The trap of the Asshole/Wimp dichotomy

I was recently going through Facebook posts from a few years ago looking for speech-related milestones for Joanna. Back then, I posted something every night, just about, on my blog. That is astounding to me. Such a rate of posting is now impossible in my current life. But it was neat to see. I have to remember to print those all out at some point, as a record of my kids’ early years.

Having been reminded of the existence of my blog, however, I decided that I wanted to note some of my thoughts on a topic which has been occupying my brain (and heart) lately. And that is, our cultural definition of masculinity and how it emasculates men.

Obviously, these are my own thoughts, not based on research directly, but on my personal experience and on things I’ve read over the years.

One of the cultural vices society places on women is the Madonna/Whore complex, in which there are only two options for women: be sexually chaste (and ignorant) and thus maintain your virtue long enough to arrive safely at your wedding day; or claim and express your sexuality, and in doing so embody Eve’s sin, damage your value to any husband you might trick into marrying you, and reduce your chances of ever being truly happy to zero.

This post is not about that, but I mention it to demonstrate how it prevents women from experiencing or expressing their whole authentic selves, as well as setting them up for all kinds of pain in relationships. And the answer to the problems presented by the perpetuation of that belief system (given specific life by Freud, of course) is not to attempt to find a magic spot somewhere in the middle, but to walk away from the paradigm altogether.

Similarly, I think, men are presented with two options in our society, from the very beginning of their lives as male-sex-organ-possessing babies. I’ll call this the Asshole/Wimp complex for the purposes of this post. To be more accurate in the way guys who are perceived to fall into the second category are derided, I should really use the slang term for female genitalia, but will desist for the sake of politeness.

Many other people have written about this, of course. But it has recently struck me with force how the definition of strength for men is exactly the opposite of what strength actually is, in my opinion.

I think that two of the most important lessons human beings can/should learn are: a) how to take care of themselves, and b) how to ask for help from others. In our culture, however, asking for help is viewed as such a sign of weakness, that the messaging boys and men receive is that they should resist with all their might even being aware of what they need, let alone asking for those needs to be met. And in lieu of doing so, they become focused instead on what they want, and then those wants get redefined as needs, which leads to a destructive sense of entitlement that has sometimes terrible consequences for themselves and everyone around them.

Men don’t need to rape women. But they’re told that their desire for sex is so natural and so powerful that of course they can’t be expected to contain it in the face of the provocation of all the whores out there. (And yes, of course rape is about all sorts of things, but I think it originates with a sense of entitlement to take what the rapist wants, in an exercise of power.)

Human beings do need connection. We are social animals. But we elide our need for connection with the want of having that connection be made and maintained with a particular person in the way we want it. And we respond to that elision in different ways. Men who are socialized never to admit or communicate what they actually need then sometimes just take what they want because that is the tool they’ve been taught and the tool they’ve exercised. And that is the Asshole side of the equation.

And other men who have been socialized never to admit or communicate what they actually need then sometimes pretend everything is fine while burning with building resentment; or they entirely suppress their awareness of their own needs; or they attempt to redirect those needs into a channel that feels safe to them. And that is the Wimp side of the equation.

As I said above, I believe that the answer to the gender dichotomies presented by society in the polarized characterizations and expectations of men and women is not to try to find a place of balance in between the two extremes (which is truly impossible to do, and equally limiting). Instead, we have to walk away from that construction altogether. But doing so is incredibly difficult, and cannot ever be totally managed. Patriarchy is the air we breathe, after all.

I think it takes incredible emotional courage, strength of will, psychological fortitude, and consistently practiced self-awareness to reject these paradigms.

For me, self-reliance in men looks so different than it has been characterized: it can be seen in a man who can and will put in the effort to be self-aware using both mind and heart to gain that self-awareness; it can be seen in a man who can and does communicate what he needs and wants, accepting that no one person can meet all those needs and/or wants, or is obliged to do so; it can be seen in a man who will allow and encourage other men and boys to explore the full range of their humanity; it can be seen in a man who listens to hear and not to rebut the voices of women and girls; it is a man who will stand up for himself without knocking others down.

We need to be having conversations about what we need, what we want, and what will work in any given situation and relationship. And we have to honestly state those wants and needs before we can move to practical, fair, and balanced solutions to the inevitable conflicts we humans experience.

