The Lebron James of Filibustering

I was going to do a “whoops-haven’t-blogged-in-a-while” update on my life, or the city, or curried rice with shrimp, or Yeezus, or any number of important topics. But then… Wendy Davis.

For those of you who haven’t been obsessively following this for the past 4 hours (or 9 hours, or days), Senator Wendy Davis spent her day filibustering the SB 5 bill in Texas that would severely limit women’s access to safe abortions and restrict women’s health care access. She stood on the Senate floor speaking out against the bill and reading testimony from women about their own experiences with reproductive freedoms. She wasn’t allowed to leave for a bathroom break or lean on anything. Yes ladies and gentlemen, she did not pee for 13 hours.

And suddenly my day seems a hell of a lot easier.

The updated Wikipedia page for Wendy Davis

The updated Wikipedia page for Wendy Davis

Coming from the liberal haven of Providence I didn’t ever have to explain to people that my body was my own and if you want in on my medical decisions, well, tough cookies. I didn’t have to worry about whether I would have access to women’s health care.  Today our girl Wendy stood up for women who aren’t so fortunate. You don’t have to agree with her politics to see that what she’s doing is totally badass.

Women are silenced all the time, and it is so easy to let that silence go unnoticed. Rape culture silences women. Gaslighting silences women. Restricting women’s health options silences women. Hell, women silence other women. To see a female politician refuse the silence and take a stand for women’s rights is pretty inspiring.

There’s something to be said for kick-ass women taking a stand.

And when it comes right down to it, that’s the best return to blogging I can make. Because the past few months have been all about kick-ass women. I am fortunate enough to work for a company that values and celebrates women, and for a CEO who understands how much kick-ass women can achieve. I had the pleasure of celebrating a very exciting birthday with my kick-ass mother (I wont out your age on the internet, Mom, I promise). Her birthday celebrations were filled with people reminding me how rare women like her are.

And today, Wendy Davis.

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(There is a whole lot more to write about the democratic process and the badassness involved here, but that’s for another day. It’s 9:57pm PT the crowd is still cheering, trying to prevent the vote.)

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(As of 10:12pm PT it’s unclear whether a vote happened, or if it made it in before midnight central time. It is, however, clear that Wendy is still kickass)

(10:23pm PT: Allegedly a vote took place before midnight and the bill passed. In the tweets of @JamilSmith, “Oh, so THIS is what voter fraud looks like?”)

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Sometimes We’re Not Happy and Hey That’s Okay

Someone told me recently, regarding the job search, that all I needed to do was keep looking and stay positive. (This isn’t a job related post, I swear). People really truly want to believe that things will work out for the best, that keeping a positive mindset will help, and that in the end optimism will prevail. But guess what? That’s bullshit.

Pardon my particularly strong reaction, but I’ve had some experience with the push towards positive thinking. From a personal perspective, I struggle with anxiety, a problem that often leads people to give advice like “Don’t worry” or “Think positively.” Well, no, actually, my body has a physiological reaction to certain situations and it’s actually the physical component (breathing, talking, contact) that helps the most. If I could tell my brain “Oh no, there’s no danger in this situation, you’re overreacting,” don’t you think I would have tried that?

Additionally, a large portion of my thesis revolved around the question of positive psychology and the extent to which popular media promote relentless positivity and punish negative feelings. For my research I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided, which looks at the problems associated with the positivity push. And it wasn’t until I read her book that I started thinking about all the ways in which we’re constantly bombarded with messages of optimism, from the “remove negative people from your life” advice to the idea that cancer will “win” if you aren’t positive enough.

As Ehrenreich points out, the glorification of positive emotions leaves no room for expressions of real pain, doubt or sorrow, and no room for realism. When you are constantly being told that you need to look on the bright side, you can forget to consider the real world consequences.

Which brings me to this week’s opinion piece in The New York Times, “The Power of Negative Thinking.”  In the piece Oliver Burkeman talks about those very issues (even mentioning Ehrenreich), making the important point that sometimes a positive mind-set isn’t everything. Sometimes, there are real reasons for why something goes well or doesn’t, and pretending that everything is going to go well because you can somehow magically will it to is irresponsible.

Oliver Burkeman writes:

A positive thinker can never relax, lest an awareness of sadness or failure creep in. And telling yourself that everything must work out is poor preparation for those times when they don’t. You can try, if you insist, to follow the famous self-help advice to eliminate the word “failure” from your vocabulary — but then you’ll just have an inadequate vocabulary when failure strikes.

