“Crood” Lessons

Yesterday Sarah and I went to see The Croods.

Image found at IMDb

When I first saw a preview of this movie, I had no desire to go. The figure of the daughter (named Eep), the rebel teen who initiates the journey this family goes on (aided and abetted by a natural disaster as the earth moved) disturbed me. Not her character, so much, as the fact that she was drawn as a completely sexy, and possibly unrealistic, body type–thus supporting stereotypes of women that need to be confronted in our culture. When I begin worrying that an animated character is about to bust out of her clothing (pun intended) then there’s a problem.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of the people who believes that if a woman dresses to feel sexy she’s asking to become a victim. My concern lies more with the contrast between how this character was presented and how the others were presented. I have no problem with her being a little aggressive as she discovers her attraction to the first unrelated male she sees. I have no problem with her desire to be more independent and break free of the unrealistic and controlling restrictions laid on her by an overprotective father. I have no problem with her trying to express herself as an individual separate from her family.

The only thing I have a problem with is the fact that her animators created her as an ideal sexualized woman, with large breasts and a dress that just barely covered her lady bits. I have a problem with the message this sends to my 10-year-old daughter–a message about appearance and dress that she doesn’t need to see.

The mother in this movie is–in my opinion–sexy because she exhibits strength, caring, power, and intelligence. That to me is true sexiness.  I agree that women should be able to dress in whatever makes them feel comfortable, confident and happy. To me there is a big difference between being sexy and being sexualized. Sexy comes from feeling confident in who we are  as women, in believing that we have many things to offer including brains, beauty, ideas, words, and kindness.

Sexualized is the type of sexy laid onto us by society. It is the picture of a woman who has little more to offer than the physical beauty  of her body.

I agree that women’s bodies are beautiful, and we should not have  fear of sharing that beauty. However, we all know that true beauty comes from other things as well. Eep’s journey had nothing to do with her appearance. It had to do with learning to love and respect her father despite their differences in perceiving the world. Actually, this movie wasn’t about Eep’s journey. It was about her father, Grug, who  had to learn the message “Never be afraid. Follow the light.” Grug’s journey was of discovering that he could learn, change, grow and have ideas. He learned that life is truly about taking chances, not hiding  in the darkness and safety of a cave.

Perhaps Eep’s appearance represents the wildness of taking chances. However, that message could have come across if she appeared more like your average, every day cave-teen, without all the sexualized curves.

I hope Sarah knows that beauty and true sexiness comes from the inside. But for now, I just want her to enjoy being a 10-year-old girl.

Sarah's eyes

The Power of Timeless Words

I just read an amazing book.

It contains words, as books usually do, and offers clarity that can speak to people from any generation, especially women but I think the lessons apply to both sexes. It contains poetry, imagery, honesty, insight, and peace.

While I bought the Kindle version, I wish I owned a hard copy. I want to write notes in pencil in the margin, dog ear pages, and read it over and over again. I know, some of you are wincing at the thought of the desecration of the pristine pages, but I don’t see it as that. I would see it as revisiting an old friend for advice, learning from its wisdom, and giving it the sheen of a well-loved treasure.

What is this book? Perhaps some of you are thinking I stumbled my way into reading the Bible. No, despite my many attempts at reading that story, I have never really found comfort in its pages or lost myself to the beauty of its verse (except a few sections here and there). I have never found wisdom from its messages. I could never really find myself in those pages

You would think that this book, written at a time when the traditional place for women was in the home (1955) would have very little to say to me as I struggle to find my place in the world. But the opposite is true, as this book exemplifies how little some things have changed, and how much we still have to learn. I find myself in almost every chapter, as she explores the challenges of relationships and the lessons of life learned as a woman, a mother, a wife, and a member of a community.

