Three Bad First Dates

He asked the bartender for a taste of a particular wine to see if he liked it. Common enough; no biggie. He wanted a sweetish white. Well, he did not like it, so he tried another one. Nope. The bartender tried to chat with him about the wines, explaining that the Reisling they pour is quite dry, that they don’t have too many truly sweet whites, that such-and-such was the most “fruit forward.” My date was pretty determined to know more about wine than the bartender, so he waved his words away and asked for a taste of yet another bottle. Still no luck (as was anticipated by everyone within five feet). After the third reject, he ordered the same red wine I was drinking, but only after asking for a taste—he refused to taste mine, though I offered.

So this was the start. Then he needed to interview the chef about the menu. She obligingly came out to the bar to talk about this and that. I sipped my wine, nodding. I know a bit about food too, but saw that the wisdom in this moment was to just smile and seem impressed. I was impressed—with the chef—but my date did not need to know that he wasn’t the one earning my approbation.

I’ve been very lucky with my forays into the world of dating, thanks to the following: I am very selective, and do my homework. I don’t have a ton of unscheduled time to drive around the Hudson Valley and meet people so when I do I want them to be—at least—interesting. I have met about a score of men since last fall, most of them truly lovely—various versions of smart, kind, interesting, interested, thoughtful, sexy, funny. But this guy was a mistake from the get-go. To make it even more interesting, two friends of mine happened to be sitting at the other end of the bar no doubt giggling into their martinis.

After he had his wine, and was eating his calamari or whatever it was, he began to tell me the story of his lovely wife and how she died. I actually was relieved when he started down this road as it gave me a chance to simply see him as a man who has gone through a tough time. But somehow, his narrative was full of sex. The sex he used to have with her, and that they didn’t have while she was dying (yeah, and that is important to his story why?), and then the tangent about his mother and how she was such a fan of his stories of sexual exploits now that he’s single. She must be very proud. Actually, I think the word he used was “sexual prowess.” Oy. (This same mother, I also learned, got pregnant with her husband at the age of 17 back in the old country, without knowing how that worked—like, what made a woman pregnant exactly? I could write a book about this guy, his mother, and dead wife….)

The story of the wife was quite moving, actually. I think part of my reaction was on her behalf, wondering if she was now spinning in her grave as her widower tried to use his grief over her loss to get into other women’s pants. But she sounded pretty great, and unless he was lying completely, he may have been a good husband to her. I am willing to assume: yes. It helps me to believe that.

I had talked very little at this point (a definite theme in the three bad dates), but I said something sympathetic and he said, “Now don’t start crying.” I said, “Not planning to…” wondering if perhaps that was and continues to be his end-game with first dates, to get them to cry over his dead wife.

His next rant was about the dating site on which we met and how they “obviously put filters on the photos.” Excuse me? Pretty sure they don’t do that, and I said as much. He whipped out his phone and called up my profile. There were my carefully selected unfiltered photos on his phone, his big thumb flipping through them. Yup, regular old pictures, my most flattering of course, but as I am not a baby any more, they show the reality of wrinkles and the like.

Somehow the poor guy felt like he’d been sold a bill of goods, and did not mind telling me. I laughed right (at him) and asked, “Am I not looking my very best tonight?” (I looked really hot, BTW.)

But then, he flipped to a full-length photo of me and said, avoiding the question, “Oh, this is my favorite.”

I commented, “Oh look, I’m wearing those same pants now.” (It was something to say.)

He said, “I know,” and proceeded to jam his entire hand between the thighs of my crossed legs. I batted him away and inched closer to the woman sitting to my right.

Why didn’t I leave then?

Meanwhile, the bartender, Jim, was giving me sympathetic looks every time he came down to that end of the bar. I felt free to make eye contact with Jim because literally any time he was not actively talking, my date was looking over my shoulder at the TV set above the bar.

When my date launched into a story about how he gets hit on by ministers on all the dating sites, and his weird fantasy of the awkwardness of taking off a minister’s clerical collar to get at her boobs, while demonstrating on me, including a “turn the knob hard to the right” gesture mere inches from my own breasts, I turned to the bartender and said, “Could we have the check please?”

My date threw down his card the minute the check arrived. Almost 100% of the men I have gone out with (there is one exception and you’ll meet him below) have picked up the tab—this is a topic for another blog perhaps but I learned early on that questioning or offering or simply raising my eyebrows while reaching for my wallet—these things make men very uncomfortable. So I have developed a gracious-acceptance position and always say thank you. When my date for the evening walked me to my car and said, during the very unwelcome full body hug he pressed upon me, “If you want to see me again, it’ll be on you,” I had to wonder about that mama of his, and what she taught him, exactly, as a child.

The other two “bad dates” were similarly themed. One guy was the epitome of the mansplainer. He pursued me very hard on the dating site and I had a few pre-date phone conversations with him. So I have only myself to blame as the writing was on the wall. But, I was lured by the words, “You interest me,” though they were belied by his actions. (It is rare that a man will admit to being interested in me, as opposed to how sexy I look or the fact that I might be interested in him.)

So I met this guy in my town. He drove the 40 minutes (normal procedure is to meet halfway) which was a nice touch. He wanted to greet me with a kiss. To clarify: he wanted to meet for the first time with a kiss on the mouth. I demurred.

