Street-smart Feminism — wary vigilance and personal responsibility

I have been an admirer of controversial Camille Paglia ever since I read her books back in the “olden days,” and this interview with her has some elemental points about women and their sexuality that I think are, unfortunately, ignored by most. She says:

Too many of today’s young feminists seem to want hovering, paternalistic authority figures to protect and soothe them, an attitude I regard as servile, reactionary and glaringly bourgeois. The world can never be made totally safe for anyone, male or female: there will always be sociopaths and psychotics impervious to social controls. I call my system ‘street-smart feminism'; there is no substitute for wary vigilance and personal responsibility.


Wary vigilance and personal responsibility as fundamental to street smart feminism
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What I find missing from the preparation of girls/young women to deal with unwanted male attention is the absence of an understanding that sexuality is a powerful, (to use Paglia’s word) chthonic force — a primal power that they need to get to appreciate and control. Yes, males need to understand this concept as well, and while they “get it” on a subconscious level, they need to understand it intellectually as well. But that’s a whole other discussion.

For the moment, I’m focused on young women, especially teenagers, who are not guided to reach any fundamental appreciation and understanding of the power of their sexuality (over themselves and others) and so are seduced by the advertising industry to flaunt it, while staying totally unaware of the psychology of sexuality and its complex, subconscious, Dionysian impulses. Instead, they are taught to INTERNALLY deny and repress them WHILE AT THE SAME TIME EXTERNALLY ANNOUNCING THEM.

It becomes confusing to them, as well as to the males who only see the external signals.

There is a lot of education that has has to be done before what has been termed this “rape culture” can be brought under control. Because it is a matter of awareness and control — SELF AWARENESS AND SELF CONTROL on the part of each individual.

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On the Nature of Rules

rules

On the season’s first day of 60 degree sunshine, I take a leisurely stroll along our old suburban streets and ponder the notion of rules – those guidelines for human behavior. Something I read yesterday about “rules” comes to mind:

Someone once said: “Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools.” Rules replace thought. If you know the rules, you always know what to do. Rules are comfortable. If you know the rules, you never have to stretch too far. Rules are safe. You probably won’t get in trouble for following the rules. Unfortunately, you probably won’t make much progress either.

Because there are no sidewalks, I follow the rule and trod along the left side of the road so that I can see oncoming traffic. It seems that most rules are made for health or safety reasons: cross at the green and not in between; don’t eat yellow snow; beware the guard dog; don’t pick your nose. We tend to follow rules if they make sense to us, if they benefit us in some way. And we often ignore rules that don’t seem to have major consequences: keep off the grass; don’t pick your nose; no loitering. (Unless, these days, you are a person of color. There seem to be different consequences for people of color. But that’s a rant for another day.)

Laws are rules that require stricter observance. We obey laws because if we don’t, we get punished. (Unless you are rich and have powerful friends. But that’s also a rant for another day.)

And then there are customs, which, are not really rules but we tend to obey them so that we aren’t frowned up by our peers. For example: eat with a fork, don’t burp in public, wear your gang’s colors. (Unless, of course, you are in some other part of the world where those customs don’t apply. But then others do.)

Down the street, two teenage couples with skateboards are walking in the middle of the road. An oncoming car defers to their flaunting of the rule and drives around them. Young people often ignore rules. I’ve been reading lately that it has something to do with their frontal lobes, which are still developing. That’s the part of the brain that analyzes and confronts consequences.

As I stroll along, my frontal lobe notices that I am not following the rules for correct, healthy walking, and so I adjust my stride – heel to toe, butt tucked in, shoulders relaxed – better for my joints and muscles. I follow the rules that benefit me.

It occurs to me as I turn the corner toward home that the world is wrapped in the demands and expectations of all manner of laws, rules, customs, and instructions. A loss of freedoms is the downside of living in a civilized society, I guess.

Hammurabi had 242. Moses had ten. It is always those in power who make the rules and set the consequences. It’s a top-down thing. And, historically, it has been mostly men who are at the top. (And that’s another rant for another day.)

It makes me wonder what society would be like if rules – especially the hard-and-fast laws – evolved, organically, based on the needs, desires, and insistence of the people they most directly affect. Actually, I think that’s how it’s supposed to work in a democracy. Maybe it can only work in a very small one, like a tribe.

All in all, it seems to me that the only guidelines for human behavior we really need are the rules we learned in Kindergarten: don’t hit, punch, kick, or hurt anyone; share and enjoy; don’t make a mess but if you do, clean up after yourself.

Back in the Saddle

It’s been about 25 years since I did my last public poetry reading, but I’m gathering up my courage and doing one tomorrow at the Springfield Library. Believing that you “have to get them at ‘Hello!'” I’m going to start with this one. (I just hope that I can pull it off.)

An Old Lady Raps Back

you don’t see me
not really
with my edges
grown soft and my
curves gone
to middle thick.

I see that your eyes
don’t stick on my face
laced with time’s
weary tricks.

I’m invisible in your world
of constant noise and sullen bluster,
all the anger you an muster.

I know you got it tough
rough — never enough.

