Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

30 September 2009

Rape Is Still Rape -- Even After 32 Years - From Awearness

This was originally posted at the AWEARNESS blog.


60% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.

Only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail.

I firmly believe that these two facts, courtesy of RAINN, are intertwined.

Why would you want to call the police after being raped if you knew that there was less than a 10% chance that your rapist would ever see the inside of a jail cell?

Thirty-two years ago an adult man raped a 13-year-old girl. Along with her mother, she reported it to the police. The man pled guilty and, threatened with imprisonment, he fled the United States. Today the media asks why money would be wasted on bringing this man in front of a judge to close the case, and questions its timing.

I ask, "What took so gawd damn long?"

Please continue reading over at AWEARNESS.

29 September 2009

Carnival of Feminists

The 5th Carnival of Feminists is now up!

Go check out the awesome posts...I'm sure you're already read mine. *wink*

Chally had this visualization of the carnival made...awesome eh?


Interrupted Life: Incarcerated Mothers in the United States - From Awearness

Originally posted at the AWEARNESS blog.


I'm not usually an art person. It's not that I don't like art -- it's that I don't usually get it. But last week I went to the last day of Rickie Solinger's Interrupted Life: Incarcerated Mothers in the United States: A Traveling Public Art Exhibition. Almost immediately I was in tears.

The first piece I stood in front of was a list of rules that incarcerated women must adhere to during visitation or else their visitation rights will be revoked. It was breathtaking to see all the rules etched into glass in black and white. It was overwhelming. And I knew this is why I waited until the last minute to see the exhibit. If I had gone earlier, I might have found myself obsessing over the pieces day after day.

Read the rest over at AWEARNESS...

28 September 2009

Nurturing Responsible Privilege

Can it be done? I sure hope so.

While I still identify with my working class background, I also acknowledge the numerous privileges I have earned. My mother always let my sisters and I know that my parents moved us into our school district for the "better" education we would get. This wasn't just so we would get a good education, it was so that we would have better career options than our parents had and thus for our children to have a "better" life.

So here I sit with bachelor's and masters degrees in my fairly comfortable upper middle class life. wow.

What got me thinking about all of this were two things:

1) Our daughter came home with a note about an after-school science program. My husband asked her if she wanted to do it and she said yes. He immediately filled out the application and was ready to grab the checkbook to pay the almost $200 fee. WOW. I pulled out of Model UN and color guard camp for money reasons. Thus when I did get to participate in something it was a real privilege. One reason why I started working in high school was so that I could buy my own shampoo that was cruelty-free. My dad worked for a major cosmetic company (that tested on animals) and we got a ton of free stuff. The fact that we can pay for an after-school program without much thought is still breathtaking to me.

2) My daughter was skipping and jumping around campus on Friday. She said that it was her home. She was toting her notepads and crayons in a tote bag that I got in New Orleans at the 1996 American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists Annual Meeting. Seriously, how many kids are this exposed to science at this age? At all? I was sitting, watching her climb and was overcome with jealousy.

I am jealous of all the things we will be able to provide her that I could only dream of when I was a kid. If she wants to go to Space Camp, done. Tennis shoes worn out? Let's head to the store. Sports lessons? Sure thing. What keeps her from being six with six different lessons is our desire to not wear her too thin.

In the same heartbeat I am proud that we can provide her with these things. We played by the rules: Worked hard, went to college and got good paying jobs. We have been rewarded - not richly, but just enough.

Now I'm pondering how do I raise her to value all these things that we can provide her? How to raise her with knowledge of how we got to this point without being all "when I was your age..." I feel like we're at this critical point in her development that if I don't figure it out, she'll grow up to be a spoiled ungrateful kid. Then again, she's such a loving and caring person that it's hard to see her turn out like that ever.

Perhaps living in an old home where we put plastic on the windows in the winter and still haven't remodeled the kitchen will help temper her own view of her privilege.


