Skin Deep

(from a letter to a friend)

I’m reading a Time article about how EVERYONE (female) has plastic surgery now. It’s so depressing that a woman’s value is still based primarily on how she looks — or rather, that most of us still buy into that — and that women are willing to look like nobody in particular to continue to look vaguely youngish. I’ve certainly been tempted; people think my 91-year-old mother and I are not just sisters, but twins! In a way it’s a compliment, to her AND to me — she’s prettier and always has been.
Twins? Twins??
But the difference in our body language doesn’t even register; it’s one of those snap judgments — gray hair, wrinkled, click, they’re in a bag called “old (bag).”
This isn’t all cultural, it’s very biologically primal — I got a tremendous jolt of power and pleasure, faster than thought, when some skanky man looked at my body in the supermarket because I was wearing tight pants. A flash of still being “in the game.” But … pulling the other way is a stiff-necked pride in refusing to be just like everybody else, and a protest against (the view that all the science I’m immersed in relentlessly promotes) just being an animal, with no values other than those related to power and reproduction. But as the article points out, when everyone is doing it, it becomes the new normal, and to be a holdout is freakish and lonely. People who have never seen an unimproved 69-year-old probably think I’m in my 80s, which is why they so kindly rush to offer me their subway seats when I could probably kick their butt. That’s hard to take. I’m fit from the neck down, so maybe I should be like the 1930s Peter Arno New Yorker cartoon where a painter, looking haggardly at the hatchet-faced nude he’s about to paint, displaces the fig leaf from her pubes to her face.
And it’s mostly white women, because our aging skin sucks and with sun damage, forget it  — but sadder still, more and more minority women are getting plastic surgery — to look more white. (Noses for blacks, eyes for Asians . . . ) It’s all so depressing. We are headed towards being a society of surgically and even genetically enhanced super(rich) beings (and gnarled and deformed poor people) who will all look alike, the upper tier of whom are entirely externally focused, with a stunted, undifferentiated inner life, emotionally, kinesthetically, and in all the senses but vision — people so busy objectifying themselves in competition with each other to look like a screen-propagated ideal that they’ve forgotten the pleasures of subjectivity.
Published in: on June 29, 2015 at 10:07 am  Comments (2)  


There’s a gap.  That’s the best way I can describe it.  There’s a gap women are afraid to leap or don’t know how to leap.  I feel it.  We — the majority of us women — still don’t know how to be primary in our own lives, how to relate directly to the world.  We don’t know how to start our own engine; we feel guilt and fear at the very thought of doing so.  We are deep-down sure that the only way to go our own way is alone and that the only way not to be alone is to compromise so deeply it bites to the bone.

Sure, I’m exaggerating.  Go ahead, tell me about all the exceptions.  Tell me love is worth compromising for.  (It is, up to the borders of your integrity.)  Tell me I should be saying “I,” not “we.”  But I hear a lot of seasoned, accomplished women saying or hinting at some version of this — that they still feel derivative, secondary.  Men romanticize this and see it as devotion.  It completes them and it diminishes us.  It’s also safe and easy for us, an ancient shtick, an existential cop-out with perks.

Freud thought the gap was the absence of a penis!  It’s so much more — the collective memory of physical danger; millennia of forbiddenness; void of precedent; human cowardice and inertia, always more easily forgiven in women.

The best writer I know about this — so good her writing scares people, scares me — is my friend Dalma Heyn.  Here she is on the danger of a new backlash, not so much against women but within them — a retreat from the challenge and chaos of rapid change into old, familiar, outgrown ways:

Women, conventional goodness isn’t your friend. Maintaining your vision for the future is. If we do all the things we used to do when chaos frightened us with, oh, loss of love, loss of husbands, loss of social approval, loss of funds, loss of everythng, we lose something far more precious: We lose our hope for evolving as women. We mustn’t ever again let anything, especially a flagging economy, threaten our own ability to push through the confines of that old story, the Romance Plot, the one that hurls women back into the kitchen.  Yes, we all yearn for security, but it never did come in the form of  old ideas, old roles, old habits.  Don’t idealize what never was. We’ve spent years setting free a new narrative, one that promises forward movement in the home, in our relationships, inside ourselves. The old story that we fantasize as being magically problem-free, actually brought more women lifelong depression than it did safety and security.