You think that’s new?
I grew my thick skin
long before your tiny hide
slid into snide and sin.

Oh, I know your words —
I was talking hard
long before your sorry ass
passed its first gas.

But I make a choice of voice
to mold a tighter tone
to pose a clearer tune

And then I stand and roar
more than you even think
to know.

The Gypsy Coat Tale

I gave my writing circle the prompt “the coat was shabby.” And I gave them a challenge to use strong verbs and specific nouns. As I began to write my response to that prompt, I decided to put it someplace in history and do a little research for details. This is my result, my first ever try at historical fiction:

artdecodesign

The Gypsy Coat Tale

The coat was shabby, but its aspect still spoke of nights thrown over a naked shoulder at a smokey Montparnasse cafe, or tossed onto the back of a scarlet sofa at a late night Paris salon. Its stained fabric revealed a careless pattern of absinthe, bathtub gin, and the mascaraed tears of its most passionate devotees.

They say it once belonged to Nina Hamnett, self-proclaimed and notorious “Queen of Bohemia,” who wore its gold satin lining next to her skin while she danced shimmering lights into the weave of the rich silk brocade. On those nights, the coat created its own melody, a mesmerizing harmony of color, texture, and pattern, the timeless echo of a Siren’s song.

Legend has it that the coat was created by the two Japanese weavers and the Gypsy woman whom Hamnett befriended during her brief stay in Paris before the war started, before everyone folded themselves into enclaves of creative ferment or else fled to the safer shores of England and America.

And that, they say is how the coat finally wound up in the window of the Fifth Avenue Parisian boutique on the afternoon that Zelda Fitzgerald walked out of New York City’s Palais Royale Hotel in search of the perfect evening dress.

She did find the perfect dress: a long black beaded silk with a sheer back that dipped down to her tailbone. But is was the coat that took her breath away – the coat and the legend and the fantasy.

The multicolored floral brocade boasted gleaming gold threads that reflected the bright city sunlight. Elaborate scrolls etched its lush black velvet cuffs and ankle-skimming border. A face-framing swath of black fox, added as an afterthought, brought the coat to the level of a work of art.

By the time I rescued the coat from the empty corner of my spinster aunt’s nursing home closet, its shabbiness was well-earned, having been Zelda’s constant companion through her bi-polar adventures played out over two continents and two decades, until both she and the coat began to unravel.

My aunt had been a nurse at the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, where Zelda spent her final years capturing on canvas the remaining bright colors of her memories and telling my aunt the elaborate coat-tales that fed her lonely dreams of prodigal nights ablaze in the heart of a drowning Jazz Age.

Just days before the hospital fire that took her life, Zelda gave my aunt the coat to wear to a costume party.

And so the Gypsy Coat was retired to the back of my aunt’s closet, although she always took it with her whenever she moved, unable to dispose of its vibrant history. The Gypsy Coat is mine, now, to ponder on the relic that it is – a remnant of legendary lives lived with creative abandon, dazzling artistry, and deadly excess.

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The day after I wrote this, as I was watching a “Friends” rerun with the family, Phoebe appeared wearing the coat I had described the day before.

gypsy coatbI love it when stuff like that happens.

my delightful writing circle

I finally got off my lazy butt and organized a “writing circle” at the public library. It’s held every other Wednesday afternoon and is loosely based on the Amherst Writing Method. I say “loosely” because, while I have participated in the program in the past, I have not been officially trained to lead a group. But we follow the suggested “prompt, write, respond” method, and it is working very well for us, I think.

So, today the folks each brought in an object for someone else to use as a prompt. I chose a pair of very worn women’s shoes from the turn of 19th century. I had posted it here but removed it because I am submitting it to a poetry journal.

my Hallowe’en addiction

Granny WeatherwaxFor as long as I can remember, I have dressed up for Hallowe’en. I start in September deciding on and building a costume. mad scientistLast year I was a mad scientist. The year before, a Lady Bug. The year before that, a Hogwart’s Professor. I have been Elaine of Camelot, a 1940’s gangster in a double breasted suit, medusaMedusa with pipe cleaner snakes in my hair, the “Deadly Sin” Lust (as a vampire),sneezy Sneezy of the Seven Dwarfs, Madame Sosostris (T.S. Eliot’s “famous clairvoyant, had a bad cold but was known to be the wisest woman with a wicked pack of cards”),sosostris a unicorn, Jeannie the genie, and any number and variety of witches.

ElaineMy once husband, being a playwright, actor, and director, could occasionally get into the costume thing. One year we went as Elaine the Lily Maid of Astalot and her Jester — with masks. When my kids were little, I made their costumes too. raggeyann My daughter, as Raggedy Ann, won a prize in a costume parade (an actual parade down the night streets of the small town we lived in then). autumnqueenHere’s a picture of both kids, my daughter as the Queen of Autumn and her brother as a little demon sidekick.

neutrino As my son got older, he opted to be some kind of super hero, including one that he invented and designed the costume for. He called himself “Neutrino.”

I am not dressing up this year. I just don’t have the energy, and I’m out of ideas.

