Trump vs. Hillary: the Feminist Election

In Profile: 100 Years In US Presidential Races

It’s 2016, and we are facing a historical election. It’s Hillary versus Trump, and in many more ways, it is Woman versus Man.

Disagree?

In my small world in Salt Lake City, Utah, I know very few people who will actually say out loud that they are voting for Donald Trump. Instead what they are saying is that they don’t know who they will vote for. They agree, in some sense, that Trump would be a very frightening president, but they like he ‘tells it like it is’. Hillary, they say, they just don’t trust because Benghazi and corporate funding and the Email scandal.

I took time to question a friend recently about this thought pattern. I was, admittedly, passionate and a bit angry in my words and phrasing.

“How could you even consider not voting for Hillary? I understand that you don’t ‘like’ her or consider her trustworthy. I get that, completely, given the many scandals that have surrounded her name.

“But on the other side of things, look at the sheer list of offenses on Trump’s part that are not mere allegations, but are direct quotes delivered to the public directly in speeches or over social media. He has called Mexicans rapists. He has said that he is the only man who can ‘save’ our country or make it ‘great’ again. He has encouraged violence toward those who disagree with him and offered to pay the legal fees of anyone arrested. He has threatened to ban an entire religion from the country’s borders. He has referred to the size of his genitals to the public. He has sent out unflattering photos of his opponent’s wives and implied that his wife is hotter. He has referenced that a female reporter was being unreasonable due to her menstrual cycle. After 50 men and women in a gay club were shot down, he Tweeted out that ‘he was right’ rather than expressing concern and love toward the victims and their families. He has shamed the parents of a fallen soldier. And, most shockingly, he has hinted that men who wield guns should take matters into their own hands in a veiled encouragement of political assassination.

“And those are just moments from the recent presidential run. Trump’s life prior to this was fraught with marital affairs, alleged abuse, failed business dealings, and alleged financial crimes. Hillary has been in politics for decades as a first lady, a governor’s wife, a senator, and a secretary of state, and she has run a presidential campaign prior to this. Before that, she was an attorney with a successful practice, with a long marriage. Trump has been a bizarre real estate mogul who is the very epitome of the rich white man, the one per cent that Bernie Sanders was so passionate about, who has plastered his face on board games, books, and T-shirts, and is most famous for hosting a reality TV show, and who has been married multiple times… to super-models.

“In the past, entire presidential campaigns have been decimated over singular offenses, like Mitt Romney being accused of flip-flopping. And when Bill Clinton had a marital affair and lied about it, the country sought to impeach him. Trump’s offenses are far more excessive in number and in pure extremism on every level, and you are telling me that he calls it like it is and that is why you like him? What does that say about you?”

Because this conversation was with a trusted friend, it ended okay, but she let me know that my feelings on the matter were very apparent, and very passionate.

And I’m completely okay with that. Because when I reflect on this topic a bit more deeply, I realize that this is very much about America’s feelings on women. Historically, our country has treated women abysmally. As property, as targets of rape and violence, as pretty objects that should be devoted to their men and children and belong in the home. The laws have changed, somewhat, but the attitudes have not. I could recite a long list of statistics to back this up, but it can all boil down to a few simple facts, that women are mistreated in business and health care and politics, that they represent a majority of the population and a minority of leadership positions, and that the United States has still never passed a equal rights for women law. In fact, while we require other countries to pass laws regarding protections for women in order to receive our aid, we refuse to pass the same protections for women in our own country. We even refuse to sign the mandates from the United Nations that have been put in place in nearly every country around the world. The law is called CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination  of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and it has been in place since 1979, and has been signed by nearly every U.N.-affiliated country. The only U.N.-affiliated countries that have NOT signed the treaty? There are six: Palau, Somalia, Tonga, Sudan, Iran… and the United States. That means it has been signed by every other one, including China, Afghanistan, and even Iraq.

Many of the largest countries in the world have had female leaders by now, including England, India, Germany, Liberia, Central African Republic, Senegal, South Korea, Haiti, South Africa, Mozambique, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The United States is not on this list either.

And yet here in America, we have a candidate in Hillary Clinton, who was named by Barack Obama as the most qualified presidential candidate in United States history, running against Donald Trump, who has been described as the least qualified candidate in presidential history, and who has zero political experience. The most qualified? A woman. The least qualified? A man.

And if you still aren’t sure who you want to vote for, or if you are considering not voting at all, we can go extreme, and you have to ask yourself who you want with their finger on the button of the nuclear codes.

I understand if you don’t like or even trust Hillary Clinton, I get it, intellectually and emotionally. But if you can stack that up against every piece of the puzzle that makes up Donald Trump and still be not sure who you are voting for, I’m not sure I can call you anything but sexist. Take time to examine your biases and feelings about women in power, and your ability to excuse Trump and hold Hillary accountable.

And if you disagree with that, well, I suggest you do a bit more self-exploration. The fate of the country is at stake.

 

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Righteous Indignation

Girlpower

“There had better be righteous indignation,” my ex-wife told me, a mix of humor and outrage in her voice.

I laughed. “Okay, I think I can manage a bit of that. Let me have it.”

