The power to define yourself rather than allowing society to define you by your gender or sexuality is the foundation of feminism. Mean people wear tie dye too.
The power to define yourself rather than allowing society to define you by your gender or sexuality is the foundation of feminism. Mean people wear tie dye too.
I re-post this as a salute to my friend who is brave, kind and more than just a pretty-good Mom.
A Mother’s Day Essay
An ugly third-degree burn scar covers most of my left outer thigh. This is one legacy my mother left me. I was two years old and, the story goes, I climbed on top of our stove, turned it on, and sat down on the red-hot electrical burner while my mother vacuumed upstairs, unable to hear my screams. Neglect? An accident? It’s a strange story, but it’s possible. I also knocked out my front teeth around the same age, falling down the stairs. Again, it’s possible. Nothing strange or unusual about a toddler falling down the stairs, especially in the late 60s before baby proofing was common.
Another legacy my mother left me was her voice, first in my ears, later in my head, telling me I was a mistake, an accident, that I was not loved but tolerated, and that I was capable of ruining lives (well, hers at least) by merely existing. I wasn’t even supposed to be alive, so I’d better watch it. It throws the accidents into a different light, this admission from her that I was not loved, was not wanted. It puts a small, scratching doubt in my head, enough to make me wonder what really happened.
It’s hard not to think about these things around Mother’s Day. All the stories in social media, newspapers and magazines that idealize and praise mothers and mothering, stories of bonds between mothers and daughters, are powerful triggers.
It’s also hard not to think about these things because I am a mother.
I like to say that my mother helped me become a good mother by demonstrating what NOT to do. I don’t yell, I don’t belittle, I don’t insult, I don’t shame, I don’t slam things, I don’t break things. I’m not saying good mothers don’t lose their tempers and do these things sometimes. They do. But good mothers who do those things make up for the mistakes with love and affection, even apologies, that hopefully balance it all out.
Looking back, though, I think what was worse than what she did do was what she didn’t do. She did not cuddle, she did not praise, she did not thank, she did not protect, she did not apologize, she did not love. She fed, she clothed, she cleaned, she tolerated, grudgingly. When she wasn’t angrily doing housework, slamming cupboards and drawers, she was smoking and drinking coffee in the kitchen, one eye pinched against the smoke curling from the cigarette clamped in one side of her mouth, the other fixed on the pages of a Harlequin Romance. I knew better than to seek attention from her, and usually just watched her from the kitchen doorway, trying to gauge her mood.
My most vivid memories of her from my childhood are saturated with feelings of fear and guilt. One afternoon she tried to show me how to clean my room. I know I was very young because I remember the vacuum cleaner was too heavy for me—try as I might I could not push it under the bed where I had been told to sweep. When she returned to find it unswept, she raged at me. I cried, feeling worthless. She eventually left me alone.
Another dim memory, playing Candyland, the only memory I have of her playing with me. I must have cheated, as very young children do–maybe trying to move my piece ahead without her noticing? Who knows. The game was put away very dramatically, with huffing and puffing and scolding and slamming and indignation. I cried, feeling worthless. She eventually left me alone.
That was our pattern.
And so it went. The fear and guilt morphed into loathing and guilt when I was a teen, and eventually pity and guilt when I was an adult and finally had a child of my own.
Oh, the waste of love. Until I had my own, I had no idea how eager children are to love and be loved, how easily it happens. It would have taken so little for her to have it, to give it. But for a variety of reasons (the subject of a future essay, perhaps), she could not. And as much as I tried to love her, I could not overcome my fear enough to do it.
I cried when she died, not because she was gone but for the life she had wasted. I do not miss her, and I am, if not exactly happier, at least relieved that she is gone.
Her voice is still with me, but it gets quieter as the years pass, crowded out of my head more and more by thoughts of my son, my husband, my friends, my work, my world. In spite of her, I give and receive love easily, even fiercely, especially with my son. And I am grateful for that every day, but especially today.
Happy mother’s day.
Despite my feminist sensibilities I’ve never been able to suppress the anxiety of being judged and found wanting when it comes to “homemaking”.
