Do Not Disturb

Do not disturb sign hang on door knob and stone wall.
Do not disturb sign hang on door knob and stone wall.

It’s an age-old question:

What do women want?

Psssst…come closer. I’ll let you in on a secret.

…..

……

……

Women want to be left alone.

I’m serious. For the most part, we just want you to leave us alone.

We want you to stop telling us how we should or shouldn’t dress, what not to wear, how to act, what not to do, giving us arbitrary age restrictions that are pulled out of someone’s ass.

We want you to leave our bodies alone: uterus, vagina, nursing boobs and non-nursing ones, our asses, our cellulite, muscles, our hearts and brains. Bass, treble. Every inch of us from the bottom to the top. From the bottom to the top.

We want you to leave us alone to pursue whatever damn job or career we want, whether it’s as a butcher or an astrophysicist, teacher, SWAT team, or Congress.

We want you to leave us alone at work so we can just get on with our jobs without worrying about the boss guy at the water-cooler telling us we’ve got all the right junk in all the right places.

We want you to leave us alone to talk to you and with you, without interruption, without talking over us, without trying to explain our own experiences back to us.

We want you to leave us alone to decide what’s best for our bodies and our families even if you personally don’t believe in our choices. Their not yours, their belong to us, and only us.

We want you to leave us alone in our personal space, stop feeling entitled to touch us, or talk to us, to explain to us, to comment on how we look or the size of our breasts, to wonder out loud what we’d be like in bed or look like naked. Women, believe it or not, don’t exist for your personal gratification.

We want you to leave us alone when we walk down the street or into a room, sit on a bus or stand on a train. We want you to leave us alone when we are out for a jog or eating a banana split with a diet coke.

We want you to leave us alone when we repeatedly make it clear we don’t want your attention.

We want you to leave us alone with our identities. We are just fine with women. Don’t label us merely as someone’s mother or wife or daughter. Those things are not what solely define us.

We want you to leave us alone just to be human beings, flaws and all. Not something to be commanded or brutalized or even cherished and protected.

Really, we just want to be left alone to get on with it.

 

It’s My March and I’ll Wear Pink If I Want To

railing-chainedI just read an op-ed about pink pussy-eared hats. You see, after the election, a few knitters suggested a show of solidarity for those marching in the Women’s March in Washington D.C.  It is a little yarn nod to the now famous line about a different kind of pussy.

The author’s opinion was they were silly.

Before that op-ed was a spate of articles opining the pointlessness of wearing a safety-pin. In the last few weeks, more news articles highlighting the rift among the four million strong Pantsuit Nation.

What the fuck?

Some of us are trying to form a freaking coalition here, people. A super coalition of women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ, Environmentalists, Dog Lovers, Vegans, Vaccinators…anyone who feels their voice is drowned out by the voices currently in power. Why would news writers and bloggers, some with huge audiences, think it’s a good idea to get all uppity and start shaming people who are trying to get involved, in ways small and large?

I’m not talking about the people who are going to shout “Snowflake!” regardless. That’s a given. I’m talking about people who claim to be progressive.

Shut up already. If people want to wear a safety-pin, it’s not, as some posit, simply because they desire visible proof they aren’t a racist. Could it just possibly be because a lot of people feel hopeless and scared and this is a small way to do something? If there are those who are offended, wouldn’t it be more helpful if they could point folks in a direction where help is needed rather than shaming or mocking them?

Golly, we’re always telling folks to get involved and yet when they do, we shame them by telling them it’s the wrong way or not enough. On what moral high ground are we shouting from here? Because the view must be pretty damn good.

Knitting thousands of pink hats is not, by itself, going to stop the incoming administration from running roughshod over women’s rights. But it is certainly not going to do any harm. What good comes of adopting a holier-than-thou attitude about it?

This is why we never get anywhere, folks. We’re too busy arguing and shaming one another to actually do anything. Who the hell cares if a thousand women attending a march in DC, many of them marching for the first time in their lives, want to show a sisterly solidarity by wearing a pink hat?

There are articles theorizing that marching does no good. That protests do no good. Calling, letter writing, Meryl Streep. None of it is any good. Or it should be better.

What’s the alternative? Curl up in the fetal position and hope that the world doesn’t implode in the next four years? Not everyone is going to run for office. Not everyone is going to disrupt town halls, start a grass-roots movement.

woman-arrested

Activism is not always chaining yourself to a railing or getting arrested. Sometimes activism is as simple as acknowledging something is wrong. Or reading. Or checking facts. Not everyone has the time, the freedom from economics, or even the courage to throw themselves in front of a moving administration in the name of protest. Yes, we need those people, we need them desperately. But we also need everyday people who are wiling to show that they are there to make a stand about something they strongly believe in. Whether that stand is a safety-pin or a pink hat or boarding a bus and traveling down to Washington DC to march with a hundred thousand others who feel similarly. Whether it’s writing a letter to their Congresswoman or making a phone call, boycotting a brand, or yes, even sharing something on Facebook.

