Why Women’s Empowerment Is Important To Me

I have been asked what made me start a Women’s Empowerment Group. There is no simple answer, being that I became interested in women’s strength when I was just a teenager in the 90’s, looking for some feminism. While I would love to credit that interest for the reason I became active, it simply isn’t the case.
I started the group because I was once a damsel in distress. I had nobody to help me out of the darkest, deepest hole of my life:  a failed marriage with children involved. My husband had slowly controlled every small aspect of my life, while making it invisible- almost enjoyable -to me, until there was nothing left. He literally walked away from me and the kids like we were a detonation site. I had no job, no money, no phone, no computer access if I even had wifi to turn on, no car, no tv, no friends, and no family to lean on. I know my parents will read this, and they’ll feel insulted that I’ve said no family to lean on. The truth is, I’m certain I could have gone to my grandparents or my mother at any time, and they would have helped me, with no questions asked.
But I would have asked questions of myself, and I didn’t want you to see that process, so I didn’t ask. Asking you for help would entail me finding a dollar in change somehow (because apparently there is a place I haven’t checked for change before…) and piling my 100 lbs of children into a 50 lb stroller, and finding a payphone, telling you about how my husband found a younger woman without kids, and tried to stretch out two lives for as long as possible. I would also then have to tell you that when it stopped being possible to cheat on me for that long, he decided it would be better to leave the three of us behind, and not ever come back or check on us. I would probably also have included the information that he had his girlfriend come to our house to pick him up. But then, I would also have to face the questions (there they are!) about why. Why was I not enough? Why was my passion and dedication to our children not enough? Why were my domestic efforts not enough? Why was my faithfulness to our marriage not enough? There are questions of how as well. How did I become so undesirable, when he had just married me the year before? How could I not notice the signs sooner? How am I going to word this to my grandparents, or to my mom, in a way that won’t sound like I need them to save me?
I felt alone. In a way, being alone was better than being pitied. When I wasn’t alone, it meant someone was sitting around, listening to my plight, and agreeing that it sucked. Nothing changed, and nothing got better. They just agreed that my situation was fucked up, and thanked “god” that it wasn’t them.  I wanted to minimize the circle of people who fit into that category of “visitors” and decided being alone was the way I needed to go. I had my kids, and immersed myself in being with them, and taking pictures of them. But I still felt an emptiness inside, where my pride used to be. I had lost what people like to call “my voice.”
For years.
So, when I noticed a sadly obvious trend among my girlfriends, I couldn’t help but feel a duty to them; a duty to help them understand that there IS someone out there who wants to listen. There ARE other women who know what she is going through. She just doesn’t know, because she has lost her voice for everything other than asking herself the same questions I suffered through.
I started the Women’s Empowerment and Education Group online, and invited all of the ladies I thought would benefit from it. I posted articles from psychology journals, educating women on things that were happening to them, that they couldn’t understand. I posted funny blogs by women who used humor to ease their pain in their own situations. I posted links to events that could be helpful to women, for whatever reason, which I didn’t need to know. It was a casual forum, where women could read about issues females face in our society, as well as other cultures. But I didn’t know how effective the group was, until our first actual meeting.
There were only a handful of ladies at the first meeting, including my teenage daughter, which upset me at first. I had put the event together, because of some very specific ladies who had been coming to me for advice. Imagine my surprise when many of them didn’t show up. My disappointment didn’t last long, and the meeting was a great success. I met a new friend, and was able to help old friends vent out frustrations they had been sitting on. There was a TON of “Yes! Exactly!” and even talk of our next meeting. My new friend messaged me the following week, and said she couldn’t wait for the next time we could meet in person, because she loved the group. My other friends said they loved the small setting, and felt like they could talk about anything, despite having just met each other that day. My daughter said she had a good time, and learned a lot about what life is like outside of the nuclear family. I found it eye opening to see how my friends easily interacted with each other, and decided this had to happen again soon.