I heard her clear her throat over the phone and then take in a long breath. “Okay, you remember how I wanted to change my last name back to my maiden name?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, if you remember, when we got married, we had to get the wedding license and then it only cost like $15 to change my last name to yours. I filled out a form and then just informed the companies. I had to get all my identifications changed over, like my driver’s license. It was a hassle, but relatively easy.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“Okay, so I went in the other day to see if I could change my name back. I was informed that if I had wanted to do this at the time of our divorce, it would have been a simple process. I request the name change, I pay the $15, and the name is changed back. But now… now since it has been a few years since the divorce, I have to go through this whole process. Apparently it costs around $450! And, get this, I have to have your permission to change it back! We’ve been divorced for years!”

“Wait, what?”

“Yes! She told me that you have to give a letter of consent to change it back.”

“If you were getting married again and wanted to change your name, what then?”

“$15. No hassle. But if I, as a single independent woman, want to change it, it’s several hundred dollars and permission from my ex-husband.”

I sat back and absorbed all of this for a moment, trying to make rational sense of it, turning on the analytical part of my brain. “Okay, part of this doesn’t surprise me. We live in Utah, obviously. There was a mandatory 3 month waiting period before the divorce was granted, and they made us take that divorce class where the presenter basically kept asking, ‘are you sure you want to get divorced? really really sure?’ Plus, Mormon men can marry a woman in the temple, get divorced, marry another woman in the temple and still be considered married to the first woman. Women get married in the temple, get divorced, and if they want to get married in the temple a second time, they have to get permission from their ex-husband to have a temple divorce first. Clearly, this policy stems from the culture.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t make it any less outrageous!”

I thought for a split second before deciding to make a joke of the whole thing, knowing her sense of humor. “Well, if you wanted special privileges in Utah, maybe you should have just been born with a penis.”

I could almost hear her rolling her eyes over the phone. “Ha-ha,” she responded without humor.

“It really is horrible, Meg. Truly. I don’t know what to say.”

“Men!” She answered, half-joking and half-serious. “Seriously, this whole system is set up for men. And here I am talking to a white man!” We both laughed, then she added, “Except you’re gay, so that makes you just slightly more tolerable.”

We ended the call shortly after that, and I sat reflecting on the state of the world, where such needless barriers were put in place. I pictured myself bringing this example up in one of my old social justice classes that I taught in college, using this as an example of oppression. One of the white male, Mormon students in the back would have raised his hand and given an argument like “I’m a white male, and I like women, so I’m not sexist. And I don’t think the law is either. If it was a man who had changed his name to his wife’s last name and he wanted to change his name back, he would have to go through the same process.” And then I would have quipped with a speech about the societal pressure and value that is placed on couples to marry young and for the woman to take on the man’s last name. We would have gone back and forth for a time, two white men arguing about women’s rights.

I sat down on the couch, a bit exhausted with all of it, and wondered how different the world might be if at least 50 per cent of the elected leaders were women; truly, more than that is what is needed, because how long have men been at it, and how much more fair might the world be if women took the lead.

Patriarchy in Provo

Provo

“So, when are you gonna make an honest woman out of that girlfriend of yours?”

The young blonde guy with the bright smile took a sip of his ice water and looked at his friend across the table, a tall guy with thick black hair and broad shoulders. Both of them were handsome and had that returned missionary look that is so common in Utah, clean-cut, short hair, shaved faces, bright smiles. I automatically dubbed them Smiley and Shoulders in my mind as they continued their conversation.

“Well,” Shoulders pointed with a finger at Smiley as he spoke, a mindless gesture that he likely used in every conversation, “we’ve only been dating for a couple of months. And the fact that she is a non-member is a huge red flag. I mean, she’s hot, but she has to have the same values as me. She started taking the discussions from the missionaries and now she’s praying about the Book of Mormon. She’s telling me she is getting a testimony, but I want to give it a couple of months and see if she’s sincere. If she can stick with it, well, then she’ll be a lucky woman. I’ll baptize her, marry her, then take here through the temple a year later.”

Smiley reached over to high-five him across the table. “Score!”

I felt a look of disgust cross my face, unbidden. There was so much wrong with this conversation. I understand this culture and mindset. I grew up in it. But the sheer arrogance of it all, the sheer patriarchy…

First of all, I had to realize I was in Utah County, home of vast majorities of Mormons and Mormon families, and home to Brigham Young University, the famous Mormon school. Nearly everyone is white here. These two young men were likely 20 or 21 years old. They had likely been raised in Mormon families where they had a very clear timeline for their futures set up: graduate high school, go immediately on a two year missionary service wherever the Church sends you, come home and enroll in college, and then quickly marry a worthy and modest young woman over the age of 18 and start a family.

Provo is eerie that way. Loads of white smiling young men and blonde smiling young women, many with wedding rings on their fingers, many with babies in carriages as they walk down the road, waving at passersby. It has a very Stepford Wives feel.

I looked at Smiley and Shoulders high-fiving, and I had to sit back in my chair and reason out what it was about this image that bothered me so much. First of all, it was the way he was talking about this girl. He wasn’t listing her talents or personality quirks that he loved. He was basing her entire value, at least in this conversation, on how attractive she was and what her potential for being a faithful Mormon was. He saw her as having more value, rather like a commodity, if she could prove herself to him by adopting his values and beliefs. And then, he saw himself as her reward. The sheer arrogance…

But then I thought back to my own days as a Mormon missionary, where I would knock on people’s doors, teach them, befriend them, and invite them to be baptized… IF. IF they gave up coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol. IF they agreed to pay ten per cent of their income to the church. IF they agreed to stop having sex outside of marriage; either marry your sexual partner or stop having sex. IF they weren’t gay. We accept you, we love you, we want you in our church, IF…

Then I remembered a news story from a years ago. A young Mormon girl sat in the BYU library studying. A young man she didn’t know walked over to her and handed her a note, then walked away. The handwritten note said something like “I’m trying to be a good Priesthood holder, but when you wear such tight clothing it is distracting. I invite you to be a better daughter of God and dress more modestly so I can keep my thoughts pure.” The young woman later posted a photo of her outfit on social media, and it was tasteful, conservative, and nice, in no way revealing. The whole encounter left me nauseous.

