I recently discovered I am as old as the characters in The Golden Girls were when that show started. I can’t begin to express how horrifying this is to me. When the show first aired, I was 17 years old. Now I am 53, inching towards 54, firmly in Golden Girl territory. It’s appalling. How the hell did this happen?
Now I guess the only question that remains is which Golden Girl am I? Obviously, because I’m not 79, it’s safe to say that I am not Sophia. Not yet, anyway. Clearly, I am not the charming, sexpot Blanche. And, I’m not nearly as doe-eyed and sweet as Rose. So that means I am, of course, Dorothy. Sarcastic, cynical, strong-willed, and, quite frankly, a little bitchy. She might have been teased for being a little manly, but at least Dorothy was arguably the smartest of the group. So that is a positive, I guess. One thing Dorothy and I do not share in common is the wherewithal to live with other women. I would not at this age live with my mother and two other women, or just my mother, or just two other women, or actually any women at all. Women are complicated. I prefer my husband, my sons, and our dogs. They take up less counter space in the bathroom.
Aging is a mixed bag. I am so grateful for the wisdom I have today that I did not have at 17 when The Golden Girls began. I like myself far more now than I have at any point in my younger past. I don’t want to go back in time to when I was younger. I simply want to be who I am now but in a 25-year-old body. Oh, the trouble I would get into being that young and understanding my power. It’s frightening to think what I would be capable of. Damn.
Here are a handful of things a woman might do that could get her labeled as “difficult”:
Refuse to smile when someone tells her she would look prettier that way
Ask for what she wants
Insist on equal treatment
Express an unpopular opinion (or even a popular one in the wrong company)
Say she isn’t interested in sex at the moment
Request help around the house or with the children
Believe it should be her body and her choice
Put herself first or make herself a priority
Know her worth
Expect appropriate acknowledgment and compensation for a job well done
Go against social norms, especially regarding appearance, career choice, or motherhood
Exhibit her anger, disappointment, or sadness
Call herself a feminist
Clap back against a cat call or other uninvited advance from an unknown male
There are, I’m certain, many other things a woman might do that could get her branded as difficult. It’s not just men who would label a self-assured or successful woman difficult. Sometimes women will cast other women in that same light because they are so accustomed to societal norms they don’t see the inherent sexism in them.
I have been labeled difficult plenty of times. It used to bother me. Now I simply see it as my duty. I’m not saying we need to smash the patriarchy to smithereens, but I think we’d do a lot better as a species if we allowed the world to become more balanced. Too much of any one thing is never a good idea, especially if that one thing is testosterone.
Yesterday I posted about a pair of Betsey Johnson, ruby red, rhinestone-bedazzled, four-inch heeled pumps. My son spotted them and pointed them out to me while we were in DSW looking for summer shoes for our upcoming cruise. I tried them on because I had to. I mean, is it even possible to walk past these stunners without at least being curious if they could change your life or transport you to Kansas if you click your heels three times? Oh…and did I mention they also come in silver (and green and blue too)? Fabulous.
As a rule, I do not blog about things like shoes because I am not exactly a fashionista. I fall solidly in the fashion category “trying not to dress like my grandma but definitely not wearing crop tops either.” So it’s surprising that I am writing about shoes two days in a row. But I got a lot of feedback from friends and fellow bloggers about these shoes today. All the comments said I should “buy the shoes.”
So, I think I will take some time to go back to DSW and try them out again. If I get them, they would be a splurge on something that will mostly live on a shelf in my closet. They won’t be alone, though. They will join these lovelies, both of which have been worn a couple times at most. I can’t bring myself to part with them because they make me happy and remind me that I am (or at least have been on occasion) a little more than a typical suburban housewife. Sometimes I am a little sassy.
Is it silly to spend money on something you will hardly use? If it is, I have a house full of silly things. I rarely use the Pottery Barn appetizer plates with 1960s cocktail recipes on them that we received as a gift from friends years ago, but I still like them and so they live in our cupboard. We have an Instapot that has only ever cooked eggs, maybe three times. We have a collection of 1980s-era beverage glasses from Burger King with Star Wars characters on them too, but I am not parting with those. If I got rid of everything in our home that is not used daily or even regularly, we could downsize to a 1000 square foot apartment with two-bedrooms (I need the extra closet for my awesome shoes). So, what would be the harm in buying a pair of ruby slippers that make me smile and feel a little feisty? Worst case scenario is that someday I pass them along in pristine condition to some other woman who would get to live out her Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz magic.
