ordinarybutloud

This is where I landed.

All the Ways in Which I am Unprepared for the Future

Someone recently introduced me to the television series “Orphan Black,” which is basically my book in a nutshell TV series. That was an upsetting thing to learn. Okay, okay, it’s not really totally true — there are only (wide swathes of) intersecting themes and plot points, and I’m not writing about clones (very much), which is kinda the whole point of “Orphan Black,” but still. So many similarities. And interestingly, some of the same problems. That part was helpful. But the other part, the part where someone else (or some team of TV writers) has already written my story, that part was not terribly helpful.

And then again it’s hardly the first story about clones or reproduction, it’s not like I’m even writing the first book on any of those themes, it’s a little like getting upset when you’re Tim O’Brien because Hemingway already wrote about war. I mean, WHAT. Get a grip, OBL. Nothing new under the sun. Books in dialogue. Etcetera.

[sudden change of subject]

Until very recently I feared aging but didn’t really feel my age. Now I’m beginning to feel it. Part of it is my chronic sports injury — the plantar fasciitis that has sidelined me from running and walking and now basically any weight-bearing exercise — but part of it is the creases in my neck and face and chest, the way my body is starting to feel heavy and clumsy and a little bit closer to dead than alive, and little things like the way the skin around my eyes moves and slides when I try to remove stray mascara. I don’t love it. I don’t love feeling vaguely worried about whether all my internal organs are still doing their thing, whether my blood sugar is okay, whether I have high cholesterol. In short, turning 40 was sucky, but turning 50 feels a little bit scary.

I’m still three years from 50. I like to worry about things well in advance.

[another change of subject]

This going back to school thing feels a little bit nuts. It seemed very sensible and logical and even kind of daring and cool back when I was certain I’d never get in. Now that I’ve been accepted and I’m contemplating the life changes that are required, plus the…well, basically everything about it…it feels a little bit terrifying. It’s like telling someone you want to hike the Appalachian Trail and then getting a whole hike-the-trail kit from them on your birthday, complete with permits and gear and what-have-you. I mean, yes, I said I want to do this, yes, on some level I want to do it, yes it was a dream and a vision and goal and yada yada, yes it’s my next step but WOW WOW WOW is it a terrifying thing to contemplate and it starts in two-ish weeks.

But change is in the air. I’m visiting colleges with my oldest kid, who is taking his driver’s license test tomorrow. Both things feel like gigantic accomplishments (for me). All the things I used to worry about and agonize over and fret through in mind-numbing detail have changed. Everything is different. Change. Often in the past two decades I’ve felt very trapped. Someone unhelpful has always been quick to tell me none of it would last forever. And then it turned out they were right because everything is different now.

It’s funny, because when I was setting out for law school I had no doubts about my abilities as far as lawyering or law school went. I think other people had doubts on my behalf. There were people in my life who thought I was too shy/timid/young/girlish, etcetera. I, myself, did not think any of those things. I felt confident, maybe even overconfident, about my basic lawyer skill set. So far in my law career most of the difficulties I’ve encountered have had more to do with my identity than my abilities. All the actual lawyer work has come quick and easy for me. Even my newest job in a different legal area has been super easy — I’ve had no problem at all learning a new area. I’ve had the usual problems working a ten hour day…..

What I always wanted to do, though, was discuss books and read them and write and teach people about books and reading and writing, and now that I’m poised to go off to grad school I have near-constant doubts about my abilities. What if I an never write another short story again? What if I can never write a short story that is actually good enough to get published? What if my book is terrible? What if I can’t remember any of the literary terms and my critical papers suck and I get confused about all the writers and literary movements and what if literature is too hard for me and what if I’m really too technical and analytical to be an artist…or even study art…and what if I don’t fit in and what if all the other writers hate me and what if I’m a COMPLETE AND UTTER FAILURE????? What if all my thoughts about books are stupid?

I am glad my life has changed and I am still alive and things are going to continue to change for the foreseeable future. I’m even kind of glad to be scared. I am glad I’m not just calcified with all my interesting years behind me.

But also, I am terrified.

 

Hello, WordPress Friends

I was just getting into the swing of blogging again, and maybe even thinking about doing the scavenger hunt, when.

I had to put a period at the end of that half-sentence because I couldn’t think of a way to continue.

First, I finished (pretty much, almost, very nearly, except for a very few small sections) my novel. It only took me four years and two months. I’m sure it seemed much, much longer to any of you folks who still read this blog. It seemed like 104 years to me, and I got to enjoy the fun parts, so I can only imagine how long it seemed to everyone else. I printed it out and sent a draft to a novelist who is going to help me polish it up and whatnot in May, so I’m not looking at it again until then. I’m going to try very hard not to look at it again. It’s my plan to avoid looking at it until May, but I can’t really promise anything. At this point, who believes any of my promises? Not even me. So I probably won’t look at it again until May, but who knows what I’ll actually do.

Second, I loved getting an MFA, I did, I loved it, but even when I was doing it I kinda knew it wasn’t going to be enough for me. I’m a little bit of an overachiever, maybe. Or an underachiever. Or both, alternately. I’m a perfectionist, maybe, or a glutton for punishment, or I’m just crazy, I don’t know, but I’m getting a PhD now.