So this is the summation: he talked, he held forth, and he knew more about everything than anyone, especially me, could ever know. One topic covered: cooking and food—I managed to slip in that I had once cooked professionally. He blew past that to launch into All the Knowledge about All Cooking as well as All the Kitchen Exploits—his. Not interested in my input. I did try to start a few sentences. This is how many times he interrupted me: all of the times.

He brought up independent education because he went to a private school in 8th grade. I slipped in (by talking very fast) that I had attended private schools too, and have worked in independent education for 30 years. He gave me a level look that seemed to say, “Oh you poor ignorant woman,” and proceeded to mansplain the hell out of education, private education, including teaching, fundraising, finances, child development, private vs. public, and on and on. He got a lot of things wrong. I started a few sentences along the way. This is how many times he interrupted me: all of the times.

At one point during this ghastly hour I figured, what the hell. I’m going to have fun and try an experiment. Next time I try to talk and he (invariably) interrupts me, I will—instead of stopping talking to let his interruption go unchallenged—continue with my sentence until it is over. Or even my paragraph. Let’s see what happens.

Maybe you’ve guessed? Yup. I continued to talk after the next interruption and he kept talking so that we had two adult humans facing each other both saying different sentences. If this were a traffic situation, it would look like this: I had the right of way, he pulled into my lane and then refused to stop, instead literally driving over my car and probably my dead body.

I was truly amused by the fact that he was 100% oblivious. I went to the bathroom and texted my daughter: “CALL ME IN TEN MINUTES WITH AN EMERGENCY.”

She did it, bless her. As soon as the call came through and I explained the “emergency” to my date (who clearly knew what was happening as it probably happened on all his first dates), I hustled to find the waiter for the check. The waiter and his colleague were in a little alcove out of my date’s line of sight. I asked for the check. Both men gave me looks of such unutterable sympathy that I almost cried and laughed. Instead, I rolled my eyes and grinned. The check came fast. This was the one exception, in my experience, to the who pays rule of thumb—I threw down cash and bolted. My date did not object.

The most recent bad date was probably the least bad, really. Nothing aggressive or menacing, no rude assumptions or veiled insults. Just another well-meaning, obliviously privileged white male who thinks a first date is a chance to dazzle, monopolize, hold forth, audition, dominate, prove-something….

This is what I learned about him in one hour: how many times he was married, what kind of alcohol he likes, how he came to be introduced to port, and sherry, and his recent trip to the Middle East, and that his sister paid for it, and that they stayed at great places, and what airline they used, and what airlines he prefers typically, and that he used to drink one beer a day, and that he doesn’t now but he drinks wine (and port and sherry) and that he goes to the gym daily, loves Zumba…. I learned how he found out about Zumba, in detail, and how he got involved, and how he got good at it because he’s not a natural dancer, and how it reminds him of some great free form dance events he used to go to, and how his girlfriends never went with him, and exactly what those events were like, and how he organized a Zumba flashmob at his gym, but that he did not know what one was till he heard it mentioned, and that the flashmob he organized made him a hero at the gym and how everyone loves him. And he has a bad knee, and I know about the medical interventions he has sought, oh and I know what kinds of shoes he wears for each kind of activity he does at the gym. I heard about the errands he did on his way to meet me, and about his career, and about a conference he is about to go to in Oregon, and I learned so much more that has leaked out of my brain. Realize that each of these single items was part of a detailed narrative with tangents, side-notes, and usually accompanied by the words, “I’ll keep this short.”

This is what he learned about me: my son lives in Oregon, I had knee surgery once. (Slipped those suckers right in there!)

The funny thing is, all three of these men understood instinctively that there would be no second date. So they all pulled the plug on their own, making excuses or shutting the door, managing the situation so I did not get to reject them. Understandable. Their privilege comes with a certain undercurrent of uncertainty perhaps, or vulnerability when faced with a very clearly unimpressed female with a mind of her own, long legs, and a loving heart—none of which they’ll ever get to touch.

Solidarity, Empowerment, Sisterhood, and Love

 

Me with my daughter on 42nd Street amidst the throng.

Me with my daughter on 42nd Street amidst the throng.

Standing in line to get some food at Grand Central at the end of the day, my daughter, a friend, and I stood chatting. A man in a Metro North conductor’s uniform stood near us. He turned a few times to look at us, and finally spoke. “I don’t mean to be forward, but I wanted to say something to you.” We were listening, unsure what would come next. “I haven’t been doing so well since the election. And today, seeing all the people pouring onto my train to come here to join the march, is the first time since that day that I have felt calm. I want to thank you.”

The estimates vary a bit but it looks like at least 500,000 men and women marched in New York City on Saturday, January 21, 2017 in response to the inauguration of Donald Trump. The purpose was simple enough: to let the new administration know we are here, we will be heard, and that human rights are not to be abrogated, dismissed, or flicked away because they interfere with one man’s fascist agenda. Well, one man plus a lot of other men who see Trump’s ascendancy as their chance to solidify their privilege once and for all. Fat chance.

A group of friends who either went together or found one another.

A group of friends who either went together or found one another.

