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Helping My 80-Year-Old Mom Make Friends

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The author’s mother Veronica (far right) with friends in 1993. Photo: Courtesy of the author

My mom Veronica is 80. She used to be popular. In one of my earliest memories, she sits at a kitchen table in Queens, spilling her mug of instant coffee as she cackles with her best friend. When we later moved to New Jersey, her work pals from the local real-estate agency popped by in the afternoon to gossip and listen to Billy Joel. “I’m movin’ out!” Veronica would sing, with a fist pump. In 1990, my parents divorced and Mom, at the age of 48, found a whole new set of salty middle-age singles who borrowed her Anne Klein leather miniskirt for dates with divorced men.

Before COVID-19 and before her second husband fell off a ladder and died in August 2020, she was known for hosting spontaneous dinner parties in her Florida community for a dozen couples. “Hey, if you have enough booze and play Steely Dan, no one cares about the food,” Veronica would say. But her vast network of couple friends withered as the pandemic spread: Older folks isolated, people who lost a partner moved closer to their adult kids. Being a widow, she told me once, was a social liability: “They don’t know what to do with you at dinner parties.” In the span of about six months, her circle of about 20 friends and acquaintances had shrunk to two widowed women. One of them was battling cancer and didn’t feel comfortable socializing during the pandemic.

Last September, Veronica moved here to Los Angeles to be near me and my family. She started out in a one-bedroom apartment at a nice independent-living facility in Pasadena. (She insisted on bringing most of her entertaining arsenal — four chafing dishes, two punch bowls, cake stands, St. Patrick’s Day decorations, and stemware for 40 — which is all still in a huge storage unit, along with that leather miniskirt.) But alas, “I’m too much of a hippie for that kind of structured living,” my mom told me. She lasted three months. “Nobody in L.A. speaks their mind,” added my mom, who grew up “too poor to buy a magazine” in Red Hook and could only go on one lousy ride at Coney Island for every childhood birthday. “Oh, and please don’t tell me to ‘chill out.’ I’ll chill out when I’m fucking dead.” Apparently, nobody wanted to listen to Blondie with her in the activity room either.

Mom then bought a condo around the corner from me, my husband, and our 11-year-old daughter Tess a few months later. (Thankfully, she and her last partner lived lean and amassed decent savings.) So now, like almost 14 million American seniors, she lives alone. She and I haven’t lived within 3,000 miles of each other in over 25 years. Now, I can walk to her door in four minutes. While we talk every day, shop for groceries together on Tuesdays, and meet every week for Sunday supper, I know she longs for a few old broads. Women like her who wear big jewelry and flirt with busboys. Women who order a second martini at dinner and say, “If I slide out of this booth, pick me up in the morning because I’m sleeping here.” Women who unapologetically groan when they sit down and when they get up. Women who know they might have just a few good years left — and intend to make the most of every single minute.

The discomfort of loneliness eases with time. You come to accept solitude like a cracked tile in a corner of the bathroom floor. Eventually, you just stop noticing the defect. For older people, however, one crack could easily, quietly, lead to more. Living in isolation, for people over 50, can spur a 50 percent increased risk of dementia, according to the CDC, and a 32 percent increased risk of stroke. Loneliness is also associated with higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide. Prolonged isolation is the equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. (And older members of marginalized communities are at an even higher risk for all of the above when they’re socially secluded.) In the years since my mom lost her husband and her friends in Florida, her health declined and her shine dimmed. The woman who owns more makeup than Dolly Parton — including Stila compacts from the early aughts she audaciously calls “my vintage cosmetics” — stopped putting on her face.

I can’t imagine life without the dozens of women I have collected throughout my adulthood. When I struggled to get pregnant in my early 40s, they circled around me like a herd of female elephants. When my older brother died suddenly a few years ago, friends dropped off dinners (and wine) on my doorstep almost every night for a couple of weeks. But really, I mostly rely on these ladies for day-to-day support when I feel insecure or ugly or just cheated by humanity. Women in my circle know when I text, Can you talk?, it’s code for I am losing it and need a friend right now. 

