No Nice Guys?

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

I look down at my little boy’s smile- I watch his complete lack of reserve, his total vulnerability. He buries his head into my chest and with my whole being I pray to God that he never feels ashamed of his tenderness.

I recall the many times I’ve heard a boy or man say that “nice guys don’t get anywhere.” “Girls don’t like nice guys.” And I guess they think it goes without saying that guys don’t like nice guys. We all watch it happen around us. Suddenly, the once sweet and genuine little boy– the little boy who used to feel– turns up to third grade and he’s got that new look about him. He saunters with his hands in his pockets and he hangs his head. He doesn’t smile or laugh except at crude jokes or in making fun of other people. He’s scared to say he loves anybody. He’s scared to say he cares. He’s scared to say he hurts.

And who would blame him? He may feel like he’s the last one to finally man up. Finally. It’s a cruel world and it wants it’s men to be cruel too.

So what do we do?

A lot of people say it falls in the hands of fathers and other male role models. There’s no doubt about that. One football coach can make all the difference in the world on a boy’s tenderness. We know this.

But are women powerless in the cause? I think we are often too quick to assume so. We are too likely to watch the leagues of little boys pass by, their tenderness robbed or stifled, without saying a word because we figure that’s just how things are. That’s just how boys are and we don’t know what or how to do something about it.

But then we expect them to just figure out the tenderness when they need it. To go from tough guy to flowers and letters and date night and Daddy. We turn a blind eye to the suppressed tenderness but then expect it to come out easily, full force, when it’s for us. This is obviously a contradictory and ridiculous expectation. So why do we perpetuate it?

In the end, women want two different things. We want the lover, but we don’t necessarily want to do what it takes to encourage him. We don’t want to spend the time and energy on the nice guy when he’s not our guy. It begins in elementary school (or even before.) Tenderness, especially male tenderness, is delicate and sometimes awkward. To recognize it, embrace it- you have to be willing to be shunned. Tenderness makes many people uncomfortable. So the girls on the playground shy away from the nice guy. Associating with him requires too much courage. The jerk gets continually affirmed over and over because nobody wants to be the one to change that. The nice guy assumes he’s not wanted and he quits.

This is unacceptable. As mothers, as sisters, as daughters, as teachers, as friends, we have to be proactively aware of the tenderness in the men around us and proactively encouraging of it. We have to be willing to stand by them when they feel foolish or lonely or embarrassed. Too often, women make the careless remark that there “just aren’t any good guys anymore.” And I wonder– of those guys who aren’t “good”- weren’t they once? Weren’t they all once little boys on their mothers’ laps? But in a world of cruelty, the tenderness won’t stick around on its own. We have to encourage them. We have to let them know it’s worth the fight. We, women, have to want them. We have to want their tenderness before the romance. We have to cherish and cling to the tenderness of the men around us- from little baby tears to grandfather hugs. We have to be willing to stand by it even when all the world rejects it.

Fox-Genovese: Abortion

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

On January 2, 2007, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, to whom this site NewFeminism.co is dedicated, died at age 65 after a long battle with multiple sclerosis. Her husband, Eugene Genovese, outlived her, dying on September 26, 2012 at age 82.  As far as I can determine, the elder Genovese wrote and published only one work of his own in the five and a half years he lived without his beloved wife – a slim, eloquent volume entitled Miss Betsey: A Memoir of Marriage. The cover photo of that book invites the reader to his tale of romantic devotion, surprising conversion and academic intrigue, told by the survivor of this highly visible – and controversial – intertwined pair of academics.

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Genovese did not write about his marriage in order to share memories with their children – they had none.  Nor did Genovese seek to memorialize his wife’s thoughts – this she had ably done. (See, for example, the 5 Volume collection, History & Women, Culture & Faith: Selected Writings of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese). Rather, when she died, Genovese “felt driven to write about the life of a woman who led me out of the slough of despond and provided the loving home I wanted and badly needed.” (p.3) Genovese wrote of his beloved wife, it seems, more as an exercise to understand his own life, a life “split in two: Before Betsey and Since Betsey” – a life he had always hoped to have but found in Betsey “by the grace of God.” (p 2).

It is in this context that Genovese reflects on one of the more controversial developments in his wife’s thinking, when she decided she could no longer present herself “pro-choice” on abortion and, as a result, became target for the bitter backbite of fellow feminists and intellectuals.  But what Genovese found remarkable in his wife, her passion for unadorned truth and her love and compassion for women as women, has established a foundation upon which New Feminism continues to grow and flourish.

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Abortion had always made Betsey queasy.  For years she remained sufficiently attached to the feminist movement to persuade herself to support “free choice” during the first trimester and with such limitations as parental consent and absolute denial of partial-birth abortion. She supported such “compromise” largely because she considered it the best politically available alternative to an incipient civil war.  She gagged on abortion for a simple reason: She knew, as everyone knows, that an abortion kills a baby. Betsey responded with incredulity to the argument that the baby a woman carries in her womb is not a baby at all or, alternatively, that although it is a baby, her mother has a moral and constitutional right to kill her. And Betsey resented the denigration of women implicit in the “pro-choice” campaign. Years later, in the private journal she kept as she entered the Church, she wrote:

Paradox: intent of abortion has been to free women, but it has imprisoned them. Anima Christi: soul and body are one, not two. Abortion devalues and debases woman’s bodies – strips them of their character as Temples of the Holy Spirit.  Abortion has not heightened respect for woman’s bodies, but only confirmed their status as objects to be used.