Note: I put better in quotes here because it's a value judgement. Was my childhood terrible? No. Could it had been better with more money in the bank? Maybe. Will my daughter have a better childhood? Can't say. But she will have more opportunities than I did.

27 September 2009

Toothpaste for Good - From Awearness

Originally posted at the AWEARNESS blog

I love Tom's of Maine toothpaste. It's environmentally responsible and it tastes good. Now, there is something more to love: their new community corporate sponsorship program. In their words, "Small differences in the community can make a large difference in the world, so we want to support and encourage your efforts to get involved! In November we'll award five 501c (3) nonprofit organizations with $20,000."

Many, many organizations submitted applications and Tom's of Maine whittled it down to 50 finalists. Now the heat is on! It's up to us to head on over and vote for up to five organizations who you think should get $20,000.
 
How exciting for a company to empower its customers and include them in its philanthropy. I really love voting competitions like this, and learning about all the amazing work being done. Now off to vote!

24 September 2009

My privileged nose & reporting a slap to a baby

Tonight we stopped at a store and as we were heading to the check out lanes, we saw a family enter the store. I had noticed them because the baby in the cart was crying. I always try to give the parent/caregiver a "been there" smile. But as I watched a man with the baby, the mom came walking up and then it happened. He slapped the baby.

My heart sank.

The mom jumped and tried to get between the baby and the man. I assume it was the dad, but her "don't hit my kid!" gives me a bit of doubt. But then again, there are times when I refer to our daughter as "my daughter" or "your daughter." Hmm...But the man and mom starting arguing with the baby between them. My husband took our daughter away from the scene (thankfully somehow she saw none of it) and I asked the couple to please take a moment to cool off. Of course he shot me the "mind your own business bitch" look.

My heart was racing. He was clearly pissed off at the baby, her and now me. But I was leaving.

So I stood in the check out line going back and forth. Do I report this? What if he explodes again in the store? I should warn security. What will that do to her?

Sometimes knowing why women stay in violent relationships and how messed up the justice system is makes it hard for me to "do the right thing."

But I did. The cashier got security and I alerted them to the situation.

As I walked out with my daughter's hand in mine, I thought maybe I totally screwed her. What if's went thru my mind. Then what if I showed her that someone else cares about her and the kids? What about the smile I threw the older child trailing them?

I did what I thought was best. I couldn't not do something. I just hope it was the best for her too.

21 September 2009

Seeing Dedé Mirabal was a challenge for me


Today I went to see Dedé Mirabel talk about her memoir, Vivas en su jardin.Why would this be such a challenge for me? It was in Spanish.

For new readers, I don't speak Spanish very well. I wasn't raised speaking Spanish and despite four years of Spanish, I still think I'd never find my way in Mexico if I were lost. Althou, survival Spanish may seriously kick in. But I wanted to hear and see the lone surviving Mirabel sister, the one left to tell her sisters' stories of opposing the cruel dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo and were assassinated in 1960.

Luckily for me the event was translated into English.

Unlucky for me, it was at my campus. I seriously hate being in very public places and looking like the gringa Latina I am. But I sucked it up and grabbed a translation headset and sat down for the event.

There were times when I took the headset off to test or push my Spanish. I quickly would put them back on when I realized I was losing the conversation. And I have to tell you that Mirabel is quite a story teller.

She sat solemn-faced while speaker after speaker introduced her and spoke of the importance of her memoir. Mirabel was so composed as they spoke of her sisters' deaths, but you could also tell that memories were flashing in her mind. She would take deep breaths and even close her eyes for a moment. But when it was time for her to take questions, she had to stop herself from talking for the rest of the time. She even said so a few times.

Mirabel said that she had started on the memoir after years and years of people asking her questions about the time and finally someone told her to write it all down. She worked with a journalist for I believe 20 years - again, perhaps an error in translation - to get out. Mirabel said that she worked on the memoir not to keep the memory of her sisters alive, but to keep their example of how to live alive.

