Women in da HOUSE! Not…

October 23, 2011 § 3 Comments

Part Two of I-Don’t-Know-How-Many in a series of posts inspired by “Miss Representation.”  If you haven’t seen the trailer for this movie, and you have 8 minutes, please watch it here now.  

From “Miss Representation” – Women are 51% of the U.S. population, and 17% of Congress.

From my 15-year-old daughter and her 17-year-old friend – “That’s because they don’t WANT to be in Congress.”

Is this okay?  Yes, and no.

Yes, because we understand that it’s a reflection of the fact that women have many more career choices than they used to, lo, those many decades ago.  Women aren’t so few in Congress because they’re not ALLOWED or being told they CAN’T, right?  There are so many more career paths open to women now than 50 or even 30 years ago, and that is indeed a marvelous thing.

No, because well, they don’t want to be in Congress.  Why not?  Maybe it’s because they continue to be dismissed and belittled when it comes to politics.   (You may recognize the author of the second letter…)

Calling out The Washington Post

“Oh, come on, Aliza,” you say – “That was close to twenty years ago!  Surely, things have improved since even then!”  I’m not so sure.  In the 2010 mid-term elections, women made no gains in Congress.  It was the first election since 1979 in which they didn’t increase their presence in Washington.

According to the 15YO who lives in my house and her friend, “It’s a sucky job.”  So is being President.  I mean, THEY wouldn’t wanna do it…crappy pay, no privacy, intense scrutiny and pressure.  So, why, I asked, do so many men want these jobs?

“It’s genetic, Mom.”  E and her friend believe very strongly that men are, by nature, drawn to positions of power in business and politics, and women achieve and exert their power in other arenas and ways.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing.  They have a choice, and they’re choosing not to go into politics.

Fair enough, in many cases.  “Fine,” I tell them.  “Let’s assume men are naturally drawn to having power over large numbers of people and large geographic areas.  If they comprise 83% of Congress – if this is just the way it is and is going to be – how do we ensure women are treated fairly in the lawmaking process?”

Silence.  Hmm.  They hadn’t thought that far, I’m guessing.

Then I told them about this.  A new Federal Reserve rule stipulates that I can no longer open a credit card account by myself.  Nope.  I’m just a lil’ ole homemaker, and since I don’t bring any actual money into the household, I’m not deemed credit-worthy.  Forget the fact that the hubs and I have filed jointly for 20 years.  Forget the fact that we’ve NEVER had separate bank accounts since we’ve been married.  Forget the fact that I am the one who pays bills, plans long-term and makes day-to-day financial decisions.  No, kiddies, not good enough.  Combined household income holds no weight anymore.  If I don’t earn my own paycheck, no credit card.

Well, THAT put some fire in their eyes.  Yes, indeed – E and her friend were livid about that.  “What?  That’s so ridiculous!”  I agreed, but said, “If I had a job, though, we’d have a lot more money…”  “Yeah, but then you would have had to PAY someone to take care of us and do all the stuff you do during the day!”  Yes, children, that is so.  (And, thank you for noticing that I do “stuff” during the day.)  A great friend of mine, when talking about this new rule,  put it beautifully and sardonically:  “I always suspected everything I did all day had no value.  Now I have proof.”

The angry girls at my kitchen table rightly pointed out that this new rule puts being a stay-at-home-parent even further out of reach from those (predominantly women) who might want to do it.  Sure, you can stay home if you can manage it – but you have no economic standing as far as the banks are concerned.

The Federal Reserve Board is appointed by the President and approved by Congress.

See Jane run…for Congress.

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Beauty and the Beast

October 14, 2011 § 4 Comments

Part One of I-Don’t-Know-How-Many in a series of posts inspired by “Miss Representation.”  If you haven’t seen the trailer for this movie, and you have 8 minutes, please watch it here now.  

Once upon a time, women were valued for their intellectual and creative contributions to society.  They were sought after candidates for positions of power, and whether they were pretty or shapely had absolutely no bearing on their success, or the warmth and respect with which they were received by others.  The End.

HAHAhahahahaha!!!!!!  Just kidding!  Snort.

