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 a few good men. 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 easily 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 a 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)

Meditation on Why Some Men Get it, and Some Don’t, and How Cool My Son Is

Why am I impressed that a son I raised is so honorable in his attitudes towards and relationships with women? I’m not overly impressed that my daughter is…. Am even I, staunch feminist, so inured to a world in which men disappoint me that when my own kid doesn’t, it’s like a big thing? Maybe. And I lied. I am impressed by my daughter’s fierce strength in the face of a world that casually belittles her on a daily basis, and her refusal to be marginalized as a woman or a lesbian, and the way she walks the walk. And as for my son, he walks the walk too. Am I impressed? Sure. But he’s not at all impressed with himself. He can’t imagine being any other way.

A few weeks ago he called me to talk. He told me that he was giving a lot of thought to what he would call his students, at the ski school where he teaches, and when he finishes his degree in outdoor education. “People have to stop saying ‘guys’ to groups of people that are half girls or women.” I caught myself being super impressed with him for thinking a simple thought I have pondered frequently. He was just thinking out loud – he said he’s thought about it before too, but now he realizes it’s important to take a stand on stuff like this when he’s dealing with kids, because basically, he doesn’t want to perpetuate the language of the patriarchy. So I tried to tamp down my maternal awe and just think, Yeah. Damned straight. (In case you’re wondering, he’s thinking about using “padawan” – the term used by Jedi masters in Star Wars to refer to an apprentice. Seems pretty perfect for a feminist millennial teacher….)

Women have a profound influence on the men of the world. On our husbands, boyfriends, friends, sons, even fathers. They say that men who have daughters are much more generous in their charitable giving. To mention one totally random statistic. Sons raised by interesting, independent women tend to respect women. Shocker. And so on.

But this influence is not automatic and should not be assumed or taken for granted. We only have an influence if we are allowed to by the culture in which we exist. There are exceptions, clearly. There are girls who exist under the thumb of and live steeped in the attitudes of the Taliban who grow up to fight back and claim their power and refuse to own the status quo.  But most of the time, a community closed to diversity of thought will remain closed, and narrow, and people within it will be marginalized, subjugated, killed.

So a culture in which it is accepted that women are “less than” perpetuates the idea of women being “less than” until no one can imagine it being any other way. The myths and false beliefs are perpetuated—that men control women, that men are superior to them, that women do not have autonomy over their actions, bodies, choices, even lives—whether on a grand scale as when gangs of Egyptian men publicly rape women with little consequence, or on a quieter but also frightening scale as when fathers can “own” their daughters’ virginity (and thus sexuality), or when everyone seems cool with the fact that women just don’t make as much money as men. Or that a woman is too _____ (fill in the blank) to: govern, manage, be a CEO, be a rocket scientist, get an education, achieve much of anything, choose what to do with the unborn embryo in her uterus, drive, be a soldier, or decide when she does not want to have sex.

When everyone a child knows, meets, sees, and hears tells him or her, directly or indirectly, that women (or blacks, or gays, or “Arabs,” or the transgendered, etc. etc.) are “other” and “less than” – what do we expect?

When everyone in the room laughs at the dumb blonde joke, what’s a child to think? When no one ever stands up for mom when her husband/brother/father tells her to “Go get me a beer,” are we surprised when her son, at 21, does the same? Or that her daughter meekly responds when she is thus commanded?

My son has not had that many girlfriends. He is fairly picky. I mean, he doesn’t even like the term ‘girlfriend’ – he thinks labels are limiting. (RIGHT?) But anyway, they have all been wonderful. Smart, savvy, independent, quirky, warm women. He has zero tolerance for women who throw themselves at him (he plays guitar in a band so this actually does happen), who devalue themselves, who act the way they think men want them to act – helpless, cute, dumb, fragile. He knows better.

He grew up among women – aunts, friends of the family, me, cousins, his sister, teachers, mentors. He knows who women are. He came from his own version of an insular world, in which it would never occur to anyone that a woman should make 30% less than a man for doing the same job, be the brunt of jokes, or be openly insulted as “ugly,” “fat,” “useless,” “dumb,” or “bitchy.” He is the child who, at age 3, asked who the women presidents were. I’ll never forget the look on his face when I said there were none. Pure confusion.

