Feminist Friday: Of Aging and the Body

I got scammed by an anti-aging cream miracle bullshit bank account draining thing and my very first thought was that I could never, ever tell my spouse how stupidly I had bought into a video (A VIDEO ON THE INTERNET YOU GUYS) where rubbing an old lady’s face with a small amount of magic made her wrinkles go away not right before our eyes (because:video, also:internet). After I muscled up and called my credit card company to be my second at a misty morning duel (okay, conference call for those who insist on dreary reality) and got a 75% refund, I mentioned it on the ol’ Facebook. Several people helpfully told me that I don’t need anti-aging cream.

That is nice. It is. It’s nice. But, see, as a woman, in this society, I am OBLIGATED to believe that I am not good enough. I am required to hate my body even as I try, I do try, I really try (and no, I am not talking about self-love and porn on tumblr, that is different entirely) to present myself as a model of self confidence and to be body positive and to, sincerely, I do, love almost everyone else’s body just the way it is. I challenge my notions and push my boundaries but: I hate this meat sack, I really do.

That’s a poor state of affairs and I know that. But you are not, ever, going to see my bare legs, and you are not often going to see me without makeup without a really, really good excuse  (heart surgery is a good excuse). Not a one of us needs an expensive or inexpensive anti-aging cream for any reason except maybe if it smells really good because there is no anti-aging there is just the march to the grave that starts when we are born (life does not begin at conception and we are not conversing about that, unfollow pls). I do not love this mess.

Is it then intersectional to discuss that place where being a woman in this culture collides (intersects, see? See?) with being chronically ill? There isn’t a cream that will reverse the aging process but we’ll figure out one long before we can make an errant digestive system work. Indeed. Because women are willing to pay thousands of dollars for cunning little pots of schmutz and Immodium is practically free. Yes, it’s my own theory. Also if we fixed either of those problems we would be the architects of what might someday be called the New Homelessness: Face Cream Salespeople and Gastroenterologists Are Begging. Okay, it’s a little long, I’ll work on it.

I’ve devised my own Gut Fix and it’s a fucking miracle.

I’m lying. It’s not. It’s made things betterish. Two tablespoons of chia seeds, soaked first in about a quarter cup of water, then mixed with either 4 oz of coconut milk (from a can, the thick shit, not that lie in the dairy case) and left in the ‘fridge overnight. It’s like eating a glass of very, very, very thick…..VERY thick suntan lotion. Since I like my punishment varied, I sometimes make the same thing with plain Kefir. Then one day I said, “WTF is wrong with you? Why are you making yourself eatdrink a horrible thing? Put some sugar in that shit!” That helped the kefir but not the coconut milk. I eat/injest it around 9:00 am everyday, and those chia seeds, they get down to the lower levels and I swear–this is my own theory, too—that they form a stopper and soak up fluid and my life is regular and better but I must be very, very careful to drink a fucking lot of water. A lot. More than I have time for. Or you can imagine what happens.

Know what’s fun about finding a thing that works? You get religious. Superstitious. Also, when it doesn’t work, it ruins your goddamned life and there you are, in the bathroom, contemplating suicide. The face cream side of this is dutifully applying it very carefully, seeing zero difference, and getting charged nearly $200 because they started your trial period the day you ordered it and the 15 days were up before that (small) package even arrived in your mailbox, and you’re looking at your credit card statement and considering suicide. Actually, only the gut stuff makes me think that, I just cried a lot over the credit card statement.

It’s very hard to love a body that is both aging and genetically flawed. I have decided to try and if not love it, stop letting it get to me. As much. Maybe. So today, when things did not go as desired and I found myself with this loop in my brain replaying the opening scenes of the movie Parenthood, I thought, “Hey, now, so, you’re paying this new shrink good money and she thinks you should meditate. Maybe let’s push pause on the old movie and listen to that guy with the soothing voice?” So I did. My mind wandered but he said it was okay, and my stomach rumbled and he said not to have feelings about my thoughts, just note them and let them be, and oh c’mon, there wasn’t a miracle. Tiniest attempt at a shift, maybe.

Finally,  I’m looking at you RevitaYouth, FUCK YOU. I have some wrinkles, and they were free, so go hassle someone else.