A related matter went down hard with her. We hear all the time that retarded and deformed children should never have been born – that their lives should have been snuffed out by parents and doctors sensitive to the “quality of life.” Betsey did not take well to people who claimed the privilege of judging who deserved to live and who ought to be put to death. Again, as a Jew aware of the underlying ideology of the Holocaust, she had no tolerance for people who claimed the right to dispose of human life in accordance with whatever sick creed they were espousing. Over the years, she met a number of retarded and autistic children. None struck her as floating miserably in a life without pleasure. Betsey saw for herself that, however painful their daily experiences, they awoke every morning secure in the knowledge that their parents loved them, considering them gifts from God.

The radical feminists’ assertion that a woman has absolute property in her own body provoked mirth from those who, like Betsey, knew that the modern Left had arisen to oppose the bourgeois theory of absolute property in anything. Betsey steadily hardened her line against abortion while she maintained unsparing compassion for the unmarried young or poor pregnant women who felt trapped. She spent years as a volunteer in community groups that cared for pregnant teenagers, poor mothers and their children, and battered wives.

On these matters, as in others, she had special powers of persuasion. I caught a glimpse of her ability to touch an audience in January 2005 – less than two years before she died. I attended her lecture on abortion at Hamilton College in New York. She had been invited by the small conservative student contingent, but she faced a large and largely skeptical audience. Once again, I thought she might have spoken in a livelier fashion; once again, she refused to indulge rhetorical tricks or cheap shots, much less talk down to students. She took up the major arguments, pro and con. Calmly, she reviewed moral, statistical, and other evidence and dug into the implications and ramifications of the slaughter of millions of infants. I watched the students closely. Apparently, most did not support her pro-life position, yet they hung on her every word. She may not have convinced many, but she clearly made them thoughtful. And they responded respectfully. It was obvious that their radical feminist professors had not deigned to introduce them to the pro-life side, so that they might “choose” between the alternatives. As the students left the hall, they did not disguise their admiration for Betsey’s presentation and replies to hard questions. They also made clear that they were not amused at their professors’ efforts to shut them out from an opportunity to consider pro-life views.

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Miss Betsey: A Memoir of Marriage is available in hardcover.

Intimacy: It’s Complicated

Kerry Cronin

Contributed by Kerry Cronin

How I found myself talking with young adults about hookup culture, dating, and relationships is still a bit mysterious to me, but one thing I know for sure si that about 10 years ago I started to sense a genuine loneliness amount the otherwise bright, involved, connected, and accomplished students at my university.

When I asked about their lives—not just about their academic lives, but about their personal, moral, and spiritual lives—what troubled and saddened me more than whether or not they were having sex (though that certainly concerns me, no doubt), is how little sex and sexual intimacy even mattered to them. Still today, not only do many of them think that sex is “no big deal,” they usually display little hope that it will ever amount to all that much. They are deeply ambivalent about sex having any significant meaning, and in the context of their mostly ironic culture, they are wary of being duped by grand claims about intimacy, sexual or otherwise. As they say, it’s all “just a thing.” And they have plenty of evidence from their own lives, the lives of their families and friends, and from the wider, sexualized culture to prove it. But when I started to really pay attention to what young adults were saying and doing in their hookups, dating, and relationships, I found what I would call a low- level, grinding despair.

I spotted that despair in a Q&A session following a talk I gave a number of years ago in a residential hall lounge packed full of first-year students about six months into their first year of college.

A student thanked me for my talk on hookup culture and said that she wholly agreed with my critique of it. She went on to say that this was all well and good, but what she really needed to know was how to go about making herself not care while she was partying and hooking up, because, well, that was just how things went.

Her voice broke a bit as she asked the question and the room became really quiet with the question just hanging in the air. I was dumbstruck. She silently but openly wept as I eventually responded that I would never, ever want to make it easier for her not to care about another person and or to ask so little for herself, body and soul. She seemed completely emotionally exhausted. I must admit that though I get questions like this all the time from young adults, each time I am left a little breathless by it.

When I talk about hooking up, dating, and relationships now, I do so in all sorts of venues and to all sorts of audiences, from large crowds in auditoriums to small groups in residence hall programs. And for the most part, I don’t talk all that much about sex, because I find that what really concerns young adults—what really scares them, what fascinates them, what moves them—are not really questions of sex but rather questions of intimacy. In the midst of their ubiquitous posting and twittering and snapchatting, despite their seemingly constant connecting through all modes of social media, the students I meet speak overwhelmingly about feeling quite disconnected, lonely, and fundamentally not known by others. This isn’t the death knell of relationships, of men or of sex, as some authors have recently claimed, but it certainly seems to signal a crisis of intimacy. So what is it then that is missing in the lives of these young adults and how can we help them, and ourselves, find what is lost?   .

Clearly, intimacy is not an easy notion to understand. Its meaning is broad and wide-ranging and it is often only recognized in its absence. While we regularly reduce its meaning to the closeness of a sexual relationship, there’s little doubt that intimacy characterizes other relationships in our lives, those of parents and children, siblings, and good and caring friends. Isn’t intimacy with God what we are striving for in a prayer life? It strikes me as helpful to pose the question: What are we doing when we are being intimate with another person, and why is that being intimate?

