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Turning Back Time

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If you are over a certain age or have any sense of social history you may find yourself living a flashback. How in the world is reproductive freedom still up for dispute in this country? Forgetting for a moment the legality of reproductive choice; how is the subject still even a subject? Why would any person, let alone group, take up a cause that was settled decades ago? Is there a grassroots anti-prohibition movement underway somewhere? Are slogans being developed to appeal the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The common wisdom is that anti-choice supporters come at their crusade from a place of religious conviction. It certainly often looks like that, no? But the logical extension of such a premise is that these people would feel passionate about imposing all of their religious convictions upon others. It’s hard to see how or where this is happening. Even if their only religious conviction is that life (including sperm and egg) shall be preserved at any and all costs, it doesn’t seem to be happening. If it were, shouldn’t the same people protesting reproductive rights be protesting war and pollution? Shouldn’t the placards and protesters be blocking the headquarters of tobacco and gun manufacturers? Wouldn’t the crusaders be impassioned about veteran care and elder care?

The fact that there has never been any anti-choice movement that has taken up the cause of the born and at-risk reinforces the myopia of ‘the cause.’ If all the noise were really about ‘the children’ we would see a groundswell of domestic adoption of older and needier children. We would see zero-tolerance of any form of abuse or neglect of children. There would be full access to excellent health (including dental) care for every child. But almost 500,000 children languish in the foster care system. Children are abused and neglected every single day. These children might feel that being unloved is worse than being unborn.

I’ve no doubt that there are some people who consider it their one-way ticket to heaven to save even one embryo. But I also suspect that the momentum is the message. It’s appealing to belong to a group of like-minded people. It’s equally attractive to have a cause that one can brand as being on the side of ‘good.’ But there are so many crusades that fulfill these requirements. Why women’s reproductive issues? Could it possibly be that it’s ‘women’ that we’re talking about? Hmmm

If it really was about the sperm and the egg, why is there no furor over erectile dysfunction medication? Why is no one protesting the pharmaceutical transport of millions of wayward sperm? Why is there no political movement opposing artificial reproduction? Do you know how many zygotes are lost with each attempt? Has anyone calculated how many zygotes are sloughed off during implantation attempts? Do we know how many stay in the deep-freeze until the end of time (or next black-out)? Do we know how many of the little cell clusters never even make it out of the petri-dish alive? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that anti-choice advocates would be up in arms about such carnage? Isn’t it likely that the number of manufactured zygotes who do not become embryos are equal or greater to the number of abortions in this country? If you believe that life begins at conception, this should be quite troubling.

But none of those issues involve a woman’s body. Controlling a woman’s body would appear to be the only socially acceptable way to control a woman. Legally she has access to voting, employment and even some sports. Legally she must be viewed as equal, even as she earns 77 cents to every dollar a man earns. Really, the only way to stall or turn back progress would be to block her control over her own body. If this is packaged as a morality/religious issue, and if enough bright lights and pretty colors are used to distract us all from the completely illogical crusade to protect ‘life’ only once it’s inside a woman and becomes her choice; perhaps it has a chance of working. It is up to us, those of us who are scratching our heads wondering how the hell this is still an issue, to shine the spotlight on the hypocrisy. It is not enough to simply stake our claim to being pro-choice. We must not shrink from talking about biology (including how several forms of birth control do not prevent fertility but conception.) We must discuss artificial fertility and ignore fear of repercussion. We must preserve our right to determine what we do with our reproductive parts by shining a light on those who fervently desire to turn back time.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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It’s Work After All

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So a book publicist and an agent walk into a bar (okay not a bar, a reception area of a media conglomerate) and discover they represent the same issue du jour. “Bring it on,” says one in a clumsy attempt to appear secure (if not woefully out of date with her slang.) “This will be fun” says the other in what can only be called utter insincerity. They were clearly uncomfortable with confrontation and/or competition and poetically the issue du jour with which they’d been charged was women in the workplace.

