• culture,  ethics,  grief,  motherhood,  parenting,  politics,  racism,  writing

    I Thought We Were Going to Be Better by Now

    It’s been a heck of a week and so today I went and ate lunch in the break room, which is an unusual thing. 

    The going conversation was about TV competitions and we ended up talking about the women’s leagues of the UFC, which reminded me of the women who made an official ride of the Tour de France this year.  The did their own Tour de France, because in 2019, there is no women’s equivalent.  In the era of #MeToo and widely watched women’s soccer, that got some attention.

    “It was cool,” I said.  Then I paused.  “Except that they had to do it as a protest, of course. That’s not really cool, is it?”

    I’ve worked in networking and sysadmin for twenty years.  Once I would have told you what it is to be the only woman in the room everywhere you go.  That’s still mostly true. But there’s a second disparity now — my peers have gotten younger, while I, well, obviously, have stayed precisely the same age.  And that’s fortunate, because age discrimination is very real in my industry. 

    But anyway, I was the only woman in the room surrounded by much younger peers, sharing the perspective of a woman watching sports.  And it was only later that I realized how depressing it was, because the problems I was talking about in terms of representation, equality and fair pay were the exact same problems that I was talking about twenty years ago.

    And it’s just…it’s just that I thought we were going to be better by now.

    Perhaps we are.  In 1998, I would probably have been laughed at for having that conversation.  Women’s sports. Who would watch that?  But in 2019, it still wasn’t a serious concern for anyone except me.

    After all, I have a daughter.  Not one of them are parents yet.

    But televised sports are the least of it.  The #MeToo movement really got to me.  I’m glad it happened, but the horrifying thing was how many men really had no idea how common sexual harassment and assault are.  Many of the men that I love — that I have been telling my stories of assault and harassment to — responded with surprise.

    Really?  It’s all of you?  I knew it happened but….all of you?

    Yes.  It’s all of us.  Every woman you know has been harassed, every woman you know has been assaulted to some degree.  For me, it began in earnest when I was 12 and mostly tapered down when I got a car at 18.  It was solved for me when I stopped existing in public quite so much.

    Is the world safer today?  Perhaps in some ways, but it’s not because we’ve solved the problem.  It’s because, at least in the U.S., we’ve locked our children away.  They can’t even ride a bike down the street without a parent three feet away.  We have an entire generation of incarcerated children, jailed for their own protection, who never get to experience the independence and freedom that roaming unsupervised creates.

    And of course, they still aren’t protected from their peers.

    My mother marched for the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 70s.  She passed in December of 2007, still disappointed to be living in a country where we could not guarantee equal civil rights to men and women.  In the world she grew up in, women could not legally take out a credit card without a man signing for it.  Sexual harassment at work was legal.  Abortions were not.  

    In 2015, when I took maternity leave, it would have been perfectly legal for my employer to fire me.  They didn’t, thank goodness, but women who work for companies with fewer than 50 employees are not covered by the FMLA.  That is still true today.  And of course, we still haven’t passed the ERA – nearly a century after it was introduced.  The Lily Ledbetter act of 2009 — extending the statue of limitations in unequal pay lawsuits — was actually controversial.

    It’s just that I thought…we were going to be better by now.  That is the truth that I was sold as an 80s child.  I was promised that I would be able to have the same opportunities, that I could go and be anything that a man could.  And maybe we’re getting closer, but it’s hard not to lose hope, in a time when we have #MeToo but also a strong conservative movement that’s dedicated to making sure that the ladies are available to do all the unpaid labor of home and hearth.  Abortion rights are back on the table. I try not to fear for the reversal of laws that protect my right to work, but it doesn’t take a large leap of the imagination to see them as next.  

    And, to be honest, these worries are taking a backseat right now.  It feels like all of that can wait, because there are literal concentration camps within our borders.  Guantanamo Bay is terrible – we are supposed to believe in justice and fair trials – but what we are doing to our asylum seekers, who have done nothing but ask for help…

    I definitely thought were going to be better than that.  Until the last Presidential election, I was naively going along with the presumption that we all agreed that the Nazis were bad.  That Never Again, taught over and over again to every American child, really meant Never Again.  I don’t have faith in much, but I had a rock solid belief in that one.

    No longer.

    I admit that I, like many people, was ignorant about our immigration system.  I listened to the news about the Dreamers and their parents, but I was mostly confused by the nuances of the laws.  I’ve known a lot of undocumented people, because I’ve lived in cities with large immigrant populations all of my life. I married a former undocumented immigrant and I cried at his naturalization ceremony.  And I still didn’t fully realize that the people coming to our border and turning themselves in are doing it perfectly legally.

