Category Archives: Feminism

Embracing the Cailleach

As I prepared for my hysterectomy, I kept seeing articles about how to cope with sorrow and regret. I can understand young women mourning the loss of their fertility, but at 44, I can’t see grieving for organs that hurt me for decades. If a person treated me the way my reproductive system did, I’d be shopping for hydrofluoric acid and Rubbermaid tubs.

Apparently some women my age are devastated by the notion of reaching menopause a little ahead of schedule. They fear losing their femininity — or worse, their value — along with what’s left of their fertility.

I blame our society. We portray postmenopausal women as feeble, unattractive, or daft figures to be pitied, patronized, or ignored.

I’ve been researching a lot of Celtic folklore lately, and one thing I’ve found striking is its reverence for older women. The youthful goddess Brigid ruled the spring and summer, but the Cailleach — a Gaelic word that translates to “hag” or “crone” — governed the winter months. In the stories I’ve read, the Cailleach is a strong, creative, sexually confident goddess, unfettered by the threat of pregnancy, the discomforts of menstruation, or the demands of motherhood and imbued with the wisdom of experience.

Imagine what would happen to the patriarchy if women took our cues from such a figure. Imagine what would happen if we stopped apologizing for our own longevity, quit measuring our worth by fertility or looks, and embraced the freedom and power that come with age.

There are legitimate reasons to be upset about a hysterectomy. It hurts. It’s tiring. It’s expensive. One in three women will have hysterectomies by age 60 — a number I imagine would plummet if our government could be arsed to spend as much money funding research into fibroids and endometriosis as it spends on security to protect Donald Trump while he farts around in New York and Florida. (Perhaps I’ve read Gloria Steinem’s “If Men Could Menstruate” essay one too many times, but I can’t help suspecting that if a third of all men had to have reproductive organs removed by age 60, we’d declare a national emergency.)

But while I’m frustrated that it was necessary, I can’t quite bring myself to regret a surgery that ended 30 years of pain and inconvenience and accelerated my entry into the comforts of cronedom.

I am not afraid of aging.

I am not afraid of becoming the Cailleach.

Bring it.

Emily

I’m not your Mary Sue.

I recently ended a 23-year “friendship.” I don’t regret it, but I think the details might be instructive for others who are tolerating manipulators out of kindness or habit, so I’m sharing.

The conflict began when I decided to boycott a Peter Yarrow concert after learning about Yarrow’s 1970 conviction for molesting a 14-year-old backstage. My then-friend (I’ll call him “Andy”) inexplicably took exception to this, and when I noted that Yarrow’s victim was about the same age as my students — of whom I am extremely protective — Andy announced he didn’t give a damn about my students.

If you don’t care about my kids’ safety, we cannot be friends. Period. So I replied, “You are dead to me” and blocked him.

That was the end of the conversation, but it wasn’t the beginning. It wasn’t even the weirdest part.

Andy had a crush on me when I was 19. I wasn’t interested in dating him, largely because his perception of me bore no resemblance to reality. It felt as if he’d seen my face, written some fanfiction about it, and then confused me with the Mary Sue he’d created in his mind. Every time I tried to explain that his perceptions didn’t match reality, he refused to listen and insisted I was [insert litany of flattering adjectives that don’t apply to me].

It was awkward, and I was never quite sure how to respond –especially when he paired his compliments with remarks about how unattractive he was. At the time, I read this as insecurity. In retrospect, it looks more like manipulation: The more self-deprecating you are, the more people will coddle you.

Despite the awkwardness, we became friends — or, at least, I was friendly toward him, and he fawned over the Mary Sue he imagined me to be. I’m not sure that constitutes friendship, but it seemed to make him happy, and it wasn’t costing me anything.

Two decades later, Andy started this weird habit of stanning for celebrities accused of sexual misconduct — whereupon he was confronted by the cold reality that I wasn’t a fictional character he could control; I was a living, breathing, thinking woman whose opinions did not necessarily match the headcanon he’d dreamed up to go with my face.