Obviously back then TV and radio was limited and the story of the Mirabel sisters spread thru word of mouth. Soon their story had a life of its own and had a fairy tale/mythic feeling to it. Mirabel said that there are still times when people ask to touch her just to make the story real to them. Althou the reality of being a Mirabel was clear when non-relatives changed their last names to avoid the contempt of the government.

The question is gets the most thou is "What wasn't she killed?" and "How did she survive it?" She says she wasn't killed because she was to tell the tale. Her mom and Dedé  raised the motherless children as their own. It was the kids who kept both of them living after such horror and heartbreak.

Dedé was amazing to see. I often romanticize what it means to be a sister, but I saw it in the flesh.

Repost: And what are you for Halloween? A 10-year-old hooker!

This is becoming an annual event! Ah, sometimes posts never go out of style.

Is that what we really want our daughters to be this Halloween?

I have to admit that Halloween is my favorite holiday. What I don't like is that it too has been pornified in recent years and the pornification keeps trickling down to younger and younger kids.

Take this costume for example #1: Major Flirt. You daughter can be sassy, cute, and of course, sexy all at the same time! And please, don't try to tell me that this is the same as a cheerleader costume. The label is FLIRT! [2009 Update: It's been renamed as Attitude, but the description still says FLIRT.] Flirts have sexual power. But look through the costume aisle at your local store and you'll see that the costumes are sexed up even for girls. AND also notice the gender line that is clearly drawn. I was in Target last week browsing with my daughter and noticed it oh so well. In the boys aisle you can be a doctor, police officer, and of course your general super heroes and monsters. Girls? Super heroes, check. Monsters, check. Princesses, check. Racist stereotypes*, check. Doctor? Police officer? Construction worker? Not in the house.

And if a pornified Halloween isn't enough for your girl, don't forget to make sure she is silky smooth! Remember Nair ladies? Well they're after our daughters now with a new campaign targeted at 10-15 year olds. Maybe I'm old fashioned and no, it's not just my feminist mama in me, but I didn't get to touch a razor until I was about 12-13. Sure around 10 you start thinking about it, but then every other 10 year old had peach fuzz on our legs. Well, us Latinas had a bit more, but that's another post. There is a whole life of shaving, waxing, and plucking. Why can't we just let our daughters enjoy their few years of not worrying about stubble?

When I rant on about things like this, I also ask you to keep them in context with everything else going on. We have thongs targeted to pre-teens. Thongs were designed for strippers! To get around no nudity laws. We have 8-year-olds hospitalized for eating disorders. All this in a world where rape survivors are still blamed for dressing like sluts. Even 10-year-olds are asking for it.

Yes, dear readers, I'm pissed. Mad as hell and no, I'm not going to take it anymore.

* Those are your geisha girl and Indian princess costumes.

20 September 2009

Be still my feminist mama heart...My daughter and the Emmys

It's Sunday and homework is all done (actually, she didn't have any since she won Star Student of the Week. *gloating*), the kid is in her PJs, teeth have been brushed and tomorrow's clothes are picked up. Yup, it's a rare night when it's 8 pm and not much is left to do in our household. We're curled up in a heap on the couch flipping between the 2009 Emmy Awards and Sunday Night Football.

Our precocious daughter watches men and women pick up separate acting awards. Then one of the writing award nominations are being announced. "So, is this the men's writing awards?" "Um, no mija. Just the writing awards. But GOOD observation!"

As much as I feel that I am raising her in what I would call a feminist manner, I wouldn't say that I point out all of life's injustices like say an awards category where there are only men or only white women. That is for much later in life when I feel like she could handle such a conversation. Only at the age of 6 she makes that observation herself.

This is the same girl who around the age of 2 or 3 let it be known that it's OK for the baby rubber ducky to have two mommies and at the age of 4 stated that restrooms with sinks and soap dispensers too high for her to reach were bad because little kids couldn't reach them on their own and that is just unfair. Seriously? You think I taught her that last one? Last month we were in a restroom when she took a step back from the sink and proudly told me that "Mom, now this is a good  kid sink!" Two years later she's still on the look out for kid-friendly rest room sinks.