A little Martha Stewart shaped devil sits on my right shoulder pointing out the crumbs in the silverware drawer and the cobwebs in the chandelier. My deficiency is glaringly apparent in the lack of top-dressing on the house plants and fresh liner paper in the linen closet.
The house plant anxiety famously manifested itself the day before our wedding when re-potting the plants became the number one priority before the rehearsal dinner. Talk about displaced anxiety.
I think part of the problem is that I’m not a good house cleaner, but I am a dynamite straightener. So we get behind on the cleaning until we need a full-out cleaning blitz. And the only legitimate reason for a cleaning blitz is house guests.
Parties only require you clean the first floor, but house guests mean the whole megillah.
My daughter reminds me regularly that no one cares or notices the “flaws” in our house. Her friends think we have the cleanest house they have ever seen that has a teenager living in it. While I don’t clean for teenagers, I do change the table-cloth because even they don’t want cat hair in their food.
Intellectually I know that I’m taking a big bite out of that Enjoli sandwich thinking my house should be as clean as if I didn’t have a full-time job, but I can’t help it. Clean house, good cook, sparkling conversationalist is some kinda propaganda I have yet to recover from.
The good news is once the doorbell rings I can completely relax into a good time. I have no problem leaving the dishes in the sink and having another glass of wine. Maybe we need to have guests more often so there is no time to clean.
Labels are important.
Labeling people by their socio-economic class, religion, sexual orientation, race, marital status or political party usually reduces rather than enhances what you know about a person.
Here’s my rundown:
From that list you may think you can now predict how I will vote, where I will shop, and what media I will consume. That’s why we like the shorthand of labels. And that’s why most people resist being slapped with a label.
Once again in an un-named media source a famous young woman felt it necessary to state that contrary to everything she had just said, she was not in fact a Feminist. The way people run from being called feminist makes it seem like racism, pedophilia, murder and mayhem all rolled into one.
I grow very weary of this narrative.
I can’t believe it’s still necessary to tell people that Feminism doesn’t mean you hate men, or refuse to shave, or want women to run the world. The negative stereotyping goes hand in hand with the false belief that sexism no longer exists.
Sexism is a current and serious problem in our society just like racism. Neither of these problems are going away. Too many people benefit from the status quo.
I am a Feminist. I call myself a Feminist because if I only get one label to tell you what you will get when you open this can, Feminist does the job. I invite you to use that label to describe me, my writing, my point of view, whatever.
I’m stopping now because I’m feeling the urge to rant about the misogynistic hegemony and its impact on girl singers of the 21st century and I dont have time for 5,000 words. If you are a feminist, or even vaguely support the idea that women should have the right to vote, own property, have bank accounts, divorce their husbands, have access to reproductive health care…then have the guts to claim to be a feminist.
I just realized I wrote practically this same blog in 2012 – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am Pro-Choice, Pro-Abortion and Pro-Reproductive Justice. The objections people raise about other people having an abortion don’t move me. I find it ludicrous that a stranger can disagree with, and try to influence, a medical procedure I elect to have.
Given this is an issue I have been championing for 30+ years, I thought I had read and/or heard all possible arguments for and against abortion. I was wrong.
I recently found myself listening to a broadcast called “Station of the Cross” while driving through a rural area. A project I am working on is requiring a bit of driving and when I am alone in the car I tend to cruise the radio stations rather than listen to music or pod casts.
Station of the Cross is a Catholic station that alternates call in talk shows with liturgy and religious music. The talk show I came in on was talking about a demonic possession in Gary, Indiana. A reporter, and supposed eye-witness, was relating the exorcism preformed on two boys under ten who it turned out were being infected by a demon that was actually possessing their mother.
The possession, with its details of children talking in demonic voices and floating to the ceiling at the pediatricians office was bizarre enough, but the explanation the talk show folks gave for the cause of the possession was even more bizarre.
The host asked the reporter how the priest discovered that the mother was the conduit for the “The Evil One” and she related the following story.
The mother had been engaging in extramarital sex with a boyfriend who was not the father of her children. This created a moral crack in her soul that allowed “The Evil One” to come in. It was this kind of sin that the demons were looking for when they were flying around trying to find a host.