    And we are treating these brave and desperate people like animals.  We’re tearing their children away from them, separating families that have so little that they can carry it on their backs.  We’re throwing them into overheated metal cages and denying them basic necessities, like the room to lie down and rest.  We’re doing it while tearing down the authority of our democracy, while Nazis heed the dog whistle and come out of the woodwork and march in our cities.  They go to food festivals and shoot children for daring to exist in public. They run over protesters with cars.

    My writing has been a relief, because I am writing about the 18th century.  It was a pre-Nazi world.  They certainly knew the evils of war and starvation through poverty, but they didn’t know systematic genocide.  

    But we do. 

    We know what intolerance combined with power can do to the humanity of ordinary people.  And when our government goes after immigrants as economic scapegoats while refusing to secure our elections, it’s hard not to fear that by looking at the worst of our past that we are also looking at our future.

    Even when our government knew of the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps, we lowered our immigration quotas for Jews.  Does this sound familiar?

    My childhood promised me a better world, if I could just wait for our culture to evolve.  But we’ve gone backwards to such a frightening place, so quickly, that I am lost when I look forward. 

    What kind of world am I leaving to my daughter?

     

     

     

     

     

  • family,  feminism

    An unexpected series of events; my grandmother

    This last two weeks have been ones to go down in the record books. My birthday was on the first of the Mondays and it was also the day that my maternal grandmother passed away.

    It wasn’t a big secret that this was coming; she was nearing ninety and her health had been declining for some years. Several years ago, she moved into a nursing home and had had constant medical care available to her. There have been a few scares along the way. So not unexpected, but with any conclusion of a chapter, there is always sorrow.

    There is also the largest family gathering that I’ve seen in years. I’ve arrived in Wisconsin on the Wednesday, having made rather sudden travel arrangements on Tuesday when I got the news. I’ve been blessed in being able to be involved in helping plan the ceremony itself and handle some of the details. I helped in putting together some pictures of her life into a tableau. It was a great honor to be able to be among the first to the wake and to be able to greet people as they came in. I think that particularly because of the distance at which I’ve always been from my family, this meant something particularly special for me. Family is a rare and cherished event for me.

    My grandmother was an ambiguous character. She was at her best with small children and really spent her life with them. She gave up teaching when she was young to help raise her older sister’s kid. She married and had six kids, but when her own children were old enough, she went back to school and got her teaching certificate and spent her career teaching head start classes. Little kids were her thing.

    She had a difficult life, raised in the Great Depression and moved thither and yon in order to survive and get an education. Her father died when she was two and her mother did what was necessary to support her four kids. My grandmother finished her primary and middle school years in a one room school house, then had to board with strangers in a bigger town to get her high school education. She worked for her board, helping take care of the kids and acting as a mother’s helper. But even though it was the 1940s, that level of education wasn’t good enough for her – she went straight into a teaching academy. My grandmother, in one of her most superhuman feats, raised six kids as a single mother. And then, when they were old enough, she went back to school to finish her education credits. Wowza.

    My grandmother often frustrated her family with her distance. My memories of her all come from when I was very young and we did crafts together. As I grew older, our visits became more awkward. I remember her speaking to me frequently through my mother and resenting it. When she’d lost some of her mental acuity due to diabetic complications, she remembered me as “Merry’s daughter”, but couldn’t remember my name. And I think that’s how she thought of me – as a person that was intrinsically related to my mother, but not someone she really knew. I wished for years that I knew her better. I wished that I knew how to. I don’t know if it was on purpose that she was so distant, or if she thought she was protecting us, but I think most of us wanted to know her better than we did. I’ve been heavy hit with grief; more than I expected given how often we communicated over the years. I apparently took a lot more solace in knowing that she was there than I realized. I’m now the oldest in my direct maternal line and I am not ready for it.

    I seem to come from a long line of remote and admirable women; women who don’t let their period of history limit them. I’m at least a third generation feminist, just one more fighter in a line of fighters. And my grandmother’s legacy was so obvious at the funeral – the room was filled with people that wouldn’t exist if she hadn’t made the choices she did. Goodbye Grandma – may we all live to die of old age, surrounded with the evidence of how we changed the world. You taught us to love music and crafts and education and to care about social justice. You done good.

  • family,  feminism,  introspection,  relationships

    Weddings for Feminists

    I am clearly not a stereotypical bride. In the three weeks in which I have been engaged, I’ve started doing some research in wedding planning that is driving me nuts. This began with signing up for theknot.com so that I could access their checklists. The Knot presents you with a nearly 200 item checklist that is largely presumed to be my responsibility. Because I’m the bride, which means that apparently I’m meant to have been dreaming about my wedding day for my entire life. (Hint: never once thought about it.) I’m meant to have a vision and colors and some dream about a dress style, all of which makes me want to have no wedding at all, because it sounds like a lot of expensive work that I can pretty easily screw up by picking the wrong napkins, etc. It all makes me pretty grumpy, but I am a fan of ceremonies and rituals to mark the important events in your life and I love seeing my family, so we’re going to have one anyway.

