Episode 102: Just Awful

Published July 21, 2017.

Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.

Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.

Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.

Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. On this week's agenda, science shows menstruation brain is not a thing; obituaries for a couple of inspiring women; R. Kelly's predatory behavior and the people who enable it; plus harassment in space science, a blacklist for sexist tech investors, and the new movie Girls Trip.

[Theme song]

Aminatou: Hi Ann Friedman!

Ann: Hey Aminatou Sow. How's it going?

Aminatou: Girl, pretty good. A little tired but good.

Ann: I know, we had kind of a marathon week doing our live shows. I feel like I have a whole new respect for touring musicians now. I'm like wow, getting up and doing it every night.

Aminatou: Yeah, it's not play; it's work. [Laughs] But it's also like it was super fun, you know?

Ann: Yeah, I know. It's a hard thing to be like oh, that was super fun and also I have nothing left to give. I've seriously just been like reading books and watching TV and getting stoned and eating homemade food since then. Extensively.

Aminatou: True story. I've been eating hummus and watching -- I've seen every episode of American Greed. It's insane.

Ann: Ugh, your safe space, American Greed.

Aminatou: You know it! Okay, what are we talking about today?

Ann: I don't know. What do you want to talk about? Light or heavy?

Aminatou: Let's start light. Tell me one good thing. Tell me one light, chill thing.

Ann: Okay. Well, I'm going to hit you with -- well, okay, it's a Science Daily headline which means it's not really that sciencey, you know? They summarize research that real journals do in the most headline-friendly way. But I'm going to tell you, this is the headline I read: Menstruation Doesn't Change How Your Brain Works, Period.

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Ann: Which, can I tell you -- I mean, okay, and let me read you the summary. The summary actually says this, in sciencey vibes. It says "It has long been assumed that your period affects your brain's performance." Who is assuming this?

Aminatou: You know, but you know how you feel you're not in your right mind when the cramps hit so bad?

Ann: But that's like . . .

Aminatou: I get it, I get it, I get it. But also it's nuts.

Ann: I mean, okay, so I agree that it can be distracting to have a period but I've never once thought of it as my brain is different. I'm seriously like oh, I'm distracted by the gnawing pain in my abdomen as if a baby wolverine is trying to get out. It's not like my brain is screwed up.

Aminatou: [Laughs] Do you think it's on the same spectrum of like we talk a lot like this in women's health, right? It's like you're always going crazy or now it's like you have period brain. But I've definitely heard people say like "I have mommy brain," and I always wondered is that a thing? Is this -- and obviously I only ever hear women talk like this. I don't have any particular insight except for the fact that we have this weirdo gender language around things that ail us.

Ann: Yeah. I mean let me hit you with the science. So a study published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuro Science essentially says they examined three aspects of cognition across two menstrual cycles and found that the levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone in your system have no impact on your working memory, cognitive bias, or ability to pay attention to two things at once. So basically yes, hormones are real, and if you're a person who has a period hormones change. But according to science it does not change your cognition or your brain.

Aminatou: So all the weird stuff that you say actually is not true?

Ann: Wait, okay, what do you mean the weird stuff that you say?

Aminatou: I don't know. I notice a different kind of language around these kinds of ailments, right? It's the same thing with women who are convinced that they know exactly when they're being hormonal. I'm not a doctor and also I'm very tired so maybe I'm completely making this up, but I just feel like there is the sense of like -- the sixth sense of body intuition that people sometimes have, but it's funny because it's always things that are unknowable, you know what I mean? Well you're like oh, here's what's going on with my body, or I didn't eat wheat today and I'm already feeling it. And I'm like are you feeling it or have you had tests that come from this?

Ann: Yeah, of course. I mean, and I think the other caveat in this study is that obviously bodies are different and this is one small sample of people and people with different types of hormones or perhaps like a hormone disorder or other menstrual-ish could experience things differently. So it's totally possible that while the norm according to this study is no cognitive difference if you're on your period that necessarily is not true for everyone. But you're right, this idea too of physical distraction being something that does affect your level of concentration, I think that's definitely real for me. Even if it's not like my brain is at a disadvantage, I'm like oh, I'm distracted by physical discomfort for example.

Aminatou: Exactly.

Ann: It's real, not wanting to bleed on things.

Aminatou: Yeah. [Laughs] A thing I set out to do every month and a thing I fail at every single month.

Ann: Wouldn't that be amazing if it were like a competitive menstruation? See how many surfaces you can bleed on? You're like "Oh, my friend was here first. I didn't get to bleed on this chair first." Like "Oh, this lady on the bus beat me to it."

