That Woman.

For those of you not privy to inside information into my life, a lot has recently gone down. I won’t bore you with the details, but among them is the fact that I’ve been working at a TV show for the past few days (I know, I know, I’m very famous).

So this morning, something happened that got me thinking, and that I would like to share with you.

Picture it: It’s about 3:30 in the afternoon, and I walk into the kitchen to get some hot cocoa. In there, I run into none other than the big boss lady. Skinny. Tan. Bejeweled. A little intimidating. I hover near her awkwardly because she was standing in front of said cocoa. I look at her, I wait next to her, I shift from foot to foot. I’m quite obviously there. This goes on for about a minute, and yet she continues to ignore me. Finally, I feel so uncomfortable that I try to strike up a convo, and here’s how it goes:

Me: Is it just me, or is it really cold out there?

Her: (without glancing up) Yes. It’s cold.

Me: You’re cold, you frigid bitch! …Yeah.

Her: (turning around to leave the room and looking at me for the first time) I guess they put the AC on. You should bring some Uggs or something.

OK. Seems harmless enough, right (although that Uggs comment was a little backhanded)? But here’s why I’m telling you this story. Because my knee-jerk reaction, as she essentially ignored me and seemed put out by my speaking to her, was to write her off as a total B, signed, sealed and delivered.

And so, noting my own expectations of her and my subsequent judgment, I got to thinking -the successful woman stereotype (bitchy, cold) has been played out since the power-shoulder pads of the 1980’s, right? And yet somehow it doesn’t seem to be slowly eroding or drifting away. You’re either Bridget Jones or Anna Wintour, either Carrie Bradshaw or Hilary Clinton. In other words, you’re either likable and semi-ambitious, or horrid and highly ambitious. So knowing full well that these stereotypes exist, how does it feel to nevertheless shove aside (at least outwardly) concerns over what people think of you, and brazenly be That Woman?

The flip side of this question, of course, is me, the receiver of the ‘tude. There are a million reasons why she might have ignored me, that are all very likely, and that all have nothing whatsoever to do with me. I mean, maybe she had something on her mind. She has a whole shitload more responsibility than I have (to be fair), and so it’s just ever-so-possible that she had something more pressing to dwell on than my current body temperature. What is a man had reacted like that to me? I probably would have left feeling like I was the idiot. Heck, I might not even have made that wimpy-ass comment to a man.

However, all that said, I stand by the fact that she was a bit rude and standoffish. I know that I usually try to introduce myself to people I don’t know when I’m alone in a room with them. So my question is, should we applaud women like that, who don’t let stupid stereotypes affect the way that they behave — in other words, don’t cave to societal pressure to “be nice” — or should we hold everyone in power positions — men and women — to higher standards, and insist that even in this cutthroat, capitalistic society we live in, saying hi to someone by the hot cocoa is common courtesy no matter what your rank in the hierarchy?

Your thoughts?

Originally posted at Shady Sadie

Published in: on July 31, 2009 at 2:28 pm  Comments (2)  

What Do Women Really Want?

Freud couldn’t answer that question, but this fairy tale, related by Sara Davidson, does:

King Arthur was riding alone in the forest when he was surprised by a strange knight in battle armor. The knight drew his sword to slay the king, but Arthur protested, “I’m not armed, this is against our code of honor.” The knight relented, and made the King promise he would return to the same spot, alone and unarmed, in one year. The King’s life would be spared only if he brought back the answer to this riddle: What do women want, more than anything?

King Arthur rode back to the castle and related what had happened to his nephew, Sir Gawain, the most handsome and chivalrous knight in the kingdom. Sir Gawain said, Don’t worry, I’ll ride in one direction, you’ll ride in the other, and we’ll ask every creature we meet: What do women want?

At the end of the year, Sir Gawain and the King had a book full of answers, but King Arthur knew he did not have the right answer. He was prepared to meet his fate, when he was approached by a hag called Dame Ragnell. She was fat, hairy and covered with warts, had a big nose dripping with snot and gave off a terrible odor. She told the King she alone had the answer and would tell him on one condition: “You give me Sir Gawain as my husband.”

