Shiny Purple Motorcycles and Being a Grown Up

Home from the Gloria Steinem & Roxane Gay event tonight. I promptly recited pretty much the entire evening–from their readings to the Q&A session–to my mom, who was babysitting my kid. Here are my takeaways:

-Gloria Steinem has made some kind of deal with the devil. I saw her ~25y years ago at Mount Holyoke College and it’s as if the woman has not aged a day. She’s 81 years old, and as savvy, articulate, passionate, and beautiful as she has ever been.

-Gloria Steinem also uses the word ‘fuck’ a lot. This is pure awesome.

-Steinem’s new book has a section about her being in Sturgis, North Dakota, at the same time as 250,000 bikers attending the annual motorcycle club rally there. She tells a fascinating story about her experience there, the moral of which is: stop making assumptions about how people will behave. They will often surprise you if you let them.

-Also, all women have a big, shiny, purple motorcycles inside them. 🙂

-Roxane Gay is brilliantly incisive and funny and clearly a woman you would kill to have a drink with.

-Gay’s book, Bad Feminist, is equally brilliant and funny. Seriously, she had to pause constantly to let the roars of laughter die down during her reading.

-Gay also seriously takes no shit. I love her. She was asked a question about white women and WOC and being an ally and what you can do to help. After giving a very interesting answer about why she’s done with the word ‘ally’, she said, “The number one question I get asked online, over and over again, is ‘what can I do to help?’ And I tell people, ‘You are a grown up. You got yourself dressed this morning. Figure it out.'”

I almost broke my hand clapping.

I follow Gay on Twitter & I see this constantly. Every day, all day, people repeatedly asking the same questions, people who clearly have not bothered to listen to what she has already said, over and over again, as if she is an unlimited resource that hundreds of thousands of people who want to dip their toes in activism can go to for advice. And all of those people need to head first to Google. Or a library. And go figure it out.

Asking the most famous black feminist you know on Twitter a generic question like what can you do to help on women’s rights and race issues? That’s not the action of someone who genuinely wants to help. That’s someone who wants a shortcut, or to *look* like they want to help.

If you really want to help, go do your research. Track down the people who are currently working on the issue you want to work on. Read everything they write. Read the stuff by other people that gets mentioned as being influential. Do your homework. Put in the time learning about the problematic mistakes that newcomers to your issue make, so you don’t go tromping around like a bull in a china shop, breaking shit when you really want to help.


If you really want to help, you will find the ways you can do that. You will learn about local organizations who are doing the work on the ground. And *those* are the people who you can go to and say, “What can I do to help?”

Trust me. They’ll have a list.

If all you want to do as a feminist ally or a POC ally is make pithy statements on Twitter? Knock yourself out. But if you really want to do the work? That’s what it is. Work. And you don’t get it done by taking a shortcut.

I’ve been studying feminist issues for almost thirty years now and LGBTQ issues for about twenty-five. Only ten years ago did I figure out I needed to put the same work into my understanding of race. And it’s within the past three or four years that I began studying up on disability, trans, and genderqueer issues. Every day. I read blog posts and articles and essays and books. I watch documentaries and follow debates on social media. I talk to people who live the things I’m trying to learn, and when I say “talk”, I mean I listen.

I do all this, and I get things wrong all the time. I am nowhere close to knowing all the things I need to know to talk intelligently on any of these topics. But that’s the way it’s always going to be. So I show up where I can to do the stuff that will help people who are more involved than I am. Tonight, that meant working crowd control as a volunteer for Women & Children First Bookstore, so almost a thousand people could listen to these two amazing women speak.

Man, I love Roxane Gay. And it was an honor to listen listen to Gloria Steinem speak. Volunteer with your local indie bookstores at events, people! You can sit in on some seriously amazing evenings.

(Also, if you haven’t already, you should absolutely read Gay’s BAD FEMINIST and Steinem’s MY LIFE ON THE ROAD. Like, immediately. They are brilliant and political and wise and hella funny books.)

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