If you have a pulse and are awake at least an hour or two out of every 24, you probably know that over 600 marches worldwide pulled in upwards of three million participants. All of them were peaceful. What I tuned into while I walked (and often stood still in pause-mode, pressed up against the patient thousands in my immediate vicinity) were: love, empowerment, solidarity, optimism, some fear and anger at what is transpiring in this country at the expense of the majority, but most of all a spirit of activism that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Even the protests against Vietnam, the Civil Rights marches, the Million Man March (1995), and other major peaceful protests have not approached the numbers that turned out this time (around the planet).

As far as the eye can see.

As far as the eye can see.

Thousands of men marched alongside their sisters, wives, daughters, mothers. There were people of every color and all ages. From toddlers on shoulders to teens, the kids who participated were learning the lesson of peaceful activism from their parents—such a valuable lesson to learn by doing. White-haired grandparents, men and women in wheelchairs, straights, gays, transgender, first time marchers, veteran marchers, breastfeeding moms, dads wearing pink pussy hats—so many human beings with common purpose.

I marched with my alma mater.

I marched with my alma mater.

People are realizing that every voice does matter. People who voted for Hillary, and people who did not vote at all, and even some who voted for Trump, are coming together to take a stand against the rich and entitled skewering the rest of us. Take a stand for affordable healthcare for all. For public education. For the environment and the future of our planet. For the rights of women. For the rights of immigrants. For #BlackLivesMatter. For the future of this entire country, not simply the privileged.

Pussy hats prevailed.

Pussy hats prevailed.

There is a phrase in the song “America the Beautiful” that goes like this: “crown thy good with brotherhood.” (Sometimes when I sing it, the word “motherhood” slips out instead.) But what I want to say is this: for centuries, the concept of brotherhood has been accepted as a catch-all to refer to solidarity among people of all genders. The male pronouns and nouns have reigned. Yesterday, a spirit of sisterhood infused the marches worldwide. The men who participated did so joyfully in that spirit of sisterhood. Josh Bauman, a young cousin of mine, wrote this on his Facebook wall: “As today has proven in overwhelming numbers, we are stronger together and we will stand against those trying to tear us apart. And, appropriately, it is WOMEN leading the way.”

Some friends and colleagues of mine in D.C. with their posse.

Some friends and colleagues of mine in D.C. with their posse.

Women are indeed the future of this planet, simply because to continue to marginalize them and the issues they embrace is to alienate 51% of the humans on Earth. The needs, wishes, and agendas of only men will not serve the future. Pretending that a pussy-grabbing, climate-change-denying, racist one-percenter in the pocket of Vladimir Putin is a legitimate and worthy person to lead us into the future is pointless, a distraction, and a very dangerous thing to do. The Trump Zone of “alternative facts” is a parallel universe of lies and hatred that more than 3 million people rejected on Saturday.

Love, assertiveness, and empowerment are far from being mutually exclusive. They strengthen each other and those who embrace them. #whywemarch #womensmarch #resisttrump #pussygrabsback #dissentispatriotic

 

 

Be the Sapiosexual You Want to See in the World—Smart is Sexy! *

 

smart-is-sexy-image

Sapiosexual.

If you know what that means, I’d probably like you. If you consider yourself to be sapiosexual, I might even love you. And if you’re a guy, I’d date you.

I didn’t know what sapiosexual meant until a while back when I saw a man describe himself that way on his dating profile. Excited to find a word I had not heard before, I was immediately hooked. I was pretty sure I knew kinda what it meant. Sapio—from the Latin verb “sapere” (dare to be wise) from which we (however accurately) derived sapiens, the second half of homo sapiens. Aka animals with thinking brains. (Yes, this is super species-centric and assumes we are the only ones with thinking brains [in itself a profoundly stupid assumption], and a case could be made that we might actually not be that smart after all, if you look at it a certain way [aka the fate of our planet and all the creatures upon it], but regardless, sapiens basically means smart.)

The Urban Dictionary tells us that “a sapiosexual person is someone who finds intelligence and the human mind to be the most sexually attractive feature in the opposite sex” (or same sex if you are gay). Glory be!

I am automatically going to swipe right for any man who says he’s a sapiosexual. Why? Because I grew up in a world that tries to convince women and girls that their brains are 1. Not that important 2. Probably not as good as those of the dudes 3. Something to downplay on a date and I could go on. All of which is 1. Wrong 2. Sexist 3. Likely to be the end of civilization as we know it if we stick with those made-up, ridiculous rules. I love the men who love my brain, because to me they are 1. Confident 2. Smart 3. Fun to be with. Oh, and yeah, 4. Sexy as hell. (And also probably not afraid to admit they are feminists, and in case you need a reminder that means they believe that men and women deserve equal rights and treatment. Not that radical.)

Smart IS sexy. It just plain is sexy, sexy, sexy. I’m not going to want to rub up against someone I can’t talk with. Deeply. I mean, whatever your thing is, it doesn’t matter: quantum physics, mechanical engineering, 17th century poetry, neuroscience, international politics, Cajun cooking, the history of fashion design, ornithology—I’m interested in it if you are, and I want you to be interested in my stuff too. I mean, why not learn something while you cuddle in front of the fire in the ski lodge, lie naked under the ceiling fan after a day on the beach, or sip yummy wine at a sexy little hole-in-the wall in the West Village.

