What being a woman means to me: A Writing Challenge

A friend issued a writing challenge, asking to answer the following three questions. Below is my entry.


(1) What does being a woman mean to you?

I realized right away that the way I wanted to answer this question was to start highlighting the many incongruities with the concept of “womanhood” and what womanhood actually means to me. In other words, it was going to be an essay about what it doesn’t mean to be a woman.

It doesn’t mean I like shopping, or babies, or makeup, or that I have a vagina. Being a woman has nothing to do with my anatomy or my hobbies or my sexuality or my talents.

So I spent a few minutes trying to figure out what it does mean.

I think that being a woman means learning to adapt to a world that insists on making decisions for you. It tries, at first, to make you believe that this is the world you want to live in – because “decisions are difficult, and women are weak, or emotional, or incapable – and as a woman, it is a relief to be given all the answers.”

And when, as a woman, you begin to question that – because, at one point – we begin to question that, you face the many ways that the world continues to manipulate you into staying inside the nice, comfortable box they have designed for you.

I think that being a woman means learning to adapt to being consistently underestimated. Some adapt quietly, some react with defiance – but regardless, it is a fact of life for a woman.

I think that being a woman means absolutely nothing, because “woman” is a socially constructed label.

Being a woman means that I am a person.

And being a person carries far more relevance in my world than being a woman.

(2) What about being a woman do you want or would you impart to your own daughter by the time she reaches adulthood?

Were I to have children, I would want them – regardless of gender – to understand and respect the power of living authentically. With respect to women, I would want them to understand that our society will attempt to erase their individuality while simultaneously selling on all the ways they can be more special. I want them to understand that so they can never fall victim to it.

I also want them to understand that those who hold tightly to the systematic oppression of women are often as much victims of the patriarchy as we are. When we confront these ideas, we are confronting their stability. Instability frightens people. Fear makes people feel attacked. People who feel attacked attack back.

I would want them to understand the difference between forgiveness and understanding. One must strive to understand their oppressors, but to forgive them is a personal choice, and not one I’d likely to make without a sincere apology.

At the same time, I want them to understand the power that forgiveness gives them over their own pain. When they are ready, I want them to embrace that power for themselves.

I want them to understand the importance of respecting nuance, imperfections, and the diversity of perception. I want them to embrace the challenges of facing our own imperfections and learning from them to become more enlightened members of the human race.

I want them to love themselves and to not feel like doing so is a sign of selfishness. I want them to love themselves so well that the people who love them have a template for how it’s done properly.

An I’d want them to know that regardless of who they are, who they love, or how they choose to express that love – they would never lose my respect, unless they willingly harmed people without consent.

(3) What would you impart/share with her around the age of 13-14 as she’s entering her teen years?

There’s a part of this I’ve written before:

By the time my step-daughter wanted to read the Twilight series when she was in her early teens, I’d already read them. I told her she could read them on one condition – we had to have a chat first, and we’d have to have another chat before she got to the final one.

All her friends were reading it so she agreed to the chat.

Here’s the gist of what I told her:

This book makes the bad guy sexy. He wants to hurt her but he loves her. She is the ONLY one that drives him this kind of crazy and because he loves her so much he holds the whole “I want to kill you” instinct back. This is not a healthy relationship. This book will make you want that guy, and it’s okay to fantasize about that guy – but that guy is not the right guy when you start actually dating.

By this point in her life, my step-daughter had not yet given us many clues as to her sexuality. She had admitted she liked boys, but had not denied that she might also have an interest in someone who was not a boy.

And if she had shared with me that she might be into dating someone other than a guy, I’d probably have done a lot more reading with her on what some of the challenges and hardships that are inherent in that. I’ve recently become aware, for example, that there is inadequate-to-zero sex-education for lesbian teenagers leading many to find out much later than necessary about safe sexual practices, and have some confusion over what “losing one’s virginity” even means.

So, yeah. Right around when the hormones are about to hit – my priority would be to help my daughter prepare for them.

Ms. Hardy’s 6th Grade Class

I remember the first time I became aware of her. I was sent to her classroom with a note from another teacher.  I’d stepped in just as she was quieting down her students after some sort of disruption, and she turned her head as I opened the door with her big, almost accusatory eyes piercing through my timid little soul.

I handed her the note and her demeanor changed.  “Oh. Okay.  Thank you.”

The following year, she I was assigned to her sixth grade class.

I’ll admit, I was scared. I remember talking to my friend about her.  Until then, all our teachers had been ….

What’s the word I’m looking for?

Sweet? Passive? I don’t know. They all just seemed like they liked us.

Not her.  She could quiet a room full of schoolchildren with a stern look. She was there to teach, not to babysit us.