What is this amazing book, you ask? How did I find it? Well, at the wonderful meeting I attended the other day, I learned that this book, written by a Smithie, had been given to high school juniors as a book award. Dean Walters read a passage from it, as she began to talk:

“Every person, especially every woman, should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week, and each day. How revolutionary that sounds and impossible of attainment. [. . . ]

[. . .] The world today does not understand, in either man or woman, the need to be alone.

[. . .] What a commentary on our civilization, when being alone is considered suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it–like a secret vice!” ( 42-43)

This passage, which I’ve shortened here, trilled to the person who wrote just a few days ago “The Art of Being Alone, Still Learning”.  I knew I had to read this marvelous book.

Why does this book speak to me so clearly? Because her writing and the metaphor she uses seems timeless. Because even though she was writing from a time and a place very different from ours, everything she says seems applicable today. Here are a few more passages of Lindbergh’s that I highlighted as I read:

“What is the shape of my life?

The shape of my life today starts with a  family. I have a husband, five children and a home just beyond the suburbs of New York. I have also a craft, writing, and therefore work I want to pursue. The shape of my life is, of course, determined by many other things; my background and childhood, my mind and its education, my conscience and its pressures, my hear and its desires. I want to give and take from my children and husband, to share with friends and community, to carry out my obligations to man and to the world, as a woman, as an artist, as a citizen.

But I want first of all–in fact, as an end to these other desires–to be at peace with myself.”  (16-17)

“We must re-learn to be alone.
It is a difficult lesson to learn today–to leave one’s friends and family and deliberately practice the art of solitude for an hour or a day or a week.” (36)

Seashells.

“When you love someone you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to.” (100) 

“A new consciousness of the dignity and rights of an individual, regardless of race, creed, class or sex. A new consciousness and questioning of  the materialistic values of the Western world. A new consciousness of our place in the universe, and a new awareness of the inter-relatedness of all life on our planet.” (128)

“For the enormous problems that face the world today, in both the private and public sphere, cannot be solved by women–or by men–alone. They can only be surmounted by men and women side by side.” (130)

 

I’ve said it before, words have power. The power of Lindbergh’s words lie in the fact that her word reach across time and difference to speak to the questions, concerns and challenges that we all face at different times in our lives. I would love to know that my words have that power, but for now all I can do is keep writing from the heart.

I finished a book today, and I am glad I did.

Looking Through Gentler Eyes

Have you ever had a day that transformed your life completely, when you least expected it?

Yesterday was one of those days for me.

It began in a natural way, as I found myself writing two posts, one for this blog and one for my new portfolio blog. Having struggled with blogging for the past few weeks, the ease of writing those posts felt like rediscovering my breath.

I browsed a few blogs as well, my eye drawn to a post over at Courage to Create called “10 Exercises To Help You Recognize The Blessings In Your Life” which led me to Ollin’s post earlier this week, where he challenges his readers to spend the week living in blessings. Blessings, in his words, differ from daily gratitude practice:

I’ve come to the conclusion that a gratitude practice is not as powerful as a blessings practice.

Gratitude is recognizing and understanding that you are gifted by life.

Blessing, however, is KNOWING deeply, and feeling it to your core, that you are gifted by life. Blessing is also LIVING the fact that you are gifted by life.

There is a huge difference between gratitude and blessing, but they are deeply interconnected.

In a way, you can see blessing as the deepest experience of gratitude, and gratitude as only the beginning of living your life in blessing.

I decided I would like to try  to look for the blessings hidden in  my world. In this way I hope to see the difficulties as new opportunities.

I began the drive to pick up my brother who currently lives with my parents (about 1 1/2 hours from me) and doesn’t drive. You will have to visit his blog to learn the background of that story. Steve had graciously agreed to come and help me out with Sarah for a couple of days so that I could attend a meeting of my local Smith Club last night (a meeting which plays an important role in my day of transformation). I truly appreciate his willingness to help, but I admit that sometimes I get frustrated that I have to do taxi service much of the time as my mother is unable to drive him out here (because my father can no longer take long car rides). Yesterday, however, I recognized the drive as a blessing. I turned off the political discussion on NPR and listened to music instead. Music from my childhood. Music from my life. I began singing, at the top of my lungs, and I found myself recognizing the value of time spent alone in the car. Time to reflect. Time to sing. Time to just be me without any expectations or duties other than to drive safely. Time like that is a blessing.