As things have progressed, I’ve seen both the rewarding side of helping women in less than desirable situations, as well as the scary side that tests your conscience to see how much you really want to help. I’ve been in the position where I’ve had to consider that someone would come after me and possibly harm myself and my family- or worse. I’ve considered my name being dragged around the internet, I’ve considered that I may be followed, or my car may be tampered with, or my house might be broken into. I don’t know what will happen. I do know that Matt recently lost a great friend because he tried to help his sister-in-law escape a violent relationship. Her boyfriend drove 600 miles to find her, kill her, and then kill the family who had tried to help her. Three people were murdered that night, including Matt’s friend and his (friend’s) wife…in front of their 4 year-old daughter. Months after, I read about a woman who I had known to be in a very violent situation for years, getting shot by her boyfriend. This was after people repeatedly told her that “nobody risks their freedom to get back at a girlfriend.” I guess he was willing to risk it. Her mother stood fearlessly between them, and saved her daughter from being killed by her attacker, though she did end up in ICU for her injuries.
Matt has been worried that I will end up on the unfortunate side of things because I tried to help. This is a very real concern, but when I think about what would happen to these women if I abandoned them, I can’t bring myself to leave them. They have nobody else to go to. Nobody else to trust them, or let them know that their feelings are valid. Nobody who cared enough to listen, much less give advice or make moves happen. My role in these women’s lives is important. They gain strength through my love and support, and are able to look at themselves differently, and are able to fight their way to something better. Even inspiring one woman is enough for me to not turn my back. If I stopped helping because I was afraid, I would be leaving these women to fight alone, when they are much more afraid than I am.
I started a Women’s Group, because I wanted women to stop being told nobody is going to listen to them. I started it because it was necessary. I tell them to be strong and never give up. How could I not practice the same for them?

-jg

It’s Esteem of Your Muthafuckin Self!

When I was a teenager, I did not think I was pretty. I was told I was, but I figured everyone’s inner circle regularly boosted them with praise, to keep their spirits high, so that’s what was happening to me too. It’s that whole bit about teaching kids self-esteem. I tried to find things wrong with me, where there weren’t things to even be wrong, and the few times I heard “stop, you look fine” were not enough to combat the job I did to myself mentally.
I didn’t wear makeup, and I didn’t have acne, but I did have a neo-pubescent mustache that wouldn’t have been hidden by makeup anyway. My tiny, lash-less eyes were buried behind androgynous features, combined with a fashion sense that screamed “I obviously don’t care” and all of this was supported by a father who didn’t let me wear anything that was tight or short, or showed the curvature of my body. My hairdo situation wasn’t any better, and at one point, I looked exactly like a boy. There was nothing “pretty” about me.
My father often made me feel ashamed of my femininity. He would ridicule me for trying to wear dresses, and talk rudely and endlessly about how short they were, no matter how tasteful it really looked. He would bark at me if my shirt hugged my chest at all, and would pull at the neckline to see how easily my cleavage would become noticeable. He never let me pick out my own school clothes, and I never once got my hair “done.” When I had an argument or objection to something he said, or if I didn’t laugh at his crude and disgusting humor, he was sure to let everyone know that I was on my period, and needed to “change my plug.” Women were nothing to him, and any sign of femininity was looked down upon, in a means toward it ultimately being hidden.
I used to wear pants that were baggy around my hips and butt, because I was “fat.” Not only that, but I would also tie shirts around my waist, which was in style, lucky for me. I wore nothing but granny panty underwear that I was certain my father was unable to properly shop for. I wore oversized shirts, mostly men’s size “Large” when I barely tipped the scales at 75 lbs. In fact, all of my clothing was either actual boy clothes, or just gender neutral. I cut my own hair, and pierced my own piercings. Everything I did, was to cover up how shitty I felt about myself. If it looked like I didn’t care, people wouldn’t expect that I should want to show my beauty off…wherever that was.
I wasn’t allowed to date, or spend the night anywhere, so the only time anyone saw me without clothes on, was during gym class when we changed in the locker room. When I developed stretch marks on my thighs, I was so embarrassed that I began changing in the single stall, which included standing in the drainage water, and usually getting my clothes wet. I didn’t want anyone to see how dark and red my legs were, so I wore long shorts, when the other girls were dressing normal. There were times when I felt so disgusted with myself, that I wouldn’t come out of the locker room at all.