I pictured this girl that Shoulders was dating. I assumed she was pretty and young and freshly moved to Utah, maybe from some place like California. She meets an attractive, muscular, strong man with a killer smile, and he seems interested in her, IF she can join his church and marry his straight out. I wondered if she realized what she was getting into.

Smiley took another sip off his water while Shoulders warmed his hands on his hot chocolate. They had been quiet for a second.

Smiley grinned again. “Well, man, she is a lucky girl. Me, I’m just playing the field for a bit.”

Shoulders laughed, stretching his spine against the back of his chair. “Well, don’t you worry, buddy. Hold strong. You’ll catch one soon enough.”

The two young men left shortly after that, and I sat thinking about a culture that still values men over women, putting pressure on them to be successful under certain terms, to be virile, to be providers, to be strong and non-emotional. And a culture that tells young women to accept their station in life, to get an education as a back-up in case their plans to be wives and mothers doesn’t work out, to be beautiful and to just want one man to nurture and please for the rest of their lives. A culture that tells both sides to be content in their station and to turn it all over to God. It all felt very 1940s to me.

I left Utah County a few hours later. As I drove down the freeway, the businesses and billboards flashed by my windows as blurs. I thought of all the Mormons and all the smiles and waves, all the weddings and babies and prayers on knees. And I thought of the statistics here, of depression and pornography addiction and suicide and divorces and sexual assaults. I thought of my own upbringing as a Mormon, and my living here as a non-Mormon now, of my family, of my clients and friends, and soon it was all spinning and whirling just like the view of the road from my car.

And I realized that perhaps that is the only way to look at this place, to combine all of its complexities in one snow globe and then to shake it up and see what falls to the ground and sticks.

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my date with mom

“Don’t worry, sir, I’ll have her home at a reasonable hour.” I shook my step-father’s hand from where he sat in his comfortable over-sized arm chair. He got that mirthful twinkle in his eye.

“Now see that you do.”

My mom laughed, saying goodbye to her husband as we made our way toward the door. She’s in her early 70s now, and he in his early 80s, and they have been perfect together in  their eleven years together, compatible in every category except one. My mom enjoys a healthy sense of adventure, time to go out exploring and being among people. Her husband is much more comfortable at home in his easy chair, Fox News or the History Channel blaring on the television.

I had him take a photograph of us with my cell phone before we left. “You know, before the invention of the cell phone, we didn’t realize what a world of narcissists we were.” He fumbled with the small screen for a moment. “Now, wait, I can only see myself in this image.” I laughed and helped him turn the screen around. “Now that is a much better view,” he said, as he snapped a photo that cut half my head off in the image.

Out in the car, mom and I began gabbing right away. We talk every other day or so, sharing in world events and community happenings, discussing what I’m reading or researching or writing about, and who she is doing nice things for.

Mom had a birthday a few weeks ago and I had promised her a night out on the town when I came to visit. Now, with my sons hanging out with my sister (their favorite aunt), it was finally date night.
“Well, where are we headed?”

I winked. “I suppose that is none of your business until we arrive. But on the way, I have a series of questions for you.”

And so we began to talk about her life. I asked her about her best day ever, and she told me about her wedding day to my dad when she was 22. She told me about her family gathered outside the Mormon temple and walking out in her wedding dress, being surrounded by family, her dreams coming true. My dad left her that afternoon to work on his family’s farm, where they had sheep and potatoes, and rejoined her in the evening for the wedding dinner and reception. They moved into a trailer on a high hill above the Snake River, a little extended space with two bedrooms. She was pregnant right away, and within a few years had three young children, then four, then five, and they soon moved into a beautiful home where she had been so happy.

“Everything fit,” she said. “We loved each other. It wasn’t perfect, but I loved his family, and he loved my family, and our children were beautiful, and we had the church and each other.”

I asked her about her pregnancies, and the names she chose for her children. While she never went on birth control, she did take some preventative measures to stop herself from having kids, and she chose each time she wanted to get pregnant, even when it began to have wear and tear on her body. She said she had wanted 8 children, or perhaps 10, and she had ended up with 7. 63 months pregnant, with terrible nausea and vomiting each time, and a few very rough deliveries. My oldest sister was nearly lost during delivery, she had a terrible shoulder injury with another, and my delivery itself was a particularly rough one.

We went back in time a bit more as we drove. I asked her about her choice of college major, about the men she dated in high school and college, and how she was proposed to several times but each time hadn’t been quite right. As a young student who first considered nursing and ended up teaching, she had devoted herself to one young man for months before learning he was being unfaithful. She was stunning, and in time she met my father, a handsome returned missionary fresh out of the army, the youngest son of a sheep farmer up the road.