Of course, a transformative day does not always go smoothly. Perhaps it can’t run smoothly if you are going to really learn the lessons you need to learn. My mother and I got into a less-than-pleasant discussion about some difficulties Nathan and I are going through at the moment–difficulties that come from me feeling like I am just attached baggage along for the ride, especially during the summers. Nathan knows how I feel, and we have been trying to work through the problem. My mother decided she knew the solution, without realizing that her solution is something that I have ALREADY TRIED.

“You just need to tell them that you feel like you could contribute more and would like some sort of job to use your talents, especially if they want Nathan to keep returning”  [These might not be her exact words, but something like it]

“I have tried that Mom. The situation is complicated.”

“You just have to tell them.”

The conversation continued in a circular fashion, until it was simply time to drop it as we would not get any further.

While that conversation brought knots to my stomach and tears to my eyes, I recognize that I have a mother who wants the best for me even if she doesn’t necessarily see that she is pushing my buttons at the same time–stabbing at a wound that already exists, but that is up to Nathan and I to heal, not her.

In other words, the discussion made me look at the situation from a new perspective. Only time will tell where that leads.

The biggest event of transformation was yet to come. The annual meeting of my local Smith Club consisted of dinner, a meeting, and a presentation by  Jennifer Walters, Dean of Religious Life and the Co-Director of the Women’s Narrative Project which,

” . . .  brings women together to engage in new thinking about the meaning of success. Our educational programs draw on research and personal experience to promote reflection on work, friendship, family and values. We aim to advance the national discussion on women and work-life balance, offer new models and encourage women at all stages of life to rewrite their own narratives.”

My regular readers will know that I often struggle with perceiving my own successes in life, and with explaining who or what I am, especially when I enter a room full of incredible women–a room full of Smithies.  Despite my recent declaration in a doctor’s office and on this blog that I am, indeed, a writer,  I was unable to say it yesterday, and found myself fumbling around in my life story as people wanted to learn what I do. I was back in the hole of self-doubt.

But then, a blessing happened. Dean Walters discussed this powerful program at Smith that includes:

“In its selective January-term course, the Women’s Narratives Project takes juniors and seniors on a grant-funded retreat to talk and write about themes inherent in making life decisions, including perfectionism, risk-taking, tolerating failure and family narratives of success.”

I’ve written about all of those things on this blog.

They have also offered a workshop like this to a group of alumnae, and are looking to expand their ability to offer workshops to interested alumnae. I recognized the value of what they had created to helping students cope with life at a challenging college but also life beyond. I also realized the value of the workshops, similar in some ways to the my experience in Slovakia, with the writing and archetype workshops we had along the way. The work they are doing at Smith is the type of project I love and want to do–creative workshops that help people improve their lives in some way.

Now I simply need to make that happen.

You never know when life is going to shift in a new direction but, as I learned yesterday, if you look through gentler eyes you might see magic.

I Will Not Be Silenced

I forced my family to head to Boston with me today, to attend the rally Unite Against the War on Women.

Jaclyn Friedman was an amazing speaker who articulated what I am unable to say.

I found myself sitting on the steps of City Hall, crying silent tears.

In the midst of all these people who had come out to show concern and express anger, to share stories, to speak out against repression and injustice I felt very much alone.

Nathan is interested, but not nearly as passionate about the issues as I am. Sarah really had no interest, despite my explanations that everything happening there had to to with making the world a better place for her. She was distracted by pigeons, the Circus that stood right next to the rally, and the fun potential of steps.

So when I cried, I cried alone.

Where did the tears come?