One time, there was a girl already in the stall, and I panicked and just walked out of the locker room, out of the gym, and into the office, pretending that I had been sent there. Why? My stupid teenage brain, that’s why.
I spent my entire first 18 years in this mindset. I would cover my body with my arms, even when I was fully clothed. I would sit in positions that were awkward and uncomfortable, to avoid anyone seeing how disfigured my body was. I would swat hands away when people hugged me, to keep them from touching any “fat parts.” I smiled with my mouth closed, so nobody could see my teeth, that were far from white or straight.
When I finally found out that there was nothing wrong with me, 30 years had gone by.
As an adult woman, I am curvy. I have an hourglass figure, but I also have cellulite and stretch marks and extra skin that used to be round with fat. When I walk around, or twist or bend, my stomach sometimes pops out of my shirt, and I don’t care. I used to be so mindful of the possibility that anyone would see even an inch of my pre-stretchmark stomach, that I would hold my shirt in place and just work with one hand for whatever I was doing. I was on patrol at all times.
I have spider veins and patchy leg hair and crooked knees. I remember being 18 years old, and wearing jeans every day in the summer, because I didn’t want anyone to see the tiny little microscopic veins that were on my calf. It was 100 degrees for several days that summer, and I was committed to covering myself up. Now, I wear what is comfortable. As long as my butt cheeks aren’t hanging out, I wear whatever shorts are most readily available.
My boobs are two different cup sizes, and I often don’t wear a bra, despite how uncomfortable that might be for some people with weird mixed emotions about breasts. Finding a bra that fits two different sized boobs is not an easy task, so I like to give up on it. If I need to wear one, I break out the granny bra, because if I have to wear one of those strangling fucking things, it better be comfortable and it better support the ladies. When I wear no bra, I just stop caring about what size either of my boobs are. Makes a huge difference for me.
My neck is now disproportionately long and slender, when compared with the rest of my body. I don’t care that it makes my body look extra round.
I have arm flab, and inverted elbows. That sounds funny, and you may have a difficult time picturing it, so let me help you. When you look at someone’s elbow, from the back, there should be a pointy bump where the bone protrudes and creates the “elbow.” Mine isn’t there. It’s an indentation, where the arm flab completely eclipses my elbow. You know how much I care? None. When I wave, my Hello Bettys get their glory in the sun. Just as it should be.
I still have the mustache, and I still don’t wear makeup, even when I get the largest blackhead in the whole world right in the middle of my face. I don’t care. If my zit grosses you out, go home.
I don’t spend any time on my hair, other than the annual cut that I still do myself. I have gone weeks without even brushing my hair at all…recently. I don’t care. It looks fine, and I even wash it a couple times a week.
I don’t look at clothing sizes, and some days, I don’t even look in the mirror to see if I’m dressed appropriately to go to the store. Clothing is fucking weird, and I am realizing how much it messes with people’s minds. It doesn’t matter what the number on the tag says. Sometimes, you just need to put the clothes on, and let your personality do the rest. I’ve seen some well-dressed people act like assholes. Just saying.
I don’t work on my nails at all, and actually tend to chew them off. Looking at them right now, I have 3 nails that I would consider “long” (any white showing beyond the nailbed) and 3 that I would consider “too short” (cuticles missing, scabs where the nailbed should be, deep pockets where hangnails were ripped free). The rest are just sitting there, recovering from their own “too short” status. I also have knuckle hair, and hair on the tops of my hands. And a bunch of scars. When I make any sort of exchange with someone, I catch them double-take at my ET fingers. I don’t care. I’ll use my alien hands to eat your Reese’s Pieces.
I smile with my teeth showing more often than not, and don’t care if my freckles or dark circles are showing. The fact that I’m smiling, probably means I don’t care about whatever you have to say about them.
