(Early poster, available again from the Chicago Women's Liberation Union Herstory Fundraising Program)
As you've no doubt noticed by now, I am from the generation of feminism that more or less defined it and invented it whole-cloth. "They" (and, unfortunately, this includes a lot of our sisters) have since attempted their best at academizing, revising, reducing, and distorting our actual words and ideas into absurdity.
They are not successful. We are still going strong (though once again often invisible), and we are not POMO.
We are not respresented by all the so-called "big names" of "feminist theory". We are represented by poets, songwriters, and ordinary women who spoke our minds.
And, it's become abundantly clear, there's a whole generation or two after us who've never actually read what we wrote and thought -- just the criticisms and parodies of it. To correct this deliberate obfuscation, I've been reprinting key writings here intermittently. I'm going to continue this practice on a more organized basis.
One of my chief resources is the extraordinary Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog, which I have linked to from the outset and which is your best doorway to classic online resources, including the exhilirating Chicago Women's Liberation History Project (whose posters provide many of the images used here). Show your love and appreciation for these blogs, please.
After the fold, the memorable essay, "The Politics of Housework".
THE POLITICS OF HOUSEWORK
by Pat Mainardi (1970). A widely read article from a member of the NY Redstockings Group about the savage inequalities in domestic family labor.
(Editors Note: This article was originally published by Redstockings in 1970. Redstockings was an early women's liberation group centered in New York and was responsible for a number of influential writings.)
Though women do not complain of the power of husbands, each complains of her own husband, or of the husbands of her friends. It is the same in all other cases of servitude; at least in the commencement of the emancipatory movement. The serfs did not at first complain of the power of the lords, but only of their tyranny. -John Stuart Mill On the Subjection of Women
Liberated women-very different from Women's Liberation! The first signals all kinds of goodies, to warm the hearts (not to mention other parts) of the most radical men. The other signals-HOUSEWORK. The first brings sex without marriage, sex before marriage, cozy housekeeping arrangements ("I'm living with this chick") and the self-content of knowing that you're not the kind of man who wants a doormat instead of a woman. That will come later. After all, who wants that old commodity anymore, the Standard American Housewife, all husband, home and kids? The New Commodity; the Liberated Woman, has sex a lot and has a Career, preferably something that can be fitted in with the household chores-like dancing, pottery, or painting.
On the other hand is Women's Liberation-and housework. What? You say this is all trivial? Wonderful! That's what I thought. It seemed perfectly reasonable. We both had careers, both had to work a couple of days a week to earn enough to live on, so why shouldn't we share the housework? So I suggested it to my mate and he agreed-most men are too hip to turn you down flat. You're right, he said. It's only fair. Then an interesting thing happened. I can only explain it by stating that we women have been brainwashed more than even we can imagine, Probably too many years of seeing television women in ecstasy over their shiny waxed floors or breaking down over their dirty shirt collars. Men have no such conditioning. They recognize the essential fact of housework right from the very beginning. Which is that it stinks.
Here's my list of dirty chores: buying groceries, carting them home and putting them away; cooking meals and washing dishes and pots; doing the laundry digging out the place when things get out of control; washing floors. The list could go on but the sheer necessities are bad enough. All of us have to do these things, or get someone else to do them for us. The longer my husband contemplated these chores, the more repulsed he became, and so proceeded the change from the normally sweet, considerate Dr. Jekyll into the crafty Mr. Hyde who would stop at nothing to avoid the horrors of-housework. As he felt himself backed into a comer laden with dirty dishes, brooms, mops and reeking garbage, his front teeth grew longer and pointier, his fingernails haggled and his eyes grew wild. Housework trivial? Not on your life! Just try to share the burden.
So ensued a dialogue that's been going on for several years. Here are some of the high points: "I don't mind sharing the housework, but I don't do it very well. We should each do the things we're best at." MEANING: Unfortunately I'm no good at things like washing dishes or cooking. What I do best is a little light carpentry, changing light bulbs, moving furniture (how often do you move furniture?). ALSO MEANING: Historically the lower classes (black men and us) have had hundreds of years experience doing menial jobs. It would be a waste of manpower to train someone else to do them now. ALSO MEANING: I don't like the dull, stupid, boring jobs, so you should do them.
"I don' t mind sharing the work, but you'll have to show me how to do it." MEANING: I ask a lot of questions and you'll have to show me everything every time I do it because I don't remember so good. Also don' t try to sit down and read while I'M doing my jobs because I'm going to annoy hell out of you until it's easier to do them yourself."
"We used to be so happy!" (Said whenever it was his turn to do something.) MEANING: I used to be so happy. MEANING: Life without house work is bliss. No quarrel here. Perfect Agreement.
"We have different standards, and why should I have to work to your standards? That's unfair." MEANING: If I begin to get bugged by the dirt and crap I will say, "This place sure is a sty" or "How can anyone live like this?" and wait for your reaction. I know that all women have a sore called "Guilt over a messy house" or "Household work is ultimately my responsibility." I know that men have caused that sore-if anyone visits and the place is a sty--they're not going to leave and say, "He sure is a lousy housekeeper." You'll take the rap in any case. I can outwait you. ALSO MEANING: I can provoke innumerable scenes over the housework issue. Eventually doing all the housework yourself will be less painful to you than trying to get me to do half. Or I'll suggest we get a maid. She will do my share of the work. You will do yours. It's women's work.
"I've got nothing against sharing the housework, but you can' t make me do it on your schedule." MEANING: Passive resistance. I'll do it when I damned well please, if at all. If my job is doing dishes, it's easier to do them once a week. If taking out laundry, once a month. If washing the floors, once a year. If you don't like it, do it yourself oftener, and then I wont do it at all.
"I hate it more than you. You don't mind it so much." MEANING: Housework is garbage work. It's the worst crap I've ever done. It's degrading and humiliating for someone of my intelligence to do it. But for someone of your intelligence....
"Housework is too trivial to even talk about." MEANING: It's even more trivial to do. Housework is beneath my status. My purpose in life is to deal with matters of significance. Yours is to deal with matters of insignificance. You should do the housework.
"This problem of housework is not a man-woman problem. In any relationship between two people one is going to have a stronger personality and dominate." MEANING: That stronger personality had better be me.
"In animal societies, wolves, for example, the top animal is usually a male even where he is not chosen for brute strength but on the basis of cunning and intelligence. Isn't that interesting? MEANING: I have historical, psychological, anthropological and biological justification for keeping you down. How can you ask the top wolf to be equal?
"Women's liberation isn't really a political movement." MEANING: The revolution is coming too close to home. ALSO MEANING: I am only interested in how I am oppressed, not how I oppress others. Therefore the war, the draft and the university are political. Women's liberation is not.
"Man's accomplishments have always depended on getting help from other people, mostly women. What great man would have accomplished what he did if he had to do his own housework?" MEANING: Oppression is built into the system and I, as the white American male, receive the benefits of this system. I don't want to give them up.
Participatory democracy begins at home. If you are planning to implement your politics, there are certain things to remember.
1. He is feeling it more than you. He's losing some leisure and you're gaining it. The measure of your oppression is his resistance.
2. A great many American men are not accustomed to doing monotonous, repetitive work which never issues in any lasting, let alone important, achievement. This is why they would rather repair a cabinet than wash dishes. If human endeavors are like a pyramid with man's highest achievements at the top, then keeping oneself alive is at the bottom. Men have always had servants (us) to take care of this bottom stratum of life while they have confined their efforts to the rarefied upper regions. It is thus ironic when they ask of women-Where are your great painters, statesmen, etc.? Mme. Matisse ran a military shop so he could paint. Mrs. Martin Luther King kept his house and raised his babies.
3. It is a traumatizing experience for someone who has always thought of himself as being against any oppression or exploitation of one human being by another to realize that in his daily life he has been accepting and implementing (and benefiting from) this exploitation; that his rationalization is little different from that of the racist who says, "Black people don' t feel pain' (women don't mind doing the shitwork); and that the oldest form of oppression in history has been the oppression of 50 percent of the population by the other 50 percent.
