Mothering

cropped-dscn0281.jpgI am diminutive in the chill, May sunshine outside the mushroom colored tower which surges towards the morning sky.  Wedged among stiff perfumed dresses, shadowed by white-gloved hands reaching out for the flowers, I shiver as though in a slow motion film and watch my mother receive a white carnation:  Her mother is dead.  Some day she will die too. The dilatory notes of the reluctant organ no longer sound cheerful.  Sights appear as through fine ivory gauze which wraps a wound.  There only remains the smell of roses, the scratchy feel of  a freshly starched cotton dress, a flutter inside my belly like an itch I cannot reach.

Bodies gathered closely like a patchwork quilt: young, old, mostly white and strong.  Intermittent raindrops bleed colors from homemade signs punctuating blocks of denim draped frames.  Children perched on shoulders whimper or laugh as orators’ calls to disarm echo,  linger, then settle on the crowd. Under the elegant shade tree, an infant suckles, undisturbed by disapproving glances of strangers on the street dressed in Sunday finery to absorb the urban experience.  Off-key singing stirs the close air, words inspire, we believe we all aspire to a universal dream.

Three small heads, one white, one gold, and one a saffron color, bodies close, faces deep inside the down.  Dawn just announced, sleep not yet fully departed from me, but the energy of these children already unbounded by the hour.  Giggles high, so confident, so self-conscious, as if they know already that they must treasure  moments which will not stay.  Skin so soft, unblemished, and richly colored, each one a different tone in the morning light.  One begins a song, the others join and it’s a choir.  They all jump, we shriek together and he comes rushing.  Coffee hot, bed covers tousled, attention fading.  Cuddles, kisses, small arms clinging.  A camera clicks, time cannot be packaged nor moments frozen.  Too soon it’s evening, the bed is empty of children once again.

Los Angeles, Paris, Philadelphia.  White carnations now for nine years or more.  Still a child stands out in a sunday churchyard.  Women march as ever to forge a peace.  Children laugh inside the heart each day, all rough, all tumbles. Not a festival, a sentiment nor a static instant, mothering is a process of awakening to life.

<img src=”http://www.blogsbywomen.org/chicklet.gif”

Women,Violence and Education:The Politics of Empathy

Giacomo_Ceruti_-_Women_Working_on_Pillow_Lace_(The_Sewing_School)_-_WGA4672

Only when lions have historians will Hunters cease to be heroes.    African Proverb

 

 

This Spring delivered worldwide tragedies,  collecting western press attention, sometimes obsession, often releasing waves of compassion and support into the international community.

A Malaysian plane disappearing.  A South Korean ferry filled with celebrating teens capsizing. Deadly mudslides and tornadoes in the United States.  Earthquake and fire in Chile.

These much documented events developed as Syria, Central Africa, the Mideast, South Asia, in fact the world, continued to roil in conflict.

US media zealously displayed the emergence of a “new cold war” between the United States and Russia, a monumental clash of personalities: Putin and Obama.

But world media largely ignored the capture of hundreds of young women and girls in Nigeria.  The international press  highlighted the horror almost immediately. Leading United States outlets such as the New York Times and NPR gave consumers brief  note of the tragedy.  But, the “missing schoolgirl crisis” did not become a media event until two weeks of “inadequate response ” by the Nigerian government.

Some suggest the grief-stricken cries of  the parents along with the empowering challenge of  the female education activist, Malala Yousafzai, engaged the Nigerian diaspora triggering world-wide political protests, online campaigns and a twitter hashtag program engaging celebrities such as Michelle Obama and Justin Timberlake.

Nicholas Kristof on Sunday called for United States intervention.  The United States Government, on the eve of a  Global Economic Conference scheduled in southern Nigeria, has agreed to offer support along with France and Britain.  Promises for assistance do not suggest immediate results will follow despite the well appreciated powers of the US anti terror machinery. Headlines across the press, television, radio and online media herald United States intervention.  Few understand initial efforts are limited to ten specialists.

One may be justifiably perplexed about how a world power which can locate a well protected target such as bin Laden can be limited in abilities to find young women in difficult terrain.

United States relations with Nigeria are not simple.

Black hats are easily placed on the criminals.  Boko Haram, generally translated as “forbid western education,”  as a  group initially represented protest against a class based society in which the wealthy alone were educated, generally in western capitals.  The educated returned as leaders who, to the founders of Boka Haram’s view,   impoverished and subjugated the population.  There is general agreement that this political mission has been abandoned for a criminal enterprise of murder, rape and greed.

The issue for the media and the US government has been whether or not the Nigerian establishment can justly wear a white hat and be “deserving” of US assistance.  Nigerian ties to “radical” muslim groups, its own repressive policies and history,  and the economic challenges in the country suggest strategic and opportunistic issues for the government.  The sincere may also raise human rights concern.

But the young women remain in danger.

The abductors and torturers of the women and girls are alleged to have connections with international organizations interested in imposing sharia law on populations. The Nigerian government is also alleged to have abused women and girls of the Boko Harman to punish its militants.

Raping, mutilating and enslaving women is a time-honored tradition of war across society. This is a fact which should not be lost as the world finally turns its attention to the plight of these young women.

Of course, education is vital to any society.  Like the water of the natural world, education serves as the basis for any and all development.  Without education of the population, a civilization cannot be sustained.

Fundamentally, however, the abduction and torture, the enslavement and sale of these  young women is not an issue of female education.  It is an issue of violence against women.

We need be watchful of campaigns such as “protect our girls” for the implicit paternalism which has historically generated cultures of violence. We need to  also speak loudly and unequivocally for peace, for a refusal to tolerate sexual or physical violence against women.

This terrible tragedy has caused pain and loss to parents, brothers, grandparents, friends, aunts, uncles, cousins.  We must be mindful of the personal nature of that pain which surely must be fraught with images of the horrible violence inflicted on the child.

Ironically, in the massively educated west, media and government manipulation of this tragedy seeks to suggest appropriate targets for empathy and political action.

The resulting campaign for educational access for women is certainly vital .

It is difficult to learn to read, however, at the point of a gun.

<img src=”http://www.blogsbywomen.org/chicklet.gif”

What Reconciliation Looks Like on Film

                                                           

                 The Past is never behind us.                                                                                          Robert Bolaño, The Part About Critics

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.                                                                                         Eleanor Roosevelt                 

                                                                                      

April accepts longer hours of sunlight,conceding with ambivalence cold winds will warm and whisper life into the dead and barren trees.  The hillside regards the once frozen canal which, halting, softens until the sepia waters offer sanctuary once again to tadpoles, turtles and walleye and permit refreshment to geese and songbirds returned for summer.  Bordering ridges  carpeted with shaggy bits of lifeless foliage  spawn shocks of color: purple, pink, yellow: Violet, Sorrel, Thistle, Milkweed, Phlox, Anemone. The sound of life is silken, subtle, an orchestration  at once unpracticed and sublime.  Springtime perfumes with intoxicating simplicity.  The moment offers unconstrained contentment.  Spring absolves  past cruelties of other seasons, nurturing life, generous, assured.