The author and her mother in 2006. Photo: Courtesy of the author

I learned to prioritize women from Veronica too. She valued her friendships and worked at them. As a kid, I saw her differently when she leaned into a huddle of housewives to tell a funny story about shredding her bra in the washing machine. She wore her chic Norma Kamali catsuit to meet the girls. When one of my mom’s friends suspected that her husband was having an affair, Veronica disguised herself in a wig, fake teeth, and oversize glasses to trail him to a local bar. (“Oh, he was cheating,” she told me and my younger sister Noreen the next morning.) In a way, I felt betrayed because she had this secret identity outside of being my mom or my dad’s wife. Plus, she definitely looked much happier around her friends than she was with us. Now, I get it. Without friends, how do we vent about the unconditional neediness of our romantic partners and our offspring? Or assert our identities? (My dad hated the Kamali.)

Finally, I decided it was time for me to do for my mom what she once did for me: arrange some playdates. You read a lot about grown kids shuttling their elder kin to medical appointments and fetching their prescriptions. (Nearly half of all middle-age Americans, between the ages of 40 and 59, toggle between taking care of an older parent while minding their own kids. That’s why we’re known as the “sandwich generation.”) You don’t hear so much about finding them companions who like to eat dinner at 4 p.m. and compete over who has the worst herniated disk. (Understandably, sandwich-generation folks are more stressed and pressed for time — I coordinate my tween daughter’s social calendar too.)

My mom did make one friend, all on her own, at her condo complex in April. A woman with a car, no less. They made plans for dinner at a local Thai restaurant; I acted like she had a date with Al Pacino. (“What are you wearing?” “Don’t order curry because it makes you hiccup.”) On the big night, I literally hid behind a tree to spy on them as they shared chicken satay alfresco. Were they leaning in to conspire like Grace and Frankie? Not exactly. Was my mom charming the waiter with her Norma Desmond impression? Nope. I knew from just that one glance it wasn’t a connection. They met one or two more times for dinner but weren’t desperate enough to hang again. “She’s didactic,” my mom murmured when I asked how the evening went.

Sociologists say it takes an average of 50 hours to make a casual friend and about 200 hours to form a close bond with someone. Using that metric, and undeterred by the previous failed friend date, I figured my mom could make two casual friends a month and bank her surplus hours to upgrade informal pals to platinum status. But where could an 80-year-old woman reach hundreds of her peers who lived within a ten-mile radius? Social media wouldn’t work: She was banned from Facebook years ago for repeatedly lying about her age.

The idea to pimp out my mom on Nextdoor came to me one morning about a month ago as I scrolled past a screed about pet owners who don’t pick up after their dogs. The engagement was angry and immediate. These people were passionate and had a lot of time on their hands. An hour later, I posted a cute picture of Veronica with this introduction:

Photo: Courtesy of the author

My Mom Has No Friends. (But it’s not her fault.) Veronica, who’s a total smoke show at 80, moved here to Hancock Park less than a year ago during the peak of the pandemic. She’s hilarious and loves Steely Dan, museums, jewelry making, coconut cake, big accessories, hip restaurants, dancing the hustle and “strong, like bull” cosmopolitans. Oh and she’s originally from Brooklyn, so she has opinions — lots of opinions. Does she like long walks on the beach? Probably not. But trust me, this widow is fun and loyal and curious and will make you laugh over lunch. If you’re a woman interested in meeting up with Veronica or getting a group of “ladies with experience” together, please post below. (I am happy to organize. I love my mom and you will too.)

Thankfully, my Nextdoor gambit paid off. By noon, 37 people clamored to befriend Veronica in the comments. That evening, over 150 jockeyed for a playdate. The responses ranged from “Born in the Bronx. Count me in.” to “I would love meeting senior ladies who are still alive …” to “Does she need a gay best friend?” Only one creeper asked, “Does she like to party?” My mom simply said, “If that means some Doobie Brothers and a glass of red wine, absolutely.” The replies kept rolling in: Millennials offered to take Veronica to a Dodgers game. A middle-age woman confessed that her own mother didn’t talk to her anymore. When I showed Veronica the Nextdoor post, which now had over 1,000 likes, she smiled and shrugged: “It only took me 80 fucking years to get discovered in Hollywood.”