Men, please say what you need and want. And be prepared for the fact you may not get it. But it is SO MUCH EASIER to figure out what to do with all the relevant data on the table.

Thank you. This has been my personal PSA for the week.

Body image lessons by way of my children

I learned in 3rd grade that I was ugly. I may have suspected it before then, but it was confirmed in the sing-song tones of childish torment that told me I was fat. And I needed no one to tell me that fat=ugly.

Humans come in so many different shapes and sizes. Some people are angular; some people are curved; some people are a mixture.

I am round. I have round arms and legs, round belly, round butt cheeks. No matter what I weigh overall, my body is curved. From very, very early on I learned that I didn’t fit, that I spilled over in ways that should rightfully embarrass me, that my body was shameful and something I should not inflict on other people any more than I had to.

And not too long after that, I learned that it was my fault. I was greedy. I ate too much. I was morally inferior, and it was showed plainly in the shape of the body I inhabited. By the time I was in 7th grade I had come to hate my body. Anyone who told me different was obviously lying, either from spite or in a misguided attempt to make me feel better about myself.

A high school relationship not grounded in consent or good communication did further damage, and by the time I got to college I literally could not feel touch or receive love or appreciation. Stomach churning with my terror of intimacy, I vomited during or after more than one date.

Now, at the ripe old age of 48, I have, by dint of ongoing work, come light-years from that place. I can look in the mirror at myself, and not only not recoil in disgust at the sight of all that fat (as I did for long, long decades), I can see beauty, vitality, evidence of the way I love and move and act in the world. I can see thick wavy hair, dark eyes, strong legs, capable hands, a bountiful chest, and even, sometimes, a belly that stretched and increased in capacity to nurture three human beings in two pregnancies, and whose skin is a map of those gifts.

My two youngest are twins. They are very different from each other, though when we brought them home from the hospital we put fingernail polish on J’s nail so we could be sure that we didn’t get them mixed up. At that time they were alike in their tiny-old-man wrinkled hairlessness, very similar in weight. Now, they are growing into very different bodies and temperaments.

J is taller, slender, lighter-haired, elfin. E is shorter, rounder, darker, powerful.

Looking at E this morning, I realized that her arms are a smaller replica of mine. Her limbs are sturdy, like mine. J’s arms and legs are longer and not just thinner, but a different shape altogether. She has lines where her sisters have curves.

There is a part of me which has really struggled, seeing H, my older daughter, develop a body like mine, too. That self-hating, fat-phobic piece of me which is desperate to see thin rather than thick legs, a flat belly rather than one which is round. I must have compassion for that piece of me, wounded so early and so deeply.

They all eat the same thing, a pretty healthy diet which prioritizes vegetables and protein over carbs.

They look different. They have different bodies. This has nothing to do with failure or weakness. They are different. I was the plump person in a family of thin people. I was not worse. I was just different.

This morning I had an orchestra rehearsal. Walking back to my car carrying my cello in the sunshine, I could access gratitude for my body, with which I make music, hug my friends and family, cuddle my children, make love with my partner, see blue sky, hear birdsong, feel the textures of my clothing, make and taste food. My body, which tells me when I need food or rest, which carries me and nurtures me. My body, which I can decorate. My body, which houses my heart and mind and spirit. My body, which is beautiful with life and vitality, tenderness and expression. I need to keep listening to my body, caring for my body, appreciating my body rather than taking it for granted.

I owe myself just as much love as I wish to offer my children. And while my children do not owe me love, they offer me loving lessons every day. I am grateful for their presence and their authenticity.

Nevertheless, She Persisted

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This phrase feels so powerful for a number of reasons, including that it is an accurate tagline for me. I persist. It has been an attribute, a behavior pattern, a tendency of mine since I was little. Along with it comes courage, bull-headedness, clarity of vision, fear, blindness, determination, an ability to see the big picture, an aptitude for analysis, strong intuition, desperation, hope, confidence, belief.

We are all such complicated, conflicting, sometimes beautiful mixtures of attributes and actions.

Persistence is what we need to teach and encourage in our children, especially our girls. Research shows that girls respond to a (learned) belief in innate characteristics by giving up when they don’t succeed “fast enough”.

