelines were thrown out the window immediately and nothing was restricted from our conversations. What I love the most about dating is that when you find an amazing person that you really connect with, it can be completely unpredictable and exhilarating. It’s instinct; you just know it and they know it too. Any rules that society throws at us, from not having sex on the first date to taboo topics, are tossed aside. These are not the times to be guarded and listen to everyone else. This is when you carpe diem, seize the day, YOLO — whatever you need to do.
  9. Be you.
    There are two important components in dating: This new person and you. Beautiful, wonderful, fabulous you, who sings as loudly as possible in the car and has a passionate relationship with snobby coffee and red pens, not to mention an unnatural love of drag queens and RuPaul’s Drag Race. (Sorry, that’s me). Many people put on facades and fronts while dating, hiding themselves in the hope that the other person will like them, but that means we are doing a disservice to the other person by not letting them get to know the real us. Perhaps we’re insecure or uncertain, but don’t be. You’re great, I know you are, so don’t hide — and if you aren’t great, don’t tell me because I won’t believe you. This doesn’t end in dating, FYI: We sometimes forget ourselves in favor of the new relationship, and I encourage you not to. The best relationships are when the people around us bring out and love our strongest selves, not put us down. So keep doing you, no matter what happens.
  10. Seriously, don’t be an asshole.
    It’s sad that I have to repeat this, but I do. In the second repetition, it’s more in the, “If this is not working out, don’t be an asshole.” This means if you know a person likes you and you don’t like them back, don’t lead them on to thinking it’s more. This means give someone the courtesy of letting them down if it isn’t working, i.e. not disappearing without another word, or ghosting. If the other person lets you down, it doesn’t mean yelling at them, stalking them or going from asshole to psychopath. Rejection is hard, but it’s a part of the dating process on both sides. That being said, if you need to, I give you permission to wallow in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and Netflix before you get back up again. Or take a run. Just remember rule 9: Be you, and do right by you always.

And with that, I wish all of you fair daters very happy dating lives and hopefully the right person to be your complement. Personally, I will be overanalyzing guys’ intentions towards me while listening to all your worries about dating as we hang out. Or at least I’ll be lip syncing for my life in the privacy of my car. Whatever works.

How Planned Parenthood Almost Killed Me… and Why We Need to Support Them Even More

If there is any message I truly want to get across in this piece on the current state of Planned Parenthood, it is this: Do not watch Bride Wars.

This is a bipartisan issue we all should agree on. This movie is an abomination, so bad it’s not even worth hate watching — and I love a “good” bad movie more than most people. And it’s terrible even with Anne Hathaway and Chris Pratt in it, and I adore them both.

It’s the type of movie that made me even more anxious as it rolled on a loop at Planned Parenthood on a Thursday afternoon. It couldn’t quell my fears about the ticking time bomb residing in my arm, a birth control implant. As I sat in the waiting room of the clinic that could see me fastest, about 30 miles from my house, there were so many emotions swelling up in me it was hard to stomach.

My birth control odyssey started about six months previous, when it was time to get my Mirena IUD out. After five blissful years, it had expired and it was time to replace. I had my insurance card in hand and bought a bottle of wine and a carton on Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, which were waiting at home. For those who don’t know, IUD insertion is extremely painful, and it’s best to be prepared.

That day, Planned Parenthood turned me away. They didn’t accept my insurance, even though on the phone they told me they could. It puzzled me at first, but I let it slide, heading to another local clinic that was so backed up they couldn’t even see me for removal and insertion for four months. Eventually I went back to Planned Parenthood, when they told me they could now accept my insurance; shortly after I had come in they revised the policy. But this was where my troubles began.

The local Planned Parenthood clinic is tucked away on a tree-covered street in Thousand Oaks, with a tiny little parking lot and construction workers revamping the building. This is partially due to a recent arson, which shut the clinic for a short time. However, you will still see people outside handing out pamphlets and holding signs, making you feel as if you’re crossing picket lines to get birth control. As you enter, there is bulletproof glass between you and the receptionist, and security doors to get into the waiting room. But at least they play The Holiday, with Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, in there.

Sitting in those lovely stirrups in the examination room, I got the Mirena out, but immediately started cramping when the attempts began to put another one in. An immense pain surged through my system, and no matter how many times I closed my eyes and evoked the name of Idris Elba as a happy thought, it wouldn’t stop. (Probably because the last thing I watched him in was Beasts of No Nation — incredible movie, but not great if you’re thinking of the sexy version of the actor.)