It’s taken me 50 fucking years to realize that I want to be friends with my mom, too. Because that’s her best self, the version of Veronica who laughs until she loses her balance and who shouts at a party, “Hey, let’s dance before we’re dead.” Plus, I want to borrow that damn miniskirt for a date with my husband.

Watching my mom navigate a new city alone, at 80, has rejiggered my perspective of her. Growing up, I saw her as dependent on my dad and sometimes embarrassing. Today, I see her as brave, hysterical, supportive, stylish — the same qualities I seek out in a new friend. We unfairly expect our mothers to remain as we imagined them as kids. Now, both of us older and myself a mother, I can see how incomplete my definition of her was — and how much more of her there is to enjoy. Maybe these final years with my mom are an opportunity for me to wriggle out of my role as daughter and be more friend than family?

Veronica now has three new pals who responded to the post and met up with her for outdoor jazz at a local museum a couple of weeks ago. (My daughter made a “My Mom Has No Friends” sign with gold glitter so they could all find each other.)  Already, I see an uptick in my mom’s energy and attitude. She brags about her upcoming dates. “I’m taking JoAnn to the Cheesecake Factory for lunch. I already told her the bang-bang chicken is spicy,” she told me yesterday. (My mom owns a copy of the 21-page menu.)

She has yet to respond to all 275 comments on Nextdoor, but she’s reaching out to a few new women every day. I just hope Veronica still has time for me.

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angelchrys
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history of humansthis is an old favorite of mine that i redrew...

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history of humans

this is an old favorite of mine that i redrew and updated

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Kansas voters reject effort to eliminate state abortion protections

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In the first abortion-related election since Roe v. Wade was overturned, Kansas voters have rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have specified that the right to terminate a pregnancy isn’t protected. Though votes are still being counted, Decision Desk HQ determined that the amendment has failed, preserving access to abortion in a state that has emerged as a regional destination for the procedure.

The Supreme Court’s reversal of federal abortion protections has put new focus on state courts and constitutions. In Kansas, the state Supreme Court held in 2019 that their constitution guarantees the right to an abortion — a ruling that has barred state legislators from passing laws that might ban or heavily restrict access to the procedure. Right now, abortion in Kansas is legal up until 22 weeks of pregnancy.

The vote could offer a preview into whether and how the Roe decision could shape state elections this fall, tilting the balance in favor of voters who support abortion rights. 

The Kansas amendment was voted on during a summer primary with no competitive Democratic contest and in a midterm year that is otherwise likely to favor Republicans, who typically oppose abortion rights. That scheduling had initially raised eyebrows in Kansas.

“It’s very obvious the side that wants to overturn the court decision — which would be a ‘yes’ — deliberately put this on the August vote thinking it would turn in their favor,” Michael Smith, a political science professor at Emporia State University, told The 19th prior to the election.

Instead, it appears that the national Roe decision has energized abortion rights supporters, including those in Kansas. National Democrats are counting on that energy in this November’s midterm elections, particularly in Senate races in states such as Nevada, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. It could also hold sway in Kansas, where Gov. Laura Kelly — a Democrat who has vetoed abortion restrictions — is in a tight race for reelection.

A similar constitutional amendment is on the ballot this November in Kentucky, which is currently enforcing a total abortion ban. Montana residents will vote on whether to grant legal rights for infants “born alive after an abortion” — something that almost never actually happens and is already addressed by existing federal law. Voters in California and Vermont will weigh in on whether to codify abortion protections in their state constitutions.

In Kansas, the amendment’s failure will preserve abortion access for not only residents, but the entire region.

Kansas, which is home to five abortion clinics, has become a major access point for the procedure. For years, about half of all abortions in Kansas were for people from out of state, largely from Missouri. Post-Roe, that figure has grown as states surrounding Kansas outlaw abortion. 

Oklahoma and Texas, both to the south of the state, have banned the procedure almost entirely. So has Missouri, to the east, as well as nearby Arkansas and Mississippi. As a result, clinics in Kansas say they do not have enough doctors, staff, space or appointment availability to care for all the patients calling from out of state. Wait times are two or three weeks for appointments, and clinicians are increasingly referring patients to abortion facilities in Colorado, New Mexico and Illinois. 

In 2021, Kansas clinicians performed about 8,000 abortions. Before Texas banned most abortions last September, providers there were doing close to 55,000 per year — well beyond what Kansas clinics are able to perform. 

