In which I spectacularly fail programming

In which I spectacularly fail programming

I went to read HuffPo the other day and I read the following headline: Jimmy Kimmel PIcks the Perfect Punishment for Sarah Hucka-BS Sanders

He said she should be sent to live in a Jo-Ann’s Fabric Store for the rest of her life.

My knee jerk reaction was that I thought they meant “perfect punishment” in a totally different way.  I thought for a second Oh gosh, that IS the perfect punishment!  Inside a Jo-Ann’s for the rest of my life!  That would be AWESOME! And then I spent several more seconds envisioning this wonderful Basil E. Frankweiler type situation only with way more crafts.

It was a nice several more seconds.

Then it started to dawn on me – Kimmel.  Sanders. HuffPo. Wait a minute. Is association with Jo-Ann’s Fabrics meant to be some kind of an insult or something?

Among people I know, Jo-Ann’s has a so-so reputation.  While they do have lots of products I would love to give a good home to, it is kind of a zoo.  Jo-Ann’s Fabrics is disorganized, does not have the greatest customer service, and they totally do a lot of irritating crap with coupons (srsly enough with the coupons already) but I really don’t think any of those issues Jimmy Kimmel or his viewers would be well versed in.  

The more I thought about it, the more it started to seem like some kind of misogynistic humor or something.

If you go into a Jo-Ann’s Fabrics, fact is, there are not a lot of dudes there.  When I want to go to Jo-Ann’s my husband stays in the car at least until he has to come in and drag me out forcibly before I buy even more fat quarters for my fat quarter collection.  (I’m kidding, he doesn’t drag me out forcibly, he just looks at me disapprovingly till I drag myself out, desperately trying to resist the temptation to grab a few more fat quarters as I go.)

I would go so far as to call Jo-Ann’s a man-free zone.  It’s like a safe space. I have never been groped in a Jo-Ann’s fabrics.

So can someone explain why it’s cool to curse a powerful woman to live in Jo-Ann’s Fabrics?  Is it that fabric crafts are somehow beneath a successful woman and thus a craft store is an ideal place to doom a successful woman to?  Is it that Sarah Sanders proven herself too dummm to be allowed out into the world and thus she needs to be sequestered back into her pink sparkly rocking chair for some baby-booting knitting (which Kimmel apparently and wrongfully assumes is easy to do and requires no mental acuity)??  What is it? Please explain, using small words so my glue-stick-fume addled female brain can comprehend u.

Is being associated with female-ity bad?  Are the traditional accoutrements that come with a pair of X chromosomes meant to be humiliating somehow?  Ironically, I recall Sarah Sanders taking some heat over allegedly not baking a pie that she actually did bake in the past, so it would appear to me that women are damned if they do, damned if they don’t – criticized ruthlessly for not being Harriet Homemaker and yet at the same time, insulted with the prospect that they might enjoy doing things that have historically been female pursuits.   T’would appear that traditionally female pursuits are used as a taunt against strong women, one way or the other. 

All this reminded me of Wonder Woman again.  Some of you may recall I took a fair bit of heat for my Wonder Women essay, in which I suggested that maybe, just maybe it was ok, even feminist, to embrace and celebrate some behavior historically considered stereotypically female (or at least not hold it in active disdain).  Maybe, just maybe, we could see some traditional female qualities as positives instead of buying completely into the notion that the only way for women to be “empowered” was by embracing the very worst stereotypically male behavior.  

Most of the criticism I received for my Wonder Women piece was along this line:  “It would be nice if you could come out of your cultural preconceptions a bit.”  Come out of my cultural preconceptions to agree with my critics, I guess is what that means.  For they are surely right, their position is well thought out and thoroughly considered, while I, on the other hand, could not possibly have thoroughly considered opinions since my opinions are not identical to theirs.  If I disagree with them, that means I must have cultural preconceptions. Because no woman in her right mind could ever independently weigh the evidence and draw an unusual conclusion. Just gotsta be cultural preconceptions.

I find it so amusing when people respond to what they (wrongfully) perceive as sexism, with sexism.

That’s really what the takeaway of all this is, isn’t it??  Whenever a woman – particularly a seemingly traditional woman in appearance and/or thought – draws an unexpected or unpopular conclusion, it’s widely and immediately assumed that she has cultural preconceptions of some sort.   Traditional women are perceived to be incapable of thinking for themselves because if they could think for themselves surely they’d form the exact same opinion everyone else has. When that doesn’t happen, when a woman expresses an unexpected opinion, welp, it just has to be cultural preconceptions. Apparently everyone in the whole wide world except for traditional women have opinions deserving of respect and consideration, while traditional women and the things they like and value – like Jo-Ann’s Fabrics – are jokes, throwaway lines that make no sense and that people don’t even laugh at.

So Jimmy Kimmel thinks it’s ok to banish Sarah Sanders to Jo-Ann’s Fabrics because Sarah Sanders is a traditional woman and Jo-Ann’s is a traditional woman thing so they deserve each other.  Being a traditional woman like Sarah Sanders or Michelle Duggar is pretty much one of the worst things a person can be according to some people, many of whom self-ID as “feminist”. That’s why it’s ok for feminists and feminist allies to refer to Michelle Duggar’s vagina as a “clown car” – which is literally one of the most sexist, vulgar things I’ve ever heard and that little punchline was EVERYWHERE for a couple years.   Her body, her choice, except when she makes a choice with her body that people don’t like, I guess. Then she’s a joke.

The political and philosophical views of traditional women are constantly painted as signs of weakness of character and a simple mind.  Allegedly based upon cultural preconceptions and internalized misogyny, these opinions are thus inherently inferior to the opinions of everyone else and should be immediately disregarded.  That is why whenever a traditional woman dares to enter the public sphere to express an opinion that is outside the norm the response is invariably “Knit a sock, you brainwashed bitch.” Because pegging a woman as being in any way traditional is meant as an insult, implying that traditional women don’t know their own minds, are stupid brainwashed ninnies qualified for nothing but doing cutesy crafts (many of which are actually quite difficult and require high amounts of knowledge and skill.  I’d like to see Kimmel knit a fucking sock. Socks are tough.)

Brief aside – Now, I know that someone is going to wax poetic about how terrible Sarah Sanders is how anything is justified where she’s concerned, and I’ll just say right now, save your breath.  This isn’t about Sarah Sanders and her many unforgivable sins. This is about Jimmy Kimmel’s response to Sarah Sanders and why even in our controversy-lovin’ society it was uncontroversial despite it being grossly sexist, and how our larger culture constantly devalues and belittles traditional women.

But first let’s talk about my “cultural preconceptions” that everyone seems to assume I must have.

There is literally no traditional female in my family.  My great-grandmother owned an entire city block with several stores in it.  She had 6 daughters and every one of them worked at the store starting practically at their birth during the 19-teens and twenties.  Both my grandmothers were college graduates. One of them worked outside the home for her entire life. My mother and stepmother were highly respected career women with Master’s Degrees.  My stepfather was a nurse and he did the dishes and cooked and changed diapers just as often as my mom did. There were few gender stereotypes promoted by my parents; in fact, quite the opposite.  

From the second I was born it was expected that I would excel at school and sports and that I would go on to have a very impressive career.  My parents pushed me towards excellence in every public arena. No one ever told me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl; I was told instead that I had to do everything because I COULD.  My dad expected me to be a scientist and an athlete and often suggested I go into the military. He bought me a Commodore 64 when they first came out and encouraged me to learn programming. My mom expected me to be valedictorian and class president and to be in every club at school.  She drove me to karate lessons and Women in Science weekends.

It was the “Free To Be You and Me” generation and everyone knew that girls could do anything boys could do.  My parents, my teachers, the people on the TV all told me so.

It was awful.  

Having all these people in my face telling me “You can do this!  You can do that!” wasn’t empowering, it was paralyzing. An eight year old or a 12 year old or a 15 year old does not want to have a life plan foisted upon them whereby they will become an astronaut or maybe president someday.  A kid may want to daydream about something like that sometimes but it’s the rare and driven person who manages to get there and it’s generally not by way of goals that they set as a small child. All I knew was that the world expected things from me that I felt in no way equipped to give and it had nothing to do with my gender, it was my inadequacy.

It never occurred to me that it was perhaps the expectations that were awry, not that anything was truly lacking with me.  

At the same time, the things I was interested in, that I gravitated to naturally – girly things – everyone acted like I was voluntarily drinking hemlock or something.  My femininity became my secret shame. I had to do it all undercover. I sneaked a tattered copy of Dr. Spock off the family bookshelf and read it cover to cover. I secretly taught myself to sew and embroider alone in my room when I was supposed to be doing homework.  I bought makeup and nail polish and pretty underwear with whatever money I could scrounge together. I got perms and read romance novels and wore lip gloss and obsessed over boys.  And the first chance I had, I got married and started having children because that was what I WANTED. That was what I was drawn to and what feels natural to me to this very day.

Even though I didn’t ever ONLY want those things, even though I’ve done many other interesting and amazing things in my life and excelled at them, the things that some would assume were results of my “cultural programming” (that I never actually received) are of the utmost importance to my happiness and well-being.

The fundamental problem in my life has never been my “cultural programming”.  My cultural programming has only ever been that women not only can, but should, go out and take the world by the balls and squeeze till it gives up whatever it is you want.  My cultural programming has also been that girls shouldn’t want things that are in any way female, that it is beneath us, and only by turning away from stereotypical female pursuits and becoming small and rather angry men with boobs can we truly come into our own.  

My cultural programming told me lies about the history of the world and women’s place in it because women have always wielded a lot of power and done stunningly courageous and historically important things. Believe it or not, I HAVE come out of my cultural programming and that is why I think the way that I do.  I just don’t agree with you, that’s all. I like Jo-Ann Fabrics and I didn’t think Wonder Woman was feminist and I drew those conclusions after I logically and dispassionately weighed the input I receive from the world around me and not because my daddy told me I was a pretty pretty princess.  Cause he never told me that in my whole entire life.

It simply doesn’t make any sense to me that the only way I can find my way as a “woman” is by rejecting the customs, traditions, and values (be they cultural or innate, who gives a shit, doesn’t matter) that women have shared for millennia, trying instead to behave exactly like a man – adopting even the BAD parts of male behavior.  I don’t see how it is in any way freeing or empowering for women when self-styled feminists belittle and devalue real live actual women and the things that many of them enjoy, such as reading romance novels and going to Jo-Ann’s Fabrics. Even though my cultural programming involved a good deal of everyone around me doing exactly that, I refuse to sit silently by while Jimmy Kimmel or the majority of people who reviewed the movie Wonder Woman do.

When I look back at my life it feels a little like I had to discover and then battle to express my gender identity.  I don’t intend to equate my experience with what any trans person has gone through, not at all, but I do feel I’ve experienced some mild and minor version of the same.   As a child I felt that I was not allowed to express my femininity. I had my hair cut and wore boy clothes and indeed was often mistaken for a boy. I was made to play sports against my will, I was pushed into highly technical classes that I didn’t want to take and were actually much too difficult for me because my parents and teachers couldn’t let go of the dream that they had for me rather than seeing the person I actually was. 

It took me decades before I could fully start to embrace my gender identity, that’s how much I had internalized my real cultural programming. I was 30 before I realized could grow my hair out if I wanted to, that I could wear skirts every damn day if I wanted to, that I could mince and flirt and simper if I so desired, and that I could be and do whatever I wanted to. Even if that meant I wanted to be a woman.  And once I realized that, I never looked back, and for the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin.

Despite my unremitting and inexcusable chronic girliness, as an adult, I grew into enjoying athletics, particularly weightlifting and kickboxing.  I became a scientist and started a website that thousands of people from around the world visit to get my opinion on having babies of their own. That still wasn’t enough so I became a writer too and I toss myself into the public sphere every day without (much) fear to share my very often highly unusual opinions and thoughts with the world.  Being a traditional woman didn’t stop me from doing any of those things. Not one iota. I did and do these things every day while still raising five children, wearing a skirt and usually far too much makeup, and occasionally visiting JoAnn’s Fabrics stores for craft supplies.

Sarah Sanders has to have about the toughest freaking job on Planet Earth.  Can you imagine doing Sarah Sanders’ job? I wouldn’t want it. She was raised in a conservative Christian home and probably had more than her fair share of intense cultural programming yet somehow despite that she managed to go to hold a very powerful job. In fact, pretty much all the strong and powerful women who were born before 1960 or so – Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, Michelle Obama, Oprah, Gloria Steinem – all of them raised in a world that probably featured some fairly patriarchal shit.  So don’t give me this line where if we don’t tell girls that girly stuff sucks, that femininity is weakness, and the only way they can navigate life is by forgoing the joy that is Jo-Ann’s Fabrics becoming a small and angry man with boobs.

Because it just isn’t true.



little lessons on the prairie

little lessons on the prairie

So I’ve been rereading my favorite books from childhood, the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I started reading the first few with my children and then I got caught up, so I’m finishing the series.

You may recall that due to some racist elements in her work,the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award bestowed for excellence in children’s literature given by the ALSC (Association for Library Service to children) had its name changed to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.    