Part of attraction/love/desire is being excited, right? If I’m excited about a book I just read or an idea I just had, it’s going to light me UP, and make me desirable and sexy. If you are turned on by your work, your art, your ideas, that thrill you feel will make its way to me and I’ll get… turned on too. See how that works?

Be the sapiosexual you want to see in the world. If you want to be fulfilled in the long term, don’t hide your brilliant fire under a bushel to get a date. If you do, you’ll be stuck pretending to be somewhat dim for the duration, and you’ll bore quickly or resent the person who liked you in spite of being, well, dim.

Shine forth!

  • Being smart means you are open to the fact that you don’t know everything. Think of the fights you’ll avoid by not believing you know everything. Smart people know better.
  • Being smart means you actually will read a book or have a conversation that might change your mind. Do you know how amazing it is when you send a link to an article to a guy you kinda like and he a. reads it and b. can’t wait to talk to you about it? Amazing in this case = sexy.
  • Being smart means you never have to say or hear (or say) the words, “There, there, dear, don’t worry your little head about that.” So much better to hear/say: “What do you think? I really want to know.”
  • Being smart means you may well be on your way to falling in love before your hands or lips ever touch. SO HOT.

The deepest loves (and sexiest) I’ve had have been the ones where something—a circumstance of one kind or another—allowed friendship and intimacy to blossom fully before that first sexual moment. The hunger and subsequent thrill that comes on the heels of that slow build-up is indescribable.

Are physical compatibility and attraction important? YES. But honestly, the men on dating sites who say “send me more pictures” or call me “cutie” without knowing a thing about me don’t interest me in the slightest and, in fact, turn me off. The ones who tell me something interesting, and ask to hear what I have to say—they will get me to keep the conversation going, every time.

*This blog also had a guest appearance on the blog of Betty Russel, BeFreeToLove.com. Thanks, Betty!

 

My Mother’s Battle Against White Male Privilege

woman-in-mans-world-3

I’m sure I don’t know the half of it.

Back then, if it was named at all, it might have been called chauvinism. I doubt she even heard the word “sexism” until she was out of the corporate world and battling a different set of demons that dominated the latter part of her life.

She grew up in poverty during the Depression, was the first person in her family going back to forever who went to college, and the first of her immediate family to leave Ohio. She was also the first woman in her family to pursue a career outside of domestic service. She was, I believe, the first to imagine a different life. She had aspirations.

She learned how to “pass” in the world she longed to enter by taking lessons from a kindly aristocrat who lived on the other side of town. As a girl, my mother would visit Mrs. Myers to learn how to speak properly, set a table, pour tea, walk gracefully, descend the stairs with a book balanced upon her curly head. She had aspirations, sure enough.

Her fascinating career path, post-college, included stage acting, a brief hiatus as a travel agent (it got her to Europe), and even her own 15-minute TV show called “At Home with Lee”—a kind of proto-Martha Stewart thing where she (as I understand it) advised about home décor and fashion. That was all out in California. Then, in 1962, when I was two, she ended up leaving my dad behind in Pennsylvania where they lived, to pursue acting in NYC, only to change gears again in the pursuit of enough money so she could feed me and pay rent. A clever writer, she got a job with L’Oreal (then known as L’Oreal of Paris) creating names for lipsticks and nail color and was soon promoted to copywriter. Within five years she was a rising star in the New York advertising world.

I literally had to watch Mad Men to realize how thrilling, and truly horrific, that must have been for a young woman.

She was a strange product of two worlds—the one she was born to and the one she pushed her way into (brooking no argument). She did not think in terms of “feminism” but the constant inequities she faced were, to her, shockingly, soul-burningly unjust.

But she shared little of this with me. Interesting, considering she did not hesitate to include me in way too much information about other things in her life. Perhaps she felt that it was somehow her fault that she could not convince her employers that she was worth more than 50 cents on every dollar her male counterparts earned. Her solution was simply to work five times as hard as they did, achieve 10 times their success… and maybe if she was lucky inch up to 55 cents.

One story she liked to tell—probably because it showed my father in such a good light—was this: My father had recently taken a job as a professor at a small Pennsylvania college. At this point, their separation and her move to New York was still a couple years in the future. Though she’d always worked before they moved back east from California, she was now expecting a child (moi), and didn’t have a job. My father was asked to give a speech, but felt overwhelmed with his new duties, so he asked his wife if she’d help him out by writing the speech for him. The way I understand it, they talked. He told her the gist of what he wanted to say, and she made it happen. It’s called ghost writing (I do it for clients all the time). It was apparently a very good speech. He delivered it, with few, if any, tweaks.

When the chair of his department came up to my parents after the speech and praised my father for it, my dad (bless him) said, “Well thank you! My wife wrote it, actually.”

The professor looked down at my mother with (I imagine) a painfully patronizing faux smirk of uber-unctuous paternalism and said, “You mean she typed it?”

A good story in that the guy was set straight, but very few of my mother’s encounters with entrenched sexism had happy endings. As a single working mother over 30 she was constantly judged as either doing a crappy job of parenting or, inevitably, doing a poor job of everything else.