Aminatou: I know. As long as you keep a good bottle of peroxide in your house everything is fine.

Ann: Oh my god, yeah, you totally changed my life on this. I had no idea that peroxide was a thing that broke down blood.

Aminatou: Yeah, that's the blood cleaner. I know this because I bleed on everything. Yeah, it's like really distracting. It's like don't bleach it, peroxide it. And then that gets rid of the blood. This is why women are really good at murder, I'm telling you.

Ann: Yeah, I was going to say.

Aminatou: We know. We know.

Ann: Useful tip for all of your non-white collar crimes.

Aminatou: Exactly. We know how to get rid of blood and bodies.

Ann: Oh my god.

Aminatou: You want to give me an update from around the world?

Ann: Okay, I have a posi update from Scotland.

Aminatou: Woot!

Ann: It has become the first nation to give free access to sanitary products to all of its citizens.

Aminatou: Free 99?

Ann: Free.99.

Aminatou: That's amazing.

Ann: It's a pilot program right now, like a six-month rollout, but they're going to use it to make the case for future government policies on providing sanitary products. And it's specifically run out of a poverty prevention and social enterprise charity, so it's like this idea of okay, if we look at the way that health and gender and income all intersect maybe this would be a good policy to pursue.

Aminatou: That's really cool.

Ann: That's my this week in menstruation news, which I guess you asked for light so I guess it's sort of light flow of news there.

Aminatou: Light flow of news there.


Aminatou: You know, this is not light and actually is really sad but we've been talking a lot about kind of obituaries and that stuff. One obituary that really made me pause this week is for this woman named Meechy Monroe who was a natural hair beauty star and she is the reason I wear my hair naturally, I'm pretty sure, where really early on when I was like I'm tired of relaxing my hair, how do you do this thing, I did a Google. She was one of the most prominent people and she had this YouTube channel. She was always really fun and relaxed and seemed like somebody who could be your friend. And she died of brain cancer this week. It's the first time I think that somebody who is contemporary to me online has died and it really made me pause and I got really, really upset.

I had never met her. She always felt like a friend to me. It's been also just interesting to see this news get picked up outside of like natural beauty hair and people because of the cultural impact that she's had. Bim Adewunmi wrote this beautiful remembrance of her on BuzzFeed. There was an actual obituary in the New York Times. I don't know, it's been really, really, really hard to process. She was just 32. She was beautiful and she was really generous and wonderful with her time and she propelled the natural hair beauty woman forward and for black women that means so much more than hair.

I think you and I have talked about this before, kind of this how people react around celebrity deaths online always is it's very interesting and weird and there's no . . . there's no good and bad way to grieve, you know? But these really public displays of grief are something that are really intensified because of the Internet. For me this was the first time that this hit home in this really hard way.

Ann: Well, and there's also something where I think that public figures like her who are very, very important but still don't meet the standard for celebrity in the photographed by the paparazzi, on the cover of magazines sense but are very well-known by a lot of people and very beloved even though they're not known personally, there is something different both about that relationship but also the idea of losing someone like that being more like losing a friend than it is mourning a public figure like Prince or something. And yeah, I read that piece of Bim's and she talks about that a little bit, like different types of mourning for people who you didn't actually know but who affected you really, really deeply.

Aminatou: Yeah, it's hard. It's hard and it's sad and I'm really sorry for her family.

Ann: Yeah. Do you want me to hit you real quick with a slightly less sad obit?

Aminatou: Mm-hmm.

Ann: And I only say less sad because the woman in question died at age 101 and I'm like okay, well, you know, there is something about . . .

Aminatou: A long life well-lived.

Ann: Exactly. Exactly. I'm sure her loved ones are still sad about it. So the obit is for this woman Francis Gabe. She was an inventor. She's from Oregon and she made her name by inventing a self-cleaning house. Essentially like . . .

Aminatou: What?

Ann: I know, like a sprinkler system and these floors that were perfectly angled for drainage and you could press a button and essentially the whole house would wash, rinse, and dry itself at the touch of a button.

Aminatou: That's amazing.

Ann: She filed for a patent for it in 1984. It sounds like reading this obit that she got some press attention in the '80s for this, but in the way that a lot of public figures who are not white men don't really make it into the zeitgeist long-term, I had never heard of her until I read the obit. And there are so many delightful things in this about how she was basically an iconoclast and difficult and kept a cement mixer in her front yard. When I read this I was just like I'm so -- I am sad obviously that I did not know about her in life, but this is what I want obits to do for me. This is a woman you could really model yourself after, inventor of the self-cleaning home. God, what would the world look like if the visions that these women had for the world were now so fully mainstream that they were recognized? What if we all totally loved and embraced natural hair for everybody and we all lived in self-cleaning homes? You know what I mean? Like the posi future that they present.

