Author Archives: Jill

Do not lose heart. We were made for these times.


I’ll be honest. I expected it to be something of a “victory lap”. A symbolic display of fireworks in celebration of a war that was long past its climactic battles.

I serve on the board of my local Planned Parenthood affiliate and I was thrilled at the prospect of forming a group of donors who would contribute AND PUBLICLY declare their support for reproductive rights. It was the public declaration that had me so excited.

I thought the real enemy was stigma, antiquated ideas that few people even subscribed to any more– a “last gasp” of the Christian Patriarchy. I thought the list would be a triumphant opportunity to be fully “out” in our support, that we’d be delivering a final rebuke to small minds and rigid dogma. It seemed like a great opportunity to network, to start marshaling energy toward a broader social justice agenda….

And then the election happened.

Like many of the people I know, the outcome and its aftermath has been a cocktail of horror, disbelief, and intense anxiety. I realize my relative privilege will shield me from the worst of it but I have spent a lot of time despairing these days.

Yesterday the list was published. A full page of names. Mine alongside more than one hundred seventy other accomplished, committed, endlessly impressive women. And now it seems so much more like a revolutionary act, a digging in of my heels. I feel as if things have shifted a little.  My life is organizing itself around a new reality and my role in it is very clear.

I am part of something big.

This fight is for my lifetime.

We are so much stronger than anyone has imagined.

A Brief History of Sexual Assault


I share these recollections, not because they are extraordinary – but because they are commonplace. They are tame compared to many of my peers. The events of the past few weeks have dredged these up and I felt like the only remedy was to leave them in the light.

I’m eleven, delivering pennysavers two blocks from my home. A man sitting in the driver’s seat of a nearby parked car calls me over. He shows me a magazine and asks me if I know any of the women in the pictures. The photos are crude amateur porn. I understand that the question isn’t a real one, but I play along and tell him no, that I don’t recognize them. He then asks me if I’ve ever seen a penis and I answer with more bravado than I feel that I have – because I have a baby brother. He pulls the magazine away to show me his. I’m careful not to flinch. It seems very important not to appear scared. He tells me to “watch, because something is going to happen.” I tell him politely that I need to finish my paper route. He watches me for several minutes as I walk house to house, then drives away. When I finish my deliveries, I go home and tell my parents. My mother tells me that the same thing happened to her when she was a girl. For her, it was the ice cream man. My dad has me get in the car and we drive around looking for the man. He’s silent but I can tell how angry he is. I am secretly relieved that we can’t find him. I can’t remember any of the details about the car, but I could pick him out of a lineup today.

I’m thirteen and it’s the first really warm day of summer. I unpack last year’s shorts and go to see a friend. Later, as I’m walking home for dinner, a middle-aged man in a Cadillac slows down as he passes me, unrolls his window and honks the horn. He doesn’t say anything, just holds his fingers up to his lips, flicking his tongue between then. I ignore him and keep walking. After a few minutes of driving alongside me, he drives away but he loops around the block and follows me again. By the fifth time he comes back, I’m frightened. I take note of the license plate, slip though a hole in the chainlink fence at the high school, and cut across the football field. When I get home, I call 911 but the dispatcher tells me there is nothing he can do. The man is rude, he tells me, but he hasn’t done anything wrong.

I’m fifteen and I’ve gone with some friends into the city to watch the St. Patrick’s Day parade. It’s very cold so we’re bundled up and packed tightly into the jostling crowd along the parade route. Suddenly, a woman standing next to me taps me on the shoulder, looks behind me and scowls dramatically. I turn to see that the person behind me, a tall man in business clothes, has his pants open. He’s been rubbing himself on the back of my coat. I shriek. My friends turn to see and they all scream with laugher as the man disappears into the crowd.

I’m sixteen, and I say, “no” but my boyfriend doesn’t stop. A half dozen of my guy friends are hanging out in the room below us, easily within earshot but I stay quiet. I’m not entirely sure what will happen if I call for them – if they’ll help me – or join him.

I’m seventeen and living on my own. I ride the A-train into the city every day to go to work where I’m a receptionist. The rush hour train is packed with people and I rarely get a seat. Standing in the middle of the crowded train car, men put their hands on me nearly ever day. It never occurs to me that I could confront them. I pride myself on how stoic I am, not letting them know how much what they’re doing rattles me. I stare straight ahead and grip the metal pole as tightly as I can. “It’s just my body”, I tell myself, “It isn’t ME”. I am still four months shy of my 18th birthday.




Lands End & Gloria Steinem: So What’s the Big Deal?