I tweeted her Emmy comment and got a lot of retweets. A sign that others not only agreed with her, but a sign to her that she's seeing it right. She's got the right lens on her two perfect eyes.

I will always say first and foremost, she was born with an innate sense of fairness. I merely support her and guide her in that fairness. Yes, she takes it too literal in that she believes a 6-year-old deserves the exact same amount of dinner and dessert as her 34-year-old mother. But on the whole she's usually dead on.

What I find is feminist in this mothering moment is that I knew exactly what she was talking about. I didn't need to rewind the DVR to see that yes, it was an all dude category. And I affirmed her observation and stressed that it was a GOOD one. I didn't ignore her, I didn't make excuses and I didn't wave her off as being silly.

I affirmed her voice.

And I think that is one of the most feminist things I can do for her as I help her find her way in this world.

How About We Get Rid Of The Death Panels We Already Have? - From Awearness

One of the enduring myths about health care reform is that of the death panel (Thanks Sarah! You too, Betsy!). The idea that the government might set up panels of non-medical or even medical experts to decide who lives and who doesn't scares people. Little do they know it's already happening--and that we pay for those panels through our insurance premiums.

It happened to Crystal Lee Sutton, the woman whose real life inspired the 1979 film Norma Rae.


Sutton died of cancer last week. While she was fighting the illness she battled with her health insurance company, which delayed her treatment. In 2008 The Burlington Times News reported the story:



She went two months without possible life-saving medications because her insurance wouldn't cover it, another example of abusing the working poor, she said. "How in the world can it take so long to find out (whether they would cover the medicine or not) when it could be a matter of life or death," she said. "It is almost like, in a way, committing murder."

That wasn't a government "death panel." That was an insurance company. It could happen to any one of us.

Yesterday Senate Finance Committee Chairman Senator Max Baucus finally revealed his compromise health care bill, which, while it has some problems, does say that insurance companies can't drop you due to pre-existing conditions or after you become sick. But it doesn't address the problem that may have cost Crystal months or years of her life--the fact that unknown executives at insurance companies are making decisions about our medical care.

First we had Sen. Kennedy die during this debate, now we have "Norma Rae". How many more icons whose dying wish is for health care reform must we lose before we finally say ENOUGH? Let's pass health care reform that allows for everyone to be covered and puts medical decisions back in the hands of the people who are treating us, not just reading our file.

19 September 2009

EVENT: Media and Democracy with Laura Flanders Café Society Do-It-Yourself Launch Celebration

Event Details

When::  09/21/2009 -- 6:00pm - 8:30pm
Where:: Chicago Cultural Center, 5th floor Washington and Garland Rooms
78 E. Washington St.
See map: Google Maps
Fee: Free. Open to the public
Reservations are required



Is the media fair and objective or is the media becoming more partisan? Can we point to the recent resignation of Van Jones as an indication of the growing power of the media on politics and policy? Does the media influence politics or is it the other way around? What should the role of the media be in a democracy?

Laura Flanders, host of “GRITtv” -- the new news and culture discussion program online, on satellite and on cable TV – will engage us in a lively conversation about these issues and more. This conversation will be moderated by Barbara Ransby, Director of the Gender and Women’s Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Plus, hear a few words from Lisa Lee, founder of The Public Square.
Following the presentation, we invite YOU to join the conversation. We’ll break down into small, facilitated discussions  – Café Society style -- to share thoughts and reflections on the role of the media, partisan politics and democracy.

Hope you can join us in celebrating the official launch of the Café Society Do-It-Yourself Toolkit with special guest Laura Flanders!


This event is free and open to the public. Reservations are required and can be made online, by email at events@prairie.org, or by calling 312.422.5580. Light refreshments will be served.

This event is co-sponsored by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and The Public Square.
Chicago Public Radio – WBEZ 91.5FM is the media sponsor of this event.

Should High School Girls Have To Take Gender Tests? - From Awearness



Last week, Caster Semenya's gender tests revealed that she has both male and female sex organs. This means that Semenya is intersex.

