On Beyonce’s Feminism

Last night at the VMA’s (Video Music Awards hosted by MTV), Beyonce did this.

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Many people had mixed feelings about this coming from Bey.  They argued that Beyonce couldn’t be a Feminist because of her marriage to Jay-Z.  (Jay-Z often raps lyrics that are pretty misogynistic, but that’s another blog all together.  “It’s complicated.”).  Whether you agree or disagree in Beyonce’s version of Feminism, I was happy to see her bring the F-word back into a mainstream dialogue.   Thank you Bey, for sexing it up.

Many young women in the US today take for granted the privileges and rights they have.  Many don’t even know they are privileges that were hard earned not that long ago.  I am 43 and my generation is arguably the first to get to “have it all”.  We are also the first to have the choice to “opt out” of working when we have had our kids.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/magazine/the-opt-out-revolution.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Many women aren’t fighting wanting to “have it all” because we gained access to all options from the women before us.  But many still are.  In a recent conversation with a man close to me, he asked me why we still have to be having this conversation.  My response was that it’s just the beginning.

And dare I say that the men we choose to be with in our journey are also conflicted?  What happens to men whose purpose shifts with the choices his partner makes or who is asked to be flexible and redefine who he is when the roles change?  What happens to the man who is asked to partner, change diapers, provide, be sensitive, be alpha but not too alpha….

It’s confusing.  Beyonce can be seen as “having it all”.  She can be seen as a role model for female power, sexuality, sensuality, creative control and being a working Mother.  I am thankful for that.  The debate roars on that she can’t be a Feminist because she is shaking her ass.  I disagree.

When I was 19 and a Teacher’s Aide for the most well known Feminist Professor in the United States, Bettina Aptheker, I stood in front of the class in a mini-dress, lipstick, cowboy boots and curled hair.  I did this on purpose.  I wanted young students to see that you could be a Feminist and look traditionally feminine.  In the late 80s, lipstick Feminism hadn’t happened yet.  It was shortly after that Naomi Wolf wrote “The Beauty Myth” which was a breakout book and school of thought for Feminism at the time.  Yes, beauty standards are a problem for women but ALSO, women can do what they want with how they look.  Arguably, this is why women now feel inclined to say that getting surgery or cosmetic alterations is “their choice” but let’s not digress.

Ass shaking aside, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  On a global scale, we are still facing massive inequality in most developing nations.  In China, it is highly dangerous to identify oneself as a Feminist.  To “lean in” simply isn’t an option.  My friend Erika Merrill traveled to Kenya this summer with the Daraja Academy which aims to provide funding for the education of girls.  Here are some facts about the global situation for the education females.

Out of the world’s 130 million out-of-school youth, 70% are girls.

Human Rights Watch, “Promises Broken: An Assessment of Children’s Rights on the 10th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” [December 1999]

Less than 2¢ of every development dollar goes to girls.
Nancy Gibbs, “To Fight Poverty, Invest in Girls,” Time Magazine [February 2011]
Women’s education was the single most important factor behind falling levels of hunger and malnutrition in the developing world according to a 30-year study.

The US Institute of Food and Nutrition

A girl who receives secondary and higher education beyond grade 7 has, on average, 2.2 fewer children.

United Nations Population Fund, State of World Population 1990

An extra year of primary schooling raises a woman’s eventual wages income by 10%. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25%.

George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos, “Returns to Investment in Education: A FurtherUpdate,” Policy Research Working Paper 2881[Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2002]

Every extra year of schooling reduces infant mortality by up to 10%.

T. Paul Schultz, “Health and Schooling Investments in Africa,” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 13, no. 3 [1999]

http://www.daraja-academy.org/why-girls/

If you or someone you love, thinks we no longer “need” Feminism I would like to provide the following photo from the “We Don’t Need Feminism” movement on Tumblr as a cautionary tale.

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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2704889/Have-completely-misunderstood-concept-Women-Against-Feminism-blog-sparks-fierce-backlash-statements-I-like-men-compliment-body.html

We still do.

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On Back To School

It’s that time of year.  For some parents, this is good news and for others (like me) not so much.  I am a night owl and so are my kids and so for all of us, we dread the 6:43 AM alarm clock, lunch packing and out the door morning rush.

What made this year different than others is my Son’s attendance to a new school. Not only is the school new to him, it’s private and it’s Catholic. Oh, and it’s High School.  Quadruple whammy.  We are not Catholic and we have never attended private school and he is 13.  A moment in time ripe for social awkardness and reflections on this rite of passage we all face.

I, like him, was also 13 when I started high school.  Young for our grade.  But I already had experience with older boys, cigarettes and hid any social anxiety behind Wayfarer sunglasses and an aloof posture.

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*That’s me in the middle the Summer before Freshmen year.  Not smiling.

