Working Gals

A few years ago, I was dining alone in a nice restaurant in Irvine that had a cool hipster name like Figs & Branches or Peas & Bacon. I don’t know what it was. I was traveling for work (remember traveling? remember restaurants? *sigh*) and my boss recommended the spot. I got their early in the evening and had no trouble getting a table for one, but by the time I was finishing my meal the waiting area was packed with hungry foodies.

Suddenly, three Indian women appeared at my table. One confidently sat down and the other two hovered for a moment, watching my face for my reaction. The confident one said, “you don’t mind, do you? It’s too long of a wait and you look like you need company.” I was shocked, but also delighted. As an extreme introvert it can be refreshing (if startling) to have someone take all of the “let’s become friends” stuff away and just start an interesting small-talk-free conversation with you. I smiled and introduced myself and the other two women sat down.

They were younger than I was. I’m guessing mid to late twenties to my late thirties. Very quickly, we were discussing our parents expectations of marriage and children. The leader of the group (as far as getting them a table was concerned) was grousing about her mother’s bullying phone calls on the subject. Her sense of humor was wry and she didn’t seem to mind sharing details, so I told them about things my mom has said, as well as some of the questions I have been asked as a childless woman living in Utah. “I wonder who is worse about applying pressure to get married and have kids,” I asked, finishing my wine. “Mormons or Indians?”

“Oh, Indians, definitely,” the confident girl, who was unsurprisingly also the chattiest, said without hesitation. “If your parents are from India, not only to you have to get married and have children, you also have to become a doctor or a lawyer.” The other girls laughed but nodded in agreement.

This blew my mind. “You’re right,” I said. “That is different.”

My parents expected me to go to college, of course. And there was always pressure to do well in school. But I don’t remember there being pressure for me to take on a serious career. In fact, I remember once telling my dad that I wanted to be a veterinarian and he discouraged me. He thought it would be too much science and math and that I wouldn’t be able to handle destroying animals. He wasn’t wrong, but Jesus. I think I was 12. Another time, I was watching Who’s the Boss and I was mesmerized by the character of Angela and the idea that she was so independent and that she made enough money to have both a housekeeper AND and drive a Jaguar! I told my mom I was going to go into advertising. She told me that was a bad idea because it was too competitive. Again, probably not wrong, but I was a kid. Would it have hurt to say, “okay honey, just work hard and I’m sure you will do well!” or something like that.

As I have said before, my parents were actually the most progressive ones I knew in this arena. I knew another girl who, even with a 4.0, was discouraged by her parents to go to college as it would just be “a waste of money” when she didn’t need a degree to be a mom.

This popped into my head this weekend when I read this article from Newsweek. It’s about an early childhood education bill that was defeated in Idaho last week. One Republican representative quoted in the article explained his vote against the bill thusly: “I don’t think anybody does a better job than mothers in the home, and any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child, I don’t think that’s a good direction for us to be going.” He soon apologized, basically chalking up the speech to stage fright.

I admit that I don’t know what religion this man belongs to, but Idaho and Utah are very similar places, culturally. And anyway, this isn’t a Mormon problem. It is cultural problem. In my experience, growing up in this culture, there is little value placed on women who work and even less encouragement for women to find rewarding work. I hope it is better than when I was a kid, but it is still a problem. Utah has the second-worst pay gap between men and women right now. The worst state on this metric is Wyomming, another Mountain West state.

The most frustrating part of the article is it seems the representatives who are interviewed view women working outside the home as a tragic CHOICE that is a product of pressure from feminists, when fewer and fewer women have any choice about working for a paycheck. How out of touch are you, not to understand that?

Back at the Twig & Apricot (or whatever), I signed my check and got up to leave. The women asked me to stay. They even offered to buy me another glass of wine to thank me for the table, but I was ready to go. The manager stopped me on my way out and asked if those women just did what he thought they just did and if he should do anything to make it right, gesturing to my already settled check. “Oh no,” I said, waiving my hand limply for emphasis. “It’s fine. They are friends of mine. From work.”

As I went back to my hotel, I thought about how lucky I am to have found a good fit with my career. I like what a do, and every once in a while, they put me in a nice hotel, pay for a lovely meal, thereby creating an opportunities to meet new people who give me something to think about. I parked my rental car and went up to my room to do a little work before bed.

The Gatekeepers

I was in the 7th grade, sitting in class, when I heard my name called out over the intercom, directing me to go to the counselor’s office. I probably went either white or red, I don’t know. I just remember being paralytically shy in those years, and I remember the horror of having this attention directed toward me.

The school counselor, Mr. Larsen, asked me to sit down in his office and he got straight to the point. “I called you down because you made an error on your class registration form for next year. You signed up for shop instead of home-ec. Here, I just need you to fix it on the form…”

He knew it wasn’t a mistake. I knew he knew, because he had the same conversation with my older sister, Sarah, the year before, when she signed up for wood shop.

“No, that’s right,” I said, standing to go, but he wasn’t done with me. He argued that it wasn’t appropriate for me to take this masculine class, reflected on the wonderful experiences I would have in home-ec, and did I even know I would be the only girl? Yes, I did. I assumed I would be. Sarah was also the only girl in her shop class.

