A Most Solemn Occasion

Today Ruth Bader Ginsberg will be the first woman to ever lie in state at the US Capitol. And she has really earned that right. She fought for justice her entire adult life, and has done much to significantly increase women’s rights. She’s a personal hero of mine.

Because of RBG, women can have credit cards in their own names. Women can establish their own credit history and buy property in their own names. We can play sports in school. We can consent to our own medical treatment. Because of her, women in the military who get pregnant can both keep the child and keep the job. Military women also get the same family benefits as their male counterparts because of her.

Younger women have the luxury of taking all of the above for granted because of RBG. We older women know better. Women’s rights are tenuous at best, and there are people actively working to roll them back even as you read this. Many of those people are women themselves, and that’s a contradiction that I’ll never be able to wrap my head around as long as I live.

Think of this. Distinguished people have had the opportunity to have their coffins displayed in the Capitol since 1852. That’s 168 years. And in that entire time, only 2 females have been accorded such a privilege. The first was Rosa Parks in 2005. Again, she definitely earned that honor. But since she did not work for the government, she was said to be “lying in honor”, not “lying in state”. She was guarded by Capitol Police. Whereas Justice Ginsberg will be guarded the military. Sadly, because of the pandemic, the general public will not be able to be present at the ceremony.

But lying in that powerful building is a distinction that more women should be accorded. I cannot believe that only two women in 168 years have broken this glass funerial ceiling. This is the 21st century, after all. I can’t help but wonder what Justice Ginsberg would think.

I know, like all of us, she would be horrified to see her legacy besmirched by having the next justice rammed through in a few short weeks when it took an average of two months to confirm all the current sitting justices. I’m sure she’s spinning in her grave thinking that they’re going to confirm someone in an election year when the Republicans forced a slot to remain vacant for 8 months during the last election year. The hypocrisy is too much to bear.

If that really happens, then there truly is no justice. And RBG would be heartbroken to hear me say that. It’s the last thing she would want. In fact, those were her dying words: “My most fervent wish is that I not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

I wish I had the opportunity to meet Justice Ginsberg in person. I wish I could be at the Capitol right now, to pay my respects. All I can do is hope that she rests in peace and in power, and that future generations will see all these political dirty tricks for what they are.

Rosa Parks, Lying in Honor, 2005

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I Am My Mother’s Mother

Recently, I watched an amazing movie, Life Itself. I highly recommend it. It’s a multi-generational tale, and it shows how the actions of one generation impacts the next and the next and the next. We all are intertwined, part of a legacy. We each carry with us the choices of our forefathers. Here’s a quote from one of the characters in the movie, Elena Dempsey-González:

I’m not sure whose story I have been telling. I’m not sure if it is mine, or if it’s some character’s I have yet to meet. I’m not sure of anything. All I know is that, at any moment, life will surprise me. It will bring me to my knees, and when it does, I will remind myself that I am my father. And I am my father’s father. I am my mother. And I am my mother’s mother. And while it may be easy to wallow in the tragedies that shape our lives, and while it’s natural to focus on those unspeakable moments that bring us to our knees, we must remind ourselves that if we get up, if we take the story a little bit farther… If we go far enough, there’s love.”

This got me thinking about my own family. I’ve written a lot in this blog about how, at age 49, I moved all the way across the continent to Seattle, a place where I had never been and knew no one, just to start over. People tell me that this was brave. I just thought I had nothing to lose, and it turned out that I had everything to gain. But I am not the first person in my family who has taken a leap like this. Far from it.

My mother, at age 48, moved us all from Connecticut to Florida. She, too, felt she had nothing to lose. I wish, for her sake, that that risk had worked out as well for her as mine did for me. I landed on my feet and then some. Her situation became much, much worse, in terms of finances and lifestyle and location. It’s really heartbreaking to think about. She deserved so much better.

Her mother, my grandmother, came through Ellis Island when she was 23. She learned English on the way over, using an English/Danish dictionary and the Saturday Evening Post. She had $10.00 in her pocket, and she was met in New York by a Danish minister. Her husband, my grandfather, worked his way over on a Danish ship.

