Every now and then, the Parade magazine that comes in my Sunday newspaper actually runs an article of value and interest. This week, a David Gergen interview with retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is worth reading. O’Connor is one of my idols – she inspires me to think more and do more. She is a woman worth emulating.
Gergen asks her about her experience in 1952 when, as a top law graduate from Stanford, she was unable to find a job. Why? It wasn’t because the economy was bad or she was shy or incompetent. It was because she was a woman. Stop and think about that for a moment. In 1952, no one would hire one of Stanford’s brightest prospects simply because she carried an XX pair of chromosomes. It’s a thought that makes me want to find every woman I know and shake her furiously while screaming, “Forget about what’s between your legs! It’s the gray matter between your ears that matters!” In order to jump-start her career, O’Connor ended up working without pay in the one firm that was willing to take her on.
O’Connor has had a remarkable life – not just a remarkable career. She succeeded as a lawyer, a judge, a wife, and a mother. She continues, at age 82, to succeed as a mentor and advocate for public life. At the end of the Parade interview she is quoted as saying, “I had a good life, and the reason it was a good life is because I stayed busy doing the things that mattered to me. If I stopped doing that, I think my whole life would disintegrate. I want to feel like, to the extent that I’m able to, I can still make a difference.”
When I’m done shaking the women around me I’m going to ask, “What matters to you? What are you doing to make a good life?” If any of them say they’re going to spend all their time popping babies out of their vaginas I’m going to shake them again. Any Ho can have a baby. What is she going to do with her brain? What is she going to do to make a difference in society? What, at age 82, is she going to say to her interviewer? Or, perhaps more appropriately, is she going to contribute anything to society that warrants an interview? What business matter, what civic cause, what social injustice is going to stir her passions?
Lives well-lived are not gender-dependent. O’Connor shows us that, despite the centuries-old XY Chromosome Conspiracy to keep women out of the public sphere (unless their bodies are on public display), women can make a difference.
How are you going to make a difference?
To learn more about Justice O’Connor, I recommend Sandra Day O’Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became Its Most Influential Justice by Joan Biskupic. In addition, O’Connor has penned two autobiographical books worth reading: Lazy B: Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest and The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice.
Edited on 1/13/13 to add this excellent graphic from The Idealist on Facebook:
…today, May 8, 2011, is Mother’s Day in the United States. It’s a day when people take time to show their appreciation to their moms. Some don’t even particularly like their moms, but they buy the cards and the flowers anyway. Last night, on Mother’s Day eve, the card and flower sections at Wal-mart were jammed with people who had waited until the last minute to decide whether or not they wanted to get something for their mother.
Lucky for me, no human being has to spend any time wondering if I deserve their thanks on Mother’s Day. I never had any children. By choice. Not by accident.
I’ve read many blog posts and Facebook notes about Mother’s Day. Not a few have acknowledged those women who do not have children. However, none has really hit the mark for me or a whole host of my non-mom friends. We don’t get teary-eyed when we see other women with their babies. We don’t feel any great desire to “mother” anyone. We don’t regret our lack of children. We don’t feel lonely. We don’t wish circumstances had been different. We aren’t still waiting for the right guy or the right time. We haven’t spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments and finally resigned ourselves to being childless and unfulfilled.
We simply do not want children.
Believe it or not, that is an extraordinarily difficult decision to make in the very mommy-centric United States. I know that the opinion towards a woman who chooses not to have children ranges from suspicion to scorn to pity. I know this because those opinions have all been made known to me by some well-meaning but misguided acquaintances. A short list of some of the accusations/comments:
1. You must be gay.
2. Why do you hate children?
3. You’ll regret it when you get old and there is no one to take care of you.
4. You are selfish.
5. You’re denying God’s purpose for your life.
6. You must have had a terrible childhood.
7. Your mother must have been cold and distant.
8. You are psychologically imbalanced. You need counseling.
9. Aren’t you lonely?
1. I’m straight.
2. I like children and children like me.
3. Please visit a few nursing homes and discover the hundreds of elderly women (and men) whose children never visit them.
4. It is impossible to be selfish unless my actions are causing someone else’s needs to go unmet.
5. I think I’m in good company with Katharine Hepburn, Louisa May Alcott, Beatrix Potter, Helen Keller, Amelia Earhart, Mother Theresa, Betty White, Jane Addams, Emily Bronte, and Anna Jarvis—yes, the woman who campaigned for Mother’s Day was never a mother.
6. I had a happy childhood.
7. My mother is the best mom ever.
8. I think you are imbalanced for worrying about other people’s choices. Please ask your counselor why you are so worried about whether or not I have children.
As I was out and about this Mother’s Day I was wished “Happy Mother’s Day” several times. At lunch I told my long-time companion that the waitress must have thought he was my son. At two local shops I wondered if invisible children were following me around. I guess in middle-age I look like I could be a mom. But I’m not. And I’m glad.
