Girl Magic, Part I

My sons just spent a week dribbling footballs. They tackled, ran, shot on goal. While I watched my own kids, out of the corner of my eye, I was also watching the girls who were there. Some were thin and lanky, all giraffe legs up to their armpits. Many were strong and wide, thighs thick with muscle. They wore pink and blue and black and neon of all shades, pony tails flying as they thundered across the artificial turf.

Like my sons, they dribbled and tackled, ran and shot on goal. What they didn’t seem to be doing was wasting any time worrying they were too flat chested or too buxom or if their thighs were too thick or GodForbidIDon’tHaveAThighGap. They were just out there, under the blazing sun, letting their bodies be bodies.

*****

I have wasted literal years worrying about my body. I think of the glossy magazines I read as a teen and a young woman. The ones filled with advice, not about how to navigate the world, but how to give a better blow job. Nothing about how to play the stock market, but how to get the perfect brow. There were entire issues devoted to bathing suits. How to pick a suit to flatter your flat chest. Or minimize your wide hips. How to get the most ass coverage in your bikini bottom. Basically one giant how to.

How to get you to look the most like whatever body ideal was on offer that year.

They change like the wind, those ideals.

Which, I guess, is the point.

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51,840

That’s the number of hours I reckon I’ve spent dieting. Conservatively. Hours spent counting calories, going hungry, denying myself, starving my cells. As if starving them is going to cajole them into forming and reforming into something different. Something unobtainable.

51,840 hours spent chasing some unicorn, only to occasionally grab an ethereal horn and be told “Hey, not that unicorn! The one over there!”

Dieting? It’s nothing more than modern day foot binding. It is wrapping ourselves in restrictions and stifling our growth until what we are left with is misshapen and unhappy and bent and ugly. Oh, the outside may be thin. Or muscular. Or curvy AND muscular, whatever the shape du jour is, but the inside? As misshapen as a foot full of gnarled toes.

How can it NOT be? How can you possibly spend all those hours chasing some intangible nonexistent and not be warped?

If I look back and take stock at the number of hours, of years, I’ve wasted?

It’s devastating.

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Why are we so invested in making sure women are unhappy? Because that’s what it is. You can’t be starving and happy. You can’t be in a state of constant restriction and be satisfied. You can’t be in a forever state of denial and feel fulfilled.

Oh, trust me. I have felt the virtue of self-sacrifice, of denial, of restriction over my head like a halo, shining bright for all to see. Like a gold star pinned to my chest. As if denying myself, sometimes starving myself, is something to be proud of.

I am in my late forties. My body is changing yet again. And at times, yes, it absolutely feels like a betrayal–because it’s not the body I know or recognize. Yet rather than saying, ‘hey, this is the body I have now, let’s see what it can do!’ I still sometimes try and trick and starve and shame my body into thinking it is something else, somebody else’s.

For what? I don’t even know. It is impossible at this stage of the game to tease out what I like/want from what I’ve been told to like/want over the last forty years.

I do know all the hours we spend binding our bodies could be spent doing something else. I haven’t picked up a women’s magazine in years. Maybe nowadays they are telling girls how to stop volunteering their time and demand payment. To stop managing the emotions of everyone around them. Maybe they are telling girls that it is pointless trying to compete with boys because their achievements matter in their own right, not just in comparison to men.

Or are they still talking about how to pad out your double A cup with a chest full of ruffles and how to maximize ass coverage at the beach?

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Sometime in the last year or two I watched a video of a slam poet. In one riff she spoke about how women’s bodies synch their menstrual cycles.

Our vaginas talk to one another, she said.

What wondrous witchcraft is that? No wonder why so many are afraid of women. Our bodies speak to one another, silently and profoundly. Our bodies? They confer with the moon and the tides and whisper to each other in unison. 

Hell, you should be afraid.

Because if you ever needed any proof of magic, there it is right there.

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Serena Williams won the Australian Open while she was pregnant. Marathon runners pace themselves through 26.2 miles with blood running down their legs. At any given time, female athletes are performing at all levels from junior varsity to professional while they have their periods. Running, scoring, tackling, slamming, sprinting, jumping. All while bleeding, cramping, and fighting blinding headaches…and pretending its not happening.

Ask any woman you know what it’s like to work, to perform, to negotiate a deal, to run up and down a field for 90 minutes while she has her period.

Don’t you dare tell me women are not strong.

Women’s bodies are magical.

We are magic.

I see that magic every day. I saw it in those girls on the pitch. I see it in the women I know.

I just keep forgetting it for myself.

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I’m a smart, capable woman who studies the how and why of this. And I struggle. Because that is how ingrained it is.

All those wasted hours.

51,840

Sometimes I imagine, just for a moment, what I would do if I could get back the hours I’ve spent dieting. Or the hours of shaving, plucking, applying make up, drying, curling, straightening, cutting my hair. The money spent on creams and lotions meant to tan, tighten, remove, cover, conceal. What I would do if I got all of that back?