By now, we were out of the car and sitting next to the river, watching man-made waterfalls and currents, the Mormon temple where she had been married across the river for a perfect view. Mom talked about how Dad had been devastated by a crop failure that cost them thousands. They had moved across the country for a fresh start, had two more children, built another home, and a decade later things had finally fallen apart. I had my arm around her shoulder, it was getting chilly outside.

“Mom, I want you to know how courageous I think you are. Growing up in this little corner of the world full of Mormons and potato fields, you built a life on the terms you were taught. You did everything right. You chose motherhood, and to be a wife, yet you worked as a teacher all the way through. You brought seven kids into the world, and we all turned out pretty all right. I know it took a lot of twists and turns along the way, and definitely threw you some curve balls and painful pitches, but you did it on your terms and you came out strong. You are an incredible mother and I love you.”

And minutes later, we walked into a local actor’s studio, set up in an old storefront, and saw a presentation of the Odd Couple while eating hamburgers and hot dogs off a dinner buffet. We laughed and had a wonderful evening.

Back at her home, I walked her in and saw my stepfather sitting in the same spot. “Well, I had her home by midnight as promised.”

“Oh, honey, we had a wonderful time.” She said and I left as she told him about our evening, feeling grateful for this amazing woman, this force of nature,+++++++++++++++ who brought me into the world.

 

Interview with a polygamist

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I never really planned on being a third wife. It just kind of happened that way. After my first marriage fell apart, I just… I needed some comfort. I confided in some friends about how difficult my life was as a single parent. I grew closer and closer to them. And when they invited me to be a part of their family, it just made sense to me. 

Let’s start closer to the beginning. Did you grow up Mormon?

Yes, I grew up in a very Mormon family. But the Mormons don’t practice polygamy. I mean, they used to. 

So more a traditional Mormon family, then. In Utah?

Yeah, small town in central Utah. Very Mormon family, very Mormon community. I’m still Mormon, by the way. Just more a variation of all that. 

Tell me more about that.

Back in the beginning, the Church was restored to the Earth and the leaders said they were prophets and apostles and that they spoke for God. They formed entire communities, like Nauvoo, Illinois, and then Salt Lake City, and the leaders were leaders in both government and church. So when they said to go on a mission, the men went on missions, leaving their families for years. And when the church said no coffee, everyone stopped drinking coffee. And if you didn’t listen, you were disobedient, and usually excommunicated, which meant that you couldn’t go to the highest level of Heaven with your family. 

Go on.

So the early leaders of the church told everyone that God wanted the men to marry multiple women. In some cases, that meant a man had two wives, and in some cases, it meant literally dozens of wives. 

That sounds intense.

What do you mean?

Well, the dynamics of that alone. Church/faith communities where men are encouraged to take multiple wives. The household dynamics of women having to share a husband. Who has seniority, who gets along. The pressure on the man to provide for everyone, and the pressure on the women to set aside any concerns and share their man so that they could show their faith. And then, if you didn’t go along with it, you would be kicked out Heaven. Intense.

Yeah, some of those old stories make me really sad. Men would get married at 20 and have a few children. Then as their wife’s body began to change as she went through childbirth a few times, he would find a new young wife, then another and another. Then the same thing would happen with her, and the next. And all those children, I can barely keep track of my three!

Yeah, two kids is plenty for me to be responsible for. I can barely afford my rent and the costs of two. Can you imagine the medical costs for a family of 75? Food, housing, toys, school? That makes my head spin.

And some of the old stories, like men in their sixties marrying girls who were 17. Abuse and rape. A few accounts in the early days of Joseph Smith approaching some of his friend’s wives to be with him.

Women seen as commodities, that only had value as long as they were pretty and child-bearing, it seems like.

Well, I wouldn’t say they didn’t have value. But, yeah, they were supposed to clean the house and raise the kids and that was it. Anyway, the Church had thousands and thousands of families in polygamy relationships for a bunch of decades.

You would think there would be more men than women… where would all the men find more wives?

I have no idea. The Church went on like this until the early 1900s, when they officially disavowed the practice due to pressure from the government. And then things got tricky, because God had supposedly revealed polygamy. They were now three or four generations into it, and the Church started teaching that while polygamy is still something that will happen in Heaven, we can’t do it on Earth anymore. 

So did you know about polygamy growing up?

Only a little bit. It’s something that we barely talked about. Most people in my family and in the Mormon church kind of just don’t like to talk about it. They just focus on the parts of the Church that they like. It’s kind of like how Americans talk about slavery; they see it as something that was part of the past but don’t really want to dwell on it. 

It’s getting harder to ignore these days, though. All of the media attention to the Warren Jeffs case and the FLDS, and the Big Love show. All the media reports and documentaries.

Exactly. So I was a faithful Mormon girl and married in the temple to a returned missionary and we had a couple kids, but he had health issues and he was a huge jerk. And he stepped out on me a lot, and we fought and it was ugly, and after almost twenty years of that, we were both tired of pretending, and so we divorced. And I was single for a while. And then, last year, I became a third wife. 

Okay, so take me a back just a little bit. Your new husband and your new sister-wives, tell me about them, are they Mormon?

Actually, yeah. There are still pockets of polygamists all around, especially in Utah. Neighborhoods and schools, sometimes whole towns. Way more than people think. I mean, the man can only legally marry one woman, but there are spiritual wedding ceremonies performed to multiple women in lots of cases. Some of these groups belong to branches off the LDS Church, like the FLDS, where they have their own prophets and apostles. And some of them are still part of the main Church, they believe in Thomas Monson as the current prophet and they go to Church every week, but they lead polygamist lives because they think its part of their own salvation, something God commands. They just can’t tell anyone about it. 

