7 things that DO NOT make you a bad feminist

Between 2015 and 2017, I was a graduate student in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies master’s degree program at Oregon State University. This was one of the most important experiences of my life, primarily because it gave me the strong foundation in the feminist knowledge that I knew I would need if I wanted to become a successful feminist blogger. Yet I also derived essential benefits from the experience insofar as it revealed to me how exclusive modern feminism can be. But as the great bell hooks reminds us, Feminism Is for Everybody.

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1. Being heterosexual

At some point in this long battle for gender equality, we got confused and assumed that meant that female-identified people who love and/or want to bang people of the male persuasion must exist in opposition to the cause of feminism. If the logic here is that it is because men are part of the problem, well, that’s as sexist as the problem itself. 

2. Being privileged

As an upper-middle-class (as long as I live with my parents, anyway) Caucasian, I’m privileged. I know that. What I don’t know, however, is why this has led people in the past to assume I’m “part of the problem.” Those who are not of color and are of wealth have perpetrated some abominable atrocities. But that doesn’t mean all people sharing one or both of these traits must automatically be taken as the enemy. A lot of us have our hearts in the right place and are eager to learn from people who are differently oppressed and work together with them to make things better. The need for sexual equality knows no income or skin color.

3. Being monogamous

Sexual liberation has been a critical element in feminism since the dawn of the second wave. But somewhere along the way, being sexually liberated became a requirement to join the feminist cause, and moreover, the definition of sexual liberation seemed to shift to exclude long-term, single-partner relationships, especially relationships with men (see above). But I call bullshit. True sexual liberation means feeling free to engage in whatever type of sexual activity you want (as long as it’s consensual) without worrying about how others will perceive it. It doesn’t matter if it takes place in the context of a committed relationship. 

4. Being cisgender

Shaving your legs, wearing makeup, or being in any way “feminine” whatsoever is NOT mutually exclusive with being a card-carrying feminist. True feminists realize gender roles are human-made, and so resisting freaking out over whether you’re conforming to said gender roles, by realizing certain traits are merely artificially coded “feminine” or “masculine,” is as feminist an act as I can imagine. As Martha Rampton of Pacific University’s Center for Gender Equity notes,

An aspect of third wave feminism that mystified the mothers of the earlier feminist movement was the readoption by young feminists of the very lip-stick, high-heels, and cleavage proudly exposed by low cut necklines that the first two phases of the movement identified with male oppression.

5. Wanting to get married

I’ve just about had it with the argument that a quote-unquote real feminist activist can’t dream of someday saying “I do.” Whatever your gender identity or the gender identity of your chosen spouse, the institution of marriage has the potential to be extremely feminist. After all, marriage, at its best, is about two people coming together as equals and promising to honor and love each other; and equality is feminism manifest. 

6. Wanting to have kids

It’s okay to want to tie the knot. The same goes for the desire to procreate. Motherhood isn’t inherently feminist, despite what some proponents of breastfeeding might have you believe; but it isn’t actively un-feminist, either: Most of the professors I studied under at OSU are parents, and let me tell you, they’re all veritable paragons of feminism. So, yes, I want to be a mom. I also want to shatter the patriarchy. Luckily for me, a feminist can do both.

7. Wanting to beat men at their own game

Second-wave feminists “rejected the ideal of inclusion because … they would only be vying for inclusion in a world built on men’s values.” This MO has continued to dominate mainstream feminism ever since. But while I am loath to tell anyone to “lean in,” let me just say there is nothing at all wrong with wanting to work in the same institutions as men, e.g., a traditional workplace, and surpass them in excellence. It’s totally OK to wish and demand that there be space for us women in the world we live in now.

Otherwise, in my humble opinion, we’re just letting those who benefit from the patriarchy off the hook.

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7 reasons people with ADHD should work from home (ADHD Awareness Month post #3)

Owner of independent startup networking casual comfortable lifestyle at home blue rustic

People with ADHD who work from home get to sit wherever and in whatever position is most conducive to their productivity. (Photo source: Adobe Stock)

When I think about the best choices I have ever made in my life, two come to mind. First and foremost was my decision, three years ago, to quit my steady job at a newspaper and apply to the graduate program in WGSS at Oregon State University. But a close second was deciding not to go back to work after I graduated. 

