Saying “I Have A Boyfriend” Isn’t A Good Move…But We’re Wrong About Why.

It’s always scary to question something that people appear to be passionate about, but…if we didn’t, nothing would ever get done. Nothing would ever get better. I would never learn if I’m dead wrong, and neither would you.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I want to talk about THIS:

boyfriend1 boyfriend2

There is a very well-written article that explains this thinking, and on some level, I get where it comes from. I see the arguments, and I don’t even disagree that lying to people so they leave us alone is something we should change. But look at that tweet. Look at how over-simplified that is.

“Yep, it’s the patriarchy. That’s it. That’s all.”

Really? No mention of peoples’ feelings, or egos. Of our cultural norms. Of, say, the fact that the word “boyfriend” is actually a relatively new term.

Yeah, that. Let’s talk about that.

The very concept of being able to have a boyfriend comes out of the feminist era. When you say you have a “boyfriend,” you are not referring to some ancient tradition of men-owning-women. You are referring to a relatively new tradition of people-being-committed-to-people.

This chart shows when the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” entered our vocabulary (based on the contents of Google’s digitized books).

ngram

This may sound strange, but in some ways, it’s actually progress that people accept the “boyfriend” excuse. Today, we generally respect peoples’ commitments to one another, whether they’re gay/straight/young/old/married/dating. We are past the days where an unmarried woman was considered fair game. Now having a boyfriend or a different sexual orientation are very legitimate reasons to reject someone.

Of course, “I’m not interested” or “nope” should also be considered legitimate reasons to reject someone. And I think they usually are. But I get that it isn’t always perfect. I just think we’re wrong about why.

“I have a boyfriend” is more likely to get a guy to back off than “no,” because they respect relationship structures more than individual opinion/attraction. Not because you’re a woman. Not because your so-called “boyfriend” is a man. But because you claim to have a commitment that can’t be moved. Because people respect monogamous relationships a lot, and they respect peoples’ personal judgment less. Simply, it’s a lot more likely for someone to change their mind or their level of attraction as the night goes on than for them to change their relationship status. Attraction is considered nuanced; relationship status is clear-cut.  That’s why it works.

(Not to mention that this rejection is not personal, so no egos get caught in the conversation.)

I’m not saying it’s a good thing. People should back off if they are asked to, and you shouldn’t need to give them a reason to do so. But if we’re going to talk about a problem, we have to talk about the actual problem. I really don’t feel like the male-female dynamic is at the root of this one. I think “not respecting peoples’ jurisdiction over their own bodies/time” is more the issue.

And yes, I’m using the word “people.” I have also seen men use “I have a girlfriend” as an escape maneuver. Hell, I pretended to be a buddy’s girlfriend when a woman was coming on too strong once. It does happen on both sides.

I have always believed that feminism shouldn’t be about battle cries and blame games. It should be about questioning everything you see, looking at it from all angles, considering whether the patriarchy has seeped in, and responding to that.

Let’s be smart. Let’s think with a little more complexity here. Let’s dig deeper.

And then, then, let’s fix this shit.

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Why #BringBackOurGirls is not just about Nigeria–it’s about all of us. (Yes, Canada, especially you.)

I’m glad we’re responding to this. But I’m not surprised by it, not at all.

It took us long enough to care about the devastating kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria. When we finally did start paying attention (two weeks later), the incident created a media firestorm. Of course it did. It has all the ingredients, really: A villain, who provides shocking media of his villain-ness. Heroes, complete with moral outrage and relatable heartbreak. We even created a catchy hashtag–hello, 2014 activism.

This kidnapping story is a simple, engaging, and heart-wrenching narrative. It allows us to point at someone specific and say “HIM. BAD.” It gives us the opportunity to talk about overwhelming topics. It lets us connect because, regardless of how you feel about oil/abortion/Jesus/Harper/Wall Street/capitalism/Congress, we all know stealing and selling people is not cool.

We don’t know that because we’re morally superior, by the way. We know that because, through our brutal histories (‘sup, slavery?) we’ve learned it the hard way.