Traffic on the street fractures contentment. The horn shivers theatrically down the small town street.  Shoppers tote packages marked with identification:    “I am expensive,” “I am chic,” “I  am  used goods.”  Cell phones supplant conversation between partners and among families as the time for the excursion concludes.  Acquaintances smile at one another across the asphalt, and then each one quickly demonstrates preoccupation and turns away.

The radio names yet another aggrieved person, fallen victim to the endless cycle of domination for the right or might of the Other group guided by religion, wealth, nationality, political philosophy  or control of land. Justice is reported denied by protesters on the corner who demand a life sentence, not twenty years, for the convict who drunkenly extinguished the life of the child.  A vast  amount of dollars are awarded to the survivors whose river land was despoiled  by thick, black  oil.

The actor struggles to contain a rage which contorts the handsome face that fills the screen.  Provincialism spawning shame he could acknowledge.  Shame punished as a crime he could not accept.   For crime committed against the shamed, he would have vengeance.  The greater retribution as the outrage is compounded by deceit.

Philomena privately recalls  the  precise contours of  her injury.  Its depth, its size, its never-ending pain.  She shields herself as a simple-minded woman.  Her full heart accepts a world she has never known.  She apprehends that her son, too, endured ritualized shamining to protect the power of those in charge.  She possesses her experience, her pain and her trauma as her personal history which no other can apprehend nor own.  This empowers her to confer forgiveness upon  her aggressors.  She chooses to move beyond the moment of her loss.

Philomena’s story is not one of reconciliation.  It is a story of a woman’s power to regenerate against all odds.

 

Forgiveness

                                                           

                 The Past is never behind us.                                                                                          Robert Bolaño, The Part About Critics

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.                                                                                         Eleanor Roosevelt                 

                                                                                      

April accepts longer hours of sunlight,conceding with ambivalence cold winds will warm and whisper life into the dead and barren trees.  The hillside regards the once frozen canal which, halting, softens until the sepia waters offer sanctuary once again to tadpoles, turtles and walleye and permit refreshment to geese and songbirds returned for summer.  Bordering ridges  carpeted with shaggy bits of lifeless foliage  spawn shocks of color: purple, pink, yellow: Violet, Sorrel, Thistle, Milkweed, Phlox, Anemone. The sound of life is silken, subtle, an orchestration  at once unpracticed and sublime.  Springtime perfumes with intoxicating simplicity.  The moment offers unconstrained contentment.  Spring absolves  past cruelties of other seasons, nurturing life, generous, assured.

Traffic on the street fractures contentment. The horn shivers theatrically down the small town street.  Shoppers tote packages marked with identification:    “I am expensive,” “I am chic,” “I  am  used goods.”  Cell phones supplant conversation between partners and among families as the time for the excursion concludes.  Acquaintances smile at one another across the asphalt, and then each one quickly demonstrates preoccupation and turns away.

The radio names yet another aggrieved person, fallen victim to the endless cycle of domination for the right or might of the Other group guided by religion, wealth, nationality, political philosophy  or control of land. Justice is reported denied by protesters on the corner who demand a life sentence, not twenty years, for the convict who drunkenly extinguished the life of the child.  A vast  amount of dollars are awarded to the survivors whose river land was despoiled  by thick, black  oil.

The actor struggles to contain a rage which contorts the handsome face that fills the screen.  Provincialism spawning shame he could acknowledge.  Shame punished as a crime he could not accept.   For crime committed against the shamed, he would have vengeance.  The greater retribution as the outrage is compounded by deceit.

Philomena privately recalls  the  precise contours of  her injury.  Its depth, its size, its never-ending pain.  She shields herself as a simple-minded woman.  Her full heart accepts a world she has never known.  She apprehends that her son, too, endured ritualized shamining to protect the power of those in charge.  She possesses her experience, her pain and her trauma as her personal history which no other can apprehend nor own.  This empowers her to confer forgiveness upon  her aggressors.  She chooses to move beyond the moment of her loss.

Philomena’s story is not one of reconciliation.  It is a story of a woman’s power to regenerate against all odds.

They insist I think of War

 

 

cropped-hires_071112-n-9898l-030.jpgA PROSE POEM

They insist I think of war, and yet I always think of you, mother, though I recall not a single word we ever spoke of war, that flesh could tear and blood swamp the sand; that one is just, or not, to footslog into battle and shoot and kill and even die upon demand.

Red and white and blue and cotton candy, thirty-six inch flags festoon facades of brick box houses, dreariness costumed for the day with shiny celebration crowned at evening with sparklers and ice cream; thundering ashes herald colors briefly before the sullen, sulking fall to blackened sidewalks where the beer-stinking men in tobacco stained shirts you told me not to talk to slovenly slump aside the fire engines as the bloated, weary wives chase home children who have now forgotten celebration.  The crisp morning marchers and their rhythmic beat who with bugles and their drums paraded proudly are now as silent as the guns and soldiers no longer in procession, not seen again until the evening news shows body bags on beaches on some other day.

I know, now,  when you avowed the Easter Rising, it was not Christ, your Lord, of whom you spoke, but of men and women, young, proud, and some who were only hungry, gathering in the fields and in the mountains, marching, marching, marching blindly through the night and into day, through the mists and by the rivers, not to capture the flag of freedom but to become your Martyrs, while Others, wielding weapons,  butchers and the butchered,   survivors donning robes of Justice for the executions.

Grandfather from a crumpled photograph regards posterity, defies judgment of us all; no nation’s costume ever weighed his shoulders;  intelligence he gathered sheltered under rock while Black and Tan colors darkened your toddler world, careening you so high, the rifle first a truncheon then a jungle gym, fearsome,  until the chaos and the cruelty receded with the dawn; was it black and tan and red of blood that rankled dreams, a smite forever upon freedom’s call; igniting  bombs, no not mere Troubles, mother, fulsome battles of a war.

You agreed with him: you had not crossed an ocean, breathed a lifetime here upon a foreign shore to release both sons, or either, to a jungle death for some unknown rich man’s gain. He, more than you, esteemed Law and Order; natural law allowed that he abduct them to frozen reaches receiving the rebelling native-born.  A war not blessed by the Holy Father cannot be a War that calls HIS sons to die. He rejects a hand to walk together with the Peaceful; to private pain, a solitary solution is all.

