Wilson, Brown, Pantaleo, Garner: Four Aspects None of Us Have Considered

nYC protests

By now, most of the civilized world is aware of the two separate cases here in the USA of a white policeman killing a black male suspect during an altercation.  They come on the heels of so many other similar incidents that have resulted in the death of a Black suspect or even a completely innocent Black man.   While the dialogues have been endless and heartbreaking, none have addressed four aspects of American society that crucially influence how these events are perceived. Until we are willing to admit to and examine these factors, these tragedies will continue to divide our nation, eventually destroying us all:

 

1. We have been trained to have an “Us versus Them” mentality.

 

Bill O’Reilly versus Jon Stewart. Christian versus Muslim versus Atheist.  Liberal versus Conservative. Male versus Female. White versus Black.  The listings are endless. Belonging to a group makes us feel comfortable and welcomed, makes us feel that we “fit.” But the moment we affiliate ourselves with any one group, we limit our world view. When we’re herded into group think by our religion, our ethnicity, our favorite news channel or political party, we begin to lose our ability to feel compassion for anyone outside our group. Those who dare to think differently from what their group deems to be true know they’ll be criticized and possibly ostracized from the one place they feel they belong.  It’s frightening to be excluded, to stand alone. But unless we can teach ourselves to be open-hearted and open-minded enough to see human beings as one giant group, unless we can be brave enough to stand up for what we know in our hearts is right, whether our group agrees or not, human suffering will not end. Whether we accept this or not, we’re trained from the time we’re very young to think “Us versus Them.” It keeps us aligned to that which others ̶ our parents, our political and religious leaders ̶ wish us to be aligned. An allegiance to one specific group can make us fearful, ready to perceive “outside” threats to ourselves and to what and whom we love. All of this in turn keeps us willing to participate in war, whether actual or metaphoric.  Group think breeds fear and fear breeds violence. And only the very few profit from that.

 

2. We refuse to recognize and examine our own personal, knee-jerk prejudices. 

 

My knee-jerk prejudices are something I’ve acknowledged as an ugly part of me that exists, whether I like it or not. I have a number of preconceived notions that are often subtle and hard for me to pinpoint. But make no mistake: when I come across them, I’m disgusted with myself.  For example, I’ve recently noticed a stiffness in my demeanor whenever I talk to white, male lawyers. I realize it’s their profession and their privilege that make me predisposed to distrusting them. But when I meet someone new who fits this description, I now know that I’m actually waiting to discover something about them that will justify my automatic distaste.  That’s only one of my personal perceptions that I need to be aware of, but years ago, I discovered one in particular that is at the root of many social evils. I call it “The DeKalb Avenue Subway Stop Syndrome.”  In the early 1990s, when I was teaching at an inner city school, a father came to Parent-Teacher Night with his daughter, my pupil. He sat with her at my desk and listened without expression as I told him about her accomplishments in my class. (She was a model student.) After I’d finished, he said, “I just have one question: Does she talk a lot in your class? Because at home, I can’t get this little one to be quiet.”  To which my pupil replied, “Oh, Daddy, please. Don’t embarrass me.”

After they left, I wondered why, after witnessing the exchange between father and daughter, I felt an inexplicable relief followed by a wave of shame.  Then I realized what it was:  He was a muscular man in his mid-thirties, with very dark skin. When I was a little girl, my grandmother lived in Brooklyn, New York. She’d sometimes take me on New York City subway rides when I went to visit her. If the subway car was empty save for us, and a young black male got on at the Dekalb Avenue stop, my grandmother would pinch me and make a motion with her eyes that we needed to get up without attracting his attention and move to the next car. Dekalb Avenue was notorious for being a “dangerous minority area,” and young Black men would sometimes get on at this stop, go up to passengers and pull their gold chains off right from around their necks. “Chain snatchers” as they were called, could then be seen at the Sixth Avenue Diamond Exchange in Manhattan selling those chains.  I’d seen this happen even as a young woman working in Manhattan, and unconsciously, this fright had stayed with me throughout my childhood and all throughout my thirties, my anxiety over it not resurfacing until a loving father came into my classroom to see how his daughter was faring at school. He was no threat to me nor to anyone else, but until he spoke, his stoic expression, his skin color, his build, made me wary on some deep level.