Common to all of the intimate relationships in my life is one central and abiding fact: that I have the distinct feeling that I matter to the other person. In those relationships, others who love me—my parents who are my biggest fans and like me more than I probably deserve, family members who’ve known me through all of the awkward moments of my life, friends who have been with me through bitterly sad and tremendously joyful times—share in my cares and concerns because I matter to them. And I in turn am willing to try to enter into the meanings and values of their lives and take their cares and concerns on as my own, not as facts and data, but as something meaningful and moving, because they matter to me. This may seem overly simplistic, but I find it helpful when talking with young adults about intimacy to ask if they notice these patterns in their different relationships—success and failures alike.

Do you feel like you matter to your friends, your roommates, your older brother, your girlfriend or boyfriend? If so, how is that shown to you? Do you know how to show someone else that she truly matters to you? How do you know if you truly matter to him? How would you know? What do you do when it becomes clear that you don’t matter to a person you love?

These are sometimes very painful questions to ask and answer. Young adulthood is when most of us first begin to recognize how very much is riding on our closest emotional ties. And it’s a lot. It is also often when we discover how devastatingly precarious some of those emotional ties can be.

When I talk to students about their fears and desires and ask them to think about what they long for most in their lives, they assume that their desire to be loved and to be truly known by someone else will happen in marriage. While that will be true for most of them, I also ask them to consider the different kinds of love and closeness they have in their lives now. In most cases, young people can identify at least one friend who fits the description of Aristotle’s “Friend of the Good,” the highest and best type of friendship depicted in his Nicomachean Ethics. This type of friend comprehends what is good in me, brings more of that out in me, and wants the best for me. But truly wanting the best for someone involves knowing and seeing who she really is, not merely who she is for me. To have and to be a friend like this activates our ability to be moved by someone else, to allow the meanings of my life to be changed and transformed by someone who wants what is good for me, which is perhaps not fully known to me. Intimacy that is found in friendships like this allows us to glimpse the best parts of ourselves and brings those parts into the light. It also builds in us a capacity for seeing the good in someone else and for letting the good in us be seen.

As JPII rightly surmised and wrote about beautifully in his Theology of the Body, intimacy involves truly being seen by another. This seems really right to me. It is in the gaze of someone who thinks I truly matter, who wants to value what I value, who desires what I truly desire, who wants to understand what I mean when I speak and act, that I begin to be recognized and known in the way I really long for. To be held in a gaze like that is the way of love that God wants for us, because it is the way that God loves us.

In the lives of young adults, this isn’t easy to come by. Everyone has her own set of needs and worries, and the pace of keeping up and getting ahead means that really stopping and seeing another person or being seen demands so much time and asks perhaps too much of us. But again, intimacy is keenly felt in its absence, and young adults suffer its absence tremendously. What haunts them most is not the dismal job market, not their ballooning student loans, not the skyrocketing cost of living in most major American cities. What haunts them most is not ever being seen, or recognized, or loved by anyone beyond their own family circles. In worse cases, their fear is not mattering to anyone even within those most important first circles. In the very worst cases, there is the darkness of feeling that you do not matter even to God, that you are not held by God.

To be intimate with someone is to be held—to be held in the gaze of someone who really sees me, to be held up by a friend when I falter, to have my hand held as I go through a moment of grief or joy or beauty, to be held responsible by those I admire for the good and bad I do in the world, to be held in the arms of someone who wants the best for me, and then also, in the words of a friend who prays for me often, to be held in the light.

I have seen students thrive when they find themselves held by someone in a way that lets them know that they matter and that they are seen and known and loved. I have sat and listened as young adults tell me about people in their lives—a friend found in a small faith community, a parent who finally sees the adult instead of just the child, an unexpected mentor, a classmate who challenges them to “the more” on a service trip, a girlfriend or boyfriend who makes them feel smarter and funnier and more lovable than they thought they were—who have helped them find better parts of themselves that they never imagined they would find. These are wondrous moments to witness. It is where flourishing is found.

Finally, I don’t know about you, but even on a good day at Mass when I’m knee-deep in the prayerful rhythm of a liturgy, I get all tangled up in the newly worded response,  “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.” Because of my entanglement there, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it and it seems to me to be about the intimacy we long for with God. Asking Christ to enter under my roof reminds me that intimacy marks the difference between living next to someone and dwelling with them—letting another person truly enter into my life, to move my cares and concerns and to be moved by his. When you dwell with someone else—a friend, a spouse, Jesus—your reality becomes a shared reality and you make the horizon of that person’s meanings and values your own. You also let your meanings and values be carried and shaped by someone else. It seems to me that this is the answer to the question, what am I doing when I am being intimate? To the further question, why is that being intimate? Well, when I ask my students about intimacy in their own lives, they usually default to a popular Facebook adage: “It’s complicated.” Let me tell you, you’ve got that right. ■

 

This article is reprinted with permission from Kerry Cronin.  It originally appeared in the Spring 2014 C21 Resources, a publication of The Church in the 21st Century, Boston College.  Cronin is the coeditor of this C21 Resources and has emerged as a “relationships guru,” speaking to student audiences on such topics as “The Imperfect Art of Dating” and “Sex and the Single Student.” (photos not included in reprint; the original article with photos is available online.) Visit: www.bc.edu/c21relationships to watch C21 videos featuring Kerry Cronin: “The Imperfect Art of Dating,” “Rules of the 1st Date,” “Love that Transforms: How the Resurrection Challenges Us,” “The Problems with the Hook-Up Culture.”

