We Wear Beautiful Shoes

Within the past month, at separate events, I’ve met Cecile Richards and Nancy Pelosi and I can tell you this – they both wear terrific shoes.

I pay attention to shoes. In fact, I craned my neck to see what kind of shoes Nancy Pelosi was wearing today with her white silky-ish suit. She wore baby blue pointy-toe pumps with maybe a two-inch heel. Cecile Richards’ heels were higher, nearly stilettos. Neither had bought into the sensible shoe, roomy toe box thinking and I was glad for that. There was a beautiful fierceness about their shoes that I love.

When I met Cecile Richards, it was at a fundraising event for Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin held at a friend’s house. When I came, I immediately espied Cecile Richards standing at the top of the driveway near the garage. I’d already decided that I had one mission: to shake her hand, tell her my story (in the briefest possible way), and thank her. I talked to her almost in code. She knew what I meant when I said I survived life before Roe v. Wade, details weren’t necessary. And it felt wonderful and fulfilling to thank her for her work for women, like I owed her maybe and had paid some of my debt.

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Meeting Nancy Pelosi today was much different. The event was a press conference highlighting the Republicans’ plan to drastically slash Medicaid and Medicare and gut the Affordable Care Act. She spoke after six other people, one of them a great friend who is also very involved in our League of Progressive Seniors. I was starstruck the entire time, like Stevie Nicks had dropped by to sing a tune, and I kept trying to catch Leader Pelosi’s eye which actually wasn’t hard because I was in the second row, wearing a t-shirt that said: This is What a Feminist Looks Like and holding a red sign for League of Progressive Seniors.

Leader Pelosi (yes, that’s how she is addressed) started her talk by acknowledging League of Progressive Seniors, saying, “I’m a progressive senior!” I yelled “Yes” and  waved my sign in the air like a crazed teenager at a rock concert. I wanted her to sign my sign. I saw the other folks sitting quietly, smiling.

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When the press conference ended, audience members rushed to speak to her but I still managed to take this picture of her and my League of Progressive Seniors sister.

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And a picture of my wonderful comrades.

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I love women, strong women with great shoes, women who don’t hold back who they are or what they think, women who forge ahead despite legions of naysayers, who fight off sexism and ageism, who show up where they’re not wanted and take the seat someone’s been saving for a man, who say what’s true, who talk about their beloved children, who lean in to listen to people in wheelchairs, who smile at awe-struck strangers, who analyze the challenge and organize the fight. I love them, us.

How It Was

It’s 1954 and you’re the leader of a group of Camp Fire girls. You host their weekly meetings, plan little crafts with acorns and pipe cleaners, make sure they all have their outfits pressed for the 4th of July Parade, and, when the local paper calls, you pose with all the other Camp Fire leaders for a picture.

When the paper is published, in this case, the Hastings Banner, you look to see if the photograph is flattering and then you look for your name. Only it isn’t your name that is listed, it’s your husband’s name with a Mrs. There is Mrs. Robert Beadle, Mrs. Arlin Chambers and Mrs. William James. And then there is you, Mrs. Roy Overley. But this doesn’t bother you because this is the way it is. You don’t think two seconds about it. You’re just glad you crossed your legs at the ankle unlike some other ladies in your row.

My mother never said much about feminism. As she would say, she had other fish to fry – like trying to function with chronic and often debilitating depression. And I never talked to her about feminist issues like women keeping their own names after getting married or even using their own first names if they took their husbands’ last name. So I figured she didn’t care about the naming thing, assumed she was fine with being anonymous. But I might have been wrong.

The first time I went to the cemetery where she and my father had installed their shared headstone before they died, leaving only the departure date blank, I saw this engraved on my mother’s side.

Virginia (Boyes) Overley

Her given name, her maiden name, her married name. I wish we had talked about it.

 

In This Election: Politics Is Personal

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The presidential election is painful for a lot of us girls.

First of all, we’re conflict averse. Oh, we understand conflict and can wield a sharp sword but it’s on the silent battlefield where we win. Articulated conflict is upsetting, especially those of us of a certain age. So our response is borrowed from men who seem to us to have successfully managed disputes. “You drive like a man,” a male friend once said to me as I maneuvered my car around the turns of a five-story parking ramp. I took it as a compliment.