    Weddings, in their default traditional state, are pretty creepy. It’s probably no surprise that the heavily orchestrated gender roles of the process are giving me trouble. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on how to make my wedding awesome instead. I refuse to degrade my friends with the whole bouquet/garter toss and I would prefer both of my parents to walk me down the aisle, if only that were possible. I’d like a drum circle and dancing until the wee hours. I don’t want a groom’s side and a bride’s side – I just want our friends and family together, for a day filled with love and joy. It is a day for two families to come together, a day where I will not just make my fiancĂ© my family, but also his family. It’s the day where he officially becomes part of mine. And that’s where I want the focus to be, not on the price tag of my dress or the rings.

    We want something that’s authentic to us, which doesn’t sync very well at all with the traditional ceremony. Above all, I don’t want it to be boring. People will be paying a lot of money to come to our wedding, since most of our relations and childhood friends are far away, and I want to make sure they have a good time and talk about it for years.

    No pressure there. None at all.

  • feminism,  geek

    Happy Ada Lovelace Day

    Ada Lovelace Day is, of course, near and dear to my heart. It’s nice to see women in tech being recognized. Sometimes it feels like I’m a mythological beast by being a female sysadmin, so a day to focus on the fact that we are not actually alone is nice.

    So, cheers to you, The Right Honourable the Countess of Lovelace. You have led the way.

  • art,  feminism,  film

    Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

    Warning: I will spoil the plot. You may not want to read further.

    I watched Perfume: The Story of a Murderer the other night, after renting it because Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman are in it and it looked like it would have an interesting plot.

    And, well, yes, if horrific means interesting, it certainly does. I am a little dismayed because, on top of having such talent in the cast, it won a whole bunch of awards.

    I think I was just unable to discount the fact that murdering women for beauty is really never okay. You have to buy into that concept to understand the main character of the movie, which was just too hard for me to do. I couldn’t understand him or relate to him and as a result, the movie bored the heck out of me. I also was really, really disturbed that the response of a crowd to the fact that the main character had a perfume made out of the essence of twelve beautiful women was to have a massive orgy.

    Really?!? And this movie won awards? I really don’t grok the world.

  • culture,  feminism,  introspection,  politics

    Womyns’ Communities

    An article on lesbian separatist communities that I found interesting.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about communities of women (of all sexual orientations) because of the novel I’m reading, The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett. It is really, really good. It’s about a home for unwed mothers run by the Catholic church (and therefore nuns). There are, so far, two male characters and dozens of female characters. There are not a lot of books like that.

    Working in a practically all-male field as I do, I’ve found my need for companionship with other women has increased over the years. Women socialize very differently from men, which is really refreshing. We talk deeper, in a lot of ways, with more depth on a subject, but we discuss fewer subjects. However, finding women who want to talk about something other than the men in our lives has been challenging. I am as guilty of this as anyone – I find that I frequently am lost finding something else to talk about (and not having children does not help). To be fair, those relationships require a lot of time and effort and thought cycles. They require discussion and processing. But here we are, women together in a room – surely our life experiences have more to offer than just our romantic relationships? But how do you get past an entire culture that tells you otherwise – how do you bridge the gap for something more meaningful?

    I don’t know, but I try all the time. Perhaps these all female communities are on to something – I don’t know that I’d want to live in one all the time, but I would love to be able to visit.

  • art,  feminism,  new york,  ocean,  relationships,  travel

    Patton Oswalt, Stomp and the Opening Comedian

    red-wineThis weekend was very busy, since I was entertaining a friend that was visiting from out of town. The highlight was seeing Patton Oswalt who is an absolutely brilliant comedian from Sterling, Virginia (Virginia pride, whoo!). You probably wouldn’t like him if crude language offends you, but he has some very smart things to say. It was cool to see him live.

    Less cool was the opening comedian, who referred to all the women in his jokes as bitches, which was particularly depressing since most of the audience responded well to it. Apparently jokes about how completely stupid and useless women are are still in. I’m prefer smart comedy, not just meanness, so he was kind of a boring boor. But a boor with a very happy audience, which made me want to hide my head in the sand for the rest of my life. It made me drink far too much Shiraz, too.

    Fortunately, we went to see Stomp before my hangover, which was pretty cool. The idea behind it is that you can make rhythm from the most ordinary objects. Once you have enough people involved, this becomes really cool. Rhythm is such an essential part of being alive and is absolutely everywhere when you stop to listen for it – in language, in the sounds of our vehicles, in the waves of the ocean. Being able to hear and respond to rhythm is so intrinsic to what makes us such amazing creatures — when we can manage to treat each other with respect, that is.

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