Happy Mother’s Day

mom

Wishing a happy mother’s day to all the amazing moms in my life, of which there have been many. I feel lucky to have been surrounded by such amazing women my whole life, and even luckier to be able to honestly say that my mom is someone I admire and look up to.

I’m also thinking a lot about all the people for whom this is a hard day, and not a celebratory one. If you’re thinking of being anything less than kind to someone today, stop and think about it, and then maybe just don’t.

I hope everyone’s day is filled with love and generosity and self-care, and hopefully some embarrassing pictures of your mom’s worst haircuts. Don’t worry mom, I don’t have any perm pics with me in San Francisco.

The baking conundrum & being bad

20150501_222647

It is 9:45 pm, and I am in my underwear surrounded by freshly baked cookies and seven layer bars. I just licked batter off a spoon, and, listening to the familiar lilt of Carrie Bradshaw’s musings, muttered under my breath, “Skinny bitch.”

I am a bad feminist.*

On nights like tonight when I lounge around and embrace my inner domestic goddess, baking and watching trash TV, I let myself be such a bad feminist. But, to let you in on my little secret, more than anything I feel like a bad 24-year-old.

Who else my age opted to stay in tonight to bake and watch a TV show that aired over 15 years ago? Youth is wasted on the young.

Staying in, and in particular staying in to bake, triggers a weird anxiety within me.

There’s a part of me that still feels like I was last dumped because somewhere in the last year the part of my brain that used to think “Friday night, let’s party!” switched over to “Friday night, let’s eat sushi and watch old movies over a nice glass of wine!” (Don’t even get me started on the parallel “I was dumped because my room was messy” track.) As my ex would remind me, if only I could have turned the go out, don’t stop part of my brain back on I might have been making more friends and living the life I claimed I wanted.

Beyond that though, I’m out here trying to make the most of my life. I want adventure and I want to change some tiny portion of the world and I want to fight for silenced voices to be heard and I want to do it all while dancing in a great pair of heels. A lot of the time, I’m pushing myself to do those things. But that gets exhausting. And some nights I just want to bake.

20150501_222533

I have no idea why, but that simple desire makes me feel like I’m not doing enough. Like every minute I spend in the kitchen is feeding into some outdated female stereotype that, to be quite honest, I’m not even sure is a stereotype anymore.

Somewhere I got this absolutely stupid idea that domesticity and badassery were mutually exclusive, because I’m a bad, bad feminist.

So tonight I decided, a couple of glasses of pinot grigio in, that I’m not going to let myself feel like a bad 24-year-old or a bad feminist or a bad world-changer. Instead, when I slip on my twee housewife apron, I’m going to channel some of the most badass women I know: my grandmother Bibby who whipped a farm house and all the people in it into shape like no one’s business, my aunt Mary who I swear to God could solve the world’s problems with her cobbler but instead spent her career teaching science in Auburn, my friend Amanda who is about to graduate Penn law school and could have you crying with her catfish and fried pickles.

20150501_222437

When I hang up my apron I’ll let myself feel badass about my perfect royal icing and the gooey center of my chocolate butter cookies and the perfect layer of toasted coconut on my bars. Because there’s always tomorrow to change the world, and I’ll feel that much better about it with a cookie in my stomach.

[The term “bad feminist,” for those who have been seriously out of the loop, was popularized by Roxane Gay’s 2014 book which details her own experiences grappling with issues of race, gender, sexuality and feminism, often as they appear in pop culture and her own life. It refers to our inabilities to live up to the standards set up by “good feminists” to always be on when it comes to feminism.]

The Lebron James of Filibustering

I was going to do a “whoops-haven’t-blogged-in-a-while” update on my life, or the city, or curried rice with shrimp, or Yeezus, or any number of important topics. But then… Wendy Davis.

