Still Living

Three weekends ago, I was walking on the beach with my mother, talking about history, which means we were talking about politics.

I’d just read an article about a team from women’s college Agnes Scott pulling off a trivia bowl upset against Princeton in 1966. It wasn’t the buzzer-beater upset that stayed with me (though you should read about it, because it’s enthralling) – it was a pair of lines about Princeton’s admissions policy:

“In 1966, Princeton was still an all-male institution. It would take another three years before the university opened its doors to women.”

So. 1969. My mother was in junior high. Schools were being ordered to desegregate “at once” after ten years of basically just getting to it whenever they felt like it. African Americans had only fully received the right to vote four years earlier. The statistic also made me think about Ruby Bridges, who was 15 in 1969.

We’re walking along the tide line, my mom and I. “Someone had to push to get Princeton to admit women,” I say. “It wasn’t just going to happen on its own.”

It’s a gorgeous, sunny morning on the coast, the kind you’re unlikely to get in July, let alone October. I’m trying to mesh my thoughts with the still-running algorithm in my brain that’s forever seeking an answer to the 2016 election. I’m trying to reconcile this beautiful day with how much I feel like screaming.

“Those black-and-white photos of Ruby Bridges going to school, they’re in all our history books, and they made it feel so set in stone.” The sun is shining on the waves. Lots of people are out walking, collecting shells, sipping their morning coffee. Do any of them feel like screaming? “But Ruby Bridges is only in her 60s. It wasn’t that long ago.”

I would never have said my mom was politically active, though she was involved in women’s organizations before I was born. But my sister has been volunteering with Nashville candidates while she’s getting a master’s in some kind of field that will help save the world, and I called myself a feminist from the minute I first heard the word, so whatever my mom did raising us, it worked.

“The women my age are all horrified at what’s going on,” she says as we walk. “We never got to take it for granted. We saw the marches. I thought we’d have taught you better.”

“You taught us just fine!” And I try to tell her we don’t take their work for granted, that we do vote – and that may be true for me and my sister, but we, collectively, have taken it for granted. Otherwise we wouldn’t have a president who doesn’t mind being endorsed by the KKK. Otherwise the record turnout for 18- to 29-year-old midterm voters would be something less miserable than 30%.

In an episode of “Parts Unknown,” Anthony Bourdain says, “Democracy, as it turns out, requires regular maintenance.” Forty-nine percent of eligible voters participated in yesterday’s midterm election, the highest turnout since the 1960s. (Around 60% vote in presidential elections.) Maybe we’ve finally had a wake-up call; maybe we slowed the sled down. But it’s so much easier to look at the black-and-white photos in our history books and tell ourselves the fight was already won, by other people, so it’s nothing we need to worry about. Conversely, it’s also easy to watch the news and doubt that one voice can make a difference.

I’m still learning to see my privilege. I know that my tendency to see civil rights movements as relics from before I was born is because I’ve never had to live those struggles myself. Everything from the job I work to the birth control I can use to the bank account I manage to the clothing I feel free to wear has been fought for me by women who came before.

But history doesn’t end when the textbook closes. Ruby Bridges is still alive. Three of the four women on that trivia bowl team are still alive. John Lewis is still alive. Ruth Bader Ginsberg is still alive.

Democracy is living, and the opposite isn’t death – it’s stagnancy. The ocean I walked beside never goes still, and neither can we. There’s no buzzer-beater, once-and-for-all victory – not even on the Supreme Court. We can find solace and strength in history, but we can’t close the book, because it’s still in progress.

We’re just history that hasn’t been written down yet.

Done By Halves

How has your heart not split in half?
Lip service ceased being enough long
ago, but here’s one more given yet another pass.

Questions yawn between us like a pass,
the room made chill, divided into your half
and mine. The desolate gap is too long.

This is it, right? It won’t be long,
it can’t, until we can walk tall again, pass
through, no longer bent, as if against the wind, in half—

We’re long past giving that a pass, so stand tall: this half of sky is still ours.