Gloria LE

If you haven’t been following the story, clothing retailer Lands End, under the leadership of a new CEO (late of Dolce & Gabbana) decided to do a series of catalog features on “icons”. The first profile in the series was of noted feminist, Gloria Steinem, looking elegantly casual in their clothing, and talking about the rights of women in the workplace. It was a good article. I read and enjoyed it, and then proceeded to check out the new spring sweaters.

Others in their customer base didn’t approve. Citing Steinem’s lifelong advocacy for abortion rights, they threatened boycotts. Lands End’s response was excruciatingly swift. Making it clear they had far more invested in their school uniform business than their marketing campaign, or their integrity, they pulled all traces of the article from their website (including a special monogrammed tote bag, from which a portion of the proceeds would be donated to women’s equality causes).

The response to the apology has been fierce, and although there is no way for me to gauge whether the company has lost more customers because of the original article or the ensuing backlash, damage to their reputation is assured. The company’s liberal “if you’re not satisfied for any reason” policy is leading to mass returns. Their Facebook page has become a rallying point for angry women feeling their trust (and consumer dollars) have been betrayed.

But this is just a clothing retailer right? Isn’t it unfair to place the mantle of social justice on a catalog company that sells cute cardigans and water shoes? Here’s my view.

Women and girls are routinely socialized that their rights are acceptable – as long as they do not offend or make anyone else uncomfortable. Our existence is regularly constrained by the possibility we might make someone feel bad, or horny, or angry, or threatened. It has broad and sweeping ramifications in terms of violence against women, educational attainment, workplace equity, the provision of medical care, basic bodily autonomy… virtually every part of our lives.

The current outrage isn’t about a single retailer, or even an individual iconic public figure. In apologizing for having promoted women’s equality alongside chinos and swimsuits, Lands End sent a clear message that women hear repeatedly:

Your rights are not important enough to discuss publicly because the people who feel they aren’t important matter more than you. Those who promote them will be dismissed. Those who bring them up will be castigated. And your protests over that dismissal will be met with weak apologies rather than any meaningful action.

It’s not a new refrain; we can all hum the tune, and it certainly doesn’t go with “Spring’s Must-Have Sundresses for Women and Girls.”






On Pizza…and Refusal of Services

I’ll admit, I’ve been captivated by the spectacular firestorm that is Indiana this week. I’m endlessly amazed at how religious belief can be used to justify infringing on the rights of others, while at the same time crying bloody murder that any dissent is an infringement of that belief.

I think in analogies. That’s just the way my mind works – So I started wondering how this debate plays out in my own business, which just happens to be performing secular wedding ceremonies. Here’s what I came up with.

In my mind, a “business” should be able to select what it does, but not for whom it provides that service. If the pizza parlor in Indiana was asked (unlikely as it may be, I know, I know) to provide pizza for a “gay wedding” and they refused because the clients were two people of the same gender, that’s discrimination (wrong in my opinion). If they were asked to provide falafel, or shrimp fried rice, they can certainly refuse. If they were being asked to provide pizza for a wedding outside their delivery area, or on a day they aren’t open, pizza that’s kosher (if they don’t do that sort of thing), or if they have reached the capacity of pizza they can produce that week, then it’s fine to say, “Sorry, we can’t help you”.

In all of those cases, the refusal is tied to what they do and how they do it – not who the customer is. In business, it doesn’t matter who the person is. You serve them. Period.

Now as I’ve said, I operate a secular wedding celebrant business. Could I refuse my services to someone of faith? Absolutely not. It’s actually the case that the majority of the people I’ve married aren’t atheists. Most express that they have some supernatural belief, but for one reason or another (usually it’s discomfort with religious organizations, or the fact that their beliefs are different form their spouse or guests), they’ve decided not to put those beliefs on display. When I first meet with a couple, I let them know that I’m a secular celebrant (my certification is from the American Humanist Association, so I don’t have religious authority). I let them know that any ceremony I perform can’t have praying, holy texts or references to god.

Last year I was asked by a couple (in this case a man and a woman) to perform their ceremony. Very early on in the discussions, despite the thorough description of my business up front, the groom told me that they wanted a very short ceremony with “just a few bible verses and a blessing”. I explained to him that I wasn’t able to perform such a ceremony, and the couple found an alternate solution.

So why isn’t that discrimination?

I didn’t turn this couple away because they were religious believers. It turns out both were very devout conservative Christians but they didn’t want to attend the pre-wedding classes their church required in order for them to have a religious ceremony (which begs the question, “How do you choose which rules of your religion you will follow and which ones you’ll discard?” But that’s a discussion for another day). If the couple had been willing to have a secular service, which is what I provide, I’d have been pleased to marry them. My refusal was linked to what I do as a business, for anyone who would like to hire me.

