I just learned a historical fact that blew my mind.
Matt is reading a book on the dark ages right now, and he told me that there is a paragraph describing that from ancient times, beer was made almost exclusively by women. But in the 1500s, men decided that they wanted to take over beer making as careers and set about putting the brewers known as “alewives” out of business. So they called them witches and drove them out beer making. Here is a video that shows how the details we associate with witches, such as brooms and cats, directly came from the legacy of the alewives.
So interesting! Makes me want to go buy another pumpkin, carve the word “Patriarchy” on it, and smash that motherfucker.
To be honest, they are in a different neighborhood but I couldn’t think of a word for someone else that lives in your city but not on your block. Citymate? Neighboring-neighbor? I dunno. But I think of them as the owners of the Halloween House and I have to go by to see what they have come up with every year. (I’ve blogged about them a time or two before.) I think this is my favorite so far; they have really outdone themselves. One of these days I need to stop when someone is in the yard. I have so many questions! Mostly to do with budget and storage.
To be a little more honest, I have one more Halloween decoration. It is five feet tall (just shorter than I am) and it looks like this:
The dogs’ names are (from left to right) Zero, Maxwell Silver-hammer, and Queequeg. (I name everything, by the way. I originally named the parrot and cat skeletons Polly and Pyewacket, but only to myself. Then, on a whim, I asked Ethan what he thought their names should be and he said, without hesitation, “Pierical,” pointing at the parrot, and “Port Jackson,” pointing at the cat. So, obviously, those are their names now. He said he didn’t know where he got the ideas for his names but clearly we were both feeling the letter “P.”) I bought the inflatable dogs last year after the fellas moved in because I wanted to make sure we had a fun yard for Ethan and the neighborhood kids. And also because, dogs.
Months later, long after Halloween, one of my neighbors stopped me to say hi and she mentioned the big dogs. She said that her daughter loved them. “And I mean, she loved them. One day, we came home and they were deflated and she started to cry. ‘They’re dead! ‘They’re dead!’ I couldn’t console her!”
“Oh, I’m sorry! I was unplugging it during the day to save power. But you know, they are ghost dogs. So, technically, they were dead the whole time.”
My neighbor responded with that blank look that translates as a reminder to socially awkward people to avoid face to face contact in the future.
At any rate, they are back up for the holiday. And I haven’t unplugged them this year. Not even once.
I was hiking with Matt the other day. I wasn’t supposed to be free that day. I was going to a baby shower and Matt was planning to hike on his own. Then, a few days before the shower, my friend went into labor and the shower has been postponed, indefinitely. With one extra guest. So I went hiking instead.
We were walking up a trail and I was thinking about my friend and her new baby girl, who hadn’t yet been named. Matt made the comment that the terrain we were hiking through looked like the area where the show Deadwood was shot. I agreed, and that make me think about the character Trixie. Because I was already thinking about names, I started to think that I’ve never known anyone named Trixie, and I wondered if there were ever serious women named Trixie before the name got reserved for the hooker with the heart of gold living in a western town archetype. I would think that would have been maddening, to be a socialite or philanthropist with the name Beatrix “Trixie” LaRue and everyone sniggering behind your back, no matter how many tasteful paintings by starving artists that you bought. That thought made me want someone to do a social experiment where they name a kid a ruined hooker name like Brandy or Cinnamon and then send her out in the world to see if she can get a PhD, because I bet she can’t. That is when I decided Cokie Roberts was probably born “Cookie” Roberts, but then one day, she realized she was going to write books and argue with distinguished men on TV so she changed her name. Then, every time someone accidently called her a name synonymous with little dismissive discs of sugar and frosting, she would yell, “It’s Cokie! Like ‘cocaine.’ Got it? “And then she would throw a hairbrush at their head. Smart lady.
This has been a tour inside my head and thought processes. Thank you for taking it with me.
So, I chose the wrong time to start The Handmaid’s Tale. Jesus.
I wanted to hide from my phone. I knew that Brett Kavanaugh was going to be confirmed over the weekend, and I wanted to think about other things. I stayed in, I knitted, and I watched episodes of Handmaid. I emerged from my basement on Monday morning unsure of what year it was. Where am I, again? The black and white past? The red and white future? Oh, no. It’s just the dystopian present. Goddamn.