One thing factor that contributes to girls’ learning and ability to develop patterns of persistence is having role models in the form of women in positions of power, women who persist, women who are able to tackle problems and move forward because of or despite those challenges.

I thank the universe for the rough grace of Elizabeth Warren. And I am proud of myself. And I will keep persisting, keep resisting, and stay committed to my values and my heart.

Shock, awe, and blindness in reaction to the loss of Madam President

There are so many things to be said about election night. I haven’t thought about more than a fraction of them, let alone come to any conclusions. But one thing came to me tonight I wanted to write down.

One of the biggest privileges there is in a society is to have the space and room and right to just be. To just be oneself without coercion, constriction. To be assured attention and respect, to be granted significance and relevance for just existing.

These are things that accompany life as a white man (I know, I know, not all men all the time; please, just wait and hear me out.) The reverse is true for minorities and for women, and for children, especially non-white-male kids. From my perspective as a woman, living life in a society which willfully and with malicious intent refuses to acknowledge the existence of more than a narrow slice of who I am, of who women are, takes an immense amount of energy. It takes energy to absorb or deflect daily patronizing communication, aggression, dismissiveness, arrogance, violence, and just the sheer insistence of many men that you make room for their opinions regardless of your comfort level, interest, or need in the moment. It takes energy to hear, for the millionth time, that the real reason there is any sort of issue happening is that you, a woman, are having an emotion. And by default that emotion is messy and inappropriate, because ewwww feelings. There are about a billion other examples, but I am too tired to come up with them.

The fact that women generally speaking apologize way, way, way too much? It’s not frivolous! It’s not random! It’s training and feedback. The pushback that women get for just having an opinion and daring to express it is sometimes incredibly fierce. And if a women so much as mentions that pushback, it intensifies with sometimes scary rapidity.

So.

No or very few role models. A tiny fraction of speaking roles for women in movies, the majority of roles being decoration/girlfriend/way to show man’s relatable flawed nobility. So few women in power. Woman drama = men/baby/rape. Intense and punishing beauty standard. etc. etc.

I see movies and I howl with the anguish of the fact that in popular culture it is impossible that someone like me could be viewed as possessing full humanity, let alone be allowed to express it.

I am human. But the barrage of messaging I receive daily is in contradiction of that fact.

I want to have the space to be me. I want to be able to be me without pushback ranging from merely weird to annoying to scary to violent. I want to live in a world where simply saying, “No thank you” to a date doesn’t mean weeks and weeks of cold sabotage from a colleague. I want to live in a world where expressing my opinion in anything other than a carefully modulated tone is received as being emotional and therefore instantly dismissed. I want to live in a world where I don’t have to watch my friends and I be berated, told that we’re oppressing men, disrespected, simply for setting a conversational boundary along the lines of, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t talk about that right now.”

The idea that we were on the verge of having our first woman President, and a woman who had the audacity to state that women’s rights are human rights, was extraordinary and exhilarating. I didn’t realize it until the catastrophe of Tuesday night, but I was already stretching and spreading, already expanding my lungs, already starting to send tendrils of myself out into areas of thought and expression I’d (with damn good reason) blocked myself from for decades. I was already anticipating a greater societal space being opened for me to be me with greater safety, acceptance, and even appreciation. I was beginning to communicate more directly with less fear and caution or defensiveness, with more clarity and ease.

I realized all that as my teeth were kicked in right before I got shoved violently all the way back into the cage. It is a cage built of fear and microaggressions. It is a cage constructed, like a placenta, dually by society and by me. Its bars are made of things like holding keys in your hand so that you have a weapon if someone attacks you as you walk to your car at night; the internal debate about whether to smile back when some guy demands your attention on the street and risk being called a bitch (or way, way worse) if you don’t comply. Again, there are a million examples, but I am just too fatigued to list them all, and definitely too tired to be carefully eloquent.

I thought I was going to be able to breathe, but here I am, air moving in and out, but not enough, looking through the bars, yearning, feeling defeated and betrayed.

And. This is only one cage. There are so many. And they interlock. And as a middle class white person I am to varying degrees complicit and responsible and involved in the creation of others.