The King refused, he couldn’t commit his nephew to such a fate. But Sir Gawain insisted he would marry the dame, gladly, if it would save the King’s life.

So King Arthur accepted her terms and said, “Now tell me, what do women want more than anything?”

“Sovereignty,” she said.

When the King rode back to meet the knight and told him the answer, his life was spared. But now he had to marry Sir Gawain to Dame Ragnell. After the ceremony, she turned up her hairy snout to be kissed. Sir Gawain could hardly bear to look at her, but shut his eyes and kissed her. And as he did, she was transformed into the most exquisite and sensual woman he’d ever seen. They spent the night making love and as the sun was rising, Dame Ragnell said, “My beauty will not hold, sir, so you must choose. Either have me beautiful by day, when the world can see, or ugly by day and beautiful at night for you alone.”

I pause in the story to ask Billy: What would you choose?

“I don’t know. Both have advantages.”

I ask you, dear readers: what would you choose? To have your partner beautiful for the world or for you alone?

I tell Billy, “Just say what comes to you.”

“Be beautiful when you want to be,” he says.

I’m floored. Sir Gawain had said the same thing, in different words, to Dame Ragnell: “My lady, I leave it up to you.” And when he said that, she became beautiful all the time.

I’ve been telling this story for 30 years, and nobody has ever given that answer. They choose one or the other, but don’t think to leave it up to the woman.

Read Sara Davidson’s Sex Love Enlightenment serial; subscribe to receive new episodes.

Published in: on July 31, 2009 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Women Without Power: 8-Year-Old Girl Blamed for Attempted Rape — By Her Parents.

I was sure the family in this story was going to turn out to be Muslim.  Evidently not, they’re just traditional Africans.

A reminder that in terms of the status or complete lack of status of women, scriptural Islam was actually a theoretical advance over the barbaric tribal traditions it supplanted, absorbed, and, all too often, reverted to.

Nick Kristof’s columns and blogs from Pakistan stressed one theme over and over again:  education.  Ignorance — their own and men’s — is the greatest enemy of women.

Published in: on July 25, 2009 at 12:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Michelle Has the Woman Thing Just Right.”

At least, that’s what Katha Pollitt sees some men saying.

[C]all it the Goldilocks and the Three Bears syndrome. Hillary Clinton was too ambitious; Laura Bush (who?) was too retro; but Michelle has the woman thing just right. As David Samuels writes in New York magazine: [Ed. note: The Nation is so lame, like the NYT, that I had to go find that link myself.  It took fifteen seconds.]

There are clear limits to Michelle’s ambition. She went to excellent schools, got decent grades, stayed away from too much intellectual heavy lifting, and held a series of practical, modestly salaried jobs while accommodating her husband’s wilder dreams and raising two lovely daughters. In this, she is a more practical role model for young women than Hillary Clinton, blending her calculations about family and career with an expectation of normal personal happiness. [Ed. note:  in fairness, I saw Rebecca Walker at The Root saying the same thing.]

Would you like some manly condescension with that factual misinformation, ladies? By all means, avoid “too much intellectual heavy lifting”! If Samuels regards $273,618–Michelle Obama’s salary in her last year as head of community affairs for the University of Chicago Hospitals–as modest, he must be the richest magazine journalist in the world. Michelle Obama, who made almost twice as much as her husband the senator, earned more than 99 percent of the population, and 98 percent of men. Moreover, she did so while raising two small children, often without her husband, who was off legislating in Springfield and Washington. That Samuels, like a 1950s home ec teacher, advises “young women” to keep their ambitions “practical” if they want to be happy shows just how disturbing Hillary Clinton–or rather the nightmare fantasy of Hillary Clinton–has been to certain male psyches. Because what if women wanted to be the ones with the wild dreams? What if they wanted men to be the enablers and nurturers? That would be awful.

Just after the election Rebecca Traister wrote a terrific piece in Salon lamenting the “momification” of Michelle Obama. Probably it was inevitable: “In part because of the legacy left her by Hillary and her detractors,” Traister observed, “powerful couples must now tread as far as possible from the ‘two for one’ talk.”