Why would anyone want to throw a wrench into that by acting too cool for it all?  Why would you want to sabotage those baby steps into something that could blossom into activism? Who knows if the girl who put a safety-pin on her backpack, knowing that she’s going to get teased mercilessly at school for being a snowflake, isn’t going to grow up to be a Senator? Who knows if the women who started the knitting project won’t take their next project global and donate the proceeds to women in need?

Back the fuck off, people. Perhaps then instead of shaming someone for trying to do something good we should collectively encourage them to take the next step on a journey of doing good.

If we want to encourage people to take part, the last thing anyone should be doing is making them feel silly, shaming them, or telling them those small acts of micro-activism don’t matter. Of course they matter.

woman-chained-to-fence-with-suffragettes-85705In a world in which some days we are struggling to find something good, why would we shit on it when we come across it?

We could all do better. White women need to listen to women of color because we are failing them, miserably. Feminists need to listen to civil rights activists, need to listen to Native American activists, and so on and so on. But we are never going to get anywhere if we don’t start somewhere. And it’s certainly not up to me to tell any other person where that starting point should or must be.

More Than Just a Number

doctorI did something the other day we tell our kids not to do: I met a stranger I’d befriended on the internet.

The story is one of those bizarre ‘small world’ moments that happen from time to time on the internet, but over the course of the last few months, Valerie and I have been instant message pen-pal-ing, sharing stories and articles, histories and theories. When she told me she was coming to Copenhagen to visit her sister, of course I wanted to meet her in person.

On the surface, we have little in common. I’m from the Northeast, and she’s from the deep south. She’s retired, no kids, likes dogs…yet we connected through a commonality: looking for a little bit of orientation in a world that to many, seems to have turned upside down.

Sitting across from one another rather than across a computer screen, we talked about many of the same things–politics, women’s rights, travel. We talked about her work. I asked her, as a doctor who has done a lot of work with veterans, what she thought was wrong with healthcare in the US. She paused, considering before she answered.

There’s no autonomy in the way doctors are allowed to work anymore, she said. It’s all about codes and numbers, squeezing in as many patients as you can. Eventually, she said, patients stopped being patients and started being customers. They’re even referred to as such by some.

It’s the same complaint I’ve heard from teachers. Students are no longer students, they’re test-takers. Many teachers I speak to feel like they’ve lost the autonomy to actually teach to a group of individual children, but now must teach to prospective test takers, teaching to achieve test results. Students, like medical patients, are reduced to numbers and output. Customers for a huge test-taking industry in the United States and elsewhere.

A string of numbers in a column somewhere that will be tabulated and calculated and crunched.

*******

Somewhere along the way we it seems we stopped being human beings and start beingAt Cooper School Miss Thelma Dewitty teaches the second grade. Miss Dewitty is a graduate of the University of washington. She taught in Corpus Christi Tex., for seven years, coming to Seattle in 1947. ( / ) customers. In a never-ending quest for bigger profit margins, happier share-holders and bottom lines we have certainly succeeded in lining a lot of pockets. We’ve saved some big corporations some money. We’ve saved some businesses from going under.

But at what cost? I worry we are also stripping the humanity out the very things we need to keep us human: medicine, teaching, the arts.

The day after our lunch, I read that several high-profile authors have decided to quit Twitter. Another up and comer lamented she would do the same, but didn’t have the luxury, she was still building her brand. I get it, because I do it to. An author with an as yet unpublished book, a writer shilling my work for shillings, if not for free, the first piece of advice you get is not about polishing your work or honing your craft, it’s about building a brand for yourself so you have a base to market to. You need a brand.

We’ve all become brands to a degree. Individual social media logos. Profile pictures and Snapchat avatars. Billions of individual brands. We merge and acquire with other brands to form supersized corporations. The GOP is a nothing more than a massive corporate machine made up of millions of individual brands. The Democratic party the same. We may as well all be walking around with corporate logos tattooed on our forehead.

We’ve become Coke vs. Pepsi.

**********

How do you successfully treat a patient when the end result is not to treat, but to code the right diagnosis on the insurance form? How do you gain a skittish patient’s trust when you have quotas to meet? How do you teach a child when the end result is test numbers, not learning?

There is a place for business. Marketing of goods. Marketing of services. Commerce. Trade. But increasingly we are treating all of our interactions like business transactions. We shouldn’t be trading in human beings. We shouldn’t be using our own lives as currency.

Medicine, teaching, jobs that require face to face interaction in order to do successfully-those are not businesses where you can just come in, look at the numbers and say, cut this, do that, increase productivity. The results are physicians like Valerie who end up retiring out of frustration, because they can’t do their jobs the best way they know how. You can’t come in and look at the numbers and say, these students need to score higher on tests or we will cut your funding. All that’s doing is tying the hands of teachers who know how to teach those kids, who are all individuals and learn differently.