When I started high school, I had my same friends and frankly don’t recall feeling all that terrible.  I wanted to be a Senior already but could manage.  Any step closer to Adult was good by me.  Don’t get  me wrong, I wasn’t EXCITED to go to school as being EXCITED about anything was not socially acceptable either. My adolescence was spent as a non-participant.  I was a product of the counter-culture coupled with a too-cool-for-school nature.  If I was forced to join anything, I stood in the back.  As I have shared in other blogs, I lacked a playful spirit so doing anything which may reveal joy or vulnerability was not my speed.  At my high school, the “cool kids” didn’t join anything.  Except parties, surfing or possibly soccer.

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*This was a backyard party I attended Freshmen year but as you can see, there are grown men here (one with a mustache!).  I am actually smiling in this one, maybe because of the Keg?

My Son’s new school is known for it’s community spirit and FOOTBALL.  Neither of which I have any experience in.  My Son took the initiative to attend this school and I support him all the way and, as with all parenting, I am learning as I go.  Humbly.  The night of his Freshmen Social, I was invited to attend a Social for incoming Freshmen Mom’s at one of the Mom’s homes.  I spotted the home because of the balloons outside in school spirit colors.  I was greeted with a name-tag, also in school spirit colors.  As I entered a home full of Mom’s, I imagined this must be how my Son is feeling.  I don’t know anyone.  Where do I stand?  How do I do this?  My higher self knows this is all perfect.  My fearful self wanted to run out the back gate.

For someone who has spent their entire life and career in the public arena, I am actually pretty shy.  People have a hard time believing that but it’s true.

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*That’s me on the right, not wanting my picture taken in high school.

Being shy, introverted and not drinking, it’s not super relaxing for me to attend parties with strangers.  But I did it.  And therein lies the development of self that we all must soldier through.  Joining a new team, starting a new job, moving to a new city.  We are faced with the fear of failure, not fitting in, not being good enough, not saying or doing the right thing.  And living through it.  And maybe actually enjoying it?

My kids are having a pretty good childhood.  They don’t hate school.  They join things.  They participate. They want to be “part-of”.  They don’t share my social phobias and for this I am utterly grateful.  Because of my kids, I get to push through my own judgments and reluctance and recognize that at the root of all of it is fear.  And every time we push through our own fears, we become a little bit better and a little bit stronger.  I am sure of it.

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On Depression

I had planned to blog about a photography exhibit I saw in NYC this week but on my way home from vacation today, I learned of the suicide of Actor Robin Williams.  My intention was not for this blog to be so heavy week after week but I do mean for it to be current and this subject certainly deserves some light shined and air time.

I have only had depression once for a few weeks after a miscarriage, before my Son was born.  That itty bitty post-partum hormonal shift was awful.  I felt dead inside.  People around me would complain about whatever and I felt angry and resentful towards their seemingly trivial concerns.  People would try and cheer me up, make suggestions on how I could feel better.  Tell me things would be better soon.  I felt nothing.  Like I was in a bubble, unable to connect.  And then it passed.

That one itty bitty experience with depression gave me the utmost compassion for people who suffer from it regularly.  I would never again offer a platitude to someone suffering.  It just doesn’t help.

I have been around people and lived with people with depression many times in my life.  I have been around and lived with people in and out of 12-Step Programs my whole life as well and I know first hand how close the connection is between addiction and depression.  I have also been around and lived with many Artists and Musicians and Actors, many of which suffered from depression and addiction.   There is no coincidence in these connections.

Whenever anyone dies, either by their own hand or by an overdose, I retreat to the same place in my heart and soul.  I always think about that last moment for them and how lonely it must be to really believe this life isn’t worth living.  And wondering, had they just known that that feeling of futility would pass maybe they wouldn’t have done it?

When a celebrity dies, either by their own hand or by an overdose, I am reminded that there is no amount of money or fame, power or recognition that cures inner suffering.  Our own happiness is something we must work at regardless of circumstance.  Any illusion of happiness coming from outer circumstances is just that-an illusion.  I have been guilty many times over of assuming that “if I had what they had” (money/fame) I would be happy.  And maybe I would be a little happier than I am now being that I do stress about money.  But the truth is, I can be happy right here right now.  I insist on it.  The allegory of the person who has it all and is still suffering is my teacher and reminder of gratitude for what is right here, right now.

Most Marin kids have a Robin Williams story.  We grew up with him around us downtown Mill Valley, in San Francisco, showing up at night clubs, comedy clubs, trying out his jokes on strangers.  My Facebook feed is filled with fellow Marin kids sharing beautiful and funny Robin stories today with his passing.  He was a true genius and a kind soul.

I remember seeing him in his red suspenders telling jokes and stories to a group downtown Mill Valley.  I remember what a presence he had 100 feet away.  This was in the Mork and Mindy days, a show I loved.

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The first movie my Son really loved was Jumanji.  I can’t possibly quantify how many times we watched that movie.  So silly but Robin, as always, brought his soul and humor to his role making him utterly lovable.  He was a raw performer, a true Artist and I am sure that the intensity of his own gifts were a source of torture for him.  Like many of the greats.

