Old Ads: Gotta Hate ’em

blow in her face

Anyone remember this one? “Blow in her face and she’ll follow you anywhere?”

I was around when women looked like this. I had that hairstyle. I’d put that at around 1968, ’69 and maybe it’s because I went to a women’s college but I’m pretty sure most women were on to this bill of goods the admen were trying to sell people.

That women liked you to be a little rough.

That showing a sort of casual disregard was catnip to the ladies.

That we all secretly LIKED being put in our place and degraded just a little.

Not so hard to believe advertisers would try that; in fact they’re trying it still.

But the blatancy of it: hard to believe this came out so soon before Oprah took to the air and shined her great spotlight on so many ugly things.

And check out this image below? One long damn way from Helen Reddy’s famous I Am Woman Hear Me Roar anthem eh?

man stepping on woman's head


It just kind of  leaves you speechless.

Yes, and Transgender People Too

It could be hard following this blog which is one minute about silly stuff and the next about something serious, like addiction or giving away your power in sexual subservience. What I’m saying is that on Sunday I wrote about Marilyn Monroe’s terrible struggle. Then yesterday I talked about trying to drive home from the eye doctor’s after having my pupils dilated. (OK that’s not really a picture of me; I keep my whiskers trimmed closer. ha ha.) And now I want to tell you how great it is that the Board of Selectmen of my town has just now voted to include the words “gender identity” in our official Human Rights Statement.

Three of us were allowed to speak in favor of this motion.

This added language echoes the intent of a state law that went in to effect here just last month that makes Massachusetts the 16th state in the nation to add non-discrimination laws for gender identity in the areas of employment, housing, K-12 public education, and credit.

Additionally, Massachusetts Hate Crimes laws were also updated to include gender identity. This law  is a very good thing, since transgender youth in particular are now being targeted in the same vicious way gay youth were once targeted (and still are targeted in many quarters.)  The child born male who knows even at three years old that his outsides don’t match the way he feels inside is not rebelling against anyone; this is that child’s deep reality.

I heard Jennifer Finley Boylan speak when  She’s Not There first came out, her first book on the experience of being transgendered.  I remember her telling the audience how she remembers crouching under the ironing board and watching as her mother pressed her father’s shirts.

“Someday YOU’LL go to work dressed in a shirt like this,” her mother said to Jennifer who the world then called James.

“Oh no I won’t!” she remembers thinking, even at that tender age. Ms. Boylan is a 12-time author, professor at Colby College, and good friend to that quintessential Mainer Richard Russo who gave the world among many other books Empire Falls and Nobody’s Fool and whose friendship with Boylan is part of that book’s narrative.

The board of my town’s Multicultural Network on which I serve had this to day in a letter to the editor last spring:

For most of us, our gender identity and gender expression are straightforward—our physiology, our outlook, the way we choose to dress, our mannerisms, our relationships are in harmony within ourselves and with societal expectations. For others of us, the physical characteristics we are born with are in conflict not only with societal expectations but also with our internal sense of self–at all levels: physical, emotional, behavioral. Moving through myriad choices in resolving personal wholeness and harmony is a daunting task in itself. Transgender and gender non-conforming people deserve the right to enjoy the same non-discrimination and civil rights as other Massachusetts residents.

In Massachusetts, 76% of transgender people report harassment in their jobs. Thirty-one percent of transgender youth, in grades K-12, experience physical assault.  Passing through an airport body imaging scan or undergoing an annual physical at a medical facility can become unimaginably difficult, especially when dealing with under-educated personnel. Transgender individuals suffer depression, anxiety, health issues, and job discrimination at an increased level.  A Massachusetts Department of Public Health report (July 2009) recommended that “Support of non-discrimination protection for transgender persons could help reduce stigma and, by extension, improve health.

The three of us who spoke last night just spoke from the heart. And we spoke to a body of people who saw the wisdom in this motion: They passed it unanimously so here is how our town’s Human Rights Statement will now read:

 “Winchester is a community that is grounded in respect for every individual and, therefore, protects all residents, employees, business owners, students and visitors in the enjoyment and exercise of human and civil rights. It is town policy to ensure equal treatment and opportunity to all individuals regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, ideology, socio-economic status, health, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, military status or disability.”

I feel so proud to live here. I feel so proud of my townspeople too for doing as Gandhi recommended and being the change they wish to see in the world.