I know, because I know you all very well, that some of you are sorely tempted to ask me why, probably because you can’t imagine why in the world anyone, and especially me, would want to do such a thing. Don’t you have enough degrees, you’re asking yourself? Don’t you want to just sit on your MFA and write novels now? Aren’t you happy yet? Why are you such a malcontent? What is it with you?

I get it; thanks for bringing your objections to my attention; you’re not wrong. Still, I’m doing it, and at first I had reservations, but now that it’s happening and I’ve met some of the people in the program I’m convinced it’s the right thing for me. I need a life around book nerds, people, and not just online. I need a life where I’m literally surrounded by book nerds, because book nerds are my people, and I’ve been living here in Podville in exile for over thirteen years. I know because I counted. THIRTEEN years. That’s a long time to live in the land that is not your land.

Things are different for me now. Change can be frightening. The older you get the more frightening it is. But the alternative to change is death. I might be stumbling into a world that’s no better or in some ways might even be worse than the life the world chose for me when I was a young adult, but I feel fortunate that even at this late stage in my life I can find places to stumble. So there you have it. Choose life, as Mr. OBL likes to say, all the time, because one of his favorite movies is Trainspotting. I’m not really a fan. But I choose life.

What I Mean

when I say I found Christian feminists is not, maybe, what people seem to think I mean. In my real life several people have looked at me like I have feathers coming out of my head instead of hair. You know that look. Puzzled. Then they usually say they have a friend/sister/neighbor who is a feminist and a Christian.

Yeah, sorry, my bad. That’s not what I meant. Technically I’ve been a feminist and a Christian for a long time now (gosh, maybe forever! Since I was like, 10!). It’s just I’ve been mostly underground about both things. I think they call that code-switching, when you can’t be the two things you are in the two different parts of your life. Like when you can’t say shit like “women are people, too,” around your Christian, neighborhood peeps but you also can’t say, “that Jesus dude wasn’t all bad” around your feminist, writer friends. Then around your friends who are also both Christian and feminist and who are also living a life of code-switching and lies, you can’t talk about either thing at all, except in a weird nod/wink language, like, hoo boy, can you believe that Trump?

What I meant to say is: I didn’t know there were theologians writing books about the ways in which patriarchy and Scripture are incompatible or at least, perhaps, not inseparable, and that there are actual Christians and scholars who participate in things like studying theology who maybe don’t take “men are the head of the family” as a literal be-all/end-all that should put the kibosh on everything feminist.

I’ll tell you, at this point in my life I don’t give a rat’s ass about the kinds of polite sexism I’ve been telling you about, the constant shit that happens every day, all the time, even up to and including all the interview bullshit that affected and continues to affect my daily life. I’m past that now. I’m working on assembling it all into one big picture for myself, one big logical narrative that makes sense, but in terms of learning new things I’ve moved onto institutional patriarchy, the root of patriarchy, the underlying beliefs that make  otherwise good men participate in social injustice.

I’m also not interested in being the man police. I went to see Dead Pool with my sixteen year old son today. If there is a movie more explicitly made for teenaged boys and middle aged men, I’ve never heard of it. But it was funny. I get it. Maybe I don’t get it in a feel-it-in-my-bones way like my teenaged son does, but I understand that it’s funny. I liked the way it made fun of everything, including sexist tropes and the problem of rooting out sexism in movies while simultaneously indulging in every single one of the usual male favorites — torture, sex, dick jokes, scantily clad hot babes, etcetera.

And here’s the thing: my husband laughs at some of the scenes in Bridesmaids. Maybe not all of them, and maybe Dead Pool would be more entertaining for him, but I see them as two sides of the same coin — making fun of gendered roles and patriarchy in a capitalist world from the two opposite ends of a binary spectrum.

This is one thing about call-out culture and political correctness that I personally despise — the loss of a sense of humor. I know, I know, it’s hard to have a sense of humor when your life is shit, etcetera. I understand. I do. It’s just that on my worst days, when my life has seemed the most like shit, that’s when it also seems the funniest. Or maybe not right then. But there is no way I would have made it 20+ years married to Mr. OBL if we didn’t make fun of each other and ourselves and laugh about every bad thing that has happened to us.

We all know I’ve had spells of rage. And when I say “spells,” I actually mean 1/2 decades. I’ve been filled with rage and grief and sadness and disappointment just like everyone else. But I can’t do all this…everything we all do…if I can’t laugh about it, and laugh at it, and make jokes about it. I really can’t.

I don’t know how I went from feminist Christians to Dead Pool and dick jokes and then on into the joyless world of political correctness, but there you have it, it’s a Friday and Trump is about to win Texas. So. I think it might be time to open the Pinot Noir.

 

Look Who I Found?

Christian feminists, GOD, why didn’t I know about them? WHERE  have they been all my life?

I can’t wait to find out how they’re reconciling things I’ve been told all my life are irreconcilable. What a relief to discover there are people who in the world who do not believe patriarchy and Christianity are necessarily indivisible. I’ll be honest — I don’t even care what they believe or how they got there — it’s enough to know that I’m not the only person in the world who has long believed in both god and feminism. What a relief.

For myself, I’ve never had any fancy arguments to rely upon; I’ve got more than a passing familiarity with most Bible stories but almost no familiarity with the verses themselves, due to a childhood obsession with children’s Bibles and children’s stories based on the Bible, and then an adolescent and adult dissociation with the Bible because of the rampant patriarchy and gender discrimination in every single solitary church I’ve ever attended in my whole life.