I am known as a person with strong opinions but I have thrown unopened letters in the trash if I believed them to contain harsh words. I’ve deleted emails sent in retort to something critical I said to someone. One would say I can dish it out but not take it. That’s something my father would say about someone who hid from the truth, “Yeah, he can dish it out but he can’t take it.” I avoid things that will hurt my feelings. I abhor criticism. Not because I believe I am flawless but because it gives me a sick feeling in my stomach.

I look at Hillary Clinton and I’m betting she started from the same place I did. We’re the same age. The only difference is that she’s been a world leader and I’ve had a consulting practice in a fairly large Midwestern city. Does she drive like a man? Does she throw out scary mail? Does she get a sick feeling in her stomach when she’s attacked?

Secondly, we believe in the meritocracy. We believe in being prepared, getting certified, having the qualifications, putting the years in, getting good recommendations, fitting the job description. It’s what makes life fair. The resume.

So we build our resumes. We take more courses and join more boards while our male counterparts are having drinks at the club that we didn’t know about and wouldn’t join anyway because it would take time away from everything important, like building our resumes.

Having spent a lifetime on my resume, literally years and years in school, which I remember fondly but were so very difficult at the time, having no money and working so hard, being one of very few women in class, praying for A’s like some people pray for a sign from Jesus, I am astonished at the lack of respect for Hillary Clinton’s resume. ‘They are treating her like she is just some person on the street.’ I think to myself. She is so qualified!

‘Oh, you fool,’ I think. Have you forgotten about the guys having drinks at the club?

And unbelievably, this almost brings me to tears.

I couch this all in the feminist struggle. I argue with people that Hillary Clinton is getting criticized and attacked because of sexism which I truly believe but what is really killing me is this. I am Hillary Clinton. Every woman my age is Hillary Clinton. Every woman who sat in college classes filled with men is Hillary Clinton. Every woman who showed up and worked hard and prepared and got ready is Hillary Clinton. And every woman who didn’t know there was a club is Hillary Clinton.

So, this election? It’s a tough little exercise. In what? Maybe learning to open scary letters and reading every word, folding the letters and putting them back in the envelopes they were mailed in, pulling them all together with a rubber band, and saving them for another time when I want to look back on the life I’ve lived. Maybe that’s the point of this campaign. To make all of this long, seemingly endless, struggle the stuff of attics.

 

 

What’s Different When Women Run Things

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The people who say they won’t vote for Hillary Clinton just because she’s a woman are driving me nuts.

It’s the latest thing in feminism, apparently, to eschew voting for an extremely well-qualified female candidate in favor of another in the legion of white men who have run the country since the beginning of time. But yes, the essence of freedom is that people – men and women – are free to vote regardless of gender or race or anything else.

Still, I think things are different when women run things. And because things are different when women run things, I obviously, strongly think that women should run more things.

What’s different when women run things? you ask. Let’s think about ten powerful women in a room charged with solving an enormous problem. How will they behave?

  1. There will be a lot of talking. Women will think out loud, try out ideas, put things on the table, take them off the table, and fill the air with words and ideas.
  2. No one will be hiding. A group of women is, to me, by definition, a safe environment. A reticent person will be drawn in to the discussion. A blowhard will be tamped down. The group will move in waves and rhythms that will be easy to ride.
  3. The solution will be the focus. Women don’t jockey for points because they see that for what it is – a game better suited to middle school than to places where grown-ups hang out. How do we solve this problem? That will be the focus of the group, not how do I look like the smartest person in the room. Big difference. But you all who are so convinced that men can handle it all without women wouldn’t really know that. You can trust, though. That’s a good approach.
  4. There will be worry about impact. A room full of women will worry about how their solution will affect people. They will act to minimize bad effects for children and families. They will think about mothers waving goodbye to their children going off to war. They will do what they do everyday: make sure that everyone else is okay.
  5. They will love the problem-solvers. Advancing the solution will get the respect, not grandstanding or obstruction. What brings the group together behind a fine idea will bring joy to the group and each member will own it.
  6. They will hang tough. There is nothing tougher than tough women who have linked arms on a plan. Nothing.
  7. The solution will be better. Because women create an environment where the solution is the focus and where all opinions are welcome and great ideas celebrated and solidarity valued, the solution to the enormous problem will be better. You ask me how I know. I’ve seen it happen. None of this is abstract.

But, this is just me thinking about what could be, sometime in the future when women take their 51% of the action. Probably not in my lifetime, but that’s fine. As long as we landed a man on the moon, who can complain?