My great grandmother and my great great grandmother on that side seem to have never left their home places, but my great great grandmother’s husband committed suicide, leaving her with seven children, and that must have been a challenge all its own.

My great great grandmother on my grandfather’s side was born in Sweden but moved to Denmark in her 20’s. That may not seem as extreme, but back then, I’m sure it was still a huge transition into the unknown. It would have been a language change. She went there looking for work. She most likely brought the BRCA1 genetic anomaly to our family as well, and many of us have been paying for that ever since. (Not all legacies are good ones.)

I don’t know as much about my Father’s side of the family, but I do know that his mother came to America from Ireland, young and single, and hoping to make a better life. She met my grandfather because she was a waitress in his restaurant. He liked to say that he only married her so he could stop paying her. In any case, he left her with 4 children to bring up on her own, which was far less than she deserved.

We each carry on a legacy. We each add to that legacy. I come from a long line of strong, risk-taking women. Sometimes those risks worked out, and sometimes they didn’t. But I’m grateful for all of them, because they led to me.

leap-of-faith-3238553_1280

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Why I Air My Dirty Laundry

Sometimes, perhaps too often, what I write in this blog makes relatives and friends squirm. I discuss my sexual abuse at the hands of my stepfather. I talk about the sexual harassment I’ve experienced on more than one occasion. I describe my struggles with depression and my weight. I talk about my childhood. I rant about politics and other disappointments. I share the many ways I feel misunderstood. I expose my soft underbelly.

There are some out there who wish I wouldn’t do this. They find it embarrassing. They can’t even bring themselves to read my book all the way through, even though it’s an anthology of mostly quite positive posts. (I’ve found that the more someone knows me personally, the less apt they are to actually read my book or my blog. I suspect this will hurt my feelings less and less as time goes by. Time will tell.)

But I have good reason for airing my dirty laundry. I believe that most of us have experienced trauma of one kind or another. It’s a big part of the human condition. Personally, I have always felt that the worst part of trauma is the feeling of isolation. It’s easy to feel as if you’re the only one going through stuff if nobody else is talking about it.

And here’s something I can’t stress enough: None of these things were my fault. The trauma visited upon you by others is NOT. YOUR. FAULT. I say this because very few people will tell you this. Nobody told me this. It took me decades to figure it out on my own.

So I talk about it. I talk not only for myself (writing is excellent therapy), but also for those out there who feel like they don’t have a voice. If just one person feels a tiny bit less alone for having read my blog, then I’ve accomplished what I have set out to do.

Perhaps, too, it has something to do with my lack of filter, and my utter indifference to the standard levels of mortification. Or maybe it is more about the fact that I have complete confidence in your self-determination. If something I write makes you uncomfortable, I am quite sure that you will exercise your right not to read it.

Namaste.

Not alone

The 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment

One hundred years ago today, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution passed, giving women the right to vote. This was a major breakthrough, and one that should never be taken for granted, given that the women of Saudi Arabia only got the right to vote 5 short years ago. I will never understand, as long as I live, why every single woman who can vote does not do so.

The first country to give women the vote was New Zealand, in 1893. It’s hard to believe it took us 27 years to jump on the bandwagon, given the fact that New Zealand clearly didn’t self-destruct in the interim. Even Russia beat us to it by 3 years, and the UK beat us by two years.

It seems like a simple concept: if a government is supposed to represent all of us, then it should be elected by us all. But women had to go to jail, starve themselves, be tortured, and even die to gain us this privilege that we so callously neglect. Because of that, I firmly believe that every woman should view voting as a sacred obligation.

Vote, ladies. It’s not only your right but it’s also your duty. Do it for every woman who fought so terribly hard to do so before you.

votes-for-women

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Mid-Month Marvels: Young Women Empowered

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

When I read the first line on the “our story” page of the Young Women Empowered website, it gave me pause. It says, “Research shows that girls’ self-confidence peaks at age nine, then drops as they advance through high school.”

It gave me pause because, instinctively, I knew that this was true. I know it because I lived it. And I’ve seen so many other women and girls live it. We are taught to be our own worst critics. If it’s not body shaming, it’s assuming that we’re inferior in a whole host of other ways. And it has to stop.

