Good Intentions, Flawed Results
I haven’t really weighed in on the #yesallwomen campaign that has been sweeping social media for many reasons. The first reason being that I was traveling and also developed a unrelenting bout of bronchitis that made me want to lie in bed all day. But there are other reasons. I think the campaign is long overdue and the attention that it is getting is still not enough; I think that the shootings at UCSB speak to something far more complex and insidious than just acceptable cultural misogyny; I think violence is and has been a part of the American way; I think that it’s going to take more than outrage to fix these issues.
I could write a tome akin to War and Peace on the various ways that I have been maligned, discriminated against, assaulted, harassed and shamed by men. I wish that statement was an exaggeration. I could tell you about being in 5th grade and having boys snap my bra and put pennies down my shirt because they knew they would get trapped and I would have to fish them out. I could tell you about being 11 and my step-father touching me, which lead to 7 years of abuse. I could tell you how I could not walk down the street as a teenager without being harassed and propositioned several times on my way home. I could tell you about the time I got in trouble for hitting a boy who would not stop snapping my bra in class. I could speak about the time I was felt up by a group of frat boys upon entering their house and how they stared in disbelief when I yelled and screamed and hit them. I could go on and on and on.
These moments are horrifying and terrifying and leave a sticky residue upon you that you can’t ever seem to wipe away. They make you feel as though you are not a person; not really fully human and that you are to blame because you were born female. You believe it. It is your fault for being a woman with a body that men desire and they cannot help themselves and you should want them to want you. We are lied to from the moment we are born. The focus is always on whether we are pretty or look pretty or what we are wearing or our hair or our femininity. We are not told that we are strong or capable or smart or worthy. We are told that our worth is in what we can provide and how we look. We are led to believe that our breasts and hips define us. We are compared to every other woman and deemed inadequate.
If we are fortunate to have a partner who sees us as a whole person, they must also combat the damage that has been done. It becomes a polygamist relationship with the two of you and the shadow created from years of abuse and degradation. We live in fear that our partners won’t really love us as our bodies become older, softer and farther away from the toxic societal ideal we have all digested daily. We live in fear.
This is what being a woman means – learning to live afraid. We need to change this. We need to stand up and fight to make things better. We cannot just accept that this is the way things are. Today, you can take a stand. Today, you can think about what you say and how you say it. Today you can tell a little girl she is smart instead of pretty. Today you can start seeing women as people instead of objects. Today you can start learning to live without fear. It can start today.
We Have a Love/Hate, Hate/Hate Relationship
Today I am annoyed with her. She’s always doing things to piss me off. It’s a hate/hate day. She’s mad that I won’t let her eat donuts and I’m mad that she is trying to prevent me from fitting into my favorite jeans. She stares back at me in anger and I give her the squinty, side-eye that says “you disgust me”. Other days I love her because she moves faster than she ever has before. She lets me run and although she hates me with a passion when I do, she is always happy when I complete a race. She keeps changing shape and she has sensitivities now that make it hard for me to sleep or relax sometimes. She keeps screaming at me that she is hurting and is angry that I won’t do more to fix it. I hate her when I can’t cover her flaws so that I can leave the house feeling like I can take on the world instead of hiding from it. She begs me to stop putting her in things that pinch and suffocate her just so I can look at her without tears in my eyes. She wants to take the stage and be in the picture but she avoids those moments so she won’t have to face my wrath of sorrow when I see her celluloid imperfections.
There are moments when I have loved her fiercely. She has grown and expanded and filled with life and then sustained that life just by being herself. She has climbed mountains and swam in oceans. She has fought infections and beat them handily. She has been a soft place of comfort for those she loves. She has been good to me and yet I hate her because she doesn’t “feel” like me. Not the me I know that I am. I have hated her for so long it’s hard to remember if I ever loved her. I suppose I must have once. Now I am trying to love her again. I am trying to embrace her for all of the good she has done for me and for those she loves. I am trying to look at her through new eyes, new feelings, new thoughts. I face her every morning and we stare eye to eye now. I notice her curves and bumps and scars and I try to admire them. I tell her that she is beautiful and that I am grateful. I try to remember that she has endured so much.
Today was a hate/hate day but tomorrow, I promise, is going to be better. Tomorrow and every day after I am going to do my best to love my body. My hope is that I can love her all the time and she can love me back. Even if I don’t give her donuts.
If you can relate to this post, check out the Body Image Movement at http://www.bodyimagemovement.com
The Angel in the House* Needs to Move Out
Damn those Victorians. Their social and cultural influences still seem to permeate our modern ideals in unfortunate and painful ways. It may not be considered scandalous to show your ankle anymore but their ideas on women and motherhood have certainly thrived and continue to plague us through unrealistic expectations of just about everything. We have made some strides toward a better ideal, one in which we can explore who WE are as women and mothers but man that road has been a rough one. We still face the angel in the house every day and even when we kick her butt to the curb, she hangs out wherever we go like a maniacal stalker, reminding us that we are just not good enough.
There she is in the form of strangers and friends and talk show hosts and “experts” and politicians and television shows that are constantly telling us how to be a mother. That old angel is a bit psychotic and hears the voices of her ancestors whispering their antiquated ideas. It’s not really her fault. She just needs some medication. Better yet, she needs to move on. Those ideas are not only archaic, they are useless and only serve to prevent us from being our greater selves as both a woman and a mother.
