And a child shall lead them

Stumbled upon this on the HuffingtonPost. This (adorable) kid organized the rally as a class project. According to HuffingtonPost:

“He was concerned about the issue after hearing about anti-gay remarks on the playground and then learning about a same sex couple in his neighborhood that couldn’t get married.”

I am woman…

The title of this article in the New York Times sparked a shudder of recognition in me: Backlash: Women Bullying Women at Work

A few years ago, when I was still a fresh-faced PhD, thrilled to have found a job that met all of my outlandish requirements, a female colleague announced to me that I was “male identified” because I got on better with my male co-workers than most of my female ones. It’s worth noting that “got on better with” meant I had virtually no problems being direct with them and didn’t get too worked up if they disagreed with me from time to time.

I should come clean from the start and say I’d not been one to call myself a “feminist” much before this moment because I don’t like labels, and it seemed that the women who attached the label “feminist” to themselves paid lip service to helping oppressed women when their real goal seemed to be developing a sophisticated language of victimization. They were also too obsessed with talking about their feelings at work. The concern seemed more about the right to be hairy than actual “sisterhood” and I’ve never had the impulse to sit topless in a circle and celebrate my breasts. Seriously.

I also noticed something really creepy in graduate school that I’ve since seen among many female PhDs: they are as mean and nasty and judgmental of one another as their unwashed (read: non-feminist) sisters, but their self-righteousness is naked and aggressive.

I’ve never fit in much with women, though, because I’m an emotional tomboy. This is not to suggest that I don’t have soft feelings and insecurities. It also does not mean that I am invulnerable. In fact, I’m rather weepy and fret about the things a lot of women (from the bold to the timid) think about during the course of the day. I am perfectly comfortable talking about my feelings and will vent with the best of them. The difference, I think, is that I’m lead more by my dreams and ambitions that my frets and my weepiness. So while I’m just as likely as the next woman to crawl under a blanket and feel like utter shit, I think I’m probably more likely than most of the women I’ve met to also feel like it’s up to me to crawl out from under the blanket. Yes, I will, eventually, recognize the patriarchal structure of said blanket, but then I will figure out how to work around it.

The first time I realized I wasn’t “normal,” I was too young and naïve to understand why this marked me as different. I was the youngest woman in an all female office, and I was hazed in ways that still give me chills: Information readily available to my colleagues was kept from me (like the home phone numbers of co-workers I was expected to collaborate with…as they worked at home); I was regularly chastised for not having the proper wardrobe (I got the job a few months out of college) and then ridiculed when I bought clothes for work (not because they were unprofessional but because I had gone to the “wrong” store); speaking up in meetings I was accountable for running was frowned upon and viewed as impertinent (even if most my comments were well received); taking the “listening” approach was a sign that I wasn’t assertive enough.

I, who had been a confident, happy young woman, developed ulcers, stopped sleeping, and started getting ragged around all my edges. I quit, went to grad school, and autonomy became my best friend. It was in grad school that I began to understand that what had happened at my first job was not so much about me but about how women treat one another, especially young, single women.

Among self-proclaimed feminist I saw backstabbing, pettiness, passive aggressiveness, and narcissism of the kind that makes me think we need to go back and re-write the legend that gives us that label. Male academics, I noticed, could be obnoxious too, but the competitiveness was right there on the surface and resentment was sparked by real rather than perceived unfairness. And it was about real stuff that could be measured—not about who was most popular but about who got published and where or won a spot in a prestigious seminar.

Now, I know that patriarchal systems reward male directness and punish female assertiveness, but what I found (and still find) abhorrent is that feminists who can describe this power structure wield it like a cudgel against women they don’t like, and the reasons they don’t like these women has little or nothing to do with the quality of their work and everything to do with whether or not these women have made the kind of choices that so-called feminists value.

“I am woman here my roar” has been replaced with “I am woman and your job as a woman is to validate every choice I’ve made by making the exact same choices that I’ve made so that I never have to question whether or not I made the right choice to begin with.”

I’m not so fresh-faced anymore, but after being hazed by yet another group of women, I made a few promises to myself:

  • I will be kind to younger colleagues and offer them information that is useful and then give them space to use that information as they see fit and not as I would like them to use it
  • I will never feel I have to be “friends” with everyone I collaborate with
  • I will not try to “nurture” everyone who crosses my path
  • I will seek professional validation from my work and personal validation in my personal life
  • I will always support a woman’s right to shoes* and not judge any woman for any of the shoe choices she makes
  • I will be compassionate, but I will not be an enabler
  • I will be less critical of Oprah
  • I will get angry and fight against the real source of trouble: patriarchal power systems

If that makes me “male-identified” so be it. I’d like to think it makes me a feminist.

*borrowed from an episode of “Sex and the City”

I’m just sayin’

I have wanted to write about Michelle Obama since the Democratic primaries death march, but I find that I have more feelings than thoughts about her. I feel a lot of things, but my thoughts are all garbled. I’ve suspected I’m not alone in this, suspected that my friend Johnny is right when he says the real shock is not that America elected a black man as president but that they elected a black woman to be its first lady and that because of this no one knows what the hell to do with her. Oh sure, she’s all over the news and blogs, but these are reactions to her rather than reflections on what she means to this country–all parts of it.