The issue of work/life balance is not new, it’s been bandied about since women were told they could “have it all” (cue Veruka Salt) which would’ve been somewhere around the mid-to-late 1990s. There has been a push by women (that has buy-in from some men) to tailor the workplace to the personal needs of employees. There have been talking heads and studies supporting the edict that ‘happy employees are productive employees.” For the record you can always find a study to support your own position (e.g., divorce? happy parents make happy children. drinking while pregnant? a glass of wine makes the woman happy & calms her uterus. childfree? people without children are happier…) The fact that workplace balance is almost always a veiled reference to ‘women in the workplace’ is not a coincidence. Not since the industrial revolution has the workplace changed as dramatically as it has with the inclusion of women in real numbers and positions. But to somehow suggest that these employees work differently or need allowances to be productive is offensive.

Women (particularly post 1970s) do not need to be told how to conduct themselves in the workplace or boardroom. We’ve been doing it for decades thank you. The fact that some women are doing it in software (or other male-dominated fields) doesn’t make it uncharted territory. There was a time when everything (save teaching and nursing) was a male dominated field. So please don’t tell me to lean in and/or work harder. It’s called ‘work’ after all isn’t it? It’s really not all that complicated to get to the top (which isn’t to say it’s easy to do.) Please don’t suggest that those women who’ve made it to the corporate top can sprinkle their success fairy dust on the cubicles below. I don’t need special dust or treatment; I just need for you to be a good boss/leader. And while we’re at it, please keep my personal life out of the workplace. What I choose to do outside of work is just that; outside of work. I will choose a job and/or career that suit my personal needs. These needs will change over my lifetime, as will my work choices. I do not need or want the world of work to alter its nature to honor my personal life. It’s called work after all.

What I would like is affordable childcare (not for women or for men but for children.) I’d like reasonable family and medical leave time (for maternity, parenting or other personal needs.) I’d like flexible working arrangements when they either do not impede the work or in fact advance the work. I would like equitable medical and dental benefits and have people pay for the amount of coverage they need. I would like a workplace free of harassment and hazard. I would like fair compensation for the work done not the position held. And if I may borrow some fairy dust for a moment; I would like hiring and promotion tactics to occur on merit alone.

A little advice to that anxious publicist and agent; relax there’s enough 15 minutes of fame to go around.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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The Selflessness Mystique

How many times have you heard someone described as ‘selfless?’ It’s always meant as a compliment and often attributed to someone who may have gone unnoticed. There’s a chance the term is attached to men, but most likely it’s a woman who’s received the ‘praise.’

It’s interesting that anyone would ever consider having an absence of self to be a virtue. In some cases it might just be a matter of semantics. Perhaps what they really meant was not selflessness as much as generous of spirit or empathetic. True selflessness conjures the most depressing of images: an individual whose only sense of purpose is external, who expends all of their creative energies on the perceived needs of others. How is neglecting oneself ever virtuous? Any person over the age of 15 or so, in their most honest bravest moment, will admit that it’s always easier to focus on others than oneself. It’s why teenagers lose themselves in the lives of boy/girlfriends. Some of us never grow out of that impulse.  Showering others with attention takes boatloads of physical energy but not a whole lot of emotional energy. Listening to one’s inner voice and having it guide our life’s path is work. It takes focus, daring and fortitude to know who we really are and what we want.

There’s one undertaking that is forever being linked with ‘selflessness’: Motherhood (like the flag and apple pie) is a loaded term. Popular culture is rife with images of aproned women scrubbing floors to provide their child with a better life. Mothers are spoken of in hushed reverent terms usually reserved for saints. Nobody talks about fathers that way. Fathers are not perpetually giving (unless we’re romanticizing their wallets.) If they are thought of at all it’s as disciplinarians or buffoons. There is no glowing light that surrounds them. Nobody has ever chastised a curser with the phrase; “Do you kiss your father with that mouth?!”

