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Artist, Writer, Community Organizer, Certified Disability Management Specialist. MAIS: UW; BA: TESC. Politics, social justice, humor, parenting.
Novation Launchpad X.

As a chronic migraine sufferer, I have two major triggers: strong chemical smells and flashing lights. Each time I encounter these triggers is like being shot at with rock salt. Am I hit every time? No, but it’s been enough times that I do my best to avoid the possibility of being shot. Over the years, I have figured out where I am most likely to face these triggers: for example regarding smells, insensitive coworkers who don’t take migraines seriously are a serious danger. …


Aside from that horrible pun, this is a fairly serious response to Pierce County’s use of CARE Act funds.

The Pierce County Council recently approved funds to be used to “reimburse” restaurants 50% for each meal served for a total of 10 days in November. [This is being pitched as saving customers 30%, when it’s really more than a 20% markup per meal on the taxpayer’s dime.] Per KIRO news, each restaurant will be eligible for up to $90,000, with a minimum of $5,000 guaranteed for participation. [1] The County Council has allocated $7.5 million in funds from the CARE…


Women, People of Color, immigrants, people with disabilities/ chronic conditions, and the LGBTQIA community are missing from a lot of local online celebrations of #labor’s #history, in large part due to the intertwining histories of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia. Certain types of work are still not necessarily considered “real work,” which sidelines multiple populations in discussions of the labor movement. It wasn’t [and for many still isn’t] safe to be “out.” In Tacoma, one of the major free sources of photos for local historical projects is the Boland collection, Marvin Boland himself a member of the KKK. While newspapers…


Controlling the Narrative: Gatekeeping, Secret Societies, and Good Ol’ Boys Networks

The following essay has been adapted from a 2019 slideshow/ presentation. If you are interested in hosting the full or modified format of this presentation, please contact me at suzanneskaar@gmail.com.

In late 2018, I accidentally joined a secret society.

What had happened was I was dating a writer who often bragged about being a part of several secret societies. (Why anyone would brag about this…) It turned out a few of my friends and several local political figures and historians that I looked up to were either members of or engaged in activities at Knights of Pythias’s downtown temple, Commencement Lodge #7. The first several times he invited me to hang out were under the auspices of giving me a private tour of the historic building. Over cocktails one night, I met the then incoming Chair of the Pythian Sisters. I was told the Pythian Sisters were in charge of the KOP’s charity efforts and they wanted to diversify their membership. She encouraged me to attend the upcoming meeting. I was under the impression that I would be asking questions and learning about the organization. Instead, I ended up sitting in a hallway with the Chair’s husband/ a.k.a. the writer’s best friend for an hour. When the Chair came to get me, she gave me bizarrely specific instructions for how to enter the room, asked about a vow of purity, instructed me to walk around the room in a circle, and the group congratulated me on becoming a Pythian Sister.

Then they told me to give them $10.

I didn’t want to attend meetings or learn secret handshakes, but I said I would help on projects like media and outreach. I was also invited to join the Temple’s archive committee by the writer. Even before becoming a member, I had helped with design and editing on his presentations which had been promoted as KOP fundraisers. Up until now, I have only publicly addressed the organization’s discriminatory practices. I stopped attending these talks because he was getting really mean and out of control. Outside of the talks, threats of violence against a former member have been made by at least two KOP members: the writer and the former Pythian Sisters’ Chair’s spouse. I was unsure whether these threats were credible, so I focused on trying to get the writer into counseling. This was particularly worrying for me because in addition to a drinking problem, he also had a concealed weapons permit, handguns he had shown me while he was drunk, and unresolved anger issues. And in Spring 2019, he became a substitute with my daughter’s school district.

I stayed because I felt obligated to help someone I had initially met a decade before. I thought that if I worked harder and was more patient, I could fix things. I was wrong. Long story short, by the spring, I was relieved to learn via Facebook Messenger that we weren’t dating. Around that time, he reported to me that fellow members on the KOP archive committee told him I was not needed. They had not. When I called him out on this, I was told Pythian Sisters weren’t allowed to see the Knights’ artifacts and archives. He stressed that Sisters were not Knights because women were not allowed to join the Knights. Yet the City of Tacoma had given the organization a $3000 grant in public funds to make these materials available to the public online[1]. The public includes women. I started to actively avoid the temple.

Avoiding the temple didn’t mean that the bad behavior ended. Soon, photos of me disappeared from the organization’s Facebook page. This was fine, because I was usually stuffing food in my face in these photos. KOP posted a link about how they should invite burlesque dancers back to the lodge for another picture shoot, and I questioned why burlesque dancers were allowed near artifacts but not active Pythian Sisters. This comment was deleted. But then, I discovered about 30 of my photos from the Pythian Sisters Children’s Party, the majority of which being images of my minor daughter, were being used by the Knights to promote the Temple. In the place of a photo credit for my work, there was this album description: “The lodge got a visit from Santa thanks to the Sisters’ annual holiday party. Gosh, that dude is awesome.” Santa just so happened to be the writer, nursing a particularly well-deserved hangover from the night prior to the children’s party.