Still it has always seemed patently obvious,  and indeed irrefutable, and just basically plain as the nose on our godly faces, that the God and Jesus of the Bible, both New Testament AND Old, does not share the bullshit patriarchal societal gender views I’ve suffered under for the past thirty-five years. I mean, it’s just impossible, in my mind, to reconcile the Bible with society’s treatment of women, minorities and any other oppressed group.

Like, impossible, unless you’re willing to do the kind of soul-killing, word-twisting, out-of-context bullshit that forms the basis of so much of MAN’S LEGALISTIC ANALYSIS of the world.

This feels like the day I found my first gluten-free bakery.

So anyway, I’m quite pleased about this development. And what’s awesome about it is I don’t feel the need to argue it or “prove” it or convince anyone else about it, because now I can have my faith back, I can embark on my own journey with actual fellowship instead of pretend fellowship, with actual writers and thinkers and Christians and women who are following the same path, and it doesn’t matter to me anymore what all the patriarchy apologists think. That’s what’s so awesome about God! God doesn’t care what men think!

Ah, all the anger I’ve harbored toward the men who stole my fellowship and worship from me with their bullshit sex roles and attitudes and indefensible relegation of women to a second class. Such a shame. I feel like I’ve wasted so much time. Now I can leave them to their hateful, oppressive “complementarian” bullshit along with the women who will take it from them, and resume walking a spiritual path.

It’s…well, it’s indescribable. Also, how come none of you folks ever told me there were Christian feminists???

 

Catching Up With the Times

So the story I told you Friday happened twenty years ago, and thank God that’s all in the past and there’s no more sexism or misogyny in the world. We live in post-feminist times, my friends.

Right?

A couple of weeks ago a school administrator (male) met with me to discuss some concerns some of the teachers (female) had about one of my kids.

He said, “well, you know…the teachers, they get together and they start squawking about these things, and who knows if any of it is actually serious…”

This is a super nice ex-military dude whom I happen to like a lot. He is a man about whom I have said, on several occasions, “he is just a super great guy.” And he is, he really is.

I will confess to being slightly disappointed, ever so slightly let down, by his use of the word “squawking” to describe the opinions of his professional employees (who I remind you, are not literal hens, and have actual degrees from actual universities, and in some cases decades and decades of experience). And also slightly mystified by his snap judgment that I wouldn’t be bothered by it. Not unlike the time a municipal court judge said to me, in open court, “that Hitler, he had the right idea.”

Well, okay. UNLIKE that time, because the municipal court judge’s statement was horrifying and mystifying at a level of 10/10, whereas the administrator’s comment was merely slightly disappointing.

Last weekend I was surrounded by family when talk turned to the election. To set the scene for you, I was sitting at a table with four other female family members, long after the men had gone to bed. We were chatting about a variety of things that had nothing to do with elections. One of the men left the television on when he went to bed and it was turned up to about 30/30 on the volume scale to FOX News.

There is a lot of conservatism in my family and quite a lot of religion, too. At the same time, the women in my family can be pretty…I don’t know…fierce. They just quietly go about their business doing unconventional things and working and  acting as egalitarian partners without expressly claiming it. It’s odd, this hidden female power, this way of moving in the world as if feminism is a dirty word, as if it’s obvious that women should be subservient, while doing all the same things dudes do. It’s a show. An odd, weird kind of play-acting.

FOX news was so loud that we got distracted by it and one of the women lamented the crazy slate of bad choices the Republicans are giving them this year.

I said, “well, it seems to me that if you’re a woman, and you don’t want to vote for any of the men, you could vote for a woman…finally…this time, yay!” Or something along those lines.

They all shushed me — they were horrified and mystified —  and someone actually said, “if the men hear you saying that…”

Hahahahaha. What, exactly? If the men hear me saying that what??

One of the other women said she got what I was saying but would never vote for a woman just because she was a woman. She just wanted the most qualified candidate.

May I remind you, all of these ladies are Republicans.

So.

I’m not saying Hillary is perfect or ideal or a female Jesus or anything. I’m not even saying that out of all the women in the world I would pick her to be President of the United States.

But, I mean, come on, in what world is she not qualified???

And in comparison to the Republican frontrunner. Or even some of the second place possibilities. I don’t know, I suppose, what she meant when she said “qualified.”

I was reminded after that conversation that it’s not only true that some people disavow patriarchy, that some people believe we’ve already achieved all the equality there is to achieve and there are no actual barriers to women outside of an individual woman’s own failings.

It’s also true that there are, in fact, a sizable number of people who believe that women should not be “equal,” that women should occupy a sort of gendered “separate but equal” kind of space in society where they have their own special patriarchy gifts, like crafting and child-rearing and squawking and what-have-you.

This is for me a fascinating example of the stark divisions in our country. That some people believe feminism is over, that some people believe there is no longer any real sexism or oppression of women, at least in the United States…while at the same time, an equal number of people believe sexism is okay and the remaining types of oppression are perfectly legitimate because God made women to be…well…separate but equal.

Bankruptcy, Sexism and Such

BAPCPA came up in my comment section, along with the video of Elizabeth Warren that has been all over my Facebook. In the video Warren describes Mrs. Clinton’s initial fight against the bill and her subsequent vote for an amended version of the legislation while she was in the Senate. It’s intended to highlight both a flip-flop on the part of Mrs. Clinton and a tendency to cater to Wall Street. If you didn’t know, BAPCPA stands for Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention Consumer Protection Act, which is kind of funny, really, because preventing bankruptcy abuse is not necessarily something that protects consumers.