Weaker Sex My Foot

I’ll say one thing, speaking of that boy who came to my aid when my raspberries spilled onto the asphalt that day: people help women more readily than they help men, maybe because we’re not as afraid of showing weakness. Guys hate to show any kind of weakness or uncertainty. They don’t even want to be seen sitting down. I know, I watch ’em at my Mobil station. A guy can almost never just sit in his car when the attendant checks the oil even though he knows the man will come show him the dipstick. He has to get out, walk around to the front and look under the hood too, as if he wouldn’t be at all surprised to find a raccoon under there, or a tangle of spaghetti or somebody’s underpants.

Men need to look like they’re in charge. They just do. 

I think of that line from Shakespeare when the two grown daughters of King Lear start sassing him the minute he signs his lands over to them. “Being weak, seem so!” one of them barks at him and the phrase often rings in my ears. It’s all guys ever wanted of us sure: that being ‘weak’, we act weak.

Only somewhere in there we learned to read, and teach the children, and make the peace, and calm the angry waters. We even figured out some pretty good ways to not have a baby every ten months and to ease the pain of childbirth when we did. Midwives held centuries’ worth of knowledge.

Next thing you knew we’d gotten the vote, the job, a seat on the bench (and I don’t mean the bench at a ballpark.)  For some reason we still earn only 75 cents of each dollar guys earn but we’re bound to close that gap too. In 2009 7,823 women earned medical degrees as against 8,164 men.

AND, if we care to, we can still show weakness.  We can still show need. We don’t posture and brag not because we’re these big saints but because we’re not hard-wired to.

I like being a woman and I like the stretchy tension of living with a man, especially one who is thrilled to see women doing so well. I just pray that when my kind is really on top we have the sense to stay away from war. I’m kinda thinking we will. 

A Family’s a Family

A heavy news week, from the earthquake in New Zealand to that crazy despot with the bad perm firing on his own people in Libya, but then came word  that the government will no longer pursue the fight to ban same-sex marriage. I have to say that made my day.

A full year before equality in marriage became the law in my home state, the church I belong to declared that same-sex couples were more than welcome to their have nuptial ceremonies  in our sanctuary. This vote, to be what the United Church of Christ calls “Open and Affirming,” was unanimous and heartfelt, a milestone that had special meaning for David and me especially since not one but two members of our family were to be the first to take our church up on its offer. The place was packed as these four took their vows, two brides exchanging rings with each other and two grooms doing the same.

When, in time, I wrote a column about the day I received almost 100 letters, a good 97%  of which were positive. One person wrote, “When people of good will stand up for love and family, oppression will subside and love will flourish.” Another confessed that there were times when he still “found it hard to conquer [his] prejudice.  As the discussion on gay marriage went on I was in support of civil unions only. I did not want to ‘demean’ my own traditional marriage. But the more I thought about the gay people I know, including friends and family, I knew that I was not being fair.”  I still have the transcription I made of all these letters, pages and pages of them.

The photo above is from the little jewel of a documentary  A Family is a Family is a Family. I challenge you to watch this 47-second clip from it and remain unmoved. Talk about “A little child shall lead them”!

Gay in a Mighty Straight Time

Back in my teaching days, Dottie was a girl in my English class, different in ways I could see made her proud, an athlete in a time when girls mostly primped, an honest person who admitted when she hadn’t done the reading. She hadn’t done the reading quite a lot in fact, ditched school a lot too, still in mourning  over the sudden death of the dad she so adored. In the years after high school when she realized she was gay, her life began to blossom: she played on a softball team, worked as a nurse’s aide, and fell for a woman who worked on a suicide hotline. At one point in the 80s she moved in with us and taught our little girls how to safely climb of stairs in their floor-length Strawberry Shortcake nighties. She was wiser than I will ever be and when she died young, like her dad of an inherited illness, we all missed her so, godmother as she was to our youngest child.

Back in my teaching days, Barbra was a girl NOT in my English class who came anyway, though not even enrolled at the school; just came and sat in the back of the room, listening and sometimes asking questions. Barbra knew she was gay from the get-go, I’m pretty sure, though she didn’t date as far as I know. She went stag to the prom in a tux though and a brave thing that was in the spring of ’74. The summer following she got her GED, joined the Army and came home from Basic Training alive with excitement to tell David and me all about it.  We lost track of her for a while but in the late 90s there she was in San Diego, with a degree in Molecular Biology of all things and a Master’s on the way. For some years she ran the big  AIDS Walk there and is today a part of the administration at UCSD.