The conversation ended with an unsubtle threat. “Fine,” Mr. Larsen said, “but don’t bother coming to me in the fall when you realize you have made a terrible mistake and you need me to save you. This is your last chance to change your schedule.” I nodded to show I understood and left his office with my schedule unchanged.

It would take me years to realize just how crazy that conversation was. This would have been in the early 90s. (As in 1990s, not 1890s, just in case you were wondering.) But I grew up in an aggressively conservative county in Utah, where 99% of my classmates were Mormon. Gender roles are very important in the Mormon church, even to this day. Though I doubt a counselor would be so blatantly sexist to a student now, even in Utah County.

My first class of every day of 8th grade was shop. The class was divided into three sections and all the student rotated through each unit. Our class started with wood shop. Then we had a different teacher in a different space for a unit just called “tech,” which was never clearly defined (We did things like watch movies on the Wright brothers and designed and built balsa wood planes, if you are trying to picture it. Perhaps it should have been called “low tech.”). The last section of the year was metal shop.

I wish I could say this about the experience: It was tough in the beginning because I knew the boys didn’t want me there, but I stuck it out and I earned their respect and by the end of the year no one noticed I was a girl. Or even better: The last day of class they carried me out on their shoulders in appreciation and/or apology, just like in the movie Rudy, but cheering “Rachel! Rachel!” Instead of “Rudy! Rudy!”

That didn’t happen. I had a much harder time than my older sister had. She was already friends with a few of the boys in her class, so I’m sure that helped. She has also always been more emotionally aerodynamic than me, so maybe she got some nasty comments, but didn’t notice or care. I, on the other hand, was stuck in a class of 20 of the meanest 13-year-old boys in the school. A pre-teen boy can be naturally mean, I suppose. But this is the year I learned that year that a group of 13-year-old boys trying to impress one another, one upping each other, and feeding off the combined energy? That’s a special kind of mean. (I also learned a lot of really bad words from those nasty pimply good Mormon boys.)

It was mostly verbal abuse, which I learned to ignore in the moment and process later, at home. I was ugly and probably a lesbian. I was too dumb to know I had signed up for the “wrong” class. Once, I decided to part my hair on the other side at some pre-teen attempt to reinvent myself. That gave them a week’s worth of fuel. I was informed that could change my hair or my clothes but I was still ugly and stupid and always would be. Got it guys, thanks. Mostly I remember the peals of mean laughter, and the grubby nail-bitten fingers pointing at me. So much laughter.

There was some physical abuse. It was mostly getting shoved or tripped, but one time they pushed the spot welder behind me when I was working on some riveting and I didn’t noticed until they set it off and the resulting sparks burned the back of my neck and arms. There was also one time that might have qualified as sexual abuse, but I was the secondary victim in that one. There was a mousey boy in the class who was also teased mercilessly. One day, the boys waited until I walked through door and then one of them grabbed onto the waist band of his sweatpants and pulled them down to his ankles, exposing his underpants. Then, on cue, another boy shoved the “pantsed” boy into my body, nearly knocking both of us to the ground. I felt so bad for that poor kid, but I was also embarrassed and uncomfortable and I burned with shame and humiliation. As you can image, the boys in the class thought this was hilarious. It got a laugh any time someone referenced the incident through the end of the year.

I never complained about any of it; it never even occurred to me. At that age I had the “snitches get stiches” lesson well ingrained. There was no way I was going to speak to one of the teachers and earn even more derision for “narking,” or by proving that I couldn’t handle it. I don’t remember ever wishing I had taken the counselor’s advice, or even considering going to him to beg him to get me out of my situation despite his threat. Part of that was my stubbornness. If Sarah could do it, I no doubt told myself, by God so could I.

I think the lowest moment, however, didn’t involve my classmates. I was in the “tech” unit of the class, which was taught by a student teacher from BYU. The regular teacher was around occasionally, but not often. On the first day of the trimester, the student teacher pulled me aside and told me that I needed to know I was on my own. “Don’t even bother asking me questions,” he said, his blue eyes flashing disgust. “I know what you are up to; I’m not stupid. You are just here to meet boys. I’m not going to help you if you get stuck on a project.”

Yet another conversation that seemed normal at the time that would, in time, stun me with the blatantness of the discrimination. He held to it, also. It was the one and only “conversation” we had. It was the only time he ever made eye contact with me. For the rest of that section, it was like I didn’t exist as far as he was concerned. How could he think I was trying to get a boy’s attention? Has he met these boys? I thought on more than one occasion. Gross.

There were only two people that I interacted with in shop who actually knew what the hell they were doing – the wood shop teacher and the metal shop teacher – and both of them liked me. The first assignment in wood shop was to make a pen set. I carved a small bear – about the size of a tennis ball – and mounted it and a pen holder on a board I routed. I used different types of wood and different stains to make the bear stand out. The wood shop teacher gave me 100% and a compliment on the woodwork. Ten or so minutes passed when he called me away from my worktable and asked me to come back to his desk. I thought I was in trouble (I always reflexively think I’m in trouble) when he told me he had reconsidered my grade. He decided to give me 200% because I made a three-dimensional object, when the assignment only required two dimensions.

The metal shop teacher gave me high marks on my projects, also. I don’t know if he was impressed with my comfort around the shop tools, or just impressed that I survived all the way to the end with those boys, but the last month of the year, he nominated me for Student Citizen of the Month, and I won.