What Dalma writes about is not spurning love, but rather the challenge of loving without lying about who you are.  I’m a widow, which is forcing me to confront the gap in myself.  Male friends tell me radiantly that I’ll always be one with my husband and that ours was a great love.  I hate to tell them it was never that simple.  Don’t misunderstand me:  it was great.  But it was also safe.  Under his wing, my strengths were first derivative and then hypothetical.  They became mine, but I was safe from having to decide how to use them.  Eyes riveted on him — his grandeur, his trauma, his unquestionable genius for living — I never had to answer my own hard questions. And, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, that cop-out did not serve him well.

Don’t chicken out, women.  Go on, evolve.  Yes, I’m talking to you.  Me.

Published in: on September 8, 2011 at 3:28 am  Comments (3)  

Saudi womanhood behind the wheel at last!


By Sissy Willis of sisu

According to Wikipedia, “Women are forbidden to drive in Saudi Arabia per a 1990 fatwā (religious ruling).” So what’s a Sharia-compliant gal to do when she wants to run down to the mall to pick up a few things but there’s no male relative to chauffeur her?  Share the joy of the monarchy’s “First  Woman Driver (Sharia Approved).” It may not be quite up to speed with Female Formula One, but in its way “Saudi Arabia’s Sharia-Approved Car for Women!” refuels the venerable woman-driver joke with a fresh burst of energy. Enjoy the ride!

Crossposted at sisu, Riehl World View and Liberty Pundits.

Message to Peggy Noonan: Girls just wanna have fun


Today we completed one pledge and we began another,” says Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee: “Many months ago House Republicans committed and pledged to listen to Americans all across this country… We kept that pledge, and it allows us to make another. The Pledge to America starts with the preamble that reminds us that every American citizen is endowed with certain rights from their creator. When our government charts a course that endangers those rights, the people have the right to demand a new agenda from their government.”

By Sissy Willis of sisu

“This election is more and more shaping up into a contest between the Exhausted and the Enraged,” writes Northeast Corridor Conservative Peggy Noonan, once again almost grasping the spirit that animates this Army of Davids. As we wrote last summer, “Tea Party to Peggy Noonan: It’s not rage, but disgust!” This time, the former Reagan speechwriter and author of the transcendent “thousand points of light” decided to listen instead of pontificate. Her telephone conversation with Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee is a revelation:

But Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee suggests I have the wrong word for the Republican base. The word, she says, is not enraged but “livid” …

There are two major developments, she says, that are new this year and insufficiently noted, but they’re going to shape election outcomes in 2010 and beyond.

The question is which is to be master,” as we blogged the other day, and Blackburn is taking no prisoners:

First, Washington is being revealed in a new way.

The American people now know, “with real sophistication,” everything that happens in the capital. “I find a much more knowledgeable electorate, and it is a real-time response,” Ms. Blackburn says. “We hear about it even as the vote is taking place” …

The Internet isn’t just a tool for organiztion and fund-raising. It has given citizens access to information they never had before. “The more they know,” Ms. Blackburn observes, “the less they like Washington.”

It’s that effervescent disintermediation of the powers that be via the internet that we are forever flogging here. Blackburn closes in for the kill:

Second is the rise of women as a force. They “are the drivers in this election cycle,” Ms. Blackburn says. “Something is going on.” At tea party events the past 18 months, she started to notice “60% of the crowd is women.”

She tells of a political rally that drew thousands in Nashville, at the State Capitol plaza. She had brought her year-old grandson. When the mic was handed to her, she was holding him. “I said, ‘How many of you are grandmothers?’ The hands! That was the moment I realized that the majority of the people at the political events now are women. I saw this in town halls in ’09 — it was women showing up at my listening events, it was women talking about health care.”

Blackburn casts the “rise of women as a force” in terms of “the Rage of the Bill-Paying Moms,” and she’s right as far as what Noonan calls “a change in national thinking regarding the role of the individual and the government.” But don’t discount what may be an even more fundamental dynamic at play: “Girls just wanna have fun.”

Update: Instalanche! Thanks for the spelling correction, Professor. 😀

Message To Peggy Noonan: Girls Just Want To Have Fun.

Want to, want to

Update II: Michelle Malkin “Buzzworthy” link! They just want to, that’s all!

Crossposted at sisu, Riehl World View and Liberty Pundits.

Published in: on September 25, 2010 at 2:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dirty Harry Days

I think it’s The Enforcer — the one where Clint Eastwood’s character is forced by political correctness to accept a female partner (played by a young Tyne Daly), only to grow a grudging respect for her guts before she dies in his arms. Her oh so feminine last words: “Get ’em.”