Now, I might turn someone away because I’m unavailable for a particular date, or because they aren’t willing to pay my fee, or because they are looking for a wedding planner to coordinate their whole event (I don’t do that kind of thing) but the key here is that my decision is based on my business and what I do, and that I’ll do it for anyone, regardless of whatever groups to which they may belong.

And besides, I’m a Long Island girl. Pizza from Indiana? Probably just crummy round bread with crappy cheese and flavorless sauce anyway.

Love…and Marriage in the time of Facebook

Last week, some friends of mine got married out of state. I didn’t attend the wedding so I made a point of checking my Facebook feed throughout the day. Both of these friends work in public relations so I knew that photos of their big event were forthcoming. I was excited to see them.

And I wasn’t disappointed. Through the immediacy of social media, I was able to view the moment they became a married couple. I saw the venue, the cake . . . I got to share a little bit of joy from hundreds of miles away, just hours after it happened. When they updated their Facebook status to “married”, I enthusiastically clicked my “like” button to express my congratulations. That’s how we do things in the 21st century, right?

And there on the feed I saw a “life event” announcing their names, the date, and the occasion of their marriage, displayed under an icon of a bride and groom.

But my friends are not a bride and a groom. They’re two grooms, happily married in their home state – something few of us could’ve imagined five years ago. And this is perhaps a small thing – but I really object to that little icon defining marriage as a man and a woman. So much progress has been made – and I believe that social media has been a contributing catalyst. As a wedding celebrant, I’m really aware of wedding vendors who refer specifically to “brides and grooms”. I see so many wedding cards and ephemera that adhere to the “man and woman in a big white dress and veil” narrative – and LOTS of weddings don’t look like that at all.

So, I sent Facebook a message. I pointed out that in many states (37, plus Washington DC and some Missouri counties) and countries around the world (18, and portions of some others) marriage is defined more broadly than strictly male/female. I suggested they should consider a more inclusive icon. Isn’t Facebook more open-minded than, say, Fox News?

I received a polite reply informing me that Facebook receives so many messages, they can’t possibly respond to them all directly. The message assured me that they would consider my concern seriously.

Well I am stubborn and impatient, and it occurred to me that perhaps I could enlist the power of social media to call attention to this one small thing and make it different. So I’d like to ask my similarly minded friends (and friends of friends . . . This is social media after all) to do this:

• On your Facebook page, click the little triangle in the top right-hand corner of your screen. On the drop-down, click “report a problem”.

• In the next window, choose “general feedback”.

• In the next window, under “product” choose “timeline” and leave feedback suggesting that the icon should be changed.

Please encourage your friends far and wide to do the same. Inclusive language and images matter, and platforms like Facebook have the opportunity to make an important statement about what marriage looks like.

Thank you, Michele!



Dear Michele Bachmann,

I heard the news Wednesday that you had, “after a great deal of thought and deliberation” and “not in any way related to inquiries into (your) Presidential Campaign”, decided not to seek further congressional office.  Now, those who know me might describe me as sort of liberal, so they’re likely to be surprised to hear me say that I felt a little sense of loss at your news.  I may not agree with a lot of the things you say, Michele (that’s putting it mildly) but, truth be told, I’m so glad you say them and I’m really going to miss you. You see, you serve an important purpose in the political ecosystem and I’ve developed a healthy appreciation for you.  In fact, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you.

Thank you, Michele.  I mean it.  Thank you for saying things like:

“We are giving money to corrupt organizations like Planned Parenthood that are committing crimes and enabling young minor girls and covering up issues I don’t even want to talk about it because it is so disgusting.”

And this:

“This year, more than any other year, we need to completely defund Planned Parenthood and begin a process to end the tax-exempt status of this now-profit seeking, political seeking organization…When you have the executive director of Planned Parenthood in Illinois saying they want to become the LensCrafters of big abortion…If they are competing with for-profit businesses and putting them out of business, then Planned Parenthood has no business holding a non-profit status that benefits that organization”

And this:

“I think it is incumbent upon us as the members of Congress to let people know–not for the purpose of scaring them–but to let people know the stark fiscal realities that we’re facing right now as a nation.  And can’t we at minimum start with defunding things like Planned Parenthood and paying for other’s people abortions that are highly controversial and are violating our principles of the Declaration of Independence, our inalienable right to life? That we can at least agree on, that we should defund that.”

Because, Michele, when you make statements like these, people who are complacent, people who are busy, people who “aren’t political” and people who are comfortable and confident that things will always remain just as they are – find that they can’t be neutral.  Statements like those ignore, not just the facts, but all the important realities of our day: healthcare, reproductive rights, and the personal autonomy of our youth (after all, if fetuses have rights, why not minor girls!?)  When you say these things Michele, people stop, and they think.  And…well thinking, Michele.  When people start to do that, your world-view is in a lot of trouble.

