So world wide women, as a group, we get a day. As social media types are fond of tweeting, let that sink in. There is so much to say about this global subject that I won’t get started if I try to speak too broadly. But as it’s said in the women’s movement, the personal is political so here goes-
Let me share a sliver of my life. I am a 70-year-old woman. I am officially old, but not elderly since we know that 70 is the new 50! When I look at pictures of my mom at 70, while she was still incredibly vibrant, she definitely appeared older than I do now. A lot of that is due to improved healthcare, more and fresher food choices unless we live in food desserts [I remember my mom’s salads, ice berg lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise] and regular exercise, plus we just dress younger.
When my mom came home from work, she had to take off her girdle and stockings before she could do anything else, which should explain why women did not exercise as much as we do now, it was uncomfortable even to walk to the car.
By the time you have lived to 70, you have experienced a few lifetimes, lifetimes that often seem to be separate worlds, different movies, if such they were. For many of us Baby Boomers, our stories wouldn’t work as a series but as wholly separate genres of film.The main character sometimes even changes her name.
There’s the early boring story of the dutiful daughter, the nerdy student who slowly morphs into the teacher-correcting-smart-ass-to-be, your friend, then the prankster, whose goals in life were wildly disparate and equally unattainable. This skinny, dark-eyed, buck-toothed (yes, I got all the Bugs Bunny jokes) girl who wanted to be either a ballerina or a Quaker preacher, Crusader Rabbit, was what my father called me.
And in every woman’s life, there’s the dark side, not only of expectations to be perfect, kind and obedient but also the butt of jokes, put downs, even abuse about our bodies and its shape. Most of us don’t talk or write much about that but no girl goes unscathed into adolescence. We learn, regardless of culture, that whatever happens to us, whatever nasty words or physical assaults we experience it is our shame and ours alone to bear.
Last fall the revelations about our current despicable president brought it all back to most of us, if truth be told. But it won’t be told –and now he is considered leader of the free world, but whose world, whose freedom? At such times the poet Muriel Rukeyser’s words come back to me unbidden,
” What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”
So let me drop a few choice anecdotes … my father along with the boys in my 7/8th grade classes made fun of me for being skinny and flat chested. My father made it clear that I wasn’t an acceptable copy (maybe that was lucky) of my voluptuous mom.
I spent my entire adolescence so convinced of my unattractiveness that as a result I broke numerous hearts in my years of galavanting about San Francisco State in micro mini skirts, wondering why men were following me down the street and why male “friends” reacted badly when I blithely ignored their pleadings.
Then later after my revolutionary period and as an activist member of first, the anti-war movement and then the women’s consciousness-raising movement, and finally as a single mom, I found myself myself at the ripe age of 37, hiding in the women’s bathroom because I didn’t know how to discourage an obnoxious suitor on the dance floor.
I told a friend about my epiphany – it occurred to me I was too old to still be hiding in the bathroom from unwanted attention. She made the astounding suggestion that I simply say, “no thank you,” when someone approached me who I didn’t wish to spend time with. Now, I know that doesn’t work in a dark alley much less on the job-how well I know that one [a story for another time!] But it was a revelation to me, me-a single mother of two-that I didn’t have to make myself available because someone demanded it of me, that I could say NO.
I wish I could say that things have changed so much from those days, but when my daughter was just at the beginning of her music exec career, she would call me from the grocery store or the street and ask me why men seemed to feel they could comment on her smile or lack of one as she passed them by.
I remember noticing that by early adolescence my daughter had developed a way of carrying herself, that was a bit haughty, almost princess-like. I commented to a friend once that she seemed to be aloof to the point of arrogance.
My friend, who had known her as a small child in our parent coop nursery school pointed out that as a tiny girl, more petite than most, quite pretty and also, one of the few Black girls in the school, other kids often attempted to take advantage of her but she had learned how to hold her ground. My friend thought, sensibly, that she had learned to carry herself in a way that said, “don’t even think about it.”
But another International Women’s Day and the stats are still appalling. More women are in poverty than we can even imagine and that means their children experience two things 1) continued generational poverty, 2) that the women who raise them and are their role models are are not valued as human beings no matter how hard they work.
Here in the “free world” our so-called leader, rather than electing the woman who asserted that women’s rights are human rights, we got the guy who said, “you can do anything, grab them by the pussy….and they let you get away with it.”
Now I know there were lots of other reasons that Hillary didn’t win,. but there really is no excuse for any of it. We all hold some of the blame.
One of my friends who marched in Washington in her pussy hat, asked me the other day if I was a little embarrassed by the whole pussy hat phenomenon. We were raised in a time when that word was not used by women. Since then it’s usage has exploded but it is used as a term of disparagement-of weakness, the lack of manly strength to stand up for what you believe in, an inability to fight back. So maybe it’s a good thing that we have taken it back as a symbol of strength, persistence and even resistance.
What real, principled strength is, a toughness that doesn’t lash out at the vulnerable, these are qualities that are difficult to put into logos. They are complex and thoughtful but I have seen them codified more often lately as in the principles of Bay Resistance:
Lead with Love, Power Across Difference, Transformative Justice and Collective Action….
As part of of our spirit of resistance in this transformative time, let me hold up some of the young women leaders among us. These women are able to bridge some of the many divides we women have found ourselves in– Alicia Garza, Zahra Billoo, Jennifer Tran and so many more.
By our one day of recognition next year, there will be more, some of them will be running for office, some organizing campaigns and still others leading a movement that will exist outside of electoral politics. I can’t wait, really, we can’t.