In April, I was one of three presenters for a local show. The writer was scheduled to speak first. Despite the general tone of the presentations to be given, seeing as the venue was a chapel, and acknowledging the presence of my child, an elementary school student in the district for which he still works, he proceeded to make offensive jokes from the podium about KOP members participating in ritualistic bestiality and how to use the services of sex workers in the old days.

In late August, in defiance of other members’ requests made on my behalf, my photos still remained on KOP social media. His actions had shown he would retaliate against me for standing up to him. I filed a formal complaint with KOP on 8/30/2019 and asked for a private meeting to address the retaliation and sexism, to implement policy changes to protect others, and for a public apology. The organization did not respond, further demonstrating there would be no consequences for retaliation even when using Temple resources. The photos were only removed once I filed an intellectual property theft report with Facebook directly. Based on my experiences which had been witnessed by others, I made a formal request that the individual not be allowed to work at my daughter’s school specifically.

I was invited to give a talk/ slideshow presentation on this experience and my concerns in Portland, Oregon, in October 2019. The following is an exploration of the Knights of Pythias and how, despite talk of outreach and community service, the organization has built itself on who is not allowed to be in the club.

Marvin D. Boland Collection G23.1–070, dated 2/12/1921. Tacoma Public Library Digital Archive.

KOP was founded during the Civil War in 1864. It was the first fraternal organization to be recognized under a US Congressional act.[2] Abraham Lincoln wrote that he hoped the organization would bring together the “brethren of the North and South”[3]. While the Knights of Pythias are expected to “honor and respect the law of the land” and “make Benevolence, Kindness, Generosity and Tolerance a reality in their lives,”[4] this tolerance did not apply to women, Catholics, or People of Color.

Pythian Sisters was formed as a women’s auxiliary to the Knights of Pythias in Warsaw, Indiana, in 1888, because women weren’t allowed to join the KOP. The organization attributes its structure, rituals, and even emblem colors to a Pythian Knight, Joseph Addision Hill.[5] Per Virginia archivist Sarah Nerney, because the KOP kept rejecting membership petitions from African-Americans,

“eventually several light-skinned men who could ‘pass’ were admitted, including Dr. Thomas W. Stringer of Mississippi, an African Methodist Episcopal minister and Reconstruction-era Mississippi state senator. [He] remained in the Knights long enough to learn their organization and their rituals […] then left to form what was officially named The Supreme Lodge of Knights of Pythias of North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceanica.”[6]

There is some debate about this origin story. According to Marilyn T. Peebles, who wrote the extensive history, “The Alabama Knights of Pythias of North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia,” it would have been unlikely that Stringer could have “passed” as white given his well-known reputation at the time. Instead, Peebles stated that he was likely inducted with the local lodge’s knowledge of who he was, but after he and at least five other African-Americans started the KOP that individuals could join regardless of race in 1880, his membership was “disavowed […] based on the claim that the group had been misled and had believed these men were white.”[7] Personally, I like the idea of secret society espionage, but Peebles has done significantly more research on this than I and makes valid points.

Women of color weren’t allowed in this society, either, though. Instead, the International Court of Calanthe was formed for black women in 1883 by the black KOP. According to author and historian Shennette Garrett-Scott:

“The Court’s motto ‘Fidelity, Harmony, and…


“Family.” Digital illustration. Suzanne Skaar.

A ridiculous number of people connect being a “real woman” with being a mother and a wife. If you don’t want to have children, I stand behind your decision 100%. If you don’t want to be married, ditto. You are You regardless of your relationship to other people, desire and/ or ability to have children, assigned sex at birth, adherence to society inflicted gender roles, job title, etc.

However, in recent conversations, I’ve noticed the following point seems to get lost or overlooked: women who have kids (by birth or other circumstances) still have value and identities. Their offspring have…


First page of the City of Tacoma’s response to a public information request regarding a $2 million settlement.

It is harder and harder to ignore the connections between government officials and toxic corporate entities, nationally and locally. My adopted hometown, the City of Tacoma, has been home to multiple Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites. The Asarco Smelter was allowed to pollute the air, soil, and water for almost 100 years. With this legacy in mind, residents successfully fought back against a proposed methanol plant on the port. However, many are still fighting the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG/ fracked gas) storage facility, a particularly frustrating battle as construction began prior to all the necessary permits being obtained. Concerns have…


Genius

Digital media, Suzanne Skaar. 2020. All rights reserved.