That crossed my mind when I read about a tribute luncheon in Los Angeles attended by “women wearing pearl earrings and police uniforms, carrying Gucci bags and holstered guns.”  The elderly woman who haltingly made her way up to the podium to cheers and applause was Fanchon Blake, whose 1973 lawsuit broke multiple glass ceilings in the LAPD (including a 5’6″ lowest height limit) and undoubtedly provoked that Dirty Harry movie.

[A] flood of female recruits [was] hired as Blake’s discrimination suit pushed the department into a court-monitored consent decree.

Before Blake sued, women couldn’t be promoted beyond the rank of sergeant, were allowed to supervise only other women and had to be at least 5 feet, 6 inches tall.

[Lt. Cindy] Benes is 5 feet tall, a lieutenant in the tough Northeast Division, supervising 24 gang and narcotics officers, all but one of them men. […]

Until the 1970s, women were trained separately, wore skirts and heels and weren’t allowed in patrol cars.

Oh yes, I remember those days.  Your proper role was announced and enforced by your clothing — try to run and shoot in a skirt and heels, outside of a Hollywood movie.  At Harvard/Radcliffe in the mid-1960s we were educated with the men, but lived in our own separate chaperoned enclave almost a mile away.  Our numbers were far fewer.  If it was cold in winter and we wanted to wear pants to class to keep warm, we had to wear a skirt over the pants.  Really!  When I graduated in 1967 we received Harvard diplomas, but had a separate graduation ceremony, as if quarantined lest we contaminate the university’s traditional grandeur.  All that broke down within two years of my graduation.

These questions were not then and still aren’t simple and straightforward.  Should the force of women’s desire for inclusion and equality overwhelm, say, the strength requirements of a firefighter’s job?  Why do women want to be boxers and get their faces bashed in?  Is equality the same as equivalency?  Is (or I should say “was”) the male-bonding atmosphere of high-risk, protective occupations like police work and war something more than just a desire to shut girls out of the clubhouse?  Undoubtedly there have been both gains and losses as a result of women’s inclusion in even those occupations that seemed intrinsically masculine.

I certainly remember having the sense that exclusion was inseparable from second-rateness, and protection was entwined with condescension.  Men got to do the exciting, important stuff that the culture really honored and esteemed.  (Surprise!  Women have egos, too, and ours were collectively wounded for, oh, millennia.)  Women were the support staff, lumped together with children, churning out and servicing bodies while men cultivated spirits.  Tribute was paid to our humble but vital role, but we knew it was lip service.  Orthodox Jews weren’t the only males who woke up and thanked God every morning for not making them women.

Over time I came to my own resolution and reconciliation of the difference/equality conundrum.  It struck me that the spiritual virtues humanity has held highest — including courage and justice, reason and art and Einstein’s “divine curiosity” — had become melded with maleness by their long restriction to men, and that it was our exclusion from that essentially genderless core of the human legacy that women were righfully indignant about.  We, too, confused them with maleness, so that we thought the way to claim courage was, say, to get in the boxing ring and bust each other’s noses.  But the real differences are unyielding; in our style of karate, for example, women now fight full contact (face punching is a foul for either sex) and it is indeed a valuable cultivation of courage and antidote to fear, but women fight each other, and it’s just not the same as men fighting.  The spiritual component is arguably the same; the physical and psychological pieces are very different.  As a result, almost everyone’s at peace with it.

Maybe it’s like that in police departments and the military, too.  Women have won respect for their courage without either turning into or unmanning men.  Or do you disagree?

Creating a disease when there is no disease: Girls just wanna have fun!


By Sissy Willis of sisu

Hey Ladies—how is Your Sex Drive?” goes the teaser at As “one who kneads bread” [the etymological root of lady], for us it was one of those highway accidents we could not not gawk at. We were assaulted by the meme in the early-morning news just before Tiny came biting our nose and gouging our cheek, demanding breakfast. Here’s the deal:

Do you need a little boost after having children? Things just aren’t always the same after becoming a mother and all the duties that go along with Motherhood. A recent survey of American women ages 18-59 found that the most common sexual problem in women is hypoactive sexual desire disorder – It’s defined by lack of sexual desire or fantasies. And now there is a medication made just for a woman’s anatomy to help with HSDD – a little pink pill with a decidedly unsexy name, Flibanserin. It is pretty controversial in the medical field but unlike the drugs for men, like Viagra, which improve blood flow, Flibanserin is an anti-depressant that works on the pleasure center of the brain.