Newsflash: women are not necessarily encouraged to have a strong sense of self. They are (in 2012!!!) lauded for being behind the scenes making other people’s lives happen. They are, if you will, the woman behind the curtain. This of course is part of the lingering backlash to the second wave of feminism. It’s understandable that woman are continuously being pushed back in time as they make real strides in the world and economy. The marketing of 6-inch heels, girdles, fake hair, and means to Barbie bodies, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Conspiracies, even passive ones, do exist. It’s somewhat predictable that as women outpace men in 4-year degrees television programming of the ‘girls gone wild’ ilk has increased. It makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is why women are such willing players. How did a generation (or two) raised during the Title lX years aspire to be the water-girl? Did they get their fill of being in the game?  And what of the children? What do we teach our children when we exhibit selfless behaviors? Do they grow up with a skewed sense of importance? Do they not grow up having witnessed what awaits them? Are they handicapped for not learning how to do for themselves? Wouldn’t they be further ahead learning that empathy and generosity of spirit are integral parts of what makes us fully formed and actualized human beings?

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2012 in Childhood, Well-Being

 

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That Which We Call A Rose

No one is immune to the volcanic force of language.  An altered preposition, an inflection or a simple nuance can change the course of events if not our mood for the day. This awesome power is acknowledged before we even arrive on the planet. Our names will be labored over (sometimes literally.)  First names, middle names even last named will be constructed to pay respect or foretell character traits or ensure we’ll never have a seat on the supreme court. The words we are first taught, those we are allowed to hear and those we are punished for saying are all overseen with a scrutiny befitting a bank manager. Our legal system and our government are keen on the minutia of language and are poised to change and limit it all the time.  (Lest we think only of the dangers of limiting free speech, let us remember that screaming “fire” in a movie theater is simply not prudent.)  As a society we are continuously reexamining what words and terms are inflammatory or used to incite.

One of the most potent uses of language is that of branding.  There are words and phrases whose intent is spin.  Over the course of time we have found ways to passively (aggressively) brand people or things.  When a grown woman is continuously referred to as a girl, it just sounds more polite than repeating, “you are less than a man.”  Almost any person who’s affiliated with an underrepresented group could offer examples of this paradigm.  As groups become more visible and vocal, words and labels change.  People and groups are still labeled but with new words that have yet to ring as offensive to our ears.  No doubt there is a predictable timeframe of revision that is in play.  What sounds innocuous in 2012 will probably be horrifying in 2032.  We need only think back to what a compliment it was in the 1950s to be called a ‘housewife.’  In the 21st century it is considered an insult (to houses or wives, I’m not sure.)  People now stumble and scramble over terms such as: ‘stay at home mother’ (which suggests an ankle monitor) or “work in the home” (which could mean anything from novelist to parenting to piecework.)  Lots of awkward vague phrasing which rarely accurately communicates anything.

Of course where this less than graceful terminology stems from is the discomfort we’re currently experiencing around women, work, and parenting in the 21st century.   There is much anxiety around the freedom of choice that some women experience.  The anxiety is only exacerbated by the fishbowl we now inhabit.  Even a person 100% certain about his/her choices is barraged by confidence shaking messages.  Culturally we are reacting vigorously to the fact that women now do have choices (perhaps not enough but far more than any other time in recent history.)  If you were a Martian and found yourself at a magazine stand you would think it was in fact the 1950s.  Women are cautioned and coached on how to keep a man interested.  Fashion consists of girdles (with naughty names) sky-high heels, artificial hair (all the better to swish ‘round a pole) dark lacquered nails (requiring daily maintenance) and false eyelashes (forcing perfect posture so as not to inadvertently drop one onto someone’s lap or lunch.)  Now of course no one would confuse a fashion magazine for anything but a nicely bound advert delivery system.  But people are buying them and presumably reading them (which takes all of 10 minutes.)