Once upon a time, I was the only female staff reporter at my community college campus newspaper. When I was included in the conversation, I would often have to defend my views, taste in media, etc. against men much older than myself. They wanted to fight, and the 17-year-old leggy blonde was a vulnerable target. The other reporters were in their mid- to late twenties and would often roll into the office after a three-hour lunch at the tavern across the street. Sometimes, only one or two would make it back, the other(s) having passed out in a bush along the way. (The campus was nestled among beautiful tall pines with soft moss. There were worse places to land.)

One day, I was in the staff room practically by myself. The layout editor, who had spent several hours in the office high and playing “Diablo,” was sleeping sitting up on the couch. It was peaceful. Because he was no longer playing “Diablo,” I could actually use the computer to work on articles. At about 5 p.m., one of the other reporters strolled in from “lunch.” He was determined to make the point that a teenage girl would not get to choose the music, and I was equally determined to no longer put up with the condescension. When I didn’t back down, he literally ripped his own Modern Lovers cassette out of my casette player and threw it across the room. The tape stuck on the player wheels. Instead of hitting the wall with a thud, an arc of brown ribbon slowed the cassette’s trajectory and rippled through the air over our layout editor. Upon seeing this, we stopped fighting. Passing the cassette back and forth from one end of the room to the other, we wove the ribbon in and out of desks, through sprinkler heads, around the layout editor’s legs, and anything else that was reasonably weighted down. We gathered our belongings, turned out the lights, and went our separate ways. The verbal portion of the fight was superficially about “Pablo Picasso,” a musical selection he himself had brought in to share with the office. He was arguing against his own taste. The underlying motive was an aggressive need to be right. Once that factor was removed, we were able to produce art.

23 years of real world experience later, I shared a random post by Twitter user @issa_invite on Facebook:

“The problem with having so much media that correlates being a genius with being an unlikeable asshole (ex. Rick and Morty) is that men start to think that because they’re unlikeable assholes, they Must Be smarter than everyone else[.]”

The quote resonated with me. Dealing with men who think they are smarter than they actually are is a universal experience. Before the “not all men” chorus begins, this statement does not mean all men act like this. It does mean that enough men behave in this manner without being called on it that we all know at least one male like this. Men who do behave in this manner have a smorgasbord of role models which justify treating others poorly based on a self-determined “superior intellect.” Another way of summarizing the logic in the quote would be the cliché “putting the cart before the horse,” or, more appropriately, “putting the asshole before the books.”

The correlation between advanced intellect and horrid social skills is neither new nor limited to literature, art, film, or historical texts. The film “High Fidelity” (2000) illustrates this idea perfectly. In one scene, the male staff members of a struggling record store admit they refuse to sell records to certain customers because they supposedly know more about music than those customers do. While the behavior is called out in this particular film, in other media, the trope tends to absolve men who think highly of their own skills or knowledge from the moral obligation to be decent human beings. The more knowledge a male character has about his interest (music, computers, physics, etc.), the more of an asshole he is allowed to be in storylines. In the real world, this inverse relationship between self-perception of one’s own knowledge and empathy towards others is particularly pervasive in male-dominated environments. Meanwhile, patriarchal norms simultaneously punish women for having “too much” confidence in their skills, force women to prove their expertise beyond a shadow of a doubt, and expect women to be nice while doing it. Men’s confidence is often mistakenly equated to credentials. We see this double standard in academia (both as professor[1] and student[2]), the workplace[3], in nerd holy sites like comic book shops and conventions[4], and online. We definitely saw it in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

Without stating any of this or other background context such as personally relevant examples that popped into my mind, I shared the post publicly. At this point in our culture, I don’t feel I should have to justify every meme I share with an indexed manifesto of why. Sometimes quotes hit us because a universal truth doesn’t need a novel. It’s like Chekhov vs. Tolstoy: both have their purpose. Why take 800 pages when you can get the message out in one? Surprisingly, this simple post served as the catalyst for a week of insults, condescension, and outrage from a man I knew of through local filmmakers’ circles but to my knowledge had never met. (In the interest of letting the unnamed individual speak in his own words, I did not correct or change his comments. All spelling and grammatical choices are his own.)

“Interesting that you assert only men are affected by this.”

As I was fixing breakfast for my kid and not actually paying attention to social media, he carried the conversation without me.

“Let me give you some idea of what it’s like to read this post, as a man…”

At the time, I hadn’t transcribed the post for my friends who need screen readers, so I assumed he was reading it with his eyes. Is this why guys get caught sending so many unsolicited penis pics: they were reading and the phone slipped?

“The problem with having so much media that correlates being wealthy and successful with being drunk belligerent golddiggers (ex. Real housewives) is that women think being obnoxious/loud backstabbers make them worthy of being wealthy.”

First, simply “being obnoxious” doesn’t make women any more deserving of financial remuneration than male comedians, politicians, and CEOs who engage in similar behavior. However, Botox, plastic surgery, elective hormone therapy, spray tans, and gym memberships all add up to a significant financial investment. If this exhausting cosmetic regime is a marital requirement for the wives, someone needs to foot the bill.

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