 

 

The Reality of NFP

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

If you’ve heard of NFP, you’ve probably heard about all of its wonderful effects. You’ve probably heard about how it gets you and your husband in tune with your body. How it teaches you both to be disciplined and how straightforward it can be. How it helps you focus on aspects of your relationship other than sex. How it makes things exciting and how every month you have another honeymoon. You’ve probably heard that NFP strengthens your marriage and makes you more fulfilled, more in love, and happier.

And though I appreciate those sentiments and have no doubt that NFP has improved countless marriages, I’ve always felt like the stuff I hear and read about NFP sounds a little bit like an infomercial. It sounds a little too good to be true. I await the sped up “side effects may include…”

But so often, the side effects of NFP are written in fine print below the many benefits. So I’m not surprised that many people don’t trust it and don’t give it a chance. We sense that there has to be a downside. And I’m going to tell you assuredly that there is. And what is it? It’s not that it isn’t effective. Abstaining when fertile is most certainly effective—it’s in the couple’s hands to decide how liberal they want to be about that abstinence. The problem isn’t about charting—charting isn’t that complex. Plenty of women chart their cycle for all sorts of reasons from hormonal imbalance diagnostics to preparation for conception. The problem with NFP is the abstinence.

Because the truth is, abstinence for the sake of postponing children, while perhaps prudent, is not some glorious thing. It’s self-denial, plain and simple, and self-denial hurts. It varies in its degree of hurt—for some lucky couples the abstinence is a couple of days a month. For some couples it could be weeks or even months at a time if you’ve got really crazy cycles. Either way, NFP means regularly depriving your marriage of sex—that expression which comes physically and emotionally most natural to romantic love.

And what does that do? That hurts you and that hurts your spouse. I’d say it might even hurt your marriage. Yes, NFP may hurt your marriage. That’s the fine print.

But in the end, it’s worth it. My husband and I still use NFP. But not for all the “benefits.” We use NFP to avoid doing what we consider to be wrong—we use NFP to avoid using contraception. The wrongness of contraception (something I’d like to address in the future,) is NFP’s true and only real selling point. We don’t practice NFP to “bring us closer together.” We don’t do it to “spice things up.” And we don’t do it in order for me to “get in touch with my body.” Really, we shouldn’t need NFP to do all of those things. The popular idea of needing NFP for marriage is contrary to the very philosophy of marriage. The philosophy of marriage says that though absence may make the heart grow fonder, it is better to grow fonder by choice, with presence—indeed, with prolonged, evolving, natural presence. The philosophy of marriage says you don’t need “monthly honeymoons.” You need one. And it’s not the end-all-be-all of your entire marriage. It is a step in a journey and adventure together. It is a step in a lifelong commitment to giving and receiving. Given that we believe contraception is a contradiction to that commitment, we have enough reason to practice NFP so we don’t deeply harm our marriage and ourselves in the times when we aren’t ready for children. We practice NFP because we find it better to suffer together than to sin together. And do we benefit despite the suffering? Of course we do—but not because of what NFP is. We benefit because of what NFP isn’t.

Signs: Walk for Life West Coast 2014

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

A massive and diverse crowd of protesters rallied in front of [San Francisco] City Hall before marching down Market Street to Justin Herman Plaza for the 10th annual “Walk for Life West Coast.” They chanted “Pro Life” and carried signs that read “Defend Life” and “Women deserve better than abortion.” San Francisco police did not immediately provide an official crowd estimate, but at one point marchers stretched across more than a mile of Market Street, the liberal city’s main thoroughfare.”

The size, energy, youthfulness and enthusiasm of this now-entrenched San Francisco event grows each year. Most remarkable to us New Feminists who have participated in this walk over the years is the disappearing presence of counter-protesters who, in the early years, threw red-water balloons, barricaded passage and thrust coat hangers as they angrily taunted us walkers – many of whom quietly prayed and pushed baby strollers.

Opponents to the pro-life presence in San Francisco sought to frighten, bully and shame those they defined as enemies – enemies of women. But it’s hard to sustain a movement fueled by anger and hostility – especially when directed at babies, families and peaceful people who value all lives. It’s hard to motivate people to spend their Saturday jeering and accosting elderly people walking with their grandchildren, devoted parents pushing disabled loved ones confined to wheelchairs and exuberant young throngs happy to be alive and celebrate life. Feminism was never intended to be a movement of angry women bent on creating options to destroy and eliminate “burdensome” lives. Feminism was born from women’s determination and passion for having a voice in nurturing, valuing and protecting all lives.

New Feminism – women celebrating life and their role in nurturing and protecting all life – was on beautiful display yesterday under sunny skies. The air literally sizzled with joy, happiness and gratitude. The occasional angry person shouting for “abortion without apology” seemed more akin to the city’s mentally ill homeless people than people with a considered point of view.  In a such a joyous crowd, anger seems sad, pathetic. I was nearly tempted to offer a hug.

But the West Coast Walk for Life is no longer about pro-life opposition. It’s about the celebration of life by diverse people with both religious and secular appreciation for the unborn – many of whom carried signs personalizing their own reason for participating and celebrating life.

It was the Year of the Sign, 2014.

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How to hold a sign for several miles is a challenge. Several people can hold the sign high, taking turns.

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Or you can hold it low and pull it along with your other stuff.

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You can put the sign around your neck and get your photo taken everytime someone takes a picture of your sign.

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Or you can attach your sign to the wheelchair so your sign goes where your Grandma goes.

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You can skip the sign all together and make a shirt with your message.

