Monday, March 27, 2017

For your safety, remain seated with your arms, hands and feet inside at all times, sensitive groups and those with neck or back problems should not ride.

I'm trying very hard to write a post on feminism, and it is not working.  

I have started and deleted it now four times, I simply don't think I'm getting it right.  The words are wrong, the quote doesn't match, it feels weak or unclear. There is a tangled ball of passion inside of me that wants to do this really well, that wants to write a post that will make someone stop and listen...but every time I start, I feel like I am blithering like an idiot. I am terrified that someone will read it and shake their head saying this is a stupid cause, that I am just making a scene, that I should be less sensitive, that everyone is always getting their panties in a bunch about all sorts of ridiculous things these days, we are not special snowflakes, can't we all just learn to be polite and get along, and why am I even bothering when I don't really have anything new or intelligent to say...or even worse they will misunderstand me, be offended and think I am attacking them personally or forever think I am an idiot just because these things are important to me

And so, I am silenced. 

I am silenced because there is a voice in my head that tells me that I am not capable of saying anything worth listening to on this subject. That I am not good at this, that I should leave it to someone else that has more experience, more expertise, more education, more authority. 

But you see, I don't follow instruction very well. So that voice creates in me a movement that forces out the words, clumsy as they may be. THAT is why I must write, because of the voice inside. So I blither, because I truly believe that this is so very important. And that voice, the one that tells me I cannot write well enough for anyone to stop and listen, the voice that says I should just let someone else do it - that voice is the very one that I am fighting against. So I will write, I will un-ravel, one strand at a time. Clumsy as it may be.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a die-hard feminist. In the spirit of full, full disclosure, this is what that means:

Or, in case someone is confused and needs it simplified:

If you are still confused and need it explained again (which is ok, there are a lot of misconceptions out there):

Everyone clear? Good.

Being a Feminist does not mean that I think women are better than men, it means I believe they are equal. 

It does not mean I think men and woman are the same, it means I believe they should be treated equally. 

It does not mean that I think there are no differences between men and women, it means I believe that everyone should have the same opportunities, regardless of gender.  

And again, it does not mean I plan to burn my bra (though I have considered it) it means that I believe that I should not be discriminated against based on the fact that I have breasts.  

It does not mean that I believe all women should be climbing the corporate ladder, it means I believe that if climbing the ladder is something that a woman wants to do, she should be encouraged to do so.  It does not mean that I don't think women should be stay at home moms, it means that if staying at home with kids is something that a woman wants to do, she should be encouraged to do so...see what I did there?

Ok - this is where I get a little passionate, so for your safety, remain seated with your arms, hands and feet inside at all times, sensitive groups and those with neck or back problems may wish to not ride. And if you find yourself disagreeing, I want you to stop for a moment and look up again at the picture posted just above and remember, I will fight just as hard for your right to think differently than me, as I will for my right to think differently than you. THAT is what being a feminist is to me. 

I've been standing at the edge of the water
Long as I can remember
Never really knowing why
I wish I could be the perfect daughter
But I come back to the water
No matter how hard I try

See the light where the sky meets the sea
It calls me
No one knows how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I'll know
If I go there's just no telling how far I'll go
- Moana

So I guess you could say this is the real start to my post today - quote and all.

I heard the music for Moana way before I actually saw the movie. Most of that was just lack of good timing on the part of Disney in releasing their movie at a specific point in time that worked with my own personal schedule. It is almost like they don't pay attention to that, can you believe it? They dare to release a movie that I want to see, when I have absolutely no time in my schedule to go and see it! I know, terrible.  

When I first heard this song, it made me stop and listen. Because I understood so very much the feeling behind it. I have very strong memories of standing on the balcony of my house, looking over the edge into our box of a backyard and thinking "this is it. This is all the space I get." We had a great backyard, full of dirt and rocks, very little grass. But I longed for open air and space to run. (One down-side of growing up in Los Angeles, not much running space unless you actually get into the car and go looking for it.) 