For those of you who haven’t been obsessively following this for the past 4 hours (or 9 hours, or days), Senator Wendy Davis spent her day filibustering the SB 5 bill in Texas that would severely limit women’s access to safe abortions and restrict women’s health care access. She stood on the Senate floor speaking out against the bill and reading testimony from women about their own experiences with reproductive freedoms. She wasn’t allowed to leave for a bathroom break or lean on anything. Yes ladies and gentlemen, she did not pee for 13 hours.

And suddenly my day seems a hell of a lot easier.

The updated Wikipedia page for Wendy Davis

The updated Wikipedia page for Wendy Davis

Coming from the liberal haven of Providence I didn’t ever have to explain to people that my body was my own and if you want in on my medical decisions, well, tough cookies. I didn’t have to worry about whether I would have access to women’s health care.  Today our girl Wendy stood up for women who aren’t so fortunate. You don’t have to agree with her politics to see that what she’s doing is totally badass.

Women are silenced all the time, and it is so easy to let that silence go unnoticed. Rape culture silences women. Gaslighting silences women. Restricting women’s health options silences women. Hell, women silence other women. To see a female politician refuse the silence and take a stand for women’s rights is pretty inspiring.

There’s something to be said for kick-ass women taking a stand.

And when it comes right down to it, that’s the best return to blogging I can make. Because the past few months have been all about kick-ass women. I am fortunate enough to work for a company that values and celebrates women, and for a CEO who understands how much kick-ass women can achieve. I had the pleasure of celebrating a very exciting birthday with my kick-ass mother (I wont out your age on the internet, Mom, I promise). Her birthday celebrations were filled with people reminding me how rare women like her are.

And today, Wendy Davis.

ImageImageImageImage

(There is a whole lot more to write about the democratic process and the badassness involved here, but that’s for another day. It’s 9:57pm PT the crowd is still cheering, trying to prevent the vote.)

Image

(As of 10:12pm PT it’s unclear whether a vote happened, or if it made it in before midnight central time. It is, however, clear that Wendy is still kickass)

(10:23pm PT: Allegedly a vote took place before midnight and the bill passed. In the tweets of @JamilSmith, “Oh, so THIS is what voter fraud looks like?”)

Image

She Runs The World: Beyonce and Feminism

Recently I had a long-delayed bus ride and a longer-delayed train ride during which I had to keep myself amused, so naturally I listened to a lot of Beyonce. Now normally when I have a long Beyonce jam-sesh I’m in the car and I’m belting out the lyrics in my worst Beyonce voice. You better believe I do a mean rendition of “I Was Here,” although my “Halo” could use some work. As I was sitting on the bus, and at Penn station, and on the train, I started thinking about Beyonce as a cultural producer rather than as the person who I most want to be in this world. And I started thinking about what it means to listen to Beyonce as a woman and, beyond that, a feminist. After all, Beyonce sings primarily about being a woman in a heterosexual relationship, with the occasional power ballad or club anthem thrown in. However she is also widely acknowledged as a badass diva extraordinaire, and one not to be trifled with. So as I sat listening to her belting that she’d rather die young than live her life without me (yes, I believe it was directed towards me specifically), I couldn’t help but think about what Beyonce means to women. Is she a feminist?

Destiny’s Child Roots

I’ll try not to linger too long on the Destiny’s Child days, because I think it’s hard to judge Beyonce on what she did 11+ years ago when she was still young enough to sing a song called Bootylicious. However it’s fairly undeniable that Destiny’s Child did something pretty important when they were around. Though they were not the first to do so (they continue a legacy somewhere between the Supremes and TLC), they were a group of strong, unapologetic women who were talented and confident enough to keep the limelight on them. No doubt when the group released Survivor the world was aware they were not girls to be trifled with.