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(I’m told Guard Life shirts might be for sale next year!)

 

 

 

 

 

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There are secular pro-lifers – Monica Snyder of http://www.secularprolife.org/ spoke during the pre-walk rally.

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There are religious pro-lifers.

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But all the pro-lifers are happy.

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 The bulk of them – the generation of the New Feminist – are young!

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There is always a sign that steals the day. This year, I found two. My final photo here was the last one of the day. I walked back to my car wiping away my own tears of joy and gratitude for the bravery of people who stand with life.  Amazing.

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In Defense of Men

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

One of the current popular video trends on YouTube consists of men going through simulated labor. It’s an interesting concept and the men have some funny reactions. But when you read the comments underneath the videos you start to wonder if women get a little more pleasure out of them than simply for curiosity or humor’s sake. It seems as if the videos are being used to back up an accusation, a popular accusation—the accusation that goes like this:

Women are stronger than men. Women suffer more. And men will never, ever, EVER understand.

Women say this kind of stuff all the time. About how men “don’t understand.” We complain about the stretch marks that babies give us but don’t give them. We insist that the father cannot ever know best for the child simply because he didn’t birth the child. We rant about PMS and about countless other “female problems” that we assume far exceed what any man must have to deal with. We expect the husband to change oil and to change diapers and to be an expert at both. And then if he ends up being an expert at both, we dismiss it because it still won’t ever compare to all the sacrifices we do.

And why do we say all this? Because it builds us up. It makes us feel stronger. And a lot of this is a reaction to the many ways in which the strength of womanhood has been overlooked or taken for granted throughout history and today. We want to be appreciated, and rightfully so. But too often we go too far, and unsatisfied with simply being appreciated, we feel the need to depreciate men. We aren’t content knowing we are strong, and so women fall into the trend of delighting in a man’s weakness– delighting when he doesn’t fully understand, or better yet, can’t fully understand.

But what women do not consider is that we may not always understand either. We don’t know what it’s like to be a man. Now I know that eyes are going to roll at that sentence. Women are thinking, yeah, and like being a man is difficult, but who are we to say unequivocally that it is harder to be a woman than a man, harder to be a mother than a father? Who are we to make that sort of judgment? We know that no one fully understands our life and our suffering, so how are we to conclude that anyone else’s is any worse or any better?

And moreover, even if we could come to such a conclusion (which is not possible)—state as fact that men have it easier—why should we hold that against them? It is a dangerous business—tallying up suffering and using it to judge other peoples’ worth and goodness. It is dangerous because it is an incorrect method. Human beings are not good according to how much they’ve dealt with. They are good according to how they’ve dealt with what they’ve been dealt. The fact that they may deal with less does not lessen their worth. If we believed otherwise, then we would think most children the worst people of all. After all, we generally assume that children don’t have as much to deal with as adults (although this too is questionable). And yet, we don’t blame them or hold that against them. We judge them on their own scale. We judge them according to what they do have and the suffering they are dealt. And rightfully so. For is that not how we would like to be judged? What would a woman think if one day, after critiquing her husband for having “no idea what I went through in my thirty hour labor,” he replied, “well, my friend’s wife was in labor for forty hours, so you really shouldn’t be talking.” It would hurt her down to her core! And she would find it such an unfair statement for him to make. After all, it’s not her fault that she didn’t have a longer labor! He should be proud of her for how she made it through whatever she made it through! He ought not judge her according to the difficulty of her suffering.

We know this. We know how we would like to be judged. So why don’t we judge men the same way? This ongoing insistence that “men have it easier” and we are therefore, somehow, “better” needs to end. It doesn’t make men feel bad for us. It doesn’t make them more likely to be helpful or kind. It doesn’t make them want to get closer to us, (in fact, it does the opposite.) And it doesn’t make them better men. Women cannot help men be better until they recognize the good that is already there. If we want men to understand us, we have to at least try to understand them. And most of all, we have to admit that they are worth understanding. There was a time when it was standard to consider women not worth understanding—to consider the woman’s task and life frivolous and easy. We’ve seen the damage this outlook has inflicted, not only on women, but on the whole world. So how dare we test our luck by turning the vice around? How bold we are to assume that devaluing men won’t have a negative effect on the world at large. How bold we are to assume that it won’t hurt all of us, not just men. We risk much by depreciating men. We risk much by treating them as if they “can’t possible understand.” No, simulated labor will never be real labor. And men won’t ever fully understand. But women won’t fully understand either. Nobody will. Nobody ever fully understands anything another person suffers through. But the good news is we can at least begin to. We can see further and further into the depths of another person’s soul, and them into ours—we can see and be seen, appreciate and be appreciated—we just have to be willing to open our eyes.

Yellow Person Program

Marjorie Murphy Campbell
(This is a parody.  For the original, regarding dogs, see this story, which I have pasted & copied a bit.)

If a Park City Person is decked out in yellow,

please don’t approach.

The Yellow Person Project, new in the community, extends the use of yellow as we know it and identifies persons that need space.  Some people around Park City will be sporting YELLOW to indicate that they need space from other people. Generally, people who have YELLOW bandannas or other yellow accessory items are signalling that they would prefer that you NOT approach them for directions, conversation or chit chat.

An activist has started a Yellow Person Project in Park City, joining a nationwide effort to make people aware that not all persons like to be approached. The Yellow Person Project involves individuals outfitted with yellow scarves as a caution that they might not react well if someone approaches.  300 of the yellow scarves have been donated to the program.  The scarves are available by request locally.

