• 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?

     

     

     

     

     

  • cooking,  knitting,  new york,  politics

    Memory

    It’s September 11th, ten years after the event. There’s so much that’s been written about this that I couldn’t dare, even if I wanted to. But I find that I don’t want to – that day was horrible enough to live through the first time. Perhaps it’s cowardly of me, but I can’t stand to watch any of the coverage. I hate being reminded that we live in a world where people exist that spend all their productivity on hurting other people. The September 11th attacks are a demonstration of the worst part of humanity. I don’t want to give people like that any more attention than they already get. And I don’t just mean Al-Qaeda – every country and every group has its murderers in the population. We must understand ourselves and each other as humans first. We are all responsible for and to each other.

    I’m a Washingtonian and a New Yorker. My two homes were attacked. But I want to live a life filled with gratitude and light. It is so easy to drown in the badness in the world. Spending a day reliving the emotions of that day, as I tried to track down the safety of people in both of my cities, is just too much.

    I spent this morning watching kids play soccer at the community center. Kids who don’t remember the attacks, or a world unchanged by them, but are out and joyful and worried about nothing more than keeping the ball out of the goal. I was surrounded by family, knitting in my hands. I was filled with gratitude. The day was crisp and beautiful, like it was ten years ago. We talked about it. Looking back, we all seemed so young. It’s one of those pivotal moments in a culture that people just don’t forget. Major hurricanes, volcanoes, terrorist attacks. You remember where you were.

    We were so young ten years ago. And yet, time has gone on. I decided to celebrate life.

    I ran some errands. One of them was to fix my car, which someone tried to break into during the hurricane. They fortunately did this rather ineptly, so I have a car to fix, but they did knock out my turning indicator, which means I can’t drive it. But this is a minor problem, compared to the “evacuate because a hurricane is coming” problem of two weeks ago. It’s hard to be too upset, although it was done while we were evacuated, which means it was probably someone I see every day. But it’s just stuff. The car is just a thing.

    We ran to get groceries and then I spent the afternoon doing the cooking for the week. (And pie!) While I was chopping vegetables, listening to Norah Jones on Pandora and filled with peace, I looked out the back door into the yard. There, my fourteen year old cat and my thirteen year old cat were pouncing on dried leaves like they were newborn kittens. Even today, when we’re all thinking of death and murder, life goes on, unstoppable and, in some places still, innocent.

    In the darkness, light.

  • politics

    Healthcare, Morality, WWJD

    At the moment, it is clear that the big U.S.ian political issue is health care. I’ve been talking to a lot of people about it – and one of the most bizarre arguments that I’ve heard in a long time is the idea that human beings have to earn their right to go to a doctor when they’re sick.

    We have a weird system, in which we expect a person to have a job – or at least be dependent on a person with a job – in order to go to a doctor. As a result, we have this completely bizarre idea that one “earns” health care – as though this is somehow a measure of a person’s worth or status. As a reward for being gainfully employed (or the dependent of someone gainfully employed), you get to go to a doctor. Perhaps you’ll even get to go to a good doctor with excellent facilities if you work for a big enough company to have good benefits. If you’re very, very lucky, perhaps you’ll even be able to go to a dentist or an optician.

    Of course, this idea conveniently looks past all the people that work in low paid, thankless and important jobs with no benefits, who are often working much harder and for less money than us office monkeys, who are busy “earning” our health care. It looks past small business owners and people who work for companies with under 500 employees, who frequently can’t afford to have decent health care plans. It looks past people who are too sick to work that have slipped through the cracks of our systems – well, they haven’t “earned” their health care. Clearly they don’t deserve medical attention.

    People, we have gone seriously, seriously wrong when money is more important than helping a human being — any human being — get adequate medical care. Not being affiliated with a religious group, my morals are of course incredibly suspect by the majority of the population (goodness knows I could never be President), but even I can tell you that this is fundamentally wrong. I am quite frankly amazed that this concept is even up for discussion. I admit to being particularly appalled in listening to religious conservatives talk about the value of a human life in terms of money because this seems so contrary to what I would think their values should be. What happened to community and compassion? What *would* Jesus do? Would he say, “Oh, sorry, you don’t have insurance, so I can’t help you”?

    Personally, I would much prefer that my tax money go to helping people (“illegal” and legal) go to the doctor on my dime than have one more penny go towards building more bombs and weapons, invading more countries and killing more civilians. Ethically and morally, this is a simple decision for me – killing people is bad and saving lives is good. Our military budget is exponentially larger than any other country’s — how much more fruitfully could we reallocate this money? Why aren’t the people protesting our tax money going towards weapons of war? Why does giving it to financial institutions get people in the streets, but not the continued and growing military budget?

    How on earth did we come to let money dictate our morality?

    Stand up people. Dream with me.

  • ethics,  politics

    Ethical Clothing

    I’m not much of a clothes shopper, which is evidenced by the fact that my wardrobe has gotten into a pretty sad state. I’ve been slowly trying to remedy this, which is hard to do when you hate shopping as much as I do.