Getting into the weeds on the nitty gritty of specific legislation is not something I feel like doing today, or maybe any day, and it’s a Friday so instead I’ll tell you a personal anecdote about how bankruptcy and sexism intersected in my life. This is going to sound like a story that’s not true. It’s true, though. It might also sound like a story that could have taken place in 1965. It took place in 1995, though.

When I was in law school I excelled in classes involving complicated, overwrought federal statutes that required following provision after provision in a sort of a “choose your own adventure” fashion to answer questions about what the law means in any particular situation.

Statutes are often written in reference to other statutes. So if you want to know what happens if a person who is filing bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code  has a yacht moored in international waters in his ex-wife’s name that his son is using to run a business but also to party with his friends, you have to wend your way through reference after reference after reference, and maybe even pull out another code, like the Family Code for the state in which he lives, or the state in which his wife lives, or both.

It’s complicated, but kind of fun, too. Like Legos. We all know how much I love Legos.

I did well in my bankruptcy class and my pension planning class and a variety of other classes along these lines.

My bankruptcy professor encouraged me to continue studying the subject and also to enter a national writing contest on a 1994 issue in bankruptcy which, by the way, was during the lengthy and ongoing discussion on bankruptcy reform that ended with passage of BAPCPA in 2005.

I wrote the paper, I got second place in the contest, it was great, rah rah, whatevs.

After I graduated from law school I moved to Houston with my husband of one week — he had a job there. I struggled in interviews during our last semester — I’ve mentioned before that several interviewers asked me questions about when or if I was planning to get married, if I thought women could be warriors in the courtroom, etcetera. One interviewer told me I looked so young and girlish I could be his sixteen year-old daughter’s best friend.

It’s true, I have a young face, even at 46. I looked very young and girlish at 26. I looked younger and more girlish than Anna Kendrick in the movie Up in the Air. Look at cute little Anna Kendrick in that screen shot (ignore the rest of the story; it’s dumb). She at least has a bitchy resting face.

There is little an interviewee can do about her face, by the way. You could maybe go all Iron Mask. You could perhaps employ a makeup artist to artificially age you like they did for Emma Watson in the last Harry Potter movie. Because man, she looked old, right (no)?

So I moved to Houston, waited tables at a Tex Mex joint and sent out over 500 resumes over the course of a year. I didn’t land too many interviews this way, I’ll tell you. It was disheartening. In case you’re tempted to say it was my young, girlish face causing the problem, I’ll tell you I was just sending resumes. In case you’re tempted to say it was my resume, I’ll tell you my resume was in the 95th percentile of resumes. If you think it might have been the economy, yes, I’ll agree with you, or the fact that cold-call resume sending is not a great way to land a job, or the fact that I didn’t personally know any lawyers…yeah. If you suggest that maybe my obviously female name had something to do with it I wouldn’t necessarily fight with you.

I landed an interview at a bankruptcy firm and I was super excited about it. I had extra special things to talk about in the bankruptcy field, I knew a lot about the firm, I knew a lot about the job and the subject, plus I had a second place win in a national bankruptcy paper-writing contest.

I made it to the second round. Interviews at law firms are intimidating. I was wearing my interview suit. I talked to the first named partner, the one who referred me on to the second round. He had a beautiful office with an expensive rug and a wide, shiny wooden desk with bookcases behind him. There were ficus plants and diplomas and there was art on the walls. He said he thought it was all but a done deal, but I needed to meet his partner down the hall. He hadn’t discussed me with his partner but he was sure the partner would be impressed by my resume and knowledge about the topic.

The partner had an equally impressive office with art on the walls and floor-to-ceiling windows. I sat in a delicate club chair facing his massive desk. He shook my hand and gestured for me to sit and then he got right to the point.

He told me they only had one other candidate for the position, a guy who was a little bit older than me. He said he knew he could pay me less money but he’d have to worry about training me and then I would probably get pregnant and leave. And this guy hadn’t been too successful at his last place and he would want more money, but at least he wouldn’t get pregnant.

I think in the beginning I thought it was some kind of test. I tried to rise to the occasion. He must have thought I was an idiot for not realizing right away what he was doing. So he said, “I’ve already made up my mind. I’m not going to agree to hire you. We’re going to hire a man.”

I asked him if there was anything at all I could say that would change his mind.

I did not ask him if there was anything I could do to change his mind. Small victories! Progress for women! Also, he did not physically attack me, so that was awesome.

He said no, nothing I could say, nothing I could have said, nothing at all about this interview had any bearing on his decision — he’d already decided before I walked in the door.

We lived in an apartment walking distance from this firm and for years after I felt a little bit of rage every time I passed it.

I got a job somewhere else for a year. It was a shitty job and it required doing both law and accounting so I left it and got a job somewhere else after that. I worked for three more years and then I did, in fact, get pregnant. When I left that job my boss told me I was doing the right thing because women should be at home with their babies.

Would I have left the bankruptcy firm? There’s no way to know what I would have done. If I had gotten that job I would have been making more money than my husband was making. I would have been doing something I was interested in doing, something I’d excelled at in law school. Perhaps none of those things would have mattered because I have a vagina and am therefore prone to hysteria and irrationality.

