Things I Just Don’t Get

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Here are some of the things I don’t get about modern life:

War. You’d think we would have learned our lesson by now. I really thought that Vietnam would change the way Americans looked at war forever and that we’d be dead set against getting involved in another one. The fact that the leaders are old enough to know better only makes it worse.

Attitudes toward women. I thought men would be more fair toward women than they were before the feminist movement. Although there has been outward improvement, I think it’s all too clear that inward attitudes are the same. Men just don’t like women to have the upper hand.

Attitudes toward feminism. People are still uncomfortable with the concept. They still picture feminists as angry, hairy, ugly, bitter men-haters.

Speaking of hairy, I don’t get Brazilian waxes. I mean, seriously??

But then I don’t get how women can feel comfortable wearing the teeny-weeny bikinis that make it necessary to remove all that offensive hair.

Some people’s reluctance to marry. What’s so bad about marriage? True, if you never marry, you never have to go through divorce, but break-ups are always painful. Or is it just that divorces cost too much? It’s cheaper to stay single. Less entanglements should something go wrong. And yet …

People will complicate their lives by having babies  outside of  marriage. If you’re not still with the father, that’s one thing. I don’t have a problem with having babies out of wedlock (what an antiquated term!) when you don’t want or have the father around. But if he is there, and he wants to be with you and you with him, then why not get married? How does it make your children feel when one or both of you refuse to make that commitment to stay together? And don’t tell me that your relationship is just like a marriage. If it is, why not make it official?

Over-the-top weddings. Some people put off marriage because they can’t afford the wedding they want to have. Why not live within your budget? Why saddle yourselves (or your parents) with debt?

Destination weddings to far-away places. How many people have the money to fly thousands of miles just to get to your wedding in some exotic location? And then you still expect a wedding present?

Texting. Why do people go out of their way to avoid hearing each other’s voices? I can see texting when you don’t want to disturb other people, but why are you texting during a meeting or a class anyway? Shouldn’t you be paying attention instead? Besides, not everyone has unlimited texting and I resent people costing me money when they’re the ones sending the text. (Of course, this is probably something to take up with the cell phone companies.)

Noisy libraries. What happened to the sanctuaries dedicated to learning? Oh, yeah, I keep forgetting that libraries are little more than video stores these days.

Unwillingness to fund libraries. I’ve been in countries that don’t have free libraries. We take libraries for granted in this society. No, they aren’t completely free, since they have to be funded through taxes, etc. But they are well worth the expenditure. Just imagine not having the ability to access all the books (and records and movies) you want for free. I could never feed my addiction to reading if I had to buy every book I read. Or even pay to check them out of the library.

Reality shows. Are people so desperate for fame that they’re willing to become sideshow attractions? And are we so desperate for entertainment that we’re willing to watch other people live their lives in excruciating and often boring detail? I guess the real question is: why aren’t our own lives enough to live through?

The war against clutter. I know, some people let clutter get out of hand. But I like my stuff. I like knowing it’s there, just waiting for me to want or need it.  I know that most of it will be thrown away after I die, but while I’m still here, keep your hands off of it!

E-readers. It’s not that I don’t like the idea, it’s that I can’t decide which one to get. (Plus they’re expensive.) Besides, I’m not used to buying my books; I use the free library.

The technology gap. There’s a widening gap between those who have computers and Internet access and those who don’t. If you don’t you are at a distinct disadvantage and it’s only getting worse. I’m especially concerned about students. But it’s hitting older people as well. Personally, I think Internet access should be a public good, like basic television, but I know that’s not going to happen. If anything, it’s probably going to get more expensive.

The technology race. Ever get the feeling that you’re always running behind technologically? New gadgets are coming out so fast no one can keep them up with them. And if you do try to stay ahead of the curve, you go broke. I don’t know the solution for this; I guess you just have to get to the level you can afford and you feel comfortable with and stick with it as long as possible.

3-D movies. It’s the rare film which is truly enhanced by 3-D technology. For the most part, it just seems like a gimmick to get you to fork over at least four dollars more per ticket. It’s just not worth it. And it really pisses me off when the only choice is the 3-D price-inflated version. What a rip-off.