So your congregation knows your husband is married to his first wife, but you and the second wife are just seen as single women and mothers in the ward?

Actually, yeah. We get pressure put on us, she and I, to find men and get married, but we just smile and say we are too busy or we can’t find the right person. But we are actually married, just not like they think. 

Is there anyone in your life who knows about you being a third wife?

Very few people. My mom found out and she won’t talk to me. My teenage daughter told her, and we had a huge fight. A few of my close friends know, and they are sweet to me. But most people wouldn’t understand. 

So tell me about your family.

That’s the million dollar question. My husband and his first wife married young. They met at BYU and were very happy together. They had a few children as he graduated and started working, and they bought their first house. No one in their family is polygamist, but they shared a love for old church teachings together. Eventually they decided together that they wanted a second wife together. They found a community of Saints who are very private and practice polygamy. And then they found the second wife, and courted her together. They weren’t really looking for a third wife, but I grew very close to them and they surprised me by offering the idea. They brought me and my kids into the family and we’ve been together ever since. 

How do the dynamics work in the family?

Well, we spend every Sunday together as one family unit. Otherwise we alternate evenings. He works, and we all work, so family in the evenings. I see him two nights per week on a rotating schedule, Monday/Tuesday, Wednesday/Thursday, or Friday/Saturday. We stay in contact online the rest of the time. It’s actually very seamless for us. We all love this life. 

You were referencing the old order earlier, and how women were victimized and marginalized–

Let me interrupt you there. I’ve given this a lot of thought. There is an enormous difference between expecting women and men to be polygamous, and having consenting adults choose this life. We are raising our children, both sons and daughters, to be free thinkers and to choose the lives they want for themselves. We have no expectation that they will join us in polygamy. We don’t condone the actions of men like Warren Jeffs. This is a life that works for us, and not for others. It works because our husband is a just and good man, and we all love him and believe in this life for us. 

Wheel of Fortune, Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide

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Sally Ride loved science more than anything.

And when her parents fostered a sense of purpose in her, during her upbringing primarily in California, Sally knew could do anything she wanted, at a time when many women did not realize their potential. In fact, after she made history by being the first American woman in space (two Soviet women beat her to it), she devoted decades of her life afterwards to inspiring middle school age girls to love and be inspired by science.

And when Sally recognized that girls are vastly under-represented in the fields of science (including math and engineering), she realized that 13 year old boys who get a C in science are told they can grow up to be anything, and that 13 year old girls who get an A in science are encouraged to be nurses and housewives.

And when Sally herself realized she was willing to live up to nothing less than her potential, while hitting tennis rackets on a nearly professional level, she put herself through college, excelling in a field dominated by  men.

And when NASA, after decades, finally opened up its recruitment to women, Sally applied, and moved to Texas to train as an astronaut. She worked tirelessly, using her analytical brain to solve complex problems, practicing for untold hours until she was skilled and it all made sense.

And when Sally was selected to be the first woman from the program to launch, she herself became an international celebrity, something she was quite unready for. In fact, Sally was a very private person. She had never even told her husband Steve, at the time, about being a lesbian, about falling in love with a woman in college. For, like so many others, it took her time to sort out her feelings from the expectations of her culture.

And when, for months before and after the launch, Sally endured exhausting questions from reporters: What makeup will you wear in space and If the pressure gets to be too much, will you just weep and They are working you so hard, you have no choice but to submit, I guess it is like being raped, you might as well just lay back and enjoy it and do you worry that the flight will harm your reproductive organs, and Johnny Carson made jokes about her bra on television, and Billy Joel immortalized her name in the song We Didn’t Start the Fire, tucking her smoothly in between Wheel of Fortune and heavy metal, suicide in his complicated lyrics, Sally smiled, nodded, quipped back, and asked the reporters why they weren’t asking these same questions to the male astronauts on her team, a team of equals.

And when Sally received her NASA uniform, she had the tag read, simply, Sally, not Ride or Dr. Ride, just Sally. 

And when Sally chose to be an astronaut, and her sister chose to be a minister, Sally’s mother joked that at least one of her daughters would make it to Heaven.

And when the Challenger exploded, and later the Columbia, Sally worked tirelessly until she found out why, exposing corruption within the industry that had resulted in the deaths of her peers.

And when Sally fell in love with Tam O’Shaughnessy, a beautiful and independent woman she had met years before, she quietly left her husband and moved in, telling no one, even her family.

And when Sally got cancer far too young, she suffered quietly, telling no one except her closest loved ones until the very end. And when Tam planned a memorial for Sally, and wondered how she should define their relationship, Sally thoughtfully considered coming out of the closet finally, but worried about its impact on NASA.

And when Sally died at age 61, and Tam told the world about their decades long relationship finally, the critics came out of the woodwork. The homophobic were outraged that a lesbian was such a public name. And among the LGBT community, they berated Sally for not coming out as a gay icon years before. And Sally’s family grieved on their own terms.

And when Sally’s name was used on scholarships and elementary schools and even a mountain range on the moon, Sally must have smiled, somewhere somehow.

Because Sally Ride loved science more than anything.

