From the Whirlwind

It’s Spring, that time of year with lion and lambs and other goofy analogies that runs rampant for a couple of weeks and then winds up just being hot. In other words, Spring: the hoopla with no “shazam!”

That’s what my life feels like lately. Not to get too personal, or anything. No one wants an over-share in a blog. But this time of year is always ridiculous: lots of travel, lots of red button issues, lots of family goings-on and then all of a sudden June is almost over, it’s summer and there’s nothing left to do but sweat a lot. And turn on the air conditioner. If it’s working.

It’s a lot of construction, but no building. A lot of writing, but no novel. And the best part is, it will all repeat next year–although that’s another issue in-and-of-itself. It’s like watching an action movie and getting all amped up and excited until the credits, when there is nothing better to do than get in the car and drive home.

When home is swirling as much as work, which is the case most any Spring, I long for that long drive off into the suburbs. But once I’m in the car again, well, I miss the spinning.

Chasing the dust devil in a desert somewhere

The whirlwind of my life: the dust devil.

And I don’t get that. Oh, intellectually I suppose I understand. Empirically, busy is a sign of life. Being alive is good. But when the whirlwind is so consuming, when time is so short, when things are barely getting done, the stress is constant and the relief seldom–why would any person in her right mind want that back?

Maybe it’s the test, the challenge. Maybe it’s the “work hard” portion that balances the “play hard” in the popular equation of American culture. I don’t know the answer to this; I just know that we girls always want what we don’t have. When things are slow, I want them busy. When things are busy, I’d give anything for them to slow down. Fair enough, I guess.

But what really trips me up is that when the downtime does come:  that brief interlude of a good jazz CD sound-scaped to a slightly cloudy afternoon overlaid on a religious holiday that zaps everyone’s energy right down to nap time, except mine; that one moment of space and time where a working mom like me can sit down and finally get all the things sacred to herself out in the open, or down on paper, or any of it, whatever it is, could be, should have been, that moment of Now, the time for what was dwelling under the surface to finally, FINALLY rise to the top…

…I’ve got nothing. Not even a long drive home.

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Bias, Equality, and the Dumb Stuff We Say

“Hey, Kara, can I talk to you a minute?”

My youngest son examines mannequins at the mall.

My youngest meets mannequins at the mall. We learn our biases early. Some are subtle; others not so much.

I swung 180 degrees from facing the computer to the window in my office. It was still morning. I spun 90 more degrees to look across my desk. Manny sat down opposite me. He looked upset. I guessed I had time.

“Yeah. What’s up?”
“It’s just,” he paused. “Geez. Ya ever get so frustrated with other people?”
I laughed. “All the time.”
“I mean, why do they have to keep bustin’ on me for bein’ Mexican?”
“Oh, man, that sucks. I’m so sorry. That should not happen.”

I felt immediately concerned. I wasn’t a manager or anything, but I certainly had a voice in the organization and I wasn’t going to stand by and let someone be treated unfairly. He had my attention.

“Yeah, it’s okay. I just wish I could get past this,” he said.
“The stereotype?”
“Yeah. I don’t think they know what they’re doin’. They don’t get what it’s like.”
“They think they’re funny?”
He smiled wryly. “They think so.”
“I get it,” I looked him in the eye. “I’m pretty sure I know how you feel.”
“You do? You’re white!”
“True. But I’m also female. Don’t shake your head. I get it. I mean, when’s the last time someone told you you were no good at a sport just because of what you are–not who you are?”
He scoffed. “Never. I was always good at sports.”
I nodded. “Okay. When was the last time someone said, ‘You can’t come with us. No Mexicans allowed.'”
“I’d kick their ass if someone said that to me.”
“Right. As you should–well, not literally.” I smiled again. He didn’t. I wasn’t connecting. I needed a better example.

“Okay, I’m going to tell you something I haven’t told anyone here.” He looked up from his hands to my eyes.
“The first time I hit the glass ceiling, I was only 23,” I explained. “I got told I couldn’t have the next job up; that, in fact, I would never have the next job up because I was a girl. Not a woman, mind you: a ‘girl.’ I was pissed.”
He whistled softly. “No way. Someone said that to you?”
I nodded. “Even worse. The someone who said it to me was my friend. Still is, actually.”
“Why would you still be friends? Why didn’t you bust him on it?”
“It wasn’t like that.”

I paused briefly. I had been like that. What was I trying to say?

“The thing is, I knew my friend, my boss, my mentor, wasn’t trying to be discriminatory. He thought he was just being honest. I worked in comic books at the time. He told me, as a girl, I didn’t know comic books ’cause I hadn’t grown up reading them. As a result, no writer or artist would respect me; so it wouldn’t make sense to make me an editor.”
Manny nodded. “Oh,” he said. “I guess that makes sense then.”