The small screen flashes black and white impressions, leaders slain, cities burning, choppers feeding poison to the air; a child’s screams inside  fires, all are raging; blood-soaked men on stretchers without limbs.  Chants echo charging men in suits with children’s slaughter and youth in jeans with cowardice and fear. Communication crumbles into chaos, its reverberating silence strikes out with pain.

Unlike yours, my life collected pathways: railroad cars and ferries, jumbo jets and caravans, sleeping trains and rented automobiles careening through the darkness into splendor;cardboard camps transfigured into sparkling cities when cartographers and politicians proclaim a nation’s line is crossed.  Outside schools, inside churches, in the harbors where the veteran gunboats rest, on many cars and on more country houses, playgrounds, courts, malls, gas stations, airports, synagogues, temples, in the fields and the stadiums, at the theater and the mortuary as well, in town centers and on the outskirts the colors: the red, the  white, the  blue, and the stars all scream.

Halliburton, Kellogg Industries, income inequality, Boeing, Nestle, homelessness, United Tech, Northrup Grumman, PTSD,  BAE Systems, mass shooting,  Lockheed Martin, rape, General Dynamics, Dyn Corp and  Flourer, failing schools, Elite Foods.

  They insist I think of War…

 

  TO JGJ

 <img 

“…Curiouser and Curiouser…”

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense.

Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. 

And, contrary wise,

what it is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Recently, much praised New York Times journalist, Thomas L. Friedman, apparently serious, questioned Hillary Clinton and Christine Lagarde “Is there still a double standard in the media about how women are treated…”   The audience at the Fifth Annual Women of the World Summit in New York erupted in laughter.

Secretary Clinton captured the humor and rejoined, lightly, “Really, Tom…”

She then offered her recollection of advice given regarding office decor when she was a young lawyer in Arkansas: If you are a male professional and have a family, display photographs to signify your responsibility, reliability and trustworthiness.  Women should never display such photographs as this suggests to the client distractibility and mixed priorities.

But that was way back in the Seventies, Eighties?

Women, we are told, have truly “come a long way” in the kinetic decades intervening.

Scrutiny discloses an elliptical tale.

In the United States, the pursuit of a level playing field for men and women of all races and incomes in terms of power, politics, work and family life is ongoing.

Some sources poll statistics to suggest that, in the western world, women enjoy political power in historically large numbers as elected officials and appointed judges, commissioners and directors.  Women occupy significant numbers of industry leadership positions especially outside the United States. Educational institutions demonstrate a more equitable   “leadership to population “gender ratio than ever before.

More than a few women have scaled barriers and amassed incomprehensible fortunes to rank among the world’s most wealthy.

Achievement in the more ordinary spheres of living in terms of gender equality also emerged.  More female students graduate from college than do men.  During the “great recession”, female breadwinner households emerged as a “new normal”.

Still, the unrelenting narrative of the overstressed, over-extended, hyper-vigilant, and never fulfilled “working mom” penetrates any fog of good feeling that gender equity might be on the horizon.  Despite the fact that these tales invariable focus on middle and upper-middle class women to whom society, perhaps with duplicity, offers a “choice” regarding whether and how much to engage employment outside the home, this story has remarkable staying power.  Through the decades, the chronicle of this burdened woman and her needy family has begotten innumerable new fashions, products, even industries: the time-savers, the stress-reducers, the educational, the “just like home-made.”

Ours is a culture of at least two minds about a woman’s place.

The little girl playing with her dolls, dreaming of the day when she too would be the bride “all dressed in white” attended by a bevy of beautiful maids as she crosses the threshold to her future, realizing her true self, the wife of the handsome tuxedo-clad man who stands admiring her…. This conceit successfully and lucratively pervaded American life for generations, certainly post World War II.

I remember my decidely level-headed mother had a huge book of wedding day photographs bound in a sumptuous white binder which was placed in sight but out of reach.  The album featured, what the child considered, hundreds of twelve by twelve, black and white photographs of the most glamorous people.  She in a pure silk flowing gown, he in his tails and stripped tie, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral under an October sun, an eternal smile from the rear window of an actual limousine…

Had my mother been a home economics student in 1954, her  text would have  prepared her for what came after the limousine as follows:   “Have dinner ready, prepare yourself, prepare the children, minimize all noise, be happy to see him, listen to him, make the evening his.” There was no question that the married woman would have children.  There was no question, the mother should not work outside the home. The employed spouse was definitely the male.   There was certainly not even the vaguest notion that the married couple could be of the same gender.  Perhaps only slightly more conceivable was an unmarried two parent household.

Conversations about housework, from the casual to the scholarly, can be remarkably provocative. In the early years of the United States Women’s Movement, suffragist, author and political theorist and activist Charlotte Perkins Gilman articulated “housework” denies a woman’s “humanness.” In the 1960’s, Betty Friedan’s popular political work, The Feminine Mystique captured the energy of a cross section of largely educated white, middle and upper middle class women dissecting cultural standards of feminine behavior as submissive, affective, fulfilled when living vicariously through others.   In the early 1980’s Professor Angela Davis offered a challenging Marxist analysis of the issue. In 2011, the National Institute  of  Health reported that  mothers employed part-time outside the home experience ideal  adjustment as do their families.

Still, especially over the last two generations, society’s gaze has turned from  how well a woman cleans the house or bakes a cake.  Such services await those who can afford them.  A busy female administrative assistant can purchase a candle light dinner for the Tuesday night dinner at the take out department of the supermarket by calling ahead or ordering online.

Today, our culture pursues the perfect mother.

Some still recall their own childhood friends gathering unsupervised  and spontaneous at the playground, in the schoolyard, or “on the corner.”  Childhoods of bygone days featured unaccountably fleeting hours producing little of tangible value.  A book read.  A confidence shared.  A story written.  A movie watched.  A path explored.

Technology, crime, social competition, economics and social institutions  eviscerated those now seemingly laconic childhoods. Children today largely live more structured lives with women the organizing force.

Today’s mother is often tasked with providing more than the expected needs of a child (food, clothing, shelter, love, safety).  She must deliver the child to the gates of adulthood equipped to tread confidently and competently on the highest paths.  “Intensive mothering” is a phrase describing mothers investing vast amounts of time, money, energy, and emotion into the raising of a child.  It is perhaps a logical outgrowth of the shame/blame dynamic which has swirled around mothers in America for years.

In modern times, Freud propelled mothers to center stage to receive the “blame” for “causing” filial homosexuality by her over-protectiveness, or in the alternative, her indifference.

Mothers accepted the blame for autism  in their children when it was alleged to be caused by maternal coldness.

Psychiatrists pronounced    “schizophrenogenic” mothers (disturbed, self-deluding women with fluid identity boundaries) guilty of causing schizophrenia in their children.