Advertisements

Feminist Friday + Extra Photo

ootd-01-26-2017-a

I have always used fashion as a form of artistic expression. It should be pretty obvious that my tastes run to the feminine, but rarely if ever precious. I am a closet fan of Little Big Girl and Gothic Lolita type looks–mainly because they are so thoughtful and complete–no stone goes un-turned with that crowd. I am also well aware that what I consider “feminine” or “pretty” is a social construct that comes from a patriarchal system that holds the view that women must dress in certain ways to be attractive to men.

It would be untrue if I said I didn’t adhere to that quite a bit, because that’s the cultural soup I’ve been ingesting my entire life. Yes, I wear makeup, and yes, I feel better when I do. I prefer skirts because I am self-conscious about the size of my ass/hips. My sense of what is “flattering” is solid, but it’s a construct like anything else. The ability to step out of the demands of fashion and what is considered the “right” way to look at any given time is one I’ve worked very hard at in some cases, and have been forced to accept in others. For example, I had to give up high heels AND flats some years ago due to Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I now tend to find the really high heels that are popular now to be ugly and dangerous looking. My back hurts on behalf the young women I see teetering around in stilts. BUT, lest you misconstrue, I am in no way saying women shouldn’t wear them if they want to. Go for it. Just, remember that it’s not really a sexier shoe than any other–we just believe it is. It’s a construct.

And so, there are days when I feel less feminine, but still interesting and attractive, and can pull off a tshirt and canvas, military-style boots with a skirt. It’s like every once in awhile I get a peek behind the curtain and think, “It’s about how I feel about what I’m wearing! It’s not about anything else!” It doesn’t happen all the time, but the older I get the more aware I am of the artificiality of the rules and that I am not required to even consider them rules and can instead tilt at those windmills in whatever garb feels right.

Feminist Friday: Space

My husband walks around the house in his man panties in the morning. Shirt, panties, slippers. The man child goes about in a robe with just panties and lots of leg showing, crotch flashes from uncrossed legs, etc. I said to the man child the other day, “Man child, if I walked around the house as naked as you and Dad, you’d flip your shit.” He agreed. But why is that? Two reasons: One, the deeply instilled belief that women are to be modest. Two, if you aren’t modest, you need to be sexy. There is zero sexiness about a middle aged guy in his underwear reading the news on his computer. But he is just being relaxed in his element–he doesn’t care how it looks.

Let me say that again: He doesn’t care how it looks.

I have no such social freedom. Go about all varicose veined, ill-fitting underwear in the morning? I would receive one of two reactions, “Gross” and/or “Hey Baby.” Why does my underwear say something different than theirs? I don’t know. But I do know that comfortable clashes directly with “cares about how one looks.” I put a lot of time and energy into making sure my body doesn’t offend. I don’t show the bare thighs, drooping knees, saggy butt. I don’t go about with last night’s makeup smeared on my face. I try to take up very little space, and what space I occupy needs to look good. This is pure social conditioning. It’s a trap.

Obviously, I care a lot about how I look. I also adhere to artificial standards and constructs about beauty. I do not feel like I have the same amount of space to simply exist. It’s something I’d like to work on during the coming year. But don’t worry—no wandering about in panties for this girl. I’d be too busy hating my body to enjoy it. Plus, I have a very nice bathrobe and I get cold easily.

 

Feminist Friday: The Words We Choose

The in-laws are here for Thanksgiving. This is many, many things, all worthy of speed drinking in order to pass out, but here is a snippet:

MIL: (droning on and fucking on about a relative I hardly knew who has been dead for over ten years and what her widower’s dating life has been like since she died [also I’ve already been told all of this like ten times]) So, the Older Boy, he got sent to an all boy’s Catholic School because he fooled around at public school, yanno, being a kid, and had to repeat a year.

Me: (Imagining what it would be like if my kid flunked a year of high school): Huh.

MIL: But he got his grades up and….

FIL: (Interrupting, his all-time favorite hobby is not letting people finish a sentence): Well he’s, he’s got that girl’s got her claws in him!

MIL: Yeah, yeah, he’s got a girlfriend.

FIL: (to me, apparently because he can’t help himself trying to be offensive): He’s WHIPPED.