Personally, I think it’s fine that this has happened.  It’s just a silly award. Name it whatever you want, I guess.  But I sure do despise this tendency to remove anyone even the least little bit historically problematic from polite society.  Because regardless of what the ALSC say – that they aren’t calling for her books to be banned, that this isn’t censorship – she’s gone.  Outta here. And she’s not coming back any time soon. Given the current social atmosphere, removing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from this award (and the controversy it triggered) is really effectively banning her books.  Parents will stop buying them and kids will stop reading them. I would not be at all surprised if Wilder disappears from schools everywhere over the next few years.

And that, I’m not ok with.  The Little House books were of critical importance to me as a child.  They were my best friends when I had no one and nothing else, they molded me in ways I probably couldn’t even begin to unpack.   To attack the Little House books as racist, to eliminate them from the pantheon of great children’s literature as somehow harmful to children, is in my opinion a mistake.  While it is obvious that a few elements of the books are gross and wrong, there is still great value in them – indeed, even in the gross and wrong parts – and it would be a shame to see children denied the experience of reading them.

Here’s a Vox piece that does a pretty good job of illustrating why I still see a lot to love even in the unsavory parts of Little House, while somehow simultaneously missing the entire point.    The author agrees that there is something valuable to be gleaned even from the darker parts of Little House, believing just as I do that reading them forces people to acknowledge the darker side of the pioneer mythos, but then goes on to fail to learn the biggest lesson of all.  She writes (as Laura would say, in a childish hand) “Pioneers used a prejudice against Indians to steal their land, and this was racism.”

The author of this piece claims that prejudice was some sort of calculated strategy that people were actively adopting – that the pioneer’s fear and hatred was caused by racism instead of the other way around.  Oh, those pioneers.  They had a silly prejudice, those big goofy gooses, and the reason they had that prejudice was obviously because they wanted to steal the Indians’ land!   The author asserts that their prejudice was completely baseless and was spun from thin air to justify their own bad behavior.  Pioneers like Ma Ingalls could certainly never have had some legitimate reasons to fear, even hate Native Americans (reasons that felt fully legitimate to HER, I mean).  Right? But whenever you put two groups of people whose members are actively killing one another, of course there will be fear and hate. The reverse is certainly true and none of us blame Native Americans for fearing and hating whites.  

Now, we may look back at history with our modern sensibilities and theorize that the pioneers never should have been there, should never have stolen the Natives’ land, and that the tribes were entirely justified in fighting back against these invaders.  And we’d be entirely correct in doing so.  But the fact was the pioneers were there, in that place and time, whether they should have been or not. They wanted to live just like you and I want to live and regardless of what we believe with the benefit of a century of hindsight, they believed they were entitled to be there.  Not only did they feel entitled, it is only natural to have bad feelings towards people who you fear might kill you at any point in time. If any one of us had been put in that same situation, we would have felt the same. Racism is not an excuse people conjure up to justify bad behavior. It is not an affectation or a pretense.  Racism is a mindset people develop when their backs are up against the wall.  We are all subject to the tendency. The seeds for racism are with us all and we’re no better than those who came before us.  We just have the luxury of living in the modern world where we have less to fear.

It is a natural characteristic of humankind to hate and fear those who we perceive as other from us, even more natural to hate and fear those we perceive to be our enemies.  It doesn’t make it right, but it is natural. It is in human nature to behave that way. ALL of our human nature. Bad people, good people, me, you, Gandhi, Hitler and Pa Ingalls himself.  From this wellspring of human nature that we all share, racism and lots of other nasty isms and sins are born, and we are all subject to it. Racism is not something that occurs in a passionless vacuum, it’s not a dry, calculated political tactic people choose to justify bad behavior.  No one makes an informed and rational decision to embrace racism to explain away taking land or resources from another. Racists feel fully entitled to their racism, that’s why it’s so hard to overcome. People have reasons for all their isms that they think are sound and that is why these isms are so damn dangerous – we feel like our isms are right, noble, good, and supported by hard cold facts that those people, whoever those people are, are just not like us.

That is the real lesson of the objectionable parts of the Little House books.  It is that prejudice can be something that afflicts people like you and me, people who aren’t bad people, who are in fact good people, but who are products of a particular place and time and if we had been in that place and time we would have been and thought and felt and acted the exact same way.  We are not any more evolved than Ma Ingalls, nary a one of us. (BTW, in the Little House books, Ma’s fear of Indians is painted as old-fashioned, even irrational; both Laura and Pa are portrayed as far more enlightened where Indians are concerned.)  We are simply lucky enough to live in a place and time where we know better and have other options. To say that prejudice was an active choice that Laura Ingalls Wilder and the other pioneers made, is putting the cart before the horse and the chicken before the egg.  

Speaking of, another terribly racist book I read and adored as a child was The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald.   It’s set in Washington State where I grew up; in fact I later married a man who grew up on the rather strangely named “The Egg and I Road”, across the street from the location of the farm in the book.  (Ma and Pa Kettle, iconic characters that you may not know originated from The Egg and I, were real people – whose descendants now run an organic dairy farm in the same location they lived during the events of the book).  After I read The Egg and I for the first time, my stepmother told me that a family friend hated the book because he was Makah and the Makah were excoriated in the book.  And it’s true, they are; but I hadn’t even noticed that part. It was shocking to realize that something I had not even paid attention to, that had not even registered with me, had hurt someone I knew.  It was an early and valuable lesson that not everyone views things from the same perspective, a lesson I never would have received if I had not been allowed to read the book. If my stepmother – a children’s librarian herself, actually – had stepped in and taken the book from me when she saw it in my hand or removed it from the shelf so I never even knew it existed, I’d never have had to look my own privilege in the face at such a young age.

I recently reread The Egg and I as an adult.  The descriptions of the Coastal Native Americans in the book are indeed awful.  But I was surprised to discover that there was context to the racism. It wasn’t even remotely cut and dry problematic as people make this book out to be.  MacDonald was clearly demonstrating how badly the coastal tribes had been affected by the disruption of their culture in a way that preachier, more goody-two-shoes stories do not.  The Native Americans depicted in The Egg and I were not noble savages; they were not the depersonalized heroic stereotypes we have come to expect from modern fare.  The characters in the book – all of them – have serious, severe character flaws, and in the case of the the Native Americans, those flaws are directly caused by what white people did to them.  Being driven from their homes and their way of life caused a breakdown of their social fabric to such extent that they were destroyed by it. This reality is not skirted, it’s looked dead in the face and fully reflected upon.  It’s a valuable lesson that shouldn’t be whitewashed from history.

At the time the book was set, Betty MacDonald was a nineteen year old girl who found herself in a truly terrible situation.  She makes light of things because The Egg and I is meant to be humorous, but her life was incredibly rough (soon after, she divorced her husband and walked several miles through the forest carrying an infant and a toddler to escape).  Recall that Laura Ingalls Wilder was also a young girl in a very precarious, even brutal situation – it is no exaggeration to say that the Ingalls family could have died at any time and nearly do on several occasions  My point is not that being young or having a difficult life justifies racist viewpoints, not at all. My point is that you can plunk down any 19 year old person into a rotten place and time and they will sometimes form opinions that we older and wiser people who have every benefit of modernity would not.  Just like Ma Ingalls. It is human nature to have prejudices and to not always rise above them, and it’s a simple fact that as life gets harder, the easier it is to succumb to our darker instincts. We ignore this reality at our own peril. By pretending that racism is an active choice perpetrated by irredeemably evil people because we never read any source material in which we see the casual, accidental racism of otherwise good people, we never have to face the truth that we have that tendency within us just as our ancestors did.  

Even if we remove all problematic accounts from our worldview and replace them with politically correct and sanitized literature, we will never remove this tendency from human nature.  Humans are a set of behaviors and one of those behaviors involves making snap judgments about others based on their most obvious external features and then sticking with those snap judgments even when you’re proven wrong about them.  Betty MacDonald herself understood this. It you ever read her books, which are mostly wonderful and should be read more widely than they are, a good part of them is her judging other people from various walks of life in a lighthearted, not-uncharitable way, while being simultaneously judged by them.  “Ha-ha!” MacDonald seems to be saying, “Isn’t it funny how people are, look at how small-minded we can be sometimes, and don’t we all feel perfectly justified in our small-mindedness?”) By setting herself up as victim and villain, she reveals just how silly and wrong it is to judge others and how arbitrary our criteria really are.  The everyday racism in MacDonald’s books is not only historically accurate, but is actually a great takedown of the entire concept of racism because it does it from the inside out, revealing it as being just as silly as a person judging someone on the stylishness of their wardrobe.  Betty MacDonald’s books, despite their flaws – indeed, in no small part because of them – are scathing critiques of the human animal. And we would miss that perspective if we tossed her books on the dustheap due to a kneejerk definition of what is offensive.

Avoiding the reality of our racist past makes it easier to compartmentalize racism as being something that other people do.  Bad people. Evil. People whose minds cannot ever be understood because they are fundamentally different than us. Certainly not people who could be otherwise worthy of admiration.  Racism has become our original sin and we don’t want to wrestle with the notion that we are all guilty. Refusing to even consider the stories of those who came before us simply means that we are that much less likely to recognize similar tendencies within ourselves.  If we judge racists as demons – even racists that lived decades or centuries ago and were products of a vastly different environment – we immediately find ourselves innocent because we are not demons. But prejudice is a human quality whether we want to admit that or not.  When the rubber hits the road and the — hits the fan, we WILL put ourselves and our own above everyone else. We will slit throats and take scalps and give out smallpox-laden blankets and congratulate ourselves on doing God’s work because only demons can be evil. Reading Little House and The Egg and I can inoculate us because we have learned as children that even good people with pure hearts and noble intentions can think ugly thoughts and do bad things and feel fully justified in having done them.  They can do these things without even realizing that they were wrong.

In her essay “I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read” (do read this, it’s excellent the literary critic Francine Prose dares to criticize the sacred…and as Prose describes it, “treacly”…tome To Kill a Mockingbird on precisely these grounds – that in Mockingbird, the complicated legacy of America’s racist heritage is reduced to nothing but a good guys vs. bad guys trope.  “Students are informed that literature is principally a vehicle for soporific moral blather,” Prose explains. Certainly Atticus Finch is portrayed by the author, writing from the perspective of a 9 year old daughter, as everything a father should be.  “An exercise in wish-fulfillment and self-congratulation…the comfortable certainty that the reader would NEVER harbor the racist attitudes espoused by the lowlifes in the novel,” Prose continues. Yet Pa Ingalls is also portrayed by the author (his own daughter, who is around 9 years old during much of Little House) as everything a father should be.  He whipped his daughter with a switch and was in a minstrel show.   What does that MEAN? Surely it means something; something very important, something that deserves serious consideration.

I certainly would never want any child to read anything that makes them uncomfortable.  I don’t like it at all that our dear family friend was offended by The Egg and I.  I’m sure some are screaming at their computers your lessons shouldn’t come at the expense of the feelings of others and that all this is probably white privilege but we will never overcome our racist heritage if we don’t learn these lessons.  We’ll be doomed to live it out again and again and again in a thousand different forms until we accept the reality that prejudice is in our human nature and that we are all subject to it.  Reading fiction allows us to safely try on the lives of another person, to see things from their flawed perspective, to more fully understand their motivations, both good and bad.

This is actually one of the main purposes of literature – allowing us to deeply delve into the life and mind of another.  Prose writes: “One reason we read writers from other times and cultures is to confront alternatives – of feeling and sensibility, of history and psyche, of information and ideas.”   By reading widely, even or perhaps especially tales in which people at times did questionable, even repellent things, things that I would hope that I myself would never do, I have gained greatly in understanding, in sympathy, in compassion and tolerance.  By reading widely I have been forced to confront choices and decisions that I will hopefully never be faced with. Should we ban Sophie’s Choice because the main character chooses her son’s life over her daughter’s?  Should we ban 1984 because Winston betrays Julia?  Should we ban Crime and Punishment because Raskolnikov commits murder?   Romeo and Juliet because Juliet was too young to be married?  Or The Joy Luck Club because a character abandons her twin daughters alongside a road in wartime?

Literature should be complicated.  It should present flawed, realistic characters who are products of their time and place and force us to seriously consider their point of view.  In the years since Francine Prose wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read, the first draft of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was found and published under the name Go Set a Watchman.  In this version of the story, Atticus is a more complicated, flawed character; a man more representative of the time and place in which he lived.  Of Go Set a Watchman, the writer Ursula K. LeGuin wrote, “Harper Lee was a good writer.  She wrote a lovable, greatly beloved book. But this earlier one, for all its faults, asks some of the hard questions To Kill a Mockingbird evades.”  Hard questions are good.  Children – indeed, all of us – should be exposed to hard questions that lack easy answers.  But fans of Mockingbird were outraged by the morally complex version of Atticus – Atticus could NOT have flaws, he was ATTICUS.  They couldn’t accept that he might have been a flawed man. One family, in an act of self-indulgence I consider borderline child abuse, even changed their toddler son’s name because of it.