That’s what bothered me, in the end. I knew that I was breaking tradition and pushing back against the predominant culture by taking that class. But I wasn’t trying to upset the apple cart. I was sincerely more interested in the curriculum. I guess I thought, eventually, I would be given a chance to prove myself and that the people who discounted me offhand would see that they were wrong; that I could handle it. I was the one who was wrong. It never mattered if I was talented or skilled. I had stepped out of the chalk circle designating as where I “belonged,” and I was punished for it every day for an entire school year.

After that, I was done with wood working. I shifted my focus to music. I learned to play a couple of instruments and joined the choir. In high school, I auditioned for some plays and I got a talent scholarship to the University of Utah for acting. These were spaces where girls “belonged,” and I stayed safely ensconced in them.

Over the years, I have reflected on my shop experience a great deal. It was the first truly hard thing that I did. I made it through the year and that fact has steeled me when facing other hard things in years since. I am glad I did it, even if I never went near a band saw again. I used to harbor some anger toward the counselor and the student teacher, who were adults at work and should have treated me with professionalism, if not respect. These days, I write that off as just part of the culture I grew up in. I don’t feel anger anymore. What I feel is shame.

Sure, I made it through the year, but I also “learned my lesson.” I never again tried to push into a “male space.” My sister, Sarah, never gave up on the fight. She became Utah’s first female State Sterling Scholor for Science and is a field biologist professor with a PhD now. Yes, her shop experience wasn’t as rough as mine, but she’s endured discrimination and disregard her entire career and never backed down. This is the kind of woman I always wanted to be, and the person I thought I was when I signed up for that class. Then, I got discouraged and I retreated with my tail between my legs.

I’ve had a conversation several times over the past twenty years or so, always with a white Christian cis gendered male. At the heart of this conversation is an argument over affirmative action. The men say some version of, “it’s been long enough. This isn’t the 1920s or even the 1950s. Everyone has a chance to succeed, nowadays. Maybe it isn’t perfectly equal, but if we believe in a meritocracy, the best candidates should get the scholarships and prized spots at the universities/ internships/ clerkships/ jobs, etcetera, and if it is a white man then give it to the white man.” One man said to me, “how long do you expect us (white men) to give you all (women and minorities) a head start in the race?”

Then I try to make a point about the extra challenges that women and minorities face, yes, even now, but I have just received eye rolls in response. I realize that some white men get this. That mousey kid from shop was right there in hell, burning next to me. But I think for most of them, the idea that talent is not enough… intelligence is not enough… the tenacity to work through medical school or law school or bootcamp is not enough… is foreign. The fact is, none of it is enough if you can’t walk in a room where you aren’t wanted – or openly despised – and refuse to leave, no matter what they put you through.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg embodied this brand of endurance in her career. Michelle Obama has this kind of grit. So does Vice President Kamala Harris. I do not. I suspect most people don’t, but only some of us are asked to prove that we could handle it, and most of the white men I know don’t know what that feels like.

I don’t mind being asked to be talented. I’m fine with proving that I can handle the work. I love the idea of living in a meritocracy, where the most talented and relentless achieve the most elite laurels. But a true meritocracy requires gatekeepers with merit. What if the problem with meritocracy isn’t with the candidates competing for a chance to actualize a dream, and what opportunities they had (or didn’t have) access to? What if the problem is the gatekeepers? What if brilliance gets choked out in middle school because the wrong people took it upon themselves to steal its oxygen? The gatekeepers deciding my worth were a bunch of little boys who felt empowered to enforce the gender rules they learned at home and in church. There was also an elderly school counselor nearing retirement, and one sexist twat with half a degree in education from BYU keeping those gates, but the teachers (who should have been the gatekeepers) saw my work gave me encouragement. It just couldn’t compete with the downpour of vitriol from the multitudes who appointed themselves officers in maintaining the established order. Affirmative action isn’t a perfect solution, but it can create a correction. One more chance for someone sidelined for the wrong reason, before it is too late.

Think of all the voices and visions and insights we have missed out on for centuries because only one type of person mattered. It’s more tragic than the burning of the library in Alexandria, which is something I literally cried over when I first learned about it. It’s a colossal loss for all of us, whether we see it or not.

I was thinking about these things as I sobbed, watching the inauguration on Wednesday. A woman of color was sworn in to the second highest office in the land (by the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, I might add). I was weeping with joy and pride, as well as a great deal of relief. And yet, I thought about the men that I have argued with in the past. What is going through their heads, I wonder? Is Kamala the first because she was the first who earned it? The first woman talented, hardworking, and eloquent enough to belong on the dais? Or maybe they don’t see her qualifications. Maybe they think Joe Biden picked her out of a sense of obligation, and women have yet to earn this distinction. That if white men represent 31% of the U.S. population, yet still hold 65% of elected offices, it is because they were the best sprinters in their foot races, head starts be damned. That any woman in this country who is truly talented enough, smart enough, relentless enough, and not Hillary Clinton, could have done it before now, but that woman simply hasn’t come along.

I wonder.