Still, she earned lots of respect from many people in her field. She always managed to be promoted, or head-hunted for an even better job, and broke through several intermediate glass ceilings on the way. But she had to prove herself again and again in ways that the men in her field did not. She and her team won numerous Chloe awards and, every time, had to correct assumptions that the team was led by the only man on it, 15 years her junior and with less than half her experience or savvy.

Before she left the corporate world, she was making more than anyone in her family ever had, despite the income disparity between her and every guy within ten thousand hectares.

That was the 60s and 70s. One woman: my mom. Multiply that story by a zillion cubed and we might have an idea of how women have had to fight for every ladder rung. Beat off the guys who tried to grab them by the arms and throw them off that ladder with dismissive claims that they belong in the secretarial pool, if not the kitchen. I imagine my mother sitting in meetings with a bunch of men and trying to report on her department while being called “honey” and asked to make coffee. How many times was her ass pinched in the elevator? How many men tried to sleep with her? How many men threatened her job if she did not sleep with them? I mean, I don’t know for a fact. So maybe it never happened.

But it happened.

Here we are in the 21st fucking century. Women have been elected to the highest offices in several countries. Women populate the colleges and universities in the US by over 50%. We’ve crept up to 74 cents on the dollar (average between the 79 cents of white women and the 68 cents black women earn). Do we celebrate those gains or beat our heads on our desks because it’s so insanely not enough? But we keep inching painfully forward. Justin Trudeau makes headlines by having a totally integrated cabinet. I love him, but why does that make headlines? It should be a non-starter, as it would be to splash the front page with two inch letters saying Boys and Girls Being Born Every Day in Local Hospitals.

Still, what I’m saying is that we’ve continued to (mostly) make progress since my mother’s story.

The coming election will mean everything to this continued narrative of women’s rights. Will the tone set by Trump and his followers become the tone of the story of this nation in the future? Will the ugliness of bare-knuckle misogyny be the new starting point with our children, sons and daughters alike—the next generations who will either continue to be incrementally moved toward gender/race enlightenment or have the scaffolding knocked out from under them?

Women still get their butts pinched in the work place, but at least now it’s against the law. Women still have to cope with intrusive, objectifying, sexual, patronizing behavior from men every single day, but they are less and less afraid to come out in public to say, “This happened and it’s not okay.”

Is all that going to change?

“Momma, I’m sorry to say that all the work you did will come to nothing in the end” is not something I want to say to the urn sitting on my bookcase. I want to say, “The asshole got his comeuppance and the first woman president has been sworn in. And she’s badass, Momma. You’d love her.”

Scarlet Words—How Women’s History and Power Was (partly) Stolen by Changing the Language

 

Ishtar--Queen of Heaven/Whore of Babylon

Ishtar–Queen of Heaven/Whore of Babylon

The other day I woke from an undifferentiated dream with the words, “verbs, nouns, and scarlet adjectives” in my head. When I considered this word cluster, after a cup of coffee, I determined that its key word was “scarlet.” I pondered the word “scarlet” over the next few days. My train of thought, Google, and most importantly The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara Walker all reminded me of an enormous cover-up perpetrated by the Judeo-Christian patriarchy.

Not to put too fine a point on it.

Scarlet. I asked myself, and several other people, what that word conjures. Literally everyone said either The Scarlet Letter or “a scarlet woman” or both. Scarlet + woman = fall from grace, shame, sin. In other words, whore, harlot, hussy, slut. The original scarlet woman, it turns out, was the woman who has come down to us as the Whore of Babylon. In Revelations, chapter 17, we are told just how horrific this woman (spoken with dripping scorn and indignant rage) was. A few choice quotations:

  • “Come hither. I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication….”
  • And shortly thereafter: “I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy…. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup … full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication.”
  • And last but not least: “And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”

But let’s back up a bit.  Like 3 or 4 thousand years. Harlot, the word so contemptuously used by the writers of the Book of Revelation in the Old Testament, was originally the name for the sacred priestesses who served the Great Goddess Har, also known as Ishtar. From the word “har” came other words, such as “hara,” a Hebrew word for great mountain or pregnant belly, and Harmonia, a daughter of Aphrodite and bringer of peace. The Greek “horae,” the Persian “houris,” or the Hebrew “hor” (“synonym for the sacred prostitute and the Goddess she served”*) are all etymologically linked to the word “whore.” But the fact is, sacred “harlots,” and priestesses of the goddess Har, or Ishtar, were powerful and honored, in fact revered, members of pagan societies.

Pagan priestess in full possession of her power and her sexuality.

Pagan priestess in full possession of her power and her sexuality.

Words that mean one thing for thousands of years: co-opted and degraded in a matter of a few hundred years by one male-dominated institution.

Let me continue. The scarlet woman—often seen wearing the red (and/or purple) of divinity—was first of all the great Ishtar, aka Queen of Heaven aka the Great Whore of Babylon. She called herself “a prostitute compassionate” and she and her priestess harlots were “honored like queens at centers of learning in Greece and Asia minor.” Despite her reverenced position throughout the ancient world, she comes to us via the Bible as “the mother of abominations,” among other things.

Some of these priestess-whores actually did become queens. Justinian’s bride, Theodora, was a temple harlot before she said, “I do.” The Emperor Constantine’s very own mother, now canonized (St. Helena), was a harlot before she became an empress/saint. Gosh why don’t Western histories tell us this stuff?