Aminatou: Seriously. This makes me so -- also, one, the pictures in this obituary are amazing. She just looks so boss doing this. But two, you know, it also just reminds me about how so many women's arts are relegated to just that and not thinking about the fact this is like real-deal STEM, you know what I mean? This is a woman who she's a fucking inventor.

Ann: Totally.

Aminatou: And making practical-ass shit. But she looks so boss in all these photos. The dresses are doing it for me, the glasses are doing it for me. And again this continuing theme of finding out about women's accomplishments through obituaries is something that I am both embarrassed by and also I really want this to change.

Ann: And there's also a part of it too where I think that obituaries have always been about saying this is the impact someone had on people who were known to them directly and we're going to make that impact known to the wider world. I'm someone who did not follow Meechy Monroe because the beauty tips she was offering or her lens on the world, it missed me because I was like -- it missed me. I don't know why. Probably because I'm white. But also reading some of the remembrances of her, it's like oh, wow, part of the function of an obituary is to say this person's life was really impactful even if it didn't impact yours and let's recognize that. And I think the same is true of this, in a really different way obviously, of this inventor lady. It's like look, here is someone who is challenging some basic assumptions about the way we live and the way we create home spaces, you know? So apreesh.

Aminatou: Apreesh.


Aminatou: What else? You know, this week has been particularly triggering for women who are sexual assault survivors and I'm thinking a lot about this new R. Kelly story and revelation that has come out. I don't have any other word except for how upsetting it has been for me to just see him continuously just thrive in his career and face zero consequences for what he's done. So to just get everybody on the same page BuzzFeed released this kind of bombshell story this week by Jim DeRogatis, a rock critic and an investigative reporter and is really the person who has been writing about R Kelly for 20 years now and every -- has been chronicling all the bad things he has done.

He was the person, for example, who he got the tip about the tape -- you're probably familiar with that -- assaulting someone who is probably underage in that video. That went to trial and during the trial the jury was not allowed to hear a lot of evidence about him, specifically his marriage with Aaliyah when she was 15 and other really incriminating things and so he was acquitted. And a couple of years ago the same reporter wrote again -- has just been chronicling this with a really intense body of evidence, right? This is not something that is just based on rumors and people are saying. It is actual hard evidence and testimony of people who have been around.

But for some reason R Kelly is not a pariah in the music industry and we are all implicated. It's like thinking about him performing on Jimmy Fallon on Christmas week last year, that is so mainstream and so crazy. Lady Gaga who is somebody who has fashioned herself as an anti-rape advocate and does so much work for women who are assaulted has performed a song with him and did a performance honestly that was again very upsetting where she's pretending to go down on him in this Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton type scenario in a performance that they did. Like it's so awful.

Ann: Ugh. Ugh.

Aminatou: And this man has faced no consequences, you know? Like I can think even in my own friend circle about three recent weddings I've gone to where we have definitely played and danced to R. Kelly songs. And so this whole thing is crazy. The new allegations that have come out is that he is holding these young girls -- none of them are underage to be clear -- as hostages in his home. And so their families have all come out. They're very upset. Apparently there's some sort of investigation underway, but this whole thing is mindboggling to me that here is a person that has clearly done things that are despicable and wrong, like there's no doubt about it, and he has faced no consequences. His business is fine, his money is on the up and up, he's still seen as a cultural icon. To me this is the exact reason that women don't report assault because you never see the consequences. And there's such a sharp personal price to pay and you get revictimized again in public and the person who is the one who should be facing consequences is thriving and alive.

Ann: Yeah. I mean when I read this, and you're right, Jim DeRogatis has been on this beat -- I think we can safely call it a beat -- like trying to get the world to wake up to the fact that this man is a predator. He's been on this beat for a really long time and you know this is not the first investigation, as you say, that's come out about him. And I just keep thinking what does it take to get the stuff to stick? How many dozens of women had to come forward about Bill Cosby and put their names on the line -- all of them -- in order . . . you know, like the volume has to be so intense. And even then justice in some sort of legal or externalized or way you can demonstrate that actually hurts the livelihoods and the reputations of these men is so depressingly hard to come by.

Aminatou: Yeah.