Enter Y-WE (Young Women Empowered). I’m so proud that this Seattle-based non-profit exists and is celebrating its 10th year. It is a safe space for all young women, including people of color, trans, and nonbinary individuals. It’s a place where, to hear one participant describe it, you can “feel heard and loved and valid and smart and worthy 100% of the time.”

Y-WE is a leadership program that helps build confidence and self-esteem through a variety of activities, including camping, coding, artistic pursuits, performance, health and wellness, creative writing, and social justice. It currently serves 845 young women a year.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting this amazing organization! Please donate here.

YWE

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“You Push Back Too Much.”

I was told that at work the other day. Have you ever noticed that men are rarely told such things? When’s the last time a man was told,

  • You’re being hysterical.

  • You’re rocking the boat.

  • You’re overreacting.

  • You have strong opinions.

  • Just shut up and take it.

  • I’ll tell you when you can speak.

  • You’re taking things too seriously.

  • You’re too emotional.

Men are allowed to defend themselves. Their anger is tolerated. They can interrupt. They can explain. Their opinions are welcomed. It is assumed that they’re intelligent, rational, and have earned their confidence.

No matter the injustice that is dumped upon the head of a woman, she is expected to be quiet. She is always getting just what she deserves. She was asking for it. She is mentally off for being angry or upset about poor treatment.

Just for having the nerve to defend myself, I’ve gotten all that push back and then some. And I’m the one who pushes? I’m so pissed off right now. But that’s probably because I’m a girl. Perhaps I should just lie back and think of England.

Anger

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This Ain’t No Meritocracy

Who amongst us, here in America, was not fed the American Dream with our mother’s milk? “Work hard, young man, and you’ll get ahead.” “You can do anything if you set your mind to it.” “Succeed in school and you’ll succeed in life.” “There’s a piece of the pie waiting for you. You just have to reach out and take it.” “Slow and steady wins the race.”

In a word, bullshit.

The more I think about this, the more outraged I become. America isn’t a meritocracy. Most of us are not going to get out of this country as much as we put in. Even though we hate to really see it, this is a very highly class-structured society. It’s very hard to break out of your class and claw your way into the next one. When it happens, it’s the exception, not the rule.

Yes, we love to hear those rags-to-riches stories. We’re highly susceptible to Ponzi schemes and get rich quick scenarios because, hey, this is America, and we’re all supposed to get rich quick! How come I’m not walking on one of those gold-paved streets everyone promises us are just around the corner? Perhaps because I’m too busy trying to avoid the potholes, here.

I’ve been working since I was 10 years old. I graduated at the top of my class every single time. Using the American Dream yardstick, I ought to be a gajillionaire. But no. I’ve only managed to poke my head into the middle class in my early 50’s, and even now, I’m one major medical catastrophe away from bankruptcy, as are most of us.

My mother assumed I’d be the CEO of a fortune 500 company by the time I was 25. She totally overlooked the fact that I would have been miserable in that atmosphere, and I would have felt like an imposter for my whole life. Yes, I wound up doing much better than she ever had, but when you set the bar that low, it’s not that hard to jump over. She worked hard all her life, and she passed her work ethic on to her children. She was also desperately poor all her life.

Much of my success, I’m sorry to admit, has had to do with dumb luck. Being born white. Choosing a partner with similar goals and aspirations who understands the value of teamwork. Being in the right place at the right time. Moving from a right to work state to a union state. Having a loved one who was willing to loan me money at critical points in my life. Being able-bodied and intelligent.

Capitalism, as a system, is not designed to benefit the vast majority of us. In order for it to work, most of us have to be content to be cogs in a giant wheel that then rolls over the top of us with annoying frequency. There has to be a lower class. There are roadblocks in place to make sure you stay in it. Substandard schools, crippling student loans, expensive health care that keeps you just sick enough to be compliant, glass ceilings, unequal pay, good ol’ boys clubs, and only being able to get ahead based on who you know are all part of the bigger picture. There have to be a certain number of people desperate enough to do the dirty jobs. It never pays to examine too closely what it takes to make this economic sausage of ours. Not if you want to maintain any sense of contentment.