As a child I had the amazing opportunity to travel for a weekend (twice) on a small sailboat out to Catalina Island. We ate when we were hungry, slept when we were tired, laughed at the dolphins racing our little boat, watched the flying fish, collected beautiful shells on a tiny sprig of an island, dipped our feet into the ocean, fell asleep in the sun and adventured to our hearts content. I cannot put into words how amazing it was. But I am sure it is one of the reasons I love the sea so much. To me, the sea has no limits, no expectations, no obligations. It is simply The Sea. No strings, nothing. That was freedom to me. It is probably very closely linked to why I have always loved pirates, and for those that are always asking - why I chose a ship as a tattoo. 

Because of the adventures.

I have three girls. No sons, just girls. People like to point that fact out to me, you know, in case I have not yet noticed it, or maybe forgotten. Being mom to a significant amount of the same gender makes random people feel like they should give you advice/their opinion on that particular gender and the stereo-types they adhere to...a lot. I'm talking about strangers, acquaintances, the check-out person at target, the lady in line behind me at the bank, the eye doctor, the other parent on the field-trip...well, really anyone. I know some of that is simply a "having kids" thing and usually the reason is simply someone trying to find something to small-talk about, but I get it every time I take all three out in public with me, almost without fail. 

Because of this, it has made me stop and pay attention a little more. I watch how little girls are treated vs. little boys; in classrooms, at parks, at the grocery store, really everywhere. I pay attention to what is/is not said. I notice the gaps, the discrepancies, the subtle messages or lack there-of. I was the mom buying T-shirts from the "boy" section because my girls loved super-heroes, Star Wars and TMNT and there weren't any in the section I was "supposed" to shop in (to give credit, there is now. But I would say only just now, for the first time...ever). I make constant mental notes of those differences, and specific mental notes when the differences are uniquely absent with a particular person or environment. Sometimes the differences in how boys vs. girls are treated is needed, most of the time, it is not. 

I am an analyzer, it is how I live, how I view the world around me. So when my girls started getting old enough to ask real questions - old enough to start creating hopes and dreams, I started doing my best to shape their world into something that was nurturing to that. When they started developing a sense of self outside of our close-knit family circle, I started paying attention to where they were getting their messages and what those messages were saying. The result was my present die-hard feminism - I watched their world and decided that for me, if I was going to raise strong girls, I had no choice but to bring that into my parenting. Equality needed to be threaded through all parts of our lives, however much I could.

Being a feminist parent has meant that there are things I actively do and do not do. Sometimes I am curious how my language would have been different if I had all boys instead of all girls, or perhaps a mix of them both. I would like to think that I would parent the same way...well, as much as you can when kids are so unique unto themselves. 

Paying attention to the world around my kids has also made me stop and take a good solid look at the world/culture in which I grew up, and what messages spoke the loudest to me. Some of those messages were life-giving and have made me a stronger person, such as body image. I have zero memories of my mom complaining about her weight growing up. I do remember a few times when she made an added effort to eat well and exercise, and now I can look back and assume that weight loss was likely at the root of it. But wanting to be healthy over-all was always the message that was presented to her kids.  

I believe that attitude is directly linked to the fact that my siblings and I have all grown up with solid, positive body-images. Sure I have my days where I am certainly not happy with what I see in the mirror. But it does not affect my self-esteem much, those things are not really connected. All it does is give me motivation to fix what I am not happy with, and thanks to being taught how to eat well and exercise, I know how to do that.  

However, growing up in the eighties in the midst of conservative culture has also given me insight into some things I do not want to pass on to my children.  

To give you an example: M*A*S*H is one of my favorite TV shows. But I am not ok with my kids watching it - not now, not as teenagers, maybe not until they are adults. Why? Because my oldest daughter wants to be a zoo-ologist, my middle daughter wants to be an entomologist and my youngest daughter a doctor. And you know what? I believe that they will - if they continue to desire it. I also believe that watching a show, (you should have heard the disclaimers I would add when we were watching the Andy Griffith Show!) no matter how brilliant that show may be, that only ever shows men in dominant roles is not healthy for their future aspirations. I believe seeing these cultural norms, however outdated they may be, creates habits in the brain that are hard to reverse. I believe for myself, growing up, where every single adult female in my close, personal circle was a stay at home mom was not good for me. I grew up assuming that was what I would be – that was what I SHOULD be, even though a part of me screamed in protest. No one told me this, but it was all around. And it created a culture where when I had my own kids, I felt incredible guilt when I wanted to do something for myself, as if the fact that I was not fulfilled just being mom to my children made me wretchedly broken. That guilt was all-consuming and I had no tools on how to manage it. I truly believed that there was something wrong with me. Sometimes I still wonder...