I’ve never worn high heels, mostly because of those slack knees, but also because I’m built like a starfish. My legs start out meaty at the top, but get suspiciously skinny and chicken-like once you get past the knees that don’t work. My calves have zero definition to them, and don’t even want to be noticed, so just check out how skinny my ankles are… holy shit my feet are just toothpicks. When you have a child’s size 4 foot, and non-existent ankles, holding up a wide set of hips and ass isn’t physics at its best. The second I even look at someone wearing high heels, my ankles give out, even if I’m not standing up! When I put on any shoes, I have to prompt the ankle roll, just to see how likely it will be that I fall. The answer is: VERY. Like, even if you’re walking extra cautiously down the flat sidewalk in the middle of downtown Chicago, on the way to your brother’s wedding, you can still roll your ankle and end up on the ground. Believe me, I’ve done the research. So, I stay the fuck out of heels, because they don’t look “better” in my opinion, so why go through the trouble?
Speaking of my feet, I would like to point out that I was told at 16 years old, that I had Hobbit feet. Hobbit fucking feet. I have some toe hair, and some stubby toes, but I feel like they’re pretty normal, other than that. As a 37-year old, I still have the toe-fro, and still have the tiny feet, but guess what… don’t care. My boyfriend rubs my feet every single day, and if he can get past it, then what the fuck do I care what you think?
My point to all of this, is that I thought my body image was normal, when I was a teen. I thought that it was how every girl felt, and that we all thought we were fat, and we all had things we were hiding, and that nothing was going to look okay as long as we were in school. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve realized something important: where I used to think none of that shit mattered, I now know it does matter. All of it matters. It matters at the time, it matters 20 years later. A girl goes through self-esteem changes with the metamorphosis of her anatomy and physiology. Nobody pulls a caterpillar out of the chrysalis mid-way through and says “wow, that’s fucking ugly, and will never be beautiful.” Every stage matters, because we don’t lose that sense of how we felt about ourselves, even when the thoughts were harmful, even if we change our minds down the road.
These days, I love the way I look. I like that I have a soft body. I don’t mind when my clothes don’t fit perfectly, because my body isn’t made for the clothes, so I forgive. I don’t try to look any better than my normal self, because that’s who I am. I don’t discredit any women who do spend time and effort on their appearance, because that makes them feel beautiful. I consider myself lucky to feel so blessed with my natural body, even if it is revolting against me in my 30s! I still love it. It gets out of bed every day, and brings my boyfriend to work, so he can be the best he can be. It gets my kids to school, so they can educate themselves on how to read other people and accept their differences. Hell, it brought those two humans into this world! It gets me to the grocery store so I can feed my family. It provides me with a canvas to tattoo. It takes the food I feed it, and makes it into energy for me to use. It glows in certain light. It provides hugs when others need them, and strength when I need it.
Loving the way you look is a great feeling.
Loving the way you feel is a great look.
Just love yourself.

-jg

WOMAN…Whoa, Man…

let me kick this piece off with an explanation: i’m a woman.
ok, here we go.
recently, i went to hannaford, which is a local food store in my state. i had been driving around for quite awhile, slugging back large gulps of coffee between running errands and rocking out in the canyonero, so naturally i had to pee like nobody’s business (except for yours). i’m the type of girl who likes to walk briskly through the aisles of the store, just barely eking my way past your cart full of crap, leaving enough air between us for you to gasp it in, because *you* thought i was going to clip you. man (or woman), i know what i’m doing. you know how long i’ve been driving carts? forgetaboutit. i need to go pee.
this particular hannaford is the smaller of the two in my town, and was last updated several years prior to the other one. the other one is always crowded, so they have the multi-stall bathrooms. the smaller hannaford has 2 single-person bathrooms: you guessed it, one for men and one for the ladies.
now i don’t know if you know this is happening all around the country, but society has taught *me* that i don’t belong in one of those two bathrooms, despite their identical privacy and similar features. the outside of each bathroom looked the same, other than the sign on the door. both doors locked. both bathrooms had a sink, with soap and hot water, and fancy automatic paper towel dispensers. both had a toilet, which was really the hot ticket for me. they were in the same location in the store, and neither had a line outside. the only difference i could perceive, is that one was occupied and one was not.
so i went into the bathroom labeled MEN.
when i got inside, it was a world of wonder! you may recall that i mentioned the similar features inside. normally, i would have gone heavy-handed on the hyperbole and said they were “identical in every way” just to further serve my complaint, but this was not the case today. this bathroom had something the WOMEN rooms don’t have: a classy hole in the wall that you can pee into.