Thank you, Michele.  Because, when you confuse actor John Wayne with serial killer John Wayne Gacy, or suggest that there is zero scientific evidence that carbon dioxide is a threat to the planet, we forget about the junk we need to buy on Amazon.  We stop worrying about what Kim and Kanye will name the baby.  We let go of planning our vacations, and doing laundry, and watching videos of cats on the Internet.  When you suggest that there are “hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes” who believe in Intelligent Design, or that our nation’s founders “worked tirelessly to end slavery”, all those things fall away and we think.  And the more we think, the more ridiculous the things you say become.  And then we realize that we have a responsibility to protect the rights and freedoms we have.  We recognize that they are only assured if we defend them.  Defend them from people… like you.  And we mobilize…and we win.

According to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, Planned Parenthood’s PAC spent $12 million in the last general election – during a year when the organization saw unprecedented attacks on its mission and activities, and multiple attempts to cut off its funding (which, by the way, doesn’t go to abortions but to things like cancer screenings, and contraception which prevents abortions). That campaign saw an incredible 98% return on investment – successfully electing 12 pro-women’s health candidates and defeating 14 anti-women’s health candidates.  By way of contrast, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads PAC had a 1.29% success rate – and the NRA’s PAC yielded .83% of their desired results.  Not too shabby huh?  Why was Planned Parenthood so successful?  Well, I think you had a little something to do with that!

So I take this opportunity to thank you, Michele.  For making us think, for mobilizing us, for giving us a glimpse of the world you want for us – just enough of a glimpse for us to know we choose another path.  I’m a Board member of my local Planned Parenthood affiliate, Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood.  I’ve seen first hand what safe, legal, honest and necessary reproductive healthcare looks like.  I joined this board because of people like you Michele, and in your honor I’m going to make a donation to Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood today.  Because when I hear you speak…when you suggest that wives must be submissive to their husbands, or that we could eradicate unemployment if we could only abolish the minimum wage, or that Planned Parenthood “intentionally breaks state and federal laws”, I remember what I stand for and why I have a responsibility to defend it, always.  Thank you Michele, for making us think even though you may not do it too often yourself.  But therein lies your genius.  I hope you won’t stray too far from the limelight once you leave office.  There are multiple media outlets that would be more than happy to provide a platform for your point of view.  Thank you, Michele, and please stay in touch.  We are so very, very grateful.

Readers, please join me in donating to Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood – or the local affiliate where you live in honor of Michele Bachmann, here’s the link:

Why do married people get all the best stuff?

I read this article recently and it makes a really interesting point.  As a society, we’re not only discriminating against those who love someone of the same gender – we’re also denying a number of rights and benefits to those who choose not to marry, or who aren’t fortunate enough to find a “traditional” soul mate.  Should the legal and financial benefits that are attached to marriage be limited to those in a romantic relationship?  Or do we need to evaluate and legitimize all of the ways that human beings bond with one another for support, companionship and an enriched existence?  What do you think?

Why All Marriage Should Be Considered Unconstitutional and What It Should Be Replaced With.








Hearts & Minds…

American Atheists circulated a letter today, calling for careful examination of the way we communicate – particularly online.  I’m aware that, in my frustration with elements of religion that I see as destructive and oppressive, I can be sardonic, reductive and sometimes even smug.  I try to remember that one of the things I find most objectionable about religion is the inflexible dogma and sense of unquestioned righteousness that some believers display.

I’m trying to be open and understanding – even of those who continue to spew hate and ignorance – and especially with those who simply think differently than I do (incomprehensible though it may be).

The full text of the letter can be found here.  It’s an important read.


Symbols of hope…or oppression?

WTC cross

A friend of mine raised the issue today of the “World Trade Center Cross”, a pair of crossbeams which approximate the proportions of the Christian symbol, that were found on the site of the collapsed buildings.  A recent lawsuit over whether it should be included in the World Trade Center museum has pitted those who see it as a source of inspiration amid despair – and those who feel it represents a public endorsement of a religious symbol.  What do you think?

They have a WHAT?!?!

The Catholic Church at the United Nations: Church or State

Readers of my blog, and those who know me personally are aware that I am wary of any religious participation in the public square  – I keep a wary watch for it “like a hemophiliac with one eye on the knife drawer”.  When I casually came across the fact that the Vatican actually holds a seat in the United Nations, the only religious viewpoint to do so, I was shocked and appalled.  According to this report from Catholics for Choice (an excellent organization I recommend you check out), UN records indicated the Vatican uses  that role frequently to speak out against reproductive rights, access to contraception, and human rights for the LGBT community.  I can’t believe I didn’t know this before!  I am really not Ok with this.  Are you?