The United States is about to swear in a leader who ran on a campaign promise of running the country like a business. It makes me pause to think what that really means, in real terms, for the people who make up that country.

1950-connally-lilienthal-mcmahon-locAll those numbers and statistics who are not individual brands to buy and sell and trade, but human beings with needs and wants.

We are not customers. We’re not numbers to be crunched or cut when it is going to save a few pennies. We are citizens.

We need to keep shining a light on the human part of humanity. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s as easy as  going to meet someone you’ve never met and sharing stories over lunch.

 

Tales From the ‘Hood

It’s always a good thing when you can look in the rearview mirror….and laugh at yourself.

Yesterday, I met up with a group of women (and one man–you held your own, lone man–you should know that we kept the labor and episiotomy stories on the back burner for your sake–) to pass one of the long, winter break days. While the kids threw themselves around in ball pits teeming with streptococci, we exchanged stories from the trenches. Tales from the ‘hood. And by hood, I mean, of course, motherhood. (And you, lone Dad).

These informal information sessions are one of my favorite parts of being a mother. They are, I’d argue, also one of the most important. You see, motherhood, much like writing, can be a lonely business and a lot more of it is done inside the confines of your own head than is good for you. But, just like I always feel better when I can get the ideas from the ping-pong ricochet in my head on to the page, I always feel better talking to other parents as well.

Sitting around and talking seems like a luxury, but really, it’s anything but. Aside from honing your multi-tasking skills (yesterday it was smearing some anti-bacterial cream and a band-aid on an injured knee while maintaining my conversation, drinking my coffee and fielding texts from the older child who locked himself out of the house), that village consciousness is absolutely necessary to healthy parental survival. Casual conversation among peers is an important aspect of checks and balances in the ‘hood. It’s a way to make sure you haven’t lost your ever-loving mind in the throes of infant sleep deprivation. It’s a way of finding your sense of humor again in stories of shit and vomit. Most importantly, it’s a way of connecting and feeling less alone during a time of life when, despite a child clinging to you at all times like a frightened koala, you often feel very much alone.

This time we were talking about the ridiculous things we did as first time mothers, when we were flushed with parenting righteousness and middle class, over-educated book knowledge. Many of us were determined to do it by the book, not realizing for years that kids don’t follow a book. You’ve got to figure it out as you go along. Nevertheless…when I think of some of the things I did, said, and believed those first few years, I cringe.

What a monumental ass I was.

Some people may shy away from that obnoxious ghost of motherhood past, let the over documenting, crazy mom of yore fade gently into the background.

But c’mon! Where’s the fun in that?

During my first two years of being a mother, I am guilty of the following (not a complete list, by any stretch.)milk

I was convinced my son might be suffering from Dwarfism because his head seemed too big in relation to his limbs; I also worried he was autistic because he didn’t respond to his name…at three months.

(I should also add I asked my OB/GYN if the baby was epileptic once. She calmly informed me it was hiccups)

Yelled at my mother not to make eye contact with the baby during the middle of the night “No Stimulation!” Actually, I probably hissed it more than shouted it.

Chased my son around the playground with a tofu hot dog to get him to eat. More than once.

Threw myself into the backseat of a moving car to feed the baby because “My God, you heartless fiend (his father)! You want him to wait fifteen minutes for his food?? He’s starving. Starving!”

Moved his bouncy chair every 20 minutes to give him something new to look at.

Kept a journal of how often he ate, pooped, slept.

Religiously clocked screen time allowance to meet American Pediatrician Guidelines, including commercials.

Yelled at my husband for using up all my hoarded ‘tv time’ on a Saturday morning.

Was in his face every minute of every day encouraging enriching behaviors like putting the square shape in the square hole.

Had panic attacks about his dislike of fruit, bread, bagels, pizza, eggs, etc. Incessantly worried he wasn’t getting enough vegetables. Hid vegetables in his food (though never stooped to making brownies with puree kale…even I had limits)

Requested (ok, maybe more like demanded…) sex neutral clothing and toys like school busses because busses know no gender…

Insisted, to my pediatrician, a trained professional, that a love of cars and wheels was the result of social conditioning and not innate preference.

Swore my child would never have soda, McDonald’s, high fructose corn syrup, video games, unsupervised screen time, toy guns.

Clapped like an idiot when he came down the slide.

Said things like ‘well done!’ for minor achievements like breathing and swallowing.

But perhaps worse than any of those forgivable moments of first mom neurosis, is that I know, on more than a hundred occasions, I was holier than thou about my own righteousness.

sad-girlSo, consider this little confession of smarm my bit of penance. A Hail Mary for my early motherhood sins of sanctimony.

Eventually you learn that your child doesn’t need to eat every fifteen minutes, that tofu dogs are gross, and most people grow into their head size.

What you also learn? That time spent trading stories from the ‘hood? It’s priceless.