When I said I wasn’t going to buy Peter Yarrow tickets, Andy immediately accused me of hypocrisy, asserting that if Hillary Clinton or Dianne Feinstein pulled something like that, I would fall all over myself to defend her. (Yeah, I don’t know what a couple of female politicians have to do with a folksinger molesting a kid 48 years ago, either. The logic probably works better if you’re drunk.)

When I asked him whether he honestly believed I would give somebody a pass just because I agreed with her politics, he said something that really clarified the nature of our long “friendship”:

“…i (sic) do believe that about you … . I think your politics ranks (sic) above all, because I DO know you.”

Andy does not, in point of fact, know me. AT ALL. He never has. He just knows a character he’s invented with my name and face, onto whom he has projected wishes and whatifs for 23 years. And when he finally had to confront the fact that I am not that character — when he finally had to choose between the real Emily and his imaginary friend — he reacted by saying something that was certain to end our friendship immediately.

I don’t appreciate being manipulated into being the bad guy, especially publicly. But I also don’t need someone in my life who prefers a fictional version of me to reality, and if he insists on dreaming up fanfic about me — well, let’s just say that I am MUCH more comfortable as a villain than as a Mary Sue.

Emily

Reversing the polarity

As you might expect, I was thrilled with incoming Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall’s decision to cast Jodie Whittaker as the thirteenth incarnation of the time-traveling alien who has been saving the universe since 1963.

For those unfamiliar with Doctor Who: The premise of the show is that the Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, travels through time and space in a ship disguised as a 1960s police box, protecting the universe from various threats. When a Time Lord sustains a fatal injury, instead of dying, he or she regenerates into a new body.

Up to this point, much of the Doctor’s heroism has hinged on a combination of intelligence, audacity, and male privilege.

For 54 years, we’ve watched the Doctor infiltrate secure installations with little more than an imperious look and a mouthful of scientific-sounding nonsense designed to baffle people into deference. If the writers are honest, the Thirteenth Doctor will be in for a rude awakening the first time she tries that.

Consider: Twice on Facebook, I have put up Doctor Who-themed posts that included the phrase “reverse the polarity of the neutron flow,” which most Whovians will recognize as the Third Doctor’s catchphrase. Both times, men who ought to know better than to challenge me on anything — least of all a subject as dear to me as Doctor Who — have hastened to explain that actually, neutrons don’t have polarity.

No sh*t, guys. THAT’S THE JOKE. Seven years before Harrison Ford made the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, Jon Pertwee reversed the polarity of the neutron flow. Same humor; different fandom.

Pertwee’s Doctor could stand in a roomful of physicists, muttering about the polarity of particles with no charge, and nobody would question him. If a woman tried that, she’d be shouted down by the #WellActually brigade faster than you can say “Vortex manipulator.”

I hope the writers have the courage to address that head-on. The best sci-fi comes with a healthy dose of social criticism, and sexist microaggressions are ripe for it. Done right, this could yield some scathing humor while prompting much-needed conversations about the myriad ways women are marginalized on a daily basis.

Among the issues I’ve seen/heard raised in conversations this week:

* Pockets. Where is the Doctor supposed to keep her TARDIS key, sonic screwdriver, and Jelly Babies if all her clothes have inadequate pockets?

* Mansplaining. This is basically the Doctor’s superpower. Not only is she unlikely to get away with it in her new form, but she’ll probably be on the receiving end of it. How will she react upon discovering this regeneration has just reversed the polarity of the bullsh*t flow?

* Street harassment. We know how the Master would handle this, but how will the Doctor deal with being ogled, catcalled, or ordered to smile by some jackass she’s trying to rescue?

* Uptalking. The Doctor has spent decades speaking to strangers in an authoritative tone. If she sounds too confident now, they’ll ignore her or antagonize her. Will she have to frame all her orders as half-apologetic suggestions so she doesn’t threaten some pudding-brain’s fragile masculinity?

What other microaggressions might Thirteen encounter in her new body, and how would you like to see them addressed? Share your ideas in the comments!