The host went on to discuss at length how “The Evil One” especially hates and targets women for possession because the Virgin Mary defied him. Because he hates Mary he goes after women and tells them its okay to kill their children. He sets traps for women by making them think that killing your baby while its inside you is okay. He uses the so called Women’s Movement as a way to create cracks in women’s souls.
Women have to fight “The Evil One” by refusing to use birth control or having abortions, which lets him into your body.
That was a neat trick getting from possessed children to don’t have an abortion.
What really struck me about the discussion was their matter of fact acceptance of the existence of devils juxtaposed with feminism being a tool of Lucifer. I knew in theory that people literally believed in these things but I had never heard anyone in real-time admit it.
There is no space for rational discussion of reproductive rights if your belief system supports sins as means for the devil to enter your body and steal your soul.
That, my friends, is the ultimate reason that abortion must be protected by law.
Happy Valentines Day.
Occasionally age-related vanity gets me in its grip. Now that I wear glasses all the time, I feel like my eyes look small. Not that I have Manga eyes to start with, but what I have is certainly less visible. Short of switching to Sally Jessie Raphael glasses, my solution is eyeliner.
Back in my music soaked past eyeliner was simple – Maybelline Expert Eyes, heated with a match, inside and outside the lid – followed by three coats of deepest black mascara. Precision was less the goal than drama.
Now when I am looking for precision I have instead discovered my inner Amy Winehouse. I seem to be incapable of drawing a thin line the same size on both eyes so I keep correcting. And correcting. Subtle it is not.
I tried liquid liner but that is a different kind of crap shoot. One wrong jiggle and I’m Cleopatra. So I tried cream, which I didn’t even know existed until I started down this new path. Cream promises a “lacquer like finish that lasts all day” which is fine unless your finish ends up looking like a lightening bolt.
I’m not sure eyeliner and I will ever become friends.
Once upon a time, before the compulsion to wear makeup every day crept up on me, I used to get by with a swipe of lipstick. In fact I never left the house without putting on my lipstick. It was a strategy I adopted in my early twenties, thinking if your mouth is bright enough they will stop looking at your tits.
Every once and again I flash back on my mom at my age. In her forties, she only wore makeup once or twice a year when she and my dad went out for a rare evening event. That make up consisted of pressed powder from a gold compact and the same tube of lipstick she had used for the last twenty years. And of course White Shoulders perfume.
When she was older, and my parents had both more time and more money, she started to spruce herself up beyond getting her hair done at the beauty parlor once a week. She bought some new lipstick, a blush and foundation, and wore it to work. She may have even ventured to mascara, though I doubt eyeliner would have ever occurred to her.
A message to my followers:
Unfortunately I have discovered that the more writing I have to do at work the less I am able to string my thoughts together in a coherent way for my blog. I still have rants clogging my brain (farm bill!?!, abortion legistaltion!?!, daughter turning 15!?!), but little space to write. As two big projects will be finished soon, I hope to be back to normal in the near future.
I miss you!
The other night I watched a movie about lateterm abortion. It was a documentary called “After Tiller” that followed four doctors who were colleagues of Dr. George Tiller the abortion provider that was murdered by an anti-abortion activist in May 2009. These four doctors perform abortions at 25 weeks and later.
The procedure is controversial because a baby might be considered “viable”, or able to survive outside of the uterus, after about 27 weeks. But viable is a word with a lot of room for interpretation.
The movie showed the women, often with their baby’s father, seeking this procedure because their baby had horrific fetal anomalies discovered through testing. I remember from when I was pregnant that bone-deep fear during scans if the technician hesitated a moment too long.
These women were living that nightmare fear.
They were grieving and distraught and very relieved there was a clinic and a doctor that could help them. Everyone who knows me knows that I am not just Pro-Choice, I’m Pro-Abortion. This movie reinforced those beliefs and made me notice where and when my judgement kicked in. When I thought a woman was making a bad choice, or a doctor should have been more authoritative, or what I would have done.
That’s what the question always comes down to when we cut through the rhetoric. What would I do in that situation? My answer won’t be the same as yours. My decision today may be different than what my decision would have been 10 years ago.
And why exactly should my decision about my life and my baby have any impact on your decision? I will never understand that bit.