I think of them both oh I think of them all the time and how lucky I was to have known them when I was just embarking on adulthood myself. If you can now, watch this very-short performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. Watch it even if you’ve watched it before. Note the most touching part of all when the families join in during the final 60 seconds and think a while about what it means to have a family; and allies; and companions on the journey.

A “What If” on Same-Sex Marriage

What if Equality in Marriage did become the law of the land? Well let me ask you this: What if your college-age daughter fell in love with another young woman, and six years later loved her still?  And what if you belonged to a place of worship that around this time chose to examine the possibility of becoming a place welcoming to all? What if one day during this 18-month-long period of prayer and reflection designed to let people really examine this possibility, someone stood and expressed concern about how “these gay people” might fit in. I wonder how you would feel hearing the man in front of you turn to his wife and with such a pained expression say, “He’s talking about our child!”  Would it surprise you to learn that other parents present that morning were thinking the same? ‘These people’? They speak of our children, whom they have known since their infancy!

How would you feel if your place of worship then voted Yes, saying “Let the word go forth that we in this 170-year old community of faith choose to be known as an Open and Affirming congregation?” If, one full year before same-sex marriage became legal in your state, the leaders expressed their delight in holding a Ceremony of Commitment for your daughter and the one she loved?

I only know how I felt when my husband stood at that service and prefaced the tender fatherly poem he was about to read by saying he knew he spoke too for the much-missed dad of our daughter’s beloved, gone now into death’s quiet corridor. I know how I felt when he then paused and looked over at Chris and said aloud before the hundreds there gathered that he could not be happier about our girl Carrie’s choice in a partner.

I think it might also lift your own  heart to hear the verses he then read from Gail Mazur’s “Young Apple Tree, December”: “What you want for it you’d want for a child,” it goes,  “That she take hold; that her roots find home in stony winter soil; that she take seasons in stride… “That she know in her branchings to seek balance. That change not frighten her, rather that change meet her embrace… that she find her place in an orchard.”

And if, in the years soon following, babies should come to the house of your children, would you not rejoice and be glad seeing them cradled so tenderly in their strong  young arms?

I think you might, if it became personal for you this way. I think the realization might dawn within you that this is all God has ever asked of us: that, committing to one another over many years’ time, we spend ourselves in deeds of care and kindness; that we strive to make a place where any who shelter under our care can take root, and grow, and one day find their own place in the orchard. our Carrie….

and two in her growing family

Gay Youth in McDonald’s Ad

My blogger-friend Bobbie just posted this Youtube link to a French McDonald’s ad revolving around a gay teen and his dad. We’ll know there’s hope for us as a nation when we too can see a mini-drama like this among our TV ads and feel only a tinge of nostalgia for young love.

“Come as you are” they’re calling the campaign. Good for McDonald’s.

Glorious Gloria

gloria & president christGloria Steinem has a button that says, “The Truth Will Set You Free (But First It Will Piss You Off)” which is funny because I can’t think of anyone who seems to be in less of a pissed-off state than this activist/ feminist/ lecturer/ author who spoke to a sold-out crowd of fellow Smith College alums last night at a gala celebration of her 75th birthday.

SHE’S 75?” I said to myself when, lean and limber, she strode onto the stage at The Asia Center on the New York’s Upper East Side. That thought came right before I moved on to the equally silly “Could I possibly look like that at 75? If I gave up meat AND dairy AND wheat AND possibly Thanksgiving dinner too?” But within five minutes of the time she entered into her conversation with Smith President Carol Christ I was asking myself if I could ever BE like her, be like any person who carries her gifts this lightly, and with so much humor and heart.

“Empathy is the most revolutionary of emotions” Gloria once wrote and she sure feels like a person who has lived into that insight. Not that she never gets angry. When someone asked her last night what makes her mad today, she quickly said, “The fact that women are still doing two jobs, one at work and one when they get home.” And then she shared her most recent insight: “I figured out the other day that what women have are the jobs that can’t be outsourced. I mean to be a nurse you have to actually BE there, right?” But when at the end someone asked her to name the moment that had perhaps given her the most satisfaction, she described the morning she was crossing Lexington Ave. to get a bagel and a city worker popped his head up out of a manhole. “Hey GLORIA!” he yelled. “‘See that sign ‘People working’? It took us FIFTEEN FUCKIN’ YEARS to get it! Today my daughter is an electrician and makes as much money as I do! How great is that?’”

Pretty great, jaunty man. Pretty great, you Gloria of ours. Thank God for your 75 years here and may you get your wish and still be with us at 100.

gloria steinem