Emily

P.S.: Comments are moderated, so if you say something misogynistic …

Dress like a woman

I’m sure by now we’re all familiar with the Axios story making the rounds in which an unnamed person who worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was quoted as saying the erstwhile politician expects women working in the White House to “dress like women.”

As a journalist, I have some questions about the story itself (starting with the fact it’s poorly sourced and largely speculative, as Snopes was quick to point out), but I like the conversations it has inspired online about what it means to “dress like a woman.” I jumped in on the Twitter hashtag #DressLikeAWoman the other day, and several of my tweets were well-received, particularly by younger friends who undoubtedly benefit from seeing women in traditionally male-dominated professions or participating in traditionally male-dominated activities.

With that in mind, and thinking about how important it is for my nieces and other little girls in my life to grow up with such images in front of them, I decided I’d expand that collection of tweets into a blog post sharing what it means to “dress like a woman” in my world:

How a beekeeper dresses like a woman while rescuing a swarm.
Dressed like a woman while rescuing a swarm.
Here is how a distance runner dresses like a woman at the start of a marathon on a cold day.
Dressed like a woman at the start of my first marathon.
Dressing like a woman after an ice storm downed several limbs in my backyard in Tulsa.
Dressed like a woman the weekend after an ice storm.
How a martial artist dresses like a woman.
Dressed like a woman after a belt test. (Photo courtesy of Professor Carter Hargrave.)
Dressed like a woman while painting a mural in Tucumcari.
Dressed like a woman while painting a mural on Route 66 in Tucumcari.
Dressed like a woman while repainting the sign at the Vega Motel on Route 66 in Texas.
Dressed like a woman while priming the sign at the Vega Motel on Route 66 in Texas.
Dressed like a woman after a day spent doing preservation work on Route 66 in Amarillo.
Dressed like a woman after a day spent doing preservation work on Route 66 in Amarillo.
Dressed like a woman while restoring a sign on Route 66 in Chandler, Oklahoma.
Dressed like a woman while helping restore a sign on Route 66 in Chandler, Oklahoma.
Dressed like a woman who might spend a little too much time watching British sci-fi.
Dressed like a woman who spends too much time watching British sci-fi.
Dressed like a woman who came home from her newspaper-editing gig to turn the compost on her lunch hour.
Dressed like a woman who has compost to turn when she gets off work.
Dressed like a woman in the middle of a drywall project.
Dressed like a woman repairing drywall.
Dressed like a woman fangirling at the ballpark.
Dressed like a woman fangirling at the ballpark.

You get the idea. I could do this all day, but that’s probably enough to give you the upshot. Do what makes you happy. Help somebody if you can. And dress as you see fit for the occasion, whether that involves a ballcap, a bee suit, a pair of running shoes, a velvet skirt, or a pair of paint-spattered jeans with the knees blown out.

Do what you love. Be who you are. And never let somebody else’s limited notions about how women should look interfere with that.

Emily

 

Folk Thursday: Helen Reddy

I had this in mind for this week if Hillary won.

I almost canceled it.

Then I remembered the second verse:

You can bend but never break me
‘Cos it only serve to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
But I’ll come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cos you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul

Bring it, Trump.

Emily

Par for the course

When I was 12, I was told I couldn’t run track because I was a girl, and we had only a boys’ team.

When I was a teenager …

A classmate attempted to stick his tongue in my mouth without permission on the way home from a school dance.

I got called into the principal’s office for circulating an underground newspaper protesting our school’s sexist homecoming practices.

I had to bite my tongue while a couple of jerks stood at the walk-up window at the restaurant where I worked and loudly discussed my backside the entire time I was making their dinner.

In my 20s …

I was told by someone prepping me for future job interviews that the plain, modestly cut top I was wearing was “too sexual” and might disqualify me in the eyes of a prudish hiring manager.

I walked into a big-box hardware store and watched incredulously as three different employees ignored me while going out of their way to wait on men who’d come in after I did.