Priestess-whore/divine feminine

Priestess-whore/divine feminine

So, countless ancient yet sophisticated cultures including the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Hindus, Japanese—all revered women whose lives were spent in temples, as hierodules (representing the goddess on earth) having sex with men (often priests), who were honored as healers (their vaginal secretions and spit were said to have healing powers), and who were valued as brides when their service in the temple was over. Very, very cool.

That was back when sex was not a sin, women were not only allowed to be sexual beings but adored for their sexual powers, and when “virgin” meant unmarried woman. You’ve probably heard of the “Vestal virgins?” Well what you were not told is that most if not all the priestesses who looked after temples were virgins. Meaning they chose to remain unmarried. And have as much sex as they wanted in their roles as priestess-virgins.

Now, of course a “whore” is a term of degradation and contempt. Young women are hog-tied by the idea that “virgin” means “girl who does not have sex” instead of independent woman who is allowed to make her own sexual choices. Rethinking the mother of Jesus—we were told she was a virgin when her womb quickened with humankind’s savior. Well, according to the meaning of “virgin” at the time (aka the original meaning of that word), that meant she was not married. It did not mean she had not had sex.

How did this complete co-opting of language (nouns, verbs and scarlet adjectives) happen? Easy. The rise of the Christian church put the kibosh on anything that smacked of feminine power. Whores held significant status in pagan culture, so they had to be brought low. Powerful and influential men literally stole the truth, rewrote history, and at a time when literacy was low and there was soon a church in every village, the redirection of language was achieved efficiently and brutally.

Typical example. The horae of Aphrodite—her “celestial nymphs, who performed the Dances of the Hours, acted as midwives to the gods, and inspired earthly horae (harlot-priestesses) to train men in the sexual mysteries”*—were magically transformed by the church into virgins (the kind who don’t have sex), martyred, and turned into three maiden saints—Agape, Chionia, and Irene. Done.

Sacred horae

Sacred horae

Another example. In Iceland, a very matriarchal society at that time, every woman worshipped the goddess in her own home, on her own hearth. This woman was known as a “hussy,” and typically shared her “hus” (which meant both home and place of worship) with more than one “hus-band.” But when Iceland agreed in about 1000 AD to become Christian, guess what? The word hussy became a derogatory term. Done.

The Christian patriarchy seemed to be all about taking the power to choose away from women, a woman’s power over her own body being a prime example. At first glance one might think, how can anyone take one’s power to choose, or to control what she does with her body, away from a woman? We all know how it’s done today. Through public opinion, rape and the perpetuation of rape culture, legislation, and any number of societally accepted norms (from pay scales to product marketing) that marginalize and diminish women, or try to. And often succeed.

As the Catholic orthodoxy rose to prominence in Western and Eastern Europe, a woman with a lover became indistinguishable in the eyes of the church from a professional prostitute. Both were considered “whores.” In fact, women who gave their love and body freely to a lover were tortured in hell as viciously as the reviled prostitutes. St. Augustine and others depicted the torments reserved for sexually active women (whether lovers or whores) as being among the very worst—greater than those for murderers, for example.

We have inherited this twisted view of women and language—whereby both the women themselves and the words that described them have been repainted by a society hell-bent on destroying the truth and keeping women “in their place.” Though no longer considered the property of men, women are still either actively treated as objects or allowed by much of the bystanding populace to be objectified day after day on billboards, on Twitter, by Hollywood, you name it.

It would be lovely to reclaim our “nouns, verbs, and scarlet adjectives” in the pursuit of a genuine equality. It bothers me, I must admit, that history seems to begin, in the minds of 99% of the world, after women’s power was systematically stolen from them. Part of empowering women and men is to resurrect the truth and at least have a working knowledge of what the words that are used to shame, control, and demean women actually mean.

Scarlet. The color of a woman’s power, a woman’s sexuality, a woman’s direct connection to the divine. It has become my favorite word.

*from The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, by Barbara G. Walker, entries on Horae, Ishtar, and Prostitution. Much of my information came from this source and I highly recommend this book to you if you do not have it.

Body of Gratitude — Reprise

gratitude

I wrote most of this blog a year ago. At that point, I wrote about the previous year, and the journey I had taken out of heartbreak. Most of the 30 blog posts leading up to last Thanksgiving’s blog were stepping stones to healing, taking me closer to moments of real happiness. I have come to realize that happiness is, though an aspiration worthy of us, a bonus, like when the champagne pops or they move you up to first class for no apparent reason.

Today I am with my family. This whole week, actually. My entire family, which includes not only my children, but also the father of my children, once so estranged from me that we divorced. There is no accounting for how the heart’s GPS will take you. Eventually you end up where you are meant to be. And for that, I am grateful this Thanksgiving. The rest of this blog is the same as it was before. I liked it then, and think it worthy of another Thanksgiving. I hope you like it….

Some people have a body of work to represent a lifetime of creation. Today, I find that I have a body of gratitude that represents a lifetime of blessings.