I’m reading Michelle Obama’s Becoming right now. I’ve had it in my stack for a while, but I am really glad I saved it for this moment. Here is a quote from the Becoming documentary. “I am coming down from the mountaintop to tell every young person that is poor and working class, and has been told regardless of the color of your skin that you don’t belong, don’t listen to them. They don’t even know how they got at those seats.” (Leave it to Mrs. Obama to say in under 50 words what it took me most of 3,000 to say.) That would have been so great to hear as a 13-year-old girl who thought that anyone who told me their opinion stated it as fact, even another 13-year-old, must know something I don’t know. Still, it is good to hear it as a 43-year-old woman. I will make a point of repeating it whenever I can to help the kids I know to ignore the self-appointed gatekeepers. If you show them what you can do and it makes no difference, just move on. Keep going; if you want it, go out and get it. Maybe some of us didn’t think they had what it took, but every woman and/or minority who manages to endure the gauntlet and climb out the other side may prove to be a worthy gatekeeper for those coming up behind them, the new meritocracy. In the words of VP Kamala Harris, “I may be the first woman to hold this office. But I won’t be the last.”

In the Pink

I was recently reminded that I am a NEW stepparent, and as such I have MUCH to learn. It was a weird “off” moment that I’m still trying to make sense of, but here are the basics:

It was a Monday a few weeks ago and Ethan (seven) had the day off from school, but was a regular workday for us. My work has been slow so I took the day off. He has a friend in his second grade class who’s mother has kindly watched Ethan a few times this year when school got out early, so I volunteered to take her son, also. Let’s call him Chad.

Chad is a good kid. I sometimes get a little annoyed with him because he is obsessed with what is cool and what is not. The last time I had him in my car I was listening to the Beatles and he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to think about them, so he asked me how many followers they had. I remember how important that stuff felt when I was in grade school, so I get it. I just wish I could protect Ethan from that crap

Ethan asked to go to a trampoline park and I got permission from Chad’s parents to take him. I don’t know if this is a thing everywhere but trampoline parks are big in Salt Lake City right now. It’s basically a warehouse with a raised floor made of a series of trampolines and play equipment that pairs well with trampolines, such as basketball hoops and zip lines. The kids love it. (I actually tried to bounce for a minute once, but quickly realized that my spine is too old for that kind of jarring action, and that my bra was not designed for anti gravitational maneuvers. I managed to get back on to solid ground without doing permanent damage to my body and then got myself tucked back in without breaking any decency laws, but lessons were learned.)

I got the boys buckled in the car and pulled up the address on my phone. As soon as Siri’s voice came up, however, the boys groaned and launched into throwing shade at my phone, which basically consisted of repeating the tirades they have heard from their fathers about Siri. I have personally witnessed several arguments between Ethan’s dad and GPS technology and mostly have found myself taking Siri’s side. Of course it won’t work if you follow every other thing she says, then decide she doesn’t know what she was talking about to begin with, make an abrupt turn in a nonsensical direction, and get yourself lost. Remember the good old days where men just wouldn’t ask for directions? Now we foist directions on them, leading them to mansplain to a robot who can’t pick up on the passive aggression or sarcasm, and the result is the same: arriving dismally late and frustrated to a place you only sorta wanted to go to anyway. Which isn’t to say the old way was better. I just remember it being quieter.

I was ignoring the boys posturing and focusing instead in Siri’s helpful and completely correct directions when I heard this from the back seat:

“Siri is a girl and Alexa is a boy,” Chad said. “Alexa can multiply in the thousands and Siri can’t even add one plus one.” This was followed by laughter.

Before I could stop myself I interjected, “Siri and Alexa are BOTH girls.”

As if that was remotely germane. I should have said that neither are girls! They are both robots! Their developers gave them female voices because it feels natural to give a woman the bitch work of timing your abdominal crunches, reminding you to pick up the dry-cleaning, and to “find out if Burt Reynolds is still alive and report back to me.” (Yes, these are examples of my recent Siri activity. Burt Reynolds died, by the way.)

The boys didn’t respond to my inane interjection. They seemed to be surprised to discover that I was still in the car and heard this conversation. Nothing like being made to feel like a chauffer driving two little lords around in my own goddamned car.

What the fuck? I thought. I know Chad’s mom and she is a badass. She’s an athlete and she teaches advanced education techniques at the university. Does he say crap like that around her? He certainly seems comfortable saying it in front of me.

We parked at the place and I signed them up for three hours of bouncing. Then the guy at the front desk told me that I’d have to buy them each a pair of anti-slip socks if I didn’t bring some from home, so he threw that on the total, which came to around $60. I tried to hide my reaction to the number, but I could hear my mother’s voice in my head saying, “Good gracious; for that price they should leave with a framed degree in bouncing!” I handed over my credit card and the man gave me two pairs of socks. They were black, with little pink ribbons printed all over them. The boys looked at them in horror. Before anyone could ask, the man at the desk said, “October is breast cancer awareness month.”

The boys took them with frowns but they put them on and skittered off to bounce. This time I didn’t bother to hide my reaction, which was a wide smile and a thought bubble that said, Thanks for the justice, Karma! Totally worth the $60.

 I happily settled in with my Real Simple magazine and a coconut La Croix and waited for the three hours to pass, which it did uneventfully. By then, the boys were bounced out and ready for lunch. It wasn’t until they went to the lockers to get their shoes that they remembered the pink ribbons on their socks.