There are many things to be said about this, and I hope you’ll jump in and say some of them (I’m too tired).  The one that occurs to me first, though, is that there are two sets of one-size-fits-all expectations at war here.  Most people don’t have wild dreams.  No one ever expected all men to.  For the last three or four decades there has been pressure on girls and women to be ambitious in worldly terms, partly to make up for the untold generations of talents and ambitions smothered or projected (sometimes with great connivance and manipulation) into husbands and sons.  I certainly felt that pressure to be a standardbearer for the legions of silent girls amassed behind me in the past, as well as a groundbreaker for legions in the future.  I could feel the longing and expectation in all those eyes.  There’s no question that I also felt what many women did, the awakening of the ego and the competitive drive, human qualities that had been suppressed in women and that can distort one’s self as well as express it.

The result of those outer and inner pressures has been that women have proved, in two generations, that there’s little or nothing we can’t or won’t do.

The point of proving that point should be that each individual can find a path that suits him or her — not too big, not too small, just right.

And as wild as you want it to be.

Published in: on July 23, 2009 at 10:31 am  Leave a Comment  

Palin’s Quit: Do Women Take the Rules Less Seriously? [UPDATED]

I’m not taking the time to document this right now (would welcome it if someone wants to), but I have the impression the great majority of commentators, including (even especially) conservative commentators, who called Sarah Palin a “quitter,” and predicted that her premature resignation would kill her political career (which it clearly hasn’t), were men.

Why is this?  Some possibilities:

  • Payback, or the freedom of the despised.  I speculated on Twitter at the time that maybe “women take the rules less seriously” because until a historical blink of an eye ago, “the rules never took US seriously.”
  • Women have fallback role options men don’t have. Women often don’t stake all on their career or profession. Motherhood (or even just the potential for it) gives them an alternative purpose and identity that can be as defining and satisfying, or at times more so, than the competitive, driven, abstract career world.  Some men are beginning to avail themselves of this role flexibility, but it is still a fraught new frontier and arguably a higher risk, professionally, for a man.
  • Women think different. This would be the contention of the “difference feminists,” notably Carol Gilligan, who wrote in 1982’s  In a Different Voice, “Piaget in his study of the rules of the game . . . finds boys becoming through childhood increasingly fascinated with the legal elaboration of rules . . . Piaget’s observation [was] that boys in their games are more concerned with rules while girls are more concerned with relationships, often at the expense of the game itself.” [pp. 10 and 16]

That last would certainly explain Palin’s decision to elevate family over career, as well as her successful bid to sustain her emotional relationship with her supporters by making a direct appeal to them rather than by “playing by the rules” of the old-boy network.

There’s another possibility, though, and that’s that “the rules” are dissolving and changing — and not primarily because women are now in the game, but because of the death of print civilization with its structured and deferred ways of thinking.  As I’ve written in noting similarities in the roles that Sarah Palin and Barack Obama play for their respective constituencies of “people like them” (and in which the femaleness of one and the blackness of the other is not at all the heart of the matter, only a superficial bonus), symbolism is now more important than substance.  Camille Paglia started out celebrating this return to paganism and the primacy of the instantaneous image as an explosive liberation of the print-shackled mind, but she’s becoming increasingly concerned:

Interest in and patience with long, complex books and poems have alarmingly diminished not only among college students but college faculty in the U.S. It is difficult to imagine American students today, even at elite universities, gathering impromptu at midnight for a passionate discussion of big, challenging literary works like Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov—a scene I witnessed in a recreation room strewn with rock albums at my college dormitory in upstate New York in 1965. As a classroom teacher for over thirty years, I have become increasingly concerned about evidence of, if not cultural decline, then cultural dissipation since the 1960s, a decade that seemed to hold such heady promise of artistic and intellectual innovation. Young people today are flooded with disconnected images but lack a sympathetic instrument to analyze them as well as a historical frame of reference in which to situate them. . . . Today’s students require not subversion of rationalist assumptions—the childhood legacy of intellectuals born in Europe between the two World Wars—but the most basic introduction to structure and chronology. Without that, they are riding the tail of a comet in a media starscape of explosive but evanescent images.