Other songs of theirs, however, seemed decidedly simpering and hollow. Cater 2 U might be one of my least favorite songs ever, and not because I hate on love songs or the idea of giving selflessly in a relationship (I’m not a heartless freak). I just think that the group that took such pride in female independence and forcing men to own their actions could do better than, “Let me run your bathwater” and “I’ll keep my figure right, I’ll keep my hair fixed, keep rocking the hottest outfits.” Come on, Kelly drips herself against a car and sings “I know whatever I’m not fulfilling another woman is willing.” If my man ever told me to step it up because another woman would run his bathwater and keep her hair fixed he’d find himself free to pursue that other woman far far away from me.

Fast forward to 2011 and the album 4. The album may not have been as widely praised or critically successful as her previous releases, but it was undeniable that Beyonce now knew she was a badass woman that any man would be lucky to have, bathwater or not. In some songs she seemed to trumpet her love of her husband, but there was always a hint or more of undeniable female swag. On “Countdown” in between the touting of her love and the praise she heaps on her man, she sings, “Don’t ever let me go, say it real loud if you’re fly, If you leave me you’re out of your mind.” It’s clear she knows that she brings as much to the table as her man, and in my mind that’s a far cry from Cater 2 U.

Sasha Fierce & Ego

With the release of her third solo album, Beyonce introduced the world to her alter-ego, Sasha Fierce. Accompanied by a duo of backing dancers, she strutted and swagged her way to the top of the charts. For those of us who read gossip magazines, there was a disconnect between her “Single Ladies” anthem and the fact that she was a recently married woman, but none of us were willing to deny that she was indeed fierce.

In my mind, one of the undeniably “fierce” songs on the album was “Ego.” At first I was hesitant. A woman singing about her man’s big ego and how sexy it is? Seemed like the kind of song that could serve as kindling for a big ass ego fire. But the more I listened the more I grew to love the song, not for any grand musical genius, but because it touched on that same “Countdown” vibe: my husband is awesome, I’m awesome, and we just work. Who can argue with that? I think that if I had been in the spotlight since I was 17 I’d be curled up in a ball somewhere right now, but instead Beyonce sounds more sure than ever on “Ego” that she’s a catch (And let’s face it, she is. I’d date her). With sex appeal just a touch of attitude she sings, “I talk like this cause I can back it up. I got a big ego, such a huge ego. But he love my big ego.” On someone else it might sound arrogant (like, for example, the Kanye verse on the remix), but she pulls it off by reminding us that “he” loves her big ego, oh and don’t forget she’s got the goods to back it up.

You may not worship at the temple of Beyonce the way I do, but I think there’s something to be said for that kind of message being out there. Too often female empowerment in popular culture takes the form of man-bashing or pure sexuality. Beyonce, instead, tells girls that they can love who they are, that they can know how incredible they are, and that the man worth writing love songs about will appreciate that strength and knowledge. How’s that for a sexy message?

Demanding Respect

Beyond just knowing that she is worth something, Beyonce tends to demand respect in her music. ‘Irreplaceable’ is a prime example of that, although certainly not the only one. Any girl I know who has been cheated on or wronged gets immense satisfaction out of singing along to “I could have another you by tomorrow, so don’t you ever for a second get to thinking you’re irreplaceable.” What’s interesting about her confidence is that not unlike J. Lo in “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” much of Beyonce’s confidence and self-assurance comes from her monetary power. She, like many other women of power, derives much of that power from her money and her sexuality; it’s easier to demand respect and kick a man to the curb when you have the resources, and when you know the power of your own sexuality. However, the same could be said for many men who derive power from money or good looks, so it’s hardly easy to fault her for falling into that trap.

In addition to “Irreplaceable” songs like “If I Were A Boy”, “Best Thing I Never Had”, and “Single Ladies” are all brimming with Beyonce’s swagtastic demands for respect. “If I Were A Boy”, despite all its shortcomings and the strange way in which she switches between the things she could get away with and the things she knows a man should do, tells the men of the world exactly what it looks like to respect a woman: “I’d listen to her ’cause I know how it hurts when you lose the one you wanted ’cause he’s taking you for granted.”