MIL: Yeah, kinda like you were sayin’ your daughter has taken charge in her marriage. [you guys needs to know I let that shit slide simply because it would have resulted in some sort of permanent schism and we only see them once a year if we can help it and my daughter is awesome and married a guy who needed help fixing his life and she has and that’s not the same at all]

Me: (Fuck me, why am I not drunk and passing out is anyone else going to deal with this? No?) I wouldn’t call it WHIPPED.

FIL: Well, she made him get his grades up so he could go back to public school and see her! She’s got him good!

Me: I would still refer to that as something other than “whipped” if, you know, the kid couldn’t manage to get through high school on his own, it sounds like he made a good choice in dating someone who could motivate him to do something other than be a drop-out.

MIL: (blinking in the headlights)

FIL: (does his penguin laugh) NYAK NYAK NYAK!

Me: (texts spouse: BRING ME A DRINK NOW)

Oh poor men, whipped by women with their claws in them. So, this kid, who btw is doomed entirely by a fucked up family situation that is beyond repair and practically worth a novel on its own, can’t manage high school, but meets a girl who, for the time being, seems to motivate him to be more successful.

Wait. I was trying to see what was wrong with that and why I should feel sorry for the poor trapped boy. Let me try again.

So, this kid, whose mother died of a drug overdose when he was 7 or so, whose father has been a non-parent, who has mostly lived with his grandparents his whole life, whose uncle died of a drug overdose, whose grandfather died of a drug overdose, this kid is failing in high school. So he gets sent to an all boys school, and what motivates him to get his shit together is this awful girl…wait. She makes him get his grades up. She makes him get a job, and now he has a job and good grades and this girlfriend…..

HOLD THE PHONE! I know why. Because we must constantly cast all things in the light of patriarchy, that’s why. So, scratch the above. Kid’s got a girl whose got her claws into him, he’s whipped and the little bitch will probably trap him with a pregnancy.

I understand. Now someone get me a goddamned drink.

Feminist Friday: What You Do and Don’t Control

My life has brought me to a point where I the experiences I am having personally, internally, are echoed by what is happening externally. It is, frankly, a little terrifying. But I see the themes.One of them is the refusal of others to accept information about how I feel and what I experience. On a personal level, I am married to a man who didn’t learn good conflict management skills in his childhood. I can see why; his family is always looking to call you out as wrong, so he learned to admit no fault. This is problematic when I say, “What you just said hurt my feelings” and he gets stuck in a place of fury where he denies that my feelings have even been hurt, and much less that he did anything to cause that.

I have spent a lot of time explaining that he is missing the point. You don’t get to decide if MY feelings are hurt. You have no control over that. You have control over how you respond to my hurt feelings, but the place where the disagreement is located is not whether or not my feelings were hurt in the first place. You can say you didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, you can ask what happened that hurt me, you can explain that you had no intention of hurting my feelings, but you cannot say that my feelings weren’t hurt. Unfortunately, he gets stuck in that defensive place and it is expressed as a withdrawal of love and affection because I have had the audacity to wrongfully accuse him. We’re working on it.

This is the exact same experience many women, LGBTQ folks, minorities, etc have when they try to speak of their realities. A male relative has told me on Facebook that my response of fear about increased violence against those people Trump has targeted is invalid. Again, he locates the argument in the wrong place. He has no control over how I respond to the world in which I live, and he has no ability to even understand the world in which I live. He is a white male. He cannot say that I am “over-reacting” by carrying pepper spray. A true exchange of ideas might include, “Why do you feel so fearful?” I could then explain and make a list of all the reasons. And he could certainly respond that he doesn’t think those are good reasons, but he can’t control how I feel. We could argue all day about whether or not a man pulling up in a car next to a female pedestrian and jerking off as he cruises by is good or bad or indifferent, but there is no argument about how it feels to me to experience it (which, by the way, is threatening and predatory and it makes me wish I carried concealed).

Women’s realities remain their realities whether someone else believes them or not. The experiences of the disenfranchised are theirs, and not open to denial, because they are real. The question that can’t be answered is, “Why, if I say to you that I am hurt/scared/fearful/anxious about this situation, is your response to that to be angry with me?” Are you saying that you want me to have these feelings? That I deserve them? Because they are real, and the way forward is for you say, “I love you, and I don’t want you to feel this way, what can I do?”