The nurse said this was common, and usually women are told to take an ibuprofen beforehand — except in my case, I’m deathly allergic, so I can’t. She told me to wait a month until I got my period, when my body would be much more open, and then come back with a Vicodin in my system and a family member to drive me home.

Currently, my nearby family is made up of myself, my prude-like father with his cane, and my cancer-fighting mother with her oxygen tank. We are quite the trio — my mom and her Darth Vader machine announcing her approach; my innocent, doting dad who doesn’t realize I carry a condom in my wallet at all times; and me. So the idea of all of us heading to Planned Parenthood with me hopped up on a narcotic is a very amusing picture in my mind.

The next week, I experienced what they call the Mirena crash: A series of cramps, bleeding and intense mood swings that plunged me into manic episodes followed by serious, dark depressions (but more on that later). With the insertion difficulties and the crash, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back on the IUD, so someone suggested that I do some research into the birth control implant, Implanton. It goes into the upper arm, stays for about three years, and has a relatively painless insertion process.

I am usually pretty thorough about checking my birth control options, as I have so few. I have a history of blood clots and genetic clotting factor, which rules me out of practically every birth control available on the market. I have tried the two major ones they recommend to clot survivors: The Depo-Provera shot, which caused me to gain an insane amount of weight and feel arthritic, and the low-hormone IUD, which I had. When I first got it, they were just starting to roll out the implant, so it was untested.

The Planned Parenthood website didn’t say that the implant could not be used on anyone with a history of blood clots. Other sites said the Implanton, as it is progesterone-only, was a great option for those who had clots but weren’t on any blood thinning medication, like me. They recommend inserting it at the start of a woman’s period, so when I got it, I drove to the clinic. They were still playing The Holiday a month after my Mirena removal, and except for several teenage boys that seemed to be sneaking in for STD tests without their parents’ knowledge, everyone around me seemed to be getting the implant.

“You’re going to love it,” said the medical assistant, clad in burgundy scrubs, as she sat me down in the examination room. “It’s the same hormone as in the Mirena.” She read through a group of questions off of a computer screen with me, recording my answers. Not one was about blood clots.

Later, the nurse came in with a Nexaplanon, not the Implanton I researched. “This is the newest version of it,” she said. The installation into my left arm was quick and relatively painless, and she wrapped it in a bright green bandage before sending me home.

Except for a few headaches, nothing really happened until several days after. I had gone to have dinner with my friend Deborah in Studio City, and as I walked away from the restaurant, I thought to myself, My left leg feels funny. It was the leg that started my history of blood clots at 21.

As I got home and took off my pants, I noticed my leg was starting to swell, becoming red and warm — as if I was developing another blood clot. I immediately downed two baby aspirin (aspirin is a blood thinner) and began researching the Nexaplanon. The first thing that was listed on its website for risks and side effects was not to take it if you have a history of blood clots.

Upon more research, I found that the progesterone in the Nexaplanon was not the same as in the Mirena, as I was told. Both are progesterone-only, but while the IUD had levongestrel, the implant was etongestrel. It was the same hormone found in the Nuvaring, the birth control I was on when I first started my blood clot odyssey. Upon further research, I found that there was a lawsuit against the Nexaplanon for blood clots, with studies shown that it made people 40 percent more likely to develop blood clots. I’m 33 years old and have already had six clots. I was done.

After nearly no sleep due to anxiety and anger, I took two more baby aspirin in the morning, slipped on my anti-coagulation stockings and called Planned Parenthood, asking for a removal because of the clotting risk. They scheduled me for the following morning and alerted the nurse. She called me, and I told her what I had found about the risk of blood clots.

“Where did you get this information?” she asked skeptically.

“From the company’s website,” I replied. “The one that makes the implant.”

They told me that they would alert the medical director immediately, but I thought to myself: Planned Parenthood doesn’t have enough people in order to keep records updated as to this information? Although I’m a rare case, where my body doesn’t need an excuse to produce another blood clot, this could save other women’s lives.

Anxiety is a very strange demon, and I realized that I couldn’t wait another 24 hours to get the Nexaplanon out; my clotting factor is too strong. I called back and asked for the quickest appointment available, which was 30 miles north in Ventura in about three hours.

“The nurse recommends that, if you think you might have a blood clot, you should go to the ER,” the lady said on the phone. I was fuming by this point: This would take me out of the running for my appointment, and I still wouldn’t be closer to solving the source of the problem. Plus, I didn’t have enough money for an ER visit.

“How about you take this thing out of my arm first, and then, if things are still bad, I’ll go?” I snapped. If there’s a time bomb ticking in someone’s body, why would you delay in cutting the wire?