If you’d rather not ask for a yellow bandanna, you can outfit yourself or others with a yellow ribbon, bow or even shoe strings to the same effect.

“I think this problem is all over. People just don’t know when to back off.  It’s time we have a way to send a signal.   I hope this [Yellow Person Program] will reach throughout Summit County,” an official said.

The elected officials listened to a short presentation.  Posters will be put up advertising the Yellow Persons Project. Positive comments about the program are expected.

The trails coordinator at City Hall, told the mayor and City Council that a similar project, the Yellow Dog Project, does not nullify leash laws for dogs with yellow ribbons. In a report to the elected officials, he said City Hall will allow signs to be posted at trail heads and public facilities about all this new use of yellow.

“It’s really an extension of yellow as we know it,” one official said.  ”Yellow lights mean it’s time to stop now because, hey, next is red.  So, yellow scarves and accessories are just the same darn thing.  Slow down there, you, and stop.  Don’t cross my intersection, my man. It’s a beautiful warning system and I am proud to back it.”

Advocacy groups have said they support the natural, organic extension of the use of yellow and will promote both programs, indicating that the government will find broad support throughout Summit County for the Yellow Person and Yellow Dog Project as well. There have already been a few signs spotted in the community advertising at least one of the programs.

The original Yellow Dog Project is used by people in 47 countries, according to the organization’s website. It is described as a program meant to caution people that dogs wearing the yellow may need more space than is typical. The dogs might be in training, recovering from surgery or in rehabilitation, the website says.

The program was recently adapted to persons, who, like dogs, may need more space than is typical.  The person might be on medication, recovering from surgery, in crisis or otherwise generally hostile toward other human beings and unable to interact easily and comfortably with other persons or not-yellow dogs.

It is important to note that persons or dogs wearing yellow bandannas are not necessarily aggressive, but they “don’t really welcome interaction.”

So, just leave them alone.

 

Umbrellas, Boobs & Bad Ass Mohawks

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

The recent flurry of critical commentary provoked by the photo featured here set my New Feminist nerves on edge. What could possibly be wrong with a US Marine detailed to the White House holding an umbrella for the President of the United States?

The real story is not in the photo.  It’s in the Marine Corps regulations.  Umbrellas, it seems, are for females. Male marines are instructed,, “never to carry an umbrella from the earliest phases of training.” Female marines, however, are allowed limited use of regulation umbrellas “during inclement weather.” There is unquestionably a gender specific “double standard” in the US Marine Corps when it comes to umbrellas and, like any gender differentiation these days, we are not suppose to mention these differences in politically correct company. Blathering is often a telltale sign of an underlying gender issue. I’ll get back to this.

The photo itself seemed remarkable to me, not as a breach of military uniform policy, but for the utterly amazing umbrella-holding technique demonstrated by the buff US Marine, 25 year old Nathan Previti. This fellow has clearly practiced holding an umbrella so that he looks terrific in a photo of himself holding an umbrella, even though he is standing out in the rain and has his arm in exactly the same position bad boys in my 7th grade class had to balance a telephone book when Mr. Bailey got very pissed off at them.  I mean, could anyone possibly look more competent and in charge of an umbrella than Marine Previti?

Frankly, I would let this Marine hold my umbrella anytime.  Most men are pretty good at positioning the umbrella over their own heads, but negotiating where to put the umbrella to keep another person dry, is not normally in their umbrella skill set.  Most fellows end up badly miscalculating the direction of the wind and the rain and you end up getting drenched.  It’s better to have no umbrella holder than a poorly trained one like this useless fellow – which is to say that handling an umbrella for someone else is not all that easy.

But most of the social noise about President Obama and Marine Previti utterly ignored umbrella-holding technique and, instead, focused on Marine Corps Uniform Regulation 3035 which provides:

3035. UMBRELLAS (Female Marines). Female Marines may carry an all-black, plain standard or collapsible umbrella at their option during inclement weather with the service and dress uniforms. It will be carried in the left hand so that the hand salute can be properly rendered. Umbrellas may not be used/carried in formation nor will they be carried with the utility uniform.

From this provision – which “does not expressly [delineate]” umbrellas as authorized for men – one commentator spurred a charge that “The commander in chief of the American armed forces today forced a violation of Marine Corps regulations, so he wouldn’t get wet.”

Reactions (primarily from men) immediately grew emotional, leading Cynthia Enloe, a professor at Clark University, to note, “They seem to be very nervous what constitutes un-manly behavior.”  The fact that the Marine in question was detailed to the White House for service in ceremonial duties which, sometimes, means hoisting and holding steady an umbrella – and looking fabulous while doing so – were facts largely lost in the rising gender jitters.  One (male) writer went so far as to agree that the President had forced a Marine to violate the umbrella regulation but he insisted that the umbrella “rule is dumb,” an example of “macho B.S,” in other words, umbrellas are not just for girls!

Is the gender-specific umbrella double-standard in the US Marine Corps “BS”? Why do different protocols based upon gender make us so nervous we cannot even stay focused on the actual facts at hand? Umbrellas, actually, are only the tip of the Marine Corps iceberg of gender differentiation. A quick glance over the Table of Contents of Chapter 3 of the Marine Corps Uniform Regulations spots subtitles like “cuff link sets (men),” “earrings (women)” “handbag/purse (women)” and “suspenders (men)” in addition to the now well known, “umbrellas (women)”. In fact, from the hair on their heads to the tips of their toes, every US Marine is highly regulated in appearance and choice of attire and accessories and, more, those regulations vary significantly based upon the gender of the Marine.