(a tritina with words pulled from the fiction challenge prompt)

Alex Wigan

It’s Just A Compliment

I am walking with my friend back to her car after happy hour. It’s a nice evening, going dim as purple dusk falls, but the city streets are quiet.

The men are outside their bar, some smoking, some just standing around. There are five of them. I know what they’re waiting for and they confirm as we come into range. We’re the only other people on the sidewalk and though we don’t say anything to each other, we know what’s coming.

“Hi, ladies…”

It’s never just “hi.” It’s bait and hook in one, words tossed out indiscriminately to discomfit, to bother, to outright hurt.

Being smarter than the fish, we have options: fight back; instruct; keep walking, ignore; respond politely and hope that doesn’t bring their net down on us.

(Thank God it’s “us” tonight and not “me.”)

We keep walking, silent, resolute. We have swum this noxious creek before. What woman hasn’t?

“Fine, whatever – bitch.”

Regardless of whether you bite or not, the hook still stabs. There’s still the searing heat of shame and fury because no matter how you react, they win and you lose because the goal was never flirtation. The goal was pain and the power to inflict it.

Fight back? That only works in the movies.

Instruct? An invitation for further harassment.

Ignore? “Bitch” is one of the more salubrious designations they assign you, and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up as you try to maintain your pace and look unruffled, all the while expecting angry footsteps, shouting, a grabbed arm.

Respond politely? Like hell.

Middle finger up over the shoulder as we stride away, a reversed salute, a pathetic dismissal that does nothing to change them or their behavior, does nothing to protect whoever else they might prey on that night.

It doesn’t even make me feel better.

Links Lundi

Spring weather approaches (at least in this part of the country), and with it, the first stirrings of clothing-related modesty lectures aimed at women. As usual, I have strong opinions about this issue, but I really like what this article had to say about it: “You might see some cleavage and have a sexual thought. You might also see a woman tying her shoe and have a sexual thought…That battle happens within your mind and it is your responsibility.”

A new mom’s anxiety over baby clothes teaches larger lessons: “Femininity is not less than masculinity. It is a different kind of strength, but it is powerful and wonderful and deserves our respect.

How often does modern Doctor Who pass the Bechdel Test? (A note on the Bechdel Test. Passing doesn’t necessarily mean a movie is a good representation of women – it only means the creators took the time to come up with more than one female character and put them in a conversation together. Which shouldn’t be difficult, and yet alarmingly few movies pass. Conversely, a movie can have multiple well-written female characters, but if they never talk to each other, that movie will fail the test – like Avengers, or How To Train Your Dragon 2 [see my thoughts below].)

A new anthology uses science fiction to reimagine justice. It never even occurred to me to wonder what we could do besides prisons, so I’m looking forward to reading this.

We finally saw “How To Train Your Dragon 2” and since I’d already read this article, I was prepared to be disappointed by the character of Hiccup’s mother. I do believe Valka was grossly neglected for the movie’s final act, but I agree more with this article in that overall, HTTYD2 does an awesome job challenging gender-based tropes. What do you think?

That Anti-Domestic Violence Video Is Actually Not OK

If you’ve been online anywhere in the last week or so, you’ve probably come across this video:

Adorable Italian boys are introduced to a beautiful young woman, and ultimately told to slap her. Because the world is not entirely awful, the boys refuse.

That doesn’t mean this video is beyond criticism.

I think it had good intentions and that we lost some context (hitting women with flowers wha?) bringing it from Italian culture to our own. That said, it’s still loaded with problems.

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The Lumberjanes’ Favorite Feminists: Part 2 (Issues #5-8)

Last week, we embarked on a magical journey through women’s history of awesomeness, courtesy of the Lumberjanes comic. This week, we’ll go through the rest of the series and get the scoop on the singing, educating, healing, mountain-climbing, world-shaking women name-dropped by the Lumberjanes!

yes, those are raptors. you really do need to read this comic.

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