I can’t stop thinking about the episode where all the women are sent home from work because a law has been passed making illegal for them to have jobs or bank accounts. They decide to protest but discover it is too late; the moment to take a stand slipped by and they have been slowly “boiled to death in their bathtubs,” as June says.
It is so disturbing to think about. Where is all the progress that I thought women had made since 1991? There another credibly accused creep on the SCOTUS and a majority of Republicans polled said they supported the nominee even if the allegations against him were proved true. And now I’m reading that proposed restrictions to demonstrations at the White House and places on the National Mall are being considered. I don’t want to sound like an alarmist crazy person, but keep protesting while they let you. Watch the Handmaid’s Tale to see why I’m feeling urgency.
Last week, before I realized that the FDA investigation was a complete fraud, I kept thinking about Myra Bradwell, and wondering what she would think about all of this nuttiness. You’ve probably never heard of her, so here is a brief summary of her badass life.
Myra Colby was born in Vermont in 1831. After she completed her formal education at the age of 24, she became a school teacher. In 1852, Myra married a law student named James B. Bradwell. In 1855, they moved to Illinois where was admitted to the Chicago Bar and became a successful lawyer and judge. Myra was also interested in the law, but women were prohibited from attending law school. Instead, she studied under her husband and apprenticed in his law practice. She was quoted in the Chicago Tribune in 1889, saying:
“I acquired the idea [of studying law] from helping my husband in his office. I was always with him, helping in whatever way I could.… I believe that married people should share the same toil and the same interests and be separated in no way. It is the separation of interests and labor that develops people in opposite directions and makes them grow apart. If they worked side by side and thought side by side we would need no divorce courts.”
Maybe it is because I have always had boring jobs, but that seems like a terrible idea to me. If people don’t go off and do their own thing all day, then what do they talk about at night? “Oh, one of my co-workers made me so mad today…”
“I know. It was me.”
“Oh yeah! That was you! Did anything happen to you when you got out of my sight today?”
“In the men’s room? Not really.”
Then the sad couple would just go back to eating their peas in silence, I imagine. Until one of them would say, “I can’t stand it! I’m going for a walk. Maybe I’ll get lucky and be chased by a bear. I’ll tell you about it when I get back…”
Anyway, Myra put her private studies on hold when the Civil War broke out. She went to work for charities that raised money for sick and wounded Union soldiers. She eventually became the president of the Chicago Soldiers’ Aid Society. After the war she went back to her studies and in 1869 she passed the Illinois bar exam with high honors. She applied for a law license, but the Illinois State Supreme Court denied her application because, as a married woman, she could not lawfully enter into any legal contracts, which would be necessary for a practicing lawyer.
Myra continued to fight her case and appealed to the United States Supreme Court in 1873, but the lower court’s decision was upheld. It was the opinion of the highest court in the land that the 14th Amendment (equal protection) did not provide women with the right to practice a profession.
Furthermore, in the opinion of Associate Justice Joseph P. Bradley, “The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many occupations of civil life….The paramount destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign office of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator.”
So that was some bullshit, obviously. Myra Bradwell made no more attempts to gain her law license after that, but managed to stay busy. She helped to write the Illinois Married Women’s Property Act of 1861 and the Earnings Act of 1869, allowing married women gain control of their personal wealth. In 1968, she founded the Chicago Legal News. (Actually, she had to get her husband’s help to persuade the Illinois legislature to pass a special law so that she could edit and manage her own newspaper. They were really hung up on not letting married women work.) In time, it became the most widely read legal newspaper in the United States. The paper was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, but Myra rebuilt it and carried on.
Myra Bradwell was also a well-known suffragette. She helped (along with Lucy Stone and others) to form the American Women’s Suffrage Association in 1869. Myra insisted that equality for women was a non-partisan issue and fought to help women in other states attempting to study law and become lawyers.
In 1879, an anti-discrimination bill to allow women to practice in federal courts was passed and signed into law by President Rutherford B. Hayes. Though Myra Bradwell did not re-apply for her license, the Illinois State Supreme Court, acting on its own motion, approved the original application. (Feel a little guilty, there, Illinois?) It was the year 1890, 21 years after she had applied and four years before Myra Bradwell died of cancer in 1894.