But allowing variations in gender dress and appearance, is not, in my estimation, the sole reason these differentiations pervade the US Marine uniform regulations.  Rather, I suspect that the regulations actually operate to restrict and prevent much more overt expressions based upon gender which, left to their own choice, US Marines would pursue as readily as civilians.  Notably, rule after rule targeting certain gender specific issues restrict the choices Marines can make in selecting apparel and accessories.  There is no rule, for example, requiring women to wear earrings. But there is a 3 pronged regulation, with sub-parts, describing the size, shape, material and proper fit of permissible earrings if a woman decides to wear earrings.  The many, detailed restrictions on male and females expression of gender in their dress and personal appearance suggests that, even highly disciplined individuals like Marines, can drift toward expression of gender differences to the point of overshadowing the military identity a “uniform” is aimed to cohere.

Here are two examples.

Who can forget this May 2012 photo?

The photographer, Crystal Scott, who organized the photo shoot on the Fairchild Air Force Base and subsequently lost her civilian position on base, planned to feature in a show and posters her photographs of “a pair of Air National Guardsman breastfeeding their children in unbuttoned airman battlefield uniforms.” While the mothers apparently were not disciplined, there was widespread agreement that the photos misused the military uniform by creating an over-the-line, gender specific image in which the gender identity of the women out shadowed their identity as Guardsmen. How remarkably chipper and comfortable these nursing moms seem to be with their boobs on display, literally expressing the life-giving nurture women hold dear, while wearing combat fatigues!  This was an image of “women in uniform” that made even the most supportive “difference” feminists a bit uneasy.

Men just as naturally drift toward unambiguous expressions of their gender identity, given the option.  Consider the resources the US Marine Corps spends devising and educating members on appropriate hair styles.  Women are told cut it short or wear a bun.  Men’s style “short and tight” should be even easier to comply with, right? Apparently not. Bad ass mohawks, for example, are not permitted unless they measure out to the appropriate width of coverage.  Variations like a “horseshoe” or a “teardrop” have all been tried, only to be caught, captured and tossed out.

In case any ambiguity remains, there are detailed drawings of permitted styles available.

Differentiation in permitted hair styles was, incidentally, the first “right” to gender difference litigated after women successfully challenged the male only admissions policy at The Citadel. The “equality means sameness” litigant, Shannon Faulkner, who insisted that the male only admissions policy was discriminatory against women, nevertheless, refused to have her head shaved as required for all incoming cadets. The very same lawyers who had demanded “equality” in the admissions policy became, as New Feminist Elizabeth Fox-Genovese observed, “passionate” about “a woman’s right to have an attractive head of hair.” (Feminism Is Not The Story of My Life, p. 38).

All of which brings us back to umbrellas.

Whether an umbrella, any umbrella, is a unique expression of femininity within Marine culture, I am not sure. What I am certain of is that umbrellas can be, and often are, a fun statement of female sensibilities, both in the use of them to protect against rain and sun and, more, in coordinating them as part of a woman’s statement of feminine fashion.  If you leave it up to us, most women will make a gender statement of some sort with their umbrellas.

Like this:

 

Or like this:       

Or even like this:

And, well, if we can’t make that feminine statement with our umbrellas then, for most of us, the next best thing would be a well trained umbrella handler, like U.S. Marine Previti for example.  But that takes us to a different topic which I’ll save for another day.  

Whether Regulation 3035 makes sense or not, two things are clear.  Marine Previti did a darn good job with that umbrella when his President called upon him – and he broke no uniform regulation in the process. Second, the Presidential umbrella provoked gender anxiety and I think it is just fine to say so out loud. Some men, it seems, are trying to be heard, in a blathering kind of way, about what they would like to do with that accessory. Sometimes, pictures speak better than words.

An Open Letter RE: Louisiana SB 162

Jennifer Lahl

from Kathleen Sloan, NOW, and Jennifer Lahl, CBC

Members of the Louisiana House of Representatives:

We are writing to urge your rejection of SB 162, a bill that would allow commercial surrogacy or contract pregnancy in Louisiana. The inevitable consequence of this legislation is that it turns women into exploitable commodities through financial inducement that targets young healthy women. SB 162 would entice financially vulnerable women with “reasonable living expenses” in the range of $25-50,000 to undergo medical procedures that pose serious health risks. These procedures involve multiple daily injections of carcinogenic synthetic hormones in order to prepare her body for the transfer and acceptance of an embryo. As Senator Smith said in committee, it turns the woman into an “oven.”

As a national board member of NOW, Kathleen has worked for years against the sexual commodification of women and naturally segued into reproductive commodification. As a nurse, Jennifer is extremely knowledgeable about the medical issues, is the founder and president of a bioethics organization, and has made three documentary films on these subjects, including the award-winning Eggsploitation. We represent the spectrum of women all over this country, pro-choice and pro-life, secular and religious, all united against the exploitation of women as objects for sale.

Commercial surrogacy degrades pregnancy to a service and a baby to a product available to the wealthy. While this exploitive practice is illegal in many countries, in state after state, surrogacy brokers and lawyers who benefit financially from the commercialization of reproduction are behind these bills. Poor and low income women desperate for money are lured to sell their bodies to produce children for others. If passed, Louisiana will join a small group of states like California whose laws give rise to a new profit-driven multi-billion dollar unregulated industry that enriches baby brokers and lawyers at the expense of women.

