coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Friday, February 20, 2015

Old Wives and Vampire Killers

I am not biking, hiking, exploring, or being active in any meaningful way because I feel like crap.  I've had the flu, and Iam not doing much of anything except laying on the couch reading trashy paranormal romance/urban fantasy novels. That sounds great, I know, and it is. But probably not for the reason you think. I no longer read each page because they all pretty much follow the same formula and they are not written particularly well. In fact, I can read one of these books in a day. I have been skipping the sex parts for years.  The sex scenes are all pretty much the same.

Why do I still read this genre? Because I love reading the parts where these women beat up bad guys. They kick ass and take no prisoners. These women are not afraid of anything. Should I be ashamed to admit that is MY fantasy?  And these heroines always have some kind of magical power that helps them kick bad person ass. Way fun.

I also started reading this great book on Fairy Tales (From The Beast to the Blonde, by Marina Warner). It is chock full of subversive information about what people in the Middle Ages thought of old women. Apparently we are all useless, (i.e., no longer able to conceive children), physically repulsive, scary old gossips who spread "old wives tales." The up-side is that we are also the original source of Fairy Tales. 

Imagine grandmothers throughout the centuries telling their grandchildren tales the storytellers heard from their own grandmothers. These stories were dismissed by the literati of their times as the inane drivel old women used to stoke the irresponsible fantasies of young children. Still, the storytelling continued until eventually men like Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Perrault, and the Brothers Grimm decided to collect the old tales, write them down, and sell them for profit and posterity. However, the men who wrote down these stores often changed them, cleaning them up to make them more acceptable to the later Christian reading public. 

It seems grandmothers in the Middle Ages used to tell it like it was: weaving and repeating tales that warned their grandchildren about the dangers of violence, greed, brutality, abuse, scam artists, and even incest. They taught children how to use their heads in a crisis and avoid becoming victims. They also taught them to be nice to old hags they might meet in the woods, because those old hags might be fairy godmothers in disguise!  What great advice! THEIR grandkids were schooled in street smarts and knew who and what to avoid.  Our grandkids, relying solely on Disney to tell them the watered down and revised tales, are naive at best. Our kids mistake the old hag they meet in the woods for an evil old witch who should be ridiculed, ignored, or worse. Talk about bad manners and meanness of spirit! I am surprised more young people today are not spitting out toads when they attempt to speak. 

At worst, our granddaughters spend their lives obsessing over their appearance and looking for a gentleman prince who will change their lives. I think we should be telling our granddaughters to forget about getting that Princess makeover at Magic Kingdom and instead we should help them figure out how to spin straw into gold.

Plan for your retirement, my sweet! Give your future husband a break and change your own life. In the meantime, I am going to continue speed reading urban fantasy for the fight scenes. My sweet Grandma only told me Bible stories and I still have a lot to learn.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sisterhood should have been a lot more powerful

After all these years, feminism still has a long way to go before it becomes acceptable to the masses. If you do not believe me, just wait until Hillary runs for President and the wingnuts start to criticize her outfits and hairdos instead of her political message.

Back in the late 1960s, when the so-called second wave of feminism was young and vital, I was young along with it. The "first wave" was in the early days of the 20th century when the suffragettes were fighting for women to get the right to vote.  Anyway, I remember going to hear Dr. Benjamin Spock speak at Notre Dame circa 1968. I am not referring to the Vulcan who was also a pop icon at the time, Dr. Benjamin Spock was the guy who published a book in 1946 originally called The Commonsense Book of Baby & Child Care.  This wildly popular child care book was subsequently blamed for permissive child rearing and the resulting radicalism of the baby boomer generation. Indeed, his book was quite radical and forward thinking in the 1940s and 1950s.

Of course he was a man of his time and the gender role stereotypes he pushed in early editions of his book were deemed sexist by the late 1960s. I was a high school student and I vividly remember how exciting it was to hear the college-aged activists in the hall shout him down and call him out on his sexism. Those women were fearless powerhouses like no women I had seen before that night. They were no ladies! They were superheros. You may remember their crazy radical feminist notions, like recognizing that fathers should help out with childcare, that at least half of the children might be female, and that women had the right to work outside the home.

Spock actually listened and
later changed his "message" in subsequent editions and even apologized to women for not thinking of us as fully realized human beings. In 1976 the newly enlightened Benjamin Spock divorced his old wife (the mother of his children, the one he married in 1927 and the person who helped research and write that famous book) and he married a woman 40 years younger than him. Concerning his second wife, he was quoted as saying "she gave me back my youth."  Gag me with a spoon. I guess no one told him about the sins of ageism.

I attended my share of consciousness raising groups and women's writing workshops back in the day.  I tried (and failed) to make my daughter play with trucks instead of dolls. I happily signed up to attend assertiveness training workshops.  I wish those still existed, they were quite useful in instructing us how to be women instead of ladies. In case you did not know, second wave feminists did not want to be called or thought of as ladies. "Ladies" tottered around aimlessly on high heels never thinking deep thoughts or challenging authority. Let me be perfectly clear: Ladies have cooties. Women kick ass.

By the mid-1970s I was discouraged by the movement's subsequent focus on the rights and privileges of upper middle class women.  It seemed to me that was all the women's movement came to care about in later years; enabling women of means to enter the professions alongside their equally privileged men. I am all for upper class women having the same opportunities as upper class men, of course. However, none of my friends or family members were going to become doctors, lawyers, or professors; not because they were not smart enough to become professionals, but because no one was paying for them to go to college. Let's be honest, working class people do not have parents who can buy them a future.

It would have been nice if the later women's movement had been interested in understanding and supporting the special struggles of working class women. Feminism might be more than just a tired joke in some circles today had the movement embraced all women and not just the elite few.  I was not alone in feeling undervalued and ignored. Class struggle was arguably the downfall of the second wave of feminism in the 60s/70s.  I would recommend an article written in 1977 by Marlene Dixon.  She was a bit of a firecracker and definitely too extreme in her politics, but it is still a good read if you are interested in stepping back in time and immersing yourself in the history of feminism.

In truth, the 1960s/70s women's movement was different at first.  Feminist ideology influenced and/or energized organizations that really made a difference in the lives of all women, like Planned Parenthood - an organization that was started by Margaret Sanger, a first wave feminist and onetime labor activist.  Some other efforts championed in the glory days of feminism were the creation of professionalized day care centers, job training programs, battered women's shelters. Affirmative Action has its problems; however, women and African Americans would not have been hired into traditionally white male jobs or professions without it.  Again, not because they were not capable of doing the jobs, but because they would never have gotten an interview without Affirmative Action stepping on the toes of the white guys in charge of Human Resources.

Second wave feminism WAS successful in altering the cultural landscape and making things a bit better for women. Don't let anyone tell you any different.  Why then is the concept of feminism seemingly still a hard sell for young women, women of color, rural women, and working class women?  In my opinion, the "second wave" of the women's movement
simply did not finish the job, instead becoming decadent, myopic, and self-serving. The leadership failed to stay interested in or establish meaningful dialogue with these disparate groups of women. When that happened, it stopped being relevant to the majority of women. It is all about perception, after all.