Reacting to the findings, Lord Coe, a vice-president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (and a world-record-setting runner and former Olympian), wants a rule change in order to "eliminate competitive advantages." He's also concerned, he says:
about protecting athletes like Semenya from "the risk of entering a championship and having this exploding all around them," as well as the other young women in sports: "We have to maintain confidence for girls to come into the sport and to think that they are competing on a level playing field."

16 September 2009

Let's talk donuts - Sweetwater Donuts specifically

Over labor day weekend the Feminista familia hiked it up to Kalamazoo, Michigan to visit our godson and his family. Somehow in the hustle & bustle of our lives, it had been two years since our last visit. When we head up there, it's all leisure time. I did bring two books with me and the laptop, but I only cracked open the laptop on the ride home. This allowed my brain to decompress a bit, althou we did have a quick laughing discussion over the Obama education talk.

Outside of catching up with the godson & his family, the best part of our trip was when the godson's mom mentioned to us, "Have you tried Sweetwater Donuts?" WHAA?? "Oh, they are named the best donuts in the country!" I whipped out the smartphone and brought up Google maps like Clint Eastwood in a western. And away we went!

O-M-F-G...

14 September 2009

Book Review: On the Line by Serena Williams

I love everything about the U.S. Open except the line calls.

I experienced this past weekend's U.S. Open upset for Serena Williams with a different perspective than if I hadn't read her memoir On the Line. The book is written in Serena's voice. It's personal, it's conversational, and that's why I like it. I enjoyed her reflection on her life thus far.

I have to say that Serena is a spoiled brat, but that observation comes from her directly. She tells stories that curled this big sister's toes of scheming to get her way, cheating, and destroying her sisters' property. In looking back at all that peeking thru her fingers, I respect Serena for her honesty and self-criticism, and I agree with her judgment that she was a horrible little sister!

Serena spends a lot of time defending her father from the criticism he still receives about his coaching style. While her mom was pregnant with Venus, Serena admits her father decided that they would raise two tennis champions, and well, they did. He and Serena's mom taught themselves the game by playing and watching videos then he taught his daughters while they were living in Compton by playing on public courts. Even if the man is a controlling jerk, as some said early in the Williams Sisters career, you have to admit there's no country club pedigree here!

Serena digs deep to tackle the class and racial privilege they smacked into when Venus hit the tennis scene in a chapter on the 2001 Indian Wells tournament. Clearly, the girls were raised with a keen sense of history, especially civil rights history, and I've always admired Venus and Serena both for the way they play and for their tip of the hat to those who came before them.

Serena has a clear sense of racial and gender justice. Not only does Serena spend time discussing race and class, but she addresses all the fat comments she has received over the years. Positive body image is big with her. She understands that, as an internationally known tennis player and someone with more money than most of us will ever know, she has a responsibility to others on many fronts. I didn't follow all the Oprah criticism when the star built a school in Africa, but Serena gives the best response to that criticism I've ever seen by wrapping her justification around a touching story of visiting difference countries in Africa and wanting to do something.

She also lets us in on how much fashion has always played a key part of her and Venus' game. They weren't strong women athletes who "discovered" fashion as a way to sell themselves to the media or fans. They are savvy business women who aren't afraid of taking chances. Along with her sister, Serena will continue to blaze a path for herself and for others.

Even if you aren't a tennis fan or even someone who follows the players closely, we all know that there are some players who make a splash and then disappear or even worse, publicly self-destruct. Pressure and age are often pointed to as the factors as well as pushy parents. It's clear from this memoir that Serena and Venus couldn't have been "The Williams Sisters" without each other. Serena Williams has it all and survives. She did it despite a battle with depression, which she outlines with grace.

Serena haters won't like this book at all, but if you are truly interested in finding out what makes this powerful woman tick, pick up this memoir. It reminds me that Serena's been counted out far too many times and has always come back. She dug herself a hole this weekend, but I have faith that she'll redeem herself and silence the critics... again.