We’re treading in The Onion and ScrappleFace territory here. Then comes the same-old, same-old anti-capitalism narrative:

In an article on CBS NEWS critics say creating a pharmaceutical solution for HSDD is driven by greed which could translate to $2 billion market in this country alone — “We call that disease mongering, creating a disease when there is no disease in order to sell an expensive product — there are a lot of inexpensive products like a glass of wine or a massage.”

We’ll drink to that. For old-fashioned girls like ourselves, the music of sweet talkin’ words is the food of love:

If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.

There’s no pill for that.

Crossposted at sisuRiehl World View and Liberty Pundits.

Published in: on June 14, 2010 at 5:57 am  Comments (5)  

Are we suffering from a surfeit of unsexy overexposure?


By Sissy Willis of sisu

‘Does wearing sexy lingerie under the burka subvert the burka?” asks Amba in the comments to our previous post, crossposted at Cloven Not Crested, “Exposed: What really goes on beneath the burka“:

Is it actually sexier that way — is the ad pro-burka?? Are we suffering from a surfeit of unsexy overexposure, compared to, say, the Japanese who could go wild at the sight of the back of a fully kimono’ed geisha’s neck? Does the ad thus imply that concealment by the burka actually empowers a woman’s sexuality? Should we take up wearing burkas over our bikinis? What kind of dhimmitude is that? Of a piece, I would say, with the sinister Western attraction to Islam because it is so filled with moral fervor, purity, and conviction.

The “sinister” — left in Latin —Western attraction to Islam appears alive and well, exclusively on the left side of the aisle, where a fellow feeling for a dictatorship of relativism keeps the romance alive. But the Liaison Dangereuse lingerie ad’s “message” is in the eye of the beholder. Over here on the right side of the aisle, discreetly armed with our bikini beneath our street clothes, we look to the Tea Partiers for “moral fervor, purity and conviction,” and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, unveiled, is giving us the “commonsense porn” — Glenn Beck’s words — that floats our boat. Following the distaff glories of yesterday’s primaries, we’re looking for some hot and heavy conservative commonsense porn now through November from the ladies that lunch.

Crossposted at sisu, Riehl World View and Liberty Pundits.

Exposed: What really goes on beneath the burka


By Sissy Willis of sisu

“Now THIS is how you hit back at the oppression of women in the Muslim world,” twittered Newsbusters blogger Lachlan Markay this afternoon, linking a brilliantly provocative Liaison Dangereuse lingerie ad that turns Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils on its head and puts Victoria’s Secret to shame. Set against the smoky, sultry strains of a ney — the flute of classical Arabic music — and tambourine, the camera’s eye caresses a smoky, sulty woman getting ready to go out on the town. Depending upon your perspective, you’ll either love or hate the surprise ending.


Crossposted at sisu, Riehl World View and Liberty Pundits.

Abortion, Autonomy, and the Adversarial Pregnancy

This really caught my eye:

In the Japanese arena the protagonist of pregnancy is the interconnected entity of the mother-baby, whereas in the Israeli case the protagonists are the pregnant woman and her suspect fetus. Pregnancy is conceptualized as an early stage of parenting in Japan and is all about the interdependence of mother and baby and their ongoing relationships. The Israeli model defines pregnancy as a state “in limbo” that involves two separate individuals (of whom only one is a person).

In this respect, perhaps, Israel can stand in for the whole West.  At some point autonomy became the premier value in Western, especially American, culture.  Relationship thereby came to seem at least as much a threat as a necessity.  Women, assigned to be the tenders and maintainers of needed but denied support systems, were themselves often regarded as a regrettable necessity; they, and the part of men that needed them, were regarded with contempt.  Just think of the rejected man who kills the woman, their kids, and then himself.  Women in feminism’s second wave aspired to the prized virtue of autonomy (I was there!  I did!), believing that only when they became as monadic as the mythic ideal man would they have attained full and equal human status.

The biggest threat to a young woman’s hard-won, fiercely guarded, precarious autonomy is her body’s propensity to get pregnant.  Young feminist women who advocate abortion on demand seem to regard an ill-timed embryo as a parasite, a hijacker, almost an assailant — a infiltrating secret agent of all those who would throw a net over free women and curtail their autonomy, forcing them into service to others than themselves.  (The male equivalent of this alienation of affections from the self used to be shotgun marriage; now, I guess, it’s child support.)  They cast abortion almost as an act of resistance to oppression.  (Autonomy doesn’t mean Western women are never willing to serve others than themselves, but it does mean they want to be the ones to decide whom and when.)  In my own essay on abortion, I tried carefully to describe it in a more balanced way:

It is a kind of self-defense – one life in precarious progress fending off a blameless hijacking by another barely begun – yet it presents the stomach-turning conundrum of self-defense against the defenseless. To define this act as either a crime or a right is too simple. It‘s a tragedy.