Last night we talked about Scott Esk, running for state rep in Oklahoma—the guy who would be okay with a law calling for stoning gays. My son said to me, “We all think we’re right. The people who traffic in hate and think stoning gays or raping women is the way to go – they think they’re right. And we think we are.”

But we are right, aren’t we? I mean, as my daughter said once so simply, “How can fairness and love be wrong?” But the point remains. My children are tremendously privileged to have grown up in a world, however small, where hate and fear of difference are not norms, and where women kick all kinds of ass being awesome, and where the women and most of the men talk about women’s issues (and all civil rights issues) as if they mattered… because they do.  Meanwhile, children all over this country and the world are disadvantaged. Girls grow up without enough role models – women who are privileged to be able to claim their power without dire consequences to their spirits, their bodies, or their lives. Boys grow up without role models – men who treat women as equals and respect them. Openly. As if to respect women is something that has to come out of the closet.

Me with my lovely dear son... a few years ago.

Me with my lovely dear super awesome and cool son….

 

In Honor of the Crone

Have you read about the grandmothers in India? The ones who were taught to build, install and repair solar lighting systems, and put together solar lanterns, water heaters and cookers? When a college got the idea to teach undergrads how to do the work in order to bring light to villages in India, the youngsters (men) absconded to the big cities to make money. So someone brilliant had the idea to empower elder women from local communities, knowing they would do the right thing. And they have. So far they have brought light to almost 10,000 households in India. Subsequently, the Indian grandmothers taught elder women from other countries. These solar engineers—elder women all—have brought solar power to 45,000 households in 64 developing countries. If you want to read more about it, check out Tara Sophia Mohr’s blog Link to Mohr’s blog. It was Tara who inspired me to follow this thread today.

Women in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s are in a powerful stage of life. In ancient traditions, goddess centered or otherwise non-Christian, this elder woman was called the crone, and was deeply revered as the holder of truth, wisdom and love. Linked to the new moon, the dark phase, she holds secret knowledge and can teach the spiritual mysteries.

If you think about your favorite elder woman, grandmother or not—wise and loving, with the endless patience to share with you all she has to teach—that is the crone. The word has been co-opted by a western, patriarchal mythology that turned the crone into a feared destroyer. Picture Hansel and Gretel’s witch. She epitomizes what is actually a quite modern view of the “terrible crone.” In fact, the crone has lived a life full of loving, birthing, tending, creating, giving, thinking, solving, planning, worshiping, guiding, and supporting. As the people of India realize—she is a resource to be tapped, not a feared monster nor a disposable commodity to be tossed away.

The women I know are reclaiming the word, honoring their passage from mother to crone with ceremony, reverence, appreciation and awe. And we are talking about some very sexy, savvy crones. The dark moon goddess is still sexual, seductive, enticing in her wisdom and authority. What has she to fear? She understands the world better than she ever has. She understands herself and is stepping into her power.

The sexy white-haired man—CEO, senator, diplomat, author. You know him, right? Well, his counterpart is not a little old lady sitting in a rocking chair or pulling cookies out of the oven. No. His equal, his match is the sexy crone—CEO, senator, diplomat, author. Artist, dancer, healer, teacher. Whatever she is, she is the holder of the moon energy, the silver light that flows into us all.

So here’s to our crones. Think of that woman—the one you will never forget. The one whose presence can inspire, calm, empower, teach and move you. If you are lucky enough to have a powerful crone in your life, sit at her feet every chance you get. Dance with her, drum with her, drink with her, pray with her, listen to her, touch her. And if she is not with you any more, she is probably somewhere nearby, guiding you in one way or another. Perhaps simply through the inspiration she provides by having lived. Or maybe there is more to it than that. Only you can know.

Jane Fonda is 75

Jane Fonda is 75

Betty White is 91

Betty White is 91

Hillary Clinton is 65

Hillary Clinton is 65

Ruth Bador Ginsberg is 80

Ruth Bador Ginsberg is 80

Maya Angelou is 85

Maya Angelou is 85