You can get a copy for yourself at an indie bookstore or Powells.com. In these trying economic times, if you have an indie bookstore near you, scoot on over and get it from them, please.

TV APPEARANCES: Hachette Books let me know that Serena has the following TV appearances scheduled for this week. Considering that she did the VMAs last night, hopefully these are still on: Good Morning America on 9/15; Live with Regis & Kelly on 9/16; The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on 11/10; Tyra Banks Show on 9/15; Your World with Neil Cavuto/Fox News Channel on 9/14; On the Record with Greta Van Sustren/Fox News Channel on 9/14; Martha Stewart Show on 9/16

DISCLOSURE: I have a relationship with Hachette Books where they pitch me books to review and when I accept they send me a book for free. So far they have been pretty good at pitching me books that I really do like. Can't say that for everyone who pitches books to me.

13 September 2009

What is Chicago teaching its students about personal health? - From AWEARNESS

On one hand Chicago Public Schools is telling parents and students that they should stay home or will be sent home if they have a 100-degree temperature in an on-going effort to stem the swine flu.

On the other hand, Chicago Public Schools uses absences, even illness absences, as one way to choose which student is allowed to enter into the top college prep schools in the system:

[Celia Hensey] was a straight-A student who aced the selective enrollment high school entrance exam. She scored in the 90th percentile on her middle school tests and tallied 984 points out of 1,000 on the overall admissions scale.

But Celia did not get in.

Her likely downfall? A nasty flu bug in 7th grade that kept her out of school for five days. In the complex and competitive world of selective enrollment scoring, Celia was docked 10 points for five absences.


The years that students are earning their way into the top high schools are 4th through 7th grade. When my daughter began kindergarten last fall, there were stories about kids not getting into a selective high school due to one sick day.

READ THE REST AT AWEARNESS

12 September 2009

The Deal with Disability - from AWEARNESS

The Deal with Disability is a new blog on the scene and is a much watch:


Hey, I'm Eva. I'm 26 and a recent college graduate. I like to write, to take Digital photographs, and just chill. But this blog is not about what I like. This blog is about how people treat me. You see, I am physically disabled. Actually "severely" physically disabled. I have Cerebral Palsy, which for me means I can't walk, speak, or use muscles in traditional ways. I use a power wheelchair to get around and spell out what I want to say on a letterboard.


This blog will be videos of people treating me bizarrely. My video camera is mounted to my wheelchair (very discreetly) and I basically just press record whenever I go out and then edit the good stuff for you! I will then write my comments on the event, which is usually what was playing in my inner monologue while these insensitive people were talking.


There are three videos of encounters that Eva wants us to watch and learn from. The one at the Starbucks is the hardest for me to watch and learn from because, well, I think I would have acted the same way:

READ THE REST AT AWEARNESS

11 September 2009

Swirling, swirling, swirling...

Thanks to this blog and many other activities, my profile is a rising in the world. I've received invitations to events I never thought I was entitled to attend - kinda like being a tattered Cinderella waiting for the invitation to the feminist ball - and requests for appearances I only once joked of having. Some of my chosen family members like to lavish me with compliments, that I'm reaping what I have sown for all these years and that I should stand tall.

My problem is that I never learned to stand tall. One problem with moving from this flat text world into a world of flesh, whether it is on the radio, TV or in person is that I lose some of my VIVA in the translation. Yes, I'm a fairly spunky chick, but mostly in the company of my trusted family members. And even then I get ribbed that I'm too much like a closed book, too guarded.

I also realize that sometimes this guardedness comes off poorly. Believe me, my hesitation to jump into conversations isn't because I feel like they are beneath me, it's rather that I feel like I don't have much to add. With writing, I can take my time if I want. Look up facts before writing them down AND link to my source. In a conversation, I can't do that. And that scares the shit out of me.

I'm also still working on feeling comfortable in my own skin. Something happened after having my daughter, where I guess I embraced that power of being able to birth a human being and I took a big leap forward. It didn't hurt that I also lost a good chunk of weight. But in the last year or so (perhaps with the gaining of a few pounds) I feel like I lost a bit of swagger and just when I need it the most. The increased attention doesn't help, but I refuse to be a hermit and only exist here on your screen.