Planned Parenthood used to be able to regularly care for patients who needed quick abortions because of newly discovered medical complications, said Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operates three abortion clinics in Kansas. Now, they are recommending those patients — who are often later in pregnancy — travel out of state for an abortion. 

Abortion providers have started working to open new clinics in states like Illinois and New Mexico. But the looming threat of a ban had so far deterred many from doing the same in Kansas. It’s not immediately clear if the amendment’s defeat will change that. But for now, there aren’t nearly enough slots for all of the patients who want to come to Kansas.

“The pressure is there to do much more with the same amount of appointments,” said Zach Gingrich-Gaylord, a spokesperson for Trust Women, which operates a clinic in Wichita. “We could schedule ridiculous amounts out, like nine months. What does it even mean? We could fill a calendar with appointments at this point.”

The post Kansas voters reject effort to eliminate state abortion protections appeared first on The 19th.

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angelchrys
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13 years after Dr Tiller was assassinated, Kansas has preserved abortion as a right in the state constitution. Is this... progress? Is this strange feeling pride in my state? Confused and elated this morning.
Overland Park, KS
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On disavowing sexual assault

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Content Note: this post discusses the existence of sexual assault. It does not go into any detail, but does talk about it as a sociological and legal construct.

By now you have probably seen that there is a new show set in the Game of Thrones/ASOIAF universe coming up called House of the Dragon. This is OK news if you are me, because I am extremely going to watch that garbage one way or another. This is because of who I am as a person. I am not, however, gonna, like, get my hopes up that it will be good after … the unpleasantness of the ending of GoT. ANYWAY that is not what I am here to talk about today. Instead, I want to talk about the statement of one of the showrunners Miguel Sapochnik, who when asked why there was so much sexual assault in the upcoming series was heard to remark that, “You can’t ignore the violence that was perpetrated on women by men in that time”. And man, do I have something to say about this.

Now first of all looking at sexual assault as something specific to the Middle Ages is pretty funny, because in a European context the early Romans that everyone is constantly dick riding for didn’t care about it. Early Roman law documents don’t suggest that forced sex was punished at all. Like at all at all. Nope. None of that. Maybe this is to do with the fact that social norms accepted it. After all the gods were out there sexually assaulting, so who were you a mortal to argue with that?[1] Otherwise it might just be because the Romans were garbage people. Who knows?

This changes a bit during the later Republic when dudes were forced to grapple with heady questions such as: Are women people? Do they, like, feel things? And by the imperial period, forced sex was considered serious enough that if caught it was punishable with death. Interestingly, under Augustan legislation forcible sex was made illegal by extending edicts against the taking of property by force to people’s bodies.[2] Suddenly you could be subject to capital punishment for assaulting either a woman or a young boy.[3] To be fair, it is likely that the women and boys who enjoyed justice were from the upper classes, but still it is something.

A hermit sexually assaulting a women, from British Library Yates Thompson MS 13, fol. 177 r.

When the Christians took over, not a whole lot was added to embellish on this. But by the fourth century, Church leaders decided that they wanted to work with the empires to help curb sexual assaults. The Council of Ancyra, held in 314 declared that if an affianced woman was abducted and assaulted she should be given back to her betrothed. In 451 the Council of Chalcedon said that laymen who raped were to be excommunicated and the clerics who did so should lose their offices.[4] Which, yeah, I should think so?

The Emperors were pretty happy to go along with this, but it’s around here that our ideas about what rape is begin to skew. See, in this period, the definition of rape, or raptus, was not necessarily what we would see as rape. Sure sometimes it meant forcible rape, but it could also just mean taking a woman out of her house without the permission of her parents or other male guardians. For this reason we see the Emperor Constantine (c. 272-337) declaring that sometimes the women involved in “rape” would be publicly punished alongside their theoretical assailants. How? Well, if a woman willingly ditched her dad’s house and went and eloped with a guy – that was rape, and she was an accessory to it. So according to Constantine she should probably be burned to death alongside her abductor.[5] Nice.