Reading things like this, I think we NEED Little House now more than ever.  I feel like our society is plagued with moral absolutism that is manifesting itself as a nasty Puritanical streak.  We have removed our consciences and replaced them with groupthink just like poor little Atticus’ parents took his name away from him and changed it to Luke.  As Prose described the state of children’s literature over a decade ago, “…the gross oversimplification…values imagination and empathy less than the ability to make quick and irreversible judgements, to entertain and maintain simplistic immovable opinions about guilt and innocence, about the possibilities of human nature.  Less comfortable with the gray areas than with sharply delineated black and white, he or she can work in groups and operate under consensus and has a resultant, residual distrust for the eccentric, the idiosyncratic, the annoyingly…individual.”

It sounds as if she’s describing America 2018.  

We NEED children to be exposed to ideas that make us adults uncomfortable, that appear to raise issues we’d rather not discuss, that reveal that humanity has endured through many different systems of ethics and values and that at every point in time, what “everyone” thought seemed self-evident, correct, and proper to them at the time.  

And we need it very soon.  If you haven’t read your children the Little House books or haven’t read them yourself, try them.  There are a lot of wonderful things contained in their pages.  Even in the less wonderful things, you may find value.

Happy Thanksgiving.



the toxic hierarchy of female suffering

the toxic hierarchy of female suffering

Trigger alert: involves in depth discussion of pregnancy loss and sexual assault

Women tend to organize themselves into hierarchies.  This is not a terribly surprising observation; after all, the forming of hierarchies is a human characteristic.  Chickens have a pecking order, humans have hierarchies. Unlike chickens, humans have the unusual ability to belong to several hierarchies all at the same time.  It’s often quite a juggling act, managing your positions in the various hierarchies.  Any given person you encounter may be simultaneously above you on one hierarchy, while beneath you on another. Understanding the subtleties of hierarchies and your place within them can tell us how much consideration we need to give another, how much respect they’re due, how much weight to give their opinion, and how much of those things to expect from them in return.

I find that women, even highly accomplished, entirely enlightened women, don’t always or even usually organize based on achievement or success as men tend to do.   I suspect this is at least in part because women are socialized from a very early age not to brag or take (outward) pride in their accomplishments. In fact, the woman who’s perceived as TOO accomplished is often quietly despised by other women.   Women’s hierarchies are generally built around other aspects of personality instead.  We organize based on who’s the nicest, the hardest working, the most generous, the best mom, the most fashionable (not expensively dressed, but fashionable…two different things!) rather than who can deadlift the most weight or who has the fanciest car or who picked up the most boys at the bar last month.

One socially accepted way women form up into hierarchies is on the basis of who has it the worst.  Since suffering is something none of us have earned and all of us could experience at any time, ranking based on pain means women can shuffle ourselves into a hierarchy without rewarding the super high achievers more than they have already been rewarded by the universe, or punishing those who can’t compete in terms of money or intellect or beauty more than they’ve already been punished by life.

Suffering crosses all economic lines and knows no political party or social class. Using suffering as a metric, we women, who generally despise braggarts and arrogance, can sort things out without violating that intensive socialization we received from the cradle – good girls don’t ever mention the things they’re really good at, and good girls always downplay their accomplishments.  Suffering requires no skillset, no well-padded bank account, no delicate features.  Suffering is an accomplishment anyone can attain, thus it’s an ideal way for women to organize into layers of power.

That’s right.  Women attain social currency, even power, through suffering.  

It ain’t pretty, but it’s real.

I have frequently observed this hierarchy in action on fertility websites where I’ve spent many hours over the course of my childbearing years. The woman who has a stillbirth is “above” the woman who had a miscarriage at 10 weeks’ gestation who is “above” the woman who had a chemical pregnancy (a pregnancy that ended shortly after getting a positive pregnancy test.)  By “above” I mean she is more worthy of consideration, she gets extra attention, extra love and care, her opinions on the subjects of loss and pregnancy carry more weight than others’ do. She’s not a queen among women or anything, but there is definitely a kind of special status that is bestowed upon her.

While certainly no one seeks out that status deliberately, once it’s thrust upon you, it would be next to impossible to turn down.  Others WILL treat you differently because they know that you’ve suffered and there’s no getting around it. They put you on the hierarchy whether you want to be there or not.  Minimizing your pain and denying the kindness and consideration others wish to shower you with, not only irritates people (no one likes their kindnesses declined) but also makes you look rather monstrous. Don’t you hurt?  Don’t you care?  People DO wonder and do judge each other’s grief.  So you take your place on the hierarchy, oftentimes begrudgingly, because you have to prove to other people that yes, you hurt, and yes, you care, and yes, you grieve.

This hierarchy of suffering seems fairly obvious, though, right??   While pregnancy loss always is  deserving of sympathy, surely a woman who carried a baby for 9 long months only to lose it just before or during the birth, who still has to go through labor to deliver a dead child and then return home to a beautiful nursery full of baby clothes and toys with empty arms, is in need of more intensive emotional support than a woman who one day got a positive pregnancy test and the very next day got her period.  These two things both suck, but they are not the same, not even close to it. It’s not even rational to entertain the idea that they are in any way equivalent.

But it is in the nature of hierarchies and human beings that sometimes, people who are lower on the hierarchy, want to be higher.   Even when the hierarchy is based on negative experiences, there’s something in us that desires, even if only subconsciously, the benefits that come with higher status.  This occasionally ends up as a very odd state of affairs where some women will behave as if a chemical pregnancy is equal on the hierarchy to a later miscarriage or even a stillbirth, mourning the “loss” as publicly (if you can truly call a positive pregnancy test one day and a period the next, a loss) and passionately as if they had a child who was ripped away from their arms. 

In this hierarchy of suffering, the temptation to make your losses sound a little worse, a little more painful than they really were, is nearly irresistible.  I know this because I’ve succumbed to it myself.  I’ve played up early losses that really didn’t bother me that much because I didn’t want people to think I was a heartless monster who didn’t care about the baby that was no longer in my womb (I cared, of course, I just didn’t feel like I had truly lost a child).  Later on, I found much to my surprise and dismay, that in some ways I enjoyed the attention and status I got from it.  Stranger still, once I began entertaining the notion that my suffering was deserving of more empathy than it probably really was, I began experiencing sorrow commensurate with a greater loss.  Over time, the more I thought about my losses, the more upset I became.  I went into mourning, retroactively, over things that really hadn’t made me that sad at the time.  

Now, please understand, I don’t doubt that many women who have had a chemical pregnancy are very very sad over it.  It is truly a painful experience, especially if you’ve been trying to conceive for some time.  It is only natural to hurt over it, to cry over it, to get angry and shake your fist at the sky over it.  But a chemical pregnancy is in NO WAY akin to what a woman who has had a miscarriage at 12 weeks or 20 weeks or loses a baby during labor experiences.  It is not even rational to equate the two.  Yet some women will act as if their small hurt is worthy of the same consideration as an unimaginable one, and years later will still talk about their loss of a “baby” that existed only for a couple of days. I don’t doubt their turmoil is real, but based on my own experience, I wonder how much comes from the actual loss itself and how much of it is self-inflicted.  When they tell themselves again and again, I’ve had a miscarriage, I’ve lost a child, their spirit responds accordingly.  

To further complicate matters, recall that women often secretly resent the high achievers.  In our toxic hierarchy of female suffering, all too often, women who’ve had stillbirths are treated almost like that girl who everyone secretly hated because she was gorgeous, a straight A student, class president, and captain of the basketball team.  Who does she think she is, anyway, being above me on the hierarchy?  People aren’t mean to women who have had late-term losses of course; they would never express that ugly sentiment openly, or even consciously engage it in their mind.  But they just don’t seem to know what to do with these women who have suffered so greatly.

Their fellow women often end up inadvertently ostracizing them.  For not only do we subconsciously fear the idea that their misfortune might be contagious and keep them at arm’s length for that reason (as we do with everyone who experiences suffering that seems too great to bear), not only do we not know the right things to say and feel awkward and embarrassed and don’t reach out when we should, but on some level we loathe their being above us on the hierarchy.  Not deliberately, but it’s there, just a hint of jealousy that others have done the math and found their suffering to be worse than ours. Even when it IS worse than ours by all objective measure.

Of late, I feel like the #metoo movement has devolved into a similarly perverse hierarchy of toxic suffering.  I think we all instinctively realize that being raped by a stranger is by any objective measure worse than a guy grabbing your ass on the subway.  Acquaintance rape is worse than an unwanted but thankfully brief pass made by a boss.  We’d all probably rather hang out with Aziz Ansari than Louis CK, and Louis CK than Harvey Weinstein…even though none of us want to hang out with Louis CK OR Aziz Ansari.  Sexual aggression is never acceptable, but not all aggressive actions are the same in terms of trauma inflicted. There’s a hierarchy here and it is rational that there is a hierarchy because these experiences are simply not equivalent to each other.  

Yet minor injuries are still injuries.  Of course they cause us pain.  It is only natural to hurt, to cry, to get angry and shake your fist at the sky even over what most would consider a relatively slight offense.  None of these experiences, even the briefest ones, we’d wish on our worst enemy, but it’s simply not rational to insist that a minuscule and momentary violation of sexual consent by an otherwise well-meaning man is in any way equivalent to being grabbed off the street and held captive by a stranger who brutalizes you.  They are not equivalent events any more than a stillbirth and a chemical pregnancy are.

The victims of all sexual harm, great or small, deserve our sympathy.  Be they gaping wounds or hangnails, we should be able to talk about them openly if we wish to, and create awareness of them (just like with pregnancy loss).  We should be able to come together in sisterhood to demand that the little hurts are stopped right alongside the big ones. But I fear that within our sisterhood, we have begun to incentivize pain – the more pain you’re in, the higher your “worth”.  We have turned #metoo into a toxic hierarchy in which we wish to keep the victims of the worst sexual violence at a distance because they remind us that it can happen to us, while simultaneously jockeying for a better position on the hierarchy.  In this climate, the women in the most pain, who have suffered the most grievous wrongs, are being drowned out by a flood of voices many of which are conflating temporary annoyances and awkward moments with violent and sadistic sex crimes.

In a hierarchy based around suffering, the tendency to make our experience sound a little worse, a little more traumatic, is very tempting. There’s a reward – sympathy, attention, respect. In a very real way, it’s getting to the point where you earn your stripes as a woman by sharing a #metoo story. (All women have numerous #metoo stories – men, please think on this.  This article is in no way meant to let you off the hook for bad behavior.)

I feel the urge too.  I really do. Looking back on my life through a #metoo lens I see several unpleasant but thankfully brief experiences in a more sinister light than I did at the time I experienced them.  It’s quite peculiar because even as I do this, I find myself minimizing some terrifying and serious events that occurred.  I think I do this because I perceive them as too embarrassing to share.  I minimize anything with gray areas, anything I feel somehow complicit in, things I worry people might hold against me in some way.  I was drunk, we were in a relationship, I wasn’t assertive enough, I shouldn’t have been out walking alone. I find myself instead revisiting things that didn’t even particularly bother me at the time they happened and dwelling on those instead.  Not only because of “awareness”, not only because I now realize that some things that I thought were normal, acceptable, a by-product of being a woman that you just had to put up with, were actually wrongs. It’s partially that, but it’s not only that. If it was just an increased level of awareness, I’d be talking about the serious things too.  But I don’t.  I push them away, deny them.  I barely even think of them.

The only conclusion I can draw is that on some level I want to be on the hierarchy.  But I want to be on the hierarchy only for things I feel don’t reflect badly upon me in any way.  For things I won’t be judged over. So I focus on the random and momentary events in which I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and keep the really bad things to myself. Because I want to appear both wronged but also entirely innocent, and the really bad things always have some component of self-blame involved.

That seems to me to be a step backwards, a step away from awareness and openness towards a world where women are still keeping secrets, still feeling shame, still blaming themselves and analyzing their behavior to figure out did I lead him on? was this my fault? how could I have prevented this? Even as everyone dissects microaggressions down to the subatomic level, the heaviest burden of sexual assault still falls onto the victims. And the worst perpetrators end up hiding in plain sight, protected by our silence.  Same as it ever was.

Suddenly everyone has a story to tell about how their lives are ruined over a guy that tried to kiss them in 1993, a guy who asked for their phone number on a bus, a guy who looked a little too long or hooted as they walked past on the street.  But the problem is, once you start buying into the idea that every disagreeable sexual experience no matter how small or short-lived, was a violation, a crime, that you are a victim, that the man who wronged you is irredeemably evil, that all men are evil, you WILL start experiencing the emotions to go with it.  Terror and a pervasive sense of victimhood will color everything in your life. The men who wronged you in virtually all cases will never be held accountable, but you will find yourself awash in negative emotions over things that barely even upset you when they happened.

It’s like giving yourself a life sentence for a crime someone else committed.   

