An Open Letter to xoJane

Dear xoJane:

I think this is it, for us.  I wish I could say that it’s not you, it’s me; but that would be a lie deployed to spare your feelings.  I don’t do that anymore, so you’ll be getting the unvarnished truth.

When we first met, there was a lot about you I just didn’t see.  In the last few months, though, I’ve come to see how mercenary you are.  You present yourself as a fun, real-life forum for women* (and occasionally men*) to share their experiences, tricks for how to get around in the world, and enjoy a good dose of humor.  That content comes from your writers, but you select what gets run, what gets publicized, and what happens next.

And what happens next, is this: Sometimes, nothing.  The articles run, they get some comments.  Some of them are amazing, insightful, and lead to productive and healthy dialogue.  There’s usually some girl in the thread who’s like, “Ew you wore what for that picture” and the rest of us peer over our glasses at her and click our tongues in disapproval.  But sometimes, you run pieces that you know quite well are going to provoke more of a response.  Sometimes, that response is threatening, abusive, or dangerous. Articles about rape, abuse, discrimination, and harassment seem to have picked up some additional unintended cargo lately.  When women* speak about fear or anger lately, they’ve been met with dismissal, condescension, harassment, shame, doxxing, and death threats.

It is my belief that you, xoJane, have a responsibility to the women* who provide your tougher content.  You need moderators.  You need a base-line set of expectations for how people behave when they walk into the party you’re hosting.  You need some standards for how people treat the amazing, incredible, brave women* who write for you, justifying your existence and generating your clickable content, and therefore, revenue.  Giving women* a voice isn’t a gift — we already have voices.  What you provide is a venue for conversation, like a hostess.  But attending your parties is a lot like showing up with a few bottles of wine and your party shoes on, to find out that this house is full of strangers, and a couple of your besties (Hey Esprit de L’Escalier!) and the hostess has left the building.  And there’s someone top decking her toilet in the upstairs bathroom.  Someone may, or may not, be dismantling the garbage disposal.  Some dude just took my wine, drank it all, and brandished a bottle at me, calling me names.  Calling the women with whom I claim solidarity against things like gendered violence, institutional violence, racism, and a culture that is hostile to consent and self-determination, names.  Treating them like things.  Treating them like unloved children.

I think that they, that we, deserve more.  For the fifty bucks you throw at a writer for original content, we deserve your support when we do things like, disclose our status as assault and abuse survivors, and find the courage to write about that.  Not too long ago, it was stated to me in very man-splain-y terms that writing about my assault in a public forum constituted an invitation to be criticized and abused further.  By not providing your writers with support and artful comment moderation, it seems like tacitly, you agree.  At the very least, you don’t object.  And moreover, you profit from it.  Those outrage-shares, those rage-clicks, those comments.  They generate revenue for you.  Yes, we can flag inappropriate comments.  But nowhere on xoJane.com is there a clearly stated policy for what counts, for you, as inappropriate.

I just spent a large portion of two days trying to ad hoc moderate several of your recent offerings.  Keeping an eye out for people disclosing their status as survivors, trying to curtail abusive victim blaming and revictimization.  Trying to be an educator and a champion for the people at your party who are still trying to find their voices, and speak their truths.  And I noticed: I don’t ever feel the need to do that for the other sites for whom I’ve written.  Because those sites Back Our Play.  They’re here for US.  They have teams of moderators, and robust policies governing the conversations they host.  They make explicit their expectations for people at their parties.  They demand better of their readership, and challenge their readers to voice concern, critique, and counter-argument with civility and decorum.

I stopped going to parties like yours when I was nineteen.  I don’t know why I stayed so long at this one.  I keep trying to do your dishes, refill glasses, take out the garbage, and call cabs for the drunk assh*les who can’t seem to stop wrecking everyone’s good time.  And I’m not even doing it for you.  I’m doing it for us.  Because we’re all at this party where we expected to be challenged and  exchange ideas, to be heard, and to listen, and you’re nowhere to be found.