An embarrassment of riches–the hours, the dollars, the space in my head, the room to breathe.

*****

It’s a neat trick, right? Convince half the world’s population to spend untold woman hours on something unachievable. It’s one way to stop them from achieving greatness. Get them in on the act, they start policing themselves, and their own bodies.

Jedi mind trick shit.

Women have been achieving greatness and great things, of course, in spite of all this. But imagine the potential we could unlock if we got all that time and money back.

Just imagine what we could do if we unwound that cloth that is binding us as surely as any foot, and let ourselves breathe out.

Those girls playing football? They are magic. I am magic. You are magic.

Ideals come and go. But magic lasts forever.

Don’t forget.

 

 

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Women’s History Month: Las Mariposas (1961)

Las Mariposas were the Dominican sisters who helped to bring down a dictator.

The four Mirabel sisters were born into a family of farmers in the 1920s and 30s in the Dominican Republic. All four girls were all well-educated, an exception for the time, and three of the four received college degrees.

The sisters grew alarmed at events they were witnessing in their country under the shadow rule of Rafael Trujillo. Minerva, the third sister, was personally targeted by the dictator, allegedly for refusing his sexual advances. On several occasions Trujillo gave orders for Minerva’s arrest and harassment. She was barred from attending her 2nd year law school classes until she publicly praised the dictator and upon graduation she was denied a license to practice law. Their father was arrested and thrown into jail and the family’s finances ruined. Patria, the oldest Mirabel, witnessed a brutal massacre by Trujillo’s men while on a religious retreat, and joined her sister’s active resistance against the regime. Youngest sister Maria Teresa joined her older sisters in their resistance efforts.

Together the sisters led The Movement of the Fourteenth of June. They distributed pamphlets, gathered weapons, and even made makeshift bombs out of firecrackers around Minerva’s kitchen table.

The sisters became known by Minerva’s underground code name: Las Mariposas.

The Butterflies.

After an assassination plot against Trujillo became known, Las Mariposas were thrown into jail. However, due to pressure from the Catholic Church, the trio were spared torture and released after a short time. Their husbands, who joined the women in their political resistance, remained jailed.

On November 25, 1960, Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa, on their way either to or from visiting their husbands in jail, were ambushed by Trujillo’s secret police. The sisters, along with their driver, were dragged out of their jeep, separated, strangled and beaten with clubs. Their bodies were put back into their car which was pushed over a cliff.

Patria was 36, Minerva, 34 and Maria Teresa, 24.

In death, the sisters proved iconic, becoming “symbols of both popular and feminist resistance.” Rather than ending his problems, murdering Las Mariposas contributed to the dictator’s own demise. In 1961 Trujillo was assassinated by military leaders.

The fourth Mirabel sister, Dede, who was not an active part of the Mirabel resistance efforts, raised the six children her sisters left behind. She kept her sisters’contributions to the country’s history alive until her death in 2014.

In 1984, the United Nations named Nov. 25 the “Day of Non-Violence Against Women” in honor of The Butterflies.

In 1994, Dominican author, poet and essayist Julia Alvarez published In the Time of the Butterflies, a fictionalized account of Las Mariposas.

Of the Mirabel sisters Alvarez has said the three are “a reminder that we [Latinas] have our revolutionary heroines, our Che Guevaras, too.”

Las Mariposas: Badass resisters.

Read more about Las Mariposas here.

Happy Women’s History Month!

 

To All the Women I’ve Never Had a Chance to Know

For all the inventions that might have made my life better, brighter, or easier but were never made because a woman never got the chance, this is my lament.

For all the female comedians I never got to laugh at, all the women authors I’ve never had the chance to read, who were never taught in school, whose voices were deemed too this or not enough that, for all the art I’ve never had the chance to stand in front of in awe, this is a song of mourning.

For Phillis Wheatley, Sybil Ludington, Rosalind Franklin. For Claudette Colvin, Katherine Johnson and all the women whose accomplishments I never learned in history class, in science class, in English class, whose names have been buried in the footnotes, this is my keen.

For all the women never given a chance. For all the women I never got the chance to know or study or emulate, all the women I’ve never been able to look to for inspiration because their names have been written in invisible ink upon someone else’s pages.

Imagine a world full of women of talent and passion, except you don’t need to imagine it. It already exists. What you need to imagine instead is what the world could have been if all those Judiths* had been allowed to write and paint and sculpt, to invent and choreograph and map, to calculate, to design, to innovate.

How much have I missed because women have been silenced, in classrooms and boardrooms, on stages and art galleries, in small stand up comedy backrooms and in publishing slush piles?

The art held up as imperative, the music and philosophy and books and comedy and film and journalism held up to me as important, all of that has been pushed through a filter of masculine approval.

Even the stories we do have of women are not theirs alone, they are the stories which appealed to the men who allowed them through the sieve. The stories men chose to hang on bare, white walls, to publish or produce, to grant life to.51afb6757fefc.image

They are stories which somehow resonated not with other women, but with men.