Sometimes I think too much. Sometimes it’s best to stop thinking and buy the damn shoes.
I went shopping for shoes for my son and myself today. He bought a pair of running shoes and a pair of flip flops. I bought nothing because I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for (cute, comfy espadrille sandals), but Joe spied these glittery, rhinestone, ruby red shoes and pointed them out to me. I have no reason to purchase these shoes, but I did have to try them on because, well, Dorothy shoes.
When I got home, I started wondering if I should have bought them. I mean, I have literally no place to wear shoes such as these given that my usual attire is as pictured, denim and Converse. On the other hand, shouldn’t every woman have a pair of shoes like these? Does it matter if all I do in them is wash dishes? How fabulous would I be rolling the trash can to the curb on Monday morning?
In preparation for dinner tonight, I was peeling some Gala apples for homemade applesauce. As I was peeling, I remembered something my mom told me when I was growing up. She said I couldn’t get married until I could peel an apple in one, long, continuous, curly strip. Now, at the time, I saw this comment as more of a challenge than anything else. I like challenges. So, every time thereafter when I had the occasion to peel an apple, I practiced the skill of being able to peel it in one piece. And I learned to do it because, well, it’s not exactly rocket science.
Today, though, as I was peeling the apples and my mom’s comment popped into my head as it does every time I peel apples, I recognized it immediately for the load of patriarchal bullshit it is. I imagined a home economics class in the 1950s where some matronly teacher in a prim and demure dress and a pressed and starched apron shared that little nugget with her all-female class. I imagined most of the women in the class, who were raised to believe that being a housewife and mother was the greatest calling a woman could ever aspire to, adopted that mindset and got busy peeling apples on their way to wedded, domestic bliss. I also imagined, though, a couple young women who, while not daring to speak their truth out loud, also decided this was a load of patriarchal bullshit and internally rolled their eyes.
It’s more than a little depressing to realize these little tidbits were doled out throughout history to keep women in line, barefoot and pregnant on the mommy track, and out of the working world. Well, maybe not barefoot in the 50s because women had to be made up and man-ready to meet their husband at the front door with his pipe and slippers in the 50s. I remember being incensed when I read works by Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, stories where proper, young women “improved” themselves by reading poetry and playing the pianoforte and practicing etiquette and perfecting needlework so they could make themselves the most attractive potential bride in the village so they could land a duke or something to elevate their status. In college, that really riled me up. And, I know what you’re thinking. But, but you quit working to raise children and make a home. Yes. Yes I did. Perhaps I sold my career potential a little short with that decision, but at least I had a choice about it, more of a choice than the women in Victorian England or 1950s America had anyway. I mean, I chose not to improve myself by taking home economics in high school because I felt it was demeaning and I didn’t care for the box that class would put me in. It was later on when I was on my own and learned that sewing might have been a useful skill and that weekly meal planning required more work than I had hoped.
So, I guess my point here (and I do have one) is that women have come a long way but not as far as we could have if we’d been given more choices and opportunities. But we still live in a patriarchal world. I mean, here I am on a Wednesday making homemade applesauce and trying to make sure I peel the apples all in one careful motion. We should do something about that. And about the patriarchy too.
(Editor’s note: I’ve decided to do a little blog work on memories. I am hoping to tell one story from a past memory each week. This post begins that practice.)
When I was a young girl, my middle sister and I shared a full-size bed in one bedroom. At night, my mom would read us a Little Golden Book. One book that sticks in my mind more than any other was called Good Little, Bad Little Girl. The story was about one little girl who sometimes was well-behaved and other times was not, just like most humans. The “good” little girl was depicted as being neat, clean, calm, and polite, the very ideal of femininity. The “bad” little girl was messy, disheveled, emotional, stubborn, and rude, everything a little girl was not meant to be. As I look back at the book now, I find it appallingly sexist. At the time, however, that is not at all how I understood the story.
