Finding Balance In The Time Of Trump

 

By Tammy Severino

Over the past seventeen months, a whole host of changes have taken place in this nation. The changes are not just about a different party at the helm, they are about reversing course to a time in history when life was much more tenuous for women, people of color, the gay community, non-Christians – communities where are, and have always been, easy to be called ‘other’. For many, the current calls to “Make America Great Again’ are nothing short of a dog whistle to embolden those who ascribe to the ugliest times and sentiments in our nation’s history. Further, reversing course on the environment, creating trade wars [that will, ultimately, cause financial pain to those the tariffs claim to help], and other like policies/political actions are alienating our allies and isolating our nation on the world stage.

If we consider a math equation where ‘X’ is all of the above actions and ‘Y’ is the incessant tweeting of the current White House resident, along with the ability to access news 24/7 via an array of modalities, then the sum of these two equals a more extreme stress level than most people have ever before experienced.

Never before have I seen an election result in people ‘disowning’ friends or relatives, complete with unfriending of people on social media, avoiding social situations, or shutting down certain avenues (i.e. social media) altogether. These efforts to avoid friends, family or colleagues who disagree politically [or engage in non-stop discussion about political happenings] is an extreme the like of which has never before occurred in our nation’s history. But then again, 45 is a ‘leader’ unlike any who has ever held the highest office in the land. Personally, I have found myself alternating between absorbing everything I can read and complete avoidance of the news of the day. Both extremes, in truth, are unhealthy.

For many years the concept of work/life balance was all the rage. Working women are still in quest of the elusive perfect balance. I am of the belief that the concept is timely and fitting for what many – perhaps more than half the nation (if votes in the 2016 election are an indication) – are experiencing. In order to survive and thrive until the 2020 election takes place, it is important to find ways to manage stress during the time of Trump.

It is my opinion that all of the things we do to stay healthy – both physically and emotionally – are equally important during this patch of history. Eating well, being physical, getting enough sleep – all of the things your doctor would tell you to do regularly – are even more important right now. However, I have some tips for how to keep stress [related to the goings on of 45] in check. Please feel free to tap into any or all of them until you find the blend that works for you.

Yoga is my great go-to when I feel daily stress getting too intense. It is a great activity for people of any age and any fitness level. A good instructor will offer modified moves for those just beginning their practice, so you need not feel uncomfortable. However, if heading to a local yoga studio is outside your comfort zone, pick up a blue-ray and a mat for your practice at home. As you improve, you may add to your collection with varying routines designed for differing results (focus, relaxation, weight loss, etc.). You may even look for videos on YouTube or other video sights. Keep looking around until you find an instructor who works for you (tone of voice, pace, background music, etc.). When you know you have a stressful day ahead, try 30 minutes of yoga to help you maintain your composure and balance throughout the day. Or, conversely, use it to unwind after a particularly challenging experience. Other practices, including meditation and Reiki also offer the ability to less the stress dissipate and leave your body. You may elect to use one or all to find the right blend for you. A gym workout will help increase endorphins, channel energy and enhance your physical state. It is a different release than yoga or meditation but is definitely a positive to help you achieve a reduction in stress.

It is important to limit how much time you spend soaking up his activities and actions. While I do believe it is important to be educated and informed (which will limit stress caused by being uninformed), try limiting the amount of time you spend watching/listening/reading the news. Try a local channel for updates on news happening near your home versus all of the national activities. While in the car [or other mode of transportation], put on a playlist or favorite music station. Try to avoid keeping the news on all day. You may not be listening to him directly, but hours upon hours of talking heads and panels discussing his every move will be just as damaging. Listening to your favorite songs, books on tape, or other non-news entertainment will focus your mind on something more positive. In the same vein, head into your settings for ALL of your devices. Turn off the push notifications for all of your news outlets. There is no reason to get an update every time he orders another fast food burger and fries or angers yet another ally.

Try allocating regular time for something social with people who make you laugh. There are few things more beneficial for the soul than laughter. I think the friends with whom I am closest are those who can make me laugh – even on the gloomiest of days [you know who you are]. If need be, set a rule that there will be absolutely no political talk during your time together. You will find that the time will be spent discussing entertainment, books, family, sports, shopping, travel…all of the social things you have in common that brought you together as friends in the first place. If you happen to disagree politically, it may also save your friendship.