4. Arm yourself with some knowledge of the psychology of oppressed peoples everywhere, and a few facts about the animal kingdom. I admit playing top wolf or who runs the gorillas is silly but as a last resort men bring it up all the time. Talk about bees. If you feel really hostile bring up the sex life of spiders. They have sex. She bites off his head. The psychology of oppressed peoples is not silly. Jews, immigrants, black men and all women have employed the same psychological mechanisms to survive' admiring the oppressor, glorifying the oppressor, wanting to be like the oppressor, wanting the oppressor to like them, mostly because the oppressor held all the power.
5. In a sense, all men everywhere are slightly schizoid-divorced from the reality of maintaining life. This makes it easier for them to play games with it. It is almost a cliché that women feel greater grief at sending a son off to a war or losing him to that war because they bore him, suckled him, and raised him. The men who foment those wars did none of those things and have a more superficial estimate of the worth of human life. One hour a day is a low estimate of the amount of time one has to spend "keeping" oneself. By foisting this off on others, man has seven hours a week-one working day more to play with his mind and not his human needs. Over the course of generations it is easy to see whence evolved the horrifying abstractions of modern life.
6. With the death of each form of oppression, life changes and new forms evolve. English aristocrats at the turn of the century were horrified at the idea of enfranchising working men-were sure that it signaled the death of civilization and a return to barbarism. Some working men were even deceived by this line. Similarly with the minimum wage, abolition of slavery, and female suffrage. Life changes but it goes on. Don't fall for any line about the death of everything if men take a turn at the dishes. They will imply that you are holding back the revolution (their revolution). But you are advancing it (your revolution).
7. Keep checking up. Periodically consider who's actually doing the jobs. These things have a way of backsliding so that a year later once again the woman is doing everything. After a year make a list of jobs the man has rarely if ever done. You will find cleaning pots, toilets, refrigerators and ovens high on the list. Use time sheets if necessary. He will accuse you of being petty. He is above that sort of thing (housework). Bear in mind what the worst jobs are, namely the ones that have to be done every day or several times a day. Also the ones that are dirty-it's more pleasant to pick up books, newspapers, etc., than to wash dishes. Alternate the bad jobs. It's the daily grind that gets you down. Also make sure that you don' t have the responsibility for the housework with occasional help from him. "I'll cook dinner for you tonight" implies it's really your job and isn't he a nice guy to do some of it for you.
8. Most men had a rich and rewarding bachelor life during which they did not starve or become encrusted with crud or buried under the liner. There is a taboo that says women mustn' t strain themselves in the presence of men-we haul around 50 pounds of groceries if we have to but aren't allowed to open a jar if there is someone around to do it for us. The reverse side of the coin is that men aren't supposed to be able to take care of themselves without a woman. Both are excuses for making women do the housework.
9. Beware of the double whammy. He won't do the little things he always did because you're now a "Liberated Woman," right? Of course he won't do anything else either....
I was just finishing this when my husband came in and asked what I was doing. Writing a paper on housework. Housework? he said. Housework? Oh my god how trivial can you get? A paper on housework.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
(Early poster, available again from the Chicago Women's Liberation Union Herstory Fundraising Program)
("At the Nile" by Amanda Evassy Tumusiime)
On the wall beside my bed are a number of photographs, hung beads, and a few pieces of paper containing lines or poems important to me. I'm sharing a couple of those today.
In the early 1990s, I went back to the Bay Area to visit friends for a week. I drove up to Napa to see my pal Gail, and we went to eat at a little cafe along the main two-lane blacktop through wine country. In the foyer of this cafe, along with many community notices and flyers, was a stack of pink handouts, each one-quarter of regular sheet of paper, on which someone had reproduced the lyrics to one of the chief lesbian anthems of the 1970's. There was nothing on the reverse, no indication of where these had come from, nothing to advertise: It was simply a gift to any who came by.
This song was almost indescribably important to my development as a human being, as a woman, as a lesbian, and (I believe) to much of my sisterhood's generation. Although I know the lyrics by heart, I picked up one of the little pink slips -- how could I not? -- and slid it into my datebook. When I got home, I tacked it up beside my bed as a daily reminder, and it's been there until now. I'll be returned it to its outline on the plaster, having typed it for you below.
Just above it has rested a postcard sent to me by an ex, when we were still in the agony of break-up, containing a poem whose author was not identified. It was a sort of well-wish, and it's been there for 17 years. Now that she and I no longer have anything to say to one another (not well wishes or ill wishes, only silence), it's time for the postcard to come down. But the poem is spectacular, and I'm sharing it with you -- tacking it up here for the world, as it were.
(Alix Dobkin, photo by Carol Newhouse)
THE WOMAN IN YOUR LIFE IS YOU
The woman in your life will do what she must do
To comfort you and calm you down and let you rest now
The woman in your life, she can rest so easily
She knows everything you do because the woman in your life is you
The woman in your life knows simply what is true
She knows the simple way to touch, to make you whole now
The woman in your life, she can touch so easily
She knows everything you do because the woman in your life is you
And who knows more about your story, about your struggle in the world
And who cares more to bless your weary shoulders
Than the woman in your life, she's trying to come through
A woman's voice with messages of woman's feelings
The woman in your life, she can feel so easily
She knows everything you do because the woman in your life is you
And who is sure to give you courage and who will surely make you strong
And who will bear all the joy that's coming to you
If not the woman in your life, she's someone to pursue
She's patient and she's waiting and she'll take you home now
The woman in your life, she can wait so easily
She knows everything you do because the woman in your life is you
The woman in your life, the woman in your life
The woman in your life is you
by Alix Dobkin on Lavender Jane Loves Women
(Louise Glück, by Sigrid Estrada)
The darkness lifts, imagine, in your lifetime.
There you are - cased in clean bark you drift
through weaving rushes, fields flooded with cotton.
You are free. The river films with lilies,
shrubs appear, shoots thicken into palm. And now
all fear gives way: the light
looks after you, you feel the waves' goodwill
as arms widen over the water; Love
the key is turned. Extend yourself -
it is the Nile, the sun is shining,
everywhere you turn is luck.
(by Louise Glück, from The House on Marshland)
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Okay, it doesn't get more effective and elegant than this.
In yesterday's post, I listed some of the steps involved in Mussar, a method of confronting social wrongs that doesn't involve shame. Step number one to was to try a dignified one-on-one first.
Ellen Degeneres does just that when she places a call to Oklahoma GOP Representative Sally Kern, who went off on an anti-gay tirade that was recorded without her knowledge. This clip is all over You Tube and Alternet, but in case you've missed it, I'm embedding it here, too. BRAVO to Ellen.
(Stumps, woodcut from Tugboat Printshop)
Bennett Gordon writing for Utne Reader in an article entitled Confronting People, Creating Change writes:
'Scarlet letters and stockades went out of style in American culture as a way of creating social change, but public shaming is still very much en vogue. The phrase “shame on you” still gets thrown around in American politics, both overtly and in more subtle ways.
'The Jewish tradition Mussar teaches people that there are better ways of creating change. In the March-April issue of Tikkun (article not available online), Leonard Felder breaks down three steps that people should take when trying to right social wrongs. They are:
---Try a dignified one-on-one first
---Make sure you aren’t trying to blast someone for what you yourself need to be working on
---Put human dignity and peace ahead of any other rules or laws
'The guidelines not only help people act morally in conflict, they’re also often more effective than public shaming.'
(Photo of Elana Dykewomon)
For those of you following the current California Supreme Court case considering the rights of lesbians and gays to marry (which some folks I know are because they got married there and if the ruling is overturned, suddenly all those weddings will become legal contracts), here's a quartet of good articles on the subject.
Around the U.S., High Courts Follow California’s Lead, from the New York Times, about how and why "The California Supreme Court is the most influential state court in the nation."
Gay Marriage Attracting Skilled Workers To Massachusetts, an article at 365 Gay which explains why "Massachusetts is reaping huge financial gains as a result of same-sex marriage."
Same-sex marriage yields 'protest burnout', an article from the San Jose Mercury News discusses why "Scene outside state Supreme Court building surprisingly tranquil as hallmark case being heard".
Also from the Mercury News, Sacramento columnist Daniel Weintraub discusses the reality that Same-sex marriage inching toward general acceptance.
