Offended, Because I Am A Woman

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Today my Facebook news feed has been flooded with the bizarre Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner photo shoot from the recent Vanity Fair magazine.  The photos have been called “stunning.”  Yeah…I was certainly stunned.  More than that, I was offended.

Bruce Jenner’s claim is that his facial-feminizing surgery is about “who he is as a person.”  WTF?  I’m sorry, but what does that mean?  Has Bruce spent his entire life wishing that he/she had the face of a woman, large breasts, and a penis?  Bruce is now calling himself “she,” and he’s taken the name Caitlyn.  Once again…WTF?

This evening, I read more about Bruce’s transformation.  I wanted to figure out why I was feeling so offended.  I have friends, both men and women, who are gay, and I am not offended by their lives.  I finally figured it out.  What offends me about this is the fact that this man thinks that he can just suddenly become a woman.  A couple of large breasts, long hair, and feminizing facial features do NOT make a woman.  That is what offends me.  Just as I do not know what it means to grow up as a male and grow into a man, Bruce cannot so easily claim entry into womanhood simply by surgical alteration.  Would I be a man if I grew a beard and had something hanging between my legs?  NO!

I am not defined as a woman by my facial features, my hair, or my breasts.  I am not defined as a woman because I have ovaries and a uterus.  These things could be removed, and I would still be a woman.  I am not a woman simply because I have carried my children within my own body and given birth in pain.  Without these things, I would still be a woman.

I am a woman, because of the generations of women who came before me.  They are who guided me and taught me what it means to be a woman on the inside.  I gathered eggs with my ancient great-grandmother as she told me the stories of her life.  I sat on my grandma’s front porch as we shelled peas into a bowl while I soaked in even other lessons.  I learned gentleness and strength from these women.  They prepared me with stories, laughter, and love for what would lay beyond my years of childhood.  They prepared me for the secret, magical, sometimes scary world of womanhood.

I have four children – two boys and two girls.  I love them all immensely and without reservation.  Each one of them is an amazingly unique individual.  Still, I will admit that I have a special kinship with my daughters.  We are able to understand each other in a way that often astonishes me.  We can communicate without words, and we can communicate non-stop with words.  We speak freely of anything and everything, and we’re able to clear the male members of the family quickly from any room when our talk becomes too candid.

My daughters are the new generation in the long, long sisterhood of women.  I share my stories of magic and mystery with them.  Someday, if I am very lucky, I will be an ancient old woman sharing my stories with some yet-to-be little girl.  That is what it means to be a woman, Bruce.

 

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Recently, I read an article bemoaning the fact that we have become a “society of shut-ins.”  I suppose the intent of the article was to shed a disparaging light on the trends of online shopping, food delivery services, and cyber friendships.  People don’t ever have to leave their homes if they don’t want.  In fact, most of the people in this article also worked from home.  On the day I was reading this, it all sounded great to me.  I had been away from home for almost a week.  I came home to a messy house, an empty refrigerator, piles of laundry, and a broken dryer.  The idea of sequestering myself away from the world in general sounded wonderful!

To be fair, T had been working crazy hours while I was out of town.  He had prepared meals for the girls and tried to keep up with the laundry.  Emily was back to work, but still recovering from her lengthy illness.  She was sleeping almost every moment she was home.

I spent my Good Friday “holiday” calling around to find someone to repair the dryer, cleaning the house, and fighting traffic and crowds to buy groceries for my family.  That evening I readied the house for company and the holiday.  By the time I sat down late at night, I realized that almost every single moment of my life was claimed every single day.  Work, the responsibilities of running a household, four kids…there was always something I needed to do.

When I finally collapsed in bed, I tossed and turned.  I was back home from Atlanta, and the stress had been patiently waiting for me.  Emily didn’t seem to be getting better, and I was worried about her.  Luke sent me a text at 2:00 a.m. to let me know that his plane had landed in Arizona.  He and Shannon were visiting his former college roommate for the holiday.  At 8:00 a.m., my ringing phone pulled me out of a fitful sleep.  Andrew wanted to know what the password was on our cellphone account.  He was going to upgrade his phone.  Thankfully, he had the sense to quickly tell me that he would be the one paying for the upgrade.