But my daughter and grandson are not, and they are in the final stages of building the Dalek that my grandson will sit in and propel around the neighborhood, using my mom’s old transport wheelchair as the base. Don’t know what a Dalek is? Here’s a clue.

I have always approached “clothes” as “costumes.” I had my office worker costume, my funky weekend wear, by ballroom dance outfits. What I wear has always been an extension of who I am, and apparently I have passed those genes on to my kids and grandkid. What they wear is who they are (at that moment).

But what about me? What has changed so that I am no longer excited about a new costume — for Hallowe’en or otherwise. There is very little I seem to be excited about these days, and my Hallowe’en addiction seems to have disappeared. It’s it age? Is it some kind of depression?

Meanwhile, I am getting a real kick out of watching the birth of the home-grown Dalek, made all of cardboard, duck tape, bits of styrofoam, wire wreath frames, cup lids, spay paint, and an awful lot of imagination and determination.dalek1

Mag #242

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.

Go here to read what other writers have written in response to this prompt.

mother

If we become the mother
we wanted, our children
grow the roots and wings
of our lost early yearnings,

Our daughters become
the women we wish we were,
our sons the men we dreamed.

But too often we succumb
to the echo of her voice,
trapped in the tangle
of a cord never cut.

There is no burying our mothers,
though we lay them deep.
They live in us one way or other,
whether we heed or not.

adventures in living in a home/school

Most people have a general idea of what home schooling is. What they don’t realize that there are infinite variations of how to go about teaching your kids at home.

My 12 year old grandson is home schooled and has always been. I live with him and his family, and so I am usually right in the middle of it all. My daughter is the facilitator — and that’s what she is, more than a traditional “teacher,” (although sometimes she does play that role). She has chosen not to work at an outside job, so home schooling has become her passion, and she is involved in the regional home schooling community.

Learning here is part of living, and most of the time my grandson learns all of the basic skills, as well as research, communication, ethics, history, civic responsibility etc. etc. as part of some interdisciplinary project in which he becomes involved because he has expressed an interest in it.

The computer is right next to the dining table, and when some question comes up in conversation at a meal, he can turn around and research the answer. He has become very proficient at using the computer to further his learning, either by using actual programs that my daughter has downloaded or by researching and creating his own base of information.

Television also plays a big part in his learning. From Mythbusters to Pawn Stars to documentaries on the History and National Geographic channels, he absorbs information like a sponge.

As an involved observer, there is so much I can write about the processes and the products of home schooling. But what prompts me today is his latest project: pygmy goats and can we have them here as pets.

This interdisciplinary project has just begun and will last until spring, when we will make a decision whether or not we can and will actually get a goat or two. Or three.

In the meanwhile, he has been emailing back and forth with the local zoning office and reading online abut the care and use of goats and how they might be used as a source of income (weeding vacant lots in place of having them mowed). He has ordered a book about the care and feeding of pygmy goats. Over the next several months, there will be visits to places that sell pygmy goats and conversations with the folks who raise them. There will be exercises in figuring out how much land they would need and how to provide for their shelter. These exercises will include a lot of math for measuring as well as for finances.

My role as “grandmother-in-residence” is to listen, encourage, ask questions, and share in the excitement of discovery and adventure. Not at all a bad way to spend part of my retirement time and energy. And, actually, pygmy goats, as their popularity on youtube has proven, are fun to have around. I wouldn’t mind that at all.

Mag #237

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.

Go here to read what other writers have written in response to this prompt.

veils

She seeks illusion, eyes
hiding behind a veil
no longer bridal.

Salome knew the illusive
power of veils,
but she is no Salome

and in her white unveiling
is left with only
a homely curtain
of hope.

what a difference a Sharpie makes

Version 1

Version 1

Sharpie verion

Sharpie version

This is a piece of fabric I bought, thinking it would be fun to build a piece of wearable art around it. But then I noticed and hated the typical male-fantasy portrayal of warrior women — all boobs and butts and much too much skin. So I got out my Sharpies and made some editorial adjustments to their costumes.

Note the change in the message of the images, just by adding a little ink. It’s such an easy adjustment for comic illustrators to make, and it shifts the message from “sex” to “power.” The pose of the warrior on the bottom is still a problem, but at least, covered, she’s not inviting and easy entrance.

Unfortunately, most comic illustrators are male, and they keep doing what they’ve always been doing — objectifying female heroes and warriors, making them sex objects first and foremost. There are plenty of rants being written decrying that “tradition” and asking for a new paradigm, a new standard, for how female warriors are portrayed. With the new Wonder Woman movie in production, the issue of how to portray and costume a female hero is front and center.

Here’s just another example from the illustration in the piece of fabric I bought. I took these photos after I cut out the squares I want to use, but you can tell where I made the Sharpie changes. In case you can’t, check out the “before.” (I didn’t have a piece of the “before” of the other image.)

After and Before

After and Before

It just burns my (well-covered) 74 year-old butt that we are still fighting this battle to portray women, even fantasy women, with an emphasis on their abilities and power rather than their sexuality.