…or so we think.

The problem is we haven’t properly learned it, not really. This isn’t a freak incident with one crazy guy and a few unlucky girls. This isn’t something that happened in poor little underdeveloped Africa. This is systematic. This is global. This is in our backyard.

If we look past the narrative and see what’s really happening here, we are forced to realize that the #BringBackOurGirls conversation is, rightfully, about so many things. It’s about education. It’s about violence against women. It’s about human trafficking, it’s about international pressure, it’s about radicalism, it’s about human rights.

The hard truth is this: If we are calling the victims “our girls,” we should also call the perpetrators “our human traffickers.” We should fight, we should talk, we should care, we should demand action, but we should not feel like our governments and our people are somehow “better” than this. We don’t get to claim the hero role, not while we are still part of human trafficking and violent repression incidents all over the world, every day.

Not while Canada has failed to address over 1,000 missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

Not while “sex tourism” is a bustling international industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars, with children making up an upwards of 40% of active prostitutes in India and Thailand.

Not while sex trafficking brings an estimated 800,000 women and girls (about half of whom are children) across borders every year, including an estimated 50,000 to the United States.

Not while American media coverage focuses primarily on missing middle-class white women, while persons of colour, runaways, and sex workers go missing far more often.

Not while there are over 64 million child brides worldwide .

Not while approximately 140 million women and girls living in the world today have undergone female circumcision.

Not while harassment against women in schools is internationally widespread, including statistics of up to 83% of women in the United States experiencing sexual harassment in public schools.

Not while the high majority of sex workers in Western Europe are undocumented immigrants with nowhere else to turn.

When we say #BringBackOurGirls, we have a lot more girls to think about. A lot more governments to hold responsible. A lot more conversations to have.

It’s not just about Nigeria. It’s about all of us.

While international efforts to get these girls back are amazing, it doesn’t mean the countries helping are paragons of virtue in the human trafficking field. Not even a little bit. From many angles, the response is downright hypocritical. That doesn’t mean countries like Canada should stop helping. It means that they should keep helping–just don’t stop with these two hundred girls.

Don’t stop until your citizens aren’t flying to other countries to have sex with children. Don’t stop until you accept responsibility for the safety and well-being of our sisters who are Aboriginal, vulnerable, poor, and sex workers. Don’t stop until you investigate all cases of missing and murdered women. Don’t stop until every woman feels comfortable walking home (or, say, walking through the hallways at school).

Don’t stop until you #BringBackOurGirls–every single one of them.

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What Does it Mean to be a “Woman with Values,” Exactly?

“I’m looking for a woman with values.”

Whenever I hear these words, I cringe.

I thumb the crosses on my bracelet and clutch my beer.  I talk about charity, then I tell a dirty joke.  Do these things cancel each other out?

Those words are powerful. They transform me into a little, obedient, people-pleasing ladytype. It doesn’t matter whether I’m actually interested in the person who wants a “woman with values” (usually, I’m not).  It doesn’t matter how confident I am in what I stand for or what I do on any other day. There is a person in the room ready to judge if I am a good woman. If I would be a good mother. If I would be a good wife. And I don’t like that I respond to that by melting into conformity, but I do. I drip with semi-sweet small talk. I rarely seek approval, but the “woman with values” thing always hits me hard.  No, I don’t want to have your babies. Yes, I do want you to think I would be “worthy” of that.

So I sit up straight. I make jokes that are edgy, but not too edgy. I remain mysterious and unspecific with the topics of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. If my guitar comes out, I strum a G-rated country song. Save the vulgar rapping for another day; this person wants “values.”

Isn’t that disturbing?

Even if I don’t know a single thing about the person judging (let alone their personal “values”), I know exactly what they mean by “woman with values.”  And what they mean, frankly, has very little to do with what actually makes me a good or interesting person.  They don’t want to hear about my internship in DC, read my blog, or discuss my half-serious plans to buy a ukelele.  They couldn’t care less about what makes my eyes light up.