On Mother’s Day this year and all the years to come, remember: Not all women are mothers. Not all women want to be mothers.
Perhaps we ought to save our “Happy Mother’s Day” wishes for our own mothers and not foist it upon every woman who crosses our paths. One, it’s kind of rude to make assumptions about other people’s lives. And two, it’s just plain weird to wish “Happy Mother’s Day” to women who aren’t your mother. Okay, maybe that’s just me. But, seriously, save the greeting for women with whom you have an intimate, motherly relationship and who you know for a fact feel motherly towards you. Otherwise, Mother’s Day is just another manufactured, greeting-card-company-enriching holiday.
Wait, I think that brings me right back to the beginning and all those folks buying Mother’s Day cards and flowers at the last minute…
“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” ~Albert Einstein
Einstein is perhaps more eloquent than I. A recent status on my Facebook page read: some days I think I need a Warning Label: “Big girl with big ideas and big mouth. Converse at your own risk.” That status resulted in my having someone make this sign and hold it up in Times Square and take a picture. That’s my warning label.
Perhaps I have something in common with Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy who’s famous for saying, “I’m a man! I’m forty.” I’m well past forty, so I am certainly an adult. More than that, I’m an adult woman who is well-read and well-informed. I’m not a kid. I’m not naive. I’m not in need of patronizing guidance. I’m a big girl.
Although I’ll never compare to Einstein’s scientific brilliance, I do have grand visions and dreams. I spend a lot of time studying and analyzing and planning. You see some of what I envision in the various outlets for my business and more so for my ministry. God gave me a vision of living to 115 and beyond—still vibrant and active at that advanced age. Call me crazy, but, like Einstein, I will persist despite the nay-saying mediocre minds with cloudy vision. I have big ideas.
An adult with a grand vision finds it necessary to talk about the vision, promote the vision, defend the vision, and make the vision become a reality. Einstein didn’t sit in the patent office and hide his scientific breakthroughs in a desk drawer. Mike Gundy didn’t sit in his office and allow the rest of the world to define his team or his players. If promoting and defending my vision gets under the skin of those who don’t agree with me, so be it. I’ve got a big mouth.
I love talking with people from all walks of life and from all over the world. I don’t always agree with their positions and they don’t always agree with mine. That’s okay. What’s not okay is starting a conversation with the sole purpose of tearing down the other person’s ideas. That’s not a conversation; it’s an attack. It’s rude. It’s counter-productive. Don’t be surprised and upset when I already know the arguments against my position and am able to refute them. Remember, I’m a big girl with big ideas and a big mouth. Converse at your own risk.
I’ve accepted the position of CEO of Christian Women United in Business and am looking forward to helping that 100+ member group grow and expand its reach. We have nearly 500 Facebook fans and are growing our LinkedIn network. I encourage all Christian businesswomen to get to know us. Our goal is to support one another not only in business but also in faith. Regular prayer for our membership is a core value of our organization. We also offer opportunities for business training, bible studies, and participation in our referral network. We want CWUIB to be more than just another group of businesswomen, we want to create a Spirit-led organization that helps our members honor God through our lives and businesses.
I ran across this blog post from last year while I was doing some research: Top 10 Reasons Why Men Shouldn’t Be Ordained.
Some of the commenters are funnier than the list, especially the “you should read your Bible and repent” types. But I’m just a woman, what do I know?
A recent email discussion got me thinking about the terms “feminine” and “masculine.” Specifically, I wondered what these descriptors mean when it comes to roles and functions in society. And more specifically, can we with 100% accuracy apply these descriptors to each male and female person we encounter; meaning, do all females exhibit 100% feminine traits and do all males exhibit 100% masculine traits. Finally, can we even construct unchangeable, always applicable descriptors of feminine and masculine?
Of course, being an old English major I checked the dictionary first.
1. pertaining to a woman or girl: feminine beauty; feminine dress.
2. having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, as sensitivity or gentleness.
3. effeminate; womanish: a man with a feminine walk.
“feminine.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 01 Mar. 2010. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/feminine>.
1. pertaining to or characteristic of a man or men: masculine attire.
2. having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, as strength and boldness.
3. (of a woman) mannish.
“masculine.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 01 Mar. 2010. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/masculine>.
[note: I disregarded the definitions pertaining to grammar]
The first definition for both terms relates to the outward appearance that one might expect to see when looking at a male or female person. These ideas of dress, hairstyle, looks, etc., are culturally determined. What passes for feminine beauty in the U.S. may be vastly different from what passes for feminine beauty among the members of an indigenous tribe in Brazil. The same, naturally, goes for which physical looks and dress are considered masculine.
The second definition for each term deals with personality traits that a culture ascribes to male and female persons. The examples given are traditional, stereotypical feminine and masculine traits. These traits stem from a combination of biology and culture. Females have more estrogen and are the child bearers; they tend to be more nurturing. Males have more testosterone; they tend to be more aggressive.