Ann: I mean like everything. It's like seeing who continues to work with Woody Allen? Or I was reading about this particular situation described in this new piece of reporting about R. Kelly which is basically like -- they use the word sort of like cult-like, but essentially him being super, super controlling with a number of very young women who come from pretty shaky circumstances. And someone was pointing out that Corey Feldman, like the '80s child actor, has his own kind of situation like this which he refers to as Corey's Angels. Women who -- we can link to the Q&A with him -- but basically women who are very young and in really dire economic situations often without a stable living situation. And just being straight-up predatory, and the idea that oh, you've just turned 18 so it's legal is a thing that I've been thinking about a lot, right? Like this idea that because we've defined an age of consent -- like consent laws are so, so complicated, right? Like trying to put into legal terms the ins and outs of sexual consent.

Aminatou: Like having agency over . . . 

Ann: Exactly.

Aminatou: . . . the kinds of sexual relationships that you're comfortable with. One of the reactions that I saw online that was, again, so upsetting to me, was people saying oh, how is this different from a classic sub/dom/BDSM relationship? And I was like actually this is fucked up on so many levels because there's nothing wrong with BDSM, like a healthy BDSM sex life, one. Perverting that in this case, like it's hurtful to everybody and the many different ways that we have sex. And also the main difference between that and this is people in BDSM relationships should be consenting adults who all have the agency to engage in the kind of sexual lives that they want and it's not wrapped up until this very neat power struggle where R. Kelly is a powerful musician and these young girls are people who need his patronage to further their careers. One thing that was so mind-blowing to me in this was hearing that some of the parents were very aware of all of the allegations against R. Kelly.

Ann: Yes.

Aminatou: And they were still like "Oh, I'll protect my daughter. I'll be there." And at first I was very angry at those parents because how could you -- like how, how, how, how could you do that? But we are attracted to powerful people in a way that makes . . . yeah, it's like talk about when your brain is not set right. I think there is such a thing as a being around powerful people brain where nobody is thinking in their right minds. And also it's not lost on me that all of these girls are black, you know? They're just young black girls, and how much more different this would be if one of the girls that R. Kelly was accused of doing this with was white, you know? And how the public outcry would be different and how probably the investigation would be different and how the conversation around it would be different as well.

I think a lot about Kesha's situation with Dr. Luke which is equally fucked up and completely unacceptable and I'm so happy she is making music again. The new album looks lit. But, you know, thinking in all of the ways that she was able to garner sympathy and there was kind of an uprise of people just putting their foot down and saying what she's going through is not okay even though artists are still working with Dr. Luke and fuck Dr. Luke. Just thinking about the different ways that women can be rescued and how much it is to your advantage to be a white woman in that circumstance, it is equally fucked up.

Ann: No, totally. And I think that there is on some level some of it is prominence, right? Like Kesha is a household name whereas these women who are hoping R. Kelly is going to help them with their career and end up getting stuck in something much, much worse are not names that are known yet. Like race is totally a major, major factor.

But when you look at the -- there's a timeline which we can link to of all of the charges against him, some of them with video evidence, some of them with testimony on the record. This goes all the way back to 1994, and the fact that it's not a taboo to, as you pointed out, play his music at your wedding or collaborate with him even when you want to be known as an advocate for survivors of assault, what does it take? Like seriously what does it take?

Aminatou: Yeah, it's just so . . . like it's so crazy. And if you're listening to this and this conversation is hard for you, we are sorry. We believe you and we trust you. And I think so much about this, like in all of the ways that you put yourself out there and you make yourself vulnerable as victims of assault. And to see that you can go through all of that on many different levels and just get revictimized again and the people who perpetrate these things against you, there are no consequences for them, that's what will ultimately drive me crazy. It's so maddening.

Ann: Yeah. And I keep wondering too, I mean obviously all of us as consumers can choose not to consume his music or can choose to like . . .

Aminatou: Right. You don't have to make that choice if the industry that he's in doesn't make his music.

Ann: Well and that's what I was going to say. There is definitely power that you have as a consumer, or those of us who do believe survivors and do want to stand in solidarity with them, there are things we can do. But ultimately there are people who profit from him continuing to not be held accountable for this, like directly profit from it. Those are the people. And how do we also target them, right? Like it's not necessarily . . . these articles all kind of go into detail about why the courts have failed, frankly. The courts have failed. And so the question is then how is there accountability for the people producing and profiting from him continuing to work? Like that's the question that I'm sort of thinking about now.

Aminatou: Yeah. And even this question of can you separate the art from the artist or whatever, we're all critical thinkers here and we're not stupid. Everything is borderline problematic. I have enjoyed the body of work of Woody Allen even though he is a fucked-up, despicable human being. But I do think that there is a difference between work that is already out there before you know kind of what the deal is and people who are enabled to keep continuing to do this stuff. Putting the burdens on consumers all the time is the very convenient way that an industry gets away with not examining their own fucked-up practices.