Generally, mothers today are not blamed for causing specific diseases or disorders.  However, many women report experiencing an overwhelming sense of guilt  as mothers, absorbing criticism of their children, feeling responsible for the “failings” of the child as theyt were their own. This guilt is all the more painful and deep  fifty years after Friedan’s analysis ignited a firestorm of controversy about the role of  mothers in the workplace; ashes of debate singe the air.

On the home front, women still face expectations that every child requires unlimited access to his or her mother at all times.  Any mother who is unwilling or unable to provide a child with this constant tenderness, is, quite simply, deficient.  A good mother is one who is home whenever the child is home. The same analysis does not, of course, apply to fathers. (May we presume that fathers are still more free to display family photographs?)  The recent national hysteria when New York Mets player Daniel Murphy missed two games to be with his wife at the cesarean birth of their son shows that in the United States the subtext remains: real men do not put fatherhood first.

At a time when so much in our lives is unrecognizable if we watch film footage from 50 years ago, the manner of dress, communication, transportation, food consumption, social norms of “good mothering” seem based on traditional concepts from a half century ago.  Evidence suggests many sources of love for a child only benefit  if reliable, kind and genuine.  Studies supportive of pre-kindergarten socialization and education are discounted.  The needs of the mother and family, economically and otherwise, are not part of the equation.

The “cultural schizophrenia” about employed mothers is not limited to the United States.  It affects high ranking officials as well as lower paid workers internationally. The double messages which assail families undermine our ability to find comfort and satisfaction in either our work or our home lives. Some suggest that the narrative of the “perfect mom” who can “do it all” converts motherhood into a never-ending exercise in “measuring up” for too many women who do not embrace the individual right to define a unique pattern of family organization.

Technology is intended enhances the effect of the media on our lives.  Clinton and Lagarde laughed at Friedman’s question.  But for many women working inside the technology industry, sexism is no laughing matter.  It is rancid, forcing them to exit the field.

If women who work in the industry responsible for so many of the images and messages which create cultural expectations are alienated and disappointed, it appears the time has arrived to begin again assertively addressing issues of equality.

This week, congress will yet again be asked to address the question of equal pay for women.

Title VII of the Civil Right Act came to be applied to women as a result of what one would call bad karma.  A segregationist, opposed to Civil Rights for African Americans, added the word “sex” to the legislation believing it would ensure defeat.  The joke was on him.

The  Equal Pay Act of 1963. was passed as a means to stop the continuing advance of the Equal Rights Amendment.  It is unclear who bore the brunt of that joke.  The  1963 act proved largely ineffectual.  Our nation of laws has never stated its female citizens are the equal of men.

Fifty one years later, equal pay remains on the political agenda.  A recent study confirms  a significant gender wage gap.  That earning divide  remains deeply affected by race and ethnicity with Asian American women reaching salaries most equal to males, white women in second place.

If the current legislation moves forward, it bears monitoring and advocacy.  Women must be watchful that there is not a hidden political agenda as there was in times past.  In addition, legislation without enforcement is meaningless.

The climate of politics is quite uncertain for women.

Analysts of the   landmark decision of the conservative Roberts led Supreme Court on April 2, 2014, McCutcheon vs. FEC, caution that future political campaigns may be dominated by male mega-donors. Female political candidates in the United States successfully navigated previous campaign contribution laws.  It remains to be seen whether the McCutcheon decision shackles further female political advancement.

Which coffers garner the unlimited new coins tossed into politics post McCutcheon is yet unknown.

Only a tiny fragment of the total adult US population contributes $200.00 or more to political campaigns.  Substantially rarer is the individual contributor of larger sums.  Broadly defined, “business” contributes more money and more often compared to labor or unaffiliated donors. Strikingly, incumbents  amass more than five times as much money as their challengers, on average, in contested races.  Monies are strategically bestowed upon candidates or campaigns based on an over-arching agenda.  For example, in 2013, the top ten most expensive senate races included Arkansas. Georgia, Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey and Colorado.

If  those with the most money win, if, post McCutcheoncash is able to craft speech successfully, whatever advances women have made since the days of double standard, office decor rules may be at risk.  No matter how out of touch, dreamers of a Donna Reed style America may inspire the law of the future.

Fifty years after the deception of offering an equal pay law to thwart  an  equal  rights amendment, women in the United States in all classes and racial groups contain the energy and means to divert the conversation from victimhood to empowerment.  We have traveled the same road, watching the same scenery for too long.  But this is the cycle of deep and meaningful social change.

“Now, here, you see  it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place,

If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”(The Queen)

Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

 

<img

 

 

He Lay Waste A Village. And His Mother Too.

Brookfield_Center_village_greenWhen the  bloodbath smothered my awareness as I worked at home on December 14, 2012, I felt the icy rain  and despairing grey skies freeze my heart. My own children were grown. What matter. Life still feels a dangerous mine-field when you love so much. In an incomprehensible fraction of an instant, the very essence of your life can be obliterated.

I joined a nation grieving, a world, in fact.  I grasped again my personal perplexity at gun ownership, shooting for sport.  I suppose I entered with the grieving searching for a reason in those early hours, before understanding that reason and madness can never co-exist.

Soon, I was also saddened, however, as the media, the official statements and ultimately the president made a body count: “twenty six victims. “Twenty children” and “six adults” shot dead in Newtown.

His mother was a victim. Surely.  He killed her.  (And he, too, must be counted somewhere?  A human life, he lived, he died. He died with great obscenity).

On March 17, 2014, Andrew Solomon published an article in The New  Yorker, The Reckoning. In this article, and in his discussions of it on other media, Solomon, partially based on his previous writings and interviews relating to the Columbine massacre and on his interviews and research into the Newtown shootings, paints a portrait of Adam and Nancy Lanza.  He also describes Peter Lanza from these sources, mediated by Mr. Lanza and his wife’s lengthy interviews with Solomon. What emerges is another portrait of an American horror which places at its center a mentally ill young man, infantalized in many ways, raised with  deficient, provocative mothering . Mr. Solomon has extended the narrative which has alternately blamed, then erased, Nancy Lanza.

It is probably true that had Ms.Lanza and I encountered each other on a PTA committee we would have struggled to  become friends.  The chronicle of her history is as a well-heeled girl from New Hampshire, popular and successful, from an established family. She married her high school sweetheart to become a  stock broker and then stay at home mom in a posh Manhattan suburb.  Suffice it to say, my history has few points of intersection.

She enjoyed guns.  I abhor them.  She enjoyed shooting for sport.  I cannot comprehend such a thing.  She met  friends at the local bar on occasion.  I do not.  She loved her children.  That is a passion we shared.

There is little else we know of Nancy Lanza.  Did she like to read?  Did she enjoy the opera?  Did she have hobbies other than guns: cooking, gardening, knitting, painting, hiking, running?  Was she religious?  Why did she not date?  Was she in therapy?  Did she confide in the sometimes mentioned “best friend?” Did she visit her other son, or he her? Did she like to shop?