“Gross! I HATE pink!” Chad yelled. “He peeled them off and kicked them away from him. “Pink is the WORST color! I’m throwing these in the trash.” He pinched them between his thumb and index finger like a bag full of dog shit and threw them into the trash with a dramatic gesture.

Ethan laughed. “Me too!” he said. “I HATE pink!” He had already given the socks to me to hold while he changed back into his (oh so masculine) Pikachu socks and I had dropped them into my purse. He dove into my bag (which is oversized and full of odds and ends; I call it my Mary Poppins bag) and started rooting around for them.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I want to throw mine away, too!”

“Well, too bad. I didn’t spend good money on those just so that you could wear them a few hours and then throw them away. If you don’t want them just because they are pink I’m sure some other kid at Goodwill would be happy to have them.” I knew even as I said this that you can’t donate used socks to Goodwill, and that my refusal to allow him to follow Chad’s lead had nothing to do with the wastefulness of the action, but yet again, it was the best response that came to my mind. “Reduce, reuse, recycle!” won out over calling two second graders “a couple of chauvinistic-shit-for-brains-assholes!” in public.

We got to the car and the boys buckled in. It was quiet for a minute and then Ethan said, “Rachel, I don’t have to like pink. It’s just a color.”

I took a deep breath. “That’s true,” I said, starting the car. “But is that all it is about? Just the way you feel about a particular color? Or does it have to do with the fact that you are both boys, and pink is a ‘girl’s’ color?”

I couldn’t take my eyes off to road to check the rearview mirror as I pulled out of the parking lot and merged onto the busy road, but I imagined them exchanging a glance that said, How did she know? I thought that was our thing! We didn’t even mention girls! In that way that every generation thinks it is completely original and paving its own path. But I don’t know what they did. Probably just stare at their shoes. It was only the long pause between the question and Ethan’s answer, “No…” with an implied ellipsis or even a faint question mark at the end that told me I hit home.

“Oh, okay,” I said. “I guess I misunderstood. But I want to talk to you more about this later.” My mom never hesitated to blast me with a correction when my friends around, but I always told myself I wouldn’t do that if I became a parent.

We got home and I got them set up downstairs with food and a movie and then I went out to rake leaves. I had dozens of thoughts and emotions pushing down on me and I needed to get some space to try to manage my oversized reaction. Maybe, if I had given birth to the child and spent every day since with him, this little exchange wouldn’t have bothered me. Maybe I would have picked up on that point, years ago, when he started pre-school and began taking his cues and values from the other children. He would have started the process early – the process of learning that boys were the best and the things they like is cool and girls are bad and the things they like is shit. Maybe he would have bought into it so gradually I wouldn’t have noticed it. Or maybe I would heard some of these statements before and thought, Oh, this is normal. This is the way it goes. The girls say the same things about the boys and how they hate… blue? Maybe?

But I’ve known Ethan for three years now and I haven’t heard anything like that from him. And it wasn’t just showing a preference. The thing that shocked me was the hatred. The disgust in Chad’s voice and his forceful declaration of male supremacy with the Siri thing, and then the way he threw those socks in the trash. It was boastful, actually. “Look at how much I can hate this!” he seemed to say. And it was so infectious. Ethan wanted to be just like that; hateful and cool! Clearly they were trying to impress one another and that was leading to some gleeful one-upmanship. But still. The HATE!

I realize, of course, that I’m primed to be triggered by something like this. The last few years have been focused on stories of the systematic misogyny that women experience in this “developed” country and I’ve spent countless hours thinking about my own stories and what we have learned and how I want our culture to change as a result of all this difficult work that has been done bringing about a reckoning. One question in particular that I have been meditating on is, “Where does it start? Who plants the seed?”

I grew up in a decidedly patriarchal religion that made it clear to me from an early age that being female limited me in the role I could play in the world. I remember being told that women will always be paying for the sins of Eve. That is not official Mormon church doctrine, but it sure seems to be a precious grudge for a lot of Christian folks. Then, when I was a teenager, I had my first experience dealing with a boy who was too hopped up on hormones to take my sweet and ladylike “no, thank you” for an answer. Like me, he was raised on stories about how ‘boys will be boys’ and that it is the girl’s responsibility to save both parties with her own clear headed dedication to her own chastity, so I knew that was “my job.” But damn, no one had prepared me for how many times the hand will reach out to be smacked away, or how many times “no” won’t be taken for a final answer. Finally, before he could wear me down, I managed to escape. As I drove home in the dark I suddenly thought about Eve. Am I really supposed to believe that Eve pressured Adam into this? Because there is no way. I bet Adam bit into ALL the apples, wore Eve down until she ate one or two, and then asked her to take the blame. And when she hesitated he told her she was pretty and then she lost all ability to resist because she was a damn fool and no one prepared her for this bullshit.

But I digress.

Growing up, I was told I couldn’t do certain things and simply not encouraged to do others. At university, I experienced the way men pursued women and then viciously retaliated if their advances were denied. I sought help from university resources and got shrugs. What do you want us to do about it? They seemed to say. I heard stories about women at parties being taken advantage of while unable to consent to sex and the event being witnessed by other male party attendants who did nothing. Because, Bros before hos? I guess? Finally, my senior year, a friend of mine was murdered by a sexual predator who decided he needed what he needed more than he thought my friend deserved to have the rest of her life.