He writes in such a “duh” way that you begin to wonder why the strange positivity push (and the self-help craze associated with it) still exists. It totally makes sense that people want to think they can do better, smarter, braver things all the time, and there’s nothing wrong with pushing yourself to be that way (hey, look at Olympic athletes). Until a certain point of course. Because at some point forced-positivity makes you blind to your own failures and unwilling to try a new solution, to ask for help, or to succumb to real emotion.

None of this is to say that you should stick with negativity all the time or that there isn’t a place for positive thinking in life. But as Burkeman points out in the article, even some of the practices we think of as positive, like Buddhism, are more balanced than we think. There is a focus in Buddhism and in meditation on a nonjudgmental consideration of sensations and emotions. The constant refrain you hear while meditating is to consider how you feel in that moment, and not try to judge or change anything, but just to be aware. Unwavering optimism leaves no room for that awareness. (Nor does, I should add, unwavering pessimism. Balance, people.)

To see an article in the mainstream media that says, “Hey, everyone, let’s consider the consequences of squashing the negative all the time” gave me a little bit of hope. What I found in my thesis was that celebrity journalism punishes sadness (particularly in women), even when such feelings might be justified, as in the case of divorce, depression or legal troubles. This article potentially represents just a miniature shift, showing that at least one more guy out there is willing to call bullshit on that idea. And while the attitudes and ideologies that show up in journalism may not change anytime soon, little shifts here and there may be able to shed some light on the strangeness of rejecting reality.

As for my job search? Yeah, maybe there is some truth to the need to stay positive. But there is also a need for me to consider the very real option that September rolls around and I still don’t have a job. I’ve begun to look at my options, considering things like becoming a nanny or taking time to travel. Because should September roll around, I’m not going to be the sucker so caught up in my own optimism that I didn’t take time to consider the What Ifs.

(Image Source: http://optimisticjourney.com/2010/01/17/there-is-power-in-positive-thinking/)

Jack Osbourne, or, I Swear Celebrity Journalism Matters

Jack Osbourne and his fiance

Jack Osbourne has been diagnosed with MS

Today I’m deviating from my scheduled programming (although I know you’re all dying to know what’s on my summer reading list) to get my communication and media nerd on. I suppose this is the part where I pull my “lifestyle blog” card as a way of writing about, well, whatever I want.

An article I read yesterday included the following quote:

“MS is a disease that affects the central nervous system – the brain and spinal cord. It can cause problems with muscle control and strength, vision, balance, feeling, and thinking. It’s different for each person. Some may go through life with only minor problems, while others can become seriously disabled. Most people are somewhere in between.”

The article in question came from JustJared.com, a celebrity gossip blog that was reporting on Jack Osbourne’s recent MS diagnosis. Similar explanations of the disease could be found on websites ranging from Rolling Stone to ABC News .

So What?

There is nothing surprising about the explosion of MS coverage that occurred following Osbourne’s diagnosis; people care about celebrities and what happens to them. It does, however, lend credence to the mantra I repeated while writing my senior thesis: Celebrity Journalism Matters.

Skeptics can laugh all they want, but yes that was the basis of my most important paper in college. My thesis worked off of the idea that research on celebrity journalism matters because the tone, language and substance of gossip articles can tell us very real things about societal norms and expectations. The recent burst of MS related coverage points to a different way in which celebrity journalism matters: it can allow people to learn where they might otherwise not.

Celebrity Health in the Media

I know, I know, the gossip blog followers of the world don’t seem like an audience eager to learn and absorb. But that’s exactly why moments like this are so important. Coverage of celebrity health offers an opportunity for open discussions of health issues. For example, Katie Couric’s on-air colonoscopy brought the topic into the public arena. She created a public conversation around her colonoscopy in hopes of raising awareness and preventing others from dying of colon cancer as her husband did.

Such public conversations may have a measurable effect on the public’s health behaviors. Following Couric’s procedure, there was a 20% spike in colonoscopies. Additionally, a 2005 study found that there was an unprecedented increase in mammogram appointments following Kylie Minogue’s breast cancer diagnosis. There is something powerful about celebrity health narratives that can help to mobilize people.

Use the Opportunity

This most recent round of health-related celebrity news offers an opportunity for public health education. Some organizations have used the news as an opportunity to offer up information on Twitter or Facebook to those who don’t understand the disease or want to learn more.

WorldMSDay tweet

Tweeting for a cause

It would be interesting to see whether coverage of Osbourne’s diagnosis coincides with increased awareness and knowledge about MS. What it certainly highlights is the need to remember that occasionally celebrity journalism allows us to reach new audiences with important messages. You may not agree that celebrity journalism is important, worth studying, or even tolerable, but while it exists we may as well make the most of it.

…And thus concludes an installment of “Watch me meagerly defend my field of study.”