It feels awful, and I’m not going to do it anymore.  I feel sad, because I’ll miss the pockets of awesome people.  It’s just that no one’s company is worth feeling like you’ve thrown my brothers* and sisters* to the wolves.  I trust them.  I trust them to run if the wolves get too fierce, too dangerous.  I trust them to know what is best for them, and to seek support in the appropriate places.  I have to trust them, because I cannot protect them all the time forever.  Because as much as I want to be able to do that, I can’t do it at my own expense.  And it’s pretty clear you’re not going to do it.

So you know.  Don’t call me or anything, okay?

Best,
RD

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An Open Letter to xoJane

It’s been at least five minutes since I’ve posted about food, right?

So, I’m sick.  It started with a sore throat about a week ago, then when that resolved, turned into a wicked case of laryngitis.  My voice is returning slowly, but I’ve had headaches, a lot of fatigue, and an annoying cough.  I also may have hacked up a small alien larva this morning.  Gross.

Thus, I spent my evening making garlic soup.  I should use this post as a reminder to myself to freeze some and put it by, for the next time someone is ill… if I don’t eat it all.

I recommend this soup highly, not because of woo about garlic.  Most of its antimicrobial properties disappear when you cook it.  This soup will, however, help clear out gunk that is living in your upper respiratory system, comfort you like a fluffy blanket and a hug, and is guaranteed to resolve a headache and give you some energy when you’re dragging all the butts and feeling like garbage.  It’s also lovely for helping to break a fever.  I almost always have all the ingredients on hand, which is another big help.  So, make some of this, and put it by for the next time you or someone you love has a case of the yuck.

Ingredients:
4-5 heads — yes, heads — of garlic

3-4 onions, diced (I only quarter mine, so that T can pick them out, but its better if you dice them)

2T of butter

1 Quart of poultry stock — ideally, use bone broth, but sometimes, you gotta make do with the boxed stuff, like I did this evening.

4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme.

A container of shiitake mushrooms

1T lemongrass paste — always have this on hand, it’s brilliant.

A decent sized nugget of ginger, peeled and minced.

Hot hungarian paprika or Cayenne pepper to taste (I’m a bit heavy handed with it, so I use about 3/4 of a tablespoon.

A few tablespoons of olive or coconut oil, whichever you prefer.

Salt of your choosing.  Black pepper (fresh cracked is always best).

A fresh lemon or lime.

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 350.

Have yourself some tea, or a nice glass of wine.  You’ve had a long day, probably went to work feeling lousy, and you should do what you can to enjoy the process of doing something nice for yourself.

Cut the tops off of the garlic heads.  Try to make sure each clove is exposed.  Don’t peel them.  Coat the heads in your oil of choice, sprinkle with a little salt, and wrap them in foil.  When the oven is done heating, put them in for about 45-50 minutes.

While those are roasting, do yourself a favor, and prepare your mise en place.  There’s a fancy french way to say everything in the kitchen, and that means cutting up and separating your ingredients in advance, or “putting them in their place”.  Dice your onions, mince that ginger, take the lemongrass paste out of the fridge, and gather your other ingredients.  Once everything is set out nicely, admire your work.  Mise en place can help calm your mind, and imposes order on a chaotic universe.  Enjoy the order.  And your wine or tea.

When the oven timer dings for your garlic, take it out of the oven, and carefully unwrap it, and place it in a dish or bowl to cool.  When the heads are cool enough to handle with your hands, squeeze from the base of the garlic and pinch toward the top.  The cloves should squeeze out either whole, or in a paste.  Either outcome is fine.  Let that all sit in a dish.

Warm up a medium to large saucepan at medium-high.  Brown your butter just a bit.  When it starts to foam, place your onions, ginger, and mushrooms in the pan.  Let that all cook until the onions are translucent and the edges are just starting to brown.  On my gas stove, this takes about 6 minutes.

Add the thyme to the mix.  When it becomes fragrant, add the whole quart of stock,  and all the garlic.  Bring that glorious mess up to a gentle boil, then lower the heat to a very gentle simmer.

Cover, and let that do magical things for around 20 to 30 minutes.  Go finish up that wine or tea.  Pet a cat, or watch something you love on Netflix (I watch Twin Peaks when I don’t feel well).

When the timer goes off, uncover your soup, and add the lemongrass paste, some fresh cracked pepper, a pinch of salt, and a can of coconut milk.  stir, and when it seems happy and integrated, kill the heat.