The good little girl in the story looked a lot like the sister I shared that bedroom with. She had lovely, smooth, straight, blonde hair that was easy to comb through and was held neatly in barrettes. She was sweet with her baby doll toys, compliant with parents’ wishes, and not any trouble at all. The bad little girl in the story reminded me of myself. She was depicted with unruly hair, sticking her tongue out, pulling the good girl’s hair, and acting like a tomboy. She was not at all what she was “supposed” to be. The parallels between the good and bad girls in the story and my sister and I were uncanny in my young mind. This story was about us.
When my mother read that story to us, I was probably 5 or 6. I didn’t realize the tale was about one girl. I thought it really was about two girls, one good and one bad. At the end of the book, though, the narrator says (spoiler alert): “If you would be happy, if you would be wise, open your ears and open your eyes. Make the bad little girl grow smaller and smaller. Make the good little girl grow taller and taller.” My understanding of that passage at the time was that I, with my less than perfect hair, behavior, and demeanor, was so bad that perhaps I should simply disappear. I had no idea that the girl in the story was one young female child who simply had good days and bad days and was alternately sweet and ornery. I didn’t understand that the book was meant to be a cautionary (if outdated and sexist) tale for young girls about how to best behave. Because my sister looked and acted like the girl in the book, because my mother often held up my sister to me as an example of a good girl (look at how nicely she holds her baby doll), I understood that I simply was the “bad” girl. I realize that my mother was just reading a story book, but we never had any qualifying conversations about the meaning of the book. There was no objective talk to break down the notion that most of us are basically good people with bad days and that, if we strive to be the best versions of ourselves, our bad behaviors may dissipate with time. Without that conversation, my creative mind was left to run wild. And run wild it did. I did not like that book, but it came to be the one I most identified with. It has stuck with me for 48 years.
I’ve discussed this Little Golden Book book in therapy because it is one of the earliest memories I have about how I internalized the notion that I was not a good, acceptable person deserving of love exactly the way I am. There are many stories about myself that I accepted over the years without stopping to question their veracity. I will continue to work on growing my self-esteem through self-compassion until I can put this book (and other stories I was sold about myself) behind me as false narratives that were never true and that I no longer need to carry.
While I am, in nearly all cases, against banning or destroying books, maybe someday I will get my hands on a copy of this book. Then I will burn it for the symbolic and therapeutic relief it will provide. Don’t worry, though. I will leave The Poky Puppy, The Little Red Hen, Scruffy the Tugboat, and Tootle in tact.
I had therapy this morning. Yes. I start my week with a therapy session. It lets me recount my weekend and then try to approach the week with better self-awareness. Unfortunately, sometimes it is also exhausting and makes Monday a little more difficult. Today was one of those days.
We did an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) session. During EMDR, we target a traumatic memory that continues to cause me anxiety decades after it occurred. I focus on that memory while watching light travel across a bar from left to right and back again repeatedly. I start by thinking about the negative memory and with each passing, short session of eye movement, my brain travels through the emotions of the memory guiding me to experience it again in a different way. I often cycle through sadness and anger before my brain at last hits on the reality behind the memory, diffusing it for me. It sounds hokey, but its ability to allow me to reconstruct my thoughts about myself and my difficult past are no joke.
Today we did some work to reduce my anxiety around other people’s expectations. I am a people pleaser. Not because I particularly care about pleasing people but because I was raised to believe that no one would or could tolerate me unless I behaved according to their expectations and wishes. This learned behavior, attempting to ensure others are happy even while I am making myself anxious and miserable, is debilitating. I am constantly watching other people’s expressions and actions, wondering what negative thing I did to cause them and then panicking about how to fix them so the person will accept me again. If a friend asks me to meet her for coffee to talk, my initial reaction is to wonder what I have done wrong rather than to consider she might just want to talk about something in her life and not some slight I have concocted. I end nearly every therapy session by apologizing to my therapist for rambling on and thanking her for listening to me. It’s absolute madness how my mind catastrophizes how other people view me. This type of anxiety is one thing I continue to work on.