    Also, in this go around of trying to replenish my wardrobe, I find that I’m having a hard time developing an appetite to buy from most of the stores around me, because I’ve been thinking a lot about what goes on behind the scenes to make the clothes. The fashion industry has not made the world a better place.

    I would like to start purchasing my clothes from companies that pay fair wages and has decent labor practices. Ideally, the clothes and materials should be made from replenishable materials that have a minimum of environmental impact and aren’t shipped all over the world. I want clothes with a conscience, but I’m having a difficult time finding much information about where to shop.

    In the past, I’ve shopped some from thrift stores, but this usually doesn’t work out for me, since I like my clothes to have a good fit, which is tough enough when there’s a range of sizes for a particular item. Once items are unique, finding clothes that fit well becomes an exercise in frustration. Most of the things I’ve purchased in thrift shops get donated again pretty quickly due to a poor fit.

    Anyone have any advice? I’m all ears.

  • politics,  racism

    Wow

    Yesterday I was at a burger joint down by Wall Street. Being a vegetarian, it’s not a place that I go into often, but I was with a bunch of coworkers.

    We got to the board with the specials and they had a Presidential Burger.

    “Oh boy,” thinks I. Then I started reading the ingredients. The Presidential Burger (and I wish I had a picture of this) is a Barack Burger…because it has “a smattering of cocoa” on it.

    Yes, really.

    As a woman in tech, I’m familiar with this phenomenon – I can do the most amazing things, come up with the smartest solutions (or not) – but what I will always be remembered for is being a woman. You know, the one thing that has everything to do with my birth and nothing to do with my accomplishments. There was an Oprah burger, which was a cajun style burger (presumably for her work/home in New Orleans). If you could go that far, couldn’t you make your Barack burger Chicago style or something?

    But again, applying rationality.

    This is the place if anyone reading this feels inspired to action.

  • politics

    Who Is the Middle Class?

    Is it just me, or is the Obama Administration really irking you with their focus on the middle class?

    I’d like to think that they see a classist society where there is an upper class and a middle class and no lower, since that’s how they’re acting, but I suspect it’s more of a “we just don’t care about the people at the bottom all that much, because middle class people are good, responsible people and well, y’know…”. And that’s really just not in line with the way I think – the people at the bottom are the people who are already struggling to eat in the best of times. These are the people that live with the reality that the middle class is having to deal with now every day. If anyone has been really beaten up by what’s happened with our economy, it’s the people who have the hardest time getting a fair slice of the pie on the best of days. And our new administration, who should know better, who seem to intellectually understand the reasons behind cyclical poverty, do not seem to care.

    I grew up scraping by. My mom bought her first house in her late forties, long after I’d left the nest. She was highly educated, with post-graduate educational credits, but she was a teacher and a single mom and she worked in school districts with no money. We were above the poverty threshold, which I have no idea how anyone manages to live on, but not all that much above it. Most of the people I knew and loved growing up were equally poor. My mother considered herself middle class because of her education, but I don’t think anyone else in my neighborhood thought of themselves in that way.

    Generally, I am appreciating the Obama administration. Job creation is good, getting out of Iraq is good, equal pay legislation is awesome, expanding health coverage to more children is only tragic because it has waited this long. But oh, Obama administration, there is no minimum household income to make us worthy of your focus. We are all Americans. We all count.

  • new york,  politics

    The Economy: We’re All Doomed

    I’m not sure if this is national news or not, but here in NYC, we’re seeing two hospital closings in Queens as a result of financial difficulty.

    In addition to the horrors of even fewer medical facilities in Queens (and, having lived in Queens for five years, I sadly have some personal experience with this), the MTA, which is public transportation into, around and out of New York City, has proposed a 23% rate increase . My absolute favorite part of the proposed plan is their intention of doubling prices of transport for the disabled. Because, of course, people who already have to live on public assistance due to disability are just rolling in the money and can really afford the largest percentage rate increase of any of us.

    They are out of their heads. Not only are they proposing the largest rate increase in MTA history, they are also looking to cut back services at the same time. My monthly fare will be increasing by $80, which really hurts, but I also will now have to pay an additional $3.50 per ride to ride the buses by my house, since the two monthly tickets I already buy will no longer cover Long Island bus service.

    Something has gone desperately wrong in the world. How is the recession affecting you?

  • 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.

  • geek,  politics

    Cuba Embraces the Penguin

    Cuba officially supports Linux now, which is pretty rocking from both an open source perspective and a “gosh, American policies regarding Cuba are so beyond stupid” standpoint.

    The plane we were on from Montego Bay was delayed rather significantly by a sick passenger. We had to go back to the gate and let her off, because if she became very ill in the air space over Cuba, we would not be able to land.

    This is so stupid. So stupid. Our embargoes against Cuba need to end. I personally really resent not being able to go to a place on this planet because my government cannot get with the times and is still participating in the Cold War. I also am horrified that we have a policy of bringing democracy to Cuba that was codified in 1992, considering that we certainly have zero problem supporting dictators in Latin America or other Communist governments when it furthers our business interests.

    So what gives with Cuba? What could our objections, in 2009, possibly still be?

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