Ladle yourself a nice generous portion, and finish with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to taste.

I’d note here that you can add other ingredients to this that work very well.  Asparagus and bok choy have both been welcome additions in the past, but don’t force yourself to make a special trip out.

If you’ve got a terrible cough, you can add a touch of honey to this to finish it to soothe that awful mess, or just enjoy it with some rooibos tea.

Make sure you drink a glass of water when you’re done, because that’s important when you don’t feel well.

Go ahead, have a second bowl.  You’ll feel better, I promise.

 

It’s been at least five minutes since I’ve posted about food, right?

Supper Club Co-Operative

So an idea I’ve been kicking around a lot, as we start to think about our mid-Winter move to Philadelphia is a Supper Club Co-Operative.  We have so many friends in Philadelphia, it’s ridiculous.  It’s one of the reasons we have decided to move — we’d be there every night of the week for one thing or another, if it didn’t involve driving home at 11PM or later.  Tom and I fully plan to join a CSA at the beginning of the season, and if I can find one that does meat or dairy in addition to produce, more’s the better for us. One of the ways I plan to get through the period where both Tom and I are both moving toward different careers, is to make as much nutritious amazing food in big batches as I can.  This means hacking a few gadgets, probably purchasing a small chest freezer, and investing in a few tools for the kitchen to make life a bit easier.  A DIY sous vide machine is high on my list of priorities.  Hacking one yourself costs about $75, and gives you the capacity to use a wide variety of water-filled vessels.  Buying one costs, legit, almost $400 and you’re stuck with the countertop size you have.  A sous vide machine gives you the capacity to pump out a lot of perfectly cooked protein at a fraction of the time you can do it on the stove or the grill. I’ve also been considering a stovetop smoker, but that’s mostly my tastebuds talking.  A pressure cooker might be on my list, for similar reasons to the sous vide — working around my shortcomings as a kitchen manager, mostly; but also an acknowledgment that our food choices aren’t conducive to emergency meals like spaghetti.  Most of the stuff we eat requires more preparation than “boil water, wait ten minutes, strain, add something from a jar, consume.”  I think, with the right tools I can get to managing to make sure we have a stocked fridge, plenty of produce, and some emergency stores set up for nights when we don’t feel well, or weeks when we’re broke or busy.  Some of the staples that belong in my fridge take 24 hours to make.  Some, like Kvass, take longer.

We have a lot of people in our soon-to-be-neighborhood, many of whom are excellent, talented, and creative.  I’d like to share my work and experience with them, but I’m no Gatsby.  I’m not currently in a position to do the sorts of things I want to do without reaping a benefit in return — even if it’s pet sitting on weekends we’re away, or picking up a CSA share so I can relax (with wine) after work, or a bottle of homemade wine, or storage in someone else’s basement for carboys of my mead to age.  I’m trying to come up with trades and barters that make sense — a chance to share the things we have, and we all do well and enjoy (and would be doing otherwise) with people in exchange for things we might need.  I know what my contributions are likely to be — food, primarily, since it’s already one of my goals.

I think there’s a lot to be said for mindful community building.  There’s also something to be said for sending out a text on Monday that says, “Hey I have treats for everyone, come on over,” knowing that the text on Wednesday, “Huginn is sick, can he get a ride to the vet while I’m at work?” will be met with: YOU BET.  Communities of reciprocity are something I work hard to build in my life, and enrich the world in which we live.  I’d like my next home to be a node in a much larger network of people who set out to do things for each other.  I don’t know who among my friends in the metro area will be interested in participating, or what the other things I might have to offer could be.  But it’s on my mind a lot.  The fact that I have talented friends further outside the city who might also benefit and be totally down with reciprocity is also encouraging.   A monthly gathering at our new place where we bring the things we have to offer, socialize, and block out time to connect sounds like another way for me to work around one of my shortcomings: scheduling time for people I love (including myself).

So yeah!  If you’re reading this, and this sounds like a community project you’d like to offer to and gain from, I’d love to hear from you.  What would you want?  What would you provide?  What are the things you love doing, and what are things you can’t stand or don’t have the time or resources to do, but need?

Supper Club Co-Operative