Head. Inside my extra-large head there is a brain that works well, most of the time. I have always trusted my brain to get me through. To be smart and capable. It is a quick thinker, and I’m grateful it lets me keep up. I may not be able to remember a lot of life’s details (see my blog on memory), but I remember enough. I remember falling in love with books, acquiring my baby sisters during the dark night of childhood, feeling happiness like bubbles that would surprise me on a Friday afternoon as I boarded the crosstown bus home from school. I remember dancing on the bar, skinnydipping at dawn, road trips at midnight with the friends of the moment. I remember the people I have loved and cleaved to for life: true friends. My head has gotten me into plenty of trouble, don’t get me wrong. I can overthink, overanalyze, the usual roadblocks of a writer and reader. But my brain has always been secure for me, and my friend. I am grateful for my head and everything that goes on in there.

Eyes. Thank you, universe, for not making me blind. I am as close to it as a person can be without actually being blind at all. My vision is appallingly bad – once estimated at 20/1800 by a surprised ophthalmologist I went to. But thanks to modern technology I am corrected to about 20/35 and have seen Swan Lake and The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. I have seen the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean and the Atlantic. I have seen a giant humpback whale staring at me from 20 feet below, as she popped up beside my boat. I have seen the faces of students look at me with disbelief, gratitude, pride, exhilaration, realization, frustration, desperation, love, joy, and the thrill of epiphany. I have read books, love letters, and the poetry of my gifted daughter. I have looked down from the top of the Eiffel Tower at the lights of Paris and have looked up at Arenal—a live volcano in Costa Rica, as it spewed truck sized globs of magma down its sides in glowing rivers. I have seen the look of love on the face of the man I married. Best of all, of course, I saw the faces of my children still smeary and blurred with the exercise of birthing. I saw them open their eyes for the first time to look at me, their mother in this beautiful lifetime. I am grateful for my eyes.

Mouth. What is life without the taste of fermented grapes, roasted coffee, or aged cheese? How can I ever describe how thankful I am for deep soft kisses?

Ears. My son is a musician. That alone gives my ears meaning. My father gave me his love by sitting me down in his study to listen to Sibelius, Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Puccini. Etc. The music of my life, from Joni to Aretha, poured through my ears and filled the spaces inside me like custard in a mold. Soon enough, the music was me. What about the sound of the surf, distant lawnmowers on a summer’s day, the swish of skis on groomed snow, the crackle of a fire, or the song of a mockingbird? Yeah, all of it.

Throat. The chakra spins. Having a voice. To speak, to be. I think with my head but I write with my body – my throat where my voice lives, and my hands that know how to get it all out. I am grateful for my throat.

Heart. There is no real explanation for why the heart works the way it does. I don’t mean why it pumps blood and oxygen to all the other parts of the body (grateful or otherwise)– scientists have that figured out. I’m talking about The Heart – the metaphorical seat of feeling. How does anyone know how to love? How can even the most damaged of souls have a heart of love inside them? I am grateful that loving has always come easy to me. Not necessarily trusting or sharing – but love, yes. My heart does not hold grudges. I loved my sisters on sight and that feeling has never waned. I love so many friends who could ask anything of me. I love my uncles, aunts, cousins galore, without reservation. I have loved a few men in my life. Not many. Enough. That love does not go away any more than any other love goes away. When someone is gone, the love just hibernates in the deep cells of the body of gratitude. I am grateful for those loves. The love a mother feels for the human beings grown in her body, fed from her body, nurtured on her body. Well, it seems obvious and effortless but I suppose it is not. Did my mother know that love? Hard to say. But I am grateful that I do.

Breasts. It took me a long time to be grateful for mine. As a young woman, I resented their asymmetry (which is remarkable and no I won’t put up a picture to prove it), their perky girlishness (was I insane?). Now I think my boobs kick all kinds of ass. They fed two very hungry babies who grew at record breaking rates. They have gained character and given me and others pleasure over the years. And at this stage in my life I am most grateful that they have retained their shape and… uh, elevation. Good job, breasts. Thank you.

Uterus. What can I say? I’m a goddess, as is every woman who contains within her the power of life. I fell in love with my body for positive sure when I grew a person inside me. And then again when I pushed it out with the power of all the love and gratitude any mere human can muster. And then I did it again.

Vagina. The magical mystery of being female. The vagina is a way out – for blood and/or life. Everyone starts life through that flowering exit. And it is the way in—to the center of a woman.  It is a mystery that everyone ponders, some fear, and some love. I am grateful for my vagina. It has given me joy, pleasure, glory, pain, and myself.

Legs. I am grateful for my legs and how pretty they have always been. How they let me dance. How they let me be tall. They ache now and then. My knees creak. But I can still boogie my ass off and hike a mountain and ride a bike and that’s awesome.

Feet. I am not always fearless. In fact fear has overcome me at times in my life. But I have guts. My feet, they walk. I do what I need to do. I go where I need to go, and work as hard as I need to work. Most of the time, my feet don’t fail me. I am grateful to my feet for carrying my body of gratitude through five decades of living. I am also grateful for pedicures.

There is not much in my life I am not grateful for, come to think of it. I even love the pain and heartbreak – how else could I be me without it? And I have food, clean water, health insurance, and a home I am not in danger of losing. I can use my head, my heart, my voice, my legs – to make a difference however small. I can go. I can come. I can say yes. I can say no. I can embrace. I can push away. I can stand tall. I can lie down. I can stay silent. But I probably won’t.