Lastly, an op-ed from the Los Angeles Times titled Civil unions aren't marriage explains "The M-word does matter, and courts should make that clear."
(Postcard by Liza Cowan at her post Design Process)
For those of us who do believe being a lesbian is "about what you eat", AfterEllen has interviews by Dara Nai with the three lesbian chefs on the latest installment of Top Chef in Meet the Lesbians of "Top Chef " Season 4.
Meanwhile, compost maven and aficionado of dyke culture Holly Rae Taylor's new blog, Waste Free Living, makes me (and Myra) happy by posting an actual recipe in Lesbian Kale Sauce and the 2008 Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera. The Lesbian Kale Sauce looks extremely delicious, except apparently you should greatly reduce the amount of wasabi in it unless your mucous membranes are toughened up.
(Photograph by Dorothea Lange of an African-American man living on a cotton patch near Vicksburg, Mississippi, July 1936)
UPDATE: In one of my annotation posts, where I elucidate the cultural references included in my novel Ginny Bates, I had a meaty section about Fannie Lou Hamer. I've just discovered an extraordinary ten-minute video on YouTube, Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired, about Hamer's life and impact, created by two seventh-grade girls. It's inserted below. Do watch.
(Hat tip to Mogolori, a commenter at Daily Kos who posted the link to this video in her comment on MeteorBlades diary about Mississippi civil rights history, Mississippi Turning.)
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
(Image by Sol Steinberg)
Here's the short version: Judgment errors on the part of Democratic candidates, which are inevitable and frequent no matter how much you worship your boy/girl, do not give other Democrats permission to attack their character and smear entire groups of people in retaliation.
Geraldine Ferraro's remarks are racist. From the trail that's being unearthed, she has a history of making such comments and believing in them. More on that below. If she's a member of a campaign effort, then when her comment becomes public, she needs to be asked to apologize and step down from her association, and the head of that campaign needs to state in unequivocal terms what was wrong about the statements and that their campaign will not tolerate such belief. This is the decent thing to do.
Do campaigns follow this ethic? Never if they are Republicans. Not nearly enough if they are Democrats. Hillary Clinton's failure to step up is a major blow to her credibility, and it's good that this is being discussed. What's more crucial is an examination of the flawed thinking behind the comment, and I appreciate bloggers who are taking the time to do this. I really don't appreciate those with CDS who are jumping on it as chance to call her everything but the Jane Fonda word -- in the guise of "analysis".
Those political bloggers stupid enough to have revealed their biases this early on in a Presidential race have lost my interest and patience. You really did not have to come out for a candidate in order to do your job. Daily Kos has become a joke of let's-find-out-something-else-wrong-with-Hillary posting. With that level of favoritism, I don't believe they'll report as honestly and accurately when Barack fucks up bigtime, as he most assuredly will -- he's not that good, folks. He's earned our respect and definitely our vote, but he's not a shining path to manna and honey.
And, referring to the ethic above: He said nothing about Samantha Powers labelling Hillary a monster, and has not distanced his campaign from those remarks, either. Where's your outcry about that?
One good thing about the tensions of this unique Presidential season is that it affords the opportunity, for those intelligent enough to make use of it, to discuss in detail how racism and sexism function in our culture, distinctly from one another, not in comparison but as two different facets of oppression which serve to keep woman-hating and white supremacy the American norm. Those who follow only one line of the discussion are contributing to the game which keeps us all at one another's throats. I won't read you any more until you clean your shit up.
Now, some racism 101: Let's start with what she actually said on the John Gibson show on February 26:
"Ferraro: When I see John Lewis ... a civil rights leader, why in God's name did he change his vote from Hillary to Barack Obama. I'll tell you why, because he faces -- he's not going to lose a Democratic primary in his district in two years, but he sure as hell will face one if he sticks it to Barack Obama when he has a greater majority of blacks in his district ... I'm so disappointed in him I could die.
"I look at Rosa DeLauro up in Connecticut. She represents New Haven. Tell me -- I don't care what she says -- tell me why she's endorsing Barack Obama ... and then came to his defense on an issue like choice where he voted six times maybe, when he voted present -- I'm like a lunatic about this stuff ...
"If Barack Obama were a white man, would we be talking about this as a potential real problem for Hillary? If he were a woman of any color, would he be in this position?"
What I read from this are several messages:
(1) Black people stick together behind black candidates, and if you cross them, you'll lose their vote.
(2) Why would a woman endorse a candidate who's not voted reliably on a key women's health issue, especially when a woman candidate who has voted reliably is available? It must be racial ganging together.
(3) The people who are supporting Obama are doing so more because he is black than because of the issues, but that "plus" would be eliminated if he were a woman because sexism trumps racism.
So, what I could do with this is call Ferraro names, impugn her generation/feminism/ethnicity/class, or use another several male-conditioning-accepted tricks to conceal the fact that I have feelings about discovering someone who's been a pioneer and has power being this flawed. At least in the above excerpt, Ferraro admitted her feelings, twice. But in the blogging world, thinking of a dozen ways to talk trash about others is never identified as unexpressed and inappropriate anger/hurt/fear. Because guys, you know, don't have feelings in the way of their ability to see and think. It's that Penis Protection Factor(™).
(See, I just did what the bloggers are doing. Doesn't make you especially want to hear more, does it? Not when it's focused on somebody other than the socially-acceptable target of women. Or fat people. Hostility is something you are going to have to GIVE UP for the revolution, or else g*d will leave you behind in the desert. You want Obama to lead you into paradise, but paradise doesn't want your passive-aggressive ass.)
Instead, I'll address the fallacies, one by one.
(1) 'Black folks/people of cullah are in secret collusion against the white masters in the big house.' This paranoia is as old as slavery. The truth is, if oppressed groups WERE able to act in unity and with shared intent, slavery would have ended the first time blacks outnumbered whites in any given county, and there would be 25 female Senators, a list of 22 past female Presidents, etc. This is not just paranoia, it's projection. Reality shows that it is WHITE people who act in racial collusion, who make choices more on the basis of gender and race than on issues or character, and who enforce the status quo by reprisal.
To give you a different analogy, the Christian Right floated the balloon of a "homosexual agenda", some sort of concerted plan to take over public schools, city councils, state legislatures, etc. Clearly none of them had ever attended any kind of queer meeting, to believe we could agree on even the name of such a movement. The folks who DID have an "agenda", a "seekwet pwan" (to quote C.J. Craig) to take over, were of course the folks making the accusation.
Here's a nearly infallible rule of thumb when dealing with those who are letting their emotions (particularly fear) run their brain: (a) They will lie, because they are rehearsing the lies imprinted on them too early to resist the conditioning, and (b) they will be convinced you are doing or about to do whatever it is they are, in fact, doing.
(2) Following up on #1, SOME people actually can sort through issues instead of being entirely swayed by identity politics. This is not to say identity politics are bad, or should be ignored -- that's as dismissive as saying we are past racism, can't we just all be friends? But there does exist the ability to hold several somewhat conflicting ideas in one's head at the same time, not try to figure out which is "the point" and instead create a synthesized view which takes into account the failings of another even as you support them. Women are raised to know how to do this. We are told from the moment we can walk and talk that we are supposed to grow up and create marriages/families with someone from a group whose conditioned ability to process emotion, nurture, maintain intimate connection regardless of sexual gratification, and maintain a household is far inferior to ours. We have to make allowances and value others for what they can bring to the table or else we'll be alone (or happily lesbian).
You know who else gets that kind of upbringing? People of color. They know who we are, as white people. They're around us all the fucking time, we're not fooling anybody. But if they don't learn how to get past our bullshit and deal with us, most of time, at face value, they wind up getting locked away. It's how groups who are target for oppression cope, and teach their children to cope. If you're in the non-target group, you will not have the same ability.
(And, I'm sorry to tell you, fans of alt rock, computer games and Battlestar Galactica do not actually constitute victimized subcultures. You think you know what it's like to be outside the box of normal, but unless you are colored, female, crippled and/or raised poor in this country, you do not.)
Lastly -- Barack Obama has been a real prick on the subject of lesbian/gay/bi/trans issues. Nevertheless, he is ardently supported by members of that community. Likewise, DOMA was a kick in the ovaries to us, but we're also behind Hillary Clinton in massive numbers. What does that make us, martyrs? Or just able to see a bigger picture?
