Where We Are Now

I started this year with mixed feelings: on one hand, I saw 2020 as a new beginning; on the other, I wasn’t looking forward to the campaigning leading up to the presidential election. But I was determined to be as positive as possible; even I was sick of how negative I’d been since Trump was voted into office. I knew this would be a challenge because I’m not an optimist by nature (see my post, “Post-Election Hangover”). But the number itself—2020 (l have a thing about even and symmetrical numbers)–seemed like a sign that good things were on the way.

Then the news started trickling in from China about a new, highly contagious virus. Still, I wasn’t that concerned; I just assumed that it wouldn’t have much of an impact in the States. But here we are, on March 28th, with over 620,000 cases and almost 29,000 deaths worldwide, including over 105,000 cases and 1722 deaths in the U.S. alone. And these figures are obsolete as soon as I write them; that’s how swiftly this virus is moving.

This is more than a once-in-a-lifetime event. It may end up redefining the 21st Century. It certainly will draw a line in the sand of history. We will start referring to events as having occurred before the coronavirus pandemic or after it. (God willing, there will be an “after.”) Births, marriages, and deaths will be remembered for taking place in the year when everything changed.

That’s not to say that people haven’t always experienced things that divided their lives into a “before” and “after.” But it’s rare that something cataclysmic happens to the entire world at once. To look on the somewhat bright side, this could be worse: a nuclear world war or an asteroid hurtling toward the Earth, for example. But that’s not much comfort while we’re facing the scary unknowns of this pandemic.

We don’t know how bad this is going to get, how long it’s going to last, how many will die or be scarred for life, how many economies it will topple. Will it be as bad, or worse, than the 1918 Spanish flu? Will it decimate our populations? Or will we develop a vaccine in time to avoid near-total disaster?

I’m writing this while I’m off work because the library I work for has closed. I haven’t been out of the house for two weeks. My state’s primary election was canceled and is now going to be conducted by mail only. All my appointments—hair, dental, physical therapy—have been canceled. My grandchildren are probably out of school for the rest of the year. The one who is a junior in college is doing all his classes virtually. The last three times we got groceries, there was no yogurt, orange juice or toilet paper. I could go on and on.

But so far, no one I know personally has tested positive for the virus, let alone been hospitalized, or died. As long as we all stay home, I have the illusion that we’re somehow protected. But we have to go out sometime, and according to our President, it should be sooner, rather than later. (He thinks the economy can be “up and raring to go” by Easter, two weeks from now.)

I’m going to write about different topics in the weeks and months to come, but it will be hard to keep from coming back to the coronavirus, no matter what I write about. Because this is our new normal. And everything we do, think, and feel will be shaped by it.

My Thoughts on Conservative Women

On the surface, it would seem that being conservative is a natural default for women. Since they are the ones who bear the children and who rely heavily on men to provide for them,  you could say that it’s not in their best interest to rock the boat politically and socially.

Some women blame feminism (and liberalism) for taking away the safety net that women traditionally had beneath them. There was this tacit agreement among men and women that as long as women stayed home and took care of the household and the children, men would do all they could to protect and provide for the family unit. Even though some women did work for pay, it was assumed that they would stop doing so as soon as a man came into their lives. A woman who purposely took on the male role deserved what she often got: economic insecurity and no help with housework or child-raising.

In other words, if women would just stay in their place, men would be more likely to stay in theirs, to both sexes’ mutual benefit.

In my opinion, many conservatives are motivated by fear of change and the unknown.  They feel much more comfortable sticking with the way things have always been. They have trouble entertaining the idea that the world is a different place than it was a hundred, or even twenty, years ago, and therefore might require different solutions to age-old problems. (Not to mention solutions for new problems.)

Conservative women tend to live in the past. They think that life would be simpler and more secure if things would return to the way they used to be. They don’t like to think about things like globalization, world peace, social injustice and gender equality. All they want is to be left alone to take care of their families and their homes. They’re not interested in changing the social contract by making it easier for women to work outside of the home (affordable, quality child care, flex-time, personal days to take care of family members) because they don’t believe that their place is outside of the home in the first place.

When conservative values team up with a distrust of government, as they so often do, what we get is a government that is unresponsive to women’s needs. Stay-at-home moms and full-time homemakers need protection, too, especially because they are so vulnerable. Forty years ago, it was uncommon for a woman to get credit in her own name or to get a portion of her husband’s retirement in case of a divorce.

Women who don’t work out of the home should be just as protected as are women who do. (I’ve read of cases where the mother actually lost custody because she didn’t have a job.) Part of the problem is that housework and child-raising are not considered to be “real” work.

It’s understandable that when women who stay home see that their contribution is not valued, they tend to get defensive. They feel threatened by all the concessions made on the behalf of “working” women. Often in their efforts to get respect, they over-emphasize conservative values. They don’t see that changes also need to be made in the way government responds to them. For instance, full-time homemakers should get credit for working when it comes to Social Security benefits. They should be treated the same as people who are self-employed.

Conservatives aren’t likely to push for changes like that because of their emphasis on less government intervention. But sometimes it is only through legislation and official policy that wrongs such as these can be corrected.

I think most women have a conservative streak, if only because of their strong attachment to their children and their homes. But they shouldn’t let that blind them to injustices that need to be addressed, in the home as well as in the workplace.

National Poetry Month: Feminist Poets

What makes a feminist poet? Is she a feminist who is a poet, like Audre Lourde and Adrienne Rich? Not necessarily. When I looked up “feminist poets” on the Internet I found lists that included Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay. As far as I know, neither of those women was ever associated with the feminist movement.

But here we fall into a philosophical argument: is it possible to be a feminist without identifying as one? I think it is. And nowhere is this more evident than in the case of poets who write for and about women. I’m not talking about hearts-and-flowers love poetry or sentimental paeans to motherhood. I’m talking about poetry that describes what it is really like to be a woman. The poet doesn’t have to be a feminist to get inside a woman’s heart, mind and soul and write about what she (or he) finds there.

So we find women on these lists who were never feminists, maybe didn’t even care about feminist issues, but who still were able to access the themes that define a woman’s life: sexuality, gender roles, position in society, relationships, marriage, motherhood, spirituality. Today I’m going to contrast two of my favorites who, although they came from different centuries, both had their fingers on the pulse of a woman’s heart.

Continue reading “National Poetry Month: Feminist Poets”

Gone Fishin’

I will be on vacation from August 1-10 and I’m going somewhere that doesn’t have Internet. That can be a blessing and a curse. At any rate, I won’t be able to post at all during that time. You can always read some of my 200+ other Femagination posts in the meantime. See you soon!