I had been allowed six hours to sleep, but I hadn’t done much sleeping.  My mind had been busy swirling around from one thing to the next.  It seems that the moment my eyes begin to close in sleep, the worries and concerns of the day crept in to wake me up.  I pulled on my robe and shuffled out to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee.  T was already gone.  Although it was Saturday, he had gone to his office to catch up on work.  Work.  Our lives seemed to revolve around work – work at our jobs, work of being parents, work of maintaining our house and household.  I sat down to drink my coffee in the morning quiet of the house.  The girls were still asleep, and the cat curled up on my lap.  I sat listening to the birds outside.  Over the sounds of nature, I could hear traffic, and I remembered a time when our lives were not like this.

Once again, I missed our old home.  I remembered other early mornings from years ago, mornings when I would walk outside and across the dewy grass in my nightgown.  There were no neighbors to worry about.  There was simply us, our home, our family, and nature.  I could look across the fields and see nothing but earth, sun, and clouds.  Of course, I am romanticizing things.  Was it really like I remember?  Yes and no.  There were those perfect moments, but there was also stress and worry.  There is always worry in life, the subject line simply changes.  What I do know was that our focus, our driving force back then, was always the same, and that has changed.  There was a time when we placed family first.  Somehow that has shifted.  Careers, success, material things, have crept up to a higher ranking in our list of priorities, and I don’t like that.  I’m not even sure how it has happened.

We are here now, in this new place, our new home, and honestly I don’t want to leave.  I have made friends here.  In many ways, we are happier now.  I don’t want to look back or try to recreate who we once were years ago.  What we need to do is make adjustments and minor tweaks to our lives so that we can capture moments of happiness again.  We need to look at what is possible to change and make those changes happen.  We need to be proactive instead of reactive.

I can’t do it all.  I can’t work all week and still be a housewife in the evenings and on weekends.  I am NOT superwoman, and I don’t want to be.  No one expects that of me.  I have just kept doing it all, and that’s my own fault.  As I sat there on Saturday morning, and I took my first stab at being a shut-in.  I placed my first grocery order on Peapod.

My order arrived tonight.  I was impressed by how easy and economical it was.  Instead of fighting traffic and shopping for two hours, I spent ten minutes putting away a week’s worth of groceries.  I stood in front of the pantry and marveled at the shelves full of food that I didn’t have to leave my house to buy.  The next step is a cleaning service.

My goal is to reclaim my weekends, myself, and my happiness.

Our Daughters’ Choices

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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism.  Until recent years, I had never really thought of myself as a feminist.  I didn’t ever really give it much, if any, thought.  I was just me.  I was who I was, and I didn’t ever try to lump myself into any category.

I was a country girl.  I married young.  I was pregnant seven times.  I have four living children.  For a large portion of my life, my focus was on my family; my children, my husband, and my parents.  The roles of wife, mother, and daughter were something that came naturally to me.  It is aging (YUCK!) that has caused me to look back and really examine the choices I made as a younger woman.

When I went to college, I lied.  I told my dad that I wanted to major in English literature, and he scowled and grumbled, “What are you going to do with a degree in literature?”  Instead, he advised me to get an Associates degree in “Business Management.”  That was a fancy name for secretarial school.  He said that this would be a good skill for me in the event that I would ever find myself alone.  By alone, he meant if I ever found myself widowed or divorced, I would have a skill to fall back on. Continue Reading »

What Does Aging Really Mean?

