Mad Men Women

There’ve been a lot of articles in the mainstream press addressing women’s anger. Reading them is both validating..and ironically, rage inducing. They please me because they’re long past due. They piss me off because women have been writing about their own anger for decades…yet those articles and essays and books, like women in general, have largely been ignored or negated, shoved under the rug and passed over.

Look, women’s anger–when it has even been allowed— has almost always been used against them. Mocking, shaming, creating caricatures around women’s anger? It’s used to shut down the conversation before it even begins. It’s the wrench in the patriarchal tool belt.

Angry women are almost never granted legitimacy. There is no framework for women’s anger. We are shushed, patted on the head, prescribed Valium, and repeatedly told to calm the hell down can’t you take a joke?

Mad women are shrill, we’re harpies, we’re hysterical. We are the cartoon figure of the feminist killjoy, an equality pushing dementor who sucks the joy and fun from every conversation; the racist caricature of the angry black woman; the crazy ex-girlfriend, the bunny-boiling anger of a scorned woman or the vengeful ex-wife. And so forth.

All of these caricatures? They exist to undermine the legitimacy of women’s anger. You see, if we make fun of it, we don’t have to take it seriously. If we don’t take it seriously, we can convince each other that women are just being whiny bitches out for revenge and avoid the real issues.

Pssst…..there’s a lot to be angry about. Legit.

And here comes the mainstream media riding in two centuries too late on a lame-ass pony reporting on women’s anger as if it’s a new trend.

Women’s anger is not a damn fidget spinner.

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I’ve borne witness to the anger of women young and old, but by far the most pissed off group I’ve seen is the one caught between maiden and crone. Which, perhaps not coincidentally, is my own peer group.

Women between forty and sixty who are coasting on a tidal wave of blind, white rage.

And still the media asks, gosh ladies, why are you so darn mad?

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Women my age–women who grew up with the idea that it was ALL possible (Sally Ride! Sandra Day O’Connor!), we were lulled into a false sense of equality. Abortion was decriminalized, birth control became available. Women took control of their bodies–and by doing so, their economic power.

And they have been fighting to retain control of both ever since. It is never-ending.

We were told the problem was not enough girls liking math, not enough girls going into engineering. We were told the problem was high powered jobs were difficult to maintain as a mother. We were told, in short, the problem was us.

The problem was never that girls weren’t good at math. The problem is not that women aren’t interested in science and tech, or sports, or medicine. The problem is not that women aren’t funny or innovative. The problem is not that women make up allegations against men because they’re liars or out for revenge. The problem is not that women are not ambitious enough to have both a career and a family.

The problem is not women.

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You want to know one reason why the wage gap exists? The real wage gap–the one which traces the income of women working over a lifetime vs. that of men. It doesn’t exist because women don’t want good, high-paying jobs, or that they don’t possess the innate skills to do those jobs, (and if you thought any of those were the reason–check your misogyny at the door, bro.)

Let’s look instead at how men have been traumatizing women right OUT of those jobs with their penises.

Men with their dicks out have been chasing women out of tech, out of publishing and film, out of academia, out of finance, out of comedy and Congress and sports and every, single, other industry until all we are left with is men. Men who control what we read and see and hear and buy and listen to and like.

Those same men then turn around and ask why women are under-represented in those fields. Some go as far as to promote themselves as allies to the feminist cause. Those same men? They control the narrative we’re fed about women. That’s right. How’s that for a double-bind mindfuck?

Have you never wondered why women cluster in certain fields? Sure, some of it has to do with trying to carve out a career around the demands of family care taking (and don’t even get me started on that), but a lot of it is this: when you are surrounded by other women, you’re relatively safe. Oh, you may not be safe from backstabbing and bullying, but you are safe from being chased out of your chosen career path because your boss can’t keep his fantasies or his dick zipped where it belongs.

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Do you want to know why so many women are so blindingly angry?

Women have been playing by the rules we’ve been given, rules written by men, and yet whenever we get close to the trophy, the rules suddenly change. It’s like reaching square 98 in Chutes and Ladders and landing on that damn chute which dumps you back at square 4 every, single time.

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This anger you’re sensing from women? The one behind hashtags like #MenAreCancelled? It’s a survival mechanism against a system which has left many women with no other choice but to fight their way out.

And women have reached the point where if they’re going down, they’re going down fighting.

They may not win, but they’ll make damn sure they have the skin of the patriarchy under their fingernails on the way down.