Instead, the concerns are simple, and in many ways stupid: Does this girl do one night stands, or make out with strangers, or watch porn? Does she drink or smoke? Does she “take care of herself”? Did she grow up in a nice home?

In other words, the universal definition of “woman with values” is almost entirely based on what a Lady consumes, or lets into herself, rather than what she creates. 

How weird is that? After all, women are born with epically creative bodies (see also: having babies).  Women’s brains are typically wired for articulation, so we certainly have a lot of great things to say.  It seems peculiar that to prove my worthiness to create (read: to be a good mother-and-wife), I need to prove the worthiness of what I consume.

The definition of a “man with values” is far less universal, as far as I can tell.  It’s also quite different.  Usually, when I seek a “man with values,” I am looking for the opposite–not what he consumes, but what he produces. What he offers to the world and its people, and how he offers it. How actively he loves and cares about things.

Now, I can totally understand wanting a partner who has a similar worldview and value system as you. If drug consumption or diet or sexuality enter your personal value system, I think you’re allowed to consider it with partner-choosing (though, pretty please, don’t use sexstuff to judge a person’s human value outside of that).  You’re allowed to prefer partners with lots of experience, or prefer partners who have chosen to wait for marriage.  You are also allowed to have a thing for blondes or Catholics or tattooed arms or, you know, “people I have things in common with.”  I don’t see having preferences in partners, even silly ones, as overly oppressive.

I do, however, see the cross-your-legs-and-smile definition of “women with values” as oppressive.  I don’t like that I immediately know “woman with values” means purity, or consumption control, rather than what I have to offer the world.   I don’t like how it makes me act: Smile nicely. Share more about what you don’t do than what you do do.  Sip slowly.  Mention that you go to church, but don’t actually get into theology or make a smart historical reference.

“Girls with values” can read the Bible and teach Sunday school, but they shouldn’t be thinking too hard about it.

Of course, some people I know would have the opposite response to a person “looking for a woman with values.” They would not people-please.  They would make it clear that they don’t fit into this box, loudly joking about their liquored up love affairs. They would swear. They would proudly pronounce their feminism because, well, fuck the system.

But that’s messed up, too. It’s messed up that they could be categorized as “women without values” for that.  These friends do have values–values that are perhaps stronger mine, since I apparently hardcore crumble under the pressure of judgement. They’re women of valour. They answer the phone when someone calls, they care about their fellow human beings–whether or not they end up in bed with them. They respect relationships, their families, and themselves (though, like all of us, they fall down occasionally).  They vote, pay taxes, recycle and help people. Most of all, they try not to judge others, which is a HUGE deal.

I think it’s time to redefine the term “woman with values.”  Let’s try this out, shall we?

I am a woman with values not because I am chaste, but because I respect peoples’ bodies and emotions, regardless of the relationship we have.

I am a woman with values not because I am quiet or docile, but because I speak up when I see injustice.

I am a woman with values not because I go to church, but because I use the brain God gave me to consider the big questions in life.

I am a woman with values not because I “know what I stand for,” but because I recognize gray areas and am compassionate.

I am a woman with values not because I don’t drink or smoke, but because I respect peoples’ autonomy over their own bodies.  Because I act in moderation, and pray for those suffering from addiction.

I am a woman with values not because I eat well or work out, but because I don’t make anyone else responsible for my happiness and I care about my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

I am a woman with values not because I “don’t swear,” but because I speak honestly and with respect to those around me.

Yes, that is what a “woman with values” should be. Occasional f-bomb and all.

New Taboo Tab: Sex, Lies and Storytime

The Taboo Tab is a a community of writers and readers bravely putting faces and stories to subjects society seems to skip over.

This month, that subject is sexuality. Whew. Not exactly a small topic. And it’s a serious one, too–just look at what has been in the news this week.

This is a powerful group of stories that together show the complexity and diversity of a notoriously challenging area. There are stories about judgement, outlooks, and experiences. Slut. Prude. Abstinence. Rape. Conversation. Diversity.