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When you take this into consideration it makes it clear that the idea that “rape” is some sort of endemic feature of the medieval period, or the late antique one if you want to split hairs here, is a really stupid one. Sometimes raptus absolutely means what we mean when we say rape. Sometimes it just means that someone was kidnapped. Sometimes it means that a chick had sex with someone that her dad didn’t like.

From BL Royal 20 C VI, f. 150.

This is especially important to keep in mind in the earlier medieval period when you see references to, for example, vikings “raping and pillaging”. This doesn’t necessarily mean what we mean when we say rape. Because sometimes it is worse. I would argue that being taken from your home, enslaved, and sent far from your homeland is probably the worst thing that could happen to someone, you see. So just keep that in mind.

Over the medieval period this idea – that abduction was a form of rape – remained, but a part of that was the assumption that if someone was abducted they would necessarily be sexually assaulted. In the eleventh century, for example, Ivo of Chartres (1040-1115), bishop and canon law expert, said that it was the opinion of his friend Pope Urban II (c. 1035-1099) that any man who kidnapped a woman was probably going to sexually assault her anyway. As a result, any such man would need to somehow prove that he had not if apprehended.[6]

As the period wore on, however, the Church noticed that abducting a woman was just a way that people chose their marriage partners if their parents wouldn’t allow them that choice. And the Church was extremely big on the idea that individuals should choose who they marry, not families. As a result, they started pushing back against stuff like your boy Constantine up there burning both people to death. They started pushing the idea that if a woman was raped the crime could be ameliorated by marrying her. Johannes Teutonicus (d. 1245) – a church law scholar – was a big proponent of this. As far as he was concerned if a family was mad they could just go ahead and disinherit their daughter over it. The would have to do so after providing her with a dowry if she was under 25 and the guy was of the same social class though.[7]

Romantic courtly love gesture, or edging close to rape? Depends on whose dad you ask. From the Codex Manasse, 22 v.

So this is where things get hazy, because this is probably a good thing? Like, yeah for sure let people get married if they want to, damn! But on the other hand, it also means that if a woman was sexually assaulted after being abducted against her will then that could all be washed away by marrying her. And well, yikes. Some people noticed the issue here, and people like the the decretists – Church law nerds who were specifically nerdy about the writings of Gratian (359-383)– said that when thinking about rape you had to consider the amounts of force an assault involved. The more violence involved, the worse the crime was. As a part of this, for them the victim had to resist or protest in order for something to be rape.[8]

Again, this is tricky one. Yes it is probably good to differentiate between sexual assault and two people getting married against their parents’ will. On the other hand – why hello it is the introduction of the perfect victim. In order for a crime to be considered you had better pray that your trauma response is fight or flight because otherwise some Church dudes were here to tell you that you were assaulted wrong and you might end up married to the perpetrator.

So – it’s complicated! Sexual assault absolutely existed in the medieval period. Let’s get that straight, but also it’s not as easy as looking at the past, seeing the word raptus, and saying “this is about rape and wow there sure is a lot of it around.” I mean are the Game of Thrones people going to be showing women eloping with their chosen husbands and then getting burned up by a dragon or something in the name of historical accuracy? (That’s a free idea for you right there guys. You are welcome.) No! I doubt it! They are just going to show what you and I think of as sexual assault without thinking about the complexities of the term or the period.

The Rape of Lucretia, The Hague, KB, 66 B 13 fol. 289r .

Further, acting like sexual assault was a specific problem “in that time” aka the Middle Ages is just, hahahah, whooo boy. No. Like oh more of a problem then than in the Early Roman period when it wasn’t a crime? More so than NOW? Because I have some news for my man Miguel. According to the excellent Rape Crisis (who is are the place to go if you need help or support around a sexual assault in the United Kingdom) the highest ever number of rapes in the United Kingdom ever reported to police was last fucking year, and it was 67,125. That is a lot. But it is even more when you consider that only one in 100 rapes is reported to police. This is a catastrophic amount. It is therefore no wonder that one in four women have been raped or sexually assaulted, as well as one in six children and one in twenty men.  So, forgive me if I cannot really get behind the assertion that sexual assault is somehow a specific feature of medieval society as opposed to modern.