The thing that really struck me about what I saw going on in those clinics was the mercy and compassion offered to these women in profound need. A stark contrast to the judgement and ugliness they passed through on the sidewalks outside the clinic.
You hear people say sometimes “No one wants an abortion” but I think that’s backward. What no one wants is an unplanned pregnancy. What no one wants is a baby with profound complications. Lots of women want an abortion.
And when they do want an abortion, for whatever reason or no reason at all, having a kind, compassionate doctor trust that they can make their own decision is a mercy.
See “After Tiller” if you can.
I was rummaging around in envelopes of old photos when I came across one of me ironing when I was a child. I am three or four years old, in the kitchen, happily ironing the quilt my grandmother made for my Mrs Beasley doll. I distinctly remember getting this ironing board and iron for Christmas.
Normally, a photo of me performing this gendered work would have only registered as cute and ironic given the fact that my husband now does this chore for both of us.
Instead I had an epiphany about value. Staring, and staring at the triptych of images I could see how the seeds of both my feminism and self-sabotage were planted with that child-size electric iron.
At a lecture I recently attended the presenter talked about how women are taught their value. As children girls are usually praised and complimented for learning tasks or completing chores, while boys are generally paid. This system is roughly Men work for money and Women work for love.
She gave examples of babysitters who when asked what their rate is, reply “pay me what ever you think is fair.” These examples where from her personal experience in the last several years, not the distant past. She went on to point out how leaving payment up to the client teaches them (and you) that you have no value.
This is something I carefully coached my daughter about when she started babysitting so she would state her rates upfront. I even helped her figure out how to inform clients that she had an increased rate now that she is in High School. I am helping her learn her value.
Unfortunately, as I stared at those pictures of me ironing I realized I had failed to do the same for myself in my coaching business. I set my rate but immediately discounted it because of the need to rapidly accumulate hours for my accreditation. I finished my certification but have yet to enforce my rates. I was horrified to realize this.
I am now determined to not only set and keep to my rate because what I do has tremendous value to my clients, but I am also going to establish standing days and hours for appointments. Not that I won’t be accommodating, but I need to set clear boundaries. For myself.
Because I know what I am worth.
I got into an interesting discussion with my daughter about the custom of women taking their husband’s name when they get married. She was for, I am against. My position is that if the name change were more than a custom it wouldn’t be optional, it would be required or automatic.
When we got married neither my husband nor I changed our names. This was not a difficult decision. I suggested that I would be willing to add his name to mine if and only if he added mine to his. The deal breaker to this potential compromise, other than the fact that a man has to actually petition the court to be allowed to do it, is the amount of effort it takes to legally change ones name. In addition to having to print all new stationary you need to notify:
One big hassle that for practical purposes makes no sense.
The philosophical issue is much more complicated for most folks. My birth name is a through line for my identity and is separate from any joint accomplishment with my spouse, namely creating a child. Keeping my name doesn’t indicate I am less commitment to my marriage any more than my husband keeping his name signals lack of commitment on his part. And our daughter has four names.
My Aunt famously asked me what would be on our checks if we have two different last names to which I replied ‘we each have our own checking accounts’. It honestly didn’t occur to me to have a joint checking account with my husband until several years ago at which point we had checks printed with both our names. Problem solved.
Everyone has their own reasons for keeping or changing their name. In addition to societal pressure there can be family, peer and religious pressure to change or not change your name. I think it also makes a difference if you have “made a name” for yourself before marriage.
I don’t have a problem with either choice but I do have a problem with folks assuming there is only one right way. Taking the husbands last name upon marriage is not done in all cultures and countries. Just like having the right to have an identity is not done in all cultures.
Ask women in Saudi Arabia who only gained the right to have their own ID card in 2001 and who still can’t travel abroad, open a bank account or work without permission from a male relative how they feel about identity. While Saudi Arabia is the most oppressive country in the world when it comes to women’s rights it still serves as an example of how identity can be tied to other personal rights.
In my view its a slippery slope from not being expected to have a unique identity to being considered an incubator for fetuses. My name. My body. My choice in both cases. And I will fight till the day I die to protect my right, my daughters right, and your right to continue to make these choices for yourself.
I attended a lecture about negotiating today. Specifically about how women do or don’t negotiate and why. None of this was news to me but I always like to know about the latest research and hear the kinds of questions that get asked by the audience.