As Alex Crane writes in “The Zombie Effect“:

I live and work in a world where sex seems to be both capitalized and whispered at the same time. “Look out, the SEX is coming!” (pun? maybe.)

These twelve writers are moving the conversation into the real world.

Slut.
Slut.
Prude.
Prude.

 

 

 

 

 

An Obligation to Divulge
An Obligation to Divulge
The Zombie Effect
The Zombie Effect

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Not Broken.
I Am Not Broken.
I am Jane Doe
I am Jane Doe.

 

 

 

 

 

.

The Pain.
The Pain
I Didn't Say No.
I Didn’t Say No

 

 

 

 

 

Being a Minister's Son.
Being a Minister’s Son
The Abstinent Man
The Abstinent Man

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of an Empowered Submissive.
Confessions of an Empowered Submissive.
The Myth of Fabglitter
The Myth of Fabglitter

 

 

 

 

 

.

/.

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(Note: you can read my own “Sex, Lies, and Storytime” article here)

Contributors: Alex Crane, Alicia Bridget, Alexandria (Ali) Prescott, B., Caitlin Corbett, Lucy Bee, Mark Corbett, Kate Booner, Michelle K., Rosie, and Sam McManus.

Want to contribute to the Taboo Tab? Drop me a line.

 

Rape, Outrage, and the Language of Solutions

Feminists Women People have a lot to be pissed off about today.

Like the Steubenville rape.

Like yet another church abuse cover-up coming to light. (Thaaanks, Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Ugh. Luke 8:17, anyone?)

Like the fact that just talking about rape brings up awful, confusing, violating memories for about a third of the women I know.  The fact that “trigger warning” is no formality.  The fact that, whether you’ve been told or not, You know a rape victim. You probably know a whole bunch of them.

Unsettling, right?

Yes, there are things to be pissed off about. Raging, raging mad.  And while some people are getting mad for the first time, feminists and rape survivors have been getting mad for years.

This marks a critical moment for feminism.  People are with them on this one.  People are listening to what they have to say about rape culture.  We can’t hide from it anymore.  Even to some of the larger skeptics, feminist ideas and stats and language don’t seem so crazy anymore.

Do feminists have a right to be mad? Yes.
Do they have a reason to be mad? Yes.
Should they shout it from the rooftops?  If they’re willing, yes, perhaps they should.

But I have to be honest: Jaded rooftop shouters scare me, especially when I can’t quite understand what they’re shouting about.

I tend to tune them out.  Even if they’re right.

“Rape culture” is a powerful term.  No one wants to be an active participant in such a culture (even if many of us are). In fact, to the untrained ear, the words “you are a part of a rape culture” can sound suspiciously like “you are predisposed, as a member of this society, to rape and/or be okay with rape. Especially if you’re a dude.”

Anyone who sees themselves as not okay with rape might just leave at that point.

I know that’s not the kind of unproductive thinking that feminists are trying to promote.  But I also know that it’s the message a lot of people are hearing, and naturally, what they are rejecting. And when they reject that, they reject a lot of other things. Really, really, important things.

Sometimes, fingers need to be pointed.  I get that. I agree with that.  But when the finger-pointing feels scattered, confusing , or overwhelming, the people on the other side sometimes respond with a resounding “Ungh, what did we do wrong this time?” followed by “I’m gonna go hang out over here with the people who don’t condemn my gender and my world and my jokes and my favourite tv show, thankyouverymuch.”

We are getting away from the main message entirely, aren’t we?  The constructive message of trying to create a safe and equal environment for women. The effort to address the prevalence of rape and gender violence in our world. Feminists are trying to empower and protect future generations of women.  Everyone should want to get on board with that.

This is a reasonable message. There are solid stories and data, being broadcast to mostly reasonable, if sometimes ignorant, people.  So where’s the disconnect?