On “Best Thing I Never Had” she lets her betrayer know “I’m gonna always be the best thing you never had. I bet it sucks to be you right now.” She knows she’s the best, and doesn’t stick around to hear anything else. And seriously, you cheated on Beyonce, it probably does suck to be you right now. Even her slightly scary growl on “Ring the Alarm” warns that you best not be the man who wrongs Beyonce, because she’s not putting up with anything less than the utmost respect and love.

And then there’s “Single Ladies.” Oh, “Single Ladies”, how you call to me. I know that a lot of the discussions of feminism and Beyonce have arisen around “Girls” but for me this was the song where I first thought “Wow, she really is not messing around with the whole I am woman hear me roar thing.” Sure, it’s a club song. Sure, it’s got a silly and fabulous music video. Sure, a million scorned women have probably sung along badly to this song. But when it comes right down to it, it’s the ultimate in demanding respect.

Before you interrupt, I know that “putting a ring on it” is not everyone’s goal, and doesn’t mean respect, and maybe there’s something to be said about Beyonce playing into gender and relationship expectations (Hey B, you could buy him a ring). But there’s also something intensely satisfying about hearing her tell her man, “You can’t be mad at me, ’cause if you like it then you should’ve put a ring on it. Don’t be mad when you see that he want it.” Not ready to deliver Beyonce to infinity and beyond? “If you don’t, you’ll be alone, and like a ghost I’ll be gone.” That’s a woman who knows what she wants and, better yet, what she deserves. Respect, and a shiny ring.

Love Ballads

So this may be where people are thinking, “But hey isn’t this the same woman who sings ‘Halo’ and ‘1+1’? Those are so not chick-anthems.” Okay, so maybe not. But I don’t think to be a feminist you have to sing chick anthems and only sing better off alone songs (although “Me, Myself and I” is a fabulous better on my own song). What Beyonce does is sing the (heterosexual) female experience, from staggering heartbreak and soaring love, to moments of introspection and relationship musings. Sometimes you feel like you’ve found someone perfect and they’re your “saving grace,” as Beyonce belts on Halo. Empowering women doesn’t mean pretending you’ve always done everything on your own, forsaking relationships and man-bashing. It does mean being honest, and if nothing else many of her love songs are the epitome of stark honesty. Admitting you need someone doesn’t make you un-feminist, and it certainly doesn’t make you less of a badass. In fact, on 4‘s “I Miss You” Beyonce sings “It hurts my pride to tell you how I feel, but I still need to. Why is that?” What it says to me, in tandem with her other music, is that she is willing to sing about real relationships good and bad, doubts and confidence.

Girls

I’ve saved the most-discussed for last, and “Run the World (Girls)” was nothing if not a point of discussion. Was it feminist? Did it promote the idea of a female-driven world that doesn’t exist? Globally, what is her responsibility? Is it problematic that her video made use of African dancers without explicitly acknowledging their role in the choreography?

For example, one article discussed the idea that her sexual dance moves negated her girl power message:

Does the ultimate message of female empowerment resonate with audiences, or are they too distracted by Beyoncé’s obvious pandering to the male gaze to take it seriously, or even notice it at all? After all, men joke all the time about how hard it is to think when all their blood has rushed south. And it’s hard to project a powerful persona when one is so subservient to the ideals patriarchy has set out for women: perfect hair, a perfect face and a “bootylicious” figure.

The article seemed to argue that Beyonce was pandering to a male ideal of beauty and only subverting norms when it served her. There may be some truth to that. But it ignores the idea that Beyonce may be one of those woman who is trying to own her sexuality. Aha, but is “owning your sexuality” just a post-feminist ploy to make you feel like you’re making a choice? I hope not, because I like to think I am a woman who genuinely owns my sexuality, from the clothing choices I make right down to my uterus. You can tell me heels and a “bootylicious” figure aren’t feminist and I can tell you to shove it.