I know everybody on this island
Seems so happy on this island
Everything is by design
I know everybody on this island
Has a role on this island
So maybe I can roll with mine

I can lead with pride
I can make us strong
I'll be satisfied if I play along
But the voice inside sings a different song
What is wrong with me?

I want to be clear, I do not necessarily regret staying home with my kids, I cannot say what challenges we would have faced had it turned out another way. When it comes down to it, I feel that me being a stay at home mom was a good thing for them. However, I do not think it was the best thing for me, and I wonder sometimes how much of that bled through. When you are forced to re-live the same childhood routines over and over again for years, there is a part of you that stops growing. I had to put myself on hold, because in order to give the best for my kids 24 hours a day everyday, I had to be able to relate to them. I'm not saying this was healthy, but it was all I knew how to do. I lived in “coping” mode for 10 years. And now that I am moving out of it, now that they are all in school full-time and I can slowly unwrap the layers of "coping" and start to re-learn how to be a person again – I feel I am paying for it. Somewhere along the way I have developed what is sometimes crippling social anxiety - I battle depression, a lack of emotional response, a lack of empathy, I cannot relate to other women, I've forgotten how to talk to adults. I can't always recognize nuances in conversation, I simply don't have the experience - which can lead to some very awkward conversations and has in the past led to some very devastating miscommunications.

If I think about it, there is not one time that I was actively discouraged from working outside the home. I have no doubt that if it was something I desired, my husband would support that 100%. The idea to do it (outside of a handful of MLM "businesses") just never occurred to me. Because if you CAN stay home, you do...right? That is the culture I was raised in, like my mother before me and her mother before her and on and on and on. And I am not in any way saying that being home with kids is wrong, for many many people it is exactly right, just what they need, perfect for their families and I am so very glad of that...but now, I can look back and see that I think it was wrong for me.

All of these things have become shockingly clear as I try to re-enter the "real world" by going to writing conferences, attempting critique groups, selling myself to agents and "shmoozing" as the term would be, with publishers and editors. So the cycle establishes itself: Sign up for a conference, get physically ill knowing I will have to be in a group of people, go to the conference/group meeting, stumble over my words hoping I am making sense, try to make eye contact while my heart is beating out of my chest (because real people make eye contact right? I can't remember!) but not too much eye contact or they will think (know?) I am a crazy person. Laugh in the right places...I think. Take a thousand notes, submit my work for brutal and honest critique, grasp desperately at any shred of encouragement I can catch, return home to yet another "we regret that your manuscript is not right for us at this time" form letter. 

Cry. Write, Cry (in that order). 


The anxiety never gets better, but I am sort of getting used to it now as the cycles repeat over and over.  I have only been doing this "for real" a year or so, still a beginner. Lots of time to work through it all. Perhaps it is a mid-life crisis. Perhaps it is a psychological breakdown. I'm not sure – but it has this weird feeling of swimming through mud to get to the air that I KNOW is there, that I have forgotten about for years. And now, finally it is in sight and it is all I can think about. But I am not sure I remember how to breath it.

What do I know for sure?

My kids are turning into the most spectacular people, despite my blundering as a parent. Perhaps I even helped a bit?  I do not miss the baby/toddler phase, at all. AT ALL! despite what I was told by all the old ladies at the grocery store. I love that they grow fast, because it means we can have real conversations now. I love the people they are growing into, and so far...they still seem to like me. I'll call that a win. Watching them grow into fantastic people, that is so fulfilling. I can't wait to watch them wade through the deep waters of teenage-hood. I think they are going to rock it. (Did I sound old right there? I did didn't I...)