 

 

 

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How To Become Radicalized in Ten Easy Steps

f43d2d05a50cf51b2282509fca7df12aStep 1

The slow realization that something about you is considered not as good as, seen as less than. Even though you don’t feel less than, everything you read and see and hear, watch and listen to, screams and whispers it to your heart.

Step 2

The dissonance of questioning and doubting your own experiences. Making excuses for patronizing behavior, shushing. The strange discomfort of being patted on the head like a good, happy dog because everything you are seeing tells you that you are supposed to expect it and enjoy it–even though it makes your soul prickle. Denying your own emotions. Believing them when they tell you it will be fine, as long as you follow the rules.

Here is the list of rules. There are a million of them. They cover how to dress and talk and walk and act. They cover what not to do, how to do it, how to please, how to avoid displeasing. In between the lines it tells you how to keep your head down like a dog.

Step 3

Follow a million rules to the letter and wait for a validation which never comes.

Oh look, here are a million more rules. Come back later.

Step 4

Attack the rules with education and knowledge. Study the problem from a historical perspective. Immerse yourself in theory. Learn about the sociology and the psychology, the economics. The art and literature. Endure endless mocking and judgement for studying something invalid, some phantom, as if oppression and ghost hunting were Siamese twins.

Step 5

Surround yourself with like-minded individuals to stockpile comfort and succor. Armed with others like you, you bask in conviction. You are tackling age-old issues, but from a new angle, one which will work this time. It has to work this time. How can it not?

Step 6

Advance, retreat, advance. Repeatedly absorb and move on. Cling to the hope Pandora shut in her box despite being continually and perpetually let down. Learn to swallow the bitterness of betrayal–not only by those holding you back, but those who should be on your side as well.

Step 7

Realize everything you’ve done, have studied for, have worked toward has achieved absolutely nothing. Out of two million rules, you are at #67. They’ve rewritten them when you were not looking.

Step 8

Allow yourself to feel anger. Stop explaining. Cease apologizing. Begin actively demanding and agitating. Surround yourself in an echo-chamber of those who believe in the same things you do, who nod and agree and encourage.

Step 9

Accept your goals, once so attainable seeming–will never be reached peacefully, with logic or reason, with discourse or compromise. Shift focus from demanding acknowledgement and equality to plotting revenge and seeking payback.

Step 10

Jettison anyone who doesn’t fit your narrative. Escalate the rhetoric. Cocoon yourself in righteousness and anger. Hone in on the enemy. There is no longer a ‘we’, but an us. And a them.

Congratulations. You’re radicalized.

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Years of living in this woman’s body, where compromise is not only a natural way of living, but a necessary tool of survival, has given me an awareness and understanding of my mind and psyche. I know the map of my heart. Lots of therapy and a liberal dosage of Prozac over the years have helped as well. So when I feel the quiver of rage that shakes my very bones, I know I must be careful not to let it tip the scale to hate.

And right now, it is very, very close.

I am fortunate to have friends who are open enough and enlightened enough to have begun the healing. I am not there yet. I am not sure when I will be. Maybe tomorrow, I keep saying to them when they ask. Maybe tomorrow. Though it may be four years of tomorrows, or eight, or a forever full of them.

I know that feeding the flames of rage long-term will consume me. It will consume my soul and my writing, my family, my friendships, my life. And so I must let those flames die out eventually. Whether it burns itself out one time or I must put it out myself, what walks out of the funeral pyre on the other side will be a changed version of myself. A Phoenix. A woman formed in the ash heap of disappointment and despair, of rage and whatever borders on the thin line of hate. The question remains if it will be a constant struggle to tame the rage, to direct it instead, into something resembling determination and focus. Today, I don’t know the answer.

I understand now how easy it is to lose faith so completely in a system which has continually let you down. I understand how easy it would be to turn to an all-consuming darkness. It is hot enough in there to melt your very bones–but it feels good–like a dark sunshine burning in your blood. I understand now the desire to burn, the desire to exact revenge. To take. That desire is delicious on your tongue, though I know it will turn bitter soon enough.

I understand the appeal. 73623-phoenix-rising-from-ashes-quotes

It frightens me that I do, yet at the same time, I’m glad.

Facing some sort of darkness and making the choice to walk away is its own kind of power. Another one I will add to the notch on my witch’s belt. Ultimately I will do that. I will walk away.

But not today. Maybe tomorrow.

Maybe tomorrow.

