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 Princess School

Growing up, I didn’t have too many great role models of marriage.  It has taken me a whole lot longer than most to develop standards and values that I would be proud to pass on to my Daughter for how to be treated.  I have come to jokingly and lovingly call this “Princess School”.  I know when I meet a Princess School Graduate in my chair or in my social circle because life is pretty good for them.  Things are TAKEN CARE OF.  And lest you think I am talking about not carrying my own bags, that isn’t it.  Nor is this discussion about money, material items or being a Diva. It’s really about self-esteem and self-respect.

When I was becoming a Feminist in my late teens, I confused “Having it all” with “Having to do it all”.  I was going to have a career, kids and a relationship.  The man I chose would not have to provide for me.  I could do it myself.  Maybe HE could stay at home with the kids.  I could do it all because I wanted to.  I judged women critically who declared their Boyfriend “treats me like a Queen”.  I had some stuff a bit backwards.

I was 26 when I met Daniel and 28 when we got married.  We met playing in nightclubs in NYC.  We created music together. We fought a lot.  We were in love.  We had our son when I was almost 30 and daughter at 31 and divorced soon after. He was and will always be a great love of my life and you could never have talked me out of marrying him.  But put it this way, I bought my own wedding ring.

When I was in my 20s, I decided that LOVE was all that mattered.  I thought that if I loved YOU, that was the most important factor for us to have a relationship.  Princesses don’t think this way.  At all.  Princesses are rational and decide that yes, love matters but how you treat THEM matters as much, if not more.  How you are treated-not just how you feel about the other person. This is the difference.

We decided to get married on a Thursday night.  We got our marriage license on Friday.  We got married at City Hall in NYC on Monday at 2. We invited the few friends who we thought could make it.  I spent the weekend preparing.  One of my best friends made the cake. My other close childhood friend made my bouquet.

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*disco ball shoes featured are mine

I knew Daniel didn’t have the money for a ring so I went ahead and bought one for myself.  Then I took the subway to the Upper East Side to a wedding boutique to look at tiaras.  The very elegant sales ladies were horrified when they asked me what my dress looked like and I pulled it out of my BACKBACK.

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I had this dress for years.  I figured it was white and strapless and why not wear it? Their tiaras were way out of my budget so I left and got one elsewhere and laughed a little at the thought of how they were probably talking about me.  Clearly, they were used to dealing with Princesses.  On a timeline.  Not a short sale.

I loved my husband. I loved our little wedding.  Our children were born of love.  I wouldn’t change any of that.  I led with passion and my heart, always.  But looking back, it wouldn’t have hurt for me to have more needs, more self-respect and ask for a little more in life earlier on. The two don’t have to be at odds.  This I didn’t understand.

There is so much to say about how we think of ourselves and how these thoughts generate the actions that create our lives.  It could be said that our lives are manifestations of how we feel about ourselves.  Where I still have work to do is as a late-comer to Princess School.  Maybe I will never become one?  I’m probably too old so I should be enrolling in Queen School.  But this much I know-I’d like to stop creating hardship for myself.  I’d like to think there are new ways of thinking that are easier than the ones I have.  I’d like to stop suffering because I think I have to, because it’s second nature.  There surely is something to be said for buying one’s own ring.  And there is surely something to be said for not having to.

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On Vacation

This year, my family and I rented a beach house together and will spend a week on vacation.  The house we rented is only about 35 minutes from my actual house and 15 minutes from the house I grew up in.  At a beach I grew up going to every chance I could. I was a beach girl, back in the day.

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*1985 Stinson Beach.  Crutches were mine from a non-drinking related ankle sprain.  Actually, it probably did involve California Coolers

In my beach years, I had a tan, long Blonde hair and I dated Surfers.  The beachy lifestyle continued through college (location changed) where I studied on the beach, worked by the beach, ran on the beach.  You get the idea. When at last I found I could no longer tolerate ANOTHER beautiful day, I traded health and happiness for angst and suffering NYC-style.  While in NY, I became an (aspiring) Actress, got rid of my Valley Girl accent and avoided the sun as well as overly-happy people. I learned I was actually a translucent shade of white and that I had been dating dumb-dumbs. No men in NY told me, “you think too much”.

I did have this uncontrollable urge when pregnant to dig a hole in the sand to put my tummy in so a few times in that 9 months I went to the beach.

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Besides this moment of glory, I was an Urban Dweller all the way.  When my son was born, we moved back to California to the town I live in now.  As the years have gone by (13 now), the call to be by the water gets stronger and stronger.  I realized this week sadly, that I have become that person that craves a somewhat different life than I live.  And yet I don’t know if I can change my life, at least for awhile. Wise women have told me that the 70s Feminist Tenet of “having it all” is a myth.  We can have it all, just not all at the same time.

Only after I had my kids did I start to comprehend the meaning of sacrifice. The purpose of my life became completely clear.  I felt the full weight of providing and nurturing, endlessly. The necessity of stability and the exhaustion and satisfaction of being stretched thin. Parenting, especially single-parenting, is hardcore.

The good news and bad news about my kids getting older is that I now have more time on my hands to think about ME.  For years, people would ask me how I was doing and I would be…clueless.  Me?  Feelings?  There was no “me time”.  I was thoroughly out of touch.  Yet, I found great liberation in that state.  Me? I am a Mom.  I am working for them.  I get up for them.  I clean, work, think and act for their well-being.  I loved this freedom from the self-centeredness of my past.  The total lack of Existentialist questioning.  Free from the naval-gazing emptiness I felt in my 20s.

On Vacation, we have time to reflect.  I have accomplished a whole lot in my life thus far.  And when I boil it down, I now think I will have really “made it” if I have a hot tub and can see the sunset regularly.  This week I got a taste of what that feels like.  And it happens to be a lifestyle I can’t actually afford.

Or can I?

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