Elizabeth Warren is twenty years older than me but she did things the opposite way. She was a public school teacher first, when she was young and girlish, and became a bankruptcy advocate and professor later, in her forties. Perhaps that is the secret to her success. Perhaps there is no secret.

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift.

Conclusion, Part 2 (Parts 3 Through 1 million to Come)

It is perhaps unfair of me to conclude that Millennial feminists choose Bernie over Hillary because they’re not yet aware of the way patriarchy will affect them once they either have children or attain middle age. I happen to believe, based on experience, that it is hard to acquire the wisdom of experience just by looking ahead or listening to others who are already there, no matter how wise you are as a young person; I’ve just come to believe based on living 46 years, parenting teenagers, and representing criminals that there is no substitute for experience. However, I acknowledge that this is 1) obnoxious and condescending; 2) unhelpful; and 3) possibly wrong.

There are perfectly rational reasons why a Millennial feminist would reject Hillary in favor of Bernie. For example, a Millennial feminist might believe that in today’s culture of corporate capitalism, she can’t afford to concern herself with whether or not a woman is President. She has to focus on overturning our broken capitalist structure first.

There is an irony in this example that strikes me whenever I contemplate it. One of my Millennial Facebook friends, a Bernie supporter, beats the gong of idealism — she believes that the main objection to Bernie for Hillary supporters is that he is unrealistic. People call Hillary things like “realistic,” “pragmatic,” “moderate” — I’ve done it myself.

This Millennial feminist  (to be fair, she considers herself “post-feminist,” because in her particular household she has the career and her husband takes care of the kids. This, in her mind, is unassailable proof that sexism is over and we live in a post-feminist world. I don’t agree with her, but that’s a story for another day far, far into the future) claims that it’s a noble thing to choose a national leader (Bernie) on the basis of idealism, regardless of whether there is any realistic chance he can get anything changed, and that the dreams and goals of a national leader (Bernie) are more important than the nuts and bolts of policy and day-to-day leadership (Hillary). For this reason, she says, Hillary supporters should shut up and particularly shut up when it comes to Millennial feminists, because these young women are embracing ideas and aren’t just settling for some sad, pale, practical imitation of their dreams.

What I find truly interesting about this is that it sounds a lot like what people are really saying is they trust a dude to get shit done more than they trust Hillary.

I’m just suggesting, as a possibility, that if some percentage of these Millennial feminists looked deep into their socialized, conditioned hearts, they’d find more patriarchy lurking there than they might expect. They might find ~gasp~ that deep in their hearts, Bernie occupies the position of the pragmatic, realistic choice — the dude — and Hillary is the idealistic, dream choice (a chick? President? Getting shit done? Be real. Could it even be possible?).

But another perfectly rational reason for Millennial feminists to support Bernie is this: we live in a patriarchy. Dudes make more money than chicks. Dudes have more opportunities. Chicks do most of the housework and almost all (statistically) of the child-rearing. If you’re a Millennial feminist and a Democrat, and you’re looking around at a world where shit sucks if you’re not rich as hell or the CEO of a polluting, earth-killing, exploitive corporation (I always picture uNorth from Michael Clayton as my go-to corporate devil — man, Tilda Swinton ROCKED it in that role), it probably behooves you to vote for the person who is a) more likely to redistribute other people’s wealth to your champion; and b) more likely to benefit your champion altogether.

And by champion, of course, I mean your dude, your patriarchy partner, the person in your relationship who is the closest on the ladder to white male privilege.

I realize that I discuss these things from a place of binary gender that maybe isn’t terribly inclusive for those living a more fluid gender lifestyle. I see that, I get it, I’m not insensitive to it. I will be honest and say that I don’t have enough trans friends or gender fluid friends to know which (if any) of the current slate of candidates most (statistically, because of course, we are all individual humans, none of us are mere categories) will support. I feel confident it won’t be Cruz or Rubio. Probably not Trump. Beyond that, I can’t say.

But I will say that if you are a woman married to a woman, and you are also a feminist, it’s hard for me to see the rational reasons you might support Bernie over Hillary. If there are some, I’d be interested in hearing them and contemplating them, because that kind of stuff gets me through my otherwise dull and lonely days.

So To Conclude (Perhaps)

(find Part 5 at the link, below)

Let’s talk a little bit about Presidential politics and whether, as some pundits have suggested, they are figuring into the sudden resurgence in my self-examination on this topic and, assuming they do, what that might mean. We can also spend a moment examining my recent habit of referring to Mrs. Clinton as “my girl Hillz” because…it’s so weird.

I’ve mentioned in several of these posts the phenomenon of Millennial women rejecting Mrs. Clinton and embracing Mr. Sanders. I haven’t directly addressed the feminist angle — the spectacle of older, Boomer feminists making ill-advised statements to a world that has moved past them or younger, Millennial feminists making blithely naive statements about living in a post-gender world because, frankly, such things are bewildering to me.

I’ll admit that for me, a member of Generation X (it’s perhaps fair to say the least great generation of all time; the invisible generation), both the Baby Boomers and the Millennials are irrelevant to me on a daily basis. My parents are older than the Boomers by ten or fifteen years and my children are younger than the Millennials by about the same amount. I, myself, am perched pretty much fifteen years away from both the Millennials and the Boomers in either direction. Anywhere you look, despite the fact that I interact with three generations on a near-daily basis, the Boomers and the Millennials are largely absent from my life.