HGTV shows. Don’t get me wrong, I love HGTV. I watch it almost every day. But at the same time I worry that it gives people an unrealistic idea of what they can or should spend on a house. The worst of it is, watchers end up dissatisfied with their humble abodes and feeling like they should get something bigger or fancier. What’s wrong with being happy with what you’ve got?

Materialism. This isn’t exactly new for mankind, but it seems to have gotten worse in recent decades. People used to be satisfied with so much less. Young people think they should start out with huge flat-screen TVs and SUVs, stainless steel appliances and granite counter-tops, the latest in fashion and furniture, $30,000 weddings and “starter” homes that cost a quarter of a million dollars. No wonder they’re staying home longer with Mom and Dad. They can’t afford the lives they think they’re entitled to.

Extreme Home Makeovers. I have a love-hate relationship with extravagant houses. I love to see them (I used to go on home tours at least once a year), but I usually end up shaking my head at all the excesses. And when a home makeover show saddles a family with a house that will cost them a fortune in utilities and taxes, I wonder who the winner really is.

What are the things you don’t get?

Here are 130 Pet Peeves identified by Columbus Alive! (a free paper in my home town).

Gender-Appropriate Toys

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This is it. This is the best I could come up with for my 3½ year-old grand-niece (that I could afford). Feel Better Frog by Manhattan Toys. I hated buying her something so gender-specific, but the choices were abysmal. There were dolls and dollhouses, play kitchens and stuffed animals. I would have gotten her something more gender-neutral, like a chemistry set, but she’s a little young for that.

I had less trouble buying something for her little brother, but then he’s only six months old. Toys for babies tend to be generic: they work equally well for boys or girls. But once children reach the age of three, toys seem to split off into clear gender categories.

One thing that surprised me is that there are so few toys for girls that are “put-together” toys like Legos®. The closest I found was a doll with “snap-on” clothes. What, do toy manufacturers assume that little girls don’t like to make things?

I know that I could have bought my grand-niece a truck or a car, but I was afraid that it wouldn’t interest her. Maybe I’m wrong. But I was also afraid that her parents would think: WTH?

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with giving a little girl something she can take care of. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t teach our children to be empathetic and caring. And I suppose you could give a little boy the Feel Better Frog. But, be honest, would you?

Even parents who are intent on gender-neutral child-raising find themselves foiled by their children’s requests for gender-specific toys. Little boys want Star Wars toys and little girls want Barbies (or whatever the latest fads are).  Little boys want to make things and little girls want to make nests. Little boys love to fight and little girls love to love. And yet even the experts can’t agree on how much of that is due to a child’s genetic makeup and how much is pressed on a child from his/her earliest moments. (We do persist in putting boy babies in blue and girl babies in pink as if the most important thing about them is what sex they are.)

And of course toy manufacturers cater to these tendencies. I have yet to see, for instance, a Transformer® that is specifically for girls. What would that even look like?

What bothers me the most is that boy toys are more imaginative and varied than girl toys. They also have more to do with the larger world that’s out there. Little girls are encouraged to stay in the home and do domestic duties. Little boys fight wars, travel, go into space, construct things—the possibilities are endless. Sure, little boys are pigeon-holed as well. But at least their choices are more wide-ranging than girls’ choices are. What kind of messages are we sending our children about what their future roles are supposed to be?

I may be way off base here. My grand-niece may not like Feel Better Frog. She may prefer her little brother’s play guitar that makes animal noises. In which case I say more power to her. And I’ll try to make a better choice next time.

Our Society’s Treatment of Mothers

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On page 134 of the latest issue of The  New Yorker magazine, there’s a cartoon which illustrates one of the main themes of feminism. A woman with a baby in her arms and a little girl by her side is saying to her husband who is sitting in his easy chair in front of the television, remote control in hand: “I know we’re married, but I’d still like to work out a shared-custody arrangement. ”

I can relate to that. I can’t count how many times my husband woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me that the baby was crying. Or gave me the third degree every time I left the house alone because he was so concerned that he might have to do something for the kids. (Are they fed/bathed/ready for bed? Are there enough diapers? Do they have clean pajamas?) FindLaw has a check list to help determine which parent is the primary caregiver for purposes of assigning custody. Out of 61 items, the only thing my husband did consistently was help plan our family vacations (i.e., decide where we were going to go).