Ann: Totally. They're like "Well, people are still buying it. Must not be that big of a problem."

Aminatou: Right, and it's like well, actually, you're putting it out. But also like no, fuck you. Sometimes you do not have to separate the art from the artists. R. Kelly's art is the way that he brags about his crimes. It's like I think about the album that he made and produced for Aaliyah that made her famous, Age Ain't Nothing But a Number.

Ann: Yeah.

Aminatou: And she was 15. Are you kidding me? That is a slap in the face. And just thinking about the fact that he knows he can get away with this because he has legal help and he's obviously preying on people who depend on him, who they essentially need him for their careers, and just the way that he's so manipulative and abusive towards them. Like I'm sorry, that is something that no, I will not separate the art from this artist and it is crazy to ask anybody to.

Ann: Yeah.

Aminatou: You know? And it has to stop. There are always these very convenient shorthand kind of pushbacks they people give and all they do is basically imply that you should be cool with art, art for art's sake. And it's like actually if you're a smart art critic you know that is not how you judge art. It's like I'm sorry, the artist relationship obviously comes into play and also your money, you fucking spend it how you want; your attention, you fucking give it how you want, and you don't have to give your money and time to rapists. That's nuts.

Ann: Yeah, I mean I've been reading Sara Ahmed's Living a Feminist Life which I highly recommend but she has an extended part of that about the kind of critical on/off switch and the idea that -- it's kind of like I find it to be a more useful way of talking about what is sometimes called wokeness on the Internet. Once you are aware of injustices in the world and the way they are perpetuated, so in this case the way that the system supports perpetrators and not survivors in these very real and ongoing ways, you basically have to choose to turn that off. So every time you are dancing to the song or listening to one on Spotify or buying -- does anyone buy albums anymore? I don't know, whatever, inviting him to perform with you, or on your show if you're in such position of power, you are actively off-switching. You are making a choice that you're going to ignore.

And thinking about that too as not just a passive "Oh, I'm just consuming things in the culture as they slide by me," but I'm making an active on/off choice whether to listen to my beliefs or whether to push them down. I think it has been pretty helpful for me when I think about things like this.

Aminatou: Oh, it's made me so angry but mostly I'm angry because I feel that this is also going to get swept under the rug and two years from now we're going to hear another story and it's like what does it take? Does it take somebody dying? Does it take somebody arming themselves? What does it take for us as a society to stop giving these people passes? Because he's already wealthy. He's made all his money. He's an acclaimed artist. Like what does it take to make him fucking stop this kind of behavior?

Ann: Yeah. And what does it take for us to sort of quash the narrative that when survivors come forward to accuse someone powerful it's somehow an active choice for them to pursue this man's money or his prestige? It's truly a last resort. If someone's going to the media to talk about something as painful and personal as this it's because all other areas have failed them, you know? Jim DeRogatis did an interview with Slate where they were asking him about how he got the stories of these young women and he said about their families they had gone to lawyers and they had not gotten any help. They came to the media as a sort of last resort. And I think that once you realize that no one, given the way the system is setup, is actively excited to have to pursue something like this in the public eye and recognize the absolute fortitude it takes to do that anyway on behalf of other people who will probably be victimized in the future, I don't know how you can continue to support the person in power. Like how can you flip that switch to off, you know?

Aminatou: Yeah, it's crazy. It's just I keep saying this but never in the history of mankind has a woman gotten ahead in any way, shape, or form by accusing someone of assaulting her. It has never happened. All it does is ruin careers.

Ann: Totally.

Aminatou: You know? And just this belief that women are -- that it's a kind of power that we wield and the minute you accuse someone everything goes away is a meme that honestly needs to die because it's not true.

Ann: Yeah.

Aminatou: It has never, never, never, never been true. It's like look at all of the women who have come out against Bill Cosby. And there's a swell of them. You know, the dozens and dozens and dozens of women of all ages who have come out of their private lives to deal with something really painful who don't want anything except for justice. And to see the way that they have been treated, it's kind of a small miracle that women still come forward at all.

Ann: I know. True heroes. Massive self-sacrifice. It's really interesting, I was thinking the other day about how narratives of PTSD in popular culture are so tied to veterans and physical conflict in places that are not the US, for example, when in fact PTSD is most common among survivors of trauma that is more personal and not in a war context.

Aminatou: Mm-hmm.