When I first walked into the plaza, my heart tightened. Around me people carried the signs that should not have surprised me, signs about not being sluts, or stay out of my vagina, or whatever. But seeing them made me realize that the issues we face are so much broader than contraception/choice. If we only focus on those issues, we are focusing our energy in the wrong direction.

The issues move beyond our bodies, to the fact that women are not inferior, second class citizens who serve no purpose other then as incubators for future generations. We are being treated as less than men, as barely human, and that is the real issue.  The laws that are being made affect anyone who is marginalized, and that is a bigger problem than a vaginal ultrasound. I am not diminishing the importance of those aspects. I’ve already written about them as passionately as I could. But, I’ve had the growing sense that we might be fighting the wrong part of the war, and if that is so we could be heading to disaster.

When I heard Jaclyn Friedman (pictured above) speak  I felt pressure release. She broadened the message, speaking of the effects on all people, especially poor people or people of color. She reminded us that this is a battle for all people, where men and women must stand together. She spoke for my thoughts.

But it was not enough and I still ended up in tears.

The tears started when I heard Reverend Aaron Payson Minister of Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester speak. The title of this post actually comes from his use of “We will not be silenced!” His words showed me that there are some truly religious people out there who recognize that perhaps the words of the bible are being interpreted incorrectly, or perhaps they were written by people who want to keep control of their own power. He too, spoke for my thoughts.

Some of the tears came from hearing people express themselves so beautifully. Some from the power of the stories. Some from the sadness and frustration expressed by women who started this fight in the 70s and could not believe that we were fighting this battle again, now.

But I admit, that some of the tears were personal.

Two incredible women spoke. Idalia, who is described as “” a Puertominican (Puerto Rican and Dominican) writer, performance poet, healthcare advocate, and kitchen table feminist” (http://idaliapoetry.tumblr.com) and Spectra, “n award-winning Nigerian writer, women’s rights activist, and the voice behind the African feminist media blog, Spectra Speaks (www.spectraspeaks.com). [Note that I shortened their bios for this, these women are truly amazing.]

They spoke with the honest voices of their hearts, including their sexuality, their race, and their womanhood. They spoke and the floodgates opened as my heart broke into a million tiny pieces of confusion.

Why? Because when I hear the voices of the truly marginalized I am reminded that I am a white, middle class, heterosexual woman. True, I am a Jew, and that carries with it a different kind of marginalization, but I do not experience rejection based on the color of my skin or my sexual identity.

Sometimes the reality of my identity makes me feel like I should not speak.

I flash back to a time when I presented my dissertation for an award. I wrote a doctoral dissertation entitled, “Theorizing Diversity in Three Professional Theatres for Young Audiences.” Basically I was looking at the fact that most professional TYA companies were white owned, white managed, and yet the audiences they served represented diversity. I wanted to understand the messages being sent in that interaction. I wanted to explore the intersection between what we thought we were doing and what we were really doing. When I presented this for the award, the only thing I was attacked for was the fact that I was a white woman looking at issues of diversity, of race. I explained my position on that, but the explanation was not enough and the question kept coming, “Why do you think you have the right to speak for others?” I did not try to speak for others, I tried to observe and learn and use their voices, but that did not matter to the questioner.

I won Honorable Mention for that award, but nobody won the award that year. Everyone was shocked that I didn’t win.

But this isn’t about that.

It’s about the fact that I should not feel silenced because I haven’t experienced the same level of struggle. If we separate ourselves that way, then we only hurt ourselves. I’m not saying we ignore the differences, but we must embrace those differences and acknowledge that all our voices have the right, the need, to be heard.

I am a white woman. I can’t change that. Nor should I have to apologize for it.

I also have a daughter who is a woman of color. Will she face different challenges than I did?

I can’t answer that, except to say that if we allow the powers that be to control women then her world will be even more challenging than mine.

I can’t allow that to happen. I will not be silent.