Except that I recently went back to writing school and got an MFA, and now I know quite a few Millennials reasonably well.

Does it matter? Do generations matter at all? Let me propose to you that for women, and especially for feminists, generations matter quite a bit, for the reasons I’ve set forth in previous posts. Women experience young adulthood alongside men, but if they have children they are largely absorbed with the world of child-rearing and/or nest feathering for a period of about twenty years after that. If they don’t have children they’re shielded from the realities of patriarchy for perhaps a little bit longer — until they age and begin to lose power (see: Amy Schumer’s video with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in re: the celebration of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ “last fuckable day”). So women, in the meat of their activist period, in the years when most people (read: men) get shit done, are preoccupied with rearing children or, because they’re childless and busily battling glass ceilings, unaware of the full reach of patriarchy.

It’s not uncommon, I imagine, for a woman to wake up and find herself forty-something before she suddenly realizes, hey, there’s something to this feminism thing, and by the way, this shit ain’t fair. How the hell did I get here?

“Here” can mean exhausted, middle-aged and unemployed with a resume filled with gaps and compromises, regardless of how that may look – you can fill in the blanks for yourself in terms of whether or not that woman is “happy” or “sad” about her life position. It makes no difference; the point is that a woman who has lived as a functional dependent while rearing children for fifteen or twenty years is likely to be worn out, lacking in economic power and unable to meet the standards of twenty-something beauty and allure.

Or, “here” can mean middle-aged and employed but nevertheless subordinate, making less money than her male counterparts and not quite able to make it into the top levels of leadership, management, income, partnership…however you view it in your particular field.

I’m not talking about the standouts, the rare examples. Only one of us can be Beyonce. Maybe five or six of us can be Sheryl Sandberg if we’re exceptionally good at buying self-help books and following instructions, thought I doubt it.

When I was a young woman, I believed women were equal to men, and I believed I could have a legal career and a family along with my husband, who would be doing the same thing. I believed if I continued to be awesome at legal analysis and writing I could be a federal judge someday, or maybe I’d go into politics.

I was also a Republican and I hated the Clintons because I thought it was alarmingly gauche to have oral sex with an intern in the Oval Office and Hillary just seemed bitchy to me. Also, I took a very dim view of government as an instrument of good, a view I still harbor somewhere in the back of my mind. It’s hard for me to imagine a group of people coordinating an effort to accomplish something better than the status quo. My experience with groups of people has been largely negative, I guess you’d say. Or at least, uninspiring.

But then I experienced twenty years of sexism, frustration, discrimination and the reality of societal gender roles. Now when I look at Hillary Clinton I see two things: 1) a woman who has somehow persevered and straggled her way to the top; and 2) a woman who is going to at least recognize the existence of inequality between men and women. A woman my daughter could see as POTUS. A woman who has a child, even, who has not taken the path of least resistance (as I often feel I have).

Do her policies and politics even matter to me?  I’m an educated adult who has spent years working in the criminal justice system; I’m an avid reader; I worked in D.C. Yeah, politics and policies matter to me. It helps that Hillary Clinton appears to be basically sane and moderate – two things that I try to be, in my own life. But at a certain point in your life I think you begin to see politics as power. Who do I want to empower? I want to empower someone who is going to notice, care about and respond to the things that matter to me.

There are two (paraphrases of) things I read and hear Millennials say in response. 1) Hillary Clinton may as well be a man because she’s “Establishment” and exactly like all the other white dudes; and 2) it’s no big deal to be a woman in the presidency – gender is fluid, get caught up with the times, we don’t even see gender.

I have no reason to argue with them. When I was twenty-six I wouldn’t have voted for her either. I would have mocked the whole idea of voting for her. I get it. I can even see, sometimes, when I’m trying to remember my young, cavalier days, how it might be possible to think Bernie represents you more as a young woman than Hillary, how you might not identify yourself as a “woman,” either because gender is fluid or, more likely, because you’re still young enough that your community hasn’t yet forced you to see yourself in that way. I sympathize with that feeling.

I don’t think there’s anything my girl Hillz can really do about that. Generations are important. People, as it turns out, really do change, despite Simon & Garfunkel who posited that after changes upon changes they are more or less the same. People change, as individuals. But society as a whole changes slowly. So slowly it hurts.

So Now Let’s Burn Some S**t Down, Yo

Nah, just kidding.

(see Part 4 at the link, below, and follow links to Parts, 1, 2 and 3)

So why does it even matter, all this blathering about patriarchy, all this dissection of sexism and the way I experience it and the ins and outs of it?

I think it’s important to talk about it, think through it, repeat it, because this is the only way I’ve ever found to really learn something new. Looking at the world in a new way requires learning and learning requires repetition. For me, seeing patriarchy, understanding sexism, requires looking at the world in a new way. I’ve had to unlearn the things I’ve been taught about the world to explain the things that didn’t make sense.

I think that’s a worthy pursuit all by itself — look at Einstein and his gravitational waves, still changing the way we look at the universe 100 years later. He had to unlearn what he was taught about space to explain things that didn’t make sense.

Yeah, that’s right, I just compared myself to Einstein. Got a problem with that? (plus, he was a man).