My impatience was leaving me agitated, so I drove up to Ventura early. I stopped by Main Street and walked around in the sunshine, trying to distract myself. But I was so out of sorts I didn’t even stop at my favorite local ice cream shop — you know it’s bad when I refuse ice cream.

Around 3:15, I couldn’t wait any longer and walked into the Planned Parenthood. This clinic was very different than the one in Thousand Oaks. The walls are whitewashed concrete, the bulletproof glass covering the nurses’ station, and the waiting room is smaller and stacked to the brim with at least 20 to 30 people. Kids were sitting on their mother’s laps playing games on phones, young girls sat nervously with family members, and there were very few non-minorities in the room, myself included.

And, of course, there was Bride Wars playing on a continual loop, a feminist institution playing the most anti-feminist dreck imaginable. It was so horrible that I blurted out loud, “Wow, this is awful,” and half the women watching started to laugh with me. It was a movie so bad that I wanted to sew my vagina shut… and then reopened when I remembered that I enjoy having sex, but then sewn shut again because with stories like that, it wasn’t worth the risk. As if going to Planned Parenthood wasn’t hard enough.

At one point, they called me in, saying they had problems with my health insurance… again. I began crying, half due to lack of sleep and the other half from the hormones in my body waiting for a chance to kill me. The clinic director put me into a side room as I was choking on my sobs, repeating how I didn’t want to die. She told me not to worry; they’d make sure that they would see me today.

After returning to the waiting room, I sat there for about an hour watching the terrible movie of death before they called me in. It was the same whitewashed concrete as the waiting room, where you could see the outlines of the brick against the installed medical cabinets. After taking my blood pressure and asking me a couple of questions, I shook my head.

“You really have to take out that movie,” I said wearily. “It’s so bad. I will donate other movies.”

“We’d like that,” the medical assistant said. “We don’t get enough.” Which is true — the defunding of Planned Parenthood is always on the table in D.C. Plus, a lot of the organization’s money probably goes to healthcare items and security ranging from the bulletproof glass to cameras, not a wider selection of DVDs.

After she laid out all the instruments for the implant’s removal, I sat by myself for about 45 minutes, tapping my feet against the linoleum floor in some weird random dance routine of nerves and jitters. My head hurt from restlessness, my heart pumping hard from anxiety. But I refused to have another blood clot. I had to live past watching Bride Wars.

The nurse practitioner came in and began challenging my statements about the Nexaplanon.

“You know, all birth control methods talk about risk of blood clots,” she said. “The Mirena does, too.”

“Yeah, but that’s towards the bottom of the list,” I said. “And research shows that the Mirena actually doesn’t not increase the risk, but Nexaplanon increases it by 40 percent.”

After a five-minute debate and checking my leg, she told me to lie back and numbed the area where the Nexaplanon was as my arm began to cramp. I began to cry again, this time from relief, and the nurse soothed me as we were waiting for the medicine to kick in. When she removed the implant, it practically flew out — it was almost as if my body wanted it out just as badly. She wrapped me up tight in a purple bandage and I was sent on my way with a warm hug.

I walked out of the clinic with the hard decision of not opting for a birth control other than condoms at the moment; I was getting too tired of the fight. When I was ready and in a relationship, my future boyfriend/partner could take me to a gynecologist’s office after taking a Vicodin. I would have another IUD installed and then be taken home, where he would have a huge thing of ice cream and pizza waiting for me because he would be the world’s best boyfriend. (I wouldn’t be getting it if he weren’t.)

It was dark out by the time I walked to my car. A young Latina stepped out of a small white sedan next to my Honda, with her small daughter and an older woman I assumed was her mother. I waited patiently, and she apologized for delaying me.

“Don’t worry,” I said with a smile. “I’ve been here two and a half hours, a couple more minutes won’t hurt.”

“Do you mind me asking what you had done?” she asked, glancing over the purple bandage on my arm.

“I had the implant removed.”

“Oh my G-d! Can I ask why? Because I’m about to get one.”

I explained to her about my clotting issues, and how it shouldn’t be an issue for her, as I got in my car and drove away. I hope I didn’t scare her; I’m sure the implant works for many women, just not those whose bodies have a death wish for them.

As traffic piled up near home, I got off the freeway and drove past the other Planned Parenthood clinic, dark except for a few fluorescent lights in the empty parking lot. And there, outside of the building, was a woman standing with a sign. It said, simply, “Defend lives.”