When you start telling yourself I was assaulted, I am damaged, I will never recover from this! your spirit listens and you will find yourself beset with feelings that you maybe never had at the time.  Pop psychologists will tell us it’s because we didn’t allow ourselves to feel at the time. We “blocked” our emotions until it was “safe” to experience them. But I believe in many cases, it’s because we didn’t view ourselves as victims.  It’s the sudden sense of victimization that creates the surge of emotion months or even years later. That conviction that something horrible happened. But did something HORRIBLE really happen?  Or merely awkward and unpleasant?  Are we mentally rewriting our script and recasting ourselves as victims because that’s what others are doing and we don’t want to be left out?  

It is a trap that’s very easy to fall into. But if you weren’t deeply upset about something that happened at the time, consider the possibility that you may be psyching yourself up in the here and now to have huge feelings over something that barely even upset you when it occurred. And if you are talking about small things even as you keep the large ones to yourself, is this really freeing you at all?  Or are you still hiding your real pain while exploiting the little things so you can earn your #metoo stripes, like I did?

Straight talk – women are not fragile, easily broken creatures.  I promise. Women have endless reserves of strength and endurance in the face of suffering that most of us never even (thankfully) have to tap into in this modern world.  People – most people who have ever lived, male or female, but especially female – have experienced loss and pain and adversity that most of us living First World today cannot even really imagine.  And yet they rose above those things. They recovered from them. They were NOT destroyed. They lived their lives not as victim but as survivor.

We often criticize our foremothers for staying silent.  Some would call that complicity. But I don’t, not any more.  I understand why they didn’t talk about this stuff.  Because I didn’t talk about this stuff either until I was empowered by the actions of others and even now I keep the truly awful to myself.  Because I don’t want to be judged.  Those ladies of the past did not stay silent because they weren’t as strong and brave as we are (hint – coming forward in a world full of people who are also coming forward and all of you met with thunderous applause, is not as strong and brave as people are telling us that it is) They weren’t weaklings or cowards.  They just didn’t want to be held hostage to their pain forever – a sentiment I completely understand. They didn’t want to go through their life as “that girl who the bad thing happened to” because that would simply compound their suffering.  

So don’t now decide to hold YOURSELF hostage to your own pain forever!

Every human being is wronged countless times over the course of their lives.  But a minor wrong done doesn’t destroy you. Don’t allow another person’s bad behavior to ruin sex for you, to ruin love for you, to make you afraid of everyone and everything forever.  Don’t be in such a hurry to claim your place in the toxic hierarchy of women’s suffering that you end up defining yourself by something that someone else did to you for the rest of your life.  


a (kind of) defense of Brett Kavanaugh

a (kind of) defense of Brett Kavanaugh

if you’re related to me and thinking about reading this essay, it contains some personal information that you may be happier not knowing about and some contemplation regarding events in my childhood that you may be happier not hearing.

The week the Kavanaugh allegations exploded I happened to watch The Breakfast Club.  I hadn’t seen it for years and for some reason I felt nostalgic.  As I watched, found myself rather shocked by the level of sexual aggression in it.  I hadn’t remembered it that way. Molly Ringwald herself has written about it here:

I am slightly younger than Brett Kavanaugh but definitely came of age during the same period in American history.  My parents, apparently asleep at the wheel as so many suburban parents were during that time, allowed me to watch Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Caddyshack, and Porky’s among other, similar fare, when I was in the 6th to 7th grade.  I watched these movies alone or with friends, repeatedly, no adult present to decipher the raunchy humor and sexual situations.  I watched Animal House and Meatballs when my age was still measured in single digits.

This was considered normal at the time.  No one thought anything of it. We talked about the movies incessantly, referenced them constantly, tried to behave as crazily and rebelliously as we could get away with because we were inspired by what we’d seen on the screen.  We became obsessed with drinking and sex, obsessions that lasted all through our high school years.* Our yearbooks were heavily laden with inside jokes and sexual innuendo most of which we barely even understood and would never have done. 

We bragged (lied) about going to keggers, too.  Kids couldn’t even GET kegs – we mostly stole alcohol from our parents or got it from the occasional sketchy 21 year old.  We loved to talk about “keggers” and “spodie odie” and doing Jello shots and getting Everclear from Oregon even though we’d never actually had any of those things.  (I later found out to my very great dismay that it is best to stay away from Everclear from Oregon.)

My parents…well, at least my mother and stepfather, I’m quite sure my dad would have had an entirely different opinion had he known…didn’t really care as long as I didn’t get caught.  If I was caught I was punished in a “wink wink, nudge nudge” kind of way. My mom was happy whenever I showed any signs of being a normal kid rather than an irredeemable social failure. And my stepdad was a partier too, he understood.  Plus I guess I was otherwise a “good kid”.

I’m sure Brett Kavanaugh’s parents felt much the same.   

This was my metric for normal behavior – that teenagers ran around and partied hardy and drank massive amounts of alcohol and the boys were always horny and cool girls put out and that adults pretty much turned a blind eye.  When I watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High as an adult I was mightily surprised to realize it was actually casting teen sexuality and drug use in a fairly negative light but that wasn’t how we interpreted it.  Not at all. We interpreted it as an endorsement and none of the adults in my world said otherwise. My mom walked in once while a friend and I were watching the poolhouse scene where two teenagers are having graphic and impersonal sex, and she said “Ugh!  Why is he still wearing socks??”

It was considered normal at the time.  No one thought anything of it.

I also rewatched Meatballs recently.  I recall preferring Meatballs to other, similar movies because it was much more of a kid movie and well, I was a kid.  I have such fond childhood memories of Meatballs that I almost let my kids watch it with me (luckily, it was late and they’d been super obnoxious that day so I sent em to bed instead.)  Then this happened.  I watched this movie literally a dozen times as a child if not more, and never once picked up on how utterly messed up this scene is.** Bill Murray’s character practically attempts to rape a woman as she pleads with him to stop and actually calls – even screams – for help.  And later on she becomes his girlfriend. That’s what I thought normal was. That’s what I thought sex was. That’s how I thought boys showed you that they liked you. No one told me any different.

I wonder how many times Brett Kavanaugh watched Meatballs?

 I lost my virginity at 15 because I thought that’s what cool girls were supposed to do.  I couldn’t understand why no one wanted to be my boyfriend after I let them have sex with me.  I tried it several times but much to my surprise, nobody ever wanted to be my boyfriend. Nobody ever fell in love with me.  I concluded that it had to be because there was something fundamentally wrong with me, that I was inherently unlovable and probably repulsive.  Because every movie and TV show and even Judy Blume herself told me that I was supposed to have sex with boys. That was what boys wanted and that was what girls were supposed to do and afterwards, the boy would love you and you’d live happily ever after, or at least go to the prom.  I didn’t want sex, I didn’t really even get the point of sex. I wanted a boyfriend. I wanted someone to validate me as lovable and not repulsive. I thought sex was the way to get a boyfriend, and I thought a boyfriend was the way to get validation. That was the message I had internalized and the long-term consequences of that message have made me very unhappy over the course of my life.  Despite being entirely consensual, the actions I undertook as a girl and young woman due to that belief have caused me real emotional trauma. It’s taken me decades to fully set that message aside and I probably never will get over the trauma.

I suspect Brett Kavanaugh had internalized a similar message – that he was supposed to try to get sex from girls because sex with girls was portrayed in every movie we ever watched as the highest accomplishment any teenage boy could attain.  A boy that didn’t try to get sex from girls was a loser because trying to get sex from girls was what boys were supposed to do and if the girl was cool she’d do it with you. Spiking the punch was what awesome non-loser people did at parties (punch was created by God to be spiked, we all knew that) not because you were trying to make girls incapacitated to take advantage of them, but so the adults didn’t know you were drinking their bottle of old forgotten vodka you’d stolen from the back of the liquor cabinet.  

Boys didn’t have to trick or force girls into getting drunk, because girls wanted to get drunk. Everyone wanted to be shitfaced drunk and hopefully make out with someone they liked, that was the whole point of a party. Being drunk was not only fun and exciting, it greased the wheels of social and sexual interactions that you had no idea how to manage and had tons of anxiety about. You went to parties to get drunk and maybe meet someone who liked you so you could suck face (remember when “suck face” was a thing?) and maybe even more than that if you were a cool girl.  No one was at a party for polite conversation or a game of Uno, not even if you went to a Catholic school.

I bet Brett Kavanaugh’s party-dude motivations were a lot like mine.  He wanted to be validated and everything he had seen and heard was telling him that getting sex was the only way to be a man.  Wrestling with girls who didn’t seem to be that into it and were struggling and telling you to stop and even calling for help was totally cool because Bill Murray did it in Meatballs and that girl ended up as his girlfriend in the end so it had to be ok.  Right? Wrestling around with girls like that was just one of the ways that cool guys like Bill Murray got sex.

And that brings me back to The Breakfast Club.  If you haven’t watched The Breakfast Club, one of the main characters is a troubled hooligan by the name of Bender (Judd Nelson), who  sexually harasses Molly Ringwald (playing a character named Claire, a rich spoiled girl). While hiding under a table, Bender looks up Claire’s skirt without permission and it’s implied but not shown that he touches her in some intimate fashion.  Bender says that Claire is uptight and repressed and she needs to embrace her sexuality. He claims that he’s actually trying to help her by pointing this out. This was a recurring theme in the 70’s and 80’s – the uptight, sexually repressed woman, the man who helps her loosen up with his magical penis power, and the happily ever after.

In the end, we find out that John Bender is an abused child and his antisocial, boorish behavior is all because he was shown by the adults around him that kind of behavior is ok.  The reason he’s acting out is because of his pain. The adults around him didn’t protect him and didn’t teach him right from wrong. The adults modeled bad behavior for him and it’s really all he knows.  You can’t blame him for being an asshole and a bad guy, because being an asshole and a bad guy is what he was taught by adults and he is still a child and not fully responsible for his behavior. Bender is not irredeemably damned by being a 17 year old who acts badly, even criminally.  Yet John Bender is a decent guy, underneath. It may take some time, some maturity, and some understanding from others but by the end of the movie we fully believe he will overcome those early negative lessons he received from the world around him, and become a good man, worthy of Claire’s earring, and maybe even her love.  

The subtext of The Breakfast Club is that we’re all taught a lot of things by culture and our parents but part of growing up is that we start to see past those things towards deeper truths.  One of those deeper truths is that we’re all fucked up and figuring it out as we go. We’re all victims of childhood circumstance, born into a certain time and place and culture, to people who may or may not have our best interests at heart and who are themselves all fucked up and figuring it out as they go.  Adulthood means we have to learn to set aside messages that are toxic and unlearn lessons that we totally got an A++ on when we were young.

John Bender was 17.  It was all he knew. Brett Kavanaugh was 17.  It was all he knew. And I know that it was all Brett Kavanaugh knew because it was all I knew when I grew up at about the same time, in the same sort of place.  When I was 17 I concluded that a set of entirely screwed up norms and rules was 100% true because I had watched some movies. When I was 17 I thought movies seemed like a pretty decent way to figure out how the world worked because nobody else was paying any attention to me anyway.  But I was a child and I had a child’s understanding of such things. Just like with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, things that were meant to be commentary, even criticism, I took as endorsement.  Things that were meant to be humor, as outrageous behavior that no person should ever really do, I took as endorsement.  And nobody ever bothered to tell me any different.  As I became an adult, I learned differently and became a different and hopefully better person.  I would not want to be held accountable as a 48 year old woman for what I did at 17. Would you? Would any of us?  

Thus I have a really hard time reconciling 17 year old Jimmy Bennett as an innocent victim of Asia Argento while simultaneously envisioning 17 year old Brett Kavanaugh as the sinister ringleader of a gang rape squad.  Either 17 is old enough to be fully in control of one’s sexual choices or it isn’t. My experience is, that it isn’t, particularly for boys, who have been shown to have trouble with impulse control, particularly when alcohol is involved.  I think we’d be very hard-pressed to find any boy who came of age in the 70’s and 80’s who didn’t engage in some questionable alcohol-fueled sexual behavior that everyone thought was perfectly normal, even developmentally appropriate at that time.  Brett Kavanaugh did not get drunk and hold a girl down at a party this year or last year or ten years ago. This was 35 years ago, a different time and place. He was a teenager, a child still, and not responsible for his actions. When you know better, you do better, and barring any new information that comes to light, Brett Kavanaugh has seemed to mature into a decent and law-abiding adult.

As the days go by, I keep thinking that this just has to be the part of the movie where everyone comes to their senses and  thinks “My God, what are we doing here? Going through the high school yearbook of someone who’s entire adult life has been so respectable that they’re under serious consideration to sit on the Supreme Court?”  It’s absolutely repellent to me that people are going through their political opponents’ high school yearbooks looking for dirt. It turns my stomach. And this has nothing to do with Dr. Ford’s allegations, either.  The same thing was done to Neil Gorsuch and it made my skin crawl then, too.  I’ve seen recent reports from Stephen Miller’s 3rd grade teacher about his behavior as an 8 year old and it disgusts me.

