This is how a lifetime of potentially dangerous situations affects every woman.

Whenever I speak about or write about women’s issues — dress codes, rape culture, and sexism — there’s this thing that happens. People ask: Are things really that bad?

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Aren’t you being overly sensitive?

Every. Single. Time.

And every single time, I get frustrated. Why don’t they get it?

I think I’ve figured out why.

Some of them don’t know. They don’t know about de-escalation. Minimizing. Quietly acquiescing.

Hell, even though women live it, we aren’t always aware of it. But we’ve all done it.

We’ve all learned — by instinct or trial and error — how to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable.

To avoid angering a man or endangering ourselves. We have all ignored offensive comments or laughed off an inappropriate come-on. We’ve all swallowed our anger when being belittled or condescended to.

It doesn’t feel good. But we do it because to not do it could put us in danger or get us fired. It’s not something we talk about every day.

We don’t tell our partners or friends every time it happens.

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It’s so frequent, so pervasive, that it has become something we just deal with.

So maybe they don’t know.

That at the tender age of 13, we had to brush off adult men staring at our breasts.

That the guy in English class who asked us out sent angry messages just because we turned him down.

That our old supervisor used to regularly pat us on the ass.

And they surely don’t know that most of the time we smile with gritted teeth. That we look away or pretend not to notice. They likely have no idea how routine these things are, so that we go through the motions of ignoring it and minimizing, both internally and externally. We minimize it because we have to. To not shrug it off would put us in confrontation mode more often than most of us feel like dealing with.

We learn at a young age how to do this. We probably didn’t put a name or label to it, or even consider that other girls were doing the same thing.

But all the while, we were mastering the art of de-escalation.

We go through a quick mental checklist so that we can make a quick risk assessment. Does he seem volatile, angry? Are there other people around? Is he just trying to be funny, albeit clueless? Will saying something affect my school/job/reputation?

In just seconds we need to be able to determine whether we will say something or let it slide. Whether we’ll call him out or turn the other way, smile politely or pretend that we didn’t hear or feel it.

It happens all the time. And it’s not always clear if the situation is dangerous or benign.

Photo by Thomas Hawk/Flickr.

It’s the boss who says or does something inappropriate. It’s the male friend who has had too much to drink and tries to corner us for a "friends with benefits” moment, even though we’ve made it clear we’re not interested. It’s the guy who gets angry if we turn him down for a date. Or a dance. Or a drink.

We really don’t think anything of it. Until we hear that the "friend” who cornered us was later accused of rape. Until our boss makes good on his promise to kiss us on New Year’s Eve when he catches us alone in the kitchen. Those are the times we may tell our friends or partners about.

But all the other times we felt uneasy or nervous but nothing more happened? Those times, we just go about our business.

It’s the reality of being a woman in our world:

It’s laughing off sexism because we felt we had no other option.

It’s feeling sick to our stomachs that we had to "play along” to get along.

It's feeling shame and regret the we didn’t call that guy out, the one who seemed intimidating but in hindsight was probably harmless. Probably.

It’s having our fingers poised over the "call” buttons of our phones when we’re walking alone at night.

It’s positioning our keys between our fingers in case we need a weapon.

It’s lying and saying we have a boyfriend when a guy doesn't want to take "no” for an answer.

It’s being at a crowded concert and having to turn around to look for the jerk who just grabbed our ass. It’s knowing that, even if we spot him, we might not say anything.

It’s walking through the parking lot of a Home Depot and politely saying Hello when a guy passing us says Hi. It’s pretending not to hear him berate us for not stopping to talk further. What? You too good to talk to me? Bitch.

It’s the memory that haunts us of that time we were abused, assaulted, or raped.

Photo via iStock.

It’s the stories our friends tell us through heartbreaking tears of that time they were abused, assaulted, or raped.

It’s realizing that we know too many women who have been abused, assaulted, or raped.

It occurred to me recently that a lot of guys may be unaware of this.

They have heard of things that happened. They’ve probably, at times, seen it and stepped in to stop it. But they likely have no idea how often it happens. That it colors so much of what we say or do.

Maybe we need to explain it better. Maybe we need to stop minimizing it in our own minds.

The guys that shrug off or tune out when a woman talks about sexism in our culture? Maybe it’s because they just haven’t lived our reality. Maybe the good men in our lives have no idea that we deal with this stuff on a regular basis. And it doesn’t occur to us to talk about the everyday stuff that we witness and experience.

When I get fired up about a comment someone makes about a girl’s tight dress, they don’t always get it. When I get worked up over the everyday sexism I’m seeing and witnessing and watching, when I’m hearing of the things my daughter and her friends are experiencing, they don’t realize it’s the tiny tip of a much bigger iceberg.

Maybe men won’t understand how pervasive everyday sexism is unless we start telling them and pointing to it when it happens.

Maybe I'm starting to realize that just shrugging it off and not making a big deal about it is not going to help anyone.

Photo via iStock.

We de-escalate. We are acutely aware of our vulnerability — that if he wanted to, that guy in the Home Depot parking lot could overpower us and do whatever he wants.

Guys, this is what it means to be a woman.

We are sexualized before we even understand what that means. We get stares and comments from adult men before we can process what they mean. We learn at an early age that to confront these situations could put us in danger. So we minimize and we de-escalate.

The next time a woman talks about being catcalled and how it makes her uncomfortable, don’t just nod. Really listen.

The next time your wife complains about being called "sweetheart" at work. The next time you read about or hear a woman call out sexist language. The next time your girlfriend tells you that the way a guy talked to her made her feel uncomfortable. Listen.

Listen because your reality isn’t the same as hers. Listen because it’s very likely that what you’re hearing about is probably only the tip of the iceberg.

Listen because the reality is that she or someone she knows was abused, assaulted, or raped.

Listen because she may be trying to make sure what she lived through isn’t something her daughter will have to live through. Listen because nothing bad can ever come from listening.

Just. Listen.

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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