(3) This point is more complicated, because Ferraro comes closest to naming something that I think does exist: Tokenism and belief in the Magical Negro. She comes close, but that is not what she really means -- we can tell because (a) other of her comments reveal she's not exercising rational thinking on the topic of race and (b) the fact that some white people (especially white middle-to-upper class men) engage in tokenism does not apply to the example of Barack Obama's success.
Tokens are advanced because they will not question the status quo and because they are sure to be incompetent. Think Alberto Gonzales or Clarence Thomas. They are popular in non-target groups because those groups fail to comprehend the complicated reality of racism (or whatever oppression is being questioned) and believe having a connection to someone in the target group somehow negates the possibility that they are racist.
But, overwhelmingly, tokens are not elected to office. They are appointed or otherwise put into position by those who hold the real power. Certainly they do not have Obama's record. This one is a no-brainer to prove.
Part of the efficacy of oppression is to separate (in an institutional fashion) those in target groups who would otherwise create alliance and outnumber the non-target group in power. This is done through systematic conditioning, and clearly Ferraro is suffering from its unhealed effects. There is simply no logical way to compare racism with sexism, or sexism with disabled oppression, or disabled oppression with the ownership of children, or the ownership of children with classism. There is no "primary oppression", there is no keystone whose removal will bring down the edifice to everyone's benefit: We have to address all of the lies simultaneously, as a unified force. As Paul Wellstone so eloquently put it, "Everyone does better when EVERYONE does better."
When confronted with the lies, the non-target system will at first deny they are lies. They will then say the lies only apply to the "bad" members of the target group. They will then try to get the various target groups fighting with each other about which one has it worse. We're at the third stage right now. However you engage in their distraction tactic -- either by comparing oppressions, or by venting your self-righteous vitriole on some fucking woman who dares to compare herself to you -- is a waste. Name the lie, ask for an ethical response, notice what does or does not occur, and move on.
One of the commenters at my post on Harriet Tubman states she read that the narcoleptic condition Harriet suffered from as a result of a beating as a child made her fall asleep, at times, when she was leading a group of fleeing slaves toward freedom. When that occurred, her little band would gather around her protectively and stand guard until she woke up. She obviously had a terrible disability, but that didn't keep her from being the route to another territory.
Think about that as things unfold.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
One of the readers (and seriously interesting commenters) here at this blog, as well as at Maoist Orange Cake (where she sometimes posts) and Dykes to Watch Out For is little gator. Another place where she makes a huge impact is at I Can Has Cheezburger, where her captions transform ordinary photos into the ultimate cultural reference and, often, make me laugh so hard I choke.
So, once a week, I head on over to that site and look through her contributions. Here's a weekly round-up. The first few are by her, the remainder are other worthy efforts. This is for all of you who don't want to wade through the banal and near-misses, but want some nutrient-rich humor at the end of a cold day.
(Listen to the revolutionary granny telling stories Ting geming lao mama jiang gushi Poster from 1965)
There are many, many pieces of writing from the heydey of feminism which are either out of print or, if in print, go unread by those whose lives would be altered for reading them. Too many of these are not available online, either.
In 1977, I returned for Christmas from my new home in a lesbian-separatist land collective outside Durango, Colorado to visit my mother, daughter, and Texas friends. Another friend, one of my blood sisters, Jean, was in Dallas at the same time from her new home in Cincinnati, Ohio. We spent an evening talking hungrily with each other. She began the evening by pulling a pale blue chapbook from her pack and saying "You have to read this. Better yet, let me read it to you."
It was the essay by Adrienne Rich titled "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying". I settled in next to her and listened. By the end, we were both weeping. We talked about it until we had to part. She had gotten it from a woman coming through Cincinnati from Ithaca, New York. She pressed the book on me, urged me to pass it on.
I took the chapbook back to my collective where we all read it and could not stop talking about its meaning, its implications. A woman came through on her way home to Tempe, Arizona, and we gave it to her. It was passed around Tempe and eventually traveled on to the Los Angeles area via another woman on the move. That's where I lost track of it.
It was printed on offset press and not available anywhere else. Things like this came to us, via individual printings or small women's journals, writings which were never seen by anyone outside our subculture. We lived in your world, but in our world, too.
A year later, I moved to San Francisco and met a woman who had a copy of We Are All Lesbians, an anthology of poetry, again a small printing on an offset press. In that tiny volume was "Eat Rice Have Faith in Women", by Fran Winant. This poem, too, became something we all read, memorized passages from, quoted to each other, wrote out to paste on our refrigerators or our bathroom walls next to the toilet. The stuff of revolution, of transformation, of hearts made whole and lies cracked open.
I'm copying them both in for you here. Pass it on.
Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying (1975)
These notes were first read at the Hartwick Women Writers' Workshop, founded and directed by Beverly Tanenhaus, at Hartwick College, Oneonta, New York, in June 1971. They were published as a pamphlet by Motheroot Press in Pittsburgh, 1977; in Heresies: A Feminist Masazine of Art and Politics, vol. 1, no. 1; and in a French translation by the Quebecois feminist press, Les Editions du Remue-Menage, 1979
It is clear that among women we need a new ethics; as women, a new morality. The problem of speech, of language, continues to be primary. For if in our speaking we are breaking silences long established, "liberating ourselves from our secrets" in the words of Beverly Tanenhaus, this is in itself a first kind of action. I wrote Women and Honor in an effort to make myself more honest, and to understand the terrible negative power ofthe lie in relationships between women. Since it was published, other women have spoken and written of things I did not include: Michelle Cliff's "Notes on Speechlessness" in Sinister Wisdom no. 5 led Catherine Nicolson (in the same issue) to write of the power of "deafness," the frustration of our speech by those who do not want to hear what we have to say. Nelle Morton has written of the act of "hearing each other into speech. " How do we listen? How do we make it possible for another to break her silence? These are some of the questions which follow on the ones I have raised here.
(These notes are concerned with relationships between and among Women. When ''personal relationship" is referred to, I mean a relationship between two women. It will be clear in what follows when I am talking about women's relationships with men.)
The old, male idea of honor. A man's "word" sufficed--to other men--without guarantee.
"Our Land Free, Our Men Honest, Our Women Fruitful"--a popular colonial toast in America.
Male honor also having something to do with killing: I could not love thee, Dear, so much / Lov'd I not Honour more, ("To Lucasta, On Going to the Wars"). Male honor as something needing to be avenged: hence: the duel.
Women's honor, something altogether else: virginity, chastity, fidelity to a husband. Honesty in women has not been considered important. We have been depicted as generically whimsical, deceitful, subtle, vacillating. And we have been rewarded for lying.
Men have been expected to tell the truth about facts, not about feelings. They have not been expected to talk about feelings at all.
Yet even about facts they have continually lied.
We assume that politicians are without honor. We read their statements trying to crack the code. The scandals of their politics: not that men in high places lie, only that they do so with such indifference, so endlessly, still expecting to be believed. We are accustomed to the contempt inherent in the political lie.
To discover that one has been lied to in a personal relationship, however, leads one to feel a little crazy.
Lying is done with words, and also with silence.
The woman who tells lies in her personal relationships may or may not plan or invent her lying, She may not even think of what is doing in a calculated way.
A subject is raised which the liar wishes buried. She has to go downstairs, her parking meter will have run out. Or, there is a telephone call she ought to have made an hour ago.
She is asked, point-blank, a question which may lead into painful talk: "How do you feel about what is happening between us?" Instead trying to describe her feelings in their ambiguity and confusion, she asks, "How do you feel?" The other, because she is trying to establish a ground of openness and trust, begins describing her own feelings. Thus the liar learns more than she tells.
And she may also tell herself a lie: that she is concerned with the other's feelings, not with her own.
But the liar is concerned with her own feelings.
The liar lives in fear of losing control. She cannot even desire a relationship without manipulation, since to be vulnerable to another person means for her the loss of control.
The liar has many friends, and leads an existence of great loneliness.