Take time for yourself. We don’t often spend time just being with ourselves. Sometimes it can be absolutely refreshing to go for a walk, a drive, a swim…whatever you like to do…all alone. It will allow you to think and, perhaps, think an issue weighing on you more clearly. If you are able, try not to think at all. Rather, just be in the moment. That is by far more challenging but will allow you to release more stress.

If none of these tips provide you with sufficient help – enough to feel in control of your anxiety levels during this time, please seek help. Finding the right professional can make all of the difference in your life. He/she will work with you to find ways to regain control and move forward in a positive manner. There is no shame in seeking help. In fact, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

It is important to note that you are not alone. Following the election and inauguration of Trump, the American Psychology Association reported that, for the first time in over a decade, stress and anxiety levels among Americans had a marked increase. More than sixty-six percent of adults in the nation reported increased stress levels about the future and direction of our nation under his leadership. Those are remarkable levels. However, it is important to note that he has woken up many in the country who realize sitting on the sidelines is not a good plan of action. More women and people of color have registered to run for local, state and national elections than ever before. People who have never volunteered are getting involved. And, for those who are neither campaigning or volunteering, remember that your vote counts. Be heard and be counted. If you chose not to vote last time, please don’t make the same mistake in ’18 or in ’20.

Remember, the greatest thing the Founding Fathers did was create a system of checks and balances. We elect a President and in 2020 we will elect another. America is not just a place; it is an idea. That idea is not lost…it just took a wrong turn. So, don’t let your stress get out of control. Take steps to claim power in your own life and, if you see another who needs help in doing the same, be a friend and offer a hand. We are in this together.

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Tammy Severino is a writer, marketer, development consultant and professional seeker of knowledge. When not with her family – both the bipeds and quadrupeds – she spends her time reading, writing, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and exploring new ideas.

Violations and Vocabulary: How Policing Language Silences Victims

**TRIGGER WARNING: The following article may contain graphic depictions of sexual abuse**

By Kimberly Congdon, PhD

At this point, you’ve probably already heard of Larry Nassar. If not, see HERE. And HERE. And HERE.  There is no question that what this man did was wrong. There is no question it was criminal. There is no question it was sexual abuse, and that he deserves to be punished for unbelievably heinous crimes against children and young women. We can recognize the incredible wrongness of his actions even without delving into the fact that his position as a doctor added another element of psychological trauma for his victims. Larry Nassar is done – quite literally. His victims have proven themselves to be remarkable, brave women who will foster a new generation of remarkable, brave women. The judge who oversaw his case has become a figurehead for women’s rights. His trial was a watershed moment for feminism and equality. The questions still loom. How was something like this able to happen? How could something so obviously wrong persist for so long? How do we stop it from happening again?

There are a lot of factors that specifically enabled Nassar to abuse women for decades. Those specific issues must be addressed, and specific individuals must face consequences. But ultimately, Nassar is a symptom of a larger problem. First, we have to acknowledge that Nassar is not nearly as rare as we would wish him to be. An investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found more than 2,400 cases of doctors sexually abusing patients since 1999, occurring across all 50 states. At least half of those physicians still had their medical licenses as of 2016. And these numbers are guaranteed to be low, as sex abuse in all forms is chronically underreported. So Nassar is a monster, but he has a lot of company. What’s going on here?

Unpacking the issues that allow abuse of women to persist would take a lifetime.  There is, however, one thing that underlies it all, and it may not be what you think. It’s language. The words we use matter, the words we emphasize and teach matter. This is the principle of linguistic relativity. It tells us that the structure of a language affects the worldview of the people who speak it. The classic example is Benjamin Whorf’s claim that “Eskimos” have 50 words for snow. His point was that snow is very important to Inuit language groups, and that importance is reflected by the fact that they have a lot of words for it. It’s a rather basic, intuitive idea. Your culture will have many ways to discuss what’s important, few ways to discuss what is unimportant, and no words to discuss what it has no conception of at all. So what happens to a culture when we restrict the words that can be used to describe reproductive anatomy? Misogyny has stolen from women the very words they need to comprehend and assert their own bodily autonomy. And when you don’t have the words to describe your experience, when the words you do have teach you shame, when they don’t empower you and reaffirm your own bodily autonomy, how can you ever find your own voice to speak out against these atrocities?