My Life as an Open Book

vintage-gal-writingI mentioned in a comment recently that being home means confronting the ghosts in the floor boards. Along with the memories comes the monsters in the closets and the poltergeist in the pipes. None of those hit home with a more resounding thwack to the temple than going through a musty box pulled from the bowels of the basement. A lone box stuffed full of journals, notebooks, folders, diplomas and other scraps of teenage and young adult detritus. The journals span about 13 years, from 1984 to 1996 and reading them now, as a woman of nearly 44, is eye-opening, heartbreaking, befuddling, cringe worthy, painful, hilarious. In other words, exactly as they should read. My So Called Life, but written. In a pink, fabric covered diary there are love poems written in a flowery, cursive hand. Rhyming stanzas that take a wild stab at love and loss and longing. By 13, I had kissed my fair share of boys, but still, the pool of available emotions to tap into didn’t go much beyond a sanitized longing for hand holding and slow dancing, first base and French kissing.


And if the moon throws shadows
I know the sun will shine
because as long as the sun warms our hearts
you will always be mine


The sentences get denser in the next few years, the emotions more complex, rawer. There are pages of questioning and answer seeking; white pages stained in black ink forever asking why: why does he prefer her? why can’t I be pretty? why can’t he love me? why do I feel this way? There is a dense black book spilling over with desperation, with sadness, with confusion. Should either of my children ever feel that as an adult I don’t know what the desperate torrent and hurricane of teenage and young adult emotions is like, I will hand them this book, baring my word soul to them simply to show them that they are not alone walking a path littered with answerless questions. The later notebooks are a mix of a spiraling descent into depression, mapped out in sentences.


I sit in the window
thinking about
how it would feel
to float in the mist for a few seconds
knowing my lips would kiss
the wet concrete below
and
the clock on the wall
would keep ticking
and ticking
telling its tale while
the glow of my cigarette
burned
itself
out


It used to be
that
I had things to hide in:
giant white pages
to play
peek-a-boo from behind,
words whose curves were perfect for diving
and curling into.
And I could sleep between the lines
snug; tucked into color and
sounds
that only I knew existed
because I made them up.


composition bookThere are composition notebooks riddled with notes on Hamlet, course descriptions and poems popping with rage; anger sometimes aimed at individuals, but more often spotlighting rules and traditions that cut and carve out large swaths of society. Seething, writhing words; fragments and scraps that jump off the page with fury. Poems that spit in the face of patriarchy, prose that cast thinly veiled women in the role of Kali, of Gaia, of creator and destructor. Evolution of a girl. Revolution into womanhood.


They chained me to shadows
and left me
pale and riddled with white hot bruises
Transparent skin
Vampire sucked of everything but
a dull recollection of color
and an open sore of blistering revenge


From faltering school girl to depressed young woman to vengeful lover.


Oedipus talked to Passion
orange-hot, fickle speckled passion
summer soaked, slippery grip passion
even Passion betrayed
pocketing two iconoclastic souvenirs
before she disintegrated
into ordinary germ-dipped love.


The pages stop in 1996, a year before I met my husband. By then the anger had given way to reflection. The questions were still present, but turned outward. Instead of chewing at the cuticles of my own faults, I combed through the hair of everyone else, looking for nits to pick. But the words were softer, more forgiving, more mature.


Under the jaundiced glare
of barroom lights and soured fairy tales
you kissed me
breathing liquid silver
into the rattling hollows of my spine
uncorking something
long ago abandoned


open bookI have always been an open book, both figuratively and literally. When you write, it is your job to make people feel something. What people who don’t write may not know is that often you use your own blood as ink in order to do that. Laying myself bare in the pages of a notebook or in a teenage journal or even on a scrap of barroom napkin is no different from writing a blog. I’m just a better writer now. The question remains, what do I do with all of this? It seems silly to keep a lot of it, not to mention embarrassing, painful and  tedious. At the same time, it is a written history of myself, an evolution of a girl in words. Because my writing is so tied up in my experience, so entwined, it’s a bit like throwing away a part of myself. Though I ache for the young girl through some of those years, there was triumph in there too. There was growth, there was maturation, there was resilience and ultimately, there was a life fulfilled.  A life as an open book.



What do you do with old journals, writing samples, stories? Do you keep them or have you said good riddance?

Stop the Ride, I Want to Get Off!