And because we all buy in to the American Dream, most of us, whether we realize it or not, walk around feeling like a failure. If the American Dream really works, the theory goes, then I must have done something wrong to not be a part of it. I didn’t study hard enough. I didn’t please my boss enough to get that promotion. I picked the wrong major in college. I didn’t put in enough hours. I didn’t socialize with the right people. I’m not pretty enough, thin enough, tall enough, white enough, male enough, strong enough. I shouldn’t have had children so soon. I should have saved more money. I didn’t buy the right stock. I don’t properly manage my time.

We are all so busy pursuing the almighty dollar that many of us harbor deep resentment and frustration because we don’t feel that we have meaningful jobs. We’re making widgets on an assembly line so that other widget makers can buy those widgets. Job satisfaction is at an all-time low.

There are ways that we can get off this treadmill of ours. First of all, we need to stop this love affair we seem to have with Capitalism. It has gotten us nowhere. Next, we need to stop voting for politicians that simply exist to prop up the 1 percent. We also need to stop teaching our children that money will buy them happiness, and that the only measure of their worth is the size of their bank accounts.

We also need to prioritize activism over complacency, critical thinking over passivity, collectivism over isolation, unity over division, strength in numbers over every man for himself. We need to start demanding a better world instead of hoping for the best. We need to hold people and corporations accountable rather than assuming they have our best interests at heart. It’s not about me (or you for that matter), it’s about us. We need to stop being divided and conquered.

More than anything, though, we need to dismantle this myth of meritocracy. It pits us against one another. It requires that most of us lose so that some can win. It’s a soul-sucking fantasy.

It’s why so many of us are angry.

Meritocracy

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Tomorrow, In Mexico, A Day Without Women

Femicide. It’s a word I’d never heard until a friend of mine in Mexico introduced me to it. It seems that violence against women is an ever-increasing trend in that country. In fact, according to this article, they averaged three femicides a day in 2019 and one in three Mexican women is a victim of sexual harassment or violence. That’s horrifying and unacceptable.

As is typical of most governments these days, the Mexican government doesn’t seem to be taking women’s issues seriously at all. So there has been an outcry on social media asking women in that country to “disappear” for a day. Don’t go to work, don’t go to school, don’t go out at all. Women comprise 52 percent of the population, 50 percent of the students, and 40 percent of the work force, so this could potentially have a huge impact on the country.

According to the New York Times, this day was sparked, in particular, by two recent femicides that rocked the nation. (Brace yourself.):

Ingrid Escamilla, 25, a Mexico City resident, was stabbed, skinned and disemboweled. Her body was found on Feb. 9, and photos of her mutilated body were leaked to tabloids, which published the images on their front pages, adding to the public outrage.

On Feb. 11, Fátima Cecilia Aldrighett, 7, was abducted from her primary school in Mexico City and her body was discovered wrapped in a plastic bag next to a construction site on the outskirts of the capital.

If enough women participate in this day without women, it could cost the Mexican economy 1.37 billion. (I’m unsure if that’s pesos or dollars. The Times didn’t specify. Still, it’s a lot.)

Protest today, March 8th, International Women’s Day. Take to the streets, if you feel safe doing so with COVID-19 lurking about. (I know the Women’s March here in Seattle has been cancelled, and even though that’s understandable, it saddens me.) Then drop out tomorrow. Let them see that they can’t survive without you.

Please join me in standing in solidarity with the Women of Mexico in their efforts to feel safe in their own land. Every woman, every human being, deserves that basic human right.

#UNDÍASINNOSOTRAS, (A Day Without Us).

26604243856_47d7a1a9c0_z

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One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor you can receive from this country. According to Wikipedia, it’s supposed to be given to people who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

In the past it has been given to an auspicious list of people, including Mother Teresa, Georgia o’Keeffe, Norman Rockwell, Martha Graham, Sidney Poitier, James Stewart, John Steinbeck, Elie Wiesel, Aaron Copland, Aretha Franklin, David McCullough, Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Jonas Salk, Bill Gates, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King Jr., Harvey Milk, Gloria Steinem, Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, Desmond Tutu, Margaret Mead, Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, Sally Ride, Hank Aaron, Muhammad Ali, and Billie Jean King.