Most reasonable people want a couple things when presented with a new and somewhat radical worldview (yes, feminism, that’s you!):

1)        They want to feel empowered to be part of the solution, not just part of the problem.

2)        They want to be able to ask questions in English—yep, good ol’ patriarchal English. And they want to get an answer that does something, anything, other than just attack their question.

3)        They want the freedom to play the devil’s advocate. Because that’s what people do when exploring a new idea.

There’s something dangerous about leading with anger (however justified), instead of stories.  Or with accusations instead of ideas. Don’t get me wrong, passionate people willing to call out society’s bs are AWESOME.  But they’re way more awesome when they come with a side order of compassion, a willingness to gently guide people to awareness.

And if you disagree with that, then you have probably never spoken to my father.

My father is honest, loving, stubborn and somewhat sheltered (I mean this in no negative way, dad, je t’aime).  He’s sheltered in the way many of us are–or would be, if it weren’t for the internet or certain parts of our education. Sheltered in a way that ends with questions and comments which are sometimes well-meant but poorly phrased.  I remember one such comment.  It was a genuine idea, a devil’s advocate stance, but it included the words “asking for it.”

“Dad, ugh. When you question feminism, you can’t do it in English. You have to do it in feminist.”

“But I don’t speak feminist…”

“Then you should learn. Or you shouldn’t talk about these issues…unless you want to be eaten alive.”

But that’s not fair, he says. Screw feminism, then. “What did we men do this time?”; “I can’t say anything right!”.

Should he be saying things like “asking for it”? Absolutely not.  And he doesn’t think I or any other woman would ever be “asking for it.”  During that particular conversation, he wanted to talk about safety, and understand consent, and help prevent rape.  He just couldn’t think of any other language to discuss complexities he saw. And when the word “Feminist” came into the conversation, he got really uptight.  His mind jumped to the most radical version of that ideology.  He got defensive.

When it comes to his actions and ideas and values, my dad is a feminist if I ever met one. Yet there I was, watching him walk away into the comforting arms of “can’t deal with these ‘feminists’ right now.”

You know what? Sometimes, I find myself walking into those arms, too. I just can’t be outraged about everything that feminism wants me to be outraged about. I can’t.

But I know for sure that I can be outraged about Steubenville, and everything that surrounds it. I know for a fact (just called home to confirm!) that my father is outraged, too. He wants to address this. A lot of us do.

Feminism is going to play a major role in the ensuing conversation, a conversation that a lot of  people are on board with.  And that’s good.  Especially if we go about the conversation the right way–if we lead with stories, ideas, examples, courage, and real talk.  After all, whether you identify as a feminist or not, there’s a problem here.

Consider this your official invitation to be part of the solution.

– – –

I Hurt an Entire Culture, and All I Got Was This Stupid T-shirt
I Hurt an Entire Culture, and All I Got Was This Stupid T-shirt
Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”
Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”
Partying Hard and Loving Harder: How hanging out can help the community
Partying Hard and Loving Harder: How hanging out can help the community

Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”

I have wanted to write about this for a long time.  I have so much to say about it. The problem is that I don’t have any stories about it– not that I am willing to share, at least. The world belongs to people who have the best stories.  Sexual liberation belongs to women who are willing to stand up and say “I have sex! I have this much sex with this many people, and it’s okay!” or  “I dress like this, so take that society!” Purity, modesty, and all that is pro-Virgin power comes from personal testimonies and Conservatively told bible stories.

And then there’s me.

Of course, I admire people who do tell their stories. They have changed my life, and the world really does belong to them.  Stories have a neat way of improving social consciousness, evolving into full-blown movements. [Insert Pokemon evolution joke here?].

Me, I really don’t have a story that will change your life.  I could probably make you laugh, but ultimately I’m not willing to share whether I’ve said Yes or No–certainly, I’m not telling the internet, nor my parents, nor most people I know. That doesn’t make me ashamed, by the way. I am fully comfortable with my sexuality. And I’m fully comfortable with keeping it to myself.

But since stories run the show, I will tell you the stories I know.