there’s a toilet, which you can also pee into, and a sink (which you could also pee into, if you needed to) and even if times get desperate, there is a grated drain on the tile floor. so many options! granted, women get most of those same options, but if we can’t aim our streams into a classy hole in the wall, who’s to say we’d be any more successful at peeing into a drain? that’s the MEN brain talking.
despite the seemingly endless possibilities, i went with the ol’ tried and true. not gonna lie; i was curious about the urinal (that’s that classy hole in the wall) and was tempted to test my own aim. i’ve peed in the woods and on the side of the road a TON of times, and i passed those life tests with flying colors! am i getting off topic? sort of. the point is, men are offered these special separate receptacles simply because they have dongs, but that should never limit anyone without a dong from using a urinal! if they’re able to use it, let them! some guys have tiny tiny tiny dongs, and they still manage to use the urinal, so i’m fairly confident there are women who could pull it off just as well (if not better!)
i’m getting to the point of my story, too.
i washed my hands, with the equally powerful soap and equally warm water. the equally dry paper towels dried my hands just nicely. i opened the equal-in-quality door to exit the bathroom, and there was a woman standing outside the door. as i moved past her, i say “pardon me,” and give her a polite smile and nod. at this point, i’m confident the interaction is over.
only it wasn’t.
anita (that’s what i’m going to call her, because she looked like an anita) turns around and says “oh no, why did you make me almost go in the men’s room?”
first of all, anita, i didn’t MAKE you do anything. if i had the choice to force you into action, i would have made you pay for my groceries. trust me. you *almost* walked into a perfectly legit bathroom, with perfectly legit facilities, that you could have peed all over. but you chose not to go in there, and instead turned around and projected your ignorance on me.
you should have gone in there, anita. it was magical.
it would be rude to ignore someone’s obvious cry for help, so i replied to her question.
“well the other one is locked, so… i used that one. there’s nobody in there, and it’s clean. go on in!” i encourage her.
i realize now that i am making her out to be an old lady, and she wasn’t. she was probably in her 50s, and that’s pretty young for today’s standards. i can assume she is aware of the stigma surrounding gender-exclusive bathrooms, so that was most likely what was driving her to distress, and it was showing. her face turned red. her tiny hand flew up to her mouth, in horror. she pivoted on a tiny foot and headed toward the tiny hannaford customer service desk, presumably to complain about my defiance. after a brief exchange, anita returned to the restroom area and stood outside the door labeled WOMEN.
i finished my shopping, and went through the self-checkout, which is located by the restrooms. it had been fifteen minutes since my interaction with anita, and i had all but forgotten about her, until i saw her *still waiting* outside of the door labeled WOMEN. a man walked out of the bathroom for MEN, and anita smiled at him as he passed her.
what the hell, anita??
need i remind you, that this is the 21st century?! we’re all pissing into the same pipes, we’re just a foot away on the other side of the wall (whoa, that was deep). it made me wonder if she has separate bathrooms in her house, as well? could her daughter face the same horrific reaction, after using the same bathroom as her (MALE!) brother?? we willingly eat from the same silverware as strangers have used when we go out to eat, but let’s lose our fucking minds over which side of the wall we piss on.
explain it to me, anita, because i’m having a hard time. you glared at me, and smiled at him. i can only assume you glared at me for using the wrong toilet, but did you know that he peed into a hole in the wall??? i could have done that too, but i didn’t, even though i totally wanted to use less water. maybe that’s why you smiled at him? i’ll never know.
another thing i’ll never know: how long did anita wait to use the restroom for WOMEN? she was still standing outside the door when i left, which made for an estimated wait time (as far as i witnessed) of about 25 minutes. she very well could have waited 45 minutes by the endt, for all i knew. i safely ruled out emergency status, because she would have used the other one in that case. this was a matter of preference, for which she was willing to wait. one for which she was willing to fight nature. morals and principles and shit.
well i have morals and principles too. for instance, i won’t pee in the middle of the road, only the side. i won’t pee in the top of the trees, but i will next to one. i probably* won’t use a urinal, but i will use a men’s toilet. that’s just how it works. complete exclusion is ridiculous, and only serves to drive apart a just-barely-functioning society. pick your battles.
takeaway messge: let people use whichever single-stall toilet they want! i’m not even trying to force the anitas of the world to share a bathroom with the opposite gender. it seriously is a choice. you can use whichever bathroom you want, and the world keeps on spinning. if you don’t like that there are other people using the bathroom you want to use, go use your own bathroom. i feel like this isn’t even a problem.