What I didn’t anticipate was the amount of time the speaker would spend on how our culture imparts gender norms, reinforces gender stereotypes and operates from a deep, pervasive, if usually unconscious, bias. I don’t know why I wasn’t prepared to hear these things yet again but they really cut into me today.
The speaker described the kind of woman who gets punished and stigmatized for her behavior – strong personality, direct communication, hard-driving – and showed a picture of a female dog. As everyone around me laughed at this poor, bitchy woman my heart started racing. She was describing my personality, my habits, my passions as if they were unfortunate choices made to imitate a man and get ahead.
She went on to talk about the ways that women punish other women for not being “nice” and my head started to throb. Over the years I have been alternately accused of being unemotional and too emotional for the same behaviors. Always by women.
Nine out of ten days it rolls off my back, I flex my style, and carry on. Today all I could think was “when do I get to be in a room full of people like me for a change?”
Where being direct and decisive is an asset not an attack, where crying is a sign of deep feeling not weakness or manipulation, where we can stop trying to fix ourselves and fix the system. Where bringing your whole self to your work is expected, acknowledged and appreciated.
Sugar and Spice & Everything Nice is clearly not a big enough container for me. Or maybe anyone if the truth were told. Unfortunately, at this very moment I can’t imagine a time when “being nice” isn’t how a woman is judged.
I was at a conference for women academics recently and it seemed like every other speaker mentioned Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In.
I am happy that Lean In exists. Sandberg has a unique platform with which to share things like the prodigious amount of research demonstrating that women face additional barriers and obstacles in the workplace because of their gender. The first response to assertions that bias and discrimination continue to exist is usually denial followed by demands for proof.
Boy is there a lot of proof.
Studies have repeatedly shown that women are still affected by evaluation bias. Cultural expectations of what women want, how they will behave and the choices that they will make are deeply embedded for both men and women. In light of the evidence and the cultural lens, the question becomes how to raise awareness and work for change. I generally see these efforts fall into two categories: fix the men or fix the women. Sandburg is in the fix the women camp.
Her premise is that women “lean back” based on speculation about future states like if I stay on this trajectory it will make it easier to have children down the line. Therefore she is encouraging women to “lean in” to their choices in the present so they don’t sell themselves short. I agree wholeheartedly. I have a very clear memory of making a trajectory choice like this.
When my daughter was two I took a job that allowed me to work from home almost exclusively on the computer. This meant that from 8:30 – 11:30 while she was at preschool I worked on the computer. When she napped for an hour (or pretended to) I worked on the computer. After her father got home, or after dinner depending on the project, I worked on the computer. After she went to bed, I worked on the computer. The result was that after a while I felt like I never had down time because I was always trying to squeeze some more work in. And I missed working with other people. I am very much an extrovert so working alone is draining.
When my daughter was five I had a job offer that would be full-time in an office. Despite my unhappiness with my solitary work, I was torn about disrupting the kid, changing how we lived our lives and so on. I distinctly remember mulling this over with my mother in law one day in her driveway. Her response was, and I quote, “There will always be another job but she won’t be five forever.”
I am sure she meant it the opposite way but I thought ‘Yeah, she wont be five forever and then where will my career be?’ I took the job that day. My fear of the future state was that I would limit myself and end up a housewife. Not as dramatic as the stories in Lean In, but still a choice point.
One thing that I found problematic about the Sandberg book, and something no one mentioned at this conference, was her lack of attention to the assumptions she makes. When speakers encouraged women to build and work their networks I started thinking I would have a better chance of playing Six Degrees of Separation with Hillary Clinton or Hugh Jackman than of finding a thread of connection to Sandburg.
And that’s a problem. Some, not all, of her success rests on the connections she made at Harvard. Plus she’s wicked smart. But the connections count more than the smartness. Lots and lots of wicked smart women don’t have the connections that will help them progress which is a bigger factor than their leaning in or out. So there is a whiff of both “blaming” women who are not advancing because they must not be leaning in enough, and a vague “chose your past well” kinda thing. Its clear I should have gotten better grades in High School, so I could attend a better college, make better connections, get an internship” and so on. If that ship has sailed, then what?
