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Posts from April 2012

The War on Women: Foot First

Sure, a woman’s ability to not get pregnant, stop a pregnancy, care for her body-mind-soul, feed her children, support herself, house her partner, tend to her parents is being undermined, curtailed and impinged upon, but at least she can buy all the guns she wants!

And a woman’s ability to be judged fairly, without any bias based on what she doesn’t have between her legs is being thwarted, but at least she can understand her place and not fight against the little men with their little fill-in-the-blank who inhabit the hollow—I mean hallowed—chambers of representation across the land!

No, my indignation is directed toward the real War on Woman, namely the War on Women’s Feet. How on earth have women agreed—paid of their 77-cents-to-the-dollar-earnings—to be strapped to five inch heels? What does this say about us that we have let this happen—that we have not forced shoe stores and shoe-sites to return these woman-hating shoes back to their designers with the heels sawed off! (A shoe castration, if you will.)

What is attractive (read sexy) about a woman taking itty bitty steps and needing to hold onto a man who is wearing quarter-inch heels because otherwise she couldn’t even attempt to walk straight to the nearest seat? (I know the answer to this is obvious, but still, for my soul, I need to cry out the question in protestation.)

I have to admit, there was a moment in the middle of a DSW when I thought that perhaps I was wrong—one of those “if everyone’s doing it, it must be right” moments. But then I attempted to try on a pair and came to the rapid conclusion that this style is yet another form of disempowerment.

I took off my well-worn black flats and prepared myself to mimic the stars on their red carpets and us ordinary women at the mall. With one five-inch shoe on, my other foot hovered above the ground—I held onto the shoe display for dear life. It felt like I was training to walk on stilts, only there wasn’t a circus performer there to instruct me how to maintain my balance. Quickly, before I should fall and be expelled permanently from the Woman of the World department, I put my shoeless foot back on terra firma, put the stilt-shoe back in its box and said goodbye to extreme fashion, goodbye to thinking that high heels are what defines a woman’s sensuality.

Was I not woman enough for this or was I too much a woman? Why is this the style now, now when women’s rights are being rescinded law by law? Why, when it had seemed passé to even talk about feminism (my teenage daughter mocked my even discussing it) is this backlash coming at us—first our wombs, then our feet? Why are they trying to manipulate us back to the times of bound feet and cobbled expectations? Why, when so many men and women respect each other as equals, is this undermining happening?

Is the extra height an extreme message that we have forgotten what we’re really valued for—or what we should value about ourselves? And why has walking on stilts come to be equated with one’s sexiness?

Women—let’s show those shoe purveyors and trendsetters what we think of their attempts at objectifying us into some kind of uber-stilted-Barbies and put our two feet down on the earth, walking right to the voting booth.

(I wonder if the Koch Brothers are investors in Louboutin?)


The Education Philosophy of 0=50

“What does doing 0 work but getting a grade of 50 teach a child?” No, this is not a rhetorical question, neither is it a hypothetical one. It is a question that teachers across the country seem to be dealing with (well, maybe not across the country, but at least in Virginia and Colorado).

“Why would a student get a 50% on an assignment that he did not do?” is a better question. Or perhaps: “Why would a teacher be told/directed to give a student a 50% on an assignment that was assigned but which the student did not do?” From what I understand there are two main rationales.

One: not to damage the ego of a child because, you know, getting 0% for the 0% effort he put into his schoolwork would cause his self-confidence to plummet. This is as opposed to doing 100% of the work, and working hard at it, and getting a grade that makes him proud of the work he did—or at least aware that effort is rewarded, and that you learn and improve the more work you do. That, apparently, isn’t such a sound idea these days. Perhaps it is too much of a retro idea and education theorists and philosophers are all about continually re-inventing the education wheel.

Two: too many Ds and Fs look bad for a teacher and, more importantly, a school. What would the pie charts and the bar graphs and statistics look like if a school has too many students at the bottom end of the grade alphabet? No, that’s not good because then schools would have to worry about being labeled low performing or not improving student performance enough, which is worse, apparently, than actually figuring out why a student is not doing his work and working with him—so grade inflation is the way to prevent that. (I love the word “performance,” which is as appropriate as “are you still working” when you are eating in a restaurant. Shouldn’t the word be knowledge or understanding, you know, something related to the learning process; and in relation to the restaurant, shouldn’t it be “eating,” as in are you still eating that apple pie?)