 

 

 

“Your Loss, Sailorman” OR You Don’t Need a Man to Tell You How Kickass You Are, Girl – a Hindsight Analysis of the Song Brandy

Brandy, one year later.

Brandy, one year later.

I came of age while the song “Brandy” by Looking Glass was a major hit on the radio. It came out in 1972 when I was 12. I was biologically mature, and, like all 12 year olds, still a little girl. Despite the fact that the still newborn thing called feminism was doing its level best to empower me and my fellow females, I was still very much at the mercy of the overarching societal dumbass assumptions about heterosexual relationships, and so Brandy just became a part of my indoctrination. Unbeknownst to me.

If you have not heard the song (probably because you are extremely young), you can listen here: “Brandy” by Looking Glass. The lyrics are posted at the bottom of this blog.

The song gets into your head immediately. It is catchy. Very. Though according to my cursory research Looking Glass had four hits, Brandy is the only one I actually remember, and I listened to the radio constantly. Back then, it was either that, or vinyl.

I always felt sorry for Brandy. I mean, she loved a man, and he loved her. But poor Brandy lost him to the sea… which he apparently loved a lot more than he loved her. He didn’t die, or anything. No. He just left her and said, “Sorry. You’re great. You’d be a super fine wife. But I’m married to the ocean, which holds my heart and you basically have no hope of competing, ever.”

The other day this song popped up on one of my more self-indulgent Pandora stations. As per usual, I was singing along as I went about my business. Then something happened. I actually heard the words coming out of my mouth – words I had known by heart for 40 years.

And I got really pissed off. “Wait a god damned minute,” I said to my reflection in the mirror as I held the blow dryer away from my head.

The chorus, sung three whole times, tells Brandy she’d make a “fine wife.” By what criteria and who says? And why does that even MATTER? As if being a “fine wife” is the be all and end all of Brandy’s hopes, dreams, and ambitions.

The song beats us about the head with the blunt, but implicit, message that A. her qualifications as a wife are determined by bunch of dudes who hang out in a bar and a guy who doesn’t have the balls to commit to her and actually find out and B. that she is a tragic figure because she will not ever be granted the privilege of becoming his wife. That wifehood is the only life path for her… aside from being a barmaid, which is a highly honorable profession that allows her to be self-sufficient, and yet is belittled in the song lyrics as nothing more than “laying whiskey down.” Anyone out there who has bartended or waited tables (like me and Brandy) knows it takes a lot of chutzpah and brains, not to mention organizational and time-management skills. Not to mention people skills.

Brandy as painter

Brandy as painter

But that’s not even all. We don’t know what Brandy does in her off hours! What if she paints, or makes dream catchers and sells them on the 1972 equivalent of Etsy, or has a huge garden full of organic veggies and flowers? We don’t know because she is marginalized in the song by the sexist idea that, though she would have done the job of wife just “fine,” she won’t have a chance because she had the misfortune to fall for an asshole. End of story. The narrative is exclusively that of the unnamed sailor whose rejection becomes the END of Brandy’s story.

Maybe I’m being harsh – he might not be an asshole. He might just be a guy trapped in the classic male-defined paradigm. Unfortunately, so is Brandy.

I can only assume that there is a whole back story to Brandy that we don’t know about… and that the sailorman never had a chance to find out before he sped back to his irresistible life at sea.

If Brandy were to write the song, I imagine it would go a little differently. Especially after she got in touch with her empowered kickass self and realized she was a fully actualized person not dependent on the approval of a man, let alone matrimony.

She would write a song about a passionate fling she had one summer with an intense sailor who passed through town, gave her a silver locket, some mindblowing sex, and a few days of laughs and long afternoon naps, bodies entwined. She liked him… a lot. They could have had something, but the guy A. had no interest in living on land, B. used the sea as a cover for his commitment-phobic issues, or C. was overwhelmed by how strong the feelings were with Brandy in just a few days, so he bolted.

In her version of the song, Brandy thinks, “Your loss, sailor man.” And in that version, she is sad for awhile. Then she paints a few erotically charged paintings of her seafaring ex-lover, pulls weeds in her garden and plants a rose bush in his honor, and releases him in a fire ceremony with some of her closest women friends who also, funnily enough, say, “Your loss, sailor man.”

Brandy's fire ceremony

Brandy’s fire ceremony

Lyrics to Brandy:

There’s a port on a Western bay
And it serves a hundred ships a day
Lonely sailors pass the time away
And talk about their homes

There’s a girl in this harbor town
And she works laying whiskey down
They say Brandy, fetch another round
She serves them whisky and wine
The sailors say…

Chorus: Brandy, you’re a fine girl
< you’re a fine girl >
What a good wife you would be
Your eyes could steal a sailor from the sea

Brandy wears a braided chain
Made of finest silver from the north of Spain
A locket that bears the name of the man that Brandy loves
He came on a summer’s day – bearing gifts – from far away
But he made it clear he couldn’t stay
The harbor was his home

– Chorus –

Bridge: Brandy used to watch his eyes
As he told his sailor stories
She could feel the ocean fall and rise
She saw its raging glory
But he had always told the truth
Lord he was an honest man
And Brandy does her best to understand

At night when the bars close down
Brandy walks through a silent town
And loves a man who’s not around
She still can hear him say
She hears him say… (Chorus)