And teach us she did.  After a few weeks, I started to realize that Miss Hardy wasn’t really all that scary. She didn’t have to like us. She respected us. She was an excellent teacher. It was in that class that I first learned there was such a thing as Black History Month.

Or maybe, it was in that class that I first paid attention to it.

Because Miss Hardy was black.

I remember thinking it was strange – that all of Black History could be taught in one month. It didn’t make sense to me.  Why wouldn’t we learn about historical Black figures throughout the year? I also pondered why it had to be the *shortest* month that was picked for this focused instruction.

That’s a question a naive child asks herself – the naive child who had learned about the United States Constitution and believed everything she’d heard about an America that believed in Civil Rights, denounced cruel and unusual punishment, and valued truth, liberty, and justice for all.

Oh, sweet, dear young me.

Most of my memories of actually learning can be traced back to the year I spent in Miss Hardy’s 6th grade class. I remember details from the lessons she taught me more clearly than any other in my entire educational history, all the way into college. I still have all 51 prepositions memorized in alphabetical order.  I still use many of our weekly vocabulary words in every day sentences.  I first became fascinated with the story of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii in her class. I looked at pictures of the ruins in Ancient Rome – these relics of ancient history and learned about the importance of innovation with the aqueducts. We drew the ocean currents in blue crayon on a huge world map across the back wall.

She was the teacher that interrupted our scheduled lesson for the day to pass around the front page of the newspaper the year that the Berlin Wall came down. She explained its significance to us.

But there was much more she taught me that I didn’t even realize I had carried with me all this time. She taught me not to judge people based on their appearance or their first impression. She taught me that to be respected was often significantly more important than to be liked. She taught me about the America that I could be proud of despite its questionable history.

I miss that America, sometimes.

Today is the first day of Black History Month for 2017.  It makes plenty of sense to me now.

I’ve joined Dumbledore’s Army

Last night I had what was best described as a “mind-blowing carnal experience.” I don’t recall a time I have ever so relished and given in to the absolutely hedonistic joy of being alive, in love, and in glorious rapture. So much so that for a brief moment in the midst of uncontrollable orgasms, I actually thought I might be dying – and while it scared me, I kept on going.

I wasn’t dying. I was living.

In the moments that followed, I had a bit of an epiphany about what it means to me to push past that fear and live passionately.

Right now, watching the world through twitter and facebook. Planning which protests I can attend and how I’ll get there. And with every tweet, retweet, and blog post I share, I feel myself more and more exposed.

I don’t think it will be long before they come after his detractors.

I don’t think it will be long before outspoken members of the resistance start “disappearing,” silenced by a regime that fears and abhors dissent.

I ask myself, will it be worth it? The hell that might rain down upon my happy, comfortable life – for the sake of speaking up?

I think you know the answer.

If you ever read the books and thought you’d join Dumbledore’s Army despite the danger – now is your chance.

If you ever thought you’d have marched in the days of Martin Luther King, Jr. if you’d been alive to witness it, now is your chance.

If you ever thought you’d have given sanctuary to Anne Frank’s family, or to people fleeing slavery through the Underground Railroad, now is your chance.

We’ve not yet reached the point where our resistance is illegal. Not yet. But don’t think for a second that’s not their goal.

Should the time come when executive action is taken to try to make it illegal, I don’t think there will be grandfather clauses written in. There is a nonzero chance that the people speaking out against this administration, regardless of their citizenship, will find themselves in peril in the future.

I’ve spent the better part of today making my peace with that. If it happens, I’ll know that I’m standing on the right side of history. Without a God or descendants to judge my actions, I make this decision because my own conscience dictates that it is the right thing to do.

I won’t make any grand sweeping statements about my further intentions for this blog. Not saying I’m done writing about BDSM, sex, or relationships. I’m just saying that, for now, I don’t see that being a priority in my life.

I’ve joined Dumbledore’s Army.

#resist

Angry White Woman

I’m angry.

I’m angry, and it’s not just because recent events have exposed my complacency with an imbalanced system because I was under the impression that “things will get better.”

I mean, that makes me angry. It makes me angry to have been so wrong. It means I was believing lies and avoiding truths.

There was a time when I was actively avoiding truths. I wasn’t pretending they didn’t exist, I was just putting on the blinders so I wouldn’t have to see them. I knew they were there.

Like those videos with the animals and the Sarah McLachlan song. I couldn’t watch them without crying and feeling completely heartbroken. So I’d mute the TV, go off to get a drink, or change the channel. I knew that my not watching wasn’t automatically saving all those animals from hardships. I knew that shit was still happening. All I was doing was trying to avoid the additional hardship of feeling helpless to do anything about it (other than send money).