“No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top,” in their efforts to raise the educational level of all students, sure have resulted in some skewed practices. I understand and fully support believing in every single child in this country and giving him or her the best education possible, but encouraging kids to be lazy seems to be faulty—or lazy—logic to me.  

I have taught high school freshmen who are stunned when they receive 0s. Seriously, they are upset and confused that I don’t give them credit just because they’re such wonderful and cute kids. Someone please tell me what real-world lesson this emulates that wouldn’t result in someone going to jail—or having resulted in having some really great coupons?

Why should 14-year-olds first be learning that work=grade or that there are consequences for their actions/inactions? Wouldn’t it be better, for all of us now and into the future, if we taught kids that they are as accountable for their grades as we the educators and the parents and the administrators and society are? 


Being a Big Mouth with Friends

One of the perks of being a middle-aged woman (besides the physical alterations, faltering marriages, temperamental teens, and capacity-diminishing parents) is the ability for every woman you meet to become an instant friend.

Oh, wait--that’s me dreaming that all women did that—that we are all big mouths by the time we celebrate our 40th birthday because, honestly, what are we waiting for? Why hold in the aches until you can make them momentarily disappear with savory, sweet, and liquid munchies or share them in a fifty-minute counseling session that doesn’t begin to ease the pain you’ve experienced since last week’s visit.

For years my marriage disintegrated until home and husband were cursed words. I would call my mother in tears, but she couldn’t give me more than a guilty opportunity to vent, what with her 54-years of holding hands with my father, and a “bear it” attitude. But tell friends, that was not done; I believed that we’re supposed to deal with the hand we’ve been dealt. And in the study, “Taboo Topics among Close Friends,” Robin Goodwin found that, no surprise here, “Most taboo topics reflected unwillingness to discuss family matters or hurt feelings.” This closed-door—or rather closed mouth—policy is pervasive in many cultures.

Naima Brown-Smith noted in “Family Secrets” that “families keep secrets as a way of protecting themselves against perceived vulnerabilities.” When we’re vulnerable in the home—we want to appear strong outside of it—or at least capable of having a conversation without breaking down in tears. Even in this age of social media, Brown-Smith found that “Among the most common explanations for why outsiders do not know more about family life is that information is considered personal and/or that revealing certain things would demonstrate inadequacies.” Let’s finally admit it ladies—by the time we get our first errant chin-hair, we surely should have recognized some personal lackings.

In a 2011 study, “Misery Has More Company Than People Think,” researchers at Stanford, Berkeley and Syracuse Universities observed that when we don’t share our negative emotions we end up with “less social support, more depressive symptoms, lower well-being, and less life satisfaction.” By not sharing, never mind over-sharing, we’re harming ourselves—and our friends.

I was only able to confide in one friend about my divorce and that was only after she overheard my ex-husband yelling at me on the phone, something, she finally admitted, she could relate to. Another friend, recently divorced and living in a different city, could offer her lessons learned because we needed to talk about something besides our daughters. And I needed that—I needed friends to talk to—ones I could call, free of charge, for insight and battle cries. I needed to not be solitary in my pain.

Having no one to friend is apparently not the reason why we’re not sharing. In the study, “Social Connectivity in America,” researchers at USC and the University of Toronto found that from 2002 to 2007 American adults have on average ten friends “they meet or speak with at least weekly with a few additional virtual friends and migratory friends” (internet friends who become face-to-face friends). So we’re underutilizing our friends, and ourselves as friends.

Why not admit when the marriage is hollow? Do you really think you’re the only one who has nothing to say to your husband when he comes home after the kids are asleep, never mind no sex? Do you think only your mother needs more care than you can provide through a telephone? Why should someone have to say to a friend that everything is fine when nothing is fine except the weather? Why are we still our mothers with their notions of dirty laundry flapping in the wind?

At my parent’s 50th anniversary party, my mother told people that my husband couldn’t come because he had to work; she couldn’t bring herself to say that we were separating. But once she did start to tell her friends, she found that they could run a series of worst son-in-law competitions. It was a revelation and a release for her—and me.

We need to follow my mother’s example (I can’t believe I just wrote that)—speak honestly and openly. We need to trust each other, because we are the village—and shouldn’t we shape it to fit our needs? It’s time, surely, to admit that we need friends, not just to see a chick flick or get away from the kids, but because they are our best counselors and sounding boards.

Later today I will eat cucumber sandwiches with friends. I am imagining crustless white bread sandwiches and tea with cream. And maybe I’ll get a real conversation going by making a revelation or two. (Would talking about chin hairs count?)