The author of the blog post that caught my eye tonight, reporting on an Israeli anthropologist’s comparative study, is a Christian who resonates more with the Japanese view:

The notion that the developing baby is indeed a baby right from the start reflects my own convictions, and I was especially drawn to Ivry’s descriptions of the Japanese practice of taikyô, which involves speaking to the unborn baby. In the words of a bestselling Japanese prenatal guide, “It is practiced in order to deepen the bonds between the mother and the baby, through the mother’s recognition of the baby and her acceptance of him.” Ivry’s descriptions of Japanese mothers practicing taikyô with their unborn babies reminded me of reading the Bible to my daughter, moments after I discovered I was pregnant.

Yet it doesn’t escape Elrena Evans’s notice that early abortion is legal and practiced in Japan:

Although Japanese pregnancy culture embraces the growing child as a current—not future, or potential—person, and the abortion rate is lower than it is in the United States, abortion is not rare in Japan. “To this day abortions are available practically on demand in Japan,” Ivry writes, though there are limitations on how far into a pregnancy abortion can be performed.

She says no more on this fascinating subject, which, like other aspects of Japanese culture, always gives me a through-the-looking-glass feeling. (Follow that link!)  Imagine:  “the process of government certification for abortionists in Japan makes them members of the Motherhood Protection Association.”  And an aborted embryo or fetus, like a miscarried one, doesn’t cease to exist as if it never was; it remains a part of the family!  Who is weirder, us or them?

It reminds me of my own frustrated efforts to get people to hear what I’m saying about my abortion.  I keep saying, “I don’t feel guilt, I feel regret,” and they persist in conflating the two, saying again and again either “You have to forgive yourself” or “God forgives you.”  I feel as if I’m not being heard.  Guilt can be absolved and resolved by forgiveness.  Regret is forever, without even the sadomasochistic satisfactions of blame.

ADDED: Evans’ blog post goes on to describe the Israeli experience of pregnancy as less one of assailed autonomy than one of anxiety about the normality of the fetus.  The broader difference between the Western and Japanese views, it seems to me, is the scientific materialism that’s come to dominate the West.  To a majority of Americans, when a baby is physically aborted, it’s gone as if it never existed.  And if it’s physically flawed (but viable), it should never have existed.  I don’t know whether the Japanese test for and abort, e.g., Down syndrome babies.  But while they may bring  little knitted caps to the shrine for aborted fetuses, they are notorious for being callous towards the disabled.

None of this is simple.

Published in: on May 31, 2010 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  

“She Has Had No Role in My Life Except…”

. . . to keep me sane, fed, housed, amused, and protected from unwanted telephone calls. Also to restrain me fairly frequently from making a horse’s ass of myself in public, to force me to attend to books and ideas from which she knows I will learn something; also to mend my wounds when I am misused by the world, to implant ideas in my head and stir the soil around them, to keep me from falling into a comfortable torpor, to agitate my sleeping hours with problems that I would not otherwise attend to; also to remind me constantly (not by precept but by example) how fortunate I have been to live for fifty-three years with a woman that bright, alert, charming, and supportive.

Wallace Stegner, who died in 1993 after a car crash, on his wife of almost 60 years, Mary Page, who died last week at 99.  Perhaps fittingly for someone who so self-effacingly played the helpmeet role —

[Their son] Stuart Page Stegner said that while his mother was an accomplished violinist with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, most of her attentions were lavished on her husband and marriage.  “She quite deliberately decided that his gifts and talents were so great, the best role she would play was to be his helpmate,” he said [in her Salt Lake Tribune obit].  “She wouldn’t win any points in the modern women’s movement for that, but that’s what she did, and did deliberately.”

— Mary Stegner is represented in her brief L.A. Times blog-obit by a photo of her husband!

But she outlived him by almost two decades!  What did she do, who was she, for those 17 years?  Only a living memorial to him?

An occasion to ponder the costs and gifts of the helpmeet role, without which the helpee’s great work might never have fully seen the light.  It’s not exclusive or “natural” to women — Leonard Woolf comes to mind — but for most of history, it’s been overwhelmingly a woman’s job, and until fairly recently, her identity.