It All Comes Down to Choice

Choices we make define who we become.
Choices  we don’t make allow others to define us.
It all comes down to choice.

In an age where women daily face
the stripping down of choices
each decision we make
adds fuel to the fire
of our right to make choices.

It all comes down to choice.

I’m not talking about life or death here
I’m not talking about my body
or that of a fertilized egg.
Those choices are important
but they are not the only choices that come
with the package of womanhood.

It ALL comes down to choice.

I’m talking about my core
my being
my self
and how each decision
or non-decision
either opens a door
or slams one shut.

It all comes down to choice.

The path I choose is my own to choose
but I am not travelling alone
so one choice
affects all
choices.

IT ALL COMES DOWN TO CHOICE!

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference." Robert Frost

Join Me in the Seven Deadly Sins

Come on!

You know you want to.

What’s the harm?

It will be fun.

Why is it that all the images I found depict women as the sins? Hmmmm!

Seriously, k8edid has started a little fun fiction contest based on the Seven Deadly Sins.  She gave me an idea, and I will be contributing to each sin (what can I say, I’m a bad girl) in a series that, I hope will be interconnected.

Katy has posted the first five submissions about gluttony, today, including mine. Please wander over there and feast on all of the wonderful words, but be sure to leave room for more. Here is the link to Gluttony: Post 1

A Whirlwind Trip of Epic Proportions.

Where do I begin?

How do I write about the incredible journey that lasted only eleven days, but contained a lifetime of learning?

I could write hundreds of words about the beauty of the country, which incorporates incredible architecture from various periods, fabulous colors, sculpture from Communism, warm lighting, and graffiti that verges on high art.

My first night in Bratislava.

I could write hundreds of words about the foods. Warm, rich, filling, and definitely not heart healthy–each meal offered a mouth-watering treat. From my first Goulash to the national dish of Bryzna Halushki (a pasta smothered in sheep cheese) I enjoyed every mouthful.

Mary, about to indulge in some halusky

I could write thousands of words about the people: the talented, caring, intelligent, fabulous and fun group I was traveling with; the kind, giving, sharing people of the country; the lovely couple who owned the Privat in Levocia, who saved my trip when he found a way to fix my glasses on Three Kings Day when there was no hope that I would be able to go out and find a tiny screw; the man we called grandpa who liked to make sure we had a blazing fire in Zdiar; our guide/interpreter Richard (pronounced Ree-kard) who landed the gig at the last minute but accepted and embraced our craziness; the women who have dedicated their lives to improving conditions for the Roma population; and the complex, fabulous, friendly, musical and slightly intimidating Roma men, women and children.

Some of the gang preparing breakfast in Zdiar

I could share some of the creative writing I began on the trip (mostly poetry) or write about the complex history and cultural legacy that I learned about through lectures, through listening, and through observing the infinite details of the world around me.

Looking at the sky from the Cage of Shame, where bad girls got sent for 24 hours for walking around at night without an appropriate chaperone.

I could write hundreds and hundreds of words about my personal journey and “Aha!” moments. Or simply copy out passages out of my journal and the words I wrote along the way.

I could do all of these things and more, but I still do not know where to begin. The actual trip is over, and I am home, but my personal journey has just started. Who wants to join me?

To be continued . . .

Spending Time with Intelligent Women

Now men, before you get your underoos in a bunch, I like spending time with intelligent people in general, but once in a while I need to spend a little quality time where intelligent estrogen overpowers testosterone.

We spent the Tuesday evening and all day yesterday at our second annual mini-reunion with some of my fellow, Smithies and it was fabulous. Note there were males their (husbands and sons) but most of the time it was a chat fest between women.

We talked about everything: books, education, memories, work, relationships, friendship, parenting, homeschooling, politics (a little), travel . . .

While we think a lot alike, we don’t always agree, which is fine. We bring our world perspectives into the discussion and sometimes they become passionate but never angry. We laughed, we teased, and we created some memorable moments that will cause laughter (and blushing) forever.