 

Note to Millennials: Saying Doesn’t Make It So

I get why young Progressives are supporting Bernie Sanders. I’d be disappointed in them if they didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I completely support Hillary Clinton. I list my reasons in an essay published in July. My opinion hasn’t changed; it’s just become firmer: She’s tough, smart and tested. Plus it’s time.

But Bernie Sanders is saying the things that I love. Universal health care, free college, increase taxes on the 1%, these are all things near and dear to my heart.

But here’s the deal. These things are only amazing because no one has said them for a very long time. No one who is young right now knows that political life in America used to be full of big, ambitious, outrageous talk. When the wonderful Beyonce did her Formation yesterday at the Super Bowl with the Black Panther theme, well, guess what, there were once ACTUAL Black Panthers. There was the SDS, student radicals taking over university buildings, people stopping the Democratic National Convention, protests in the streets year after year that ended the War in Vietnam.

We had people talking about real income redistribution, change so huge and fundamental that it was impossible to get one’s head around it. Civil rights, ending poverty, ridding the world of oppression – these were things that were part of everyday discourse. You wanted to be part of the real world? You needed to lace up your boots and pick up your damn sign.

So in the past twenty or thirty years, we have politicians that are so worried about public disapproval that they operate in a box about two feet in diameter. If Barack Obama ever uttered the words universal health care, he’d have been impeached. Instead, he wove together the wacky quilt that is the Affordable Care Act. Am I glad we have ACA? Yes, you bet. Does it approach universal health care? No, sorry.

Radical talk is the stuff of scrapbooks in attics. I remember it. But young people in their twenties think that Bernie Sanders is the first person to have these radical ideas. Nope. You think it’s new but it’s just new to you.

So what have all us older folks learned since we marched and sat in? This is what we learned: saying doesn’t make it so. I love Bernie Sanders for saying all the wonderful things that I remember from the past. But saying them isn’t enough. We learned that the first time. It takes skill, stamina and smarts to make change. It takes the ability to move Congress, a fact that gets skipped over by Sen. Sanders and many others. A President doesn’t get to do whatever he/she wants; there is policy, budget, negotiation and compromise involved.

I don’t want a speech. I’ve heard the speech. The speech is not enough.

Sorry, Bernie Sanders supporters, I’m looking for action. I’ve waited long enough.

 

Missing in Action

It’s so interesting to me that we seem to accept without question that the shooting, bombing and beheading going on in the world all seems to be done by men as if they were 99% of the population instead of 50%. Where is the other 50% and why aren’t they maiming and murdering people?

Is this just another case of women being kept out of the real action?

It’s true in our town.  It’s men who are doing the shooting and killing.  And it’s usually other men who are shot. But not always. Lately, there have been a few women and several children killed. When the men get going, they don’t care if there are kids swinging from the monkey bars. If they’re in the way, well, that’s just too bad. The men, you see, just have to have their anger and give it full expression. No matter what.

But not just men. Young men. Tonight on CNN, they are showing photos of the 26-year old Belgian who is suspected of being part of the Paris attacks. I look at his face and I think, what has happened to you in your 26 years that you feel justified murdering people you don’t even know? Do you have a sister? Yes? Where is she in all this? Why isn’t she strapping on an AK-47 ? Is it because you stopped her? Or is it because she is unable and unwilling to kill another person?

Oh, I think women are very capable of hatred. Able to achieve extraordinary levels of anger and cruelty. But generally only involving people they know. Their children. It’s an unhappy thought but true.

When was the last time that a woman armed herself to the hilt, sneaked into a movie theater and opened fire on the audience or barged into an elementary school and shot kindergartners and first graders hiding behind their teachers? Or the last time that a woman hijacked a plane or blew herself up in a suicide bombing? Has it ever happened? Yes. Is it 50% of the time? Not by a long shot.

What’s wrong with young men that they are doing these things? Or maybe the question is what’s wrong with young men that older men with less nerve can incite them to do such things. What motivates young men to go shoot people in Paris and then blow themselves up and why doesn’t that same thing motivate young women?

At what point do we realize that violence, mayhem and murder seem to be a young man’s game around the entire world and start thinking about solutions that mobilize the other 50% of the population that is murder and mayhem averse?

I guess my question is, and yes, I know it’s esoteric but I ask anyway, why are women so powerless to exert their will on the world? Why are we so acquiescent to this madness? Why are we not making our 50% a force for peaceful coexistence? It’s what we do in our neighborhoods. We hate our neighbor. We don’t kill him.

The silence of women in the world is truly deafening. Where are we?