Yes, there have been controversial awards. No one will ever agree completely upon whom such honors should be bestowed. But I’m still nauseous after the most recent one was given at Trump’s State of the Union Address.

Rush Limbaugh? Seriously? The man who compared Presedent Obama to a monkey and coined the term Feminazis? This divisive, hateful, racist purveyor of misinformation? Here are some of the lies he has spread:

  • The existence of gorillas disproves the theory of evolution.

  • A recent decrease in hurricanes disproves climate change.

  • He claimed President Obama wanted to mandate circumcision.

  • He called Sandra Fluke a slut for wanting insurance coverage for contraception.

  • He said soldiers who opposed the Iraq War were phonies.

  • He claimed that the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster was created by environmentalists.

  • He stated the Adam Lanza did the mass shooting at Sandy Hook due to the Mayan calendar.

Entire books have been written about the lies this man has told and the problems he has caused. To have this unrepentant racist wear the Presidential Medal of Honor around his neck spits in the eye of every former recipient. Especially during African American History Month.

But then, having someone as president who talks about grabbing pussies and who strong-arms allies at war in order to get them to sway American elections spits in the eye of everyone who has been president, too, and he’s the one who decides who gets the award, so what do I expect?

Next, he’ll give one posthumously to Charles Manson, for getting all of us to put dead bolts on our doors.

PresMedalFreedom

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Ding Dong! Avon Calling!

If that title brings on waves of nostalgia, you are of a certain age. Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, when women were still expected to stay home, and more and more men were leaving them high and dry, often becoming an Avon Lady was a desperate woman’s most viable career option. My mother found herself on that bandwagon, and therefore went from door to door, hawking lipstick.

All the hard bits happened while I was at school. I never heard her complain about being an Avon Lady. I even remember her winning a couple of awards. She certainly loved to talk to people, so that was right up her alley. But her efforts, however heartfelt, weren’t enough to keep the financial wolves from our door for very long.

Still, as a small child, I admired her. I thought what she did was really exciting. Learning about all the products, and going out there with all her colorful samples, convincing people to buy things. I could never be that persuasive.

That business model came about at a perfect time in our nation’s history. It was a time when you could knock on a stranger’s door and they would invite you in. It was also a time when, more often than not, the woman of the house would be at home when you arrived, and probably was thrilled to talk to someone over the age of 5.

My mother was also stunningly beautiful. I’m sure that a number of ladies bought her products simply because they hoped that they would somehow look like her. (Heaven knows I always wished I looked like her.) But then, too, she was a divorcee at a time when that just wasn’t done, so I suspect many people considered her to be an exotic and slightly dangerous and unpredictable animal that just might prey on husbands. (I could have told them that that was not her style.)

She would sometimes practice her sales pitches on me. That was fun. I felt like the center of attention. And I’d get to help her fill her orders when the shipments came in, seeing the products before anyone else did. I felt special.

I remember, in particular, being fascinated by the cologne bottles that came in the shapes of cars. I would slide them across the table, “Vroom! Vroom!” before they went into the customer’s bags.

Typical me, being drawn to the cars more than to the makeup and jewelry. You’d think she’d have taught me to apply makeup, but in fairness I never expressed an interest. I don’t know how to do it to this day.

I wish my mom were alive so I could ask her if she actually said, “Avon Calling!” when she rang the doorbells. If someone did that today, they’d be laughed off the front stoop, if anyone were home. But it was a different time. I bet she did, though. And I bet the women on the other side of the door would be glad to hear her.

Alas, the days of Avon Ladies are long gone. By the time I hit my teens, people were leaving Avon catalogs at the local salons and such, with their name, address ad phone number stamped on the back, and you’d contact them via your rotary phone. Now, of course, you can buy products online without the human interaction at all.

Even though I don’t buy makeup, this makes me a little sad. Now, if you want the personal touch, you have to order pizza. Somehow that just isn’t the same.

Avon Car

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