 

Slut-shaming in the 1770s

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The air in my lungs felt like fresh cold water after hours of thirst. The sky was a powerful blue over the painful white of the ski hills, the sun reflecting off it strongly enough to make my eyes hurt. Tall evergreens cascaded haphazardly over the hills as the tiny skiers sent tufts of powder among them on their descents down the hills.

The sun was surprisingly warm in the Alta area east of Salt Lake City. I had driven here this morning with a purpose, needing to clear my head from the inversion in the valley, an atmospheric condition that hits Utah in the lowest and highest temperatures, pollution and smog gathering in the valley, trapped there as if there was a lid over the whole of it. The smog had been growing worse by the day as I eagerly awaited a pressure system to come in and wipe the valley clean again, fresh winds and moisture the exact remedy required.

I had awakened this morning, my head clogged with invisible cotton, my throat constricted, my lungs aching. I always forget how sensitive I am to the inversion here on the bad air days. Where some others seem to not be at all impacted, my system reacts violently and makes me feel part sinus-infection and part allergy-attack.

But now, amid the blue and white, between the hot sun and the cold snow, my thoughts cleared and my brain came alive again, and so I sat to write.

My brain turned immediately to Georgianna Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire. A remarkable woman, a revolutionary if there ever was one. I had picked her book up off the library shelf at random. The book showed Keira Knightley the actress dressed in an ornate gown, her hair piled upon her head, surrounded by royalty, advertising the movie the Duchess, which had been based on this biography. I waited to see the film until after I finished the book. I watched it with a few friends, and throughout the movie, I pushed pause, providing commentary on the parts of Georgianna’s life the movie didn’t capture well, I was that annoying nerd with the running fact checks. But overall, the movie had done a good job. Georgianna was, after all, an intensely complex woman.

Georgianna’s biographer must have spent countless hours looking through ancient correspondence, newspaper articles, and journals, all hundreds of years old. Born in 1757, Georgianna was married on her 17th birthday to the 25 year old Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, who had strong connections to British Royalty and the Whig Party. The Duke was a philanderer, a man with exacting expectations and often very little patience. Georgianna was anything but a typical woman. She involved herself in the affairs of others regularly, arranging marriages and hosting political rallies and fundraisers for preferred Whig candidates.

As the United States of America won its freedom overseas, Georgianna set the trends of fashion in the United Kingdom with elaborate dresses, many she designed herself, and ever more garish hairstyles, some so high she had to sit on the floor of the carriage to fit inside it for transportation. He hair would be wound tightly, with horse hair and feathers intertwined to give it more height, and every woman in the region sought to emulate her as the newspapers reported on her fashion choices with pride.

Georgianna was berated by her husband for being politically involved, and the men she helped promote in politics were publicly ridiculed for treating a woman as an equal. The papers ran political cartoons, rather racy for the time they were in, showing Georgianna lifting her skirts and luring common men, like butchers, in for a kiss, making them promise to vote for her candidate. Rumors abounded of affairs and the public whispered and titered behind her back, even when some of the affairs (purportedly with both men and women) were true.

Georgianna raised her husband’s illegitimate child as her own and gave birth to two daughters as her husband kept pressuring her for a son, blaming her for the birth of the girls as if it had been a choice, while William continued having his own affairs, something that was apparently very common so long as it was never discussed. She finally had a son, giving William an heir, also named William, though that heir went deaf at a young age and never married, reportedly gay.

Georgianna reportedly only fell in love once, to Charles Grey (later the Prime Minister of England), and when she became pregnant with her last child by Grey, the Duke sent her into exile, shaming her for her affair, despite his own, and he required her to give the daughter, Eliza, up for adoption.

Georgianna was courageous, but she was far from perfect, spending a lifetime racking up tremendous gambling debts and lying to her husband about them, leaving many debts behind after she died tragically before hitting fifty. She was an extraordinary woman and mother, with a large ego and a hunger to be in the center of the action. She set trends in feminism that would take many women another century and a half to realize. Georgianna was strong, stubborn, unflinching, and often uncompromising, and she left behind one powerful legacy.

And perhaps most relevant to the readers in today’s generation, she was an ancestor of Princess Diana.

With thoughts on human existence in my head, I drove out of the deep blue skies and through the blinding snow, back toward the valley and smog. All of the individual pains and heartbreaks, joys and triumphs of one woman in one family in one place, each moment lived by her, now hundreds of years past, stories only preserved in the printed word, and most of her life forgotten, only to be pieced together by the the printed words and stories that remain from her time. Her life and the lives of her children and theirs and theirs, all of them past now.

And as I drove back down into the swiftly thickening fog, I realized this was one more moment of mine, soon to be past to the next.

Lesbians and grossed out gays

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“What are you reading?”

I looked over from my book to the man on the treadmill next to me. The gym was crowded and smelled like sweat and machines, a familiar smell in the winter months in Utah. Air pollution was particularly bad today, given the inversion, and I had come inside to shake my headache and get my blood flowing and heart pumping.

While doing a warm-up on the treadmill, stretching my joints out along with each muscle and tendon, I had set my current biography up on the stand, a book I was loving.

“Oh, it’s a book about Sally Ride.”

“Who the hell is Sally Ride?”

The man had his ball cap turned slightly to the side. I wondered if he was trying to flirt in some brash way.

“She was the first American woman in space, back in the 80s. She was pretty amazing. A real revolutionary.”

“Sounds boring as all hell.” He looked at me as if trying to challenge my enthusiasm for the book.

“She was also a lesbian, though that wasn’t revealed publicly until after her death. She was with her partner for 30 years.”