Myra Colby Bradwell first popped into my head when Lindsey Graham histrionically asked, “What am I supposed to do, go ahead and ruin this guy’s life based on an accusation?”
Really? I thought. Tell that to Myra! Not getting your dream job is only “ruinous” to privileged and entitled people who are used to getting what they want. Many people have been denied the opportunity to pursue careers and interests for countless unfair reasons. And some people, like Myra Bradwell, still found ways to kick ass. One might even say, “she persisted.”
I wish I were writing this in a snarky way to “Judge Kavanagh,” after a failed vote left him off the highest court. “Take heart, little bean sprout,” I might have said. “Let Myra by your inspiration to rise above!”
But it didn’t go that way. Justice Kavanagh, to the manor born, has achieved his dreams despite all the credible accusations and his own disgraceful display in the final hearing. No snark for me. Not this week.
Instead, I’m still focused on Myra Bradwell because she reminds me that things have been worse. Yes, thing have not progressed as far as I wanted to believe. And maybe we have done some backsliding. But I don’t believe we have passed the point of no return. We are not yet Marthas and Handmaids to the end of democracy. Myra took her defeat, but then kept writing and working and pushing other women around her to achieve their own goals, and things got better. Not on its own, but because of the work of the people like Myra Colby Bradwell.
Defeat sucks, but it isn’t final. Justice Kavanagh may be on the court for forty years (God help us), but not forever. Damage will be done. Meanwhile, we will keep writing and working and encouraging one another. Take heart, dear sprouts! We will persist!
Last week, in the middle of the Supreme Court hullabaloo, I took a break from my computer and walked down the street to get lunch at a fast food taco place in my neighborhood. I put in my order and stepped out of the way to wait my turn when suddenly there was a young man in my space. He stepped toward me and put a piece of paper in my line of sight and said, “Hey, this is for you.”
I flinched. I was startled by the lack of introduction or transition of any kind and tried to avert my eyes, but then realized what I was seeing was a glossy professionally printed pamphlet with a picture of Jesus and the letters “LDS” across the top. “Oh,” I said, placing my hand to my throat and catching my breath. “No, thank you.”
The man gave me an expensively orthodontured smile and a quick nod of his blonde and blue-eyed head and went out the front door. For a second I almost went after him. I didn’t know what I would say. “Don’t do that!”? How could I possibly make him understand why? Did I even understand why? “Hey, haven’t you heard all the women in the nation are ‘triggered’ right now? Well, we are. So don’t jump out from behind Coke machines and Guerilla-Jesus them, maybe?”
Then, and every day since this incident at the taco store, I have returned to this thing that happened to me many years ago. It was the summer of 1997, before my 20th birthday. I was working on campus at the art museum and I had walked across campus to get change for the gift shop cash register. I was heading back and a man in a beater car pulled up next to me with the window down and asked me what time it was. I told him and he thanked me, but didn’t drive off. I didn’t think anything about it when I walked away but quickly realized he was following me. I picked up my pace, but before I could go far he plowed the car into a driveway in front of me, blocking my path. His window was still down and he was yelling at me. His penis was out of his shorts and in his hand. With his other hand he held up a pornographic magazine and asked me what I thought about it.
At the time I joked, “I think it was a photo of Pamela Anderson. That was the worst part.” But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was looking up at the parking lot in broad daylight on a beautiful summer afternoon and seeing lots of cars but no people. The worst part was knowing that my path forward was blocked and that if I ran back the way I came he would be able to follow me with his car and overtake me before I could get away down a path the car couldn’t follow. The worst part was knowing that this could and might get a lot worse, and that I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.
It was such a long time ago. I can still remember what I was wearing. I remember some general things about what he and his car looked like, and I remember feeling a sense of rising panic. I don’t remember deciding what I was going to do, but I do remember hopping over the hood of his car and running toward the stairs between the library and the Behavioral Science Building that led up to the art museum. I remember yelling over my shoulder as I ran, “You are sick! You need to get help!” and then later thinking, did I really say that? I’m so sure he went straight to a phone book to find a therapist, you Dork.