It's a funny thing this thing called doubt. It makes me forget my goals some days. About a month ago my work place sent out a note alerting my colleagues that I was quoted on Salon.com. I got a good number of emails saying congrats. I mentioned to a former classmate (funny how so many of us stick around) that I was feeling weird about having so much media attention in such a short span of time. We had class together about 6 years ago and I remember this because we sometimes laugh at how freaking pregnant I was! But she wrote back and said, "But isn't this all in your plan?" And I just sat there, looked at my screen and thought, "Um, yeah! It gawd damn is! Idiot! (use Ren's voice)" I wrote her back and thanked her for the reminder.

I feel like my life is splitting apart, but rather I think it's swirling together like a tasty soft serve cone. My opinion writing and punditry is merging into my academic world. Sometimes I take positions that don't directly relate to my academic work - at least not in ways most people see things - and I need to know it's ok. My boss and coworkers are being super supportive of all of this. They don't see me, as far as I know, as a diva or media hog. In fact the more I get "out there" the more I push them to join me.

It's hard being an outspoken feminist. Feathers are bound to be ruffled in and out of our community. Being an outspoken feminist in Chicago can be tough when one doesn't tow the machine line. But if y'all just stand by me, I promise that I'll find my footing and we'll have one hell of an adventure.

Thanks.

07 September 2009

Book Review: The Love Children by Marilyn French

Marilyn French, acclaimed author of "The Women's Room" died on May 2, 2009 months before the release of her last novel, "The Love Children." In some ways it is poetic that this is her last novel. From what I have heard from women whose lives were touched by "The Women's Room," this last novel is a good capstone on French's legacy. The novel revolves around the life of Jess Leighton, a teen whose life epitomizes the changes brought about by the anti-war, feminist and civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

Part of me didn't like this novel at all. I felt the conclusion was too weak and sad. Yet after stewing about the novel for a few weeks, I think it may be one of the most honest ways to answer the question, "What did happen to all the former hippies and flower children? How did all those changes impact the youth and their life decisions?" The answer just might be, it wasn't pretty.

As a Gen Xer, whose own generation is blazing our own paths, and peeking over my shoulder to the generations behind me, I see it all too clear now. The generation of "The Love Children" broke with "tradition" so cleanly that we can never go back and in the process we lost any roadmap to life. Yes, we still have traditionalists who long for those glory days, but we all know that we won't go back. We have eaten from the proverbial apple.

Jess' struggles and challenges work to demystify that era. Having your mother embrace the feminist within her can be daunting to a teen, especially when she must face the asshatery of her father when he decides to take out his frustration on you thru verbal abuse. Entering college is head spinning enough but add to that the polarizing politics that including being anti-war to radical lesbianism and you have one confused liberal young woman. Now here is where I thought that things got to be too much like a caricature, but I put my feminist historian's hat on and thought, you know what? Things were crazy messed up back then. The government was doing an excellent job at infiltrating organizations, even if not especially campus organizations, which only raised the suspicions of leaders towards people who looked like they might be moles. After Jess drops out of school and finds herself living on a commune, the last of her youthful idealism is worn away by how easy it is for peace loving pacifists fall into patriarchal roles once some smell the scent of power. Was French disillusioned with that era? Was she tired of my generation's romanticism of that era? I wish I knew and I may email my friend who pointed French's publishers towards this blog.

There are novels and even biographies that post-Title IX, post-Roe feminists may read and think, "If only she had been born in our time, she would had been awesome!" We look at how the woman in the story ended up far short of where we think she should had ended her life. Instead of being a Gloria Steinem or Dolores Huerta, she gave up her writing career to be a good wife. Instead of leading the revolution, she stayed home to raise her children. Jess' happy ending isn't one out of a feminist fairy tale, yet it shouldn't be one we toss aside with my initial conclusion of weak.