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I turned 50 a few months ago.  There.  I said it.  (Or wrote it.)  I’ve refused to acknowledge the fact that I’m past the half century mark.  Most likely, my life is more than half over.  What do I have to look forward to besides wrinkles, sags, and memory loss?  I’m struggling to find anything good about aging.  I’ve tried on a few platitudes for size.  “I’m grateful for all the good things in my life.”  “Life has been an amazing journey.”  Blah, blah, blah…  My children are wonderful, happy, and healthy.  I have a successful career.  I don’t have the financial worries that plagued my life in younger days.  Yeah, great.  I also don’t have my youth.  That was worth something, wasn’t it?   Continue Reading »

The Women Who Came Before Me

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My grandma was 96 years old when time caught up with her.  Her body started breaking down in a variety of ways even while her mind remained alert.  One of my last memories of Grandma was visiting her in the hospital several hours before her death.  She had been hospitalized with complications from congestive heart failure and and diverticulitis.  She looked at me, and she apologized.  She said, “Pami, I’m sorry you have to see me this way.  How did this happen?  I never thought I’d find myself in this situation.” Continue Reading »

Remembering That We Are Women

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About five years ago, I received an email from a woman.  She was someone I knew through work, but not very well.  I still remember the date:  January 2, 2008.  In her email, she told me about a New Year’s resolution that she had made.  She wanted to reach out to the people in her life that she admired and wanted to get to know them on a more personal level.  It seemed that I was part of that resolution.  She and I knew each other professionally.  We were often in meetings together.  Oftentimes, she and I were the only women in attendance.  Her resolution was to reach out to women like me, women she knew in a professional sense, but wanted to get to know on a more personal level.  I’ll admit, I was a little taken aback.  Why did she want to know me?  What was this all about?  I remember briefly wondering if she was going to try to sell me something.  Pampered Chef?  Candles?  I hated those kind of “parties” where women got together and then were forced out of politeness to purchase something that they didn’t want or need. Continue Reading »

Who Am I, and Why Am I Here?

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The Luncheon.

If this LIFE is a play, I’m not sure what part I am supposed to be playing.  I look around me, and everyone else seems pretty clear about their role.  Meanwhile, I feel like I am floundering to figure that big mystery out.

It’s been a weird past week, full of Stepford Wives, lesbians, and religious zealots.  I suppose a weird week is kind of typical for me lately.  Many times, I feel invisible in the midst of it all swirling around me.  I observe.  I watch everyone else.  I wonder where I fit into the whole crazy theme.  What do I feel strongly about?  What is MY passion?  Where am I headed?  I don’t even want to think about where I’ve been…

Before I left on my trip last week, I spoke at a luncheon on a military base.  It was a gathering of the Officers’ Wives Welcome Club.  Many of these women were new to the community.  Most of them have spent their entire married lives following their husbands around from base to base and country to country.  I admire their commitment and their strength, but there was something that was really odd about the gathering.  Most of these women don’t work.  They have not been able to grow their own careers due to the frequency of their husbands’ moves.  That is admirable and understandable.  Nevertheless, I was unprepared for this group of women.  There they were in the middle of a “workday” all dressed up at a luncheon at the Officer’s Club.  Yes, and they WERE dressed up in a strange kind of way.  They didn’t look like the women I normally encounter in the course of a business day.  They looked frilly and girly, lots of lace and floral fabrics, curls, and pearls.  A staff member was with me, and she sent me a text during lunch.  “It smells like my grandma’s closet in here!  Looks like it, too!”  I knew just what she meant.

Earlier that morning, I had briefly planned a speech.  I don’t usually bring note cards or even write notes.  I talk off the cuff about current projects.  As I looked around the room, I wasn’t sure if these ladies would really be interested in my standard economic development speech.  I was suddenly nervous.  The president of the group was talking about a “Home Tour,” a golf tournament, and an upcoming “Fashion Show.”  I felt like I was in a time warp!  I remembered my mother dragging me to tons of events like this luncheon when I was a little girl.  It was how women filled their time.  Back then….it was how women filled their time.  I had no idea it was still going on!

I spoke briefly to the glazed-over crowd.  I talked about our Visitor’s Guide, local merchants and restaurants.  I wanted to run out of there.  The entire experience freaked me out.  We discussed it back at the office.  I wasn’t alone in feeling shaken by the experience.  Why was that?  What was that?

There but by the grace of God go I.  