I slept with a tonfa under my pillow after a creepy trucker spent an entire day staring at my bustline and making sexual innuendoes while I was volunteering at a fundraiser.

I sat through a job interview where a manager told me if I got the job, I would be supervising a difficult employee who was “like a wild filly that can’t be broke” and “seems to have a problem with men.” I would learn later that Wild Filly’s “problem with men” hinged on her distaste for creepy middle-aged men who enjoyed sexually harassing women half their age.

When I was in my 30s…

I was accused of having an affair with my boss because I got along with him and earned stellar evaluations.

I was passed over for a management position because “you certainly have the resume, but I’m not sure you have the personality for it.” (I’d been a manager at another organization a few years earlier and was universally praised for my performance.) The person who was hired lacked both the experience and the temperament to do the job effectively and drove off several talented employees.

At 41 …

I watched my country pass over a woman who absolutely had the resume for the presidency, because our society is so profoundly misogynistic, it would rather hire someone who appears to lack both the experience and the temperament to do a job effectively than see a bright, outspoken woman in a position of power.

Deep down, in my heart of hearts, I knew this would happen. Forty-one years of living in this country have taught me to expect the worst where its treatment of women is concerned. But the Cubs won the Series this year. Miracles happen. So I dared to hope a little bit.

I expected to be disappointed last night. I just didn’t expect something this predictable to hurt this much.

Emily

My fellow white people …

Let me preface this riff by saying I am not a giant Beyoncé fan. I don’t dislike Beyoncé; I just don’t know a lot about her music, mainly because I grew up listening to whatever records I could pilfer from my baby-boomer parents or pick up for a quarter at thrift stores, and I haven’t done a great job of expanding my musical interests since then.

Here’s the thing: I don’t have to know every word of every song Beyoncé ever recorded to respect her work or appreciate her talent. And you don’t, either.

You don’t have to like her music. It’s OK if her style isn’t really your bag. But there’s a big difference between not enjoying a particular type of music and attacking an artist’s morals or integrity.

If you just aren’t into Bey’s style, you’re probably not going to call for a boycott of her music or claim she’s “divisive” or “antifeminist” or “immoral” or whatever other dogwhistle you’ve decided sounds better than saying, “Her performance at the Super Bowl scared the crap out of me because my personal comfort depends on maintaining a status quo built on white supremacy.”

Let’s unpack some of those dogwhistles I’ve been hearing all week.

Dogwhistle 1: “‘Formation’ is divisive.”

No, it really isn’t. If Bey released a song called “White People Suck and I Hope They All Die of Amoebic Dysentery,” that would be divisive. I listened to “Formation” and watched the video, and speaking as a former English teacher who has spent a LOT of time looking for hidden meaning in words and images, what I see is a woman celebrating some aspects of black culture that racists frequently attack (e.g., her daughter’s natural hair) while calling out the deadly consequences of institutional racism (e.g., the government’s lethally incompetent handling of Hurricane Katrina; the disproportionately high rate at which black suspects are shot by police). I don’t hear her saying, “Black people are better than white people.” I hear her saying, “I’m proud of my culture, and I’m tired of watching people who look like me die at the hands of racists.”

Why would anybody have a problem with that? And don’t give me some disingenuous line about how white people aren’t allowed to celebrate our culture, because you and I both know that’s crap. White people blow smoke up each other’s arses 24/7. We just get away with it because we’ve set ourselves up as the default mode, so we don’t have to specify that we’re praising white culture every time we do it.

Excuse 2: “Those skimpy costumes Bey and her dancers wore at the Super Bowl offended my Christian sensibilities.”

I will believe this if and ONLY if you can show me a single instance in which you have protested the Rockettes’ skimpy costumes, which have been a punchline for at least 75 years.

Dancers wear costumes that show off their legs. This is not new. If Bey offends you, but the Rockettes don’t, I have a hard time believing your moral outrage is as color-blind as you claim.

Excuse 3: “If Bey were a real feminist, she wouldn’t dress like that.”