I am relieved that there is much we do not know.  Researching for this post was repellant for the intimacies of a life on view. The State’s Attorney’s Investigation necessarily examined every inch of her home, her correspondence, her phone calls, her clothing, her possessions, her life.  The parts which link her to the horrors of the morning of her death have been memorialized in cyberspace.  This is who she is.  This is the sum of her remembered life.

That and her absence among the twenty-six stars on the Newtown firehouse.  The absence of a bell toll for her on the anniversary of the massacre. The failure of a mention by President Obama when he calls on the nation to remember the slain of that day.

If the mother of the slain child,  Ana , Nelba Marquez Green, has the generosity to call for empathy and counts Nancy Lanza as a Newtown victim, I suggest we all need to do so.

I suggest we need to do this because she was a victim of Domestic Violence. This time, and not for the first time, Domestic Violence shattered a community, a nation and reverberated throughout the world.

In the immediate aftermath of her death, when the wise began to question how our society copes with mental illness, a brave and insightful woman posted an article “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” to the relief of many frightened mothers (and fathers). The post is extraordinary especially since information  now available from the State’s Attorney’s Investigation Report was mere rumor and innuendo at that time.

Evidence suggests that Adam Lanza suffered from developmental delay mushrooming into neurological/behavioral/medical/psychological and or  psychiatric issues as he moved through adolescence and early adulthood.  Documents summarized in the State Attorney’s Report and the Solomon article conflate time.

It is difficult to distinguish which of Lanza’s faetures discovered in the middle school years were known to have spiraled out of control into his last years. Lanza’s middle school experiences appear relatively well documented by school and medical sources. Still, these records present contradictory pictures.  Some show a severely disordered  child while others indicate a quite polite one who was not even bullied at school.  In fact some of the school reports are so “normal” one wonders why there would be a reason to pull that child from school or seek professional help at all.  The child described, they note, for whatever reason, had “at least one friend.”

The apparently contemporaneous professional reports herald lurking danger. At this juncture, the question most respectfully arises, where is the village? Certainly this is not a victim blaming exercise.  It is a genuine inquiry: to what extent do we as a community have a duty of care to our members, our children, to offer support to those so obviously struggling?

People question, “How could she not see?” “Why did she not get help?”  People who have never met the family sit in judgement.  “Many  parents, perhaps most, have to find the balance between devotion and denial… Nancy Lanza failed.” states Ruth Marcus, of the Washington Post definitively. Many condemn the deceased woman for what she failed to see or do which can be pinpointed so precisely in hindsight. But, none of these people were present in Nancy Lanza’s life as she was coping with a disordered, adult son.

Nor does it seem there was a large support system for Ms. Lanza when Adam was still a minor.

I would hope that if I were home schooling my child because he experienced, as Solomon states, “sensory overload” and “panic attacks” at school, or if my child was enrolled in  “special classes”, there would be a teacher, social worker, child welfare worker overseeing my tutelage to ensure that I was providing the necessary services.  I would hope that homeschooling, an alternative for creative, enriched learning, is not also being used as on “out of sight, out of mind” method to unload the system of its responsibilities to children with special needs. Newtown tragically demonstrates how  special needs belong to the community not merely to the child.

I trust that if my neighbor’s child had an “episode” in school, the authorities would call paramedics as well as the parent.  I would hope that child would not disappear into the care of a single parent who could be bewildered and overwhelmed.

I expect schools would refer my grandchild to physical or occupational therapy if he exhibited coördination difficulties and extreme fine motor concerns to prevent a teenager from lacing  his shoes.

And I wonder if there is not a professional duty lying outside the family.

If  a child diagnosed with a disorder or condition which substantially impairs his ability to take part in life fails to receive recommend treatment, ought there not be follow-up to ensure the welfare of the child is protected?  Certainly, we can imagine a scenario where an impoverished parent refusing medical recommendations and failing to assist a child to socialize “normally” might risk the actual legal custody of the child. That child could be institutionalized.  Is it wealth which buys the privilege of privacy to leave a child inadequately treated?

A panel video discussion on “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.  Sories from the Front Line” on The Huffington Post in 2012 considered this lack of “village cooperation.” The Lanzas shared with other families the problem of having a child difficult to pigeonhole into  “diagnoses” in a DSM label-driven mental health care system.

Many families struggle with children who  are described by their loved ones as  “brilliant, loving and amazing” and also “volatile, disruptive and explosive.”  It is not so rare that a parent comes to fear an explosive child, particular a child who grows larger or stronger than the parent. Compassionate people describe these children as “needing to develop past their behavior issues.”  Or, as one parent suggested, needing structure which would provide the “scaffolding the brain required to develop. ” Many times this special attention is gained in therapeutic school settings or day schools for special needs students.

The evidence does not suggest that the experts or school systems ever recommended such placement options for Adam Lanza. The Lanzas considered and rejected “private school” except for a brief time in which Adam attended Catholic School. Neither is there a suggestion that either Peter or Nancy Lanza considered a therapeutic home or a special school at critical stages in Adam’s youth.

It appears that Nancy Lanza was the “primary parent” for her sons as they grew.  Peter Lanza told Solomon that he considered that his relationship with his sons hardly changed after the separation from them in 2001 since he had always worked “ridiculously long hours.” Adam was 9 years old.  Apparently, Ryan and Adam lived with their mother. Peter Lanza lived a commutable distance in Stamford, keeping a cordial relationship with mother and visiting his sons on weekends.  He chose to remain involved in schooling and medical concerns.   The parents together participated in Adam’s development into a young man with a sense of humor, a fascination with World War II and a nascent wish to join the military.

The family engaged in gun activity.  Much has been reported about mother’s taking Adam to NRA shooting classes and to a shooting range.  Documents evidence that father took his son shooting as well.  An undated birthday card also evidences a promise from father to Adam to do the same when he next saw his son.  This was apparently after Adam had stopped visiting his father and suggested as an inducement to resume visits. Many are  incredulous that anyone voluntarily keep a gun and ammunition near a person as apparently disturbed as Adam Lanza.  In Solomon’s interview, Peter Lanza is critical of his deceased wife for several things, but  he absolves her for this, stating she would not have done so had she believed Adam to be violent.

According to Solomon, Peter Lanza is a man in need of precision about facts.  One might question why he did not quest for more precision as to the source of the clear suffering of one of his sons.  He is described as a “docile parent.”  Solomon portrays Peter Lanza as  an “affable,” successful, executive accountant not prone to examining emotions. This lack of understanding of or insight into the emotional world could have been something the man passed on to the boy.   Even as I write these phrases, bordering on, if not crossing, a line of psychologizing a person I have never met and never will meet, I cringe.  Yet such long distance analysis has been the posthumous fate of Nancy Lanza.