52% of white women. 52% voted for Trump. More than half. Racism trumped the sisterhood. It is such a betrayal. And I definitely feel scales falling from my eyes.

I am human; they will re-collect and I’ll have to take them off again. And again. But this is evidence so clear.

And it’s not only racism. It’s internalized misogyny, self-hatred. Women sucking down those messages about inadequacy. By 6th grade girls and boys no longer have equal presidential ambitions. And if a little girl things, “Not me,” she also must think, “Not her”. And, “Not them.”

I had a conversation with my AP English teacher in high school once. She said a few things that have stuck with me, having to do with reasons that I had a hard time socially. She summed it up this way: I talked in class and was unrelentingly honest; the boys didn’t like that, and the girls liked the boys and therefore didn’t like it either. I am sure there are oversimplifications in that statement. But damn, it rang true. My manner, my style, my self, did not fit. I was always, always too much. At home, at school, in life.

Of course there’s more to it than sexism. But it plays a role. How many times have girls, taught from the cradle to value boys’ time and attention above all else, overlooked or dismissed or underestimated the value of the girls in their lives? How many fathers have been praised as heroes for simply wiping a baby’s butt or taking their kids to the grocery store, or even, gasp, cooking dinner, when moms’ contributions are invisible except when they’re being criticized?

Men and boys are valued more in our society. And it’s not even something a lot of them notice. It is in the air they breathe. It is an invisible entitlement. Until you say no, or not now, or god forbid, I don’t like you, or you’re incompetent.

Women are trained to value primarily what is happening romantically in other women’s lives. It is often the first or only thing that is asked about. Yes, I know. Not all women, not all the time. But it’s a pattern. I hear so many comments about my girls’ appearance, their dresses, their cuteness. Who ever asks them what books they like to read? Who asks them what sports they like to play? Who asks them what they want to be when they grow up? Almost no one.

Of course women don’t think a woman should be president.

And then there’s the racism. Van Jones referred to a “whitelash” to President Obama’s 8 years in office. It is stunningly, obviously true. And I think the idea, to some people, that a black president would be followed by a woman president, that we might have 16 years of feminazi PC bullshit in the White House, was abhorrent.

Holy shit. Talk about cages. If President Obama were to evince a tiny, tiny fraction of the rage Trump trades in, he’d have been politically eviscerated. Black men are automatically perceived as dangerous. Women are automatically perceived as less capable. In order to just open your damn mouth you have to fight to get out of the cage. And it’s often not even really possible to do so.

So you massage your language, attempt to come up with acceptable content and presentation that won’t scare or offend or anger anyone, hoping that with this sort of stealthy craft the content will get in, make it through the eardrums and into the grey matter, and be considered for itself, on its own merits.

It’s laughable. And it leads to dishonesty, inauthenticity, stress, strain, dissociation.

I want to be free. I want my black and brown fellow citizens to be free. I want every person to be able to stand in the air under the sky, themselves, to face difficulty and trauma and joy and tedium and all that makes up life, without having to massage their personhood into a bland enough container that it won’t offend white male sensibilities.

I thought we were on the road. (I realize that we are on the road. But that’s a later stage/post.) As a woman, I am shocked and wounded. As a white person with some knowledge, I have to admit that I was not seeing clearly. I have work to do. I am not innocent. No one is.

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

A final note: my loving and caring partner sent me this piece. Being cared for, being seen, being understood, being supported; it doesn’t get much better than that. I am grateful for my loved ones, and for the communities and relationships in which these topics can be discussed and compassion and love flow with mutual goodwill.

PMSing my way to self-love

I’m off my game today. It’s been like that since I got up this morning. We were interviewing a potential new nanny. We made opposite assumptions: hers involved an AM and ours involved a PM. So she showed up when I was still in bed, and we did the interview with me in my bathrobe. We asked questions. She asked a few questions. We told her about our family. She told us tidbits of her experience. It wasn’t an exchange that sparkled.

Then I made some breakfast, but realized as I was making it that I had to be leaving in under 20 minutes. I got a couple of bites in, but wasn’t really ready to eat. I talked with our nanny, part of my brain constantly in resistance to the knowledge that I really needed to get out the door.

