Archive | August, 2011

Lucy Stone: A Place of Honor on National Women’s Equality Day

One day, when I was seventeen, I approached my father with questions about love,  like Why should a woman marry?  This confused him because he and my mother loved each other, their marriage was good, and their other daughter, my older sister, was already also happily married.

Nevertheless, I said..  Why? And what’s this “obey” business?  

We exchanged ideas. He was patient. “So: you want a Lucy Stoner marriage, is that it?” he said. Thankfully, since I didn’t know what a “Lucy Stoner marriage” was, he went on to tell me about his early brief marriage to a writer named Hagar Wilde that ended on friendly terms. “We had a Lucy Stoner Marriage,” he confided. They had lived in Greenwich Village, he told me, but she had insisted on a separate studio, one outside their home, for her work. (Hagar, by the way, wrote the famous screwball comedy with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, “Bringing Up Baby,” which I later decided was successful because she had a place of her own.) I hadn’t heard about his first marriage, of Hagar, or of a “Lucy Stoner marriage,” whatever that was, until then. He also told me that he and my mother did not have a Lucy Stoner marriage.

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Our Money, Our Selves

How come a woman reaches the age of sixty having accumulated one million dollars less than a man of the same age who has had the same job? As we approach National Women’s Equality Day on August 26th, I’m thinking of that startling, stubborn pay difference—our 77 cents to men’s dollar—and of what it takes to end it.

 One of women’s greatest quests is an internal one: a search for self-knowledge, self-authority, self-expansion, self-esteem. While this focus on “self” may sound idle—or, as the culture has long claimed, “selfish”–to those who see political activism as solely external, it’s clear to me that this quest is what will determine our monetary future. Only if each of us understands our own psyche, as well as the collective psyche of women over time, will we have mojo for change. The selfless woman, heralded still as being “good”, will never feel good enough inside herself to make a big difference outside.  In the words of the poet Adrienne Rich:

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“So, Georgia, Are Those Flowers Really Vaginas?”

In reading Deborah Solomon’s interesting review of the new book, “My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Steiglitz”in this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, I was struck once again by how free literary and artistic men have historically felt to reveal themselves in all their egomaniacal splendor or horror (think Picasso, Hemingway, Styron, Faulkner, Keroac, to name a few) while literary and artistic women have kept silent about themselves (from Austen on).. Steiglitz, the famous photographer and gallery owner, wrote letters that Solomon says “read like an exercise in negative self-salesmanship,” endlessly revealing his hypochondriacal, egomaniacal, wounded self without inhibition to the woman he first hoped to and then did marry.  O’Keeffe, by contrast, throughout their friendship and later marriage “retained her armor of discretion,” Solomon says. She remained silent about her deepest self in these letters–just as she remained silent when critics asked whether those luscious flowers of hers depicted women’s sexual organs.

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The Coming Backlash

Okay, so Treasury Bonds are being grabbed; gold is being hoarded; God is being called upon like never before to save us all from chaos, as He was in Houston a few weeks ago, by tens of thousands of evangelical Christians. Many have written about the problem of harking back to our belief systems, and our superstitions, and our specific faiths , instead of using better means to solve problems, like clear thinking, open-mindedness, conciliation, and negotiation. (See Frank Bruni, “True Believers, All of Us, The New York Times, August 6, 2011.)

I worry particualarly about women, vulnerable now to similar magical-thinking-solutions. I’m hearing young women talk about finding a guy to marry—quickly. I’m hearing older women talk about the futility of trying to reinvent themselves and instead figuring they’ll just hang on for dear life. As with trying to solve the world’s problems with faith and belief systems, trying to stay safe through all the old conventional means is dangerous to our collective psyche. When the economy is tight, and when men get scared, certain things happen like clockwork: There’s more domestic violence. Women tend to retreat; to return to the home, if not literally, then figuratively, as if the homely virtues ever paid off. We imagine that things were so much better long ago.

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Why the Very, Very Righteous Make Me Very, Very Nervous

Now that we’re no longer a married culture; now that we have more single people floating about the country than wedded ones, it’s fun to watch the family-values contingent race to point fingers. Who is responsible for this cultural sea-change? Who, they want to know, is bad, and who is good?

I always want to know who’s doing the asking.

When you see a study claiming to somehow assess our morals, be suspicious of interest groups conducting that study—just as you’d be suspicious of a drug company conducting a study of one of its drugs. You want to know if it’s the Christian Right surveying people on their infidelity habits, say, or if it’s a neutral organization like the Pew Research organization, which analyzes census data. For when the Very, Very Righteous claim to be objective about a moral issue, I get very very nervous. Continue Reading →

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