Don’t get me wrong — I still work; just not in an office, and not for someone else: I’ve chosen instead to work as a freelance writer and editor to support myself as a feminist blogger. This is self-employment. And you know what? It is fan-freaking-tastic. Why? Well…

1. You make your schedule. 

One of my greatest downfalls as a ‘traditional’ employee was my schedule. If you have ADHD, you know what I’m talking about: ascertaining when your medications would be in effect and having to plan — or at least trying to plan — your working time around that. Unfortunately, my pill breaks very rarely coincided with my lunch breaks, because I would always unintentionally wake up very early in the morning — We’re talking 5:30, daily — and my morning medications only lasted four hours, maximum. But when you work at home and are self-employed, you don’t have to contend with human resources forbidding you from starting your workday before 9 a.m.; this is especially useful if, like me, you concentrate best in the morning. Also, this builds flexibility into your schedule for the doctor appointments and monthly (and, inevitably, often more than monthly) visits to the pharmacy that come with the territory of having ADHD and taking medication for it. 

2. You choose your position — your sitting position, that is.

Less noticeable to others, but still highly impactful to me, was the unspoken expectation that I would, you know, sit in a chair. When I was working at the newspaper offices, I often interviewed sources over the phone, and apparently, I — entirely unconsciously — used to lean back and twirl around in my swivel chair while doing so. It drove my boss CRAZY. What he didn’t realize, though, is that people with ADHD have the symptomatic tendency to sit in odd positions; that’s how we help ourselves concentrate. (I’m not entirely convinced that it would have made a difference to him had he known, though, to be honest.) At home, I can work sitting on a couch or lying face-forward on my bed under my weighted blanket, and no one can say boo.

3. You have fewer stimuli to filter out.

Newsrooms are obviously an extreme example of this, but traditional, brick-and-mortar offices are hotbeds of cacophony. That’s just the way it is. Ringing phones; copy machines; water cooler talk — you get the idea. Suffice it to say that such an environment is anathema to the ADHD brain. When working from home, by contrast, the only sounds you have to grapple with are the ones you make (see below), which is essential, because “Problems with external distractibility (noises and movement in the surrounding environment) … can be the biggest challenge for adults with ADHD.”

4. You have more freedom to listen to music/use alarms.

A weird thing about ADHD is that dealing with multiple stimuli of external sources, filtering them out and concentrating on your work, is virtually impossible; however, you can enhance your productivity through the use of one, single stimulus: music, of your choosing. I know from personal experience that listening to classical music can have a tangible positive impact on focus; I prefer baroque musicians, including Bach and Albinoni:


On a related note, while phone notifications and computer alert tones are distracting for EVERYBODY, for an ADHD people, such distractions are actually welcome when we have pre-set them to remind us of appointments and upcoming responsibilities. (Additional pro tip: I set my computer preferences to have my MacBook announce the time every half-hour. Try it! You’ll be amazed at your newfound punctuality and time-management.)

5. You aren’t required to sit through seemingly endless meetings.

Raise your hand if you have ADHD and have ever honestly thought you might die while being forced to sit through a long meeting. … Ha! I knew I wasn’t the only one. As I mentioned above, people with ADHD have a propensity to sit in odd positions and to move around if they are required to have sustained attention and direct it to one specific, often profoundly dull thing. Working at home, however, circumvents the requirement to remain stationary of that trope of brick-and-mortar skilled employment, the sit-down meeting. And it’s a good thing, too, because “Adults with the hyperactive presentation of ADHD often do better in jobs that allow a great deal of movement.”

6. You don’t have to contend with rush-hour traffic on your way to and from work.

This reason is pretty self-explanatory. Goodness knows we were driving distracted before ‘distracted driving’ was a thing. Luckily for us, no workplace outside the home means no driving to work, which means no risk of getting in a collision while driving to work — or exhausting all of our remaining focus trying to avoid it. 