“So how is that supposed to make her special.” He said it like a statement not a question.

“Well, I’ve been researching a lot of LGBT history lately. It’s kind of hidden in our society. Like I had heard of Sally Ride, but never knew she was lesbian. I heard of Alan Turing, but never knew he was gay. I think Ride was pretty incredible.”

The guy finally looked away, pushing some button on his treadmill to slow his speed. “I think lesbians are pretty disgusting.”

I gave him a disconsolate look. “What, why? What makes lesbians disgusting?”

He lowered the incline on his treadmill as well as I kept going. “I like dudes. Masculine dudes. Lesbians are gross. Vaginas are gross.”

I sighed and gave a half-laugh. I pictured all of the gay dating profiles I had seen over the years that said things like Man seeking masculine men. Masc for masc, no fems. I thought about informing this man that he didn’t have to be sexually attracted to women in order to respect and understand them. The hyper-masculinity of male culture drives me nuts, whether in the straight world or in the gay one.

I thought about my sister Sheri and her wife Heather, and wondered how often they faced this kind of attitude from gay men, men who were supposed to be their allies in the fight for equality. I knew the shaming words against transgender people from gay men was even worse. Lesbians are hyper-sexualized by straight men and shunned by gay men. The whole thing just reeks of patriarchy.

“I love lesbians.” I looked away as he stared at me in shock.

“Bull. How could you possibly love lesbians? You’re gay.”

“I know a lot of lesbians, dozens and dozens of them. And I genuinely like every one of them that I know. They are good people, smart, dedicated, talented, genuinely nice people. I could say the same thing about every transgender person I know, literally every one. But I can name a whole lot of straight people and gay guys I don’t like. So I love lesbians.”

He stopped his treadmill. “Whatever, man. Enjoy your boring book.”

I turned back to Sally Ride, eager to learn more about this fascinating woman. Guess I wasn’t masculine enough for that guy.

 

 

 

Hillary Clinton as the Bachelorette

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At 6 am in a coffee shop, I overheard one of the best conversations ever, my fingers clacking nonchalantly on my keyboard to keep up.

Okay, picture it. Hillary Clinton. As the Bachelorette.

She’s already married.

No, no, like the show. Like the Bachelor, except when a girl is one it. The Bachelorette. 

Dude, she’s, like, 70.

Duh, I know. Come on, just hear me out. We all know she’s going to win the presidency. I mean, she’ll win the Democratic nomination, that’s what all the polls are saying. It’s gonna be close, but she’ll pull out on top and then everyone will vote for her over any of those Republican buffoons. And I mean, I don’t like Hillary. At all. But she’s gonna win and I’ll vote for her because she’s the least terrible choice.

I know, I know. I swear her whole campaign is like some whiny platform she built. ‘Look at me, I’ll Hillary Clinton, my husband was the president, so I should be the president, too. Oh yeah, I was Secretary of State, too, waaaaah.’ She drives me nuts. 

Yeah, me too. But listen to this, listen to this. After she wins, we hold a Bachelorette competition to figure out who her vice president is going to be. All the current presidential candidates will try to get her vote. And every week, she gives a rose to some guy who will end up crying as his career comes to an end, and they drive him off in some hearse.

That’s dumb. 

It’s brilliant! Hillary gives great facial expressions, she’ll be awesome. Each episode, she’ll go on some date. She can, like, hot air balloon with Ben Carson. They’ll be floating over the Earth and Carson could talk about how the Earth is really flat even though it looks round from the sky because that’s how God wants us to see the world. 

What? That doesn’t make sense.

I know, that’s the point. Carson has some whacked out theories. So Hillary hands him the rose and two guys come and put him in a straitjacket and pull him off to the crazy house.

Okay, yeah, I’d watch that. 

And then Chris Christie would take her to, like–oh! They could go bridge-jumping! In New Jersey! And he would be like non-stop talking about why he shut that bridge down that one time, and Hillary would give a classic look to the camera that’s almost an eye-roll. That guy is annoying as hell. 

Okay, calm down, man. You’re way too excited about this. 

It’s hilarious! Tell me you wouldn’t pay to see Donald Trump and Hillary on a date. 

This show would be way funnier if it was Trump as the Bachelor. That guy is funny.

Yeah, but that would mean we would have to elect Trump president.

No thanks. I’d move to Belgium and laugh at the Americans. 

So Trump and Hillary…

Okay, I’ll play. Trump would sit back over champagne and caviar and talk all about all of the beautiful women he’s been with. He’d be like, ‘I have dated some of the most beautiful women in the world and my daughter is the most gorgeous woman I have ever seen. They like me because I have money. But you can’t even keep your husband away from the interns. That’s why you should choose me, Hillary, because I would make you look good.’

Oh man, that’s golden! And–and they could go wig-shopping!

Okay, yeah, this is a fun idea.

So then… I don’t know, like… horse-back riding on the Bush ranch with Jeb, and–oh! Salsa-dancing with Marco Rubio! That would be awesome!

What about Carly Fiorina? It could be a hot lady candidate date. 

Why not? It’s 2016. Oh my god, they would hate each other so much. 

