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Archive for the tag “feminism”

Gloria

1442865674251“Don’t listen to me,” Gloria Steinem told the two 15-year-old girls. “Listen to yourselves.” A packed-to-the-rafters Benaroya Hall erupted in applause, as it did dozens of times on Sunday night. But there was something about those girls. They were all of us. We have all been fifteen and remember well that panicked thought: who am I? Who will I be? Who do I deserve to be? That the two of them stood together at the microphone, because standing alone would have been too scary, made it all the more poignant. How far in advance did they plan which one of them would ask the question—what advice do you have for teenaged girls?—and which one of them would stand with her for support?

IMG_2128Gloria Steinem was in Seattle to promote her new memoir, My Life on the Road. In an evening presented by Hedgebrook, the Whidbey Island retreat for women writers where she wrote much of her book over several summers, Steinem was interviewed by Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, the best-selling memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Strayed was funny and lively and made it clear from the beginning that she was as awed by Steinem as the rest of us. But it was Gloria’s night. I hope she doesn’t mind if I call her Gloria. I don’t believe she will. As she quipped at one point during the evening, “We women aren’t generally so attached to our last names, are we?”

When Gloria and Cheryl walked on stage, I felt as if my spine had just been plugged into a sizzling charger. My eyes started to glisten. My throat tightened. My heart did a little step-dance. I apologize for how trite this all may sound, but I am trying hard to describe how I really, truly felt at that moment, because I don’t feel that way very often. Thanks to my broadcast journalist past, I’m not instantly impressed by famous people. But Gloria is different. Gloria is personal. She changed my life. She changed my mother’s life, my friends’ lives, my daughter’s life. She changed the life of every woman, whether they know it or not. Does this sound over-the-top? I would argue that it is not. Not at all. Gloria Steinem is 81 years old (last year, when she turned 80, I discovered that she and my mother share the same birthday and I wrote a tribute to the two of them), and her life work has been to change the way we perceive women. In my lifetime, the change has been profound and global. For example, the small businesswomen I’ve met in places like Peru, India, Thailand: Ayacucho WomanGloria helped me to see them differently; to fully appreciate their strength and resilience. Or take Sahar, the Seattle-based nonprofit that is building schools for girls in Afghanistan: thanks to Gloria, the world understands how essential such work is.

“Women get more radical with age,” Gloria said in response to a question about why there weren’t more very young feminist spokeswomen. Yes we do, because we get impatient. All our lives, we are told: be patient. The world is changing. Hang on! But then when you look up one day and realize your daughter is facing way too many of the same hurdles you faced—and then some, if she lives in the wrong state and might wish to do something as radical as visit a Planned Parenthood clinic—you think: enough patience already. I’m done.

Ann 1978 (1)When I was a newly minted college graduate in 1978, the personnel director at a major publisher told me that “all our young women start as secretaries and our young men start as sales reps.” And so my first job title, post-college, was secretary. That is why Gloria Steinem moves me in a way perhaps no other public figure ever will. She understood then, and she understands now: equal treatment for all—regardless of gender, race, age or any other consideration—is not political. It is a basic human right.

Diggers little boyPlease check out our Kickstarter page for Zona Intangible, our film set in Peru and now in post-production. Watch the trailer. Consider a donation. Our deadline is November 24. Thank you! 

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Happy Birthday, Gloria Steinem

UnknownHappy Birthday, Gloria Steinem. If you are what eighty looks like, then there is hope in this world. And it is high time I thanked you for a few things.

First: Six years ago, for two weeks of my life, you gave me courage to get out of bed. It was April 2008. A cold April: frost every day, even a few snow flurries. Every morning, I huddled under the covers in my cottage at Hedgebrook, the Whidbey Island retreat for women writers, reading your brilliant book of essays, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions.

You have to understand, Gloria: I did not deserve to be at Hedgebrook, because I was not a real writer. Documentary filmmaker, occasional journalist, effective public affairs bloviator—you could call me all of the above. But writer? What was Hedgebrook thinking, giving me a cottage for two weeks on the basis of a script I’d written for a doc film about Alzheimer’s disease?