My suspicions about this curious silence were confirmed when I attended a conference at CUNY Graduate Center today. The conference, “Black Women and the Radical Tradition,” was a day-long series of talks, presentations, and lectures about, well… the title is pretty obvious. It was flawed in certain ways, but I did learn interesting things about black women’s history in different political struggles, made a few new friends, and had a perfectly lovely visit with a friend over tea and scones at Alice’s Tea Cup. What I did not hear from anyone, all day, was any word or observation about Michelle Obama. I heard a lot about her husband but not a thing about her. It was like she didn’t exist. I was sitting half a row away from Angela Davis and wanted to say, “pssst; what did you think of that New Yorker Cover? That’s your afro, right?” But I didn’t. I did ask her, during the Q&A after one of her talks, about Proposition 8 but not about Michelle.

Could it be because she’s not radical in the way these women might recognize? Looking at all the different ways that hair can be “natural” at the conference, I couldn’t quite imagine Michelle Obama there (my favorite hairdo was the huge afro on a super skinny young woman; she looked like a black q-tip…adorable!). But she is a revolutionary figure and her ability to walk the fine line of being first-mom without turning into first-mammy is pretty impressive. I think it’s because she’s a woman. Davis made an interesting observation. When Condoleeza Rice was named secretary of state, there was no breathless moment for the “black community.”* Now this might be because of her politics, but Davis didn’t seem to think so, and I don’t either.

I’m sure in the years ahead people will have much to say about Michelle Obama’s true radicalness (not the racist crap the right is calling radical), but the silence about her today was very loud. I’m just sayin’…

*I know the black community is a construct that lets certain parts of the country think we’re more alike than different, but it’s useful shorthand from time to time.

A bit of poetry

I’ve started working on two big projects that I’ve been circling for way too long, a book about the academy and a study of the nineteenth-century novel and its connection to disease and healing. Every fear of writing I have hovers below the surface, causing (sometimes literally) my hands to shake as I take hold of pen and paper. The only thing for the fear of writing is to face it, so face it I do–mostly by fooling myself into the myth that I’m not actually writing. I tell myself that I’m just “jotting down” a few sentences. At other times, my friend Karen infuses me with her own intellectual fearlessness, and I find I’m drawn, almost against my will, to my desk.

When I get too scared, Lucille Clifton’s poetry pops into my head as an invitation and a scolding that if she, who had so much less than I do now, could find the courage to write (and to write poetry!) I can too. Here is the poem that came to me during one of my writing sessions today:

won’t you celebrate with me
by Lucille Clifton

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

When I can see my writing as a celebration of the writers who live on the edge of Jane Austen’s shadow or the academy’s struggle with what is written and unwritten, then it’s not so scary…and is even a little exciting.

The Gay Alphabet

I’m not entirely sure that, as a heterosexual woman, I am allowed to post a link to the gay alphabet. But I couldn’t resist. It was developed to poke (gentle?) fun at those who fear that gay people will recruit children into a life of homosexuality. I wonder when this flat-earth thinking will disappear, when people will understand that we’re born with our sexuality. “Choice” doesn’t really come into the equation.

The warped logic sort of makes sense. Society has done such an excellent job of forcing people into gender roles that people who are homophobic fear that sexuality can be forced too. There is no proof of this, but, as the kids say today, whatev.

To be clear, this is the GAY alphabet not the GLBT alphabet. I think my favorite is J=Julie Andrews

Blagojevich and Other Delusional Men (written as the state senate votes to remove him from office)

Maybe it’s because I learned about politics in Louisiana. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the military. Or it’s possible that I’ve spent my entire adult life with and around male academics. And let’s not mention the male artists I have known. For whatever reason, I am not the slightest bit surprised by Blagojevich’s unethical conduct and haven’t been even a little bit distracted by his public performances and analogies, including comparing his struggle to Pearl Harbor. I don’t doubt for a minute that he’s delusional; it just doesn’t surprise me. After all, in college, I new a guy who told anyone who would listen that he had a strong feeling he was going to die at 33. This sense of doom impressed people, especially women. My response when he told me, sorrowfully but with a very stiff upper lip, was, “really. 33? Like Jesus? Puhleeeze!”* Before you feel sorry for him, you should know that despite my caustic response, he was quite popular with the ladies. I mean they seriously dug him.

And that’s the thing.

Deluded, self-aggrandizing men appeal to…well almost everyone. We rely on these men, build entire shows around them (“House” comes to mind almost immediately), and every truly nice guy I know has watched otherwise sane women throw themselves at the Blagojevichs of the world. This isn’t to say that what Captain Hair did was legal or ethical. He should be removed from office, but all this shock and awe seems out of place. Our culture valorizes men like Blagojevich; hell, we elect them all the time. And his over-the-top self-defense is perfectly consistent with our culture where no one admits they’re wrong, have lied, and should step down. Being bold even when wrong is a mainstay of American “cowboy” culture.

Having spent so much time around men like this, I understand the syllogism at work:

I am a good person
Good people don’t do bad things

Nothing I do is bad

Or, to be more precise:

Politicians and other delusional men may make mistakes but only do so for the greater good
I am a delusional politician
Whatever I did was for the greater good

I’m glad he’s gone, but I hope Illinois, collectively, goes to see a therapist to figure out why the state keeps electing dishonest and stupidly arrogant governors. Seriously. From a girl who had her political awakenings in a state where “Vote for the Crook” was the motto of a gubernatorial election (Convicted Felon Edwin Edwards vs. Klansman David Duke), I speak with a special authority.

In case you missed his closing argument, here it is:

*The guy has lived well past 33 and is married with at least one child.