Last year, I started doing a little more. It was either the #BlackLivesMatter movement or the Orlando Pulse shooting that woke me up a little and helped me realize that my blinders were a disservice to my convictions and the causes I believe in. They were making me complacent, and in some ways complicit.

Now, I’m no big social media star. My voice doesn’t have much range in the grand scheme of things, but it has some range.

So I started writing. It’s what I can do. Possibly not the very least, but pretty close to down there.

Then the Flaming Yam* became our national main course. I got really angry because it was pretty much proof that the reality I thought I existed in – the “things will get better” reality – was way off base.

I was so wrong. So wrong.

I tore off the blinders. I started to see, not just where the injustices play out in the media and in the lives of people I’ve never met, but even in my own family and in my own (in)actions.

I struggled hard last week – coming off the high of that incredible show of civil discourse in the March that exponentially eclipsed Captain Tangerine’s inauguration – I struggled with the heavy levels of criticism that came, not from those who oppose everything we stand for, but from within the community of my allies.

It was that feeling again. That uncomfortable feeling, but without the Sarah McLachlan song as a signal it was coming. Why? Because, in a way, they were right.

In every way, they were right.

Now, in reality – in my reality – I’d done as much for the BLM and LGBTQ causes as I did for the Women’s March.

I blogged about them. Again, pretty close to the least I could do. I didn’t show up in person for any of them, to put my physical whiteness on the line for the causes I believe in. I just blogged, under my pseudonym from the safety of my suburban home.

The difference, though, was my intention. If I hadn’t had to work that day, I had planned to go to the Women’s March in Los Angeles.

I had the intention of doing more.

So the criticism, while difficult to face – was right on the money.

For those who follow me on twitter, or who intersect with me on Facebook, you’ve likely seen a change. I’m a little more vocal now and there are a lot more political messages coming out along with the cute pictures of cats doing funny things.

But, I’m also done doing the very least I can do. Earlier this week, I rolled my window down and thanked a homeless man who rushed needlessly to move some things out of the way when I was driving past him. Before? I might have waved and smiled. I took a moment and viewed him as a person and not an extra in the story of my life. (That’s the writer in me that believes every piece of dialogue in a well-written story serves to inform the plot or move it forward, rather than the simple gesture of a hand wave that would have been forgotten by the next scene.)

I’ve RSVP’d and am planning to attend local marches and protests being organized to protest on behalf of a number of causes that don’t personally affect me. I am not black. I have great health insurance. I’m not at great risk of having an unwanted pregnancy. I have the right to marry because I’d choose someone that our oppressors wouldn’t find objectionable (polyamory notwithstanding). I’m pretty darned heterosexual, and as a widow, I’m given a bit more of a free pass for being an unmarried woman without children in this society.

I’ve gotten involved with my local Indivisible chapter and am planning to take a day off from work next week to join a group or citizens in a local visit to my republican representative in congress – a man who won by less than 2% of the vote in my district.

I’m reading a lot more, I’m fact checking a lot more, and I’m allowing myself exposure voices I care about who might not have the nicest things to say about me based on the way that I look.

As a fellow blogger wrote, “they don’t know what’s in my heart.” They don’t know that I identify culturally more along the lines of Latino than Caucasian. They don’t know my first language was Spanish and my parents were immigrants from Latin America, and great grandparents were from Syria and Egypt. They don’t know this by the way I look.

But for how long have they endured living a life where they are under constant scrutiny and prejudice for the way that they look? For how long have I benefited socially from the paleness of my skin and the blue of my eyes?

Maybe it’s time I walk a little in those ill-fitting shoes.

I’m “leaning in” to my discomfort.

I want to thank the people in my life who listened to me as struggled with this over the past week. I didn’t come to this conclusion right away. I had to do some soul searching and a whole lot of listening before I figured out why their truth was so hurtful, even though I knew it was true.

But mostly, I want to thank this woman for posting this video on facebook. This is the one that helped me come to terms with my discomfort. I hope you’ll watch it. I hope you’ll listen.

And I hope you’ll join me in doing a whole lot more than the very least we can do.

(Flaming Yam* taken from a comment someone left on a blog. I can’t take credit for it, but holy shit it gave me a good laugh this morning.)

Smut, Interrupted

Let me tell you about the story I’m not telling you. The one that you’d think would be so appropriate for me to tell on this site.  This past weekend, some seriously HOT stuff happened. It was depraved and there was sweat and bondage and so. much. penetration.  If I could have stepped outside my body and watched the scene from afar I’d have been like, – unf – and while there were no cameras set to record anything, if you know me at all you know I’m capable of capturing and conveying a very clear picture of what took place with some well-placed words.