I will have to reread the book to see if there are any clues. Or if she includes her personal email. I know some wicked smart women that could use a new network.
As I get older it gets harder to recover from late nights and too little sleep.
Sleep is one of those things that gets to be a habit. Your body gets used to being well rested and protests when its not. It may have been a better strategy for me to fight the impulse to rest when tired in order to reduce the backlash when its not available. But that horse has left the barn.
Once again I am behind the curve with current events. I recently listened to a show interviewing a woman, Gabi, who writes a fashion blog, GabiFresh, for “curvy girls”. In the interview Gaby was talking about her swim wear line of two piece bathing suits sizes 14 – 24 that are being called Fatkini’s. There is apparently a movement to reclaim the word fat.
Since I don’t post any pictures of myself on this blog, unless you know me, there is no way you could know that I am overweight. Plus-sized. A big girl. Zaftig. And all the other polite euphemisms. I do have a pretty face, good hair, and nice hands and feet. These are the bits that get oohed over when people are looking for ways to compliment.
I have been this way for a long time for reasons that, while complex, boil down to more calories in than calories out through exercising. Very simple.
Except its not. Fat people exist in a category of things its okay to hate along with Nazi’s and brussel sprouts.
Being overweight is seen as a moral failing on the part of the fat person without regard to psychological, genetic or economic factors. Reasons are no excuse. Prejudice against fat people is deeply ingrained in US society: fat people are lazy, fat people are stupid, fat people are unhealthy, fat people are unattractive, fat people are a drain on society. Fat people are worthless. And its okay to not like fat people, there are no repercussions like other prejudices.
Lazy, stupid and worthless are the three most common descriptors from a study of the weight bias that doctors who treat obesity exhibit. You read that right. The people supposedly treating patients who are overweight walk into the exam room with that attitude. You will have value once you are thin. But how thin? “You can never be too rich or too thin.” Thank you Wallis Simpson.
We use the terms overweight, obese and morbidly obese as if they are static. They are not. The guidelines have been adjusted multiple times including in 1998 when the federal BMI guidelines changed and instantly 30 million people were suddenly overweight or obese. Hence the epidemic. But the numbers are really not the point of this post.
In our society being fat is one of the worst things that can happen you. That is the attitude. I think there is also a healthy dose of classism in there. Once upon a time being fat was external proof you were wealthy enough to eat rich food, now it is external proof you are too poor to eat healthy food.
Living as a fat person I can’t say I would ever wear a Fatkini. A bikini is not my style even if I were thin. We all have weird body issues that are mostly our own private hell, but when Gaby started wearing and selling Fatkinis suddenly her body became public debate. Does she have the right to wear it was the first stop on that train. Her “right” to swimwear seemingly comes with a societal obligation to be ashamed about how she looks.
Here is the curious thing. She’ll look just as fat if she’s in a one piece, two piece or wearing a tent, so what’s the objection really about? Lots of comments on the web articles were about people not wanting to look at how disgusting she is. Now there is an inherent viciousness in online comments, but the tone on several article threads was uniformly destructive. Again, since it’s okay to make fun of fat people, you can see how the commenter’s felt justified.
Being called fat is an insult. Being fat and happy is an affront. Not caring that you are fat is downright revolutionary. A feminist movement trying to counter “fat shaming” through self-acceptance will take some time to get a foothold here in the US but it is definitely something to watch.
I have found my perfect Zen exercise. Zumba.
Zumba, if you haven’t tried it in the last five years that it has been the latest thing, is a kind of Latin dance aerobics class. I am so bad at this class there is no way I can ever hope for mastery. Continue reading
Moral restrictions on medical procedures. That is the framework of the anti-abortion movement and other conservative positions. My God says “No”, therefore it should be “No” for the whole country. We have been down this road before in history, which is why we have separation of church and state. Or we used to.
Ohio Governor John Kasich has until 11:59 pm on Sunday, June 30th to make any line-item vetoes on the state budget before he signs it into effect for July 1, 2013. Politicians should not be making medical decisions or forcing doctors to lie. For your Friday reading pleasure I give you an Op-Ed I submitted to Ohio newspapers, which they unfortunately declined to publish.