Roy LichtensteinIf I reach back into my memory, back before the kids and the husband, stretch past the boyfriends and the general debauchery that defined my twenties, strain past that first bittersweet taste of adulthood, I can just about remember what life was like as a teenage girl, how weighted with importance everything seemed. Back then, before your personality had time to gel and set, it didn’t take much to make you feel like the world was ending. The mere hint of a cold shoulder was enough to send you running to the girls room. Tripping and God forbid falling in front of cute Stevie Jones was evidence that your life was ruined. Heather not talking to you or Tracy not giving you the time of day because she was too busy making out with Kevin by the lockers was enough to get you excused from gym. The thrill of the hummingbird wings of your heart racing when the boy you had a crush on sat next to you at lunch. The agony of I-can’t-even-remember-his-name calling you ugly in front of a gaggle of (short, pimply) boys, making you want to melt into a puddle on the floor like the Wicked Witch of the West until there was nothing left but a pair of pumps and ankle socks.

LIfe as a teenage girl is little short of bionic.  Every emotion is amplified, every feeling exaggerated. From the heights of cloud 9 to the pit of despair, all in the space of a seven period high school day. Somehow most of us survive. Things level out and life becomes a little less like a roller coaster at Great Adventure and more like a nice, gentle ferris wheel at the fair. Sure, there are still ups and downs, the cart rocks a bit in the wind, and there’s always the niggling fear that a screw is loose, but the daily highs and lows don’t seem so steep, so graded, so stomach churning.

Then one day you find yourself crying over a long distance telephone commercial. UpWorthy videos suddenly become a form of torture, emotional bamboo shoots dipped in estrogen and shoved into your cerebral cortex. Ads in other languages, ads that you can’t even understand make you weep. For the most part, you are able to wipe your eyes on your sleeve, sniff loudly and get on with your day. Until an hour or so later when the spaghetti sticks together and you have to repress an urge to throw the whole grain tangled mess, pot and all, on the floor and angrily declare your intention to NEVER COOK AGAIN.

All of a sudden you’re tripping down those high school corridors of bionic emotion all over again. Heather is mad at you and Tracy is debating whether or not to have sex behind the bleachers and what’s-his-name thinks you’re ugly and it’s like all those years have been compressed and you are once again trying to remember the combination to make it all work.

RL scream

What fresh hell is this?  I have to do this again?  Screw you, Mother Nature, are you for real??

Yesterday morning my husband was forced to listen to me rant, possibly even rave, about how much our health insurance sucks. The thing is, my husband knows our health insurance sucks. He agreed with me at the very beginning of the ‘conversation’. But that wasn’t enough. I needed him to know in great detail how much it sucked and what they could do to improve it and who could I write to and WHY WASN’T HE FIXING IT AND AGREEING WITH ME???  Fast forward to the afternoon when my Facebook feed was peppered with photos of friends sending their daughters off to school for a Father/Daughter dance and just like that…sobbing over the asparagus. Not teary eyed with a tinge of emotion, mind you. Great, heaving sobs. I won’t even go into the convoluted train of thought that derailed in my head, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the amplified, exaggerated reactions. Again.  Like a sixteen year old, but with crow’s-feet and gray hair.

There’s very little neutral ground here on the fairway of your forties. I believe I recently used the word ‘fascist’ to describe someone who wanted to do away with teacher appreciation day.  And I meant it, for those few seconds anyway. A friend sent me en email including a slide show documenting the birth of their second child and I couldn’t tell my husband what it was because I was crying too hard.  Don’t even get me started on fuck-wittery that is The Hobby Lobby mess. Rant, sob, rant, sob. It’s amazing that my husband still ventures into the kitchen these days, unsure if he will find me cooking dinner in a puddle of tears or threatening to brain someone with a frying pan.

Oh the descent into this fresh hell is dizzying for sure.

mood-swingYou can change sheets that have been soaked though with night sweats. Chin hairs can be plucked. Gray hairs can be dyed. You can fake it till you make it in-between the sodden sheets. But oh the hormone roller coaster! You’re well and truly stuck. You can’t just leap off mid hill. You can scream all you want but no one is going to stop the ride so you can get off.

I’ve started running to help balance out the rage against the machine, which helps. So far I haven’t had to run blinded by tears and breathing great, hiccuping gulps of air because, gee, that’d be really fun. I’m exhausted. The physical running tires my body. The book writing is emotionally draining, soul sucking at times, and very, very lonely.  Add the ups and downs of my current hormonal state of affairs and it’s any wonder I can keep my red rimmed eyes open long enough to threaten to hurl dinner off the balcony.  To go from high to low and back again takes a lot out of you. It’s like running an emotional 10K every day.  At least at sixteen you had the energy to bounce back. And perkier boobs.

So for now I’ll just keep going to bed a mere hour after my kids so that I have enough energy to make it up…and down…the next set of hills.  But if you hear someone screaming in between the tears, it’s probably me.