Children are off limits.  Whether it’s Barron Trump or Chelsea Clinton or yes, even young Brett Kavanaugh, children should be off limits.  Childhood should be a time free from the need to present a squeaky clean image to the media. We will be destroying the best parts of childhood in a very real way if we allow this repellent trend to continue on.  Being a teenager is a time of trying on identities and not always getting things right. When I was 17 I had a Chinese Communist hat because I thought communism was super cool and I wanted everyone to know I was a rebel.  Now I know that Chinese Communism killed 100 million people and I feel massively ashamed for ever wearing that hat. There were kids at my school who escaped from the communists in Vietnam on boats and helicopters, leaving friends and family behind to face prison or death, and there I was trotting around the halls in that ridiculous hat.  

When I was 17, I was absolutely unqualified to sit on the Supreme Court.   But what happened when I was 17 was a lifetime ago. 

Is it right or reasonable that people can be tried and found guilty in the court of public opinion decades after the fact for childhood behavior?  For emulating things so widely accepted as normal at the time that they were shown in movies watched by millions of impressionable young people – like binge drinking and yes, even things that we now consider to be sexual assault but didn’t then.  I say this not to minimize the seriousness of what may have happened to Dr. Ford. I say it because at the time, if authority figures would not have seen a boy and a girl wrestling on a bed as sex assault, how can we now retroactively expect a drunk teenager to have seen it that way?  How can we draw conclusions about a person’s character on this basis? I cannot make any sense of the hypocrisy of people many of whom have done the exact same things that Brett Kavanaugh is accused of now, if not far worse, many of whom have pointed fingers at prudish, Puritanical Christians for disapproving of unsupervised coed teenagers and excessive drinking, sitting in judgement over the behavior of a teen boy 35 years ago.

I don’t know if Brett Kavanaugh is telling the truth.  I don’t know if Christine Blasey-Ford is telling the truth.  I think it’s entirely possible that either or both are innocently misremembering events, and that time has blunted both their memories to such an extent that neither accurately remembers what happened.   What I do know is this – we cannot start holding adults responsible for bad behavior – that they cannot be criminally charged with now,  and wouldn’t have been criminally charged with at that time – that they might have done as children. Especially when the rules were different when they were children.  Especially when they were children in a world in which the adults had temporarily abdicated responsibility and left a generation of kids trying to piece the world together with the assistance of National Lampoon and Black Label Beer.

Especially especially when they were children a long time ago and have lived their adult lives as an otherwise decent person.  We understand this principle when it comes to Jean Valjean or Red from The Shawshank Redemption.  A person can do something wrong, even criminal, when young and go on to live a productive life, to be a credit to society in some fashion.  And at some point justice is no longer served by punishing them for a crime long ago.  At some point, punishing a person for a long-ago crime crosses the line into revenge. As an adult, by all accounts, Brett Kavanaugh has been a credit to society.

If the things we did when we were 17 are now fair game for criticism, even censure, what army of saints are we going to find to serve in public office?  Who will we find who has a clean enough history? Mike Pence, maybe, but most people interpret Pence’s choirboy image as a sign that he’s a warped and abnormal human being.  Far more likely is that people will just become better at hiding peccadilloes, covering things up, paying people off, driving their sins even deeper underground. Parents will need to become even more helicopter-y than they already are, because apparently these things really do go on your permanent record.  In addition to fighting to get toddlers into Ivy-League preschools, we’ll all have to hire publicists, handlers, and social media managers for our 10 year olds (and of course, only the very rich will have the money for all this). Our nation will end up being led by prim, prissy, goody-two-shoes who’ve never fully lived, or by incredibly wealthy people whose entire lives have been so micromanaged that we have no idea the type of leaders they’d become.  Or maybe and probably most likely, by people who are so good at burying secrets that we can never know what kind of person they even are.

Like they said in The Breakfast Club “We’re all pretty bizarre.  Some of us are just better at hiding it than others.”   Do we really want to be governed by bizarre people who are just really good at hiding how bizarre they actually are?

Maybe instead of setting the behavioral bar so high no one can cross it, it’s better to acknowledge that we’re all human and all make mistakes in our childhoods.  Unless those mistakes have been officially added to the public record at the time, or are part of a larger pattern that continued into adulthood, we need to let those potential mistakes go.  Let’s just stick with the public record and behavior of our adult politicians because only adults are fully responsible for their behavior. Let them show us how they will lead and in the case of judges, rule, and let the stuff they did as teenagers stay in the past where it belongs.

*I had a Peechee I used for years – well into high school – upon which I had drawn a giant, grinning penis man wearing a top hat and a monocle.  My friends and I would pat him for luck before important tests. He was named Ralph (whatever Kavanaugh’s inner circle meant by “Ralph”, to us, “Ralph” meant penis a la Judy Blume’s book Forever which prominently featured a penis named Ralph).   I still have it.

 **What’s worse is that it even looks to me like the actress is uncomfortable with it, like maybe beloved Bill Murray was taking things way too far and going off script with some of it.


conservatism and feminism both end in -ism

conservatism and feminism both end in -ism

Hey, that’s the tagline of my blog!  See what I did there??

One of the questions I’ve hoped to explore more fully in this blog is this: can you be both a conservative and a feminist.

Yes.  Yes you can.

There, that was easy.

But srlsly tho.  Why is it even a question?  Why couldn’t a person be both a conservative and a feminist?  Why can’t those things coexist within one person? Why do feminists have to be only liberal?  Is feminism really linked inextricably to liberalism?

I looked up feminism in the dictionary: “The advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.”  That doesn’t seem in any way partisan. To me, it only makes sense for feminism to be independent of political ideology.  After all, women have a set of commonalities and needs that differ from those of other groups and have mutual political and cultural goals that grow out of those commonalities and needs.  

Why can’t people seem to wrap their heads around that?  

Women have things in common, what a shocker.  Men have things in common. Children have things in common.   Parents have things in common. Americans have things in common.  Canadians have things in common. Various groups of all stripes and sorts have things in common.  Conservatives have things in common and liberals have things in common. I’m sure we could sit and draw up a supercomplicated Venn diagram to illustrate the ways in which specific qualities apply to more than one group.  It is only natural various groups might wish to form advocacy groups to lobby for their individual needs/wants even if they happen to belong to other groups at the same time that have different, even conflicting needs/wants.

There are absolutely things that would overlap between the conservative circle and the women circle in that Venn diagram.  There are goals both political and cultural that women have, all women, across the political spectrum, that require advocacy.

You know that old expression “the squeaky wheel gets the grease?”  Well, it’s true. Nothing in this world gets accomplished by sitting quietly, politely, and awaiting notice. I have found in life that sitting in a ladylike fashion hoping silently for fair treatment generally ends with me being treated like a pack mule – only with fewer carrots. Thus, women across the political spectrum, by virtue of their shared needs, are in need of some type of organized group that says “hey, we’re going to be treated a certain way in the eyes of the law and the government and that’s not open for negotiation because we’re a force to be reckoned with.”  And sometimes an advocacy group becomes a movement. Hence, feminism.

I believe the difference between conservatives and liberals boils down to one simple fundamental difference in mindset, and that this difference sheds light on the conservative/feminism question.

Conservatism is founded on the principle that humans possess a relatively unchanging fundamental nature and that the job of humanity is to discover the best way to live in that nature for maximum happiness, prosperity, and all the rest of that delightful shit for the benefit of everyone.  Like dogs, cats, bunny rabbits, and Komodo dragons, humans universally are a particular set of behaviors and we have to take those behaviors into account when designing our laws and governments and workplaces and families and sexual relationships.

Obviously, conservatives have not always gotten it right.  Historically, they’ve absolutely come up with ways to live and govern that didn’t bestow max happiness and prosperity equally upon everyone – but overall, that’s what modern day conservatives are going for (whether they really know that or not).  It doesn’t matter if you’re a fundamentalist Christian and believe that God created Man in his image or if you’re an atheist and believe that that natural selection has shaped the human genome in a certain way, conservatives believe humans are a thing and that thing doesn’t change at least within our lifetimes, and so we gotsta take human nature into account when building a society and creating the rules that govern that society.

Now liberals, on the other hand, don’t believe this.  They’re blank slaters – they think humans can be improved and should be improved and if only they can figure out how to do that, that humans will change faster than Lady Gaga changes her outfit.  Liberals believe that if they have a college degree (which, they totally DO) and some fucking compliance then utopia could become a reality. They want to use the hand of government not as a carefully designed tool to moderate and mitigate human foibles, but as a carefully designed tool to improve upon human nature itself.  

Liberals believe in alchemy, human alchemy, transforming a “person” (just a social construct anyway) into something else, something they believe will be better, eventually, maybe, after breaking a few eggs, and they believe that changing the fundamental structure of society as a whole is a means to that end. They believe that government exists to change society, culture, and human nature because there is no human nature and so culture and society are simply things that the government should be able to fiddle around with in order to accomplish this utopian dream.

If they only had the right kind of carrot and the right kind of stick, liberals believe they could turn that pack mule not only into a thoroughbred racehorse, but into a flying car.  Conservatives believe that mules will always be mules and so when constructing a flying car one needs to take the actual shape and size of the mule into account when designing it even when it makes the car look a little clunkier and less aesthetically pleasing for those who care about such things.  Maybe it gets a little worse gas mileage. Maybe it’s slightly less efficient. Maybe it wasn’t designed by Elon Musk and doesn’t have the “cool” factor liberals seem to prize so highly. It’s still better than building a flying car to fit a Komodo dragon when a mule is gonna flying the damn thing.

I happen to fall into the conservative category and I believe that humans are a certain way and nothing you can do will ever ever ever change that (well, maybe by waiting a million years or so).  I want a culture and government and laws based in the reality of human behavior instead of a fantasy about what human beings “should” be. So I find liberal efforts to change humanity not just wrong but actually rather evil, since a lot of that changing seems to take place at the end of a gun.  I don’t mean to say liberals, the individuals, are evil, but their idea of using the law and the culture as a brickbat to actually, legitimately try to change human nature – a nature I believe to be set in stone by hundreds of thousands of years of evolution and/or God – I find that to be an evil concept.

Because you can put a lion into a zoo but you aren’t ever going to make it into anything but a lion.  It’s not going to turn into a porpoise because you put it in an aquarium. It’s just going to drown. It’s not going to turn into a guinea pig because you feed it celery.  It’s just going to starve. Lions need a certain kind of environment just like humans need a certain kind of environment and it’s incumbent upon those who are running the zoo to figure out what environment is best for lions to live in, and provide it to them so they can live the best and happiest lion life they can lead.  

The female lions in the zoo have certain innate needs; some are the same as the male lions, but not all of them are, and in fact the female lions and their cubs (because can we be real here? Children fall into the female sphere, and only a liberal would pretend otherwise) may even need extra protection from the male lions.

This seems relatively simple until you realize that the lions are actually running the zoo and so you’re putting one lion in charge of the other lion and so you have to take that into account when designing your zoo.  Lion nature being what it is, if you don’t build some sort of safeguard into the system, you’re going to end up with the lion zookeeper keeping all the best meat for themself while feeding the other lions celery.  We certainly don’t want the lion zookeeper thinking “well why CAN’T lions be porpoises?” and launching into a grand campaign to acclimate lions gradually to watery environments (starting first with the lion zookeepers’ political enemies).   And the lion zookeeper can’t expect male lions to act any differently than male lions act, ruling over the pride with threat of violence towards the lionesses and their cubs, doing little work and taking all the benefits despite that, and constantly fighting with the other male lions. But you can’t blame or punish the male lions for that, because they’re male lions, it is in their nature, and the lionesses kind of like them that way anyway.  You just have to acknowledge that their nature is real, it is not their fault and nor is it going to be easy for them to overcome it, and take all of that into consideration, that’s all.

When designing our lion habitat, a balance must be struck between respecting the lion’s (both male and female lions, since their needs and natures do not identically mesh) inherent nature as a bloodthirsty, selfish killing machine while at the same time limiting harm to other lions and respecting their inherent natures too.  Because the whole point of our zoo is to allow the most lions – male, female, weak, strong, old, young – to thrive at their most happiest lion level. It can’t be a habitat where the lion zookeepers make impossible promises that they cannot keep in which all lions will have perfect lives because utopia isn’t an option and utopia generally ends up looking like whatever suits the bosses best. But it could be a habitat where lions can be lions and do lion things with as much freedom as it’s possible for them have while still not indulging that lion nature to the furthest degree and ending up in a terrible world where everyone is killing each other all the time.

For me, that’s what the small government conservativism I subscribe to is all about.  My right to swing my fist (or paw) ends before it hits the other guy’s face (or muzzle).  And as women, sometimes we need to team up to prevent any flying fists, both literal and figurative, from heading our way.  And for me, that’s what feminism is all about.  Since we’re littler and have historically had less money and power, and maybe, just maybe because there are some innate human quirks that make people (both men and women) fall into gender-based patterns that aren’t best for maximizing women’s happiness and potential, we gals need to stick together to advocate for ourselves both legally and in the culture as a whole.  (fun fact – you do not always need to use the force of law to advocate for yourself!)