...In speaking of lies, we come inevitably to the subject of truth. ; There is nothing simple or easy about this idea. There is no "the truth," "a truth"--truth is not one thing, or even a system. It is an increasing complexity. The pattern of the carpet is a surface. When we look closely, or when we become weavers, we learn of the tiny multiple threads unseen in the overall pattern, the knots on the underside of the carpet.
This is why the effort to speak honestly is so important. Lies are usually attempts to make everything simpler--for the liar--than is really is or ought to be.
In lying to others we end up lying to ourselves. We deny the importance of an event, or a person, and thus deprive ourselves of a part of our lives. Or we use one piece of the past or present to screen out another. Thus we lose faith even with our own lives.
The unconscious wants truth, as the body does. The complexity and fecundity of dreams come from the complexity and fecundity of the unconscious Struggling to fulfill that desire. The complexity and fecundity of poetry come from the same struggle.
An honorable human relationship--that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word "love"--is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.
It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.
It is important to do this because in so doing we do justice to our own complexity.
It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.
I come back to the questions of women's honor. Truthfulness has not been considered important for women, as long as we have remained physically faithful to a man, or chaste.
We have been expected to lie with our bodies: to bleach, redden, unkink or curl our hair, pluck eyebrows, shave armpits, wear padding in various places or lace ourselves, take little steps, glaze finger and toe nails, wear clothes that emphasized our helplessness
We have been required to tell different lies at different times, depending on what the men of the time needed to hear. The Victorian wife or the white southern lady, who were expected to have no sensuality, to "lie still"; the twentieth-century "free" woman who is expected to fake orgasms.
We have had the truth of our bodies withheld from us or distorted; have been kept in ignorance of our most intimate places. Our instincts have been punished: clitoridectomies for "lustful" nuns or for "difficult" wives. It has been difficult, too, to know the lies of our complicity from the lies we believed.
The lie of the "happy marriage," of domesticity--we have been complicit, have acted out the fiction of a well-lived life, until the day we testify in court of rapes, beatings, psychic cruelties, public and private humiliations,
Patriarchal lying has manipulated women both through falsehood through silence. Facts we needed have been withheld from us. False witness has been borne against us.
And so we must take seriously the question of truthfulness between women, truthfulness among women. As we cease to lie with our bodies, as we cease to take on faith what men have said about us, is a truly womanly idea of honor in the making?
Women have been forced to lie, for survival, to men. How to unlearn this among other women?
"Women have always lied to each other.
"Women have always whispered the truth to each other."
Both of these axioms are true.
"Women have always been divided against each other. "
"Women have always been in secret collusion."
Both of these axioms are true.
In the struggle for survival we tell lies. To bosses, to prison guards, the police, men who have power over us, who legally own us and our children, lovers who need us as proof of their manhood.
There is a danger run by all powerless people: that we forget we are lying, or that lying becomes a weapon we carry over into relationships with people who do not have power over us.
I want to reiterate that when we talk about women and honor, or women and lying, we speak within the context of male lying, the lies of the powerful, the lie as false source of power.
Women have to think whether we want, in our relationships with each other, the kind of power that can be obtained through lying.
Women have been driven mad, "gaslighted," for centuries by the refutation of our experience and our instincts in a culture which validates only male experience. The truth of our bodies and our minds has been mystified to us. We therefore have a primary obligation to each other: not to undermine each others' sense of reality for the sake of expediency; not to gaslight each other.
Women have often felt insane when cleaving to the truth of our experience. Our future depends on the sanity of each of us, and we have a profound stake, beyond the personal, in the proiect of describing our reality as candidly and fully as we can to each other.
There are phrases which help us not to admit we are lying: "my privacy," "nobody's business but my own." The choices that underlie these phrases may indeed be justified; but we ought to think about the full meaning and consequences of such language. Women's love for women has been represented almost entirely through silence and lies. The institution of heterosexuality has forced the lesbian to dissemble, or be labeled a pervert, a criminal, a sick or dangerous woman, etc., etc. The lesbian, then, has often been forced to lie, like the prostitute or the married women.
Does a life "in the closet"--lying, perhaps of necessity, about ourselves to bosses, landlords, clients, colleagues, family, because the law and public opinion are founded on a lie--does this, can it, spread into private life, so that lying (described as discretion) becomes an easy way to avoid conflict or complication? Can it become a strategy so ingrained that it is used even with close friends and lovers?
Heterosexuality as an institution has also drowned in silence the erotic feelings between women. I myself lived half a lifetime in the lie of that denial. That silence makes us all, to some degree, into liars.
When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.
The liar leads an existence of unutterable loneliness.
The liar is afraid.
But we are all afraid: without fear we become manic, hubristic, self-destructive. What is this particular fear that possesses the liar?
She is afraid that her own truths are not good enough. She is afraid, not so much of prison guards or bosses, but of something unnamed within her.
The liar fears the void.
The void is not something created by patriarchy, or racism, or capitalism. It will not fade away with any of them. It is part of every woman.
"The dark core," Virginia Woolf named it, writing of her mother. The dark core. It is beyond personality; beyond who loves us or hates us.
We begin out of the void, out of darkness and emptiness. It is part of the cycle understood by the old pagan religions, that materialism denies. Out of death, rebirth; out of nothing, something.
The void is the creatrix, the matrix. It is not mere hollowness and anarchy. But in women it has been identified with lovelessness, barrenness, sterility. We have been urged to fill our "emptiness" with children. We are not supposed to go down into the darkness of the core.
Yet, if we can risk it, the something born of that nothing is the beginning of our truth.
The liar in her terror wants to fill up the void, with anything. Her lies are a denial of her fear; a way of maintaining control.
Why do we feel slightly crazy when we realize we have been lied to in a relationship?
We take so much of the universe on trust. You tell me: "In 1950 I lived on the north side of Beacon Street in Somerville." You tell me: "She and I were lovers, but for months now we have only been good friends." You tell me: "It is seventy degrees outside and the sun is shining." Because I love you, because there is not even a question of lying between us, I take these accounts of the universe on trust: your address twenty-five years ago, your relationship with someone I know only by sight, this morning's weather. I fling unconscious tendrils of belief, like slender green threads, across statements such as these, statements made so unequivocally, which have no tone or shadow of tentativeness. I build them into the mosaic of my world. I allow my universe to change in minute, significant ways, on the basis of things you have said to me, of my trust in you.
I also have faith that you are telling me things it is important I should know; that you do not conceal facts from me in an effort to spare me, or yourself, pain.
Or, at the very least, that you will say, "There are things I am not telling you."
When we discover that someone we trusted can be trusted no longer, it forces us to reexamine the universe, to question the whole instinct and concept of trust. For a while, we are thrust back onto some bleak, jutting ledge, in a dark pierced by sheets of fire, swept by sheets of rain, in a world before kinship, or naming, or tenderness exist; we are brought close to formlessness.
The liar may resist confrontation, denying that she lied. Or she may use other language: forgetfulness, privacy, the protection of someone else. Or, she may bravely declare herself a coward. This allows her to go on lying, since that is what cowards do. She does not say, I was afraid, since this would open the question of other ways of handling her fear. It would open the question of what is actually feared.
She may say, I didn't want to cause pain. What she really did not want is to have to deal with the other's pain. The lie is a short-cut through another's personality.
Truthfulness, honor, is not something which springs ablaze of itself; it has to be created between people.
This is true in political situations. The quality and depth of the politics evolving from a group depends in very large part on their understanding of honor.
Much of what is narrowly termed "politics" seems to rest on a longing for certainty even at the cost of honesty, for an analysis which, once given, need not be reexamined. Such is the deadendedness--for women-of Marxism in our time.
Truthfulness anywhere means a heightened complexity. But it is a movement into evolution. Women are only beginning to uncover our own truths; many of us would be grateful for some rest in that struggle, would be glad iust to lie down with the sherds we have painfully unearthed, and be satisfied with those. The politics worth having, the relationships worth having, demand that we delve still deeper.
The possibilities that exist between two people, or among a group of people, are a kind of alchemy. They are the most interesting thing in life. The liar is someone who keeps losing sight of these possibilities.