I’ve had, as I said, good patriarchy champions who sent me to schools where women making too little money taught me that men and women are equal. To the extent that they didn’t look particularly equal to my third grade self it was easy to explain that prior to the 70s women were a little bit less equal, but that was all over now. Men and women in my generation would have the exact same opportunities and the world was wide open for me to be anything…an astronaut, POTUS, head of oncology at the most prestigious medical institution in the world…name it and it could be mine.

There aren’t too many female astronauts and so far no women have been POTUS, but I’m sure that’s just because none of us wanted to be one of those things or none of us had the aptitude. That must be it.

And just when you think maybe something else might be operating inside your world, just when it occurs to you that maybe some of your contemporaries might have wanted to be an astronaut or POTUS or CEO of Schlumberger and perhaps even had the aptitude, someone points at one of the few, the glittering stars of female accomplishment. Women are scientists! Marie Curie! Women are CEOs — lean in! Women are POTUS! Hillary Clinton! Well, not exactly, not yet, maybe not ever…but that’s all about her…[personality, haircut, integrity, loyalties, abilities]…that’s because…..well anyway, women have Angelina Jolie. You remember her. She goes by Brangelina now, but not because…sexism.

I don’t spend too much time thinking about the application piece of my studies of feminism. I mean, I suppose I do think about it, the way the world could be different, the ways in which the world is changing already, both for better and worse, with regard to sexism and discrimination against women. But for me, the first step has been to understand it, which is to say recognize it when I encounter it, and it has taken me a long time to be able to do that. It has taken a couple of decades for me to identify the sexism and discrimination in my own life. When I was young, a well-kept patriarchy apologist with great champions who gave me everything, I was a Republican and oblivious to sexism. I mean, I saw it, I guess — like that guy I worked for in high school, the video store owner who used to watch porn in the back room and made sure all of us, his young female employees, knew it — but it just seemed stupid to me. Like violence. The last resort of the uneducated. So tacky. No class, those guys.

And to be fair to my champions, it would be understandable if there was a hint of “haven’t I been good to you,” in our dealings with one another. I mean, weren’t they good to me? Didn’t they give me everything? If I couldn’t hope to be equal, exactly, couldn’t I at least appreciate what they gave me? Everyone in a position of power feels this — even mothers, I suppose, when they become empty-nesters — dismay when your child or pet or woman wants something more than what you give them. What you allow them.

The answer in my case, as I’ve said, is yes. All my champions have been good to me. They’ve given me a whole backpack full of privilege, as I’ve learned from the interwebs. If my life were the Hunger Games, I would have started out with a swag bag from REI.

If you’re a thoroughbred on a ranch in Montana with seemingly endless grazing fields it can be difficult to notice your own imprisonment. Not like those poor carnival ponies chained to the circular track. We argue a lot, now, inside feminism, about the difference between being a thoroughbred on a ranch in Montana and a carnival pony chained to a track. It’s a big difference, I admit. But isn’t the real problem the fact of imprisonment and not the circumstances? I don’t know. If I were a carnival pony chained to a circular track with a five year life expectancy, I’d probably wish like hell I’d had the good fortune to be born a thoroughbred on my cushy ranch in the mountains. I’d probably disdain those thoroughbreds, too. I get it, I do.

I don’t mean to exaggerate. I know I’m not really as much of a second class citizen as I would be if I were equine. For one, I have the capacity of speech.

So I didn’t notice the ways in which I was limited and, in not noticing, I became complicit in limiting myself.

That by itself is interesting — how did I get tricked into becoming an instrument of my own oppression? It seems like navel-gazing, I’m sure, but it’s not — it’s important. It’s important because Millennial women are beginning to determine elections and soon they’ll have babies and half the babies will be girls. It’s important because I have a daughter who is just ten years old. It’s important because it can sometimes take half a life, or longer, to recognize and identify sexism.

Maybe noticing it is meaningless. Perhaps the first step I’ve taken (am still taking) seems pointless, but a tiny voice tells me this is not so. What we imagine can inform our future. What we see can affect how we behave, not just in big ways but also in small but powerful ones. To open your eyes and see, to open your mouth and speak, these are the beginnings of change.

Internalized Patriarchy

Part III at the link, below

It all happens so naturally, is what I’m saying, because if you live in a patriarchy, patriarchy feels normal. There are deniers and apologists and there are a few people who live outside of it for one reason or another, but generally, across a broad statistical base, the norms are set and you fold yourself around them as best you can. To the extent your folding is imperfect, you suffer.

For example, if you’re a woman who wants to have a career (rather than a woman who “has to work”), you’re going to face a lot of judgment at work and in your community. It’s okay if you “have to work,” and it’s fine if you’re working in a support position. But if you get too ambitious about it, particularly if you have kids (but sometimes even if you don’t) people are going to make you pay in small (and sometimes large) ways. And if you have a patriarchy champion who makes “enough” money in the eyes of the people around you, your morals and values are questioned. Maybe not always explicitly, but often.

It’s a thing: people asking, “but you don’t have to work, do you?”

If you work instead of your patriarchy champion, you’ve just exchanged roles. You’re still living the same problem, just from the opposite place.