For some reason, that admission is terribly threatening. That’s the part that needs fixed before we can even begin to have a realistic conversation. That’s where the problem is; not with me voicing my reality.

Feminist Friday: What Constitutes Strength

This strong woman must be vague, but what I want to talk about is the notion of strength in patriarchal system.

A sampling of popular entertainment in the media makes it clear that battles are to be fought, not avoided. Self-sacrifice; be it mental, physical, etc, is rewarded and encouraged. As a young nation, we still idolize the mythology of the Wild West, wherein you don’t ever give up. Strong men shoot weaker men, strong women manage through the worst of privations. You bite the bullet, the leather strap, haul yourself up by your bootstraps, keep going, never surrender.

Yet, I am finding, there is strength in surrendering. Die fighting, or walk away from a battle one can’t win? Figuratively or literally, sometimes self-preservation depends on detaching. Often, the process of detaching is far scarier and emotionally risky-seeming than continuing to fight. Conflict generates energy, and sometimes that energy is good and launches you forward. Other times, that energy is toxic and damaging even as the overlying message is to continue to drink from that cup.

Detaching is an act of wisdom, self-knowledge, control and strength, but we have trouble seeing it that way because we have had stuffed down our throats the toxic masculinity model, coupled with religious doctrine, that suggests martyrdom to be the true expression of power. Recognizing that you are right, even if that has gone unacknowledged, frees you to step out of the role of martyr and into the role of taking care of yourself. Something that, in a patriarchy, is a form of bravery in and of itself.

Feminist Friday: No Protection for Strong Women

I have to be a little vague, here, as I am in the middle of some things. I learned, yesterday, that there isn’t any legal protection for “strong women.” What that means is either someone discriminates against all women, or there’s really no legal standing. I understand that. There aren’t laws against being an asshole, either, at least in a general sense.

Reflecting, then, on last week’s post, I would suggest that this is what makes being a strong woman even more challenging. Being a strong woman is being a pioneer of sorts–it’s a novel thing, it’s a rare thing, and thus being one will not only attract attention, but also backlash. I’m not the first strong woman, and there have been strong women as long as there have been women (so: Always), but they have never had it easy. Maybe it’s just that one’s refusal to couch their opinion in qualifying language means they go unheard or dismissed for being “shrill” or lacking a “sense of humor.” Maybe it’s just that the girls who don’t modify their voice and drop their eyes don’t get the smile from the instructor. Or, maybe it’s that one is threatened online for suggesting that men are the only people responsible for rape. Or told they can’t wear white for their wedding because they aren’t a virgin, or no longer invited out for drinks because they objected to a rape joke. It goes on and on.

It’s a hard road a woman chooses when she chooses to be strong. She will be forced to deal with a lot of hostility, passive aggressive and aggressive-aggressive behavior. She will constantly be fighting; tiny verbal disagreements about the concept of TOTAL bodily autonomy or pointing out what it means when someone says “screams like a little girl” or saying that it isn’t necessary for a co-worker to define her by her reproductive status. A million billion little battles. Then there are the bigger battles, and sometimes there are violent ones.

Women whose survival strategies include accepting the status quo and/or developing a sort of Stockholm Syndrome with their oppressors will see the strong woman as much as an enemy as many men do. At best they might be your friend but say, “Well, I know you are right, but only YOU could stand up that way.” Even when the strong woman is sobbing in her car because not even her sisters are standing up with her, and she must carry the entire load on her aching back. It would be so much easier with help.

Ultimately, though, strong women really can’t stop being strong. It would be like trying to un-know something, like that the sky is blue. There’s no getting away from one’s nature. There’s no closing your eyes once they are open. To every strong woman out there, I salute you. Cry in your car. Scream when you are overwhelmed. Know that you are making a difference, know that you are not entirely alone. Because, there’s at least one other one, and maybe your actions are the spark that starts to awaken another one from her slumber. You are doing the right thing. Also, though, you cannot do it all. You must keep self-care at the forefront. The battle is not just your responsibility. Do your part, but don’t sacrifice yourself for something no one will help you with. Do what you need to do to live with yourself, but there’s no reason to die trying. Your sisters need you, and you deserve to rest and recover before heading back out into the fray.