It was you who gave me courage to get over myself, get out of bed and start writing. Your honesty—about being a Playboy bunny, about your mother’s mental illness, about being a woman—inspired me to write honestly. Your voice—frank, funny, humble, confident—inspired me to try out my own.

I was writing about my mother, too. Or trying to. Her birthday is also March 25th. She would have been 83 today, had Alzheimer’s not marked her and claimed her far too young: at 74, after nearly two decades of relentless assault.

Even though my mother was just a few years older than you, Gloria, her life could not have been more different than yours. Six children. Divorced twice, widowed once. But the work you did in the sixties and seventies? Gloria, you changed my mother’s life. You gave her courage.

She may not have openly acknowledged the debt. She may have thought that it was all about her own pluck and stamina. But after my parents divorced and my mother went back to college at 38, what she was doing was taking charge of her life in a way that you and your colleagues in the women’s movement had made possible. Who knows? A few years earlier, she might have accepted alimony or gone back to work as a secretary. Instead, she fulfilled her long-deferred dream of studying English and becoming a teacher. Instead, she exemplified for her impressionable daughters the women’s movement—your movement—in action. Feminist rhetoric was reality, not theory, at our house.

So I thank you, Gloria, for being who you were at the end of the 1960s. And I thank you for being who you were, to me, as I lapped up your book at Hedgebrook on those frosty mornings in 2008. I knew you too had spent time at Hedgebrook (and would continue to come for several summers). Which meant that you too knew the power of a cottage and privacy all day followed by good food and conversation in the evenings.

And now, on this your 80th birthday, which is also my mother’s birthday, it gives me great joy to tell you that the memoir I started scribbling at Hedgebrook, inspired by you, is going to be published in September by She Writes Press. It’s called Her Beautiful Brain. Her_Beautiful_Brain

And here’s a remarkable thought: in your lifetime, Gloria, we have gone from a world where it was quite acceptable to believe that all women’s brains were actually inferior to men’s to a world in which we women know our brains are beautiful. You helped us get there. You helped me get there. So did my beautiful, brainy mom. Happy Birthday to both of you.

Arlene and 6 kids

Only  a few spots left in my non-credit, no stress Memoir Writer’s Workshop at Seattle Central Community College. This is a new class for writers who feel ready to write 5-7 pages a week. Six Monday nights, starting April 7.

The Restless Nest is on the radio every Tuesday morning at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS.fm; 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available.

 

Raised to Please

We are raised to please. We are raised to attract. We are raised to decorate, divert and delight. We are raised to invite attention, not to seek it. To never, ever risk rejection.

And when I say we, of whom do I speak? It must be a group known to include me. Might it be… people over 50? Seattleites? Speakers of English?

Of course not. You know who I’m talking about. Women.

And what, you might ask, is so wrong with being raised to please?

Nothing at all, if you are born and remain a lovely-to-look-at, ornamental sort of a woman. Nothing at all, if ornamenting the world brings you great joy.

But what if what you long to do is build tall buildings? Play basketball? Conduct high-risk scientific research? Or—in my case—write? And in order to achieve that writing dream, you have to lob your precious words out into the world so they can be rejected over and over and over again until at last, you get lucky and what you’ve written is accepted and printed? Briefly, you are filled with joy—until your freshly published words are actually read. And not everyone likes them. And you want to die because you have displeased a few people.

Men, on the other hand, are raised to risk rejection or die trying. They’re raised to understand for every ten girls they ask out, one might say yes and hey, that’s great! They grow up understanding they won’t get a good job unless they apply for 100. They learn young: licking wounds is wasting time.

Meanwhile, women grow up learning: don’t ask for what you want. Be patient, pretty, good, do everything right—and someone, someday, will read your mind.