If you “have to work,” the emphasis is different, but the judgment the same. “She has to work.” Reasons you might have to work usually boil down to one thing: an inadequate patriarchy champion. That’s a bummer for the dudes, because patriarchy sucks for them too. So sure, the moms at the school might cut you a break, the folks in the neighborhood might feel sorry for you instead of hating on you…but it has its own price. And be prepared for this too: whether or not you “have to work” is all in the eyes of the beholder. If you “have to work” because you want two cars that’s different from if you’re a single mother. Not that people love single mothers. If you’re a single mother you’ve failed at patriarchy in a way, haven’t you? I think a lot of people, consciously or unconsciously, believe that. Sometimes they say it straight out. Sometimes they say it behind your back. Sometimes they say it by trying to “help” you.

It doesn’t have to be career, either. You can defy gender roles in a lot of other ways too, like being outspoken, or good with math and money, by trying to negotiate for a car, or by being the point person in any situation involving builders, construction or other dude businesses. Your looks will play a part in all this, one way or the other. Always. And by the way, looks are another daily decision in embracing or denying your gender role. Everyone knows this. People deny it, but they all know it.

So many choices for how you can look as a woman before you’ve even crossed the line into un-gendered or, God forbid, too masculine: sexy, slutty, chaste, beautiful, preppy, professional, tailored, classy, trashy.

Along these lines, the hardest female gender role to continue to play is: being young.

I’m not the first person to note any of these things. I know that.

Conversations about feminism have changed. Just when I was wrapping my mind around the old-fashioned Virginia Woolf upper-middle class white woman feminism, the conversation has morphed into one about intersectionality and privilege. This is also impacting the feminist vote. I understand it; I understand the concepts and thought processes I read in articles and tweets. It doesn’t always comport with my lived experience, but I can comprehend it.

Many people believe you can’t solve the problems of societal inequality and economics if you’re not willing to reject capitalism altogether and embrace a new idea — the political revolution Bernie is touting. I’ll leave that for another day because I’m trying to focus on sexism, but I think there’s a parallel: if you replace “capitalism” with “patriarchy,” I think privilege and intersectionality are just ways of explaining how to work from inside of it, or how things work inside of it whether we like it or not, but I think equality, the aims of feminism, a world view that rejects patriarchy, is analogous to Bernie’s socialism.

I guess what I’m saying is that the “privilege” concept doesn’t entirely work for me as an incorporation of feminism.

“Privilege”, for me, belongs within our current system, whereas “feminism” has aims that are outside of it.

Because it’s true, it’s certainly true, that privileges and non-privileges work together across a person’s identity, across the person’s facets of identity, to create a lived experience, and a person who lives within my set of privileges faces a different sort of sexism than a person living outside of them. As I’ve already said, most of the sexism I face is “polite.” It’s low-key. It’s not usually violent or brutal but it could be in a heartbeat.

It’s a matter of how far they let you go. How much line on the leash they’re willing to give you. And that, in turn, depends (or seems to depend) on how much you’re willing to give up in the service of their ideals.

And by “they” I mean men and women, leaders and citizens, who embrace a patriarchy as the true and natural state of all things.

So yes, I have a lot of play in my leash. I was allowed to go to high school and college and law school and even permitted to get a real job for a while. I was taught to drive and given a car. I was encouraged to learn about income tax and bank account interest and how to fix things. They provided for me. I had good childhood champions who loved me and wanted happiness and security for me.

Now I have a champion who loves me and sympathizes with my frustrations at the subordinate role of a wife and mother. He is also good at bringing home privileges for me, socioeconomic ones, mainly, and allows me to step out of my role while at home. For instance, I handle our money. I do most of the handy work around here. He’s good with that.

(This is a problem when we come into contact with the outside world. When a contractor comes to the house, for example, he is often condescending or sometimes rude when dealing with me. More than a few have insisted on dealing with my husband, explicitly or not. It’s fine to deal with me on things like unlocking the door or accommodating the crews, but when it comes to the details and money, they’re just more comfortable dealing with the champion than the princess.)

In return, I’ve been pretty good about living up to my gendered role. I do most of the things wives are supposed to do. I try to do my outside-role things on my own time, as additional pursuits on top of the basic patriarchal requirements of wearing long hair and makeup, dressing well, showing up for the constant kid programs, nurturing, caretaking, cooking, shopping and otherwise being a woman. This is how I’ve earned some of the play in my leash.

Sometimes someone asks me, or I ask myself, whether I don’t like those gender role requirements at all. Don’t I like being pretty, dressing up, shopping and cooking, nurturing and caretaking? Don’t those things just come naturally, somehow, to people who are born with vaginas? Aren’t the kid days at school — the costume days and parties, plays and performances and parent participation days, the parades and lunches and auctions and carnivals and crafts — aren’t they fun? Aren’t they things I’d want to do anyway, patriarchy or no?

The answer is: I don’t know. I don’t know how to begin how to know. They’ve never felt like options to me, or at least, to the extent that they did, or are, the cost of opting out felt too high. Still feels too high.

I know that a role I chose for myself would involve more books, more writing and more interaction with adults talking about something other than shopping, tennis and kids. That much I know for sure. If I were choosing my own role in the world from scratch, if patriarchy had never been and could never be a reality, I’d be more of a full partner with my mate. I’d be out in the world as much as he is, and he would be at home as much as I am. Our life would be less segregated and more interlocking, more inclusive of all our individual talents and interests and skills.

And I’d take my kids out into the world more as well. It wouldn’t be a choice between kid-world and adult-world.  It would just be the world. And we would all be in it and out of it, at home and in our society, unconstrained by rigid definitions of what people are.

If I could choose.