Feminist Friday: Thoughts

I have a lot of thoughts to collect today. I read this article and thought about how most of my life, I’ve been that annoying bitch who constantly calls people out for sexist behavior. I stand up when other women can’t or won’t because they are in that minimizing place or scared, etc. I flip off that guy that drives by making kissy noises at me. I refuse to smile at the asshole at the grocery store who thinks I come in so he can talk to me about my hair. The other day the UPS guy sort of snuck up on me at work, saying, “Boo” from behind me. I told him that was a really bad idea, to sneak up on a woman at work, and if I’d been at my other desk he’d have pepper spray in his eyes. I said it with a smile, but I could see his opinion that I’m a humorless shrew percolating in his head.  Or maybe part of him realized that he had done something thoughtless and stupid.

When I was in high school I worked at Peter Piper Pizza, and we hired this manager who was shorter than me (I’m tallish, 5’9″). When he would ask a woman to do something, he would touch her at the same time. He asked me to do something and put his hand on my shoulder. I told him that I didn’t think it necessary for him to touch me to do his job and to remove his hand forthwith. The next day I was called in the General Manager’s office. He asked me to sit down, and they both stood up (an obvious tactic to intimidate me and make the short guy feel more powerful). The GM told me I needed to apologize to the other guy. I said I would do no such thing, and his Short Man Syndrome wasn’t my problem, and unwanted touching is a form of harassment. The boss demanded I apologize again. I took off my apron and cap and walked off the job. It was my 17th birthday.

I worked as a dental assistant for a horrible dentist. He refused to wear gloves, we threw all the infectious waste straight into the dumpster, and he required us to dress up for work. Like really dress up–and if it was sexy, fine. One day a patient in the chair said something about how nice I was and what a good assistant and the dentist said, “Yeah, and she’s got those lovely things on her chest for you to look at!” Afterward I said, “That’s not appropriate. Please do not talk about me that way.” He actually defended himself by saying that I should see him as “that dirty uncle, you know, you put up with him because he’s harmless.” I refused. He docked my pay. I filed a complaint with the labor board and they made him repay it. Then he cut my hours until I left, because I was pregnant and could never afford a lawyer.

A few times I’ve laid down and not called something out; a friend got me a job at a dentist’s office that I really needed. There were two dentists there; one who was bothered by me being taller than him (seriously, I never understood that and I’ve been happily married to a short guy for 20 years now) but also let me take breaks to nurse my son. The other dentist was older, the owner of the practice. One day he walks in, and pats each of us “girls” on the ass as he says good morning. As he left I looked at my friend and she said, “We all weren’t sure what YOU would do, but really it’s harmless.” Subtext: Don’t fuck this up for the rest of us. I let it go.

A little over a year ago, I sat in a courtroom next to a student’s mother. The student had reported to me that a man who came into our classroom had stalked her two years ago and she had gotten the police involved. Now he suddenly appeared in our space. When he tried to walk back in I ordered him out, brooked no argument (he was clearly very angry) and called the police. I backed that student all the way, taking a day off work to go to a hearing that was cancelled at the last minute, taking another day when it was rescheduled. Sitting next to her mother, we watched as the man’s lawyer said the most terrible things we could imagine to this young woman. He asked her if she was afraid of men. He said that he could see that she was attractive, and his client was attractive, so what was the problem with her? Did she know how much trouble she was making for this young man who did nothing wrong? It went on and on, and I think only by sitting next to each other did her mother and I remain in our seats and not leap over that rail and beat that man down to protect this student. It took months, rescheduling my vacation plans for a hearing that was cancelled by the criminal’s lawyer, all of us wavering and wanting to give up, before finally a no contact order was issued and she was free of this burden.

All along I told her, you aren’t doing this just for you, and you aren’t doing this because it will for sure work out the way it should. You are doing it for every other woman this man will cross paths with in the future. You are doing it for all of us, because you are part of a process and even if we lose (and at times it seemed we would and he would walk away), the process will roll on, and the next woman is that much closer to winning. Otherwise, it felt hopeless. It felt too hard.