And if you were a real feminist, you would respect other women’s agency instead of trying to police how they present themselves. Potato, potahto. If you need a litmus test, try this one: Ms. magazine devoted its cover to Beyoncé’s “fierce feminism” a few years ago. When was the last time you made the cover of Ms.?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Emily

“You’re ugly.”

NOTE: I started writing this a couple of months ago but never got around to finishing it and posting it. It dovetails nicely with yesterday’s post on ageism, so I’m sharing it now.

I was involved in a Twitter conversation a while back in which a misogynist attempted to debate an online friend of mine, got his arse handed to him, and then — when I tweeted my friend a reaction GIF — responded by informing me, “You’re ugly” and then blocking me before I had time to reply.

I find it interesting that the average misogynist’s first line of defense, whenever he feels threatened by a woman, is to attack her looks, as if his opinion of her physical appearance ever has had or ever will have any effect on her life.

Why bother?

Because nothing makes an insecure man feel better than attacking a woman — particularly a woman he views as being strong, confident or intelligent. Because women are conditioned from birth to believe our value depends on our attractiveness to the cishet-white-male gaze, a cheap shot at a woman’s looks is often the easiest way to rattle her confidence and call her value into question.

This weak attempt at psychological warfare works only if we let it.

I don’t consider myself ugly, but I’m fully aware some people do. That’s fine, and I want my nieces to know that’s fine. Everybody has different aesthetic preferences, and that’s OK. But I also want the girls to know this:

Being told I’m ugly has never stopped me from doing anything I wanted to do.

I'm not everybody's cup of tea. That fact has never kept me from enjoying a glorious afternoon in the Mojave.
I’m not everybody’s cup of tea. Neither is the Mojave Desert. If she doesn’t mind, why should I? Being appreciated is nice, but our existence doesn’t depend on it.

It didn’t cost me any scholarships. It didn’t hurt my grades. It didn’t adversely affect my career. It didn’t discourage Ron from marrying me. It didn’t keep me from crossing two marathon finish lines, adopting a houseful of pets, or publishing a novel.

I’ve done exactly as I pleased for most of my life, and I’ve done it with an oversized Celtic snout and a mop of messy curls that don’t quite meet some people’s standards for feminine beauty.

I want my nieces to know that, because they are going to encounter hateful people who don’t like the way they look, and they need to know those people’s opinions don’t matter. They need to know they can go after their dreams, and no amount of lip service from ignorant misogynists can stop them.

They need to know. And I’d be a lousy aunt if I didn’t teach them.

Emily

Look as good you will not

“When [59] years old you reach, look as good you will not.”
— Yoda

In case you’ve been under a rock: Fanboy trollgeek jackasses have been inundating Carrie Fisher with unsolicited critiques of her appearance ever since The Force Awakens was released.

Apparently they’re mad because the last time they saw her in a Star Wars flick, she was kicking ass in a metal bikini, and it made them feel funny inside, like when they climbed the rope in gym class. Three decades later, she looks like a grownup, and the fanboys are apoplectic, because this means either A.) they have to quit lusting after Bikini Slave Girl Leia, or B.) they have to admit they’ve spent years cherishing vivid fantasies about a woman who’s old enough to be their mother.

Rather than spend a little more time listening to Fountains of Wayne songs and embracing their inner Benjamin Braddock, they’ve taken to Twitter to vent their discomfort on Fisher herself.

She responded pretty much as you’d expect:

“Please stop debating about whether or not I aged well. Unfortunately it hurts all three of my feelings. My BODY hasn’t aged as well as I have. Blow us.”
— Tweet from Carrie Fisher

The Force is strong with this one.

Not surprisingly, I’ve heard exactly zero complaints about Harrison Ford’s appearance. By any objective measure, he looks neither better nor worse than his costar — yet while people are attacking Fisher for aging, the general consensus among Ford’s fans is still something along the lines of “Don’t come a-knockin’ if the Falcon’s a-rockin’.”