Maybe if you know me and you love me, you are thinking ‘she got out of the situation because she kept her head. She is smart. She is X and that that protected her from winding up like one of the girls who are Y.’
No. Wrong. I wasn’t physically harmed because I was lucky. That was all. But he still got what he wanted from me. He got off on frightening me. If he wanted to shock me with the photo or just scare me by reminding me that he could hurt me if he wanted to, it worked. It scared me. More than twenty years later, I picture that empty parking lot and it still scares me.
I’ve heard a lot of stories this week about women who did not report assaults or harassment in their past, and I did not intend to report this incident. But I got back to work and the security guard, who was watching the shop for me while I was gone, immediately saw from my face that something was wrong. I told her what had happened as a friend, not really thinking about it anything coming from it. She was the one who called the police. She had to; it was her job. They came and took a statement. A week later, an officer came back with postcards of photos (which I later learned from Harry Bosch novels is called a “six pack”) for me to look at to see if I could identify the man. I told her before we sat down in the main gallery of the museum to talk that I only saw him briefly and wasn’t sure if I would recognize him, but when she laid out the photos I was shocked by my certainty. There was no doubt in my mind as to which man had exposed himself to me.
The police officer did something like a joyous fist pump and shouted, “Yes! We got him!” I was surprised because I always watched too much TV and expected her to have more of a poker face, but she was elated. She told me that the same thing had happened to several women on campus and that they now had multiple victims identifying one suspect.
This next part is the hardest part of the story for me, the part that I’ve been grappling with for the past few days. For the next few months, I spoke with the officer a few more times on the phone. She was always very kind and sympathetic toward me, so much so that when I told her I didn’t want to testify, she just said, “I understand.” She didn’t even ask me to explain, even though I had prepared an explanation. I didn’t want to testify, because I was afraid. I was afraid that then he would have my name and he would know how to find me. I was afraid because I figured that there was a low chance that he would get “help” as I had urged him at the time and a high chance he would get no more than slap on the wrist from a judge. And I was afraid that this was a sick person who was working up the courage to do something much worse than what he had done so far. And I was in the phone book. But like I said, she didn’t ask. She hung up the phone I never heard from her again.
I remind myself now that I was very young when I made this decision. And that there were several other women who were willing to testify. My account probably wouldn’t have made a difference, even if it had gone to court, which it probably didn’t. If it had come down to it, if they had needed me, the officer would have called back and tried to talk me into doing my civic duty, right? But she didn’t. And maybe that guy did get some help. Or maybe he didn’t. Maybe he went on and hurt someone else, even if he didn’t get a second chance to hurt me. I will never know. I just know that when I see someone like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford tell her story in front of the world, I feel like a coward. And when I hear other people (men and women) speculate about what she could possibly remember, or how she could possibly still be affected by some bad behavior a few decades later, I shake with rage.
I walked home with my bag of tacos last week with my mind awash in emotions and angry thoughts. I was still trying to think what I could have told that young man with the rich-people teeth. The thing that really stuck in my craw was that I had said, “Thank you.” He frightened me – unintentionally and maybe with good intentions – but he frightened me. And I fucking thanked him! I’m so programmed to be polite and unburdensome that at forty-one years old I still treat every man I meet with deference and respect even when they get in my face uninvited and ruin my day.
I can’t articulate how angry I am right now. I can’t articulate to others in my life or even strangers what I need. I don’t know what to do with all this anger that I am feeling. And I know it isn’t just women who are angry, so please don’t bother reminding me. But I also don’t want men to read all these stories about ‘why I never reported’ and get too comfortable with the idea that they have been too sheltered to be an ally, either. I told the men in my life this story back in the 90s. I’ve shared many other stories about things that I have happened to me over the years with my partners and male friends. These are not secrets that the men in the world are just now finding out about; I don’t believe that for a minute. Many of them seem to be listening with new insight right now, and I am so grateful for that. Many are not and don’t seem to understand why we are suddenly changing the rules on them.
We aren’t. Nothing has changed. But we are angry. And we are insisting that everyone pay attention. I am changing one thing, though. I’m no longer thanking men just for not hurting me. That part of my life is done