Ann: And similarly when we're like true American heroes, I'm like I'm sorry, people who are doing the work to expose people like this are my true American heroes.

Aminatou: True. Oh, I'm so angry. I'm so angry. This is making me so angry.

Ann: [Sighs] I know.

Aminatou: [Sighs] Breathe. Okay. Also, just a reminder, after a tough conversation like this just do something nice for yourself.

Ann: Yeah, 100%, because doing something nice for yourself, especially if this conversation is hitting you in a particularly real or difficult way, is an amazing feminist act.

Aminatou: That's true. That's true.

[Music and ads]

Aminatou: I'm going to tell you about one other thing that is making me really angry this week.

Ann: Please.

Aminatou: I read this Washington Post news story by Sarah Kaplan about women of color who face harassment in space science and it made me -- all over again made me want to break the entire Internet and the world. So this is a survey result from the journal of geophysical research, Planets, and it talks about the environment that the people who work in astronomy and planetary science, particularly women and women of color, like the environments and the consequences that they face.

So this study is nuts. Almost 90% of the more than 400 participants in the survey said that they had witnessed sexist, racist, or otherwise disparaging remarks in their workplaces. Nearly 40% said that they had been verbally harassed and almost one in ten had been physically harassed. Most non-white respondents said that they had seen their peers make racist comments and 22% said that they had heard such remarks from their supervisors. This does not make me feel awesome about living in space one day because we are taking our exact same fucked-up behavior with us into the future and this is not cool.

Ann: Oh my god, 100%. You know, when I read this study too I thought about the feelings I felt while watching Hidden Figures which were in some ways like that swell of women triumphing feelings but were mostly like oh my god, how different is it really today kind of depression. Like these are numbers that I think in the popular imagination exist 60 years ago and not right now in real time.

Aminatou: This is so upsetting to me. Also what is up with astronomy? Every time I read a harassment, like a graduate student level type harassment study, it's always in an astronomy department somewhere which is not cool. You know, I think too it's so interesting to me that as more and more women are entering STEM in this way that is actually really positive and powerful, like there's so many more women in STEM now than we've ever had and the pipeline is stronger and strong, especially women in college studying these things, just how that's kind of the ceiling right? It's like the harassment is what pushes you out of the field.

And I think about how in many ways so many of these women probably don't say anything because of how hard -- not that in any field you don't work hard, but I think that in fields where women are particularly underrepresented you have to do a kind of . . . the mind work that it takes to get to where you're going, talk about rearranging how your brain works. You kind of have to do that. But also you feel like there's more at stake there. Just like getting there and how much you would not want to jeopardize how hard you've worked to get to where you're at in your career by ever accusing anybody, especially your peers, especially your mentors or professors in kind of a scientific like inquiry environment because those relationships are so important.

Ann: Totally. And I also wonder, I mean the fact that we see this across STEM professions, it's interesting because I always want to know a little bit more. Like you say, noticing this in astronomy or wherever. Is it different? What makes these spaces different other than they have been traditionally inhabited by a lot of men? Is there anything -- there is a part of me that wants to logically approach something that is actually not logical at all. You know what I mean? I'm like searching for a thing that it feels solvable other than centuries of engrained racism and sexism.

Aminatou: Yeah.

Ann: I want there to be a solution.

Aminatou: And I think that's why it's so important to talk about this stuff. I think about how isolating it must feel when you are kind of the only woman of color or you are one of the very few women in your cohort, whatever that is, and nobody wants to be known as you're the black woman that's going to space or you are the woman in the math department. No, you're a fucking -- you're a mathematician. You're an astronaut. You don't like the qualifiers about you because one, they're bullshit. But to think about how that is also a really easy way for people to take advantage of you and how isolating it must feel to not be able to bring your full self to work every day, but also, you know, at the same time it's like yeah, some of this also doesn't surprise me in the same ways where all the respondents of color for example are saying all the races things they had witnessed. And you know they witnessed that in environments that have white women, right? And it's just this is the reason that we, one, have to stick together and we have to stick up to all forms of injustice because when somebody is sexually harassing you if you're a white woman it's not crazy to imagine the kind of harassment they would have for a woman of color would be along racial lines, right? It's why you've got to nip this shit in the butt early because it is always a slippery slope.

Ann: Oh, completely. Completely. And it's like what we were saying about accountability. It's like recognizing what power you have and thinking about how are you actually enabling this behavior? This is related but different. Did you see the articles about people who were suggesting creating a black list for venture capitalists who are sexual harassers? Did you see this?