That was twenty years ago. Last year, a student at the same university was murdered on campus by a boy she dated briefly and then rejected. She reported his stalking behavior to campus police, but nothing was done. What do you want us to do about it? They seemed to say.

That’s when I realized that this world is no more safe for my nieces than is was twenty years ago when I was a young woman being told that I should always be nice and likable and respectful of the priesthood, but also to avoid short skirts and walk home in the dark with my keys in my hand in “ready position.”

Again, I ask: where does it start? When do men learn that their needs come first? Obviously the murderers in these examples are the extreme cases. But if you walk into a room at a frat party and you see an unconscious woman being raped and you back out slowly and go get more beer instead of intervening, what is going on in your mind? At the risk of making an oversimplification of the matter, it seems to me that you do not see the two people in that scenario as equals. That there is some port in your mind harboring the belief that a woman is less than a man. Maybe a 70% person.

It probably seems completely insane to suggest that the seed of that belief was planted by little boys on playgrounds, repeating what they have heard from older brothers and fathers, reassuring each other that they are, in fact, the best! Boys rule! Girls drool! But what if that is where it starts? What if that is the genesis of the darkness? What if those shitty little kid thoughts take root and you don’t even think about it, and then you grow up and one day you are that ex of mine (who totally thought he was a feminist) who told me that it didn’t think it made sense to force companies to fix the gender pay gap because it would be difficult and expensive. Then, when I asked him, “what if it were a racial pay gap?” he said, “Oh, that would be different!” Because somewhere deep in the brain he thought that a woman is only 70% of a person! (And no, that is not the day we broke up, because I was lonely and probably had just bought tickets to something and didn’t want to go alone.)

Maybe I’m totally off on this one, but I gotta tell you… the Mormons I knew as a kid who told me that men had special God given powers but a woman’s job was to make babies and do what they were told were not much more articulate than a couple of grade-school-aged boys.

All these thoughts were hitting me like hail stones as I raked leaves and cried freely behind my sunglasses. I thought with sudden sympathy about the deadbeat parents that claim to be going out for some cigarettes and then drive into the sunset, never to return. Which is when I remembered that all this anguish started over a pair of socks, and I had to stop and laugh.

I took a deep breath and told myself that the lifetime’s worth of shit that this incident brought up for me was not about Ethan and that I was not going to put that on him. But I was genuinely upset, and I needed him to understand at least a small part of why.

Later in the evening, after Chad went home, I was in the kitchen making dinner when Ethan came in and asked for a snack. I got him settled and then I asked if we could talk for a minute.

“I’m a little upset,” I said. “I’m wondering if you can guess why?”

He looked down at his snack and deflated by about 20% as he said, “the pink.”

“Yeah, that’s part of it,” I said. I don’t know how to have heavy conversations with children, but back when I was a boss with 10 or so people reporting to me, I read a book about keeping disciplinary messages short. Get to it, make the point, move on by turning the page onto another topic. So that was what I decided to do.

“I’m glad that you and Chad are friends,” I said, “but he has some stupid ideas.” I waited for him to remind me that we aren’t supposed to say ‘stupid,’ which is his rule not ours, but he didn’t. “That thing about Siri being a girl and not being able to do math? That’s not okay. And like I said today, you don’t have to like pink. But you didn’t say ‘I don’t like pink,’ you said, ‘I hate pink!’ And I’m not stupid. I know what that means. You know that?”

He didn’t try to argue; he just nodded this time.

“It’s not okay to believe that boys are better than girls, just like it is not okay to believe that white people are better than Asian people, or black people, or anyone.” Ethan is one quarter Korean so I knew that would get his attention.

“You know, there are things that I am better at than your dad, and there are things that your dad is better at than I am. I’m better at fixing things, which is something that typically people think of as a boy thing. And you know your dad is a brilliant teacher. Did you know that, not that long ago, public school teachers were all women? It’s true; that was something people thought of as a woman’s job.”

The boisterous kid who was showing off for his friend was completely gone. He was looking down at the counter taking his punishment until I said this bit about school teachers and then he looked up, surprised. I knew I’d managed to get something across to him and started to wrap up the lecture.

“Look, like I said. I like Chad and I’m glad you are friends. But I think I can speak for both myself and your mom when I say that there is no way we are raising a boy who doesn’t treat girls as equals. So whenever I hear your friends telling you to hate girls and things associated with girls and I don’t hear you respond and say, ‘no you are wrong,’ then you can expect to hear from me at some point after because my job is to make sure that you aren’t getting bad programing like that.”

Ethan nodded. After a pause, maybe once he realized I wasn’t going to say any more, he said, “I’m sorry, Rachel.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I accept your apology.” Then it was time to turn the page. I asked him I needed help deciding on a dessert. “I have ice cream or frozen chocolate chip cookies that I can throw in the oven. What do you think?”

I didn’t typically reward my employees with fresh baked cookies to bribe them into liking me again after I told them off, but I wanted Ethan to know we were fine after our first memorable disagreement. And anyway, I was the boss. It was their job to give me cookies. My motto as a boss was: Make me like you, if you can!