I hope that, if nothing else, his passing can shed light on the seriousness of depression and addiction and the urgency for help, support and treatment.  There is no shame too great to keep silent.  There is no need to go like this.

http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Inform_Yourself/About_Mental_Illness/By_Illness/Dual_Diagnosis_Substance_Abuse_and_Mental_Illness.htm

RIP

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On Peter Pan

My Daughter was in a production of Peter Pan this week at our local community center.  It was good and she was really fun to watch.  Having not seen this play or film since childhood, I was strangely surprised by my lack of emotional connection to the Peter Pan character, or really the spirit of the play.  Why?  I always wanted to grow up.  I always wanted to go to school.  I have never uttered, “Oh, I wish I could be a kid again.” When people talk about their inner child, I picture mine  trying to get a job already.  I always loved the sound of high heels clicking on the sidewalk and I developed to-do lists from age 10.  I think I was born serious.

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*My “inner child”.  Age 4

As I found my mind wandering during the shows slower moments, I thought about how each character in Peter Pan represented an Archetype in modern romance.  For a story that was written in 1901, the story line remains relevant.  I wondered, does the ongoing celebration of this 100+ year-old fairytale perpetuate underdeveloped emotional lives?

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If you have not seen the play or movie since you were a kid, allow me to refresh your memory.  Alas, if you don’t want your love of Peter Pan tainted, I suggest you stop reading RIGHT NOW.  I am a fairytale buzzkill from this point on.  I should also state that I am not touching issues of ethnicity in this exploration.  Just gender.  An analysis of genocide deserves it’s own space for certain.

Let’s start with the central figure, Peter Pan.  A man-child who just wants to play play play.  Peter refuses adulthood and insists on nothing but fun all the time.  And the woman-child who loves him, Wendy.  When they first meet, Peter has lost his shadow (is this where Carl Jung got his theories?) and sneaks into her bedroom to steal it back.

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Having attempted to adhere his shadow back onto himself and fail, Peter asks for help and Wendy obliges. In her stitching, she unintentionally hurts him thereby fracturing his facade of impenetrability.  Shadow intact, Peter appeals to Wendy to come to Neverland and  be a Mother.  She obliges, leaving behind her duties to her own Mother and Father.

Wendy’s Mother and Father are the classic male/female of days bygone (one would hope).  The Father is bossy and grouchy from working all the time and wants nothing but “a little less noise”.  The Mother is busy abiding and scuttling around making sure the house is clean and the kids are quiet for him.  We see that what is expected is for kids to “grow up” and become just like them.  And that really doesn’t look like a lot of “fun”.

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*My Daughter as a Lost Kid on the right

In her new role as a Mother in Neverland, we see Wendy taking care of kids and falling in love with Peter.  Both she and Tinkerbell indirectly express their feelings for him (often competing with each other) and he misses their coy attempts entirely.  Peter is confused, clueless and disinterested. Oy-unrequited Love.

We then meet Captain Hook.  The original Bad Boy?  He doesn’t give a shit.  He is totally fine being “the creepiest of creeps” and laughs at death.  Though his one weakness is his fear of a crocodile who once ate his hand.  His fear ends up being his downfall.   Captain Hook is supposed to represent evil in the good versus evil dilemma but I end up wishing he would win because he is far more entertaining than anyone else.  What this says about me probably isn’t so good….

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*My Daughter with Captain Hook

Peter feeds Hook to the crocodile winning the good versus evil battle.  He then flies Wendy and the Lost Kids back home.

Time passes and Peter returns to Wendy to take her back again (for Spring Cleaning!!!!!) yet to his and her dismay, she has grown up and had a child.  He cries on the ground at his discovery that she broke her promise to never grow up. When she exits the room to attend to her grouchy new Husband, he is met by Wendy’s Daughter Jane.  Jane has been waiting for him!  She has all the same qualities he loved about Wendy.  She knows how to tell stories and stitch pockets and is willing to travel.  So the man-child finds a replacement  in a YOUNGER WOMAN. Shocking…

The End

Ugh

“Peter Pan Syndrome” has inspired many a self-help book and magazine article helping women try and avoid him.  No woman wants to have “Wendy Syndrome”.

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I am going to go out on a limb and say that a high percentage of Bay Area men well into their 40s and 50s could be considered Peter Pans.  Some even call Northern California a “playground”.  Home of Burning Man, the Mountain Bike and Polyamory.  I have met CFO’s who wear hiking boots to work. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year which named San Francisco as the number one city LEAST likely for love!!!

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http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303704304579378902170592732

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When I told my daughter about “Peter Pan Syndrome”, she asked if that was a real thing.  We had a nice discussion about growing up and what it means to different people.  I told her how I always wanted to be a grown up and asked her if she likes being a kid or wants to grow up?

She said that she likes being a kid but that growing up means being closer to death.  That, I understand.

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*Me and my shadow