The third definition deals with what would be considered a derogatory use of the descriptors. A mannish female in many cultures is looked down upon. The same goes for an effeminate male.
Given these basic dictionary definitions, does it follow that all females are 100% feminine and all males are 100% masculine? Can we assign jobs, roles, and functions in society purely on gender, expecting that each male and female will exhibit the masculine/feminine traits we associate with each gender? If a person doesn’t fit the feminine/masculine stereotypes do we then denigrate the person, lowering their status in society for being too feminine or too masculine?
Stereotyping persons based on gender descriptors of feminine and masculine rarely works. Danica Patrick has a feminine body and beauty that she deftly exploits in her marketing efforts. However, she really does not fit the feminine stereotype since she is a race car driver. That highly aggressive and competitive sport fits better with our masculine descriptors.
What about Gandhi – a male person who changed his society through non-violence? His tactics don’t fit the masculine stereotype of physical strength or aggression. He lived simply, ate simply, fasted often, and refused to resort to any type of aggression to reach his goals. His life looks more like the descriptors for a mild-mannered femininity than a bold masculinity.
Even more than this type of high-profile person who defies conformation to feminine and masculine descriptors, I think of the people I encounter on a daily basis. Is every female I encounter 100% feminine and is every male I encounter 100% masculine. The answer is absolutely no.
If a female never has children, whether by choice, through not finding a suitable mate, or by infertility, does this make her “mannish?” Is she less female for lack of nurturing children? If a female is strong and athletic is she an affront to her sex? Is she to be ridiculed? What of the females who excel in math, science, engineering, and other fields which require analytical skills typically linked with masculine traits?
Are males who like to work with children and become grade school teachers effeminate? Should they be classed as aberrations of the male sex? What about the male who is neither strong or athletic? Is he girlish and rightly subjected to society’s ridicule? Are males who discover they are infertile and cannot father children lesser males?
The problem with stereotypes is that they don’t apply to all people, all the time. Stereotypes by definition are over-simplified generalities. Each person, whether male or female, will exhibit a wide range of traits. Culture, as mentioned earlier, will determine many choices in dress and behavior. Beyond culture, appearance, aptitudes and preferences will vary greatly.
Some females will have a curvy female figure; others will be slender with few curves; others will be square and stocky; some will even have broad shoulders and narrow hips, much like a male. Some females will enjoy the stereotypical female activities; others may not care a thing about cooking and prefer to fly airplanes.
Some males will be built like an NFL linebacker; some will be slender; some will be short; some will have broad shoulders and narrow hips; others will have narrow shoulders and a big butt. Some males will play sports; some will be shy bookworms who become great writers.
Any person or institution that attempts to determine the societal contributions of any person, male or female, based on gender stereotypes of what is masculine and what is feminine, does a disservice to both the individual and to society. No person can be described as 100% feminine or 100% masculine because no person is a stereotype. Reflecting back on our definitions, females are often strong and bold and males are often sensitive and gentle.
Which leads me to conclude that we cannot construct unchangeable, always applicable descriptors of feminine and masculine. Cultures change and the stereotypes change. Economies expand and new technologies develop; consequently, the roles played by males and females change with them. Scientific discoveries open our eyes to never-before-known facts about the world; and these new discoveries shape our beliefs about what it means to be male and female. Perhaps it’s time to forget about classifying people by gender and instead allow them to develop whatever talents God has blessed them with – even it if means they defy the descriptors of feminine and masculine.
One of my favorite poets died earlier this month. I often have my students read Lucille Clifton’s poems when we’re learning about using descriptive language in writing. Her poems are deceptively simple, usually lacking both punctuation and capitalization. Yet the simplicity of her poetry only adds to the punch of the ideas.
Clifton’s poetry is often woman-centric and carries within it the struggles of being both female and African-American. Her poems can be defiant, challenging, and funny. Here is one of my favorites, simply called “homage to my hips:”
these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!
Lucille Clifton may have passed from this world, but her work will stay with us, growing on us, reminding us of what it means to be human.
Once upon a time, women fought to become more than objects of men’s desires. They fought for the right to own property, to vote, for equal education, for equal pay and for the opportunity to live up to their full potential as human beings. All noble and laudable goals.
So when I read this op-ed piece in the Daily Oklahoman, Child’s pay: Support collections, unwed births on rise, I wonder if the tables have now turned. Instead of women being the objects of men’s desires, men have become the objects of women’s desires. For many women and children, a man no longer plays a vital role in their lives. He has been demoted to the status of sperm donor and intimate playmate. That sounds much like the days when women were no more than incubators and intimate playmates.
The United States now sees nearly 40% of its children born out-of-wedlock. This occurs for many reasons, and it would be impossible to eliminate all out-of-wedlock births. However, I fear for the future of a society in which men and women are nothing more to one another than bed partners and social dalliances. All those hard-fought battles for women’s equality prove themselves for naught if we simply debase men (and ourselves) in pursuit of carnal desires.