I know it wasn’t perfect, but I’m proud of that conversation. I think I handled it well. And I haven’t decided that misogyny begins on the playground. I’m sure it is more complicated than that, but honestly, it’s as convincing an origin story as any other I have heard. But working through my reaction to this incident, I did have a thought that, as I have been given the gift of becoming a stepparent after years of thinking I would never have a child in my life, I am not going to squander this opportunity. I am not going to tell my nieces to watch their hem length or carry their keys at the ready. I’m going to tell my little boy that pink is beautiful and that girls are badasses, who grow up to be badass women like his mom and me.

When he is older, I’ll tell him that “no” means “no” and “yes” means “yes” and that boys are feminists who look out for others. But not yet; that conversation is a few years off yet. I’ll have to make a note, once we get there, to stock up on cookie dough. We’ll need a lot of cookies for that.

Witches Brew: Repost

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.

Happy Halloween, Bitches!  Get your brew on!

Mother_Louse

 

Good & Mad

The day after the election, I learned an important lesson.

Actually, I learned two important lessons.  The first is this: When you are raking leaves and you find a fun sized pouch of M&Ms that some hapless trick-or-treater lost in the chaos, do not say “Yahtzee!” and eat them.  In the week since they fell, they have been reclaimed by the earth and are no longer safe for human consumption.

The second lesson, unfortunately, left an even fouler after taste.

I was at Staples getting some copies made.  (Side note, if you sometimes wish you worked from home and not in an office setting, think about all the free copies you get when no one is looking!  It’s a nice perk, and I miss it very much.)  I had my essays for writing group and a craft pattern printed and was just about to pay, when a nicely dressed silver haired white man interrupted my conversation with the sales person to ask a question.  Let’s cast him in your imagination with the actor John Slattery.  I’m sure John Slattery is a perfectly lovely human in real life, but this guy was the same type of basic white man.  And John Slattery did that movie The Adjustment Bureau which was terrible, so I don’t feel bad fobbing this off on him.  (Spoiler alert: angels are real, but they are allergic to water.  Same basic premise as signs but with a better looking cast.)

The man at Staples completely ignored me.  He acted as if I wasn’t standing there, and once he got an answer he didn’t like, he began arguing his cause based on the semantics of the coupon he wanted to use. I waited to see if he was going to at least acknowledge me, as I would have done.  As the minutes ticked on, it was clear this wasn’t going to happen.  Then I thought over all the times over the last few years (since Trump was elected, basically) that I have been verbally interrupted or physically cut off or just disregarded by a white man and I have stood there thinking, “the next time this happens to me, I’m not just going to stand there like an idiot following my ‘respect the priesthood’ programming. I’m going to say something, dammit!”

Then I thought of an interview I heard with Rebecca Traister when her new book, Good and Mad, came out in October.  It is a book about women’s anger.  She said that she began writing it immediately after the 2016 election when she didn’t know what to do with her emotional response and the anger she saw all around her, but it had the good fortune of coming out during the Kavanaugh hearings when the anger of women in this country hit the bell at the top of that carnival attraction that tests your strength (just googled it: it is called a High Striker. The more you know!)

In that interview Rebecca Traister told a story about a friend of hers who decided that she was no longer going to step out of the way of white men plowing toward her on the sidewalk.  She decided that she had as much right to the sidewalk, and she simply stopped moving to the side.  And she body checked some people, which surprised them and delighted her.

I can’t think of a better metaphor for how I’ve been feeling since the 2016 election.  We women have been patiently waiting our turn, thinking we had achieved so much and that breaking that “glass ceiling” was basically just a technicality that would happen in time.  Be good, stay in your lane (or step out of it, but only if it serves others), and it will happen.  But then… no.  We learned.  Not only had a highly qualified female been beaten by an unqualified mediocre white man, the highest office in the land went to a misogynist and self-described pussy grabber.  We aren’t seen as equals with internal genitalia.  And all of our waiting and staying silent in the face of that pussy grabbing shit has only served to hold ourselves and our daughters back.

So women are saying, “no more!”  We are speaking up in the face of injustice!  We aren’t moving out of the road for you!  We aren’t covering for your bullshit!  And, goddamalmighty, we are not letting you bastards butt in line!”

Effectively worked up into an “I just watched Oprah” esque state of empowerment, I said, “Excuse me sir,”  I called him sir!  “But we were in the middle of a transaction. Do you mind if we finish our business?”

I was polite. I might not have been kind, but I was polite.

And he LOST his FUCKING shit.

He told me to grow up. He called me names. He used the F word multiple times. He imitated my voice. And then had the audacity to ask me “Why don’t you just grow up?”  I was shaking as I tried to pay and then tried to get out of the store but I first went to the “in” door and you have to go all the way around to the “out” door, and EVERYONE was staring at me, as if to ask what I had done to that man to deserve such a tongue lashing.

It was so bad, I went next door to Harmon’s and bought myself some flowers. Then I went home, and I logged back on to my computer to focus on work… and failed.  And then I cried for nearly two hours.

I turned to Facebook and related the story, hoping my friends would tell me what I wanted to hear.  Specifically: I was right to speak up for myself.  (Meaning this man was wrong in his behavior.)  I got the reassurance I wanted, along with a few laughs, which helped stop the flow of tears.  Then a mentor of mine left a comment that read:

The man’s actions were unforgivable. He’s a boor, and you can bet that he’s a boor at every moment of his life. I suspect that standing your ground with him would have escalated what was brutal and painful. This guy lives on escalation–especially with women. You might have turned to the clerk and asked that the clerk verify that you were mid-transaction. So sorry you had to go through this.