When relationships are determined by manipulation, by the need for control, they may possess a dreary, bickering kind of drama, but they cease to be interesting. They are repetitious; the shock of human possibilities has ceased to reverberate through them. When someone tells me a piece of the truth which has been withheld from me, and which I needed in order to see my life more clearly, it may bring acute pain, but it can also flood me with a cold, sharp wash of relief. Often such truths come by accident, or from strangers.
It isn't that to have an honorable relationship with you, I have to understand everything, or tell you everything at once, or that I can know, beforehand, everything I need to tell you.
It means that most of the time I am eager, longing for the possibility of telling you. That these possibilities may seem frightening, but not destructive, to me. That I feel strong enough to hear your tentative and groping words. That we both know we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth between us.
The possibility of life between us.
Copyright 1979 by W.W.Norton & Company. On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose. by Adrienne Rich
EAT RICE, HAVE FAITH IN WOMEN
eat rice have faith in women
what I don’t know now
I can still learn
if I am alone now
I will be with them later
if I am weak now
I can become strong
if I learn I can teach others
if others learn first
I must believe
they will come back and teach me
they will not go away
to the country with their knowledge
and send me a letter sometime
we must study all our lives
women coming from women going to women
trying to do all we can with words
then trying to work with tools
or with our bodies
trying to stand the time it takes
reading books when there are no teachers
or they are too far away
imagining others struggling
I must believe we will be together
and build enough concern
so when I have to fight alone
there will be sisters who
would help if they knew
sisters who will come
to support me later
women demanding loyalty
each with our needs
our whole lives torn by
the old society
never given the love or work
or strength or safety or information
we could use
never helped by the institutions
that imprison us
so when we need medical care
we are butchered
when we need police
we are insulted ignored
when we need parents
we find robots
trained to keep us in our places
when we need work we are told
to become part of
the system that destroys us
when we need friends
other women tell us
I have to be selfish
you will have to forgive me
but there is only so much time
energy money concern
to go around
I have to think of myself
because who else will...
I have to save things for myself
because I am not sure you could save me
if our places were reversed
because I suspect
you won’t even be around
to save me when I need you
I am alone on the streets
at 5 in the morning
I am alone cooking my rice
I see you getting knowledge
and having friends I don’t have
I see you already stronger than me
and I don’t see you coming back
to help me
I imagine myself getting old
I imagine I will have to go away
when I am too old to fight my way
down the streets
my friends getting younger and younger
women my age hidden in corners
in the establishment
or curled up with a few friends
isolated at home
or in the madhouse
getting their last shot of
motivation to compete
or grinding out position papers
in the movement
like old commies
waiting to be swept away
by the revolution
or in a hospital
dying of complications
nurse or nun
lesbian in clean clothes
reach out a hand to me
scientists have found
touching is necessary
and the drive to speak our needs
is basic as breath
but there isn’t time
none of my needs has been met
and although I am often comfortable
this situation is painful
slowly we begin
giving back what was taken away
our right to the control of our bodies
knowledge of how to fight and build
food that nourishes
medicine that heals
songs that remind us of ourselves
and make us want to keep on with
what matters to us
lets come out again
joining women coming out
for the first time
knowing this love makes
a good difference in us
affirming a continuing life with women
we must be lovers doctors soldiers
artists mechanics farmers
all our lives
waves of women
trembling with love and anger
singing we must rage
kissing, turn and
break the old society
without becoming the names it praises
the minds it pays
eat rice have faith in women
what I don’t know now
I can still learn
if I learn I can teach others
if others learn first
I must believe
they will come back and teach me
Copyright Fran Winant; reprinted in the Lesbian Reader, an Amazon Quarterly anthology
Monday, March 10, 2008
(The kitchen of Scott's hut, north shore of Cape Evans, Ross Island, Antarctica)
Another excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. The action in the story resumes immediately after my post two days. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.
Autumn 2005 - Winter 2006
After thinking it over for a while, Myra sent Jaime an e-mail, telling him that she missed his presence, she understood how hard it must have been for him, and that she would do whatever she could to help Margie eventually reclaim their friendship. She thanked him for waiting until he got back and could talk to Margie in person before telling her about his change, instead of doing it via text message or over the phone. She also offered a listening ear in the future, once Margie got to the point where she wouldn't feel betrayed by their contact. He wrote her back instantly, saying "Thanks with all my heart. Let me know."
Once the first week of school was behind her, with the endless questions of friends making life a hell on earth for Margie, she focused on crewing and hanging out with Amy's friends. She got asked to a Halloween dance by a boy Myra thought she didn't like in a particular way, but it made her happy to be asked and they allowed her to be picked up by him in his parents' car. She turned down a second date with him.
Ginny asked Margie if Jaime was out at school. Margie said "There's gossip. But I haven't said anything, and neither has Amy. He -- I don't think he's seeing anybody. I guess he's still hung up on that guy from camp." Her voice was bitter, though not as much as it had been.
Ginny surprised them all by saying "Well, to quote Bart Simpson, how is it that something can suck and blow at the same time?" It made Margie laugh unrestrainedly.
David came for Thanksgiving, joining in the cooking at the shelter and looking more animated than Myra thought she'd ever seen him. He stayed through Margie's birthday, and Ginny pleaded with him to remain another week, to spend the yartzeit of Helen's death with them. In the end, though, he said he wanted to be in Denver that day, to visit her grave and go to his own temple. Cathy told Ginny that he had become highly popular, as a handsome and single older man, not just among the widows at the temple but also at his retirement community. Ginny scowled as she told this to Myra, and Myra hid her laugh.
He was not going to spend the December holidays with them, either, because it would be Navit's first Hanukkah and Elena was at that age when lighting the menorah and getting nightly presents was insanely exciting. Myra and Ginny had enough notice of this to plan the legendary trip to Antarctica for themselves and their kids. Carly was refused permission to accompany them -- this time, Pat was taking them all skiing at Stowe. Edwina balked at joining them -- "Just too many hours in the air and on a rolling ship for me" she explained -- so she and Allie decided to use her break doing family history research in Mississippi and Alabama. Myra looked disconsolate at missing this.
But both kids were over the moon about the "expedition", as they called it. Over a period of two weeks, they would fly to Punta Arenas in Chile and visit a nearby wilderness area before boarding ship for the Falklands and South Georgia. Myra got choked up whenever she thought about getting to see Ernest Shackleton's grave, and she memorized much of "The Wasteland", especially the lines from "What the thunder said":
Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman -
But who is that on the other side of you?
They would go on to Elephant Island, then the Antarctic peninsula where Myra would get to walk into Scott's hut. She'd bought top of the line binoculars for them all, including two with video-recording features, and they'd gone to the REI outlet sale earlier in the year to stock up on polar outerwear. One day's itinerary offered kayaking, which Margie and Gillam jumped at, giving Myra the willies but she could not protest. Margie insisted on giving Gillam lessons in their pool with the kayak she'd gotten for her birthday.
Ginny booked a large cabin for her and Myra, studying deck plan charts and consulting weather logs to determine which one would offer the best sunlight through a window. Once again, Margie and Gillam had to share a cabin, but Myra and Ginny promised to switch out when they got tired of each other. Myra assumed Ginny would paint -- and Ginny certainly packed for that possibility -- so she weighed down her own suitcase with field guides and historic journals as well as her laptop.
Ten days before their departure, Carly rode the train to Seattle and Myra made fried chicken for shabbos dinner. As they all began eating, Ginny said "Every time I eat this in this dining room, I feel the serendipity of it all."
"What do you mean?" asked Myra.
"I thought I told you. I closed on this house the day before I came to the potluck where you finally talked to me -- where I ate this chicken for the first time" said Ginny.
"Wow. No, I didn't know that" said Myra, feeling a small thrill down her back.
"Yep, I was on a roll. I was making a life for myself, and when I saw your Honda outside that night, I decided to have another try at getting your attention" said Ginny.
"Full of yourself" grinned Myra.
"You said it. And poor Donna Neely, she was trying so hard to get you to talk to her. I watched her for a bit, watched you ignoring her, and after I got my plate, I cut her off at the pass. Zoomed right in on you" said Ginny smugly.
"I have no memory of her at all there" said Myra, wonderingly.