But I’m not telling you, and it’s not because I think you wouldn’t like it or because I wouldn’t enjoy sharing it with you.

It’s because of every time someone has incorrectly equated a woman’s sexuality with her intention.

For every “she was asking for it, dressed like that…”

For every meme showing Lady Gaga, Madonna, Arianna Grande, or Miley Cyrus and contrasting the way they choose to own and display their own bodies with their complaints that men simply shouldn’t (without consent).

Because if I were to share how he managed to reduce me to whimpering, drool-covered object for his pleasure – and further, if I were to say I enjoyed it, then the same people who think that posting naked pictures of oneself on a kinky website is an open invitation to receive inboxes full of unsolicited cockshots, come-ons, and non-negotiated exercises in humiliation and degradation in the comments section would see it as open season.

So, you’re not getting smut from me.

Not today, anyway.

Today’s Smile: An Alternative Fact

A long time ago, when everything that mattered in my life was a mess and I spent more time crying than smiling, I decided to try something to combat the sadness that would sometimes threaten to knock me down.

I would force myself to smile.

It worked reasonably well. Chalk it up to one of those “fake it ’til you make it,” strategies. The simple act of smiling made me try to think of something genuine to smile about.

I’m feeling pretty low today. The reasons are less important than the fact that it’s true.

So, here I am. Attempting to smile. Attempting to create the “alternative truth” that everything is going to be okay.

Here’s what’s good about today:

  • had a very productive work day. I know it’s the first of a series of very long, very draining, very intellectually intense days that will lead me toward my goal of promotion and reaching a major financial goal I’ve set for my team to achieve this year.
  • I had a long conversation with my brother, a stand-up guy who, like me, is very thoughtful before he commits to an opinion; and who is willing to listen to and be swayed by a strong enough argument. He’s also, like me, very honest – and doesn’t just pay lip service. If he doesn’t agree with you, he’ll tell you – but it will be tactful, respectful, and with his own evidence to back up his positions. I have a brother I can be proud of. My niece has a father who will likely never want to delete him from her facebook page, if and when such a thing were to exist when the time comes for her to join the cloud.
  • There wasn’t a lot of traffic today. Probably because a large chunk of our population was stranded by flooded streets. I got to work in good time, and the way home wasn’t so bad either.
  • I have fond memories from this past weekend and the time I spent with my partner in a very fancy hotel paid for by my work. He incorporated some things into our evening that I’d wanted for a long, long time. It was good. Very good.

But the smile still doesn’t feel authentic. That’s okay, I know that’s okay. The feeling of overwhelming paralysis driven by self-inflicted exposure to messages of hatred, intolerance, and bigotry will pass. I didn’t want to hide in the bubble. I didn’t want to wake up from a “news coma” and find out everything got so much worse and I didn’t even try to speak up.

I knew this would come.

I didn’t realize it’d be so soon.

Growing Pains

I can’t words right.

So, I’ll just spew it out:

This past weekend was a huge one for me on a professional level. I was given my opportunity to shine, and shine I did. The right people saw it. Ten years at this organization and, for the first time, I felt like I had my Board’s respect, approval, and support.

This past weekend was also a huge one for me on an emotional level. I watched via social media in between meetings, the awe-inspiring aerial shots of hundreds of thousands of individuals – everywhere – who…again, I’m overcome with emotions. To say they “stood in unified solidarity in opposition to a regime built on hate,” are the flowery words I want to use, but the impact gets lost in the fragrance.

Yesterday I felt something I first experienced in the days after 9/11, and very few times since then. I felt like the world had my back.

I’m so grateful for that feeling and for the resolve it inspired in me.

Both professionally and politically, what comes next is going to be a challenge. There will be hard work, long hours, countless unexpected setbacks, and several metric fucktons of frustration. We’re gonna hit that “in between stage” like when you have decided to grow out your hair and it’s past your ears but not quite shoulder length and no matter what you do, it doesn’t look right.

There will be temptation to give up and cut it short again, or maybe to cut corners by putting in some extensions.

But, if you’ve ever successfully grown out your hair, you know….

There’s a payoff when you get past that ‘in-between-stage’ hurdle and sometimes the healthiest way to keep growing is to trim it back a smidge.

The next two years are the in-between stage. When the fatigue sets in – and it will – it might be time to get a trim. Pull your hair back into a ponytail for a few days if you have to. Watch funny cat videos. Go to a light movie. Read a book for pleasure. Take a bubble bath with a vibrating rubber duck.

Self-care must be part of this process, so we don’t all burn out before the next critical mid-term election.