You can be both a conservative and a feminist.  For reals.  You can both believe that humans have a fundamental set nature that needs to be respected and protected and allowed for, while still acknowledging that male human needs and female human needs do not identically mesh and sometimes female human needs ought to be advocated for and male urges need to be mitigated.  It is ridiculous to say that just because I’m a conservative, that I’m somehow not still a woman, that I don’t want and deserve the right to vote and to own property and to not get raped by a stranger for wearing a miniskirt or beaten up by my husband and to be able to protect my children from those who would do them harm (even if that IS my husband).  

Just because I don’t agree with some (ok, most) feminists on the social engineering stuff, just because I don’t agree that lions can be turned into porpoises if only you spray them gently with sprinklers while shaming them viciously on Lionfacebook whenever they move to a dry corner, that doesn’t mean that I favor nature, red in tooth and claw, where women and children are property and men get to make all the decisions in society because they have more muscles.  Because not only would that world suck (even for the men!) the fact is, the lions are running the zoo here. Great caution must be taken to ensure that the lion zookeepers aren’t using their power for their own benefit at the expense of others. The female lions have got to have input into the way the zoo is run so they can advocate for themselves and their children. Otherwise we end up with a system where the people making decisions are the strong and powerful people because humans have a nature and that’s one of the pitfalls of human nature – the strong and powerful will gravitate to positions of leadership and absolute power corrupts absolutely.   But at the same time this doesn’t mean that the female lionesses are always right and it certainly doesn’t mean they are incorruptible, either.  Strong and powerful people can sometimes look a lot more like Diane Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi than Lou Ferrigno and Larry the Cable Guy, believe it or not.

Now, a lot of people have realized this truth along the way, that you an be a feminist and a conservative and tried to come up with fancy new terms for it like “womanism” or “femaleism” and all I can say to that is UGH.  Look, the English language is full of words that have more than one meaning like “salad” or “set” or “crane” and our clever human brains are capable of using one word to mean different things all of which have nuance to them depending on the context.  “Feminism” is a fine word and will suffice. But we as conservative feminists do need to advocate for a subset of feminism where we can exist and advocate for women’s rights and children’s rights.  We need to exist as feminists without everyone assuming that just because we believe women and children  (perhaps maybe even including children who are unborn) should have rights that exceed that of pack mules, just because we want to be respected by the culture and by the law as fully actualized individuals, this doesn’t mean that we therefore buy into every cockamamie idea that underlies the liberal philosophy.  They’re two totally different things and much of what liberals claim feminism is, is actually, actively BAD for women!

The feminism circle in our Venn Diagram DOES NOT exist solely within the liberal circle.  Feminism is not Lesotho. And really, isn’t it pretty damn sexist to assume that feminism can only exist under the protective umbrella of liberalism?  That women can’t think for themselves and have viewpoints that are different from this other social movement? That women might prefer freedom and not having Mommy Government telling us what to do with our bodies in every arena but sex and abortion (am I the only one who doesn’t get that, like, at all?  “Your body, your choice” with abortion, but you damn well better not drink a 32 ounce soda or smoke cigarettes because that is BAD for you and we all need to live to be 108 years old because human life is so totally precious and everything).

Liberals do NOT have the answers.  In fact, I think they have precisely NONE of the answers.  Maybe they did at one time but not any more because the things they used to believe in, like freedom and tolerance and having a sense of humor and stickin’ it to the Man, they seem to have forgotten about now that they have become the Man themselves.  (and if you self-ID as a feminist and a liberal because of things that happened in the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s, you may want to go take a closer look at what the hardcore liberals are really saying nowadays because it may not be what you thought it was).  

Social engineering and victim mentality and political correctness and Nannystatism are creating a society and a culture that I HATE. Honestly, I think all of us hate it, it’s that some people are so committed to liberalism as a religion that they have lost the ability to see clearly the cause and effect here.  Without hyperbole I can say that cultural norms and valuable legal standards that protect not only men but women and women’s children (shockingly, some women’s children ARE men!  AAAA they’re already inside the house!!) are being destroyed left and right…or should I say, left and left, since the left is the driving force behind it.

Don’t celebrate, feminist friends. When things go wrong, when the ties that bind us disintegrate, it is the most vulnerable who pay the highest price.  Women will foot the bill, they always do. Our civil rights will evaporate before anyone else’s and they’ll take the longest to come back again.

It is a critical PART of my feminism to stand against liberalism because it is better for women.  Women will be safer and better off in a small-government conservative world than in a liberal one.  Conservatism isn’t perfect; historically conservatives have absolutely gotten things wrong.  Conservatives must do better in the future at protecting EVERYONE’s rights, not only the strong and powerful.  But we can’t do that if liberals continue taking a battle axe to legal protections, civil liberties, and cultural norms that exist for the benefit and protection of all people – women, minorities, LGBTQ, children – out of a misguided attempt to turn lions into pussycats. 

It’s not going to work, it can never work, because humans are a thing and that thing is not going to change for a very, very long time.  We have to make laws for the world as it is, not a world we can imagine in our minds.  So not only is it possible to be a feminist and a conservative, it’s a necessity.



a tale of two twitties

a tale of two twitties

Context.  Context matters.  Context explains the larger meaning of the things we see and hear and brings into focus events too faraway to see clearly.  Context changes a hero into a war criminal and an ice cube to a something that can sink the Titanic. Context lets us hear an honest whisper through the hum of a million lies.

We live in a post-context reality.  Not post-truth like the pundits claim, but post-context. We could easily judge the truth of things we read and hear if only we could put them in context.  But context takes time and the news cycle happens fast – too fast for the average person keep up with. Offhand remarks are replayed in a loop, their context long ago forgotten. Tweets written in a moment live on forever in infamy.   Viral stories become runaway trains. And since we’re drowning in information who has the time to go back and thoroughly investigate the origin story of something potentially inflammatory?  Chumps, that’s who. People with no lives who have nothing better to do with their days. It’s so much easier to just hop on the bandwagon and let the flames of outrage burn higher.

When Kevin Williamson got fired from The Atlantic, I thought it was crap.  I wrote about it here:  But at the same time, my knee jerk reaction is that it was questionable and concerning policy for the New York Times to hire Sarah Jeong given her tweet history.  

I try pretty hard to keep a fair and balanced viewpoint.  I don’t think I live in a bubble and I don’t believe I am a rabid partisan, either.  Because I do try to hold myself to a higher standard, I really wanted to unravel the logic underlying my knee jerk feelz to see if I was onto something or if I was just a hypocrite.  And in doing so, I have concluded that the difference between Kevin Williamson and Sarah Jeong is context. The context is big and unruly and very likely impossible to unravel in one innocent lil thinkpiece.  But I’ll try, because in our divided nation, context matters more than any of us have realized.

There’s an expression that I really like.  It’s this: “Two buttheads met and they butted heads.”   Meaning that sometimes in life, two jerks or groups of jerks have a head-on collision and there’s a really huge explosion in which both parties were at fault and no one walks away from the flames unscathed putting on their cool sunglasses while a rock soundtrack plays in the background.  Sometimes there are no innocent victims. Sometimes, everyone implodes and everyone deserves it. Sometimes, two buttheads just kinda…butt heads. And let me just get that out of the way now. I think Kevin Williamson was an immensely unhelpful douche for saying what he said and I think Sarah Jeong was also an immensely unhelpful douche for saying what she said.  They’re both guilty of pot-stirring when the pot is bubbling along just fine without their input, thanks ever so.

BUT.  It is entirely possible to find people basically assholes but at the same time believe that they have the right to exist and say whatever they want.  It is also possible to not like what these people have to say, and yet still choose to listen to their assholery, or at least coexist with it, because words don’t kill people.  Additionally, places of employment should not have to feel obligated to hire or fire people who have expressed problematic viewpoints.  Again, one can think that these places of employment are right or wrong to do so, even as we defend overall their right to employ who they wish.  Our opinions on any or all of these things may – indeed WILL – vary due to circumstances.  Because context. Different situations have different context and context matters.  

In one corner, we have Kevin Williamson, who has said some controversial stuff but worst of all, the realio-trulio dealbreaker was that on two known occasions in 2014, one Tweet and one podcast said that even though he didn’t really believe in the death penalty, if abortion was made illegal, it would be murder, and thus would be subject to the death penalty.   Hanging, he said, would be too good for them. Ok. He’s an offensive guy. He’s certainly offended me before

I don’t find the things Kevin says to be always or even usually helpful to the greater dialogue but he has made me think about some things that I hadn’t thought about before.  

Then we have Sarah Jeong, who has said all this stuff.   Please read this entire thread, because context matters.  Jeong is clearly making a concerted effort to be consistently and openly offensive over a period of several years.  This is not an offhand, spur of the moment remark she let slip a couple of times years ago, this is hundreds of tweets over a long period of time, this is an argument she is deliberately constructing for public consumption.  And you can tell me all about how this was countertrolling, sarcasm, etc etc etc, that there was a larger point she was making, and I actually fully agree. I see and understand what she was going for with all that and many of her larger points weren’t wrong.   Just like the writing of Kevin Williamson, the tweets of Sarah Jeong made me think about things in ways I hadn’t thought of before. I don’t find the way she said them to be particularly helpful to the larger cultural debate, but I did certainly think after reading these tweets in a way I hadn’t before. 

The issue is not what Sarah Jeong said.  Full stop. The issue is context. The issue is conflating one tweet and an offhand remark in a podcast with YEARS of tweets and deriding anyone who dares to say “ya know, these things really aren’t quite the same thing at all” as hypocritical.  But Williamson and Jeong aren’t the same thing and it seems extremely duplicitous when people say that they are. The contexts were totally different, and given that kajillions of people then went out and wrote pretty involved thinkpieces passionately defending Sarah Jeong because racism and explaining the greater context of her tweets (when the Scooby Gang unmasked the villain, it was pesky Old Man White Supremacy the entire time!) ya can’t tell me that most of the people sounding off on this don’t understand the notion of context.  

So that leaves me wondering if hypocrisy has been weaponized just like everything else and I am sad to conclude that yeah, it kinda has.

But that’s a thinkpiece for a different day.  Today is about two buttheads butting heads and the greater context in which that occurred.  Am I correct in thinking that what happened to Kevin (where he was punished for free speech) was kinda shitty and what happened with Sarah (where she wasn’t) is kinda troubling?  Can I have those two opinions at the same time without being a huge hypocrite – not using the weaponized definition of hypocrite where everyone on the right is one and no one on the left is, but using my own definition of hypocrisy?  

I’m totally ok with what Sarah Jeong, private citizen, was saying on Twitter.  I’m not saying that she should be banned from society, and I’m 100% NOT saying our girl SJ shouldn’t work somewhere in media making an exorbitant amount of money.  But the New York Times is not just any online magazine. The New York Times is supposed to be America’s pre-eminent news source. I have a golden vision of journalism as a force of good in my heart and mind and the New York Times is enthroned at the top of the pantheon as a wise and fair source of daily news for all America.  

The Atlantic is also there in that pantheon as well – it’s actually my fave news source and I read it most days, far more often than I read the NYT.  But The Atlantic isn’t a daily paper where people go to get their day’s news. The Atlantic is a news magazine, an amalgam of writers from a lot of different schools of thought – like one big editorial page.  The Atlantic is made up of lots of people with lots of opinions and worldviews and backgrounds putting out a unified product. Those of us who read it know that going in and don’t expect a lack of bias from their writers. In fact, the bias is kind of the point; you’re reading editorials and not straight news.  Kevin Williamson at The Atlantic seems more natural a fit than Sarah Jeong at the New York Times. And Jeong is not just a writer at the NYT, she was hired to be on the EDITORIAL BOARD. That means she decides what news is fit to print!

It just seems sort of bizarre that anyone with a history of aggressively giving offense to an entire group of people and expressing opinions that seem at least to me, extreme, regardless of how she intended them, should be hired by a media outlet that is supposed to be unbiased, fair, trustworthy.   A media outlet that is supposed to be fully committed to giving America real news and truth and yes, accurate context, in a world in which those things seem to be under attack from all comers. The NYT is supposed to be fighting off fake news and truthiness like Neo in the middle of an army of Agent Smiths.  In that light, hiring Sarah Jeong seems kinda like putting a fox in charge of the henhouse, doesn’t it??  Journalists and public figures have been dragged on Twitter and even fired from allegedly “unbiased” media outlets for far, far less egregious statements than Jeong’s (when they were on the incorrect side of the liberal agenda, that is). And it has happened so often I’m not even going to go dig up links because either you’ve seen this happen repeatedly or else you’re not paying attention because your mind is already made up and wouldn’t read the links anyway.

Isn’t bias in journalism bad?  I mean that’s the story I’ve heard – Fox News is like SUPER bad because they are partisan and partisanship in journalism is like, the worst and stuff, and so Fox News should be more neutral, you know, more like the New York Times.  Except for that pesky notion that a lot of people, even eminently reasonable ones like me don’t really find the New York Times to be neutral in that “journalists should be neutral” kinda way. That’s why it’s so easy for Donald Trump to get people cheering when he criticizes them – because many already perceive the NYT to be heavily biased.  It’s not exactly like they’re the Switzerland of newspapers, come on.  