Further, and this goes without saying – A Song of Ice and Fire is not real. Not Westeros. Not the Summer Islands. Not the Great Grass Sea, and definitely not the dragons. Now I like the little nods to medieval stuff in the world probably more than the next person. I find it cute and also nice. But the thing is, in a world where magic is real you are making choices. You don’t have to show sexual assault all the time because you are somehow bearing accurate witness to the medieval past. It is simply not necessary. You can choose not to show it just like you choose not to show accurate medieval things like crop rotation, or the discovery of the three-field system. It is a choice.

If what you want is a way explain why you have a bunch of sexual assault in your dragon show I have a fig leaf for you right here – you could just say that it is an accurate reflection of a patriarchal society because well, yeah. Sexual assault is absolutely endemic in our society right now. This show is a part of that society. While it is taking place in an imaginary world, it, like most good art* is reflecting our own world back to us and asking us questions about what that means. This world has sexual assault just like the real world does. It is unfortunate but true.

All of which brings me to my final point – you could just like have some courage and say you put it in because you, too, are steeped up to your eyeballs in patriarchy and just didn’t really interrogate why you did it. You just did, because it is really hard for us to critique the culture that we are in. We are inured to it. Patriarchy and sexual assault is the air we breathe, and if people aren’t very very careful their art will reflect that without critiquing it. I would argue that this is what happened here, and there is a lot of furious back peddling to explain why.

I don’t think all art needs to be comfortable. I am fine with challenges and I also think there is something to be said here about how we specifically get upset about seeing sexual violence in a show that is absolutely rife with physical violence that largely goes unmentioned. What I do think is an issue is using incredibly bad history to make up for your own shortcomings as an artist. Either stand by what you did or don’t. But don’t blame it on medieval people when we are just as bad.

*I am not saying this is good art


[1] Pomeroy, Goddesses, pp. 8, 12
[2] Dig. 4.2.1. (Ulpine)
[3] Dig. 48.6.3.4. (Marcianus)
[4] On Ancyra, see Giovanni Domenico Mansi (ed.), Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collection, Vol 2. (Paris: Hubert Welter, 1901-1927), p. 531. On Chalcedon see, Giuseppe Alberigo et al. (eds.),  Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta, Second Edition, (Freiburg: Herder, 1962), p.75
[5] See, James A. Brundage, Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe, (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 107.
[6] Ivo, Decretu 8.24, in PL, 161: 589.
[7] Brundage, Law, Sex, and Christian Society, p. 397.
[8] Ibid., p. 311.


For more on myths about the medieval period, see:

Plague Police roundup, or, I am tired, and you people give me no peace
If you are going to talk about the Dark Ages, you had better be right
JFC, calm down about the medieval Church
I assure you, medieval people bathed.
On colonialism, imperialism, and ignoring medieval history
“I wasn’t taught medieval history so it is not important” is not a real argument, but ok
There’s no such thing as the ‘Dark Ages’, but OK
On why the misuse of the word ‘medieval’ is a bad thing


Ⓒ Eleanor Janega, 2022

If you are enjoyed this, please consider contributing to my patreon for more exclusive content. If not, that’s chill too!

Want more audio medieval history? Check out my podcast, We’re Not So Different.

My book, The Middle Ages, A Graphic Guide is out now.






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angelchrys
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acdha
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hannahdraper
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Further, and this goes without saying – A Song of Ice and Fire is not real. Not Westeros. Not the Summer Islands. Not the Great Grass Sea, and definitely not the dragons. Now I like the little nods to medieval stuff in the world probably more than the next person. I find it cute ad also nice. But the thing is, in a world where magic is real you are making choices. You don’t have to show sexual assault all the time because you are somehow bearing accurate witness to the medieval past. It is simply not necessary. You can choose not to show it just like you choose not to show accurate medieval things like crop rotation, or the discovery of the three-field system. It is a choice.
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deception

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deception

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Anti-Abortion Advocates Have Been Fighting Dirty Leading Up To a Crucial Vote in Kansas Tomorrow

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A protester holds a sign reading "STOP THE BANS"

For the first time since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson WHO, overturning Roe v. Wade, voters will have a chance to vote on abortion rights.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, August 2, abortion access is on the ballot in Kansas. But even before the votes are counted, the lead-up to this election has given us a clear picture of what the legislative fight over abortion will look like moving forward, and in short, it’s a mess.

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angelchrys
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