"She was sitting next to you. I knew what she was experiencing, but that night, I was going to be the one who broke through the Myra tunnel vision, and by golly, I did" said Ginny.
Myra locked her gaze with Ginny's, down the length of the table, remembering that first stirring of what she had called fear that night, not understanding then what was happening when she looked at Ginny. It hardly seemed possible that they were once so tenuous. It felt like a close call. Ginny's face, looking back at Myra, melted in an expression no one else ever saw.
After ten seconds, Chris said "Do you two need the room?"
Embarrassed, Myra said "No. Sorry." But she kept darting looks at Ginny, who returned them, as the meal progressed. Carly didn't eat much, complaining of feeling bloated. Ginny made him some herbal tea and he sipped at that instead of having dessert. Myra felt his forehead and detected no temperature. When he left to go upstairs early, Myra nodded at Gillam to go with him, saying "If he starts feeling crummier, let us know."
Margie left the gathering early, too. Myra suspected she had a movie she wanted to watch on her laptop and didn't argue -- some nights she was clearly still missing Jaime acutely.
Their friends left around 10:00. Ginny, loading the last cups into the dishwasher, said "Are you going to work late?"
Myra said softly "No, I'm heading for the bedroom right now. Will you lock up and turn off the lights?"
When Ginny came to the bedroom five minutes later, Myra met her just inside the door, pulling her into a slow, delicate-traveling-into-unending kiss. Eventually, Ginny wiggled free long enough to make it to the bed, tugging Myra after her and on top of her, with her legs spread. They kept kissing a while, until Myra said "I'll lock the door, you close the blinds, and we'll meet back here naked?"
They could still move like 20-somethings when motivated. Back in bed, there was enough light for Myra to see Ginny's face below her. She took her time -- when they were both this on fire, it could go like a short fuse or it could come in like a slow tide. She wanted the latter tonight. She wanted every second she could have with Ginny.
She did turn around so they could suck on each other's breasts at the same time, which always made them breathless and a little crazed. She sensuously kneaded Ginny's belly and hips, but refrained from putting her hands between Ginny's legs until she righted herself again, able to see Ginny's face. Ginny's expression when Myra parted her lips was always amazing, as amazing as the silky soak of Ginny under her exploring fingers.
Eventually Ginny slid her knee up over Myra's hip and pushed against her, so Myra slid her thumb into Ginny, gently pressing the inner walls open, feeling inside her own vagina the ache she knew she was easing in Ginny. She alternated between thumb inside, fingers moving up and down labia, watching Ginny's face for clues when to switch. Or sustain.
This was lovemaking in its most elemental, generous form. All in the world she wanted was to give pleasure to Ginny. So, when Ginny maneuvered one hand down and tried to push apart Myra's thighs, Myra resisted for a moment, lifting her mouth from Ginny's breast to say "I can have my turn later, this can be one-way for now."
"No, no, I need to touch you" said Ginny urgently. Myra knew what she meant. She shifted position so Ginny's hand could reach her, and gasped over Ginny's breast as the circuit was closed between them. Measured tempo was abandoned then. Two minutes later, Myra had flung herself onto her back, her groin still spasming intermittently, as Ginny laughed exuberantly and curled into her side, saying "My god, I nearly passed out that time!"
They didn't go to sleep right away. Instead, they reminisced about that night at the potluck, revisiting moments and premonitions not quite recognized at the time. After a while, Myra got up to pee, and when she heard a knock at the bedroom door, she turned on the light and unlocked it to find Gillam, who said "Are you up?"
"Yeah, what's wrong?" asked Myra. Ginny sat up, looking for her T-shirt.
"It's Carly, his stomach has gone back to really hurting again. He said it was hurting like this last night, but he didn't tell anybody because he didn't want to have to stay in Olympia" said Gillam.
"We'll be right up" said Myra, looking around for her own shirt and pants.
Carly was curled in the bed, hugging his belly. This time, when Myra felt his forehead, he was hot and sweaty.
"Where does it hurt, exactly?" Ginny asked him.
He spoke with effort. "Last night it was at my belly button, but it's over here tonight" -- he placed his palm on the lower right side of his abdomen.
"Have you been puking?" asked Myra.
"Not tonight. I did last night. I thought it was something I ate, maybe." He looked paler than usual. Ginny pulled down his pajama pants enough to look at his belly, and it was a little swollen. Myra rubbed his forehead and said "Boychik, I hate to say it, but this could be appendicitis. We're going to have to go to the emergency room."
"Okay" he said, with some relief. It was that bad, then. Myra told Gillam "Get dressed in something warm. Pack him a bag with clean pajamas -- yours, if necessary -- a change of clothes, and his toothbrush. Lay him out some sweats and a warm shirt, and we'll come back to help him get up and dressed."
She and Ginny went downstairs and dressed in streetclothes. Ginny carried her cell back upstairs to call Patty, while Myra woke Margie and told her they were going to the hospital, she could accompany them or stay home alone.
Patty was near panic, Ginny could tell. She talked with Carly, then to Ginny again, saying "We'll be there as soon as we can." Ginny asked her which hospital she preferred. As they were getting Carly dressed, he suddenly needed to vomit again and Myra had to go into the bathroom as Ginny held Gillam's wastebasket for him. When the noise stopped, Myra brought back a wet washcloth and bathed his face.
"Are they going to operate on me?" he asked wretchedly.
"They might. But these days they do it laparoscopically, so it's much easier, just a few little holes, and you get better faster" said Myra. "Don't worry, the drugs are great."
Margie elected to stay home with Narnia, and walked them to the door to lock up after them, resetting the alarm. She promised to keep her phone on and call them if needed.
At near midnight on a Friday, the waiting room was occupied but not overwhelmingly so. Carly, however, was pushed ahead of others already there, once they collected his symptoms and took his temperature. Pat and Patty got there right before he was taken into surgery. By 4 a.m., he was back in a room, sleeping off the anesthesia. His appendix had not yet ruptured, but would have imminently, the surgeon said.
Ginny offered for Pat and Patty to come home with them, crash in the spare bedroom, whenever they were ready. They insisted on staying with Carly, of course. Gillam had to be dragged away, Myra saying in his ear "He'll need you more tomorrow, when he wakes up and it hurts. You go home and get rested, so you can be his buddy later."
Margie was asleep on the couch, the TV on to an infomercial. They went into the kitchen and made warm drinks, talked in exhausted fragments, and hugged each other before going back to bed.
At 10 a.m., Ginny and Gillam arrived to relieve Pat and Patty, Ginny shooing them to her house with a promise that they'd call for any reason at all. Myra had forced herself up and had breakfast waiting on them. They looked like hell. After eating, they went to bed and Myra went back to sleep for two hours.
Carly was released the following morning. Gillam did his best to persuade Patty to let Carly come home with him, promising to wait on Carly hand and foot, but Patty was adamant about taking him home. Which Myra completely understood and tried to explain to Gillam. Pat and Patty both were effusive in their thanks, however, and warmer than they had been in a while toward Ginny and Myra.
"He's a spectacular boy" said Ginny. "We cherish him."
Back home, Gillam was sent to do the homework that had gone untouched all weekend. Margie went rowing, and when she got back, she sat in the hot tub while Gillam did laps. Myra announced she was making veggie burgers, sweet potato fries, and Boston Cream Pie for dinner, and they could eat in the living room while watching home movies, which cheered up Gillam considerably. Allie and Edwina joined them, and Gillam set up his movie camera using a new low-light film he was trying out. When he periodically got up to shoot footage of them all, Edwina commented that his taking home movies of them watching home movies was probably creating a dangerous fold in the time-space continuum, which tickled him.
They commented their way through clips of marches, graduations, birthdays, Ginny painting, Myra singing to Alice, holiday cookie-making events, and endless "firsts" with one or the other child, now looking impossibly tiny and wobbly. There was a two-minute stretch from the Halloween party of 2002 that had a pan showing Allie and Edwina sitting next to each other, talking. They had to rewind this half a dozen times, pausing while the two of them murmured to each other about what was going on in that moment. When Margie insisted on seeing the movie of her birth again, Ginny turned red and said "Edwina, get ready for a lengthy tour of my snatch" but she put in the tape.