7. You get more time with your pets.

This reason is relatively straightforward, as well. Not all of us have officially designated service animals, but pets regardless provide a genuinely crucial service. First of all, people with ADHD, including and perhaps especially young women, often have comorbid depression (I know I do), on which dogs have a proven ameliorating effect. And the petting of furry animals, such as cats and rabbits, has been shown to slow one’s heart rate and reduce anxiety. Free of the distractions of feeling depressed and anxious, it is much easier to get your work done! Don’t already have a pet? Adopt one from your local animal shelter. Easy!

woman working on tablet / laptop at home. Dog helps her

ADHD people who work from home get more time with their pets, reducing depression and anxiety and thereby improving concentration. (Photo source: Adobe Stock)

Pregnancy + stress = public health’s perfect storm

From January 2015 to December 2016, I was a student in the master’s degree program in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University. My time in grad school was instrumentally influential to me. I minored in women’s studies back in college at U of O, but when I realized that my real aspiration was to become a feminist writer, I decided that I needed a much stronger foundation in feminism as an area of study. And that turned out to be true in ways I hadn’t even anticipated: I became aware that my prior feminist education, for all its merits, had failed to incorporate discussions of women of color. But that was about to change.

Lifelong stress → premature birth

One of my primary research interests while at OSU was women’s health. As it turned out, one of the professors, Mehra Shirazi, specialized in that, and I was fortunate to take not one, but two courses from her: Global Perspectives on Women’s Health, in winter of my first year, and Race, Gender, and Health Justice, a year later. Of all the lessons I learned in her classes, one, in the form of a newsreel, has always stuck with me.

Stress during pregnancy → ADHD

WOC aren’t the only ones for whom stress can result in adverse birth outcomes for their childrenIn my last post, I mentioned that women with ADHD who experience stress during pregnancy are more likely to have children with it. Well, I was wrong. The abstract of an article published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology in 2011 states that “maternal stressful events during pregnancy significantly predicted ADHD behaviors in offspring,” i.e., stressful events for any pregnant woman, not just one with ADHD

Furthermore, said Dr. Ian Colman, who led a similar study earlier this year, “Generally speaking… the higher the stress, the higher the symptoms.”

In other words, more children are susceptible to maternal-stress-induced ADHD. And their symptoms vary in severity depending on the level of maternal stress. 

In the announcement of their study on stress in pregnant women and ADHD, University of Ottawa researchers included an infographic of so-called stress management tips and tricks, including:

Portrait of sad and frustrated pregnant woman.

Women with ADHD who experience stress during pregnancy are more likely to have children born with ADHD. (Photo source: Adobe Stock)

  1. Identify what’s behind your stress and address it right away
  2. Talk to your loved ones to help them help you
  3. Simplify your life by shortening your to-do list and learning to say no
  4. Quiet your mind through yoga and mindfulness
  5. Find time to do something you enjoy, such as hobbies or physical activity.

That’s all well and good, but it predicates on the dual notions that (a) stress is situational, and relatedly, that (b) women have the power, i.e., time and agency, to quote-unquote simplify their lives, quiet their minds, and do things they enjoy. 

First of all, it would be ideal  — I’m not saying it would be great, but it would be the best-case scenario — if all stress were indeed situational. But in fact, it’s systemic; there are sociological reasons that women find themselves in stressful situations.

For example, I think we can all agree that in general, men are more amenable to “going the extra mile” for their wives when they are serving as human incubators for their progeny. But this is temporary. Gender roles are so entrenched in our consciousness, exist so much in our understanding of the fabric of society that they’re liable to supersede sudden inclinations toward chivalry. They may wash the dishes occasionally; even assume all responsibility for helping the kids they already have with their homework, etc. — at least after coming home from the office.

But will they assume sole responsibility for cleaning all toilets in the house for the next nine months — and do so without even being asked? Let me put it this way: My dad is a proud feminist, but according to my mom, not even he went that far when I was a bun in his wife’s oven.

The salient point here is that unless a husband* assumes all extant household responsibilities, a wife has no means of wholly and entirely de-stressing. Moreover, in the most extreme versions of our regular social paradigm, women don’t even have time to find out what they enjoy, let alone actually do it. 

Women of color

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Stress resulting from everyday racism in women of color over a lifetime can result in adverse health outcomes for their children at birth. (Photo source: American Psychological Association)

In addition to this paradigm shift between husbands and wives, in order to avoid the adverse birth outcomes of which their children are at risk, WOC would need to retroactively un-experience the systemic (there’s that word again) ‘everyday racism’ they have experienced all their lives. Erasing the sexism that they were forced to endure, well, that wouldn’t hurt matters, either. Unfortunately, none of this is possible. Technically, we can’t do anything for the WOC already of childbearing age, except confer upon them the utmost respect and provide them with any prenatal care that may reduce the likelihood of pre-term delivery.