Doing this can be a difficult task for these clinics. After all, how could you properly defend the lives of women that come in to receive healthcare when you’re more concerned about crazies and women feeling safe as they walk in the door? How can you defend lives when you’re not getting enough funding to be able to afford the proper staff it would take to see people in a timely fashion, let alone update your website? And how can you defend lives when it seems that the healthcare system, the government, everyone except those who are too broke to go to a regular doctor’s office, is stacked against you?

This is why, despite everything that happened to me, I will never give up on Planned Parenthood. Just seeing the people in the waiting room in Ventura made me know that it has to be here; it just needs to get better. It has to help that woman with her daughter getting birth control. It has to help the young teenage boys creeping into a clinic to get STD testing. And yes, in three percent of cases, it provides abortions to protect women who might not be able to carry a pregnancy to term. It helps every woman and man who might be scared and needs vital care.

Approximately one in five women in this country has gotten help through a Planned Parenthood, and I would never take that away. There are times where we need to put aside our emotions towards hot-button topics and do what’s right for others. We need this organization, but we need to give it more money so they can think beyond basic survival and really help people. It needs to go to the nurses, medical assistants and doctors who probably make very little to provide valuable health services, like prenatal care and cancer screenings. It needs to go to more comfortable surroundings and quicker, up-to-date care.

And, obviously, it has to go to better movies. I wish I could get people who want to defund Planned Parenthood to experience a version of what happened to me: That is, to watch Bride Wars on a 24-hour loop in a crowded room, with deadly hormones surging through their bodies and no immediate access to vital medicines or proper care. If they haven’t gone absolutely crazy by the time it’s over, they can do whatever they want.

After all, many of them don’t get to experience the joys of having others control the fate of their bodies, let alone having Hollywood tell we should be so invested in our future weddings that we forget the needs of other women completely. They should just consider it a welcome introduction to the current state of modern American womanhood.

#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.

I’m the Girl You…

I slip on my leggings on as I check out my outfit in the mirror. I love the long sweater I’ve chosen for the cold day, making me feel luscious and womanly. It’s a different body than what I’m used to. I don’t understand it completely due to my weight loss as I pick out the new sizes from my closet, but it’s one that makes me feel good. Yet it all seems to go away when I step out into the world.

Walking down Ventura Boulevard, my eyes notice the men who look my body up and down, making me scratch behind my ears and feel self-conscious. Even on the days where I’m not wearing makeup or dressed to impress, I see them try to flag me down, wave at me, cat-call me. It’s been my life for as long as I can remember. Because I’m the girl you fuck.

These men don’t really see me as they call out to me. Sure, they seem my ample cleavage, my height, my long wavy brown hair. They see my swagger as I walk down the street as the music plays through my headphones and my feet hit the pavement, syncing with that beat drumming in my ears. It’s used in part so I don’t see them, but I do. You can’t help it, really.

They don’t see the person inside this body — her zest for life, her brilliance, her writing and art. They don’t really care to. Rather, they’re glancing at me and somewhere inside their heads they’re taking me to bed in their minds, imagining me in different positions. Because I’m the girl you fuck.

It’s been happening since I was 12 years old and walking home from junior high, my Jansport slung across my back. By then, I was already 5’7 and already looked older. The guys driving by on my childhood streets as I walked home from school were yelling for me to jump on their laps, when in truth I wanted them to ask me out, hold my hand and kiss me like they did in the movies. Talking to me, not acting like buffoons who felt like I was a piece of meat to be fought over and claimed. Even at a young age, the training was that I wasn’t worth the effort of gentlemanly behavior.

My height made people think I was invincible, but I wasn’t; my soul was raw, my heart ripe for rejection. I remember the guys jumping at camp trying to kiss me when I didn’t want them to, the boy in the hallway who felt like he had the right to touch my breasts, and how I got punished for his behavior. Then how I would stare at the shy boys from across the room and how they would never come to me. If I wanted it, they never came.

When my sexual awakening picked up, I was conflicted: I wanted sex, but wanted to be in a relationship and in love with my partner and hear him whisper to me how beautiful I was while he made love to me. My teenage weight gain made it difficult, but I wanted to have it all. Someone who loved me and desired me too.

Circumstances seemed to tell me that I couldn’t have both — when guys publicly dated me, I was treated like a delicate China doll, never touched sexually. Otherwise, I would just be told that he wanted no commitment, just sex, and would never be seen out in public with them. I craved touch, so the hormones won. And I became the girl you fuck.

My therapist asked me at one point how many men I had been with over the course of my life. I laughed, looking up at the ceiling, and said I didn’t know, losing track years ago. Dating, probably hundreds. Sleeping with, in the 40s or 50s. It probably would have been in the hundreds as well had it not been for my seven-year foray into marriage and monogamy.