They had another viewing party on New Year's Day, to share images from their respective holiday trips. David flew in, and was there for Gillam's birthday when Gillam got a new computer with a digital editing board. He wound up staying an entire month, an increasingly familiar presence in the house. For Ginny's 50th birthday, Cathy and Michael joined them. The storage room held a tub with live lobsters and crabs for Ginny's dinner, which Myra cooked but David had to be the one to kill the crustaceans. Margie made a pair of palette knives for Ginny, of hand-forged copper with silver-wrapped handles and etching, and when Ginny saw them, she cried. She used them the rest of her life.
In early February, Carly came for the weekend. On Saturday after lunch, Ginny had gone outside to see how the winter brassicas were holding up, Margie was in the living room, and Myra was looking in the pantry while Carly and Gillam cleaned up. Carly stopped loading the dishwasher to look at Myra and say "Uh...I've got a favor to ask. When I'm going to be here for the weekend, could it be one of our chores to make dinner on Saturday night? Or, if Gillam doesn't want to do it with me, could I do it myself?"
Myra heard Margie's faint snort from the other room. Not hiding her pleasure, she said "Absolutely. You want to expand your cooking skills?"
"That's part of it" said Carly hesitantly. When he didn't go on, Myra said "If you're worried you're not doing your share around here, let me reassure you, you are."
Carly smiled. "I like hearing that, but that's not it. Not exactly. I mean, it is something about how I have a share..."
Myra waited. Gillam had stopped what he was doing to listen, too.
"I don't know how to explain this. It's...Being a boy here means something different than anyplace else. But I can't figure out how..."
When he stopped again, Myra grinned and said "Okay. You want me to let you in on another of the Bates-Josong secrets?"
Gillam looked avid. Carly nodded. Myra was certain Margie was holding Narnia still so she could hear every word.
"This is our gender theory. Since neither Ginny nor I believe that there's any meaningful biological difference between boys and girls in terms of behavior, or brain function -- not enough to matter, certainly not enough to bolster the ethnocentric, classist rules about what's masculine and what's feminine -- then we were determined to give any of our kids, no matter what pee-pee they came out with, a full set of tools to be human. Tailored to their preferences as those became apparent, of course. But you all weren't born in a vacuum, and the culture out there is overwhelming. So we had to try to contradict some of the hammering you were going to get. Make sense so far?"
Old hat, she could tell from Gillam's face.
"The conditioning that boys get is designed to divorce them from expressing their feelings easily -- except for anger and pride, those are okay. But fear or sadness, absolutely not. Boys are cajoled, distracted, or threatened out of expressing fear or sadness literally from birth, in a way that girls are not. So they freak out inside when they feel such things OR when others around them feel it. They haven't been given the tools to cope with ordinary human emotion. They are deliberately retarded in that way. And unless they choose, as adults, to overcome that retardation, with virtually no role models and certainly no societal support, they'll die retarded."
Gillam looked shocked at the language. But not Carly.
"One of the consequences is that they don't just avoid that which they cannot do or comprehend as adults, they actively devalue it. Even though connecting with other human beings, registering emotion, empathizing, learning from feelings is not only the basis for cultural development but, in fact, hard-wired into our primate DNA -- we have one group, the dominant group, who've been stripped of full ability in this area and so the entire species must pretend that it's not a valuable thing to have. You can see how dysfunctional that's made us. It has to be interrupted and reversed for our species to survive."
Myra felt a lump in her throat. She reminded herself it was fine to cry here, if it came to that. She really did love her planet.
"The other major damage that's done to boys is...as babies, for the first few years of life, we all spend most of our time with our moms, or whatever woman is playing the mom role. We're at home, and home is the entire world as far as we're concerned. In het nuke fams, there's this guy, a dad, who comes and goes, but the real heart of existence is home and stuff like making meals, cleaning up, playing, talking, laughing -- the itty-bitty domestic joy of life. And from the moment we're born, we're working like gangbusters to acquire the skills adults have, to walk and talk, but also to take our place in the family. We want to know what our place is in this glorious web of love and learning. Our ability to learn, how we do in in those first few years, separates us from all other animals, even other primates."
The phone rang. Gillam made no move toward it, and Margie did not come rushing in to answer it, either. After two and a half rings, it went to voice mail. Myra grinned to herself.
"So, little girls are getting not just training in how to be with other people, how to handle emotions, they're also getting the message that when they grow up, this will be their world, too -- what mom is doing. These skills will be what they have to offer other people. They are, of course, shoved into it rather brutally and other doorways are closed off to them, but for the first two or three years, that actually doesn't matter so much because you are simply not aware of the world beyond home. Not as a concrete reality."
"But little boys are being told their life will have to be mostly in that other, outside, unknown world. They will have to compete, in ways and at tasks that make no sense at all, and when they show interest in cooking, for example, that most basic of nurturing for those you love, they are subtly or not so subtly told it's not normal for boys to have that interest. But the interests that boys are supposed to have are not things a baby or toddler can do, even if the outside world was set up to make room for them -- which it is not."
"How are they to have value, then, right here and now, when they aren't supposed to do the things of the world they know? And why does this guy who shows up for a few hours every evening get treated like the leader when he doesn't seem to do anything of emotional or practical value most of the time? What kind of role model is that? But mom gives up her power to him, at least when he's around -- although she may complain about him non-stop when he's not there. Boys can't be like mom, and they don't really want to be like dad but they don't have a lot of choice, so they fake it. They learn bluster and bravado early on. And most straight women indulge their sons, go along with their play-acting at masculinity, which I'm convinced doesn't fool any except the dimmest of boys. They know they're being patronized. But it's the only access they have to worth and value, to having a role in the web of family, and if you're desperate enough, you'll take what you can get."
Myra did let the tears well up now. She remembered Gil, and she saw a haunting expression on Carly's face. But not Gillam's, thank god, not Gillam's. She wiped her cheeks with her palm and continued slowly.
"It's unspeakable, how terrified boys are. How they are trained to be insensitive and disconnected from family, from genuine exchanges of nurturing. So, in addition to giving our son-s " -- she added the second S at the last minute -- " access to emotions, we also have made sure they have an equal role in the home. We defined male as identical to female, in the home. We carefully kept out messages to the contrary, like in books or TV, and until you started Montessori, Gillam, you just hadn't picked up the bulk of male conditioning that's traditional out there. By that time, your personality was set."
Gillam's voice was neutral as he said "Maybe you defined it that way, but I'm having to live in a world where nobody else has that definition. It's like I'm inventing male from scratch."
"I know, and I'm sorry for that. Honestly, I didn't anticipate feminism getting torched the way it has, and I certainly didn't expect my generation to raise their daughters with expanded horizons but to give up on their sons for fear of being called man-haters, I suppose. And now even the so-called queer community has rigid gender shit that's comparable to the worst of the 1950s." She remembered stumbling across the American Boyz website, and forced her mind away from it, she'd go into a tirade if she thought about it.
Carly said, "That's it, you know. That's what I feel here, way different than anyplace else. I get to be a boy here without -- wearing armor. Or being treated like I'm incompetent."
"I can't express how glad I am to hear that, Carly" burbled Myra. Gillam said, after a pause, "Mom -- are you afraid of men?"
Blam. She took a breath and said "Yes. I am. Not all the time, but enough of the time."
"So am I" he said, his voice very quiet.
"Well, Gillam, I think we're all raised to be, even as we love them. I think men are afraid of men. Just like we're all afraid of white people, of what we're capable of" said Myra.
"Some days I just wish I could blend in" said Gillam.
"I hear ya. Some days I do too. I have secret fantasies of being a housewife" said Myra, praying that Margie never chose to use this against her.
Carly began giggling. "What, are you trying to imagine me as a housewife?" grinned Myra.
"No, it's -- there's a way you ARE a housewife" said Carly. "The Bizarro version."
They were all still cackling when Ginny walked in half a minute later. Gillam was leaning on the breakfast bar, he was laughing so hard. Ginny cocked her eyebrows quizzically at Myra, and Myra said to the boys in a toneless voice "Me not understand", which sent them into wild hysterics. Ginny smiled and continued upstairs to weed on the garden deck there.
© 2008 Maggie Jochild.