Most divorced mothers, if they’re honest, would agree that one of the perks of divorce is that their ex-husbands take the kids off their hands every once in a while. But I’m convinced that one reason some divorced fathers don’t fight for sole custody is because they know better. Why would they take on full-time responsibility for the kids when they can just pay child support and have someone else do it? (That doesn’t stop them from bitching about the child support, mind you, but some men are willing to pay it rather than have custody.)

In response to one of my posts, “Danni” wrote that she works full-time, cleans the house and is primary caregiver for her child. “Others may see it as a sacrifice. I do not,” she said. “I see it as [a woman] making the choice that her children and family are more important to her than a career.”

But frankly, it doesn’t always feel like a choice. Our society tells women that they’re not good mothers unless they do take on the role of primary caregiver for the children, even if they also have full-time jobs outside of the home. Even with all the strides made by the feminist movement in the last fifty years, this belief has remained unshaken.

I don’t think there’s a woman alive who hasn’t resented the fact that she has to do everything for the children. And that includes women who have freely chosen to be the primary caregiver. It just feels like too much at times. Children are so needy that it can be a full-time job just to take care of them. Never mind that over 60-70% of women with minor children work outside of the home. [Source.]

Even when women want to stay home with their kids, the economy makes it impossible. In fact, even more women have entered the work force since the economy ran off the tracks in 2008, partly because of high unemployment among men. Does that mean that men are shouldering more of the household burden? I couldn’t find statistics on that, but my guess would be, not so much. That’s how ingrained it is in our society that women are supposed to be in charge of housekeeping and child care.

Whether you’re a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) or a “working” mom, it can get awfully old when you’re not appreciated for what you do for the family. Men are held up as paragons of virtue if they work and help out at home. But women—well, it’s what they do, right?

Feminists aren’t so good about championing the cause of mothers, and that needs to change. Older feminists worked harder to change how women were treated in the workplace than in the home. Younger feminists haven’t been mothers yet, or long enough, for it to hit them how important this issue really is.

All I’m saying is that if we’re going to continue to see mothers as primary caregivers, then they deserve all the support we can give them, physically, emotionally, politically and legally. Because the bottom line is, if we take care of mothers, we’re making this a better society for our children.

And who wouldn’t want that?

My Views On Feminism and Islam

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How am I able to reconcile my feminism with my religion? Some people might think that I’ve reshaped Islam to fit into a feminist framework. But I think it’s more accurate to say that the opposite is true. There are a lot of elements in my version of feminism that are compatible with Islam. They include:

  1. Being an advocate for women.
  2. Viewing a woman as just as important to God as a man is.
  3. Believing that men and women are equally accountable to God.
  4. Recognizing that there are some inherent differences between the sexes.
  5. Refusing to generalize about men and women based on gender roles.

The first one, being an advocate for women, is what I’m all about as a feminist. A feminist is worthless if she doesn’t support the choices and address  the concerns of all women. Feminism, especially Second-wave feminism, has been criticized for having too narrow a focus, specifically one that is white and middle-class (and, one could add, Western). This leads to all kinds of preconceived notions about what makes a woman liberated. Working women look down on stay-at-home moms. White women think that black women should put feminism before race. Westerners judge other cultures on how closely they conform to Western ideals.

I believe that feminists should consider the context in which each woman lives her life. That means, for instance, that we shouldn’t expect Muslim women to uncover just because as Westerners we can’t imagine choosing to cover. Nor should we begrudge a welfare or low-income mother her right to have the same support systems as middle- and upper-class mothers do (health care for their children, quality and affordable child care, access to education and job-training, food security). It even means that we should allow women to choose what kind of birth control they want to use or to support them if they don’t use any birth control at all. (This also means that we should respect each woman’s stance on abortion, as long as she doesn’t try to take away other women’s rights to their own opinion.)