What emerges from Solomon’s article and the State’s Attorney’s Investigation Report is a portrait of a woman entrapped in a solitary and isolating relationship with her son.  No evidence exits to confirm that this relationship was physically abusive before December 14, 2012.

On that date, the domestic abuse which had controlled her life morphed into murder. Peter Lanza’s weekend contacts with Adam ceased after his son obtained a driver’s licence and a car in 2010.  Peter Lanza told Solomon that around that time Adam displayed no violent or aggressive tendencies in any way despite a “fascination with mass shootings and firearms.” Mr. Lanza had concluded after two years of not being in contact with Adam in any direct way that “It was crystal clear something was wrong” before the murders happened.  Still, on Adam’s last birthday, father did not force a visit to his adult son because, essentially, he knew it would involve a fight and he chose not to make a public scene. Without judging any of those facts, it is crystal clear that Nancy Lanza had no help caring for Adam’s escalating needs through immediate family.

Whether she had any help at all is not established. Solomon’s research and Peter Lanza’s report confirm the impression given by other documentary evidence that the older Adam grew, the less space Nancy Lanza experienced for her own life. According to these sources, as early as age 14, an obsessive adolescent was directing his compliant mother to join him in refraining from touching metal surfaces.  He issued other demands which were reportedly obeyed by his mother: he dictated what shoes she could where and how heavily she could tread; he considered it “inappropriate for her to “lean on” kitchen counters; he directed where she could walk in the kitchen and she agreed to get him computer parts so he could hide his cyber imprint.  Prescribed medication caused disabling side effects and was discontinued without substitution.   Adam’s other compulsions increasingly affected his mother’s life:  he was restrictive in what foods he would eat and how food could be arranged on a plate so that food items could not touch each other; his clothing needed washing several times a day, a demand with which she complied.  In addition, Adam was directing which rooms in the home sunlight could enter, who could ring the doorbell and  when and other factors which affected his sensory peculiarities.  Nancy could offend and enrage Adam or she or some other stimulus could send him into a catatonic depression or uncontrolled weeping  at the slightest misstep.  Eventually communication between them appears to have been limited to email, with Adam often unresponsive.  Nancy Lanza chose to live in such a fashion with her adult son.

Immediately before her death Ms. Lanza confided to someone that she expected to live with Adam for “a long time.”

In domestic violence, the abused often seeks the approval of the abuser.   The intimate nature of the relationship between the two magnifies the “power and control” features of the relationship.  The fact that the victim is the mother of an abusive son can mean her entire identity – am I an adequate mother, a worthy person – is compromised by the abuse.  Feelings of shame can prevent an abused family member from reaching out for help.  As can feelings of powerlessness.

Parricide (child murder of a parent) is not a widely studied form of domestic violence. Unfortunately, it happens. Research suggests that this form of domestic violence is associated with  a victim surrendering the role of an adult within the family.  As she does so, she experiences increasing feelings of isolation.  Because of the shame associated with this form of abuse, she may increase her own isolation.  Generally, there is  lack of information about lethal, non-lethal physical and/or emotional “child on parent” abuse (except perhaps in cases of the elderly which may have different dynamics).   This lack of information can explain the lack of community resources for the prevention and treatment for families with this type of dysfunction.

In the case of Newtown, it is also useful to examine our cultural experience of family violence.  Especially in recent years, the parentified child is a feature of television and movies but also common in the literature and other media of the times.  This social reinforcement of  weak parent models is harmful.  Certainly children are due respect and participation within families. However, current research suggests that confusion of family roles is unhealthy and a potential breeding ground for violence. In addition, the same media continues to exalt violence especially for and to males.  We raise our sons in a world filled with pressure for them to meet social expectations to be “tough.”  Studies reinforce instinct that this media messaging can contribute to  “accumulating aggression in male children.”

Peter Lanza told Solomon he was troubled Nancy Lanza “lied” to him that Adam was getting better. (A review of the States Attorneys Report does not necessarily support Mr. Lanza’s conclusion on this point.) He also suggested: “Nancy’s pride prevented her from asking for help.  She wanted everyone to think it was ok.”

True, pride is the opposite of shame.  A glass half full.  A glass half empty.

Shame is a major impediment to a victim’s seeking help.  Blame reinforces of shame.  A community must have available and known resources for a victim before she can seek relief. There is no evidence that Adam Lanza was violent towards his mother before December 14, 2012.  In fact, evidence fails to confirm that he was violent towards anyone. But the evidence does suggest that Nancy Lanza was, as one professional stated in Solomon’s article, increasingly “becoming a prisoner in her own home.”  She was engaged in a downward cycle of emotional abuse of the most dangerous kind for all concerned.

What puzzles me is the poignant fact that in the hours before her murder, Nancy Lanza gave herself a holiday at a mountain spa. She cooked meals her clearly food-disordered son likely did not eat.  He apparently functioned independently  while she was gone, although his destruction erupted upon her return.  She had purchased an RV and was making plans to move away, start a new life in a new state for her son at a new school. What gave her the strength for these changes?  How did she muster the courage to leave behind the person who apparently dominated her every waking moment?   How could she free herself from that control…and then return?  What gave her the strength, energy and hope to plan a fresh start?

Solomon suggests that this very step – affirmatively planning to move into a different future – may have been the seeds of her destruction. She could have angered Adam with her recognition that she would live with him “for a very long time”; Adam was a young man craving independence.  As the collected evidence shows, he was also utterly incapable of such independence. Peter Lanza states he was distanced by the” intensity” of the Nancy and Adam’s relationship, though there was nothing problematic in the “nature of ” the intensity itself.

Solomon suggests that unreferenced reports on matricide indicate  it is a crime committed by “overprotective  sons” who wish to “free themself from their dependence. ”  Matricide is employed in these overly dependent, conflict laden relationships.  The perpetrator ‘s mother tends to be smothering, the father, distant, passive.

The  literature I studied suggested that matricide, a subclass of parricide, is most often committed by males aged 12-25, less often committed with guns.  It is a crime of domestic violence, often correlated with schizophrenia, severe depression and suicide.  It is a lashing out of extreme rage, usually pre-planned, a concomitant with suicide. It is the “desperate act of severely ill and inadequately treated mentally ill” people. As I discussed, studies suggest that a  disintegrated family structure, unassertive parents and a  child experiencing  a lack of leadership are risk factors.    As with all violence, matricide is a crime of power and control.

Murder victims are not generally blamed for their own slaughter.  Certainly not when they are shot in the head four times in the early morning  in their bed in their own homes.

Nancy Lanza was blamed, belittled and forgotten.