"Where's the bleu cheese?" "This is awkward." "Hug it out!"

Unlike some people who don’t know me as well, I didn’t have to explain why I am heading to Slovakia in TWO DAYS! The asked about the trip, but when I mentioned that some people wonder why I’m going, their response was a unanimous “why wouldn’t you?” They needed no explanation. Of course, most of you have been that supportive as well, and I truly appreciate it.

Lest you think all we did was talk, we also played a hilarious game of Funglish where you have to get your team to guess the word using a set collection of descriptions. It’s challenging, and resulted in several spontaneous quotes from When Harry Met Sally, because it seemed the person was describing “Baby fish mouth . . . that phrase is sweeping the nation.”

We also did took the entire group on a spy adventure, where we discovered the mole and survived a huge explosion.

We also ate A LOT thanks to the HOSTESS WITH THE MOSTEST, another intelligent woman who I hope to get to know better in the near future.

So back to the premise of this post. I love spending time with intelligent women who are not afraid to express themselves, to be independent, to disagree, to argue, to stand up for themselves, and to fully embrace their power. I have met, throughout the years, some women who use that power poorly, and fall into the belief system that women  must be bitchier, better, and more evil than men if they want to get anywhere. These are the women who crawl their way to the top, stabbing backs and leaving broken bodies in their wake. I have been battered by several of them. But then, I am reminded by my wonderful long-time friends as well as the friends that I have made through blogging, that it is possible to be intelligent, beautiful, passionate, and talented while still being compassionate, caring, and supportive.

I enjoy spending time with intelligent people (of both sexes) who use their intelligence to make the world a better place.  I count all of you among those people, and want to say thank you for sharing your time with me over this past year.

Big hugs for the New Year! May 2012 be filled with laughter, joy, intelligent conversation, good food, and good friends.

I apologize in advance as I will be putting blogging on the back burner (except, perhaps for a couple of posts) as I focus on the experience and the journey in Slovakia. I leave in two days!

Two Projects: I Need YOUR Help

It’s time.

I need to get focused.

I want to work on a larger project, one that may (or may not) have potential to move beyond the blogosphere (as wonderful as this community is).

I am still working toward self-publishing Giving Up the Ghosts, but I have edited it so many times now I think my head will explode. It is very close to being ready to go, except for cover art and minor format things depending on where I’m publishing. I am taking an on-line course at the moment to learn more details about self-publishing and publishing as a whole before I throw myself into the unknown without a parachute.

So now it is time to really focus on some of the major projects on my list. I have a few that have a time limit (like planning out my class for next semester before I go to Slovakia, and a couple of job applications). I have many more that have just been sitting there while I wait for the “right moment.”

Well, the right moment is now, because there is never a perfect moment. The only thing that has been holding me back, as usual, is my own fear of failure, but I fail worse if I do not try.

So, while I may be working on a few other things as well, I have two exciting projects that I would like to share (briefly) with you today, because I could use a little bit of help. I’m a little hesitant to write this, as I sometimes fear sharing ideas that other’s may “borrow,” so please forgive me if I remind you that everything written here has a big  attached.