Lured with the seemingly natural process of providing the “gift of life,” these young women are not aware of the dangers of undergoing multiple injections of synthetic hormones for embryonic implantation. These procedures can have devastating short and long term health consequences. Surrogates are pumped with drugs such as Lupron which is not FDA approved for fertility use; estrogen which is linked to breast and uterine cancers, heart attack, stroke and blood clots; progesterone; antibiotics; and steroids which are linked to high blood pressure, glaucoma, cataracts, peptic ulceration, and an impaired immune system.

Please do not gamble with the health and well-being of the most vulnerable women in your state. We respectfully urge you to defeat SB 162 by Senator Gary Smith.

Kathleen Sloan Jennifer Lahl
National Organization for Women (NOW) Center for Bioethics and Culture
Board of Directors President and Founder

 

Mother-in-Law Prenup?

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

I recently came across the mother-in-law prenup, in which a mother of a little boy jokingly  lists the things her future daughter in law must agree to in order to marry her son. The basic underlying premise of the post is as the writer puts it,

We have to take a stand against son stealing right now.

Of course, she’s half-kidding and the post is humorous—but the thing is, you know that the fact that she’s half-kidding means she’s also half-serious. And the fact that she’s half-serious is, quite frankly, pretty scary.

Especially if you’re a girl who plans to ever marry a boy.

But I’m already married and my mother in law and I get along great. So when I read the post, it didn’t scare me for my sake. It scared—no rather, alerted—me for the sake of my son. I had recently found out I was having a son when I read it and all I could think was:

Please God don’t let me be anything like this woman.

But the scary truth is that this woman’s feelings are natural. If you scroll down to the comments you may be surprised how many women agree with her and have genuine anger towards their daughter/future daughter-in-laws— sometimes because they have been genuinely mistreated, but often simply because a daughter-in-law guarantees that you’re no longer the number one woman in your son’s life. And that hurts. When you’re no longer the most beautiful woman in the world to your son, when you’re no longer his source of everything, it hurts. Because you’ve lost something that gave you meaning and value. And that loss is real. And as with any loss, in that moment, a mother is presented with an existential crisis:

What is my purpose?

Now the typical human response to this question, in any situation of loss or change, is to not really address it. We either live in denial and keep acting as if the relationship is as it once was, or we deflect our pain through anger at another person. Both of these reactions lead to unhealthy relationships between mother and son, mother and daughter-in-law, and in general, unrest within the family. Even in those circumstances where the feelings are completely hidden (or only revealed in jokes and/or side comments and gossip) they are still doing damage by not being dealt with and remedied. Any time we have hatred in our hearts we are doing damage because we aren’t open to love. So there is no question, that even if the feelings described in the blog post may be understandable, they must be stopped. The question is: how do we stop them? Well, I believe it starts with answering the existential question honestly. And most importantly, answering it long before circumstance shoves it in our face.

My experience as a mother is obviously incredibly small and I know I can’t begin to grasp all the feelings and pains and joys that come with motherhood. But I am a human being. And so therefore I do understand the feelings and pains and joys that come along with love. And that’s what motherhood is all about, really. Love. The problem is, human beings don’t always understand how best to love. We are overcome by the feelings of it all and in the process forget the point of it all. It is wonderful to be loved, but we twist our hearts into a mess the moment we value that feeling we get above the other person’s well-being. We set our psyches up for trauma the moment we allow that feeling we get to completely define us. Because the feeling is never guaranteed to stay. That little boy is going to grow up. One day, quite soon, he may ask me to marry him. And then twenty quite soon years later he may be asking another woman instead. That sweet and tender feeling that I will get from having this adorable little creature depend entirely on me will one day be somewhat taken from me. And that is a fact that absolutely must be dealt with. I must ask myself, now, how I will deal with it then. I must decide that something else is more important than those tender feelings. For tender feelings are not the substance of love.

Tender feelings are beautiful. But they are only the product of love. Love has to be bigger than that. Love has to say I’m going to love you even when you do not give me tender feelings—or, in this case, when you give your tender feelings to someone else. If anyone says this, it is usually mothers and fathers. They get this better than any of us do. Partially because their natural instinct is a little more selfless. But it is not enough to go off of instinct because instinct only takes love so far. If we want to learn to love, we have to consciously decide to do so. Even when it hurts us. Even when we feel rejected. Even when that rejection comes from the human being who we have literally given everything to.

And if we learn to love like this, if we learn to love above and beyond the tender feelings, we will receive an even greater peace and joy, because we are living as we should. We are living the way a human being was meant to live.

And what’s cool about it is that oftentimes when we do learn to love like this we end up finding even more tenderness. We may deepen and enrich our existing relationships or even discover new ones (like a relationship with an in-law.) I hope that one day my son grows up and finds a wonderful woman to spend his life with. Because his happiness, not primarily the tender feelings we share, but his happiness beyond me, is my purpose in his life. If I don’t live up to that purpose, neither of us will ever know our own true potential or the potential of our relationship. He may be a mere three or so pounds right now, and he may have never known anything outside of the little crib he nestles in inside of me—but true love has to start now. Or before I know it, as all experienced parents warn, I’ll be watching him walk down the aisle. And I want to be, as my parents and in-laws were for me, brimming with happiness. I want to be able to watch him give himself to her and think this was the point of it all. This was why he asked me to marry him. So he could learn how to marry her.