We have allowed the words that describe reproductive anatomy to become stigmatized, under the guise of “polite” behavior. Parents teach their children euphemisms for their own body parts, students are punished for using words like “penis” and “vagina” in school (and sometimes even sex-ed teachers), and often it’s because they use them as expletives, having been taught they are inherently “naughty”. All this works together to teach kids that certain parts of their body can’t be discussed, which serves to build a barrier between our own anatomy and the ownership of it. According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 24 states and D.C. mandate sex education in schools. Only thirteen of those states mandate that the instruction be medically accurate, twenty-six states require that “the information be appropriate for the students’ age”, and ONLY TWO prohibit the program from promoting religion. This combination of factors is a recipe for disaster when it comes to language. If a program is not required to be medically accurate, students are not going to learn technical terms about their own anatomy. When we accept the fallacy that sex education has an “age appropriate” element, we allow for the introduction of shame associated with female bodies. What are we telling young girls who HAVE vaginas that they are too young for the WORD vagina? If we teach girls that they have to mature into the ownership of their own body parts, is it so surprising that men with power so easily assert their own rights to those parts over their actual owners? And if we CORRECT children who use the proper terms, if we insist on euphemisms, is it such a surprise that they’re reluctant to speak out when needed?

Larry Nassar’s victims ranged from girls as young as six to young women in their teens and early 20s. He told them that inserting his fingers into their vaginas and leaning towards them to whisper “How does that feel”, often with an erection, was medical treatment. In their victim statements, many discussed how he abused their trust, how he made them ashamed to discuss what he did, some of them still referenced shame in speaking out, in a courtroom where he had pled guilty – an open admission that what he had done was wrong – and they had no reason to be ashamed. They speak of being touched in private places, the loss of innocence, but above all – confusion. Confusion over whether what he did was wrong, confusion over who to tell. They speak of knowledge that internal pelvic floor therapies exist, and are legitimate – leading to a difficulty to distinguish legitimate treatment from sexual violation. One victim STILL questions her own interpretation of the experience, she is still unable to tell if she was being molested or treated. That kind of confusion can happen when we don’t give girls the tools to tell medicine from abuse, when we don’t teach them about their anatomy, and don’t give them the words to understand what is happening to them. Rachael Denhollander, the first accuser to file a police report and start the ball rolling against Nassar, says one of her earlier complaints was dismissed because “a 15-year-old girl thinks everything between her legs is a vagina”. The assumption that girls don’t know their own bodies was used to dismiss an accusation of forced penetration – and it worked, because so many young girls DON’T know their own bodies. The girls that did come forward in the late 90s were repeatedly told they were confused about what had happened – an easy thing to push when you’ve already robbed people of the language they need to conceptualize the event in the first place.

For years, child psychologists have been emphasizing both the importance and appropriateness of teaching children proper terms for their anatomy from Day One. It will empower them to speak out against inappropriate touching, teach body positivity, and perhaps even protect them from predators who will recognize that a child who knows the words vulva and vagina likely has parents that will discuss these subjects with them, and listen if they report abuse. Body-related shame is a real and persistent problem. We all know adults who won’t use the word penis or vagina or insist on whispering them if they must be said. People who aren’t comfortable discussing their body will struggle to tell health care providers about medical problems. They will struggle to tell sexual partners if something causes them pain or discomfort. They will be more susceptible to those who would manipulate them via that shame. And if we start by teaching kids shame about body parts, we’ll continue with shame about all language that
discusses sex. This will disproportionately hurt girls, who are made to believe that they should not want or enjoy sex, that they should not express sexual desire for fear of being labeled a slut, and that if sexual contact is forced upon them, it was somehow their own fault. In short, sex euphemisms are a tool of female oppression. We de-emphasize the importance of that anatomy and suggest there is inherent shame in those body parts since we won’t use the actual words to discuss them. This is a problem that can be overcome at home, but politicians at the local and state level who advocate for comprehensive sex education also need our support. Too much of what we learn about language happens in school for this to go unaddressed.

People who criticize women inspired to speak out during the resurgence of #metoo discuss female agency, female responsibility – they ask why women don’t say no, don’t speak out against behavior that bothers them. How can we demand women speak out when we deprive them of the language to describe what happened to them and teach them that putting it into words is shameful? We have to reclaim our vulvas and vaginas, our penises and testicles. Before we can assert autonomy over our anatomy, we have to know what to call our anatomical parts and deny that discussing our bodies is shameful or wrong.

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Dr. Congdon is an anthropologist, anatomist, scientist, feminist, activist, conservationist. When those things collide, she writes about it here. She wants you to vote, and stop littering.