  • The first project is a collaboration of sorts with an extremely talented playwright/director friend of mine named Pamela Sterling. She and I have been talking about working together for a long time, bouncing ideas around in a never-ending game of ping pong. But finally we’ve decided just to begin by writing, and we will see where it takes us. She has wanted to do something surrounding the life of Louisa May Alcott (the story behind the story, since Alcott wrote fascinating thrillers to make extra money, pieces that might not be deemed appropriate for women at the time). As you might recall, I too am fascinated by the women who broke the rules and challenged the system. My problem is that there are so many women who fascinate me that I struggle to narrow my focus. So that’s where I need a little help from you. Which historical female writers (or others) true stories fascinate you? Please give me suggestions below.
  • The second project might be even more interesting to some of you (or maybe not). It is also a little scary for me to put out here, for public consumption, but I will do it anyway. I’m following the call of the Storyteller, who keeps making appearances throughout my blog.  I know that I am the Storyteller, but so are you.  The stories we share make this an incredible community. So often a story I read resonates with me in profound ways, leading me to share another story, and so on and so on ad infinitum. I want to gather some of our stories together, guided by the character of the Storyteller. I plan to discover some of the common themes that the Storyteller deems valuable, and try to collect stories surrounding those themes for each chapter. To put it more bluntly, I would like to compile a collection of blog posts (including images) together into book form, with permission of course. I may ask some of you for a post I’ve read before. In some ways I will be taking on the role of both editor and writer (and if it doesn’t find a home possibly publisher)  If any of you are interested in being part of this project, please let me know (through e-mail LisaWieldsWords at gmail dot com). Also understand that I will be selective, and I want to work with people who I trust. I know there are legal aspects to this idea that I need to figure out, but I promise I will not touch any of your work without express permission from you.

On a side note, as I was searching for a few images just now, I noticed Google’s header today, on Marie Curie’s 144th birthday:

Talk about women who broke the rules . . . this is an encouraging sign.

There you have it, two projects that I plan to focus on. What do you think?

Defined by Breasts

“She was outraged at the thought that people would even consider that the letters might not be from Mariana, and I thought of the times when, as women, we are not heard and how after 300 years, Mariana, whose words have changed so many lives, is not allowed the most basic of rights, to claim her own voice.” (Myriam Cyr, “A Note from the Author,” Letters of a Portuguese Nun, xii)

“Be prepared,” my friend Jackie said as we sat working on projects in her fabulous Blue Box Art Studio. “Some artist think that you can only really be an Artist if you’ve taken the proper technique classes, and they will also judge you as a woman.”

I’m just dipping my toe into the world of art right now, and I’m really not doing it because I want to be known as an “artist”. Projects, words, and ideas have all been flooding into me lately, and I’m simply embracing them and then finding ways to express them. This personal journey that I am on is exciting and terrifying and opening me up to so many possibilities.  I don’t really care if  Artists (with a capital A) think what I am doing is Art.

I can’t say the same thing, however, about the Woman issue. If you read my recent post called The Power of Women’s Voices you know that I am fascinated by the stories of women who have pursued their passions and dreams despite society’s expectations. In that post I talked about women historically, but more and more I have come to realize that nothing has really changed for women.

I know, I know. Women hold higher positions throughout the world and have more equality, and yada, yada, yada. But, the reality lies in a subtle manipulation of language that does not allow women to be equal. A woman is almost always defined by her sex: a woman writer, a female artist, a congresswoman, the first woman to run for president. (Yes, yes, I know–Obama will forever be known as the first black president. This subtle manipulation of language to assert power or difference is not exclusive to the description of women).

So, I suggest we change this by our own manipulation of language. How, you ask? Well, here are some examples that have popped into my head:

  • William Shakespeare, perhaps the most well-known non-female playwright of his time . . .
  • Hilary Clinton, who served as Secretary of State under the male President Obama
  • Non-female talk-show host, David Letterman swapped jibes with Ellen the other day, and of course lost (Now . . . I’m making all of this up folks, as examples. This is not intended as a serious statement of fact.)
  • One of the funniest non-female bloggers Mark (aka The Idiot) battles Tori Nelson to a duel of witty banter causing a medical emergency as blog readers every keel over with extreme fits of laughter and tears.  (Okay, I’d really like to see that).
  • The Tony Award goes to newcomer Lisa Kramer who defeats the better-known non-female directors . . . (I told you this is fiction, now bordering on fantasy)

I hope you get my point by now. If we turn the tables, will it reverse the expectations of what is the “norm” or the “ideal”? Or do we continue to stand by and let the “norm” be defined as “white, male, heterosexual etc.” which we all know is a fallacy of the highest order. As long as we continue to define people by their gender/sexual identity/race we reinforce the perception that somehow only certain people define the norm.