Am I oversimplifying? Sure. But take a look at the annual count by the literary nonprofit VIDA of female versus male writers published in prestigious magazines—Atlantic, New Yorker, Harpers, etcetera.  Diet-sized wedges of each pie chart represent articles written by women. I don’t think the problem is that women don’t write great nonfiction.  Or they don’t think their writing is good enough. I think women writers don’t submit their work because they fear rejection. Or, like me, they’ve been rejected half a dozen times and they can’t stand the pain.

As a longtime documentary filmmaker, I’ve been rejected by film festivals dozens of times.  But here’s the difference: I make films with my husband. Somehow, that helps, because even though I feel every rejection as a personal rejection of me, he knows how to move on and he tugs me along with him. Writing nonfiction for print publications is a newer pursuit for me and I’m flying solo.

My writer friend Isla is the one who got me thinking about this Curse of the Good Girl who internalizes early the paramount importance of pleasing. Isla is 20 years younger than I am. My daughter, 22 and a working journalist, gets it too.

The VIDA count is a vivid reminder, to writers like Isla, my daughter and me, that there’s more at stake here than our self-esteem. We need to keep submitting our work, and we need to get really good at handling rejection, because collectively, we still have a lot of catching up to do.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

Across the Fence

  Just as we have Mad Men to thank for reminding us of how casually men in power exuded sexism, racism, classism, anti-semitism and homophobia fifty years ago, now we have Rush Limbaugh to thank for reminding us: we still have a lot of work to do. But I’m thankful to Limbaugh.  Really. Because that outrageous statement he made weeks ago—“If we’re gonna pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want you to post the videos online so we can all watch”—well, it’s just not going away. And that may be bad for his show’s ad revenues, but in terms of getting people talking? It is good. Tricky, risky, sometimes inflammatory. But good.

Have you seen that MoveOn ad in which five women repeat, simply and straight to the camera, Limbaugh’s notorious words, along with several statements by Rick Santorum and other conservatives regarding contraception? It’s in my email inbox and I expect it’ll show up a few more times, right along with the news about how our state’s proposed budget calls for cuts in funding for contraception and counseling.  Also in the in-box: my friend Liza Bean’s insightful blog post about why conservative women believe liberal women don’t like them.

There’s a conversation going on here. People are talking across the fence. The MoveOn ad is getting buzz not just on MSNBC, but on Fox News, where two Republican commentators, both women, tried in vain to explain to Bill O’Reilly why this all matters: why women across the political spectrum reacted with revulsion to, for example, Presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s statement that “a woman impregnated thru rape should accept that horribly created gift. The gift of human life.”

Meanwhile, liberal blogger Liza and her conservative mom are finally having that long-avoided conversation about Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin. Liza’s mom thinks liberal women only want to see liberal women succeed in politics, even though they pay lip service to the notion of diverse views. Liza concedes she may be on to something.

I have to agree. I will never forget the chill I felt when I saw Sarah Palin on TV for the first time, standing next to John McCain, commanding the stage with absolute confidence.

“She’s got the magic,” I thought. “My God, McCain’s going to win and then she’ll run and win and she’ll be our Margaret Thatcher!”

I’ve never been so relieved to be so wrong. And yet what stayed with me were the conversations I had with Republican women who were thrilled by her: by the thought of a woman whose views they shared zooming up the political ladder the way Palin did in 2008.

Ultimately, I believe Palin was a polarizer of women, not a uniter. She did not talk across the fence in 2008, nor has she since, in her role as a TV commentator.

What’s going on now is different. Limbaugh, Santorum and the Virginia and Texas state lawmakers who recently enacted mandatory pre-abortion ultrasounds went so far with their intrusive and offensive words that women, whether they call themselves pro-choice or pro-life, had to respond. Had to at least try to talk, like Liza and her mom.

Just as, fifty years ago, women began to look around the Mad Men world and say: excuse me, guys, but what about us? They didn’t all say it in the same way or for the same reasons. But the conversations began. At the water cooler, over martinis or milk and cookies.  Sometimes, across fences: still the hardest place for us to talk.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

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