Is it any wonder that in the midst of what can appear to be a pop culture feminist backlash we find ourselves peppered with the ‘man’ prefix?  It all probably started innocently enough with the first utterance of “male nurse.’  As if we are French and need gender defining articles preceding our nouns.  We now find ourselves in a sea of ‘man caves’ ‘man bags’ ‘bromance’ ‘manny’ ‘manscape’ and countless others I’ve been fortunate enough to ignore.  I’m not sure when a tote bag became feminine or why male friendships need a new name.  Having had male sitters as a child, I’ve no idea why nannies need gender identity.  Manscape?  Really?  It’s called grooming.  What really sticks in my craw however is the ‘man cave.’  If this was a real cave, one in which caped crusaders worked on mammoth computers and were served tea by stiff-upper-lipped British man-servants, I’d be all over it.  But alas, it’s not.  It is a reference to an abode or part of an abode that is reserved for a man.  You know, like how Ward Cleaver had his den and Don Draper had his office because the home was really the woman’s domain?  Look, I’m no Martian (or am I?) but it’s beginning to look a bit like the late 1950s.  Women molded into a Betty Boop silhouette (surgically or through the miracle of spandex) teetering on heels, men sequestered in their “he-man women hater no girls allowed’ space looks an awful lot like there is a yearning to get the genie back into the bottle.

Whether there is something worthwhile in this yearning for a time with clearly defined roles is an interesting concept.  It could be illuminating to tease apart our feelings and desires around equality and options.  But to do so, to have a discourse which goes beyond soundbite or 1000 word blog post we need to know what we’re actually saying.  Understanding ourselves, let alone each other is not facilitated by euphemism or trendy semantics.  There is a difference between using language that is respectful and using language to obfuscate.

 

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Dear Ms. Magazine

Happy Birthday Ms. Magazine!  It seems like only yesterday when you were born.  It must be annoying to hear that over and over again.  40, wow!  You look great!  Really you do.  Don’t give me that look, it’s okay to care about your looks if you’re a feminist, don’t try that on me.  You look great, really.  You know a lot of other magazines have very bloated advertising, and a rather eerie glossy finish.  But not you.  Yes you’ve freshened yourself up over the years, but that’s what keeps you modern and relevant.

Do you remember the first time you came to my house?  Me neither.  But I remember you being there in those early years.  My housewife mother must have heard about you at her consciousness-raising group and invited you home.  I’m guessing you got passed around a bit.  Household expenditures were tightly monitored (it was the 70s after all, things were tough all over.)  Come to think of it, it took some chutzpah to start a magazine outside of the standard advertising model on the cusp of the recession, didn’t it?  But you never did shy from a challenge.  They laughed at you.  I know you remember that.  Who did you think you were?  A serious magazine for women?  A business run by women?  They said a lot worse too.

It must have been hard at times, all that bullying.  They even made fun of your name.  You know, that name that is now a standard fixture in the English language; appearing on all official documents and forms?  You were the first to talk about abortion openly, instigating untold honest conversations and sharing in homes across the country.  You shone the spotlight on domestic violence, helping to place the shame where it belongs; on the perpetrators.  You gave voice to issues that often had no visible champion.  You helped us to understand our bodies and minds and how they can work.

You never have been popular.  I don’t mean that to be hurtful, it’s actually praise.  Who wants to be adored by the masses?  It’s far more satisfying to be loved by those who ‘get us.’  You did come along at the right time, that’s for sure.  No one was rolling out a red carpet or anything.  No, no.  But the swelling of bias and bigotry awareness of the early 1970s was a boon to Ms. and feminism.  Even the most misogynistic would begrudgingly admit that 51% of the population should be treated equally.  Not so far as enacting the ERA or anything, but wait, no sad stories, this is your birthday!

Milestone birthdays can be affirming but they can also be a bit jarring.  It’s a gift to age, to survive!  While no one wants to live in the past, it is the shared memories that give us a feeling of being a collective.  How many remember when grown women were routinely called ‘girls?’  Remember when we didn’t even have names?!  We were Mrs. Robert Smith or Mrs. Nathan Green.  We not only keep our first and last names now, but sometimes a man actually takes a woman’s name (gasp!)

I remember that you were the only magazine in our house, quite possibly ever.  I’ve no doubt you played some part in my mother returning to school and becoming the writer she always longed to be.  You probably had a hand in the household responsibilities being distributed to all family members (yeah that was just great, thanks!)  I can see your handiwork now, in my own outlook on life.  I struggle, like I know you do, with the backlash of some of our progress.  There are times I thought we’d be further ahead by now.  I know you know.  We still have work to do don’t we Ms.?  Maybe 40 really is the new 30!  Happy Birthday Ms. and thank you.  Now get back to work.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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