At any rate, today I came up with a strategy that might assist me. I understand that I am not solely responsible for someone else’s discomfort or disappointment. Some of it is not a me problem at all. So I have decided that when I begin to feel that anxiety rising, when I start to feel the urge to bend myself into a pretzel to make someone else comfortable rather than letting them sit with their discomfort and placing myself as a priority, I need to put on my imaginary Wonder Woman golden wrist wraps, cross my arms in front of my chest, and deflect their expectations. I am not responsible for making everyone else happy at the expense of my own schedule, personal wishes, or sanity. I am allowed to expect others to be mature enough to handle their disappointment, frustration, confusion, sadness, or whatever. It’s okay for me to cross my arms and send their energy back to them to deal with on their own. It’s not selfish. It’s adulting. And I can also use the wrist wraps to stop myself from spiraling out of control when a friend says they need to speak to me over coffee. I can block the crazy talk in my head and recognize it as part of an old thought pattern that no longer serves me.
I know I am not the only woman who suffers from this affliction. Women are often conditioned from an early age to be pliable, amiable, and selfless. If we weren’t, why would the world constantly be telling us to smile more often? I would like to see more women, including myself, take a different approach, a healthier one. I would like to see us putting ourselves first more often, deflecting the expectations of others in favor of more self-serving pursuits. So, friends, let’s see if we can pull on our wrist wraps and protect ourselves, and each other, a bit better. We deserve the peace that derives from choosing our own way rather than caving to what is expected of us by others. I’d say we should act more like men, but the truth is we can do better. We can act like the wonder women we are and were always meant to be.
I’m a little riled up over the continued erosion of the constitutional right guaranteed to women in 1973 courtesy of the Roe v. Wade decision. I can’t believe we are still talking about a woman’s right to manage what is going on in her own reproductive system. It’s 2021, but we seem to be moving in retrograde.
In 1973, there were nine men on the Supreme Court. Seven of them voted in favor of Jane Roe, and six of those men were Republican. But, for the past 48 years, conservative religious groups have made it their steadfast goal to overturn the decision of those men. And each and every year in recent memory, conservative states have worked to make obtaining an abortion virtually impossible despite its legality. From instituting mandatory counseling and mandatory waiting periods to discourage women, to slowly diminishing the number of abortion clinics (six states currently only have one abortion clinic) to create a logistical obstacle, women’s right to choose is slowly slipping away state by state. Outlawing abortion, however, does not solve the problem of unwanted pregnancies. We could greatly reduce the number of abortions in this country if we made reliable birth control widely available and affordable. But since many religious groups also believe any form of birth control is anathema and instead promote an abstinence-as-birth-control stance that simply does not work for most humans at sexual maturity, it seems to me that abortions must remain legal.
At its heart, the current abortion debate centers around the religious views of some being imposed upon all women, whether or not they hold those same beliefs. When Governor Abbott of Texas signed their latest, most restrictive anti-abortion legislation on Wednesday, he said, “Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion.” What does the “Creator” have to do with citizen rights in a country that was built around the separation of church and state? Religious communities have decided that life begins at conception, making abortion akin to murder. As a non-religious woman, however, I believe that life begins when the fetus is able to survive outside the uterus, which falls somewhere after 24 weeks in most cases. And, even then, a baby delivered at 24 weeks will need medical intervention to thrive. If we agree that a fetus is dependent upon the woman serving as host for its survival until it can viably exist outside the womb, then its rights should not surpass the rights of the woman carrying it. In this case, the chicken comes before the egg.
A plurality of Americans support Roe v. Wade, and a minority are pushing to expunge it. That seems undemocratic to me. If you think abortion is murder, don’t have one. No one is forcing you to abandon a pregnancy you would maintain. And unless your religious group is planning to financially support all the future babies it wants to save from abortion, then we’re kind of stuck because it seems the people who are against abortion are also against creating a welfare state or funding Medicare for all so the baby will have guaranteed healthcare or ensuring affordable childcare so women can work to support the life they must keep. Children are expensive.
I believe in the separation of church and state. I would deny no one their right to practice their own faith according to their beliefs. If you follow Jesus or Buddha or Allah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, it’s no business of mine. If your faith says abortion is a grievous sin, you are free to make your sexual and reproductive decisions accordingly. That said, however, I’ll need to you to keep your faith off the body of anyone who isn’t you. You have a right to your religious beliefs, but you don’t have a right to impose them on anyone else, least of all a woman who needs your faithful compassion rather than your judgment. After all, wasn’t it Jesus who said let he who is without sin cast the first stone?