How many corsets could we have avoided, or slips or girdles, how many extra inches of stiletto if women had been designing the clothes we wear rather than men designing for a figure which almost never exists, and yet we kill ourselves to achieve regardless?

What is it like to walk through life in sensible shoes and comfortable clothing, never doubting that what you dream about can be achieved?

The newsmakers and tastemakers and dressmakers.

How many women have been told they’re just not funny….or they just don’t get the joke?
How many women have been told what they write is not interesting to men, or not up to par, not serious enough, good but not Infinite Jest good?
How many women have been told their art is not what the buyer is looking for, not good enough for museums, too hostile, too angry, too pretty, not important enough? How much of it is never even looked at in the first place?
How many female directors never got the chance to see their vision on celluloid or artists on canvas, or inventors granted a patent?
How many, how many, how many?

And how many times have women believed them?

This is for all the women who have climbed the mountain, backward and in heels, only to pushed off the precipice. This is for all the women who have lain, unknown and unnamed, under the avalanche of deeds and firsts, of accomplishments unnoticed, of boulders of could have but never have beens.

We have been there all along, scratching our way to the surface, clawing our ragged way back up the sides.

It is time to rise out of the footnotes, to take your place on the page, on the stage, in the spotlight where you’ve belonged all along.

 

*Judith was the fictitious sister of Shakespeare in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Woolf used the character to illustrate that a woman with the talents of Shakespeare would have been denied the same opportunities as her brother, her talent left to wither and die.

 

One Super Girl at a Time

The other day a friend stopped by with her two daughters in tow, all bright smiles and freckle-faced freshness. Her older girl, bordering on middle school, smiled and gave me a sticker which, I was told, she’d been keeping for me because she thought I’d like it.

Sweet, right?

Look, I scream and use a lot of four letter words. I rage and sometimes but not always fantasize about pulling lightening crackling down from the sky. Some days I put on my pointy witch hat and sweep away the bullshit. But when it comes to kids, I’m kind of a marshmallow, so of course I was touched.

I put it on my laptop, which is home to a selection of sticky slogans, and the more I thought about it, the sappier I got–and not just because I’m probably going to get one of those freak, out-of-nowhere periods that seem to happen when you’re in your late 40s.

I got a little misty because it’s working.

What I do, the way I live my life, the attention I pay to detail, what I speak about, how I talk to girls and boys, the screaming, the shouting, the listening, all of it. It’s working. Because here was this bordering on middle-school girl, half-way down the path to young woman, a girl who is going to, probably sooner rather than later, face the inevitable: comments about her body, catcalls from men who should know and act better, someone, somewhere dropping a comment about her being just a girl–or crying like one, throwing like one, acting like one–as if any of those are inherently bad. She is a girl, which means she’ll pick up on clues from folks who think she’s not worth as much as a boy. She’ll overhear a conversation between boys she knows talking smack about another girl’s body. She’ll overhear a conversation between girls she knows doing the same.

And along comes a sticker, and I thought that seed is planted. It’s buried now, deep down. And it will take root and it will blossom.

Because you see, now she knows she doesn’t need Superman. She doesn’t need Supergirl. Because she is her own super-girl.

I nearly whooped with joy.

My own boys know what I’m like and what’s important to me. But they’re mine. I’m the chief baker and molder of their environment cookie dough. I have been since they were cooing and ga-ga-ing in their Baby Einstein Exersaucer and every day since. But other people’s kids? It’s a pretty great feeling to know that a tweenage girl could see an image, an image evoking female strength and independence, and think of me.

Sweet, right? And I don’t mean in the sugar and spice sense there, I mean in the long drawn out sweeeeeetttt sense.

I think–and hope!– that through these pages, through my actions, my love and respect for my sons is evident. But there are times when I live vicariously through my friends’ daughters, not so much to fill a gap in my heart, but to get a pulse on today’s girls and what they are like. Once I had a conversation with two friends about the things I miss out on being the mother of  only sons.

“I’ll never get to share that first period moment!” I lamented.

They thought I was crazy, but I kind of meant it. Let’s face it, the first nocturnal emission just doesn’t seem to have the same rite of passage feel about it. And to be honest, it’s not something they’ll likely tell me, although if they do, perhaps we’ll share a ritual passing over of the tissue box, who knows.

So my friends message me when a daughter does something they think I will like or find amusing or just kick-ass.

C called out her tennis coach when the medal she got only featured a boy;
R does a fist pump and says “Smash the Patriarchy” when I see her;
E regularly tells boys they aren’t allowed to touch her without her permission;
Another R writes essays and challenges gender stereotypes in her high school hallways; and
S saw a sticker of Supergirl rescuing Superman and thought of me.

These girls are being raised by strong women. Whenever I get a text or a message–or a sticker–I think, if I had a daughter, I’d want her to be just like yours, or yours, or yours. All of them different, but strong in their own ways. All of them Super girls.

And I feel, just for a moment, just for a split second, like I got to play some tiny part in that, like I get to change the world just a little bit.

One super girl at a time.