I know stories about women saying Yes, and it being a big problem. I know stories about women saying No, and it being a big problem. I know stories about misogyny disguised as miscommunication.  I also know stories of miscommunication disguised as misogyny–God bless the little boys who receive mixed messages and lowered bars from society every day.

I know stories about people ashamed of what they have done, because that big bully “Society” told them they ought to be.  Then there the people ashamed of what they haven’t done. There’s also shame in the couldn’t do, wouldn’t do–or, God forbid, like to do.

Oh, and there’s shame in what people don’t like to do, too. Sometimes, the don’t likes meet the likes and they confuse and shame each other.  Fun, right?

I know stories about women who proudly wear the title “sexually liberated” because, well, they have a lot of sex and they want to own it and good for them.  I know stories about women who are “sexually liberated,” or “sex positive,” but don’t have a lot of sex at all.  I have heard tall tales from people who pretend they have more sex than they actually do, because they want to be part of the conversation. And then, of course, there are heartbreaking stories from folks who pretend they have less sex than they actually do, because that’s what is acceptable.

To make matters more confusing, these stories can all belong to the same person.  Whether you’re in a Eucharist line or a picket line, chances are your sexual history is more definitive of who you are as a person than it should be.

Yes, I know stories.  And so many of these stories make want to run up and give their keepers a big hug and say “It’s okay! You’re okay! You aren’t broken.”

Everyone is just trying to figure their shit out. If sexuality was sensible, reasonable, formulated, and mundane, then it wouldn’t be so friggin’ funny. And it is funny. It’s ridiculous. It’s romantic. It’s silly.

Welcome to human relationships, friends–they’re weird.  When people take their clothes off, they get even weirder. So no, they don’t need your judgement.  They need love, they need information.  Please leave the close-mindedness at the door.

Oh, yes, there are serious things involved in sexuality: Health. Pregnancy. HIV. Disease. Emotional well-being. Rape. Consent.  And we’re awfully good at confusing people about the serious parts by making up stupid rules about the ridiculous parts.  These things need to be discussed honestly, but we keep loading them down with arbitrary social standards.  Why? Do we really need to make sex more emotionally loaded and confusing?

Here’s what we need to do:  Care about the stories. Let them speak. Respect the storytellers.  Share your own stories, if you want to.  And whatever your story is, however different it is than someone elses, whatever you choose to do with it: You aren’t broken.

You’re just another person with a story and a body, and no matter what, those two things belong to you and you alone.

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Thanks to the overwhelming response to this blog post, I started an online project to tap into the power of sharing our stories. Check it out here: http://tabootab.com/category/sexuality/

Four Things I Couldn’t Live Without (and the 4 lessons they taught me)

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Black heels meet the favourite things, in true Shaunanagins style.

This is the first in a series of three posts–I actually have a top ten (pictured above) but dividing it up seems like the best way to go.

Yes, “couldn’t live without” is an overstatement. Basically, these are the items which would make it into my suitcase no matter what (or where). There are reasons and stories behind these things, most of which translate into serious “lessons learned”…lessons which pretty much explain why these items are even with me. After all, I haven’t even had most of these things for more than a couple years.

Too bad. I could have used them.

1) Cucumber cleansing milk (from The Body Shop)

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What it taught me: If it’s the right product, and the right price, you should probably buy two.

I worked at the Body Shop last year, and quickly learned that their skin care lines are amazing. My best find during my time there was this cucumber cleansing milk. It was $4, it smelled fresh, and it softened my skin instantly.

Oh, and they discontinued it.

I don’t wear a whole lot of make up, so it takes me awhile to go through my perfect shade or find the right skin care product. After I run out, I almost always discover that my products are discontinued. With this moisturizer, it was a double heartbreak–come on, $4? When will I find that again?

Needless to say, I’m making this bottle last.

The cucumber toner is still available through their website’s outlet section (presumably on a “while supplies last” basis). I would get one if I were you. Maybe two. Then go to the mall and buy your favourite lip colour, if you have one, or stock up on your foundation shade. Because if your skin is as pale or annoying as mine (sexy, right?) then you probably don’t want to lose your secret ingredients–and you probably will.