I made it to rehearsal in the nick of time. And then…

You know how in the presidential debates Donald Trump liked to stand there and say, “Wrong!” “Wrong!” “Wrong!” while Hillary Clinton was talking? That was happening in the interior of my skull today. I hate getting into that emotional space, where I wind up flinching away from mistakes and with each one the volume of my internal criticism rises to peaks of insulting derision so that I stumble from shame to shame and the betrayal of my hands.

Hillary Clinton is a world-class master in maintaining her composure no matter what is being thrown her way (a mastery built through devastating experience in which people other than herself exposed her private vulnerability to public view and then attempted to personalize every possible aspect of her life, whether it was in the public sphere or not).

Unfortunately for me, I sometimes make the mistake of attempting to substitute suppression for self-centering. And so, instead of gaining a real composure, I just get tighter and tighter and tighter, and it gets harder and harder to play. And then I’m more likely to make mistakes. And, as well, I’m more likely to assume that anything I hear that’s off is my fault. And pretty soon what I can mainly hear is that nasty voice shrieking, “Loser!” in my inner ear.

That lasted for the entire 2.5 hours of rehearsal today.

*sigh*

Then I came home and discovered that I’d gotten my period, something which has become a lot less predictable in the past year as I’ve apparently entered perimenopause.

Here was my (typical) sequence of thoughts.

Inner adult: “Oh, no wonder!”

Inner parent: “You’re just making excuses for your terrible playing.”

Inner adult: “But no wonder I was feeling so emotionally destabilized; that sometimes happens when I get my cycle.”

Inner parent: “Really, just stop making excuses.”

Inner parent: “And besides, you can’t admit that reality. That will just add fuel to the fire. You’ll just prove it. You know, that thing that women are unreliable and can’t be trusted because ew. Because, you know, periods. You know, women turn into crazy bitches at that time of the month. So just suck it up and practice more so you don’t suck so much next time.”

Inner child: crying

Of course, all through this I am aware that I’m being really harsh with myself. I have not entirely lost my perspective. But it is enlightening. On the one hand, roughly half of the population spends decades bleeding on average once a month. It’s a human experience. But it is one of the experiences which in patriarchy is very othering, and which ranges from annoying to mortally dangerous, depending partly on where you live in the world. And there is this tension between on the one hand wanting to be honest about one’s experience in a female body, and on the other, hating to give one iota of energy to the trope of the bitchy woman on the rag.

We all have bad days. We all have times where things are not clicking or flowing right (so to speak). But the experience of women in this instance, and minorities in general, is that a behavior one exhibits carries inappropriate weight because it’s used to justify a cultural narrative. And so, black men, for example, are hugely pressured to police their expressions and behavior lest a white person feel threatened and add that experience to the heap of supposed evidence that black men are violent and dangerous. And women are hugely pressured not to express emotions, because doing so might add to the supposed evidence that women are emotional and irrational and unreliable.

Hillary Clinton, in the 2008 primaries, allowed a tear to roll down her cheek. The endless, awful analysis went on and on and on. (Here is one sample.) It literally doesn’t matter how she comports herself. It is never right. Never acceptable. Never enough. Never too little. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

And that is how it sometimes feels to be a woman in this society.

I learned early to hate myself in ways that crippled me. This was due to a combination of factors, including societal messaging, school environment, and family patterns. I can be incredibly nasty to myself. I am only beginning to unpack why the reclamation of “nasty woman” has felt so empowering for me, but I think this is part of it. Donald Trump outright rejects the validity and standing of half the human species (way more than half, of course, when you take into account his feelings about anyone who’s not a “successful” white man). Claiming my nastiness feels like claiming my whole self, refusing to chop myself into little pieces in order to be more acceptable to others and to myself.

This nasty woman still bleeds every several weeks. And cries. And works hard. And will continue working hard. And this nasty woman is learning, slowly, to love herself.

Ghostbusters!

I saw the new “Ghostbusters” tonight. I came out of the theater glowing, so happy I felt it sparking through my body, off my skin, lighting me from head to toe. Four women. Four women! FOUR WOMEN! Leading the film! Not talking about relationships! The dramatic tension in the movie was NOT about a relationship with a man! Four funny women taking out the paranormal trash!