It feels very weird to me when a group of people are telling me out of one side of their mouths that bias in journalism is this terrible thing because Fox News and then the very next second one of the most prestigious newspapers, like, in human history, goes out of their way to hire someone – to their editorial board! – who is clearly uberbiased.

Democracy dies in darkness, people.  The truth is more important now than ever!  And by the way, white people stink like wet dogs.  Y u no respect my authority?

Almost feels as if someone realized “ok wow these rightwing whackjobs are trying to beat us at our game, now they’re all like pretending to get offended by so-called racist shit now, GAWD, don’t they know it’s impossible to be racist against white people, ok, whatever, guess they’re not accepting our always-changing definition of the word racism, FFS, so let’s drop the pretense that we aren’t totally biased and go balls deep in it now.”  Since that last sentence was a fun trainwreck that I don’t want to delete, I’ll rephrase: Since some mostly conservative people no longer blindly, silently accept the double standard where it’s fine for everyone else to be perpetually offended except for them, and are actually calling leftists out on their hate speech, the NYT (supposed to be unbiased) has decided to embrace its bias with both arms, both legs, and a prehensile tail. And I’m supposed to hold this up against a dude who said a couple times, with a lot of hemming and hawing, his opinion on something.  A dude who was actually HIRED to write a certain viewpoint by the Atlantic, a mag whose whole entire genie gig entails having a lot of writers of a lot of different viewpoints. Srsly?

Nah.  It’s not the same thing.  Stop trying to tell me it’s the same thing.  Because I know the context and you aren’t fooling me. 

Let’s talk about what Kevin Williamson actually even said.  He said that he was torn on capital punishment but IF one wanted to make abortion illegal, one would have to treat it like any other homicide.  And he also said “hanging’s too good for them” which seems shocking until one understands that Williamson was an unwanted baby, given up for adoption, frequently told as a boy by his adoptive mother that he should have been aborted.  He has wondered publicly if abortion had been legal at the time of his birth, if he would have even been born. Kevin Williamson is entitled to have a complicated, yes even messy opinion on the issue of abortion, just as much as Sarah Jeong is entitled to have a complicated, yes even messy opinion on racism.  

The FACT is, if we as a nation would choose to make abortion illegal, we would have to come to terms with the need for punishment, which we may not be ok with.  Kevin Williamson’s OPINION – at least his opinion he expressed twice in 2014 – is that in the case of women who have abortions, “hanging’s too good for them”. I’ve used that expression a few times, like about people who abuse animals, for instance.  I did not literally mean that I wanted people who have harmed animals to be rounded up and hanged. I wasn’t building a gallows in my backyard or encouraging people to go out and round up animal abusers. I just read a liberal acquaintance publicly calling for people who enabled sex offenders like Larry Nassar, to be hanged – not even the sex offenders themselves, but enablers.  And amazingly, I did not dial 911 to report my acquaintance for making threats.

“Hanging’s too good for them” is a fucking expression, people. It’s a thing people say to reflect their opinion that something someone has done is really, really bad. Not a call to arms, not a demand for public policy, an expression like “Are you working hard or are you hardly working?”

I mean really – when someone asks “How’s it hanging” you don’t immediately assume OMG this person is literally suggesting I am hanging Cousin It, do you?

Williamson wasn’t saying that women who have had abortions should be rounded up and hanged, he wasn’t saying that the death penalty was a good idea – he actually said he was “squishy” on it, if I recall his exact words.  He wasn’t even saying that abortion should be illegal. He was saying that IF we were to take that step, here’s the logical followthrough of taking that step, and I think that is a valuable point to make. Particularly to conservatives who often call (IMO) quite recklessly for abortion to be made illegal without thinking through what a world with illegal abortion would actually look like.

Contrary to popular belief, one can be both adamantly pro-life and have a reasonable and realistic view of the lengths it would take to make abortion illegal.  Williamson wrote thoughtfully and reasonably about the subject here:  I am not a fan of abortion either, but would never make it illegal due to the costs to civil liberties and I’ve written about that here:  It is clear to me Kevin Williamson has done quite a lot of deep thinking about this topic and he has a very nuanced opinion on it.  When you look at his statement in the context of his personal history and other things he’s written, not to mention simple good sense, it comes off not as the call to action that some were disengenuously claiming it to be, but as far more a message (warning) to conservatives. 

Above all else, what Kevin Williamson is, is an internal critic of conservatism.

Williamson’s deeper message, for those who would bother to listen instead of running off to don The Handmaid’s Tale cosplay outfits, is that conservatives cannot have it both ways.  Conservatives can’t call for abortion to be criminalized without first wrestling with the consequences – real, actual, living breathing women would have to be punished for having abortions to the furthest extent of the law.  His point was valid and valuable; beyond that, both corporal punishment and abortion rights are freely debated political topics that a political journalist really ought to be able to express opinions on, even unpopular ones, because they’re being actively debated in the public sphere.

Most of Jeong’s statements had literally NOTHING to do with valid political discourse. Williamson at the least was discussing real political subjects that politicians and journalists have debated openly in the public sphere for decades – the death penalty and criminalizing abortion. Williamson was discussing serious issues that politicians may or may not enact into laws that will then be enforced.  Jeong was saying she takes joy in being mean to elderly white men and that white people should live underground like goblins.

Kevin Williamson was engaging in political speech.  Sarah Jeong was engaging in divisive personal attacks against an entire race of people in the guise of humor. She can say whatever the hell she would like on a variety of topics; she doesn’t need to limit herself to political issues, of course.  And of course, the New York Times can hire her despite her having said those things. God bless America. But it is not the same thing as Kevin Williamson because of the context.  So that leaves me wondering how can millions of people call ME a hypocrite for thinking it’s bad form for a journalist to be fired for having an opinion on a legitimate political topic while defending derogatory statements (and again, there were hundreds of them, dating back years) that have nothing whatever to do with political issues?

Thus I have concluded I am not a hypocrite. A journalist who is expressing unpopular opinions on actual topics in the political sphere deserves to be treated with at the least, equal regard to someone who may call themselves a journalist but is deliberately trying to troll and offend.  If you believe in free speech, free discourse, and the concept of a pluralistic society I simply believe you have got to respect ALL speech, period, end of story.

Gobs of people came forth to write thinkpieces full of mental gymnastics defending Sarah Jeong.  Here’s one of many:  Thoughtfulness and sympathetic reads don’t seem to be in short supply for Sarah’s POV, even among people I genuinely like and respect, and it’s really quite concerning to me that the same people who would bend over backwards to defend Jeong’s freedom of speech, and the NYT’s right to hire whoever they want, seem to have that sympathy dry up completely when it’s someone whose politics they happen to disagree with.

Now some would say that we are living in desperate times and desperate times call for desperate measures.  We have a madman in charge of the nation and maybe, just maybe things like fairness and freedom of speech have to be less important than #resisting and so sticking up for the dubious rights of loudmouth blowhards like Kevin Williamson simply has to take a back seat for a while.  Every day I am told by people who know these things, like the New York Times for instance, that things are worse than ever in this country and Trump’s rhetoric is to blame.  Here’s one article of many.  All of us, including precious, precious children, are being harmed by Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric.  Because Trump is normalizing hatespeech and disrespect!

Why, Trump is even attacking the sacred media itself! At the end of July, July 20 to be exact, the owner of the Gray Lady (that’s the New York Times, y’all) implored that vile villainous venomspewer Trump to stuff a sock in his antimedia blather before someone actually got HURT by his naughty naughty words.  Here’s an article from July 29 about it.  By the first of August, the NYT had hired Sarah Jeong.  

Anyone else got whiplash?

So let me get this straight.  Trump is bad because his words are inflammatory and inflammatory speech could inspire hatred and trigger action, right?  Trump is bad because his words could have a ripple effect that could normalize rudeness and eat away at civility, right? But Sarah Jeong wrote inflammatory things for YEARS and yet the most prestigious newspaper in the country hiring her was ok because…why exactly again? Can someone please explain to me how these two viewpoints can coexist in any way unless there is a huge double standard for liberals vs. conservatives?  If inflammatory words from respected authority figures can truly inspire hatred and trigger action, if they can truly destroy the very fabric of our peaceful society by normalizing rudeness and ugly language, why is it ok for inflammatory words – indeed, real hate speech – to be tolerated, nay, ENDORSED, by the New York Times?

Again, and againandagainandagainandagain what these supposed bastions of truth and honesty are showing me is that where the New York Times is concerned, anything is fine when it’s done by the left. Perpetual outrage, getting journalists fired over speech that falls well within the realm of the political, defending the most heinous and outrageously extreme language – all totally kewl coming from left of the aisle.  All while clucking their tongues and rending their clothes over the right’s rhetoric.

Isn’t Sarah Jeong – even if, as she says, that she was just countertrolling – normalizing anti-white-people rhetoric?  It sure seems like it to me. I believe fully in free speech but I do have to agree that the more people in positions of authority talk in inflammatory and derogatory ways, the more it spreads to everyone else.  So if Trump’s vicious verbal diarrhea is bad on July 20, how can you defend Sarah Jeong on August 1 with any credibility at all?

And ya wonder why crowds cheer when Donald Trump lambastes the media.  They cheer because this IS bias plain and simple and it is freaking obvious and the mass denial coming from millions of people on the left given the larger context is absolutely terrifying.  Leftists are telling us – and not only right wing whackaroos, but just normal everyday people like me who would prefer to not pay any attention to politics – that the rules don’t apply to those on the left, they apply only to those on the right, all the while pretending that the rules are fair and the playing field is level and the sky is green and up is down.  We are told that the concerns of conservatives are “fever dreams”, mass hallucinations brought on by one too many Alex Jones shows, there is no persecution going on here, no double standard, nope nu-uh none whatsoever and a woman who wrote hundreds of disgusting and in my opinion, downright frightening tweets over the course of years has the God-given right to sit on the editorial board of the most prestigious, respected newspaper in American history.   All this is somehow absolutely a-ok and I should continue to fully respect and trust that newspaper and further, I should believe that any division in our nation is solely because of Trump.

Hey media fucktards, a recap – YOU got Donald Trump elected firstly by giving him tons and tons and TONS of free publicity whilst simultaneously running down, even publicly humiliating all the legit Republican candidates because you thought Hillary would easily defeat Trump.  But that wasn’t the only way you created Trump. No, no. You created, elevated, and elected Trump by scaring millions of American people about the intentions of the left. That’s right, people out here in the Heartland are terrified of the liberal movement right now.  People on the right, and even in the center, are scared by the left’s behavior and rhetoric (and if you don’t get why, please go reread Sarah Jeong’s tweets). So when we look at our beloved American journalistic institutions like the Atlantic and the New York Times and see them embracing leftist extremism while simultaneously practicing censorship of people who they politically disagree with, it’s concerning.  Highly concerning. I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to see it, either, and when people I otherwise like and respect go all perplexed and say “I simply cannot see what anyone on the right could possibly have to be scared about” in this environment, that only troubles my troubled mind even more so.

Because it feels to me like this is a concerted effort to wage a surreptitious war against the right. Sarah Jeong is just another data point that this is fer realz, that this cold slithery feeling I have in the pit of my belly when I think about the future is entirely justified.  Scared people tend to circle the wagons and start embracing aggressive tactics and strongman-types. It isn’t because they want to, it isn’t that they necessarily agree with the strongman on everything all the time. It is because they feel that they have to, because if one side is secretly sharpening pitchforks and lighting torches while the other side is off chasing butterflies with their John McCain memorial butterfly net, that’s an imbalance of power and intentions that can’t be rationally ignored.  

The weirdest, mind-bogglingest we’re-living-in-crazyland thing about all this is that many liberal women claim to be scared that Kevin Williamson and guys (and gals, because in my pretty extensive experience in this arena, women are more pro-life than even the pro-lifeiest of men) like him really, truly have plans to hang women who have had abortions (or put gays in concentration camps or whatever the phantasmagorical phreakout of the week is) even though there’s no evidence that anyone ever intended to do that – like literally, none whatsoever – and plenty of evidence to the contrary.  All this while simultaneously telling me to ignore the NYT hiring someone…for their editorial board…who has hundreds of tweets over several years saying I should be “cancelled”, that I shouldn’t breed, that my opinions are like a dog’s urine on a fire hydrant, that my sons should be killed, and lots of other really awful things because it was all just a big ol’ trolly joke or something maybe I guess.

I’m not laughing.

This context thing.  It matters. U guys want to play this game where when the context suits you, it’s all about the context, and when it doesn’t, it’s forgotten.