The “Miss Representation” trailer promises the movie will explore the many ways women are marginalized in America.  I will try to break them down in my own way.  This post, I’m sure you’ve guessed, will focus on physical beauty.  For the purposes of this essay, let’s please assume we all understand that while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, comes from the inside, comes in many forms and sizes, there is a certain standard to which women are held in terms of what is considered attractive, and that we all know what that looks like.  That was a horrible abuse of commas, but can y’all just come with me on this?  Thank’ee kindly.

So, down to business.  The trailer correctly posits that girls from the time they are very young get the message that their worth is dependent upon how they look.  I am living proof of this.  While I had parents who made sure I heard and saw that I was beautiful, they also focused on how many other ways in which they thought I was amazing.  I believed them about the other stuff, but I hate to say they weren’t that successful in calming my physical insecurity.  No need to go into the particulars of what I found objectionable about my shape.  No real good reason for these objections, other than everyone has their crosses to bear, the grass is always greener, whatever.  Regardless, despite my parents’ best efforts, I never liked my body.

Where does this Beast come from?  The gnawing, debilitating message sent to girls AND boys that a girl’s worth is so heavily dependent upon how she looks?  I would like to blame my insecurities on the mean kids who were happy to point out my physical shortcomings.  On my college boyfriend’s roommate who said I looked like Elle McPherson, but hastened to strongly emphasize “only from the neck up.”  On the skinny-yet-curvy aesthetic ideal foisted upon me by the media from even my youngest memory.

It was rare, however, that the mean kids from my youth had awesome bodies themselves, my boyfriend’s roommate was not exactly George Clooney, and I never played with Barbies.  So what power did these things have over me?  Why did they make me feel diminished?  Was it because I agreed with them?  Who knows.

I do know though, that women have been judged on their looks for millenia.  This is not new, people.  The way in which this manifests itself changes over time, evolves differently from one geography/era/population to another.  It improves in some ways and becomes more insidious in others.

Is there anything we can do besides accept this with exhausted resignation?  Yea, verily.  We can choose our company wisely – especially our spouses.  Company that is courageous enough to defiantly challenge stereotypes, and company that nurtures our souls – much like the magnificent teenagers in this movie trailer.  We can see magazines as fairy tales, and know that even the size 2 on the red carpet is wearing Spanx.  We can call “Toddlers and Tiaras” what it is – child abuse.  If you are lucky enough to embody the feminine alleged “ideal,”  you can use that power for good and refuse to let yourself be exploited.

Here’s an example of something else you can do.  Someone I know, who’s name is (Rhymes with) “Asniza” is fortunate enough to belong to a pool in the summertime.  She plays a little mindgame with herself when she’s there.  She can’t help it, so please forgive her, and you know you do the same thing or something similar anyhow.

So, in this game, “Asniza” looks around at the other ladies at the pool.  Many of them are extremely attractive, by the standards I set forth in Paragraph 3 above.  “Asniza” wonders if she would trade bodies with any of these ladies.  Here’s the thing, though.  “Asniza”’s mind doesn’t pick and choose only parts of other ladies’ bodies she likes.   “Asniza”’s mind, for some inexplicable reason, does not – can not go there.  It is not allowed.  No.  It’s the whole package or nothing.  She asks herself, “Would I trade, from head to toe, my body for hers?”

Weirdly, her answer is almost always “no.”  Why, you ask?  Because deep down below the insecurity she knows no one is perfect.  She knows in the grand scheme of things she has a lot to be grateful for and happy about – and this includes (aspects of) her looks.  And she knows having the shape she covets will not make her a better mother, wife, daughter, sister or friend.  She knows it won’t make her more talented or  more worth being around.  Hmmmm.  Maybe her parents did a better job than she thought…

Finally, I’d like to leave you with the story of another parent who is also doing a great job of helping her daughter deal with these issues and determine what really matters.  You GO, Ciaran – you GO.

Multiple Choice

October 12, 2011 § 8 Comments

I am a fan of brevity, an economy of words, viewpoints concisely made.  In keeping with this philosophy, I may have to write a series of blog posts to give each facet of this complex issue its due.  But first – got 8 minutes?  Watch this.

Whether you’re male or female, how are you feeling right now?  Circle all that apply.