I get a paycheck every month because I did some work to establish myself in a MLM business (I know) a few years ago, and I was in the right place at the right time and it payed off. The fact that I can help out financially, even a drop in the bucket - is more fulfilling to me than I can express. 

And...I got my first acceptance letter for one of my poems last week!

These words: 

"Hello, and thank you for submitting "I Think That I'm a Dragon" for our consideration. I’m happy to report that we would like to accept your delightful poem for publication in SPIDER magazine" 

These words filled me with a life, with a joy that I have never before experienced.  Someone who is not my family, not my friends, someone who is not invested in my life in any way thinks that my writing is worth paying for?!? I cannot even describe the feeling (which as a writer may be a bad thing. I'll be working on that one.) But I am pretty sure that this is air, this is breathing! Sure, they added this: 

"At this time, I am unable to tell you when your poem will appear in print. Due to our rather full poetry files, it could be two to three years before the poem would be published. Please be assured that we will make every effort to see that your wait is as short as possible." 

But...I got a yes!!!

I think I've got this...I think I'll be ok. This, this is what I was made to do.  I just had to go through some hard things do we all!

See the light as it shines on the sea
It's blinding
But no one knows how deep it goes
And it seems like it's calling out to me
So come find me
And let me know
What's beyond that line
Will I cross that line?

Does all of this make me a terrible stay at home mom? Does the fact that I have to ask that question mean that I am still hopelessly broken, that there is something tragically wrong with me? Maybe, probably - we all are broken in our own unique ways. But I am trying to shift my thinking to see that as simply being human. Our broken-ness does not define us, but it can be a part of who we are, and that can be a positive thing. It's ok that even after almost 11 years, I still suck at the "stay at home mom" thing.  I think someday my kids and I will be able to laugh at all the blunders, they are a part of both of our stories. 

I hope you can read all that, if not let me know and I'll type it all out. Jenny Lawson is my spirit animal. If you have struggled with anxiety or depression, (or know someone who does and want to understand them better) have a good sense of humor and do not get easily offended - READ HER BOOKS. I cannot recommend them enough. 

I am a Feminist. I'll admit - I don't always wear a bra, I can't remember the last time I shaved my arm-pits and I truly believe that if it is legal for men to walk around topless, that women should be allowed to do it too. But that is not what makes me a feminist.

I am a feminist because I teach my girls that they matter beyond their girl parts, beyond their ability to reproduce, that I want them to dream big and I will do everything in my power to make their dreams come true.

I am a feminist because I teach my girls that their opinion matters, politically, socially, economically. That their ideas are just as valid as the boy sitting next to them, just as his ideas are just as valid as theirs. That they both have the right to fight for what they believe in, no matter who tells them to sit down, shut up and let someone else with more experience, education or authority do it.

I am a feminist because I teach my girls that if they want to get married someday, they can. If they don't want to, that's fine too.  If they desire children, that is great - if they don't, that doesn't make them less of a woman. If someday they wish to devote their lives to working a job that they love, that sounds amazing - if they wish to be a stay at home mom, that is great. If they want to do both, and find a balance that works for them, they can do that. The important thing is that THEY get to choose and they feel zero pressure either way.

I am a Feminist because I no longer have to place clauses around the line “you can do anything you want to do” while speaking to my kids. They can, and they will change this world, and they won't be an exception, because they will have the support of thousands of other woman at their side, changing the world right along with them. 

I am a feminist simply because we are still having these conversations, and that breaks my heart. Because the numbers reflect that we have not come as far as we should have by now. I am a feminist because there is a movement to fix it, and that makes me so very happy! I am a feminist because I can now buy superhero t-shirts in the "girls" section of Target, and that feels like a huge step foreword. Because my kids have an amazing world that they are growing up in, a world where changes are being made for the better. A world where they will get more opportunities than ever before. A world where their hopes and dreams and ideas are encouraged and even requested!

I am a feminist because I believe it to be the right thing.

See the light where the sky meets the sea
It calls me
And no one knows how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I'll know

How far I'll go