I have a vision for future generations, though, of my friends’ children growing up without the media suppressing reportage of violence against WOC in favor of the police-violence-against-the-Black-man narrative. In this vision, violence against POC — regardless of gender — isn’t even a thing. 

All in all, I agree with Dr. Michael Lu:

If we’re serious about improving birth outcomes and reducing disparities, we’ve got to start taking care of woman before pregnancy and not just talking about that one visit three months pre-conceptionally; I’m talking about when she’s a baby inside her mother’s womb, an infant, and then a child, an adolescent and really taking care of women and families across their life course.

And I agree, as well, with my former classmate in WGSS and dear friend Amber Moody:

I think it’s brilliant to frame systemic racism/sexism as a public health issue. … [T]hese systems of discrimination still exist; and the effects, which really can be traced back to colonialism and white supremacy, have been genetically embedded into our lives. And until we actually address the source of the problem, these … issues are going to continue to be passed down for generations.


*I say ‘husband’ because I was raised in and hypothetically will enter into a heterosexual family dynamic consisting of a cismale husband and a cisfemale wife. There are, of course, numerous other familial configurations; albeit I doubt very much that the same degree of gender-role pigeonholing would be present in a female-female marriage. 

Here goes something…

[F]or those who agree with the norms embedded in ADHD concepts and practice, diagnosis and treatment can come as a welcome relief. Adults dismayed with broken relationships, lack of success at work, or past or present academic failures often embrace the biomedical interpretation of their life story. (Susan C.C. Hawthorne, “Institutionalized Intolerance of ADHD: Sources and Consequences,” Hypatia vol. 25, no. 3, p. 517)

I’ve known for some time that I would eventually need to start a blog of my own. But it was  reading this passage earlier today, as part of my literature review for my master’s thesis, which finally galvanized me to get off my ass and do so. So, here we go…

When I first matriculated to the the graduate program in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University, back in January, I had a very specific goal in mind: to broaden my understanding of feminism enough that I would be able to do justice to the subject someday as a writer. I specifically hoped to land a job as a feminist blogger focusing on women’s health issues. But it became apparent to me relatively quickly that there was one women’s health issue that I specifically was meant to focus on: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).* Feminist theory, after all, teaches us that Woman’s experience is valuable; not something that invalidates whatever research you’re conducting.

Another unexpected turn my graduate studies have taken is toward Disability Studies, an interdisciplinary academic field concerned with, yep, the study of disability. Within the DS canon, there are two basic schools of thought:

  1. The medical model, originating from the view that disabilities are pathological, and thus, undesirable, and should be treated, if not completely cured, with modern medicine.
  2.  The social model, based on the premise that disability is in the eye of the beholder; that it is how society views and accommodates (or, doesn’t) natural human variation.

Among my mentors in DS at OSU, there is a general consensus that of the two, it is the social mode that comes to the closest to getting it right. The thing is, though, that my personal experience just doesn’t jibe with that.

It’s true that a lot of ADHD symptoms, as Hawthorne expertly articulates in her article quoted above, could easily be viewed as simply differences, and even adaptations: A person who is unafraid to speak his mind, who doesn’t bow to social convention, who is a multitask-er, actually sounds pretty great. But I am of the belief that ADHD exists on a spectrum, and at the very end of the spectrum, is me. I don’t get distracted (i.e., concentrate on multiple stimuli at once); I struggle to concentrate at all. If you have difficulty concentrating, even in your most private moments you feel impaired. So you can change the architecture of a building, and make people more tolerant, but that won’t make me suddenly able to focus on getting ready in the morning without pharmacological assistance (more on this later).

All of this is to say that thinking of my disability, not as a personal illusion or a subjective notion conceived by an non-accepting society, renders my persistent struggles (for indeed, I was diagnosed and first treated 20 years ago, at age 5, yet I still struggle with severe ADHD symptoms today) as a disabled woman real and valid. And that is feminism at its finest.

 

* In true ADHD fashion, I’m going to put off writing a detailed piece on just what ADHD is, and my lifelong experience with it, till I feel like I can do it justice, i.e., not right now.