A small volcano started to bubble up in my brain. I breathed in through my nose and exhaled slowly.

“No. It didn’t. It didn’t make sense.”
“But what he said was true. Girls don’t know comic books so no one would respect them if they gave orders about comic books.”
“Manny, that’s like saying Mexicans can’t be managers. Because they’re Mexican. And they didn’t grow up seeing Mexicans in charge, at least not in this country.”
He glared at me. “That’s bullshit! Mexicans can be managers!”
“I KNOW! And girls, women, can learn comic books and become very good at editing them! It’s a dumb-ass stereotype and it sucked. What he should have told me was I lacked experience, which was true, that I should learn more and work up to editor. But he didn’t say that. He said ‘never’ because I was female.”

Manny was still fuming about the ‘Mexicans’-can’t-be-managers’ example, shaking his head from side to side. But, I felt I was getting close, so I pressed on.

“Look, you have a daughter, right?”
“Yeah.”
“How would you feel if someone told her she couldn’t do something just because she’s a Mexican-American–or a girl?”
“That’d piss me off. And I hate the way her teacher talks to my wife. My daughter is frickin’ smart!”
“I know. I’ve met her. I bet your wife feels like I felt when my old boss told me that. Is that how you feel when the guys on the line tell Mexican jokes?”
“Yeah. It’s not okay. I hate that.”

He looked up from his hands, which he had started wringing, absentmindedly. “So, what did you do?”

“I kept talking to him. I didn’t get defensive. I asked if I could gain some more experience, editing some books on my own, just a few. He agreed.”
“And? Did it stop? Did they stop treating you like a girl?”
I rolled my eyes at the irony.

“Well, no, not exactly, but I did kind of get the job, or part of the job. Just not the title or the pay. Any pay.” I laughed. It had been my first “real” job. Like everyone does at the first go-round, I’d worked for peanuts.
“It’s lousy when people are like that.”
“Absolutely, but I did need the experience and it wound up being really good for me. I learned a lot. It’s just, well, the judgement crap sucked and I had to be patient and work with people on it. Still do.”

Manny was bobbing his head up and down. He placed his hands on his knees like he was getting ready to leave. Had I made the connection? Had I related and helped?

“I just wanted you to know that I know how you feel. I get it. As a woman, I get judged on sexism crap all the time.”
He gave me an appraising look. “I didn’t know that stuff still happened for women. I thought it was better.”
“You know, it is in some ways, but that’d be like me saying to you, ‘well, times have changed and people aren’t racist anymore.'”

He scoffed again. I wrapped up. “I just want you to know, you’re not alone and I get it. And I promise I won’t ever do that to you.”
He visibly calmed down as he moved to stand. “Thanks, Kara. And I’m sorry that happened to you, too. I think you’re pretty smart and would make a really good manager.”
“Thanks, Manny!”

At just that moment, a piercing itch at the bottom of my foot radiated up my leg. Immediately, I bent down, slipped off my sandal (it was summer) and scratched ferociously at my heel.

“Whoah!” Manny chuckled uncomfortably. “Don’t go doin’ that! It makes your boobs totally bounce together and is really distracting!” He was standing, looking down at me, kind of laughing.

He winked.

The volcano started boiling again in my brain, an eruption of verbal evisceration about to break the surface.
I sat up.
“Are you for real? GET OUT!” I pointed to the door.
“What?” he shrugged as he left.

I bent back down and kept on scratching.

Sporting Equality: Is There a Smoking Gun?

The last week of January, Gayle Trotter, a lawyer from Washington D.C., made headlines with her testimony to Congress favoring gun-ownership. Her argument sparked more flares in the gun-control debate. She concluded: “In lieu of empty gestures, we should address gun violence based on what works. Guns make women safer.” (See the whole testimony here.)

This might be old news to many of you considering it broke “above the fold” almost two weeks ago. But, I’m not completely smitten with our “gimme now!” 24/7 news cycle. I like to ruminate a bit. I’m a thinker. And here’s what I’m thinking about Ms. Trotter:

REALLY? Guns are “the great equalizer” for women? Whatever.
 

I have two problems with this testimony: 1) That’s a big logical jump from “what works” to “guns make women safer.” In her treatise she offers one anecdotal example and then a lot of what we’ve already heard from the NRA;  2) The implication of her argument. Her reasoning implies that unless a woman owns (and presumably knows how to properly use) a gun, she is “less than.” Disagree with me? Then check out the headlines after she testified. Is that how we’re starting our new year, with the “women are the weaker sex” argument? Good Lord. Can we get past this already?

Let’s tackle my first objection. Her argument is fallacious–i.e. not logical: it’s a straw man. She’s setting up a “fake” target (women need an equalizer!), knocking that down and using that knock down as “proof” of her unrelated point (no stringent gun control!). More simply put: she’s telling you to “look at the monkey” while she does something else entirely with her other hand.
 