Chris Hedges wrote a lament about the same development in its political aspect last November:

Political leaders in our post-literate society no longer need to be competent, sincere or honest. They only need to appear to have these qualities. Most of all they need a story, a narrative. The reality of the narrative is irrelevant. It can be completely at odds with the facts. The consistency and emotional appeal of the story are paramount.

The gender of these critics probably has far less impact on what they’re saying than their generation (Paglia was born in 1947, Hedges in 1956) — although in her first hit book, Sexual Personae, Paglia asserted women’s affinity with paganism versus the essential masculinity of Western culture (pretty well summed up here).

So do women take the rules less seriously, giving Sarah Palin a freedom to quit that a male politician wouldn’t have had?  Or are the rules just melting like Dali watches in the blaze of the camera’s gaze?  Or both?  And if the latter, does the former give women an advantage in navigating this fluid new world?  Women and male opportunists . . . because playing by the rules is too slow and clunky to be the fittest survival strategy any more.

UPDATE: And that’s precisely the sense in which Sarah being female and Barack being black IS of the essence.  Coming from outside the old-boy power structure — even if the inclusive new rules have allowed them to get inside — they are far less bound by and loyal to the old-boy rules, and therefore much more mobile, maneuverable, and free to play the new game of symbolism and short-circuit straight to the emotions.

Women Without Power: First of an Ongoing Series

“I was given the ‘honor’ to temporarily marry young girls before they were sentenced to death,” said a member of the Basij, Iran’s paramilitary militia, in an anonymous interview.

In the Islamic Republic it is illegal to execute a young woman, regardless of her crime, if she is a virgin, he explained. Therefore a “wedding” ceremony is conducted the night before the execution: The young girl is forced to have sexual intercourse with a prison guard – essentially raped by her “husband.”

“I regret that, even though the marriages were legal,” he said.

Why the regret, if the marriages were “legal?”

“Because,” he went on, “I could tell that the girls were more afraid of their ‘wedding’ night than of the execution that awaited them in the morning. And they would always fight back, so we would have to put sleeping pills in their food. By morning the girls would have an empty expression; it seemed like they were ready or wanted to die.

“I remember hearing them cry and scream after [the rape] was over,” he said. “I will never forget how this one girl clawed at her own face and neck with her finger nails afterwards. She had deep scratches all over her.”

Here is a subtle but terribly revealing detail in the story.  The guard was arrested after the recent demonstrations for freeing two young teenagers.

He said he “honestly” did not know why he had released them, a decision that led to his own arrest, “but I think it was because they were so young. They looked like children and I knew what would happen to them if they weren’t released.”

He said that while a man is deemed “responsible for his own actions at 13, for a woman it is 9,” and that it was freeing the 15-year-old girl that “really got me in trouble.

Now why do you think a girl is held “responsible for her own actions” at 9?  The implications are chilling.  One is that it legitimizes the forced marriage of girls that young, who can be said to be old enough to “consent.”  (How Orwellian is that?)  Another is that females may be killed for actions for which males are excused, and that a girl can’t even be allowed to finish her childhood before that iron cage of mistrust and total control is dropped over her.

(Hat tip:  Althouse)

Wherever women are without power, we must remember that it is because they have such great natural power.  Who bothers to chain the weak?

Published in: on July 19, 2009 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

That Elevator Ride

Reposted from AmbivaBlog:

Feminism was enormously important to me, but it was important the way an elevator is important that gets you out of the basement to the ground floor, where you can get out and walk away.   Feminism showed me that I was not defective or inferior, that I was as human as a man, as capable of culture while men were no less bound by nature.  That was all I needed to know to be off and running.  Nothing is more important than for girls all over the world to get basic legal rights and protections and that elevator ride.  And God bless the people who devote their lives to running the elevator.  But staying in the elevator rather defeats its purpose.

Published in: on July 19, 2009 at 2:25 pm  Comments (3)