2) Homemade, wood burned Canada flag

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Lesson learned: Appreciate other people’s talents.

Think about how hard it is to draw a maple leaf. Now imagine wood burning it.

Let us all have a moment of silence to remember the Canada flag drawings we have effed up in our lifetimes.

(Thanks for the Christmas present, bro.)

3) TiCats hat

IMG_8843

What it taught me: If you want to connect with someone, you need to find a way to care about the things they care about.

It was Christmas break. As my family gathered together, my mother turned to ask me a rather out-of-the-blue a question. You could tell this one had been bubbling up for quite some time; Limited segue, loaded tone, genuine curiosity.

“Okay, Shauna. I know you do, but…when exactly did you start watching sports?” She turned to my father, adding: “I watched Football with her, like, a few months ago and she seemed to really know what was going on.” Back to me. “How did you learn that? When did that start?”

I offered several explanations. I played touch football for a couple months in middle school, didn’t I? The neighbor boy and I used to throw a basketball around sometimes, and “Well, mom, I’ve never missed a Superbowl.” But as I traced back in my memory, I could find only one explanation: because I love my brother, that’s why.

I’ve always enjoyed watching sports, but I have only been following actual teams for a few years. I think it started with some uneasy phone calls back at the beginning of my University life. Time after time, conversation fell flat with 3/3 of my brothers. I missed them terribly, but we had nothing to really share. The only lead I had was with the youngest, who kept trying to talk about sports.

Sports. I like sports, right? Watching hockey is fun. I’ve always been interested in football. We could totally connect over this. So I turned on Sportscenter, Googled some NFL stats, watched a few games. I gave him a call.

Then he started calling me. We messaged each other during a game. Now, our relationship sounds less like “So, what’s new…nothing…yeah…okay…” and more like this:

A 13 year old's response to my email asking "So, is the Pack back?" after they won a game in September. I don't care how much/little you know about sports, this is hella impressive.
A 13 year old’s response to my email asking “So, is the Pack back?” after they won a game in September. I don’t care how much/little you know about sports, this is hella impressive.

Clearly, he cares about this. I found it to be something I could care about, too–there were sports I liked, I fell for a franchise, I started following up. I was already interested, but I honed in on the interest because it was something he loved. Our relationship has never been better.

After helping me to build a friendship with my little brother, football helped me build yet another bridge–this time, with my grandfather. For the first time, here we were: same city, same team, same ability to be glued to the game. Quick visits turned into NFL/CFL marathons stretching to 8 hours.

The best part? I ended up having inside jokes and a solid relationship with my grandfather, who I barely saw for the first 20 years of my life. My grandmother’s sighs of “This is a silly game. Why don’t they just give them all a ball so they stop fighting over that one?” in the background were hilarious. It was so easy. We just had to share something.

Truthfully, I inherited my TiCats fandom from my dad, who inherited it from my grandfather. I carry it through not just because I like it, but because the people I love like it–my brother, my dad, my grandfather, even a couple childhood friends. I carry it because it matters to my relationships. I’m clinging to commonality. It’s one of the best calls I’ve ever made.

(…also, I’m more than a little emotionally involved when it comes to my teams.)

4) Red lipstick.

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Lesson learned: It’s called “classy is as classy does.” And it works.

Okay, so maybe not everyone is a fan of red lipstick. But please, try to understand: this is no ordinary lipstick. Pictured here is a lipstick infused with lady superpowers.

This lipstick is my secret weapon. If want a productive, no-nonsense, superwoman day, this is step number one. Then comes a pencil skirt. Then a pair of pumps. The hair goes up. The coffee comes out. Being an attractive, busy, shit-together lady is a go.

I will forever defend the power of red lipstick and a little black dress. And no, I’m not talking about its powers in the MRS department. The red lipstick isn’t for dates. It’s to signify go time for me–red lips and heels happen when I’m doing homework, doing dishes, filling out applications, and working through to do lists. Things just get done when my ladyself comes out.