So, now I’m moving on to the more “serious” or academic part of the discussion. Feel free to stop reading if you would like, although I hope you won’t. After all, despite the fact that I am a woman, sometimes I actually have valuable insight.  😉

I realize there is value in identifying ourselves by our gender, our sexual identities, our races, and our religions. I myself would be really interested to know the numbers of bloggers who are female vs. the number who are male. I know that most of the blogs I follow happen to be by women, but I wonder if that is simply because they write things that I am more interested in reading, or because there are a greater number of female bloggers out there. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were more women, because we all know the reality that it is hard to get published, and I think it is even harder for females unless they are writing in specific genres. Of course, I don’t have evidence of this, but I’m sure it could be found.

Myriam Cyr’s quote from Letters of a Portuguese Nun shows that, historically at least, anything that surpassed expectations and “threatened to upset the delicate balance of power between men and women” (xviii) could not possible be written by a woman. Apparently, the debate over this issue still rages, led by French scholar Jacques Rougeot and Frederic Deloffre who say

“Admit that the Portuguese Letters were written in a convent, by a nun with little if any instruction, having never known the world, is to believe that spontaneity and pure passion inspired a woman to write a superior work of art over and above what the best minds of the greatest period of French literature could offer their public.” (Cyr xix)

I know there were some French female writers from the time period, but I wonder if the objection is more based on the fact that the nun was a woman than on her training (since she clearly was educated to some extent in the nunnery).  Those who disagree, attribute the letters to a male French aristocrat.

Can we even tell the difference between things created by a man and things created by a woman? I mentioned earlier that most of the blogs I follow happen to be written by women, but how do I really know? Identities can easily be faked in this strange world of web technology.  And, I guess it doesn’t really matter if someone is hiding his identity behind the facade of a woman if I enjoy the blog. (Why anyone would do that, of course, is beyond me). In past Comp classes I’ve conducted an experiment with my students. As a class we pick a topic, and then they write about it with a time limit. They hand these papers forward and I read them out loud. The students then need to guess whether the writer was male or female. I can usually (but not always) by the handwriting or the color of pen (for some reason guys rarely choose purple pens, go figure). Sometimes the students can guess, and sometimes they can’t.  When it comes down to writing about the same things, it is often hard to tell the difference.

Does it matter if something is written or created by a woman? Or by someone with more or less education? Or by a black, asian, mexican, alien with five eyes and a tail. . . It only matters if the creation in some way relates to being one of those things.  It only matters if the creation is rooted in actually living a certain experience. But even then it does not matter . . . because emotions and thoughts can be universal, can’t they?

But maybe I am wrong. Maybe the differences between women and men can be seen in everything we do. If that’s true, then that must be celebrated, because it is difference that makes this world such an interesting place. But difference need not imply one is better than another, Difference simply implies difference.

Art is art whether or not you have learned all the techniques. A writer is a writer even without an extra appendage between the legs. Leaders are leaders even if they happen to have breasts. An artist is an artist, even if the art reflects the feminine divine. A movie star is a movies star even if he/she loves someone of the same sex. [Sometimes movie stars are movie stars despite the fact that they are actually creatures from another planet ;)]

Our reality is defined by language. The question is, does the language control us or do we control the language?

 

Elizabeth Barret Browning

 

“A Curse for a Nation”
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1856)

I heard an Angel speak last night,
And he said “Write!
Write a Nation’s curse for me,
And send it over the Western Sea.”

. . . “Not so,” I answered once again.
“To curse, choose men.
For I, a woman, have only known
How the Heart melts, and the tears run down.”

“Therefore,” the voice said, “Shalt thou write
My curse to-night.

Some women weep and curse, I say
(And no one marvels), night and day.
“And thou shalt take their part to-night,
Weep and write.
A curse from the depths of womanhood
Is very salt, and better and good.”

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