It gets easier every day to turn away.  Our children spend more time “online.” We  can skype into town meetings or get the minutes online.  We don’t even have to go to town or the mall to shop anymore.  It will come to our door. But, the door closed on the house beside us can still shelter people in pain.  Hollywood may have us dreaming about perfect operating systems as mates, but the world is still filled with flesh and blood folks with gladsome and mournful hearts.  We can choose to divorce ourselves from the reality that our neighbor’s world affects our own.  But that will not alter circumstance.  Sooner or later we must accept that we live in a  village after all.

Out of Ireland

There is something lonely about an early spring Sunday in Pennsylvania at sunset.  The gold and orange clouds betray the stubborn chill which returns unwelcome by the startling crocuses which also arrive, timely as ever and against all odds.  The wind sweeps noisily down the lane through naked trees, some few still bearing shreds of a once resplendent autumn.

If  I attempt the poetic tonight, it is because I return from another afternoon at the Irish Repertory  Theatre in New York , where invariably, I  understand anew the complexity, magnificence, sorrow, monstrousness, achievement and loss of  my ancestry. After a performance, I easily access the melancholy so much a part of the rhythm of Irish song, dance, and theatre.

Transport,  Book by Thomas Keneally, Music and Lyrics by Larry Kiran, recalls the  voyage of  a British prisoner transport ship in 1838 carrying female “felons” from Cork to Sydney. Focusing on  four  women who have been convicted of “crimes” ranging in seriousness from stealing butter to participating in a failed revolution, the historical musical drama weaves together threads of  Irish history. Themes of the abuse of power by the British and Roman Catholic Church authorities, the lack of solidarity among the Irish to the cause of  freedom, the  role of religion as a force  for social disintegration and conflict in Irish communities and the ageless echoes of exile in the Irish psyche surface, if only briefly, as the storied ship makes its inconceivable passage .   One woman cannot leave behind her “raging heart”  which, she is counseled by the banished priest who is also on board, she must quell into “submission” as the Lord “submitted.” Another female “felon”  finds love onboard in the arms of a protestant surgeon who is unaccountably, and rather incredulously, willing to face the social ostracism which will be the “price  of love.”  Equally inexplicably is an avowed antipapist’s conversion to tolerance when her shipmates demonstrate  compassion at a time of  incalculable loss.

Traditional Irish music excels at the ballad which can touch the heart of stone.  No such artistry is found in this show.  We understand the women are pained to leave their homeland and loved ones, but more for what we are told than for what the music or acting portray.  We believe the ship is a cruel and dangerous place, but, again, this is merely impressionistic in this show.  Rich stories, characters, themes are touched upon in Transport  but the touch is lighter than its promise.

Still, one is inevitably stirred and made thoughtful at a  soaring  paraphrase of  “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats, even if the tune is not memorable.   Those words, paraphrased, recycled, repeated, as other precious, timeless Yeats’ phrases and images are woven sparingly but vividly through the production bring it to life  when it feels as if it is finally failing.  Through these phrases, I find myself   again  beguiled, searching to affirm what it is that makes me Irish.   The afternoon theatre has offered more than entertainment but less than enlightenment. I find myself reciting Yeats  once more:

Out of Ireland have we come

Great hatred, little room,

Maimed us at the start,

I carry from my mother’s womb

A fanatic heart.

(William Butler Yeats, Remorse for Intemperate Speech.)

v

Its Saint Patrick’s Day and A Birthday Too!

 

cropped-cropped-cropped-dscn0267.jpgToday is Saint Patrick’s Day.  It is also the day I celebrate my birthday.  I would do this somewhat diffidently since the usual response to this fact is “How wonderful! You are Irish and born on Saint Patrick’s Day!”  At the age of sixteen, I discovered evidence which strongly suggested that my Irish immigrant parents concocted this coincidence in the twilight moments of March 16th of my birth year.  Perhaps in so doing they gave birth not only to a joyful yarn but also to a child who herself never understood the necessity of the strict boundaries of convention.

Despite teenage angst that invariably would accompany the discovery that one’s very date of birth was not what one thought it to be, I have very happy memories of the Saint Patrick’s Days of my life.  Only now I understand that my parents, and most especially my mother, were “Irish cultural puritans.”

I received an email from my Dublin cousin today titled, “Happy Saint Paddy’s Day”, only to wince.  I could hear my mother saying in her stern but nonetheless musical voice “Its Saint Patrick’s Day, for God’s sake, why is it so hard to say a Saint’s name properly?”  I was taught that “Paddy” was an old British racial slur, much like many of the racial slurs we abhor in the United States which evolved against the poorest classes who were actual or defacto slaves.  A paddy was possibly little better than an animal, ignorant, dirty, superstitious, sexually irresponsible, unhygienic, drunken, lazy, dishonest and stupid. This was the paddy under the British thumb.  The paddy in the “new world” eventually evolved to shed some of these ethnic badges as he climbed into the working classes as a fire worker, police worker, plumber, carpenter, municipal worker or unionist.  I remember the bemusement when I once suggested to a colleague that Paddy wagon was an ethnic slur.  I wasn’t entirely joking.

It was somewhat enchanting to be a little girl spending birthday evenings in happy halls performing Irish dances,lyrical voices mixing with laughter and sentimental song.  I recall the smell of beer and whiskey, but I genuinely do not remember drunks.  There were never green hats, green neon suits, green beer and the shamrocks were real, living plants relatives imported from Ireland.  Happy Birthday was often sung to me while I was sitting on my father’s lap, itchy and sleepy in my green wool dancing costume.

But what I remember most about my childhood Saint Patrick’s days are the quiet times with my mother.  She allowed me to stay home from school on my birthday and it was often just the two of us alone together.  Although March was meant to herald Spring, Saint Patrick’s Day was most often a day like today is: brisk, windy with intermittent clouds and sun, snow flurries surprising us at intervals.  My mother and I would walk outside, maybe purchase some Daffodils at the Penn Fruit, and with rosy cheeks, holding hands return to the house perhaps after attending mass at Saint Alice’s, embracing the warmth with a hot drink and a sandwich.  My mother would make brown sugar candy when we were alone together.  Saint Patrick’s Day Dinner was usually a turkey dinner with Irish soda bread and vegetables. And of course Birthday Cake.  Store Bought.   While everything was cooking, we might take a nap on the sofa, lying head to feet, feeling “cozy” and safe.

My mother never “approved” of the Americanism of wearing green on Saint Patrick’s Day.  “You are real Irish.”  She would say.  “You don’t have to wear green.”  She never tasted a drop of alcohol to the day she died.  My mother scoffed at the “traditional meal” of corn beef and cabbage:  “I never tasted corn beef in my life!”   Often a contrarian, she denounced the March 17 festivities of the Americans as “disgusting.”  As long as she was able,  she celebrated her Saint Patrick’s Day as a quietly, religious moment, embracing her culture and faith as she  had in her beloved Donegal.