Yeah, I’m kind of a lipstick feminist. Classy is as classy does, friends.

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As I mentioned, this is the first in a series of three posts on “Things I couldn’t live without (and the lessons they taught me).” What would make your list? Comment below with your list, or blog your own version and throw up a link!

Dear “Away in a Manger”: You’re wrong. That baby totally cries.

I believe in crying.

I have lived through months where I needed to cry almost every day and night, and I have lived through months of only really needing to cry at movies (or songs…or commercials…). I cry when I’m overwhelmed, when I don’t understand, when things are just too much. My tears wash things away. I have been blessed with the ability make it rain a little bit every time I need it. And sometimes, I really need it.

I cry. And the things that make me cry, so often, are the things that make me pray.

I’m not trying to isolate all my readers who don’t pray. I know a lot of you don’t. But to me, prayer and tears go hand in hand. The things that make my eyes leak are usually the same things that bring me to my knees.

Jesus wept, too. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible, it makes perfect situational sense, and it’s super powerful. Of course Jesus wept.

The Jesus I met at Christmas when I was a kid, however, apparently did not weep. You know, Baby Jesus. The one who had just been born. He didn’t cry. He was a special baby. He was a perfect baby. God’s son can’t cry.

I’m calling bullshit. Right now.

(…sorry, that scene still makes me giggle like a middle schooler. I digress.)

We try to paint Jesus’ birth as divine, thus peaceful, thus quiet. By that logic, He didn’t cry. But why? Birth is messy and loud and painful. Babies cry. Ironically, that crying baby is how we know that all is well. That is how we know that they’re alive.

Crying is a part of the gift of life–and it stays that way. Every now and then, I cry out to the world, to my mother, to God. I cry because I’m scared, happy, empathetic, in pain. I cry because I’m feeling so much I’m leaking. Through crying my feelings are legitimized, communicated, and dealt with. Through crying, I know that I’m alive.

So, why not let baby Jesus cry? Would that make his birth TOO real, TOO human, TOO chaotic? Calling bullshit once again. Come on. First of all, when have blessings or plans or love ever been anything less than chaotic? Love is chaotic. Life is chaotic. Jesus definitely shook things up. And birth?

God doesn’t make things easy. He makes them profound. And, as far as I can tell, nothing embodies that combination of chaos and love we call Life quite like the messy, painful, beautiful process of childbirth. That cry from the baby means he or she is alive. It means he or she is feeling. Why would we want to take that away from Jesus, of all people?

Maybe it’s because, for some reason, we have categorized crying as a weakness instead of a gift; Something we do because we just can’t handle life, rather than something we do to HELP us handle it. Tears equal temper tantrums. This is sometimes true (see also: my reaction to yet another computer glitch last week. erlack.), but not always. Sometimes, we genuinely need to react. We need to turn to faith, friends, family, ourselves–and sometimes, we need to cry. Certainly, we need to cry when our lungs capture that painful first gasp of air.

Isn’t that amazing? From our first breath, we can communicate through our cries. Tears are part of a complex universal language. It’s what we use to greet the world. It’s what many of us use to feel and to question it. And it is a huge part of the messy, messy reality of childbirth.

So, no, I don’t understand why we try to paint Jesus’ birth as less profound than a regular birth. I say “less than” because I think that to remove any element from the true birth process would just take away from it. It’s pretty friggin’ amazing the way it is. It really makes no sense to remove the noise and the tears, to remove that first moment that the baby cries out “I’M HERE. I FEEL THIS. I’M ALIVE.”

What Would Baby Jesus do bracelets from Community. Anyone? Anyone?
WWBJD bracelets from Community. Anyone? Anyone?

What would Baby Jesus do? He would cry. Just like adult Jesus cried. And don’t for a minute tell me that would make His birth any less divine–after all, what could be more divine than the first sound of a new life?