No one hates Hillary more than Bernie Sanders, though. They all pretend to respect and like each other, but you gotta know that they are just seething with hate. I mean, they both want to be president so effing bad and the other person is the one stopping them the most. So on their date, Bernie would be like ‘Hillary, congratulations on the nomination’ and he would look all happy but on the inside he is like ‘I hate you so much’ and she would be like ‘thank you, Bernie Sanders, you deserved it too’ but on the inside, she would be all ‘hahaha, I won, you crazy old man.’ You just know she and Obama were like that back in 2008. 

But in the end, she would totally pick Sanders as VP. 

That’s because the Republican candidates are all basically comic nook super villains. They are all ridiculous caricatures of humanity. She might as well be running up against Lex Luthor, Skeletor, the Joker, and, like, Dr. Doom. All ‘I’m going to rule the world!’ when really none of them have a chance. At all. 

I can’t think of even one single Democrat candidate besides Bernie and Hillary though. Weird. 

I–wait. Wasn’t there some guy named Chaffee? Oh, Martin O’Malley. What happened to that guy? He just disappeared. 

Yeah, he can’t be on our show. No one knows who he is.

We’ve totally got to pitch this idea. 

Man, we’d make a million. 

And it’d be tax deductible, right? I mean, it’s politics.

HiIlary Rodham Clinton

 

Women in Hot Water

“A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she’s in hot water.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

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Christopher Columbus sailed around the world with a ship full of men, and hundreds of thousands of men followed, each seeking to stake a claim in a new land. America was founded on the principles of a fresh start, escaping poverty and oppression and building a new life in a new world. Civilization spread over the next two hundred years from coast to coast. Men came, men conquered.

And eventually, an organized civilization formed in the name of revolution. Wanting freedom from other men, these men declared war and, in time, won, declaring independence. These men formalized a government, wrote a Constitution, elected a president, put a court system in place, and began to govern the people. America was a nation of immigrants, unified in the cause of governance.

The land of the free, they called it. The home of the brave, they said, where all men were created equal. Except for the Native Americans, slaughtered, given diseases, and eventually shoved onto small pockets of land to contain them. Except for blacks, gathered on ships and stolen from their homes, then forced into slave labor for generations. Except for Mexicans, killed and manipulated in the need for acquisition of more land. And except for women, who were expected to bear children, serve in the home, and not participate in governance.

It took ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ until 1920 to give women the right to vote. Around 135 years after the formation of the country on the premise that all are created equal, the other fifty per cent of our citizens got their most basic right. (Keeping in mind, this was after we went to war to end slavery, decades before the Civil Rights movement, and nearly 100 years before same-sex couples would be granted the right to marry).

In 2016, population wise, there are more women than men by several million. Men make up most of the prison population, commit nearly all of the violent and sexual crimes (including, obviously, rape and murder). Men run most of the American businesses (around 85 per cent) and are paid more than women in nearly every position, often including fields where women dominate the work place (like social work and nursing). Men run most of the religious organizations in the country, almost exclusively.

And perhaps most shocking, men dominate in nearly every category of elected officials in the United States. A recent study showed that the United States ranks number 69 in the rankings of the world’s democracies in elected positions for women. In fact, Afghanistan has more women in government than the US. As does Pakistan. And Uganda.

In our presidential running this year for the Republican and Democratic primaries, we saw a bit more racial diversity among the candidates, though it was still dominated by white men (though some of them had racially diverse spouses), and one female candidate on each side. One. Carly Fiorina for the Republican party, and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic.

I, personally, am saddened and a bit horrified at the idea that we are still so far from having equal representation in our government. Men have been making mistakes in our government for  a very long time. And the only way women can break in is by playing by the men’s rules in the men’s systems, with men as their peers. And the country is still, by and large, very patriarchal and misogynistic, and makes it very hard for a woman to succeed.

It is with this awareness of history and focus on social justice that I went about researching Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton. Clinton was raised in Chicago by a hard-working father who taught her self-reliance, and a courageous mother who had been abandoned by her parents and abused by her grandparents before staking out life on her own terms. Hillary’s mother raised her to believe in herself, treating Hillary and her two brothers as capable in every capacity. Hillary was raised with an awareness of privilege and social justice, and knew very young that she would make something of herself someday.

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Hillary married the handsome young Bill Clinton and moved to Arkansas, building a life for herself there as a successful attorney as Bill ran for various government positions. Hillary is now nearly 70 years old. During her life span, she has been the First Lady of Arkansas for nearly 15 years, the First Lady of the United States for 8 years, a Senator in New York for 8 years, and the Secretary of State for 4 years. That is a total of 35 years in public, over half of her life. She has also run two Presidential campaigns. She has championed education, women’s rights, children’s rights, LGBT rights, free information rights, and health care. She has survived public scandals and inquisitions, media feeding frenzies, and decades in the public spotlight. She has shown up time and again with courage, clarity, and strength in the face of opposition at every turn. And in my opinion, she has done so with grace, strength, and openness.

As Secretary of State, Hillary traveled the world, interfacing with male world leaders, many times as the only woman in the room. She negotiated with men who weren’t allowed to shake her hand because she was a woman, due to their own customs. She was courageous and strategic in each instance, and she stood for social justice in each encounter. She has a deep sense of history, change, initiative, and responsibility.

I don’t thank that any presidential candidate is spotless. But Hillary Clinton has my vote for three primary reasons: 1. She is simply the most qualified candidate up there. 2. She knows, first hand, what being president entails. She has, quite literally, lived it. 3. It is long past time we had a female in office.

Centuries past time.

It’s time to put more women in hot water so we can see how strong they are. z47