I’m in the middle of another thing, right now, and I can’t talk about it, but I can say that being the one who stands up is hard. It’s exhausting. It feels hopeless, it impacts my health, it’s lonely. I have moments when I wonder, “Why am I doing this? Why don’t I just walk away, let it go, move on?” Because I can’t. Because:Other Women. Because I have a daughter and she has two daughters and because I teach other people’s daughters and I am modeling something for them that they need to see. I am modeling Doing the Right Thing, but also, that Doing the Right Thing is not like it is in the movies. The moments where one is galvanized by righteousness are few and in between is doubt, anxiety, headaches, not sleeping, pounding heart, crying, loss of motivation and all that other stuff that happens when we are in a very stressful situation. Self care is both more important and harder to do.

But, just like I told my student, I’m not just doing this for me. Even if I lose, even if I don’t prevail, it won’t change that I was right, that I stood up for what was right, that I modeled that for other women. That on the next go-round, someone will get a few steps further than I did. At least there will be that.

New Feature: Feminist Friday

While I model my near-radical feminism to the world on the daily, I don’t write about it as much as I’d like. Thus, I would like to introduce Feminist Friday, and I thought there was no better way to do so than to have the first post be about one of the most formative, terrible, devastating events in my life–when my best friend Luray Hodder Kuca was murdered, along with her five-year-old daughter, Ruby, by their husband and father. I wrote this post on September 07 of this year, on the nine year anniversary of their deaths.

——

Today when I drive Cormac to school I will be thinking about a little girl who should also be 14 today. Her mother, my best friend, should be 49, and she, like I, should be driving some challenging, beautiful, interesting, smart, infuriating kid to school.

But that little girl and her mother; her mother being my chosen sister and soul mate, are not somewhere mirroring what I am doing, because nine years ago this morning I got up to find out that they had both been murdered and the murderer, her husband and her daughter’s father, had taken his own life as well.

Nothing in my life so far has been as hard to work through. She lived far away, she didn’t tell me that he had always hated their daughter, that he was increasingly angry with her because she was sick, that their lives had become so isolated and focused on him and his rage that she couldn’t possibly see it all clearly and instead just kept trying to fix it.

I learned a lot, nearly everything that could be gleaned, over the next year. I stopped blogging about it (on the now defunct and locked down blog The Well Dressed Recluse) when some freak got my home number and called me to see if I could help him rent the house they died in.

I stay in touch with her mother and stepfather. Just so they know I haven’t forgotten either of them, I’ll never stop trying to be more present and a better activist to stop this thing that happens all day everyday. It’s happening right now, in a few minutes, tonight, yesterday, nine years ago, nine years from now. Men are killing women and children and often themselves due to some sense that if the relationship isn’t what they want, this is what they should do, so they own them forever. No one talks about this war. People are uncomfortable when it is confronted–and I confront it all the time.

If you are with someone and you ever feel afraid, don’t dismiss it. Get away from them. Get your babies away from them. Don’t live in a bubble where you try to believe it won’t happen to you. It could. Statistically, it REALLY could. The process might already be in motion and you can’t see it. But if, for whatever second of clarity you have, you do see it, get away. Call me. I’ll help you. If he kills you and your babies anyway it’s not your fault, it’s his fault, and he has wounded a widening circle of people and those ripples are crashing into the ripples of other murdered women and children and truly, we are drowning in it, even as we say no, it’s not like that.

It is like that.

I will never forget the morning of September 07, 2007, when I called my mom and she couldn’t understand me gasping, “They’re dead, they’re all dead, even Ruby, he killed Ruby.” One of my dearest friends who came to my house and stayed. Some peripheral craziness that he and my husband shut out, for the most part. I know that it made me into a person who will never choose to not see the danger women and children are in. I will never deny abuse–mental or physical–or excuse it, or say I can’t see it, or fail to validate someone who comes to me to say, “Is this what I think it might be?” I will always forgive you if you didn’t see it; it’s unthinkable. But I will always try to see the unthinkable, because I’ve stared hard at it in my life, and there’s no little 14 year old girl going to school today with her beautiful, eccentric mother who is my soul twin, and we are not texting each other about what we are wearing or how to best pinch a teenager and not get caught and how beautiful they are anyway. I can only imagine how beautiful both of them would be, right now, if they were here.