Aminatou: Oh my god, I saw it. Explain to the people what it is. This is -- ugh.

Ann: Well, I can't recall. I don't think we've discussed it in depth lately but there have been a few prominent men in the kind of tech funding startup world who were recently I don't want to say accused because some of them have then said "Yeah, I did it." But anyway, but who were called out.

Aminatou: Whose harassment was brought to light?

Ann: Yes, there you go. Thank you. Whose harassment was brought to light by . . .

Aminatou: By friend of the podcast Katie Benner. Hi, Katie.

Ann: Totally, and by some very -- again -- brave women who decided to make private chats or correspondence from these guys public to say "Look, when I tried to go find funding for my business the result I got was to be asked for a date or with a comment about my looks as opposed to a yes or no on the funding question I asked them." Horrible.

Anyway, so this has prompted sometimes public soul-searching media posts from men who were accused/called out. In other cases -- this is one of many situations, I feel, where people are like "Oh, really? Oh, there's harassment? Oh, okay, lots of news about that now." As if there's like . . .

Aminatou: Or like that person would never do that, you know? Again in a very collegial environment, right? It's like VC and tech is a really small world. A lot of it depends on your reputation and how you meet people. To me the story there really is it's not monsters that perpetrate harassment; it's just the regular men in our lives. Like nobody is above harassing someone. Just because one man is good to you and has helped your startup and your career doesn't mean that he can't take advantage of somebody else.

Ann: Right. And there are a few organizations. One group of women founded a group called Better Brave that is an online sort of space for women who were sexually harassed at work. There's another group of female entrepreneurs called She Works who are putting together an online database where women and others can report unethical behavior. But I don't know, this fundamental idea of a blacklist, which is not the word that the organizers are using or it's not the word they want to use, but I sort of question whether that will be widely adopted and taken seriously enough to make a difference. I think the thing that makes a difference in a case like this is A) believing women, in particular women of color. Like if you read the story about who's making these accusations it's like who do men feel like they can get away with harassing? Interestingly, people who have been traditionally shut out of corridors of power in industries like this, right? But I do wonder whether an anonymous database for reporting harassment is going to have the effect broadly that we really want to see which is there being no excuse for this and it not continuing.

Aminatou: Personally I don't know how effective it'll be.

Ann: Right.

Aminatou: Because it always comes on the heels of "We're going to take a pledge that we're not going to harass women," and I'm like no, instead of pledging you should just fucking hire more women. Like maybe if there wasn't like one woman for 100 men here it would get into their lizard brains that the woman here is not here because she wants to date them; it's because she wants to fucking get her money and do her job like everybody else here.

Ann: Right.

Aminatou: You know, and just thinking about how . . . it's the fact that people don't realize how offensive it is just on a very basic, professional level that has nothing to do with gender or race that you would question somebody else's motivation and hustle in the ways that we do question women and women of color in particular, like our hustle for wanting to be there. It's just to me the solution to all of this is this is why representation matters. This is literally why. If you see so few women in your industry that you think that the ones that are there are so you can sleep with them at tech conferences then that's the problem.

Ann: Yeah, completely. And also the idea that if you don't even consider propositioning one of these women to be demeaning their hustle or demeaning their work ideas or their business plan or any of that then that is also part of the problem. So I don't know. I mean this has come up. I know we've talked about creepy/harassing dudes in media before and how they are allowed to kind of continue doing what they do because people who know what's up won't name names. And it gets really tricky, right? Because the idea of -- especially when you're someone who wasn't harassed directly -- like let's say I know the name of someone who has harassed three women I know, but that's not my story to tell. Like figuring out how to . . .

Aminatou: Right, like how the reporting for that works.

Ann: Right, or how to marginalize that person without putting those women who have experienced the harassment in the line of fire essentially.

Aminatou: Right, because it's not just their problem.

Ann: Right.

Aminatou: It's literally everybody's problem. It's like if you work, for example, at a venture capital fund where it comes out that one of your partners is harassing people that has repercussions beyond just the woman who is accusing that person. It's interesting to see in the Silicon Valley examples one of the funds might be shutting down and a lot of people were really upset about that. They're like "How come just because this person did that it means that my company won't be funded?" And it's like sorry, booboo, this is how it works. And also it's not the fault of the women who have brought the allegations forward; it's the fault of the person who was doing the harassing.

Ann: Right.

Aminatou: And that should be a direct consequence of everybody's actions. And that's why it's important to nip this kind of stuff in the butt. I think as much as we all make fun of the shitty '90s HR videos about what sexual harassment is a lot of people still kind of don't know what sexual harassment is. And this is not to get these men off of the hook. It's just saying in general a lot of people -- people will feel queasy of a behavior that they don't recognize as classic textbook sexual harassment.