Was the movie perfect? No, of course not. But I laughed out loud many times. I got my jolt of nostalgia through listening to the music and the visual style of the ghosts. And I was incandescently happy about the lack of sexy-woman-ness in the movie. Oh god, it was so wonderful.

NO FAT JOKES! Not a one. Women eating, joking, getting to know each other. Women screwing up, women being smart, women running but not in an unrealistic superhero way, women getting shit done, and nary a bikini in sight.

It is literally impossible for me to convey how much all that meant to me. It’s like being told, finally, that I get to be a real person. That will be impossible for many people to understand. But the total and complete absence of anyone of my gender who looks like me NOT being the butt of jokes through the movie, or of pity. Oh my god.

I loved “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in a lot of ways. But even Buffy stayed pretty hip by nice tight jowl inside the universe of our screwed up beauty standard. And a lot of the tension in that show was built with more or less standard tropes, having to do with Buffy’s feelings about the various boys and men in her life.

Melissa McCarthy is only 2 years younger than I am. Kristen Wiig is 3 years younger than Melissa. Leslie Jones is my age. My god. Middle-aged, competent, funny, brave, interesting, smart women kicking ass.

Nostalgia is powerful. The patriarchy is yet more powerful, enormously so. Seeing this movie starts to show me how deeply I have absorbed the message that only men can be authoritative, funny, creative, believable, and *real* in that authentic, representative of the human species way. I can feel that programming resisting the data in front of my eyes. When humor, language, physical presentation, emotive expression, and style are all placed inside small, predictable boxes, it becomes hard to even recognize anything else. I remember the first time I had milk fresh from a cow. I was 14 years old. We were staying on a farm B&B in Cornwall. I didn’t like it. It tasted nothing like what came out of our plastic white jugs at home. It was warm, and so strong-tasting. Ew, I thought. It took a few days for my taste-buds to start adapting, for my expectations to change, for my mind and body to open to new experience.

Watching this movie, watching the few others I have seen where the female lead is not driven by romantic love or sexual trauma, and especially where the female lead is doing comedy, has been a similar experience. I almost cannot recognize the material. It is immediately filed away in my brain as not-right, less-than.

In fairy tales, the heroine is (at least in the books of my childhood) almost exclusively the youngest and the prettiest and the sweetest girl. Those stories were always about someone else. The rewards were unreachable, and the lessons learned directed at others. I never imagined myself as the heroine. How could I? I was none of those things.

Movies are even worse. There is visual evidence that people of interest, people to whom we are meant to relate, are in a category and class entirely unreachable by me. I’ve written about that before on this blog.

And so the reaction I describe above seems to me to be to be a societal definition of girl- and woman-hood that excludes everyone else, creating self-hatred, which is then directed outward again at any sort of cultural/artistic expression which counters it or provides an alternative vision.

The sexist backlash against this movie has been predictable and disgusting. Some people act like the makers of this movie and desecrating an altar, reaching into their minds and ruining their memories. And the racist backlash has been even more awful: Leslie Jones felt it necessary to leave Twitter due to the horrific things being tweeted her way. (http://fusion.net/story/327103/leslie-jones-twitter-racism/) The violent, violating, infantile fury of people who want a white world of strong white men and sexy white women is a thing that damages people every day. It must be resisted every day. I think many people forget the necessity of resistance, because it’s the water we all swim in, and it’s made that way, to corrupt and divide and vanish into the murk when challenged.

And so, we give into self- and other-hatred, we dismiss, we acquiesce, we judge.

But I have had experiences where I feel the scales falling from my eyes, where I stretch and breathe and get a different sort of oxygen in my lungs. Spending time in dyke bars does that for me. Spending long and intensive time with women does that for me. Sometimes in a great while a book does that for me. And I am going to watch this movie over and over until I can chuck the societal definitions screaming in my head, and take in what is before my eyes, let it sink in.

A place where someone like me can be fully human.