But I cannot reconcile in my heart and mind on the one hand watching millions of people having a hysterical meltdown after a free and fair election, rioting in the streets, burning people in effigy, pretending that The Handmaid’s Tale and The Hunger Games are coming true because they selected a terrible candidate who ran a bad campaign and barely even lost despite all that, with what is actively happening to conservatives all across America right now this very minute.  Conservative journalists like Kevin Williamson are fired for something they said 2 times, years ago. Neil Gorsuch was criticized for something that was in his high school yearbook and held accountable for things that his mother had said 70 years ago. Lather, rinse, repeat. All the while liberals are excused for years of truly awful tweets, blog posts, and frequent associations with actually-evil people. And these things are happening with the full collusion of the entertainment industry, the vast majority of people in education, and worst of all, the media.  Even the sacred New York Times, supposed to be the gatekeepers of truth and reason and rationality are all-in now, aren’t they? I don’t see how anyone can deny it any more – the media has picked a side. That cannot mean anything good.

So the people defending Sarah Jeong, telling me “move along, there’s nothing to see here”  – again, even people who I like and respect – these people are either liars or they are delusional and I don’t know which option is more terrifying.  But it is TERRIFYING. You are terrifying me, liberals. And scared people circle the wagons. Stop making me circle the wagons because I don’t even LIKE most of the people you are forcing me to circle the wagons with.  You are forcing me to circle the wagons with groups who really are wretched hives of scum and villainy.

And that brings me to my final point.   

One of the main criticisms regarding the public dragging of Sarah Jeong is that the people who dug up the dirt on her were sketchy dudes like Mike Cernovitch and the Gateway Pundit.  They were biased, they were slanted, they hate liberals, they wanted to bring her down. They found out she had gotten hired by the NYT and went out and rummaged through her old tweets looking for filth and they found an ample supply.

That’s pretty creepy, I agree.  Those guys are sleazeballs for sure.  Seems to be happening a lot lately, though, doesn’t it?  Scungy sewer rats going through the ancient dregs of everyone’s online lives trying to find things to damn them with??  I don’t like that trend, not at all, no matter who it happens to.  It’s ugly.

But that’s exactly what happened to Kevin Williamson too.  Because I have a memory that lasts longer than a news cycle, I recall very clearly that there was already a fever pitch of outrage coming from the left BEFORE they had any dirt on the guy.  They were already calling for him to be fired. They were already calling for people to cancel their subscriptions. People WERE canceling their subscriptions. A LOT of people were calling for Kevin Williamson to be fired BEFORE they’d even uncovered his two problematic statements on abortion.  And the liberal equivalents of Cernovitch and Gateway Pundit went and dug up the abortion quotes and off to the races we went.

True story – The Atlantic hired Williamson because they felt that they lacked conservative representation.  Because after getting blindsided when Hillary lost, they were trying to be more inclusive of non-liberal viewpoints (remember how that was a thing for about 5 minutes there?) I think that’s noble and admirable.  But liberals were outraged by that. BEFORE the abortion quote.  They were outraged that The Atlantic hired a conservative who was not a tame lion. They went after the guy till they found something they could get him with and then they got him. Because they could not even tolerate knowing a conservative (internal conservative critic, mind you) held a position on any “respectable” mainstream news magazine.  They drove Kevin Williamson off The Atlantic not because of what he said 2 times 4 years ago but because of who he was, because conservatives are not welcome and conservative thought is not allowed. If they hadn’t gotten rid of him over the abortion stuff, they’d have found something else.  The movement to eliminate Williamson was already well underway when the dumpster divers uncovered the abortion quotes.

Mike Cernovitch and the Gateway Pundit, scumbags though they certainly are, simply responded in kind and looked up Sarah Jeong’s own tweets. Can you even blame them? Why should conservatives be expected to fight with both hands tied behind their backs? Why do liberals get to utilize this type of sleazy tactic but when conservatives do it, it’s different somehow?  The context is that liberals get to do stuff that conservatives don’t and it is not fair. Either it’s ok for everyone or it’s ok for no one. If you say otherwise, hell-LO, you’re a hypocrite.

Look, the “let’s go back and find contextless dirt we can use against everyone we don’t like” crap is like unleashing a fucking Kraken, all right?  It’s a bull in a china shop, it’s using a shotgun to kill a mosquito, it’s getting Bin Laden by nuking Pakistan, it’s like shaving your legs with a flamethrower.  Yeah, maybe you get the guy you’re going after but the fire is gonna get away from you and it’s gonna burn down everything. And now yippee, wahoo, idiots, you’ve torn down the social norms that prevent those dirty trick tactics from being used against YOU.  The argument that the Cernovitch Kraken trying to bring down Jeong is somehow worse than the JessicaValenti Kraken that brought down Kevin Williamson is completely deceptive nonsense and again, just shines this sinister light o’context yet again onto the entire Williamson-Jeong debacle.  

The context matters.  There are two sets of rules, one for conservatives and one for liberals.  Liberals make the rules and enforce the rules, and conservatives are only allowed to have free speech and journalistic freedom within the rules that the liberals create.  Conservatives are second class citizens and liberals think it is right and fair and just that conservatives are second class citizens because conservatives are stoopid dum inbred racist hicks and liberals are sainted highly evolved angels who have only the purest most selfless instincts and can do no wrong. (#cancelwhitepeople #killallmen)

The context matters.  In this system, conservatives should exist at the pleasure of liberals; liberals should get to decide what conservatives get to speak and where they should speak and if you’re a conservative that liberals don’t think should get to have a voice, like Mike Cernovitch (who yeah, probably shouldn’t) or Kevin Williamson (who definitely should), you don’t get one.  Liberals can do what they want and say what they want no matter how hateful or vicious or ugly and conservatives have no recourse. Because when conservatives say anything to call this state of affairs out, they’re called hypocrites or liars or overly sensitive or delusional because liberals like to pretend that this context doesn’t exist.

But the context matters.



Brigitte Joneses For A Baby

Brigitte Joneses For A Baby

Brigitte Nielsen, a Danish actress best known for co-starring in Rocky 4 (while being briefly married to Sylvester Stallone) recently had a baby.   The interesting thing to most people is that she is 54 years old. The interesting thing to me is that it’s Nielsen’s first daughter after 4 sons.

As one might expect in this social media fish bowl in which we swim, the troglodytes of the Internet feel perfectly entitled to sound off on Nielsen’s decision to bring a child into the world.   She’s too old, they say. The way she conceived is “unnatural” – she had frozen her own eggs over a decade ago and had been trying to conceive with them ever since. She has four children already – adults! – and she should be satisfied with that; asking for more than she already has is greedy.  She will surely die or be infirm and unable to raise the child “properly”. She’s doing this for her own selfish reasons and not for the good of her child.

The reason why I find the maternal longings of a D-list actress of interest is that I too had a girl after 4 boys.  Like Nielsen, my oldest son was an adult when my daughter was born. Like Nielsen, I was in an age group that is considered “too old” – 42, definitely an age many would consider too late to be bringing a new life into the world.  After all, the media likes to drum it into people’s heads again and again…having a baby over 40 is unacceptably perilous for both mother and baby. I am sure that many people thought I was making a terrible selfish decision, although no one ever said it to my face.

They did say other things to my face, though.  While mothers of more than 2 are often criticized, and older mothers are always criticized (it feels that way, anyway), there seems to be a special level of vitriol reserved for women who have sons and still want a daughter, particularly if they have the temerity to try for one.  The very idea that any woman might want to continue having children until she has a particular gender is presented as being borne from some sort of monstrous desire, and worst of all is when a woman wants a daughter. I suppose this is because trying for a son is usually painted as something a woman does for someone else – her husband, her family, her culture – and so a woman trying for a son is seen as selfless, giving, generous.  A woman who admits to wanting a daughter, on the other hand, is either an egomaniac who wants a “mini-me” or a rabid feminist who plans to use her daughter as a political pawn.

But that isn’t reality.  I wanted a daughter in the way I imagine a person who has lived in the mountains their entire life wants to see the ocean.   Not because I was trying to make myself over again or to score social justice points, but because I wanted to see her and know her.  Her, not me. My longing for a daughter had nothing to do with me. It had nothing to do with my sons. I was and am happy with myself and beyond ecstatic with my sons.  I didn’t need a daughter to complete me or to make my family whole.  

I just wanted her.  

It is entirely possible to adore living in the mountains or in the desert and be utterly unable to imagine living anywhere else, but still have a strong desire to see the ocean, to watch the waves break, to know what it’s like to walk in the sand and dabble your toes in the foam.  Some people don’t want to see the ocean and that’s ok. Some have seen it already and didn’t think it was that big a thing, certainly not worth turning their lives upside down for. Others have lived there for years and are used to the view. But others want to see the ocean.  Sometimes a silly little want grows into a longing that takes hold and won’t let go.  That’s how it was for me, wanting a daughter.  It was an experience that I really hoped to have.  I’d dreamt of her since I was a tiny little girl myself.   And I found that I just couldn’t walk away without her, not unless I tried everything in my power to turn my imaginary girl real.

We live in a time of celebrating experience.   People make bucket lists and delight in accumulating life experiences as if they were merit badges.  People take risks and make sacrifices in exchange for experience all the time. Some people climb Mount Everest or go on a safari or skydive.  Some people think smaller and go to Napa Valley to drink too much wine, or to Disneyland, or to see the lights of Broadway. People want things and some of the things people want are not important to anyone but they themselves.  Just like Brigitte, I wanted a daughter for no great or noble reason – I simply wanted her.  Her existence was important to me.  I was willing to take some risks and make some sacrifices for that. My desire for that experience is no more wrong than the person who decides they need to see Paris before they die.

Some would say my desire for an experience does not outweigh my daughter’s need for a young and sprightly mother who can turn cartwheels down steps and will live another 70 years in order to do lots of babysitting for future generations.  But how many of us really have a child in an ideal situation, anyway?? Children are born into situations far worse than Brigitte’s or my daughters’ all the time. Situations of poverty, of abuse, of neglect, in countries torn apart by war, in families torn apart by all manner of terrible things.  Situations in which they are not particularly wanted or not wanted at all. Having a child young is no guarantee of success and having a child older is no guarantee of disaster. My mother had me when she was young but then divorced and started a new family, relegating me to a kind of second-class status within our family (I’m not faulting her, not at all, my parents are wonderful people who raised me well.  My point is simply that youth is no guarantee of a child always getting everything they think they need.)  If our daughters are loved and cared for, and were so hoped for and dreamed about, what difference does it make if we will live another 20 years or another 50?

Because that much is true – the odds are pretty good that Brigitte and I will both live another 20 years at the least, long enough to raise our girls.  Something no one tells you about turning 40 or even 50 is that most of us still have another 20-30 years of good solid living within us, if not more.   Shockingly, my life did not stop when I turned 40 the way women’s magazines had led me to expect that it would. I didn’t crumble into dust and suddenly require a Life Alert button. I still have hopes and dreams and plenty of hours in my day to care for this small entity who has come my way.  Most women in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s are not sick or unhealthy. I am not physically fragile. Even though I have a chronic illness I have ample energy to take care of my children, work full time, and run a household. The joy my daughter and my other children bring me only helps to recharge my batteries at the end of every day.

There are no guarantees, of course, but none of us have a guarantee in life.  If Brigitte and I have provided for our daughter’s futures no matter what life has in store for us, 20 years is really just as good as 50, and if we’re lucky enough to have 30 or 40 instead, even better.  20 years is more than enough time to raise a child to adulthood. Beyond that point, it is your child’s life to do with as they will. Life is a gift we give to them, not a project we are doing that requires us to be hands on every second of every day from now till forever.  No one ever tells a man in his 40’s or even in his 50’s, “don’t start that project, Bill, what happens if you DIE before you finish it?” Are we all supposed to go through our lives never doing anything if we may die before it’s done?  Are 25-year-olds the only people who are allowed to plan for an unknown future?

Children are different, some may say.  Children aren’t a stamp collection or restoring a hot rod or sailing around the world.  Children simply need their mothers.  The expectation for mothers is that we will dedicate the rest of our lives to micromanaging our children’s existence from birth till age 70 at which point we will die and somehow they’ll have to muddle through without us.  But in reality most people are quite competent as young adults and don’t even want their mother meddling in their business when they’re 25, 35, 45. Even at 15, a needy, overly involved mother is an unwelcome thing. NO ONE wants their mother all wrapped up in their lives forever and ever.  Our children don’t need us in perpetuity the way people say that they do. Why would anyone build our lives around an expectation that is silly? Why would we base our decisions on a fiction that our daughters will need us desperately until they are 105 years old?

My hope is that by the time I shuffle off this mortal coil, my daughter will not need me any more.  By that point, I plan for her to be able to stand on her own and take care of herself.  I’ve already gotten her to age 6, and that’s quite an accomplishment. We have had more time together than many mothers and daughters have been fortunate enough to have.  I hope with every fiber of my being to be here till she’s a fully capable adult because I’ve found I love it here at the ocean and I want to watch the waves break for many more years to come.  I want very much to see the woman that she will become and to hold her children in my arms.  But I may not get that wish granted to me, and Brigitte Nielsen may not get that wish granted to her.

Nevertheless, our daughters will still be ok. When people ask “what will happen when you’re old and die and your daughter needs you?” the truth is, death happens even to mothers, even to younger women than me, and in fact it used to happen far more often than it does now.   People muddle through. Mothers are meant to give their children a start in life, not to be here until the conclusion.

I wish Brigitte every happiness with her daughter.