The second one, viewing a woman as just as important to God as a man is, comes out of my experiences as a Christian. I was brainwashed into thinking that Eve caused evil to come into the world, that all women were punished for her transgression by having to endure the pain of childbirth, that women were either saints or seductresses (they couldn’t be a little of both), and that men were meant to be in leadership positions over women. (I was even told by my first husband, a minister, that I shouldn’t speak in our Sunday School class.)

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Lament of an Old Woman

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It’s a curious thing, getting old. When I was younger I thought it would feel like slowly walking into a blank future, a kind of nothingness. Instead, it feels like life is sliding out from under me as it races backward. I’m not moving; I’m staying exactly the same. It’s my context that keeps changing. I continually find myself in a completely new environment but I’m the same person: from the inside, I think I look the same, I’m the same eternal (but indeterminate) age, I have the same values,  and I live by the same rules.

That’s why it’s such a shock sometimes to look around me and see others aging. My daughters are all over 30 now. My grandson is almost 12 already. But me? I can’t quite grasp the fact that if others are getting older, so am I.

I went to an office party the other night and I was the oldest person there by almost 30 years. I didn’t feel out of place, but I afterward I wondered if the others felt funny being around me. When they looked at me, were they thinking: this woman could be my mother! When I opened my mouth to make a comment or tell a story, did they brace themselves for something irrelevant and stuck in the past? Do I seem as old to them as a 90-year-old person seems to me?

I was reading a book the other day where one of the characters referred to a 40-year-old woman as “middle-aged.” Wait a minute, I thought, that’s not middle-aged. I’m middle-aged. But by some guidelines I’m practically a senior citizen. Now that I’m almost 59, I don’t think you should be considered a senior citizen until you’re 70.

What bothers me the most about aging is the presumption that I don’t know anything, when in reality the older you are, the more you know. I at least know what it’s like to be young. But young people don’t know what it’s like to be old. That gives older people an edge when it comes to life-wisdom. Old people have lived through almost everything. The only thing that’s new for them is new technology. Even history repeats itself.

Young people think they’re changing everything, but in reality, they’re only reinventing the wheel. Every old person remembers what it was like to drive the older generation crazy. It’s only the particulars that have changed. What our parents thought was shocking may seem old-hat to our children and grandchildren, but the feelings of shock were just as real as the shock that they will feel when the next generation comes up with its own brand of language, art and fashion.

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The Problem With Fat People

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There’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about recent instances of gay teens who committed suicide after being bullied by their peers. But gay teens are not the only ones who are being bullied to the point of suicide (although they are the most at risk for it: four times as likely as straight teens to commit suicide). Salon.com recently printed Rebecca Golden’s account of the bullying she received as a fat child, of her thoughts of suicide by the age of 12 and the continuing cruelty she has had to endure into her adulthood.

The thing is, I know some people are going to read that first paragraph and think, “Big deal! How does that compare to what gay teens go through? And besides, being gay is not a choice but being fat is.” And that attitude makes me crazy. People are fat for a variety of reasons, most of them complex and, without outside help, out of their control. The jury is out on whether or not fat people are more likely to commit suicide than normal weight people. Some studies have even suggested that they are less likely to do so. I’ve even heard it said that fat people have trouble committing suicide because of their weight. (Ponder that for a moment.)

But if the link between obesity and suicide is tenuous, the link between obesity and depression is not, at least not in our society. Fat people know what “normal” people think of them and that knowledge contributes to their depression. Maura Kelly, a blogger for Marie Claire magazine, only came right out and said what most people think when she wrote:

I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other … because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair.

Kelly caught a lot of flak for her comments and she later apologized in an update. But it was too late: the cat had been let out of the bag. When fat people read her words, they knew that she was speaking for most of the (non-fat) people in America. And it hurt.

It always hurts, no matter how thick your skin. Even when people are well-meaning, their remarks can cut deep. “You can do it. All you have to do is eat a healthy diet and get more exercise.” If it was that easy, there simply wouldn’t be that many fat people. Fast food and hours in front of the television or computer don’t completely explain why people are fat. It’s not that simple. But slim people don’t believe that. And the media merely reflects what most people think.

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