I saw the movie with a friend who is 22 years my junior. I have known her for 15 years, since she was in elementary school. When the original movie came out I was in my mid-teens, 10 years younger than she is now. The world was a different place then; I was very different then. Being a private cello teacher, I’ve had the chance over the past couple of decades to watch quite a number of kids grow up. I have been so happy to see how many of my female students are involved in sports, reaping the benefits of a more vigorously enforced Title IV. My friend has had since she was a kid a stronger sense of herself and her capabilities than I did when I was a kid, partly due to family environment, and partly to personality. But also, though it’s not linear and there are definitely ways in which things have gotten the opposite of better (gender expression polarization, for example, and the toxic explosion of pink-beauty-princess-defined girlhood), there have been real gains made too which I see manifested in her life and the lives of my students.

Being able to have a feminist joy-fest with her, to share the laughs and the joys with her, was a special gift.

My 7-year-old has been picking up on the pretty significant gender disparity in media and books. She notices. And that is a great thing. I tell her what I think about it, but I cannot tell her what to think about it, not really. What I want is for her to notice. She’s starting to notice the media white-wash, too. I told her this afternoon that I was going to see the movie. I told her I was really excited about it, because it was a remake of one I’d seen when I was a kid, and this one was 4 women. She said, “Oh, and it was all men before?” I said that yes, it was. “And,” she said, “was it all white people?” Yes, I said, it was.

Right now, though I am terrified, horrified, agonized about many things happening in the world, I do believe that change is possible. It is possible to re-learn. It is possible to prioritize justice and love and collaboration. And to do so one has to live it every day. And one has to forgive oneself for the thousands of times one fails to do so.

This movie makes me want to shout and punch things and dance and laugh and conquer and learn and grow.

Thank you to everyone who made it.

The value of music, and of being a musician

In my darker moments, sometimes I start thinking that being a professional musician (in the way I am currently doing it) is an inherently selfish act. Why?

Because I love what I do, and I often don’t get paid for doing it (the performing and the practicing).
Because I could be spending that time with my kids, who miss me when I’m gone.
Because I don’t play for an established large symphony, with a salary and benefits, which would help support my family in addition to the teaching I do.
Because there are lots of much better cellists in the world performing the repertoire I’m performing, and doing a better job of it, so really, who does it benefit for me to be inadequately replicating their efforts?
Because music is not important in the way medicine is, or teaching kids in school. It’s a cultural accessory. Should I really be devoting so much of my time and energy to it?

There are other areas of my mind and heart which recognize the fallacies in the statements above. But in a society which is so focused on money, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of thinking that my worth is inextricably tied to my income, and the ways in which I make that income.

Ted, bless his heart, has started referring to my practice as work when he talks to the kids. He has explained that he believes it needs to be perceived as work, just as much as my teaching hours. So, the other day when I said I was going to go practice, he said to the kids, pointedly, “Yes, Mommy is going to go to work.” His support makes me cry tears of joy, and also of grief for the message I have received in so many other ways that what I do is not really that important. My practice hours have always been the schedule item that most easily falls off the schedule, deprioritized in favor of kids’ appointments, family business & logistics, etc. Also, I am a procrastinator, and so there’s the layer of resistance I feel, the tendency I have to fight to want to go to bed or relax when I have time with childcare, instead of practicing. Because of that latter internal struggle, I am even more apt to blame myself, or to view practicing as a luxury, or something that’s not really crucial in the broader picture. Sexism plays a role here, too; this is an inner narrative to which I am sure a lot of women can relate.

I talk to my students sometimes about the role music can play in their lives lifelong, and I believe in what I say. I believe in the curative, inspirational, meditative, restorative, intellectually and emotionally and physically and spiritually impactful and interweaving powers of music. I believe that it expands our minds and hearts and souls, and that a society that does not highly value art and artists is impoverished in important ways. I believe it affects us holistically, that being involved with music is more than receiving and giving pleasure, that it can help us re-join the disparate parts of ourselves. I believe all of that.

And I also believe that my unique voice, my unique combination of training and heart and mind and intention, is important. I believe that I can contribute something important.

I will always have that internal despair that can yell or whisper or sneer that I am a loser and that what I’m doing doesn’t matter. But I do have examples large and small of the ways in which music has changed people’s lives, in the moment or the hour or the forever. And I need to hold onto those.

I’d love to see readers’ comments with your stories of your relationship with music and what it means to you. Let’s add to the cultural narrative in a positive way, in this, a tiny corner of the internet.

Thanks for reading!