Additionally, people were highly critical of the idea that girls don’t run the world, finding it problematic to suggest that they do without highlighting the problems faced by women around the world.

People were quick to discuss the song, in part, I think, because by the time Beyonce released the song people had come to recognize her as a powerful woman in a position to influence hoards of girls. There is an expectation around Beyonce in her post-Bootylicious days that she will be something of a role model to girls. Because there is no such expectation around Britney Spears or Katy Perry, both are free to say whatever they want about girls. But when Beyonce says that girls run the world, people listen and question whether that’s true, or whether it’s aspirational.

I’m not dumb, and I don’t actually think Beyonce is either. We both know that neither girls nor women run the world. But does that mean we shouldn’t aspire to? There are a hell of a lot more women helping run the world today than there were 30 years ago, and more then than 30 years before that. Should we only sing songs called “Run the World (Boys)” just because the majority of the politicians and bankers that we see are men? Not a song I’m trying to listen to, call me crazy.

So is she a feminist?

In the end, I don’t have any grand conclusions about Beyonce. She sings about relationships from a female standpoint, and she does it well. She continually expresses the fact that she knows her worth, and continues to demand mutual respect in relationships. I think, in the context of her subject matter, that’s not too shabby. True, she still plays into the male gaze and uses her money and sexuality as forms of power. But there are also messages of confidence and female strength throughout her music, and even her videos tend to be more varied and less blatantly sexualized that one might expect. And furthermore, she is an important female voice (a black female voice at that) and perhaps it’s better if we listen to her as an important but flawed female figure we can learn something.

I’m not willing to say for Beyonce whether or not she’s a feminist, and she herself has declined to call herself feminist. But I’d be more than happy to go on a road trip with my future daughters and listen to nothing but Beyonce. In fact, I intend to. And they’ll be getting an earful about feminism and pop culture, you’re welcome.

(Image Source: 1)

Nora Ephron: Embrace Mess & Make Trouble

A week or so ago when Nora Ephron’s death was the main headline, a number of blogs and news sources posted her 1996 commencement speech at Wellseley. I hadn’t heard it before, but naturally I was drawn to it since she’s a fellow “mess” advocate:

What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind.

This post comes a week late, but I needed some time to digest her speech. I spent some time dwelling on her words, thinking about which parts resonated with me most. The more I considered her speech, the more I realized how important her advice to women is, even 16 years later. I could sit here and go on feminist-yes, that awful f-word, feminist-rants about the continued anti-women undercurrent in popular culture. I could rant for days about the frustrating legislation that keeps getting proposed and seems to undeniably target women (or, more specifically, poor women). I could point you to Killing Us Softly, a video by Jean Kilbourne about how advertising depicts women. But the question remains: what are you going to do?

Ephron pointed out that women can’t rest on the excuse anymore that no one is giving them options. Sure, there are still people who want to make it hard and have certain ideas about what woman “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing. But they, quite frankly, are assholes. There’s no longer the expectation that you will only “marry” greatness. There’s an expectation you will be great. Work hard, defy odds, be great. Those are the lessons all the best women in my life have taught me, and the ones Ephron endorsed.

One quote in particular stuck out to me, mostly because I cringe every time someone says I’m “unladylike”.

Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.

Freshman year a particularly self-important guy first told me that the way I spoke wasn’t ladylike. Another delightfully forward thinking college student told me I should keep my legs and mouth closed if I wanted anyone to see me as a lady. Hell, there are girls in my sorority who would use the phrase “not ladylike” to describe girls they didn’t like. But if being a lady means following arbitrary rules and cleaning up messes, well I think I’ll stick with being a woman. For Ephron and all the other badass women out there, I hope I break the rules and make a little trouble. And to the boys who told me to shut my legs and shut my mouth, I hope your daughters join me in my rule-breaking trouble-making someday.