Once upon a time in my life, I penned poetry. It wasn’t necessarily great poetry, but it was a way to work out my thoughts without journaling them or writing them to a friend in a letter (back when people wrote letters). I found this poem today while looking for something else, and it struck me how nearly 30 years later most of it still rings true. This was written on the day the officers were acquitted in the Rodney King trial, April 29, 1992. I was 24.
Spontaneous Notes on a “Free Country”
A black man is beaten senseless
abused beyond reasonable force by
white law officers
A female with an unwanted pregnancy must get
a man's permission to make choices about
her own body
A homosexual couple must hide their
love to avoid discrimination
The rich get richer
The poor get poorer
The cost of living goes up
No doesn't really mean no
Medical costs are outrageous
I could go on and on eternally and
I'd like to send a message
but it's apparent no one is listening
Land of the free and the
Home of the dominant white male
A couple weeks ago, I was watching MSNBC and saw an interview with Marine Corps Major Thomas Schueman and the young Afghan interpreter who had worked with him when he was commanding troops in Afghanistan. Major Schueman has spent years keeping in touch with Zak (code name), trying to make sure he would get the US visa he was promised in exchange for his putting his life on the line to aid and protect American troops. Major Schueman said Zak had saved his life several times. Zak spoke on camera from behind a mask. He was in hiding after he had recently received a letter from the Taliban reminding him that they knew his whereabouts and would be coming for him shortly. Zak sounded terrified, and for good reason. He and his wife have four children under the age of 5. Zak knew they would not survive if Afghanistan fell and the Taliban took power. And then this week they did.
As good journalism will do to a person, I became invested in Zak’s story and the thought that there are thousands upon thousands of Zaks in Afghanistan who helped us and deserve their shot at freedom. When Kabul fell, the impending doom for these interpreters became palpable. Tonight Rachel had Major Schueman on again. He has spent the past couple days trying desperately trying to get Zak and his family out of the country. Texting Zak and his contacts in Afghanistan, Schueman tried to coordinate an escape for the young family. Twice he got close, but no go. Then finally today Zak and his family were able to board a plane out of Afghanistan. Major Schueman isn’t sure where they are headed, but they are safe. Zak might at last get the freedom for which he risked his life.
I write about this tonight for two reasons. One: It’s crucial that we as a country remember those who help us and that we honor our word to them. It’s the right thing to do. The interpreters left behind will be killed by the Taliban if they are unable to escape. That is unacceptable. And that is on us as a nation. Period. Two: This story has a happy ending for Zak and his family, and there isn’t enough good news in the news lately.
Beyond this, though, I’ve been thinking about what an absolute mess our withdrawal from Afghanistan has been. And this is what I have decided. There are not enough women involved in these types of decisions and operations. Fine. We needed to get out of Afghanistan after 20 years. It is unlikely that staying there longer or investing more money would have changed anything. But, the timing and planning for our withdrawal seem haphazard at best. I mean, even if Afghanistan fell to the Taliban at a rate far quicker than most experts imagined it would, why hadn’t we planned better how to remove the over 15k American citizens still there and why hadn’t we done more to secure the safety of our friends, the interpreters who risked their lives to save American ones? We’re the United States, goddammit. We have resources and money and trained professionals. There’s no excuse for this crap.
So, I started thinking that maybe we need more moms involved in planning the actions of our government. Moms plan for contingencies. Moms think of everything. I guarantee that you have seen this in action. You have been on a picnic where utensils were forgotten and your mom conjured up six sets of plasticware with napkins from the depths of her car. Or you’ve been to the pool and your kid got a scrape and a mom who was sitting nearby pulled a bandaid and Bactine from her purse. Or you’ve been in a parking lot before a concert and you realize your beer is not a twist-top bottle and you have no bottle opener, and your wife grabs the bottle from you and removes the cap using the door catch on her car. Women are amazing that way. We’re undaunted and resourceful. It’s the reason we’re often the last one out of the house before a family trip. We’re thinking about disasters and contingency plans. We consider potential rainfall or diaper blowouts or sunburns and we turn around to grab the plastic ponchos, clean onesies, and sunscreen. With women, it’s not just leave no one behind but also leave nothing to chance by making assumptions. So, should we have had a momma bear or six involved in preparations for our withdrawal from Afghanistan? Definitely. We’d have had Plans A through Z lined up and ready to knock down. And we probably would have had snacks and matching luggage too.