Motherhood is not a series of behaviors, an accumulation of good deeds or serving as the sacrificial lamb to prove your worth. This is a divine experiment in exposing you as a person and making you want to be better; for you, for them, for humanity. When you hold your first baby in your arms you realize two things- 1) you will, without question give your life for this little person and 2) you have no idea what you are really doing. It’s like the KNOW you. They are in-tune to every moment when you have nothing left to give and they push you to give a little more anyway. You become creative in ways you didn’t know are possible. You become exhausted in ways you didn’t know are possible. You realize that most importantly you want them to see you as an example and you try harder. You understand that you have to make choices to give them the best life you can and sometimes (almost all the time) this means you also have to make sacrifices. And as they grow and change, you do too. And as they grow and change, those two things you realized the day they were born are still true. They are more true.
And every day you will ask yourself, am I doing this right? Am I doing enough? The angel in the house will be nestling beside you as you lay awake questioning what you said or didn’t; what you did or didn’t; whether you should save for college or therapy-or both. She will encourage your weary eyes to stare at the ceiling and contemplate whether your child’s behavior is normal or “just a phase”, and whether it’s all your fault. But don’t listen. She needs to pack her bags and go. Fill her suitcases with your insecurities and doubts; your feelings of inadequacy and the time you forgot to send a snack for the class party. Show her the door and lock it behind her as she leaves. You don’t need this angel in the house. You are working every day to be the mom, the person, the woman you want and need to be and your voice is the only one you should be listening to.
* …the term angel in the house came to be used in reference to women who embodied the Victorian feminine ideal: a wife and mother who was selflessly devoted to her children and submissive to her husband…
Sisterhood of the Traveling LTYM (Listen to Your Mother)
Two months ago I did not know any of these women and men (well to be accurate – man) but they have fundamentally changed me in places I didn’t even know that I could be changed. I am so very grateful that this Saturday, May 10, I will be sharing a stage with them and I will hear their stories again and my heart will swell like the Grinch hearing the Who’s joining hands and singing for joy. We will be standing together in love, support and understanding of the stories that examine, celebrate and commiserate our experiences with motherhood. These are stories of great complexity and carry with them hopes and dreams and wishes and realities of every definition of the word motherhood. But we do not stand alone in Sacramento, CA. We stand with women and men in 31 other cities across the United States and we join hands in solidarity and listen with open hearts and minds to the experiences that are both individual and shared in ways we did not imagine. Listen to Your Mother isn’t just a dramatic reading series, its a voice for all of those who need to hear “me too”; it’s a celebration; it’s collective hug from a dear old friend; it’s a hand to hold when you feel alone.
I am privileged beyond measure for the opportunity to participate in this series. I would like to thank Nichole Beaudry and Margaret Andrews for allowing me to share a story that is both painful and hopeful. I am grateful to the both of them for treating each cast member with love and kindness and creating a show that I know I will hold as one of my most cherished memories. I am also profoundly honored to share the stage with and bear witness to the stories that the cast has been so gracious to share with the world.
If you are in the Sacramento area on Saturday, May 10 you should stop by The Guild Theater and see the show. Tickets are available here: http://ltymsac2014.brownpapertickets.com/. I guarantee your heart will be fuller, your eyes will be wetter and your views on motherhood will never be the same. You will be saying “me too”.
Get the Fax Outta Here!
I made a silly mistake. I uploaded a document to my FSA (Flexible Spending Account) that was the wrong document for the claim that they were questioning. Then I spent an hour trying to figure out how to fix it which was apparently akin to solving the identity of dark matter. This morning I had to call to ask if I was just completely bonkers (they couldn’t answer that question) or if I really couldn’t correct this tiny little error. The answer was that I couldn’t correct it. Allegedly, once you upload the document you cannot upload a new one. I find this preposterous given my background in website design and the knowledge that everything can be undone if needed but according to the rep on the phone “you have one chance to do it correctly”. Who knew uploading a document required the same level of intense precision as brain surgery; one mistake and there is no going back. They did provide other options for ensuring the documentation was submitted – mailing or faxing it. Fax, really? I thought fax machines had gone the way of the rotary telephone but alas no. I will have to catch the pony express (aka mail truck) or ride over to Kinkos like the days of yore and telegraph the required information. Maybe I should just invest in a carrier pigeon.
Hey “Let It Go”, Go Already!
I have purposely and diligently avoided seeing the newest Disney movie, “Frozen”. I have no children under the age of 12 so I get to use my “get out of Disney movie madness” free card whenever I want. Don’t get me wrong, I love all things Disney and I have watched more than a medically recommended amount of Disney movies. When my oldest was little I can confirm that I watched 1,001 Dalmations over 1,001 times. I have paid my dues. I should get to enjoy this respite between parenting young children and grand parenting young children in a safety zone free of Adele Nazeem (er, I mean Idina Menzel) singing “Let it Go” in 4,326 different languages which are being played on a loop 24 hours a day. Disney has remastered and covered this song in every genre, language and tempo and frankly I’m getting a little frosty about “Frozen”. The last time I tried to avoid something this fervently I was in 3rd grade and I was running as fast as I could away from anyone with “cooties”. I’m starting to feel like Garth in “Waynes World” every time I hear the first few notes of “Let it Go”…For the love of all things holy, GO ALREADY!
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