But what does a feminist "happily ever after" look like? Is it growing up to be President of NOW or is it being able to lead a fairly normal life with feminist awareness? I think that question is hard to answer for those of us, like me, who believe that being a feminist means being an activist and especially hard for those who believe you need to keep climbing some invisible ladder to "the top."

And now I know why French was revered as a genius of feminist writing and of feminism. Her last novel is an excellent read for young feminists who might think they have it all planned out, to show that plan or no plan, life throws you punches and sometimes lands them square in the gut. It's a great read for those of is approaching midlife (oh dear goddess that's me!) who are reevaluating "what could had been" and if our bad decisions were the result of unfeminist thinking. I suspect this book may be a salve on any feminists from "The Love Children" era who think that fell far short of the promise/expectations. Just as I tell my students, not everyone gets into med school and not everyone is meant to be a doctor – Not everyone is meant to be Marilyn French and there's no shame in that.

You can get a copy for yourself at an indie bookstore or Powells.com. In these trying economic times, if you have an indie bookstore near you, scoot on over and get it from them.

DISCLOSURE: As I alluded to in my review, I received a review copy of "The Love Children" from the Feminist Press. I was asked to write a review if I liked the book and well, I did. An author friend of mine knew of my blog and pointed the Feminist Press in my direction. I was also given a copy of "The Women's Room" [Indie| Powells] to review as well. I haven't gotten around to reading that feminist classic yet, but I hope to one day.


03 September 2009

Why I'm practically giddy about my will

Why yes dear readers, after having a daughter for six years, the husband & I finally got our wills drawn up and our estate in order. Excuse me, but OMG, the word estate always brings up the image of a the mansions I grew up gawking at and not the life I lead in our modest Chicago two-flat. Anywho...People who will inherit the kid have been chosen, notified and made as legal as it gets. Of course they can decline heaven forbid the time comes. Honestly that decision was one of the hardest decisions to make. And obviously it should be. AND that's all I'll say about it here.

BUT...

I'm fairly excited to plan my memorial service. I think I freaked Kim out when I tweeted that. Don't fret my friends, I'm not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. This is why I'm excited about the planning:

First - When my maternal grandmother died in 1996, I thought it was just plain weird that a priest that she most likely never met before was going to be leading a memorial service in a church she rarely attended. I love telling this story, but when he came to me for a story he might be able to tell the next day in church he asked me to tell him the most important thing she taught me. My response? "Don't ever depend on a man." He translated that into teaching her granddaughters independence and the importance of education. Um, yeah...that's what she did, but she did tell us many times to never depend on a man. I also saw my mom and her sister, my beloved Tia, argue over which casket to buy.

While the kid doesn't have a sibling to argue with, I do want to reduce the things that those I leave here have to decide and possibly argue about. When it's my time to pass over into the next realm (yes, die!) I want you all to spent more time telling stories and laughing than arguing over a casket.

Second - When my mom died in 2003, I was faced with yet another priest (actually two! We had one service in North Carolina and then one here in Chicago) who didn't know the person I just lost performing the service. If I wasn't emotionally stunted over her death and weighed down by a 6-month-fetus in my womb, I would have jumped over the front pew and smacked him the second time he called my mom Helen. Obviously not her name.

This is why I want to make as many decisions as I can before y'all have to make them. I'll make some on my own and for others I will consult with my husband and those close to me. It makes me sad to think that in the end, people who don't know me at all would be speaking about me to my loved ones. It makes me sadder to think that this reality would hurt those I love, as I felt with my grandma and mom.

While I don't think I'll broadcast all my plans, I do want to say that I really do want you all to have a good time. Laugh, cry, but mostly laugh at all the silly things I've done in life, with you and whatnot. Laugh because in the end, I do hope that all the energy I expend each day is spent to make this world a better place, a place where girls and women can laugh, play and love safely.

But remember - No Catholic Church - I was a CCD drop out and never had first communion. Not to mention that I am a tree-hugging goddess worshiper.