Ann: Right. And I think that often extends to people who are victims of it, like that's part of it too. You're so right.

Aminatou: Yeah. They're like what did I do? Is this normal? Is this okay? And it's like no, there's a real word for this and real life consequence for this. You didn't do anything wrong. This kind of behavior is not okay.

Ann: Yeah. Ugh, I don't know.

Aminatou: Ugh! Ban! Ban all the harassing men.

Ann: I know.

Aminatou: Send them to space.

Ann: Yeah, send them to space where they'll harass more people, right?

Aminatou: No, where they can harass each other. Space jail.

Ann: Oh, the dream, right? A space colony where all the harassers are sent to just make each other feel uncomfortable. 

Aminatou: Seriously. When I'm king, if you're accused of harassment, you get to be the test people that we send to see if we can live on Mars.

Ann: You know, this is why Alien 3 is my favorite Alien movie because it's like the space penal colony, I just picture it full of the worst men on planet earth just up there in a rocket ship. Like sorry you had to land there, Ripley, but like really . . .

Aminatou: Yeah, it's going to take you ten years to get there if you make it I guess. Good luck. And if you don't make it we know we can't go yet so see you soon.

Ann: See you never. [Laughs]

Aminatou: See you, bye. Just awful. Just awful.


Aminatou: Can I leave you with one bit of good news though?

Ann: Yes.

Aminatou: Well not good news, but something that you should do for yourself.

Ann: God yes.

Aminatou: You should 100% go see Girls Trip. It's amazing.

Ann: Mm-hmm.

Aminatou: It's so funny. It's just like finally I'm like there's a black women girls trip movie and it's fucking incredible. It's done really well. All of the women in it are really good. Doreen St. Felix wrote an incredible review of it for The New Yorker -- ugh, why you need more black female critics, so go see the movie then read Doreen's piece -- but one of the things I loved the most about it is that the director . . . I think it was a Hollywood reporter interview where they asked him about "What do you hope for the movie or for women or whatever with Girls Trip?" And he's like "I just want to prove to the industry that four black women can open a movie and it does not have to be about the space program, okay?"

Ann: [Laughs] Yes.

Aminatou: And I was like thank you, sir. I fucking loved Hidden Figures. I full-on ugly cried the whole time. I will watch it and watch it and watch it again. But it's true that, you know, black lady movies, we don't get to be silly and to have fun. You always have to be solving math problems or doing all these things in the realm of respectability for white people to feel that they can identify with you.

Ann: Or like the strings swell and you're there to provide inspiration about how we've come so far or something like that.

Aminatou: Exactly.

Ann: Yeah.

Aminatou: And there's never the we just want to be raunchy and funny and hilarious like everybody else. This movie is so well-done. It's a good lady movie, period, which is why you should go see it. Also if you're somebody who that's important to you to go see movies where there are women, this is one you should see. But I think too thinking about what makes an African-American movie mainstream, really that line lies in your own head. It's like everything that black people do is mainstream. You just get to decide whether you think it's a culturally-specific thing or whether it's real. But this movie is great from beginning to end. More movies like this . . . there's been so many efforts to do like the R-rated lady comedy and I feel like a lot of times it has fallen short -- I will not name names here -- but this one is excellent and you should really see it.

Ann: Ugh, yes. I also think too that after everything we just talked about today I'm like yes, I do want to see a group of black women just having a good time and marveling at the penises near them or getting too drunk or doing whatever you are not allowed to do when you're thinking about big, heavy, oppressive shit that underlines so much of what's going on.

Aminatou: Totally.

Ann: Yes.

Aminatou: Go see Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Tiffany Haddish who is like a fucking dream and a revelation in this just make you laugh for almost two hours. It's a great way to cap off your weekend.

Ann: Amazing. Is that it? Are we done? I feel like we talked for an hour. [Laughs]

Aminatou: That's it. That's it. I'm going to see you on the Internet, booboo. I love you. I hope you take care of yourself. Do something nice for yourself today.

Ann: See you on the Internet. I'm going to text you after I walk out of Girls Trip.

Aminatou: Yes.


Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com, download it anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts, or on Apple Podcasts where we would love it if you left us a review. You can tweet at us at @callyrgf or email us at callyrgf@gmail.com. You can also find us on Facebook -- look that up yourself -- or on Instagram at @callyrgf. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn. All other music you heard today was composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs and this podcast is produced by the beautiful Gina Delvac.