The Conference

I am home now, and so happy to be back.  The conference was in Charlotte, NC at the convention center.  Other than my organization, there was another large group meeting at the convention center, too, the Eucharistic Congress.  There were hundred of priests and large groups from area churches.  Nuns, people in black robes, others carrying large crosses or statues.  They all seemed to know what they were doing and why they were there.  The seemed purposeful.  There were large rooms labeled “Adoration,” or “Confession,” or “Meditation.”

On the first day I was not feeling well, and headed out to find a pharmacy.  I didn’t know where to go, but thanks to Google Maps and my Droid, some unknown voice guided me to a CVS and back to the conference center before lunch was served.  While I was still marveling about the wonder of having GPS on my phone, I saw a group of ladies wearing bright pink shirts that said, “Jesus Is My GPS.”  Huh…  Not that I don’t believe in Jesus, but I don’t think I would have had much luck if I would have used prayer to find the CVS.  It just tickled me.  I pictured myself down on my knees praying to God to guide me to a pharmacy.

Snobs – or Where are YOU from?  Oh…..   I see….  

When I sat down to lunch that day, I was with a group from the Chicago area.  I vaguely knew most of them.  We all had similar jobs in our respective communities.  We sat wondering/discussing this large religious group sharing the facility.  I related my story to them about the women in the pinks GPS shirts.  The one named Kimberly, not Kim (if anyone calls and asks for Kim, her staff knows NOT to put through the call!) said she had seen the women, too.  She said, “Oh yes, I saw them.  You know, the ones with the big hair and frumpy clothes.  They looked like a bunch of ‘Downstaters.'”  Oh, how I loved telling KIM that I was a ‘Downstater,’ too!

The rest of the meal (and each time I was with these people) was spent posturing for prestige and importance.  Their particular burb or neighborhood was VERY, EXTREMELY important to them.  They wanted to make sure that everyone knew how incredible they were!  Bleh!!!

You’re NOT a Lesbian?  Gross!

Turns out that I am a freak.  Yes, there was the Lesbian Dinner where I was the only one of five women who had ever been married to a man or (God forbid) given birth to a child.  It really freaked them out when they heard how many years I’ve been married.  27 years???  Four kids???  I caught them staring at me curiously (and I hope not hungrily!) for the rest of the conference.

On the last night of the conference, I sat with a group from Canada.  There was a woman about my age, and it turned out that she was also married with children.  By that point in the evening, I was comfortably buzzed from the champagne bar, so I asked her.  “Have you felt like some kind of oddity at this conference?”  She knew just what I meant, and we sat laughing for a long time.  Yes, we were the freaks at this conference.

Alone

The last day of the conference, I was alone.  My friend had flown home a day earlier than me.  I was going to catch a flight out the next morning, but wanted to have an afternoon to explore the city.  I walked miles and miles and truly enjoyed myself.  I sat on benches.  I looked at architecture.  I browsed in shops.  The only thing that disturbed my peace that day were the comments or stares from men.  Trust me, I’m not a looker, but what with the large number of women uninterested in men, I suppose I’m OK.  The comments and behavior was rude, though.  Men can be so damn rude and insincere.

I had dinner in a very nice restaurant that evening.  I dined alone for maybe the first time in my life.  I was OK with it, but it seemed to disrupt and disturb the entire wait staff.  They seemed to want me to eat and get the hell out of there.  The manager came over about four times to talk to me.  “Was I alone?  What brought me to the city?  How long was I staying?”  Well, I thought it was all very nice that he was being  so attentive.  That is, I thought it was nice until he discreetly passed me his card with his cell phone number written on the back.  He said, “Hey, give me a call later.  I’d be glad to show you around the city.”  Oh, I bet he would…  What do you bet he had a wife and kids at home!

Home

It was wonderful to see the girls.  It was good to see T.  We had dinner around our kitchen table last night, and I was happy to be there.  Lola and I watched a few retro-cartoons together.  I’m teaching her about “Wally Gator.”  I loved him as a little kid!  I ran the vacuum.  I unpacked.  I couldn’t have been happier to be a freak at home with my husband and kids.