-jg

Why Now?

I find it nauseating, reading the comments made by people with whom I share a society; comments that suggest women are LYING ABOUT BEING SEXUALLY ASSAULTED, because they “waited so long to come forward.” I’ve seen people -men and women- comment that they’re seeking publicity, or looking to ruin someone’s name/life, or digging for money, or suggesting that they’re lying because they didn’t say anything at the time.
If you’ve ever been sexually assaulted, or even touched in a way that made you feel uncomfortable, however innocuous on the part of the person touching you, you are familiar with the feeling of freezing in time. You know exactly what I mean by that, because that’s what it feels like when you’ve experienced sexual assault: you freeze in your body, in your mind, in your tracks. Should I say anything? Will I sound like I’m making it up? Am I just being too sensitive? Is this going to ruin something, like our friendship, or my job, or my life, or their life? Will they hate me? Will they try to hurt me? What will other people think? Does this make me a bad person? Am I supposed to like it? Do I like it? Do other people like it? What if they do it again, or something else? Should I say anything? Should I laugh? Should I cry? Am I gross?
There are questions no woman or man should ever have to ask themselves. When you’re in the moment, you aren’t thinking clearly, because your mind is clogged with an adrenaline stream that is carrying a constant cycle of questions you have no answer to.
In many cases, women are violated by men of power, and would have undoubtedly ruined their lives by coming forward, so they chose to say nothing. In many cases, something is directly threatened by their coming forward, such as their job.
Can you imagine being told, to your face, in that confusing moment of being touched WHEN YOU DON’T WANT TO BE, that if you say anything about feeling uncomfortable, your monetary support system will be ripped out from under you? What would you do? Would you say something? It’s not an easy choice to make when you’re faced with not being able to pay your bills or eat or have a place to live.
Can you imagine losing a friend or family member, or your spouse even, because you didn’t play along with their sexual demands? The effects would ripple into your entire universe if you said something. It could tear apart your family, and remember, the aggressor has a side of the story they’re likely going to tell everyone. Who will they believe?
Can you imagine whistleblowing on a fucking president? Not just a company president, which would be bad enough, but the president of your country. Could you rationalize in that moment? You suck it up, is what you do. Because it’s easier than living out the consequences of your actions over something “small” like being touched WHEN YOU DON’T WANT TO BE.
Some women never come forward. Some men never come forward. Some men DO come forward, and are immediately discounted because of their gender. There is no shortage of people who are unwilling to believe you. There is no shortage of people who want to prove you wrong. No shortage of people who need you to prove it to the whole world, that you were RAPED, because that’s the only kind of sexual assault that people recognize, and EVEN THEN, people will choose to call you a liar. An attention seeker. A slut. A homewrecker. A scorned woman. A liberal. A lesbian. An angry feminist. There is no shortage of subsequent uncomfortable moments to follow a sexual assault, regardless of what decision you make in the moment.
That’s why people wait to come forward. They wait until they feel like someone is listening, and often, that never comes. If it comes 20 years later, it doesn’t make it any less legitimate. Think about living with that feeling for 20 years; the questions, the nervous feeling that worms through your body when you think about it, the emotional and physical repercussions that come with it all.
Think about finally feeling okay to come forward, because you think someone is listening, and you finally tell your story even though you feel like dying inside, and all of a sudden, it’s your fault. Or people will say that you’re just lying. They are more comfortable to live with the idea that it didn’t happen to you, than to believe that someone is capable of touching something that didn’t belong to them.
Women don’t come forward at the time for many reasons, ALL of which are none of your fucking business. If you want to play judge on a sexual assault case, go to law school. Until then, keep your toxic opinion to yourself, unless you’re offering support in some way. Victim blaming is a disgusting trait that needs to stop, like, yesterday.
-jg