“Was the sex unsatisfying then?” she asked me about my marriage.

“When it happened, no,” I replied. “When it happened. I usually had to make a five-point rational argument as to why we should have sex, and there were so many regulations he put up as to when we could and couldn’t do it I’m shocked it happened at all.”

During that time of my life, the aspiration was to be the “good wife” — working, cooking, hosting, hungry for sex, doing everything to please my man and make him happy and looking good for the world. Yet it wasn’t enough. He made me feel strange for wanting sex so bad, like there was something wrong with me. That was his M.O., making sure that there was something wrong with me. In his mind, he was fine. I wasn’t.

After I left, I immediately started having sex again. In my mind, I knew if I didn’t I would build it up and become scared of it, and I refused to be scared of my sexuality. It was the thing I craved the most, apparently the only thing I knew how to do, because I was no longer the good wife, and I never knew anything else. I was the girl you fucked, so that’s what I did.

To this day, I have never been in love with a man who I had sex with. It just didn’t register; if he wanted to sleep with me, clearly he wasn’t interested in anything else to do with me. When some guys would fall for me, I’d end up confused — we were just having sex. What was the big deal? Meanwhile, every guy that won my romantic sentiments over the course of my life had been a chaste experiment with flirtation but no fulfillment and no actual relationship at the end of it.

“That’s messed up,” my therapist said when I told her the above statement. I didn’t deny it; I knew it for a fact without her having to say the words. I leaned back across the couch, my hands grabbing a pillow and hugging it towards my chest tightly, my fingers finding the fringes along the edge nervously.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “You’re attractive, kind, have a great personality, smart, extremely generous, a good person. How can you settle for just sex?”

It seemed strange to me, old fashioned. I didn’t settle for sex; I liked it. It felt good, and I never fell into the yapping of people saying to hold out because you needed to make the guy want you. I never felt shame from sex and didn’t want to feel bad about having desire ever again.

Yet there was this overwhelming sense of loneliness that came from the fact that I was never asked out on dates and treated like a lady. I missed cuddling and innocent touch. The creepy guys leering at me on the street, at the bars, at all these different places were haunting me, and it seemed like my “no” didn’t carry much weight with them. There were moments where I felt like my single life, no matter how fun it could be, was a waking nightmare. Because I’m the girl you fuck.

It was this mentality that was making me swipe left and right on a dating app over the past several weeks. I passed by a guy that was cute and had a picture of himself dressed as Waldo from the old “Where’s Waldo” books I used to read as a kid. I was naturally compelled to swipe right, and we got to talking almost immediately.

The hours and messages passed back and forth until we were talking on the phone. He was sweet and charming, sending me pictures of his bookshelf and him and his best friend in Halloween costumes instead of his junk. I eventually asked him why he wasn’t propositioning me.

“Well, I figure we have plenty of time for that later,” he said with a laugh. And so I kept talking to this very nice guy, and met him for a date. He wore a woolen sweater and had a sweet smile and broad shoulders. He paid the tab for our classic cocktails and fried chicken wings as we played video games and continued our conversation.

At one point, I teased him for not doing the yawn with the arm around me, mainly because I was left confused. He wasn’t trying to sexually tempt me or do anything that most guys on dates would do, but would just casually brush his arm or hand against mine. He was just talking to me, laughing at all my jokes. It was fun, and the second date was set before the first ended (although it never actually happened, it was reassuring at the time).

He walked me to my car, and I stood by the front tire, bundled in my black coat and knit woolen hat on that cold night, standing on Ventura Boulevard wondering if anything was going to happen on a physical level, and resigning myself that maybe it was all in my head. The moment came for goodbye, and I thought he was going in for a hug. However, it took me about two second to realize he had gone in for the kiss.

And… wow. It was kissing, not even needing tongues to make it incredibly passionate and sexy. And that moment came where suddenly I left all caution in the wind and flung my arms around his neck as he pulled me in by the waist, his hands not moving up or down, but with just the right amount of assured pressure so I felt present in this moment.

Suddenly I wasn’t the girl you fuck. I was a woman and he was a slow burn, a flame switched on in my head. Somewhere in that kiss, there was something telling me that I didn’t have to be others told me I needed to be, but rather my own woman.

Sure, it didn’t stop the leering men on the streets or at the bars, nor did it give me guarantees about my dating future. But it opened my mind that maybe there was more to me than I thought. I couldn’t change what others thought of me, but I could change how I viewed myself.