Trotter sets up the “straw woman” example of a lady with a baby defending her home against a bunch of bad guys by firing a gun. That’s the story. It’s enthralling. But, so what?  So one woman lucked out. The success of that one woman in that one specific scenario is not proof that a gun in the hand of every woman in the country will give them, as a class of people, safety, or the bigger stretch, equality. It’s a huge jump.
 
Where’s the stuff in the middle? The claim is women are unsafe, and therefore, unequal. What does that mean, exactly? Women aren’t safe compared to what? Rabbits, flies, men? She doesn’t say. Further, I’m trying to figure out how and why a gun makes me, a woman, safer and more equal.  Is there a study somewhere about women’s equality in subject A when they do own guns vs. their lack of equality in same subject A when they don’t own guns? If there is, it’s not referenced in her testimony. She jumps to “guns make women safer.” Again: safer than what? Besides, as far as I know, I, a mere woman, already have the right to own and carry a gun.
 
Don’t get me wrong. I understand what she is trying to argue. I don’t like violence against women, either. It’s bad. Violence is bad for lots of classes of people. What does that have to do with the “women equality issue?”  Instead of pulling her argument together, Ms. Trotter cherry picks a very narrow slice of that broader topic, serves it up as a whole meal, and concludes that we’re sated. 
 
We’re not. We need to have a full course of evidence to determine that gun ownership and all it entails will indeed “level the playing” field for women.
 
Second objection: women’s equality is a really big field! More specifically–and let me pull over this box to stand on so you can hear me above the crowd–quit implying that women are weak! Trotter’s argument seems to say, “Oh, I’m just a defenseless woman who can’t possibly protect herself unless I have a big strong gun.” Excuse me while I throw up in my mouth a little. 
 
am a strong woman and I do know how to take care of myself.  Most of the time, I am safe (a few of my own poor choices notwithstanding). I know how to defend myself. I also know how to take care of my children, my family at large, my home, and my career. I most certainly do not need a gun to do any of that. Much of it comes from my own initiative, but there have been some helpful regulations and laws enacted along the way supporting me as a woman–none of them a “smoking gun.” 
 
As evidence of this, I’m happy to bust out the list of things that have made my success as a woman more “equal” than, say, the career success of my great grandmother nearly a century ago. Because, that’s what we’re really talking about when we use phrases like “equality,” right? We want women and girls in American society to have the same opportunities as boys and men in American society, right? So where is mention of the 19th Amendment, or Title IX, or the Family Friendly leave act? None of that is in the testimony.

This might be a long shot, but I suspect Ms. Trotter wants to argue for the right to bear arms to continue unimpeded. Then why doesn’t she make that argument, outright?  I agree there are some specifics in this topic that could use ironing out, but don’t muddy that already murky water by dragging equality for women into it.
 
Then again, if it is women’s equality she really wants to discuss, if her interest really is finding an “equalizer” for women, let’s have a frank conversation about that topic. Here’s some starter questions:
 
What sort of access to higher education do women have?
Do American girls do better, the same, or not as well as American boys in math and science? 
What is the percentage of poor women compared to poor men in this country?
How much does motherhood impact a woman’s ability to make money compared to a man’s abilities once he becomes a father?
What are our country’s policies on women’s health care? Are there similar policies governing men’s health care?
What is the average woman’s salary for a job compared to a man’s average salary for that same job? Do they match?
What is our culture’s main line on female sexuality (force to be reckoned with or marketing exercise)?
 
And let’s be damn sure to recognize the accomplishments American women have right now, accomplishments safe and sound women are driving home today. Right now, we have the largest percentage of women in the House and Senate ever. The entire political delegation from New Hampshire is female. Women just got the pass to serve in combat positions in our country’s military. It was  women who brought home the most gold medals for the USA in last summer’s Olympics.
 
None of them needed a gun-in-hand to make those accomplishments. None of those women needed a gun-in-hand to walk to their office, their car, or the gym as they worked on making those accomplishments. As for women in the military–heck, we’ve now got an entire Department of the U.S. Government saying out loud to the world that they want women in their service to have guns. So what is Gayle really going on and on about?
 
I’m pretty sure it is not women’s safety, nor our equality. If that really interested Gayle Trotter, she has a wealth of strengths and weakness from that topic on which to expound.  No, unfortunately–and ironically–she is doing women’s equality a disservice. She’s using it, devaluing it, making it “less than” in order to be sensational and win some points for herself and her personal agenda. 
 
She is distracting Congress from the gun control matter at hand by playing the damsel in distress. 
 
Boo. Shame on you Ms. Trotter! You’re a lawyer, for crying out loud. One would think you’d know how to make a more bullet proof argument.
 
–KLL