  1. Angry
  2. Dismissive
  3. Apologetic
  4. Defensive
  5. Hopeful
  6. Empowered
  7. All of the above
  8. None of the above

Me, too.  More to follow.  Much more.

Bully for You.

October 3, 2011 § 6 Comments

Younger than in the childhood memory I write about here, but it's my favorite of me (left) and Rachel together.

Certain names have been changed to protect – well, me, let’s be honest – from lawsuits and beatdowns. 

We always walked home from school.  Always.  Rachel (my older sister by 2 years) and I walked home from our elementary school on East 17th Street in Brooklyn.  Unfortunately, we usually had company.

For whatever reason, we were targets.  Maybe it was that we were brainy, teachers liked us, maybe we were socially awkward and weird, never caught the ball in dodgeball…whatever.  Always targets, though.  At least for most of elementary school, I had Rachel to walk with me.  Made me feel better, even though she was a target, too.

That company I mentioned?  Here’s where I start changing names.  A few boys, of whom I only really remember two, enjoyed following and teasing us.  (Rhymes with) “Snilly” and (Rhymes with) “Snott” were regulars.  “Snilly” and “Snott” were mean and intimidating.  They were in Rachel’s class.  (Rachel and I were a year younger and smaller than our classmates.)  I don’t remember specifically what they said, but I remember always being afraid and embarrassed.

One day, though, Rachel had had enough.  “Snilly” and “Snott” and some others were following us, teasing and needling as usual, and Rachel was done.  D.O.N.E.  Here she was, the absolute soul of gentleness and kindness, humiliated in front of her friend and little sister, unable to contain the white hot fury the likes of which had not been seen on East 17th Street in the history of P.S. 255.

To my absolute horror and amazement, she turned around, dropped her books, and went after them, a la Ralphie in “A Christmas Story.”  She threw and landed the first punch.  I’m not sure how many other kids got involved, but I do remember in the end it was mainly a fist fight between Rachel and “Snott.”

Rachel’s friend, (Rhymes with) “Snisa” looked straight ahead and walked home very quickly, as she had been instructed by her mother to do if she ever saw a fight break out.  I ran a few houses down to bang on Walter and Irene’s door, because even though they were 114 years old, they were grown-ups and I knew them.  But they weren’t home.

By the time I got back to the scene of the fight it was over.   Rachel, her black eye and I went home our way and “Snott” and his bloody nose went his.  I know there was a phone call between our mom and “Snott’s”, and while Rachel and I remember the details of the call differently, I can promise you our mom held her own in both versions.

In my exhaustive, impartial historical research conducted before writing this blog post, I finally asked my sister what “Snott” and “Snilly” used to say when they teased us.  Without missing a beat, she said, “That day it was ‘Lirtzy-banana.’”  (Our last name was Lirtzman.)

Silence.

I said, “I’m sorry, what???”

“Lirtzy-banana,” she said.

Lirtzy.  Banana.

This was the venom they spewed at us that fateful day.  “Lirtzy-banana.”

I practically screamed into the phone, “LIRTZY-BANANA??????????  Are you eff-ing KIDDING ME???  That’s what they said that threw you into such a rage?”  Over my peals of laughter, she replied calmly, “Well, I didn’t like being called a banana.  Maybe if they had picked a different fruit.”

While others might be inclined to view the incident as a little less serious and worthy of legend status after this revelation, I can assure you I’m not one of them.  These boys made a game out of making us miserable, and I can tell you for a fact Rachel would have snapped on that day regardless of the content of the teasing.  The underdog bloodied her knuckles and prevailed in the end.  She took one for the team.  She was the little guy protecting the littler guy.  I did not fare nearly so well when Rachel moved on to junior high school and I had to start walking home by myself.  But maybe I’ll tell you about (Rhymes with)“Snamelia” and (Rhymes with) “Sneryl”  – my own personal tormentors – another time.

I asked Rachel if that was the end of the teasing.  She remembers more unpleasantness, but she doesn’t remember being followed home any more after that.  I don’t know what ever became of “Snott” and “Snilly.”  I could say that they’re probably shelving books at the library on Rikers.  I never would, though, because that would be sinking to their level.  Also, it would imply they could alphabetize.

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