This time of year, as the season turns restless, I long to spend another March day with my mother.  I am finally thankful to my parents for their old conspiracy late, late one March 16th.  For by their creative paperwork, they provided me with experiences and memories I treasure and make annually revive.

Ban Bossy? Think again!

 

cropped-cropped-girls_in_the_garden_oil_c-1906_frank_weston_benson2.jpgIt appears to be that some people attract controversy as metal rods attract lightning.

Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, appears to be one such person. The response to her March 8, 2014 Wall Street Journal Op Ed co-authored with Anna Maria Chavez, Girls Scouts USA, CEO has been vigorous. Ms. Chavez and Ms. Sandberg advocate banning the word “bossy” as applied to girls through a pledge campaign and to engage in other activities explained on a website banbossy.com.  These leaders reach into their own history and into the etymology and semantics of the word bossy.  Their conclusion is that this “B” word heard so often on the childhood play yard, in the classroom, and even in the Boardroom, Courtroom, or Senate Chamber is a social signifier.  It is a word which connotes deeply rooted negative gender stereotypes of women who exhibit competent leadership skills.  A bossy man is to be admired as a leader.  A bossy woman, no matter how successful, is somehow unlikable. A boy or man in charge is acceptable.  A girl or woman who is not kind and nurturing is deficient. Girls suffer, we are told, from these stereotypes, lose confidence, and fail to thrive in the race to the top.

I have no reason to disagree.

In my once male dominated profession of law, it was a good day if the “B” word directed toward me or a female colleague was “bossy.” Each of us have reached into our childhoods and told tales of how we were discouraged by the language of gender stereotypes. Each of us observed that a male lawyer who was a vigorous advocate was “able counsel” or something more superlative.  A woman conducting herself in an identical fashion was likely to be many things, perhaps “bossy” would again be the kindest.

Nor do I diminish the significance of the observations and goals of banbossy.com.  Reinforcing a child’s self esteem is crucial .

Chavez and Sandberg suggest that being bossy can help us live fulfilled lives:” The lesson to children, and to the parents and teachers who raise and nurture them, should be that there is pride in being opinionated, motivated and motivating—that is, bossy.”  (March 8, 2014 Wall Street Journal Op Ed).

My question is more basic.  Why do we need anyone to be bossy?  Motivated, Motivating, Opinionated…..

The starting point in the argument of “Ban Bossy” (the website indicates that this is not a first amendment issue: there is no literal request to abolish a word) accepts the current definitions of “success” of the upper middle class (or higher), highly and well-educated, corporate, largely white, world. The little girl labeled bossy raises her hand too much, tells her friends how to complete the project, seeks out the highest class office. She is the kid who joins all the clubs, has more time for events than for friends, she gets the best grades,  and often she is “good” at everything, from music to sports.   She grows up to be Margaret Thatcher or Hillary Clinton. When she is a known world leader, she is not called bossy; she is called cold, unfeeling or mean, and nasty.

What if we changed not merely the word, we changed the narrative.  The child who gets the highest score on the math test or read the most books over the summer is a success.  But the child who exhibits such emotional intelligence that at lunch she sits next to the little boy who doesn’t speak much English is also a success.  The girl who stands next to the child whom the class bully just disparaged is a success too.  And the one who built a bird house from twigs in the yard is counted among the winners.

If the narrative is altered to include a more diverse vision of “success,” diversity in “motivation” and in methods to motivate others might readily follow.  An Ivy League level education is no longer the pre-requisite to being a “success” in the chosen profession.  Columbia does not even have a Carpentry Department!  When the narrative changes and the means to motivate change, perhaps, the dialogue can also be altered.  “Being opinionated” might no longer be of such high value.  Listening skills, engaging in a meaningful dialogue which moves participants forward might become paramount.

Maybe I am an idealist.  I remind myself of a young woman I knew well when she was me in Women Studies Classes in the 70’s.I thought by now an equal society would have evolved.  Banning words was not a strategy I recall considering.

We anticipated a future wherein boardrooms, courtrooms and senate chambers were open to us.  We even believed a woman would be elected US president.  We considered a future wherein the choice to become a cook or a weaver or a teacher would command financial and social respect.  We read the futuristic novels of feminism’s “first wave” and believed that under our watch child care providers would garner wages which truly reflect the importance of the work performed, the provision of healthy food would be honored, the work of the homemaker would be valid.

Most critically, as our political consciousness grew, many of us began to prefer the attribution “feminist humanist.”  We professed freedom for women necessarily required the same for men. The evisceration of gender stereotypes, or so the argument proceeded, would mean that women could embrace power and men could embrace emotion. In a practical fashion, we sought equal work and life partnerships.  We marched into parenthood armed with the determination that we would talk with our sons about their dreams and feelings and bring our daughters to sports events and political rallies.  Even better, we would seek out the individuality in each of our children and cultivate that precious gift as best we could  regardless of gender.

Decades on, the world is much changed, in many respects to the detriment of the economic, social and political status of women in the US. The ban bossy campaign is started.

Perhaps, the study of conflict resolution and bully prevention strategies has led me to hopes which amplify  earlier ideas as to how to reach  a more equal society in terms of gender.  Banning words is still not a strategy.

Achieving social justice on a real level for women, girls, men or boys demands more than caution with words.

If we continue drowning our daughters from the earliest stages in marketed images of “perfection,” the anorexic, sexualized teen, the air-brushed, perfectly coiffed Kate-Middleton clone mom, words, no matter how pernicious, count little in the construction of gendered stereotypes.  If our films persist in featuring suicidal astronauts or depressive narcissists as leading role models for women even when women of wealth are acquiring a greater voice in what movies are being produced, we must look to new forums.

If these same vehicles persuade our boys that violence and vulgarity are hallmarks of manhood, youth will be trapped in an endless cycle of diminished fulfillment.  If our role models for male success continue to be styled as “tough on the outside, tough on the inside,” men will struggle within roles which inhibit most, limit many and completey exclude more than a few.

So long as we persist in defining our world as full of “winners” and “losers”, our schools will instill confidence in some and a sense of inferiority in others.  So long as we accept a society in which it is a norm that some children will go to bed hungry and some seniors will freeze to death impoverished on city streets, intolerance is almost a necessary aspect of our culture.  If we equate being “opinionated” with leadership we are failing to teach essential listening skills which alone offer us access to understanding.  Understanding the point of view of the other is the only true benchmark of the kind of growth which allows for leadership.  As we see in the world around us, one can easily bark at and boss the converted and lead them into an impasse.  Progress and growth demand more.

Chavez and Sandberg must be applauded for identifying issues which must be addressed.  They may be commended for developing a strategy.  If they are the leaders they contend they are they must continue thinking.

Initially posted at BeaconResolution.com