Why? Because men are allowed to age, but women are expected to conform to the demands of the (cis, white, hetero) male gaze indefinitely. Age a few years beyond the narrow and wholly unimaginative standards of that gaze, and you’re liable to disappear entirely.

People aren’t mad Carrie Fisher aged. They’re mad she refused to disappear so they could cling to their Return of the Jedi-inspired fantasies forever. They’re mad she had the nerve to show up, 32 years later, and force them to acknowledge they’ll never get to touch the girl in the gold bikini.

Face it, young Padawan: If all you saw in her was uncomfortable lingerie and a bondage kink, you were never going to be good enough for the fictional Leia — and you damn sure aren’t worthy of the accomplished, intelligent woman who portrays her.

“Aging gracefully” does not mean “trying like hell to look 25 forever.” God bless Carrie Fisher for using her considerable reach to advocate for all of us who understand that. Blowing up the Death Star was pretty cool, but starting an international conversation about women’s right to age on our own terms? That’s the sort of rebellion that can overthrow an Empire.

Emily

You had ONE JOB, Women’s Running.

What's wrong with this picture?
What’s wrong with this picture?

Dear Women’s Running:

On your website, you claim your mission is

to create a high-quality magazine for smart, successful women who use running to balance and enrich their lives.

As a smart, successful woman who uses running to balance and enrich her life, I would seem to be your target audience. Yet when I went to the bookstore yesterday, of the three running magazines available, yours was the only one I elected not to buy.

Let’s talk about how this month’s cover convinced me that your magazine, despite its appealing name, was not for me at all.

WEIGHT-LOSS SPECIAL ISSUE

YOUR FITTEST YEAR EVER!
* Run Off Pounds
* The Best Workouts to Slim Down
* Nutrition Tips From “The Biggest Loser” Trainer

“Run Off Pounds”? Is a magazine called Women’s Running really treating its eponymous sport as nothing more than the means to an end? As a runner, I don’t need the best workout to slim down. I need the best workout to strengthen my core, increase my endurance and reduce my risk of injuries. Slimming down is usually a natural side effect of such workouts, but it is not the reason I train. And to hell with “The Biggest Loser” — I want to know what Joan Benoit and Deena Kastor eat.

A magazine targeting female athletes really ought to know better than to approach its readers with the same tired old “you’re-too-fat” trope Woman’s Day and Family Circle have been pitching to bored housewives for the last 80 years.

Next on your cover, I found this gem:

#NERDALERT: BEST NEW RUNNING WATCHES, FITNESS TRACKERS, HEADPHONES AND MORE

What’s the message here? Female athletes who use electronic training tools designed to help them train better are nerds? If so, then why is Teri Hatcher — whom you dub a “hot momma” — wearing what appears to be an enormous running watch in your badly Photoshopped cover image?

Below that, we have:

PULLUP CHALLENGE — Totally Possible!
THE LEGAL PERFORMANCE-ENHANCING DRUG
HOT TIPS — Make Winter Running (Kinda) Fun

OMG, you guys. Did you know it’s totally possible for women to do pullups? Apparently we can do it if we take enough PEDs. And I’m so glad there’s a way to make a completely voluntary activity I do for my own enjoyment “kinda fun.”

Just to be sure women don’t miss the message that looks are everything, Women’s Running drives the point home with this little coup de grace:

CLAWS OUT! Race-Day Nail Art

Race.
Day.
Nail.
Art.

Is this a tribute to the late Florence Griffith-Joyner? If not, it’s quite possibly the most inappropriate thing I’ve ever seen — and I taught sophomores for five years. I have run two marathons, six half-marathons, and too many shorter races to count, and I can assure you that I have never once given even one-tenth of one percent of a damn about how my nails looked on race day.

Based on your mission statement, I can draw only one of two conclusions: Either you’ve failed miserably, or you’ve got some spectacularly incompetent people making decisions about how to market your content to your target audience, because this smart, successful woman finds your January/February cover to be one of the most unconscionably patronizing messes of misogynistic bullshit she’s ever seen.

Emily