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.

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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.

Birthday smoothies, unconscious sexism, Mommy-Hazel time

Today we shared birthday smoothies with my friend A, whose shares a birthday month with Hazel. We had a lovely time hanging out, watching the kids and cats play. That was a fantastic way to have a relaxed, sociable morning. After our friends left, our nanny took the twins so that Hazel and I could have a bit of time together. She’s been wanting a picture of her sisters and the cats to take to school, so we designed a little Word doc poster with the four pictures on it. That was a fun thing to do together.

Then we went off to her swim lesson, where I externalized the thoughts I had upon hearing the (substitute) teacher ask each little boy which superhero he wanted to be, and each little girl which princess she wanted to be before jumping into the water. I had subsequent conversation with a couple of the other mothers there. On the way out, I suggested to the (nice) guy at the desk that perhaps the teachers could ask the girls what superheroes they wanted to be, and not restrict them to princesses. He smiled genuinely, said it was a good idea, and that he would pass it along. Micro-aggression number 5 billion, countered with, I think reasonableness and politeness. I’ll dust off my feminist cape and get it ready to fly again tomorrow.

When we got home I shared some lunch with Hazel, and read her a couple of books before sending her upstairs to take a nap. And after I finished teaching tonight, Hazel and I took some time to do piano practice. She reminded me. We picked two measures to work on, and when we finished those she wanted to play through the whole piece. I think practicing every day will help immensely. Yes, I know. As a private music teacher I already knew that. But it’s always nice to have one’s parental theory born out in practice, so to speak.

The sun shone today, and we reveled in it. The twins toddled around in front of our house, and Hazel climbed a tree. Spring cometh!

wardrobe editing, and safety concerns

cherry trees in neighborhood
Today I was facebooking, as it were, and I saw a picture of a pair of shoes decorated by a friend of mine for her daughter. They are beautiful, exquisitely done, as is all her work. They also gave me an idea. Ah ha! I thought, diabolically. I will take the advice of Peggy Orenstein, and fight fun with fun. So, later on in the day, with Hazel sitting cuddled up in my lap, I showed her the picture. Within about 2 minutes, she said, “I want shoes like those!” And so, with that set-up, we segued neatly into the discussion about her “special shoes”, the ones with heels, and the amount of pink in her wardrobe.

It was easy. I told her that her daddy and I didn’t think that heels are good for your body, and so we were going to need to get rid of those shoes. But we’d see if we could get shoes like the ones in the picture for her. And we also had let things slide too much, and had wound up with too much pink in her wardrobe. Daddy and I don’t like how pink is used to sell things to people that they don’t need, and we think that it’s used to make girls not want to play games that boys play, and vice versa. So, we’re sorry, but we’re going to have to get rid of some of the pink things. Because we’ve made the mistake by allowing all that stuff in, we’ll make it up to her by going to the store and letting her pick new things in replacement of the ones that are going away.

“Ok.” short pause. “Hey, did you see the toys I brought home from the birthday party?”

Of course, we’ll see what happens tomorrow when we actually do it….

—–

This morning we took the kids to the stonehenge-inspired water fountain we love. Hazel loves water as much as I do, and had I not been plagued with a head cold, I would probably have run in and out of the water with her. As it was, I walked around it and dipped my toes in. It was such a fantastically beautiful day there were lots of people out and about. Hazel didn’t want to put her (soaked) clothing back on when we went from that fountain to her other favorite one nearby, so we walked through the mall with her dancing around us in nothing but undies. At the second fountain there was a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy out with her 2-year-old son. Hazel’s example inspired him to get pretty soaked, so we offered her a spare towel for him. She took us up on it. We’ll go back this summer when it’s really warm and let the twins toddle around in the water too.

Doing things like that, I often find that different voices are warring (sometimes quite loudly) in my head: the propriety/what-will-other-people-think voice is busy lecturing, judging, taking exception, projecting terrible consequences, and generally attempting to throw cold water (so to speak) on the day; and on the other hand, my UK- and liberal-USA-city-inspired childhood voice is delighting in Hazel’s confidence and freedom from stuck-in-the-box thinking. Sometimes it’s pretty hard to untangle real safety concerns from the narratives that are held over our heads every day in the media. At the second fountain there was a guy just a few feet away from us who started videotaping Hazel playing in the water. It freaked both of us out, but we didn’t know what to do. I mean, do you instantly call your daughter over, throw a towel around her, and tell her it’s time to go? Do you challenge the guy and ask what he’s doing? Do you assume bad motivations or good? He didn’t *seem* creepy, but that doesn’t really mean much.

It does make me think about the extent to which we’re trained to not act on our instincts. It also makes me think about the extent to which our “instinctive” reactions are informed by a relentless media narrative that inspires fear. Consider the “Stand Your Ground” legislation in Florida, which has allowed people to kill other people and get off scott-free because of their claims that they felt afraid. To be a bit flip about a topic which is anything but, I prefer a stereotypically feline rather than a canine response. In other words, if something feels off, yowl menacingly and then run away rather than growling menacingly and then attacking.

This is a challenging issue for me as a parent. The protective instinct (there’s that word again) is so strong, that it can take me quite a while to process it, think about my options, and then try to decide what to do. By the time I’ve gotten to that point, the moment will more often than not have passed. Having thought more about this morning’s instance, I now wish I’d politely asked the guy to turn off his camera. But in the moment, I just knew I was uncomfortable, and then judged myself for feeling that way.

Ugh, this parenting gig is hard.

—–

To end on a nicer note, I took a solo walk this afternoon when Ted had all three kids. We’re having rather spectacular weather right now, and I spent quite a while lingering under some cherry trees, taking pictures, breathing in their delicate scent, and appreciating their creamy blossoms set off by a backdrop of an evergreen tree next to them. It was a gift of a day.