“Boor.”  That was the word, exactly.  “An unrefined, ill-mannered person.”  I belive completely that he wouldn’t have responded to me the way he had if I were a man.  Or even if I had been accompanied by a man.  Either way, there would have been some respect of the equality of status.  I can’t prove it, of course.  I believe that sexism was at the core of the exchange, as I believe it is why he ignored me in the first place.

I’ve thought a great deal about this exchange over the last few weeks.  It is shocking how easy it was to kick that hornets’ nest by asking for something so basic as adherence to the line system.  Maybe it wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been the day after the election.  Maybe he was on edge because of the Democrats taking back the house.  Maybe I was feeling more piss and vinegar in my veins for the same reason?  I don’t know.

I have decided that I don’t regret standing up for myself. And I would do the same thing over again, and I will next time, even having had this experience of being put back in my place. I reject the binary choice that I seem to have: I can either be a doormat or a bitch.  I can’t control the way others respond.  Especially those who are accustomed to inspiring doormat behavior in those around them.  Maybe I will start carrying my Dudeist Priest badge in my wallet so the next time this happens I can pull it out and say, “Respect MY priesthood, bitch!

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(Actual photo of John Slattery in The Adjustment Bureau)

But What Would the Logo Look Like?

I had a dream that I was the owner/operator of a canoe rental shop named “Row vs Wade,” because even my subconscious loves puns. I woke up laughing but also knowing it wouldn’t work. For one thing, I live in Utah, which is a desert for both water and pro choice liberals. The bigger problem is that we also suffer from a lack of a sense of humor, so I guess I won’t rush out and license my brand… yet.

It would be a good fit in Seattle. Or Austin. Maybe I should look into that license… just in case this career in pharmaceuticals doesn’t pan out.

I Voted

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine made a statement about the stupidity of “I Voted” stickers.  He called them a waste of money. I rolled my eyes.  Lately I feel like I can’t go a full day without rolling my eyes at a white man.  (In fact, the other day, I was trying to drive out of grocery store and a middle aged white man stopped on the sidewalk, right in front of my car – in a clearly marked exit – and began to tend to a hangnail.  It lasted so long, I began to narrate.  “Behold, the middle aged white man in his natural environment. Notice his complete confidence in his status of his surroundings. He is oblivious to the needs of others, and is even unconcerned by the fact that he is stealing that shopping cart.  An act which, no doubt, will be blamed on a brown child.”)

I took the sticker thing personally because, not long before, I was lamenting about the fact that I voted by mail and therefore would not be getting a sticker. It is a small thing but I love them.  I love the way wearing one makes me feel, because it reminds me of how lucky I am to be living in this time and place, no matter how frustrated I am with the system as it stands.

My grandmother (my Mom’s Mom) was born in 1909.  William Taft was president. The “Gilded Age” was ending, but it would be another five years before “The Great War” began.  And, in 1909, women could not vote.

As of 1870, all American men had theoretically been granted the right to vote through the 15th amendment. (“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  Of course, in practice, we know the exercising of this right was more complicated and fraught.)  The fight for women’s rights had picked up steam in the 1840s, but still had a long way to go. In 1875, the US Supreme Court unanimously decided in Minor v. Happersett that the 14th amendment (“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws) did not grant a woman the right to vote.  The justices granted that a woman was a citizen but determined that the right to vote was not a constitutionally protected right of all citizens.

The fight raged on for many decades, and it got ugly.  Many people (including a number of women) were against votes for women.

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Nonetheless, as they say, they persisted.

 In 1918, 100 years ago, some white women of England were given the right to vote.  They had to be over 30 and either own property or be the wives of property owners.

White women of the United States were granted the right to vote in 1920, when my grandmother was 11 years old.  This is not a historical figure that I have only read about.  I knew her; we had a relationship. She died when I was a teenager.  Women got the right to vote a mere 24 years before my mother was born.  It will be another two years before we can celebrate 100 years of Women’s Suffrage in the United States.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, my point is: that was not very long ago!

Many other groups had to wait even longer.  In 1924, Native Americans were granted citizenship and given the right to vote. In 1943, Chinese American immigrants were granted citizenship and the right to vote.  African American women were not able to vote in some Southern states until the 1960s.

The forefathers of our country sacrificed and labored so that we could have this experiment in democracy, wherein the right to vote was given to white men of property.  Since then, thousands of people fought and died to secure the right to vote for every citizen, and the fight goes on.  In Florida, people are voting this very minute to determine if convicted felons who have served their time should have their voting rights restored.

The vote is the important thing. The sticker is just the little side thing that you can wear with pride, if you so choose.  But I want that fucking sticker.  Even if I have to make one for myself.

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You don’t have to want the sticker.  But please vote.  No matter who you are, someone made a sacrifice so that you could.  Getting out there and voting is the only way to say “thanks.”

Witches Brew

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.

Happy Halloween, Bitches!  Get your brew on!

Mother_Louse

 

What Would Myra Do?

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.

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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!

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