It took only that one exchange between him and his daughter for me to uncover this irrational perception I had about him, but how can I know for sure if I’ve caught my subconscious every time it’s set on a similar course of unreasoning fear? Though I try to be a good person, though I wish good for all men, there still was that knee-jerk xenophobia, hidden within me.It’s hard to admit this despicable side of myself, but I hope by being aware of it, I can stop myself from reacting to these gut emotions rather than to the actuality of the situation I’m in. I wonder, if we were all to be this blunt with ourselves if many of the altercations such as the ones we’re hearing about in the news could be prevented?

 

3. We are naïve in our belief that our personal experience with law enforcement is the collective reality.

 

As a person who’s worked in a minority community of abject poverty, and then eventually moved to one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the United States, I can attest from firsthand experience that there are terrifyingly opposed exchanges one can have with law enforcement individuals, exchanges that are too often based on where one stands on the socioeconomic divide. From Queens, New York, to Marin County, California, I can cite personal example after personal example the gulf between my dealings with law enforcement when seen as a rich woman and when seen as a poor one.  I believe without one shred of doubt that the more affluent the community in which one lives, the better the exchange with law enforcement individuals one will have.

Do the mindsets of police officers change when they’re exposed to high crime rates, constant danger and the despair of poverty? Probably somewhat. But will these problems turn a good police officer into a bad one? Definitely not. There are bad people who join good organizations with the sole intention of taking advantage of their position in society to wreak havoc and cause harm. That is an undeniable fact of life. And what do we too often do about these corrupt individuals within any organization? Do we expose them, strip them of their jobs, or do we hide them away for fear that outing them would be a threat to the organization as a whole? As a teacher, I witnessed other so-called “teachers” who were a mental and physical danger to our pupils as they were shuffled from school to school in a “lemon dance” effort to lessen their negative impact. But rarely did I see any of them who had tenure be sent home for good.

 

This “one for all and all for one” mentality holds true (and we know it does) with doctors, politicians and priests. As it does too with bad police officers. Until we call out and expose the unnecessarily violent, the ones who see themselves more as almighty enforcers rather than peacekeepers, until the general mindset of police administration in the ghettos becomes one of compassion rather than suppression, the rotten apples will thrive, eventually instigating an exodus from law enforcement by those who truly wish to serve and protect. It was revolting to us when we heard of the bishop who covered up the sexual abuse of hundreds of Catholic children, and the doctor who fraudulently prescribed cancer treatments to his patients for greed and profit. Why all the justification for every violent police action? Why no deep investigation into these current cases, no task force to get to the root of the problem?  Why isn’t every American demanding such? Where is our community spirit? Surely we’ve all learned from Martin Niemöller ‘s famous quotation, “First they came for the Jews,” that saying nothing because it’s nothing to do with “us” personally can only lead to it becoming us, personally.

 

4. We have taught our sons and daughters a grotesque ideal of “masculinity.”

male aggression 

Despite my belief that the police officers involved in the Brown and Garner cases should have been, at the very least, indicted to stand trial before a jury and defend their actions, I also believe that they too are in another way, victims of a society that teaches all of us that the only true masculinity is a violent masculinity. In fact, we’ve sexualized violence in our society: the man who kills most in a war is a “hero,” and a “catch,” the “hottie” criminal mug shot that goes viral, the police uniform as a turn on.  As mothers, there are those among us who’d encourage their sons to join the military but would disown them if they were gay, or who tell their toddler sons that boys don’t cry. Because of our twisted approach to what is male, what emotions a man is permitted and not to exhibit in public, four times more men than women commit suicide. Men who are depressed don’t dare display the “female” emotions of sadness or despair, but instead indulge in “anger, aggression, irritability, substance abuse and risk-taking behaviors.”  And too many lower income men between the ages of 17-19 join the military not out of any true sense of patriotism or a desire to protect, but because they can’t think of anything else they can do to prove themselves men.

Our approval of this culture of violence shows itself in how our men behave, not only towards each other, but towards women.   Much is said about how modern society makes being a female challenging, but not enough is said about how we begin to warp a boy baby’s mind from the moment he’s off the nipple and begins learning how to walk.

 

Taking all of this into consideration, the need for men to prove their masculinity through aggression is epidemic and many male military personnel and law enforcement officers are drawn to these occupations simply for the opportunities they afford them to express their aggression. With this as a factor, it’s my bet that Darren Wilson approached or replied to Michael Brown with hostility (although he says not) because that’s the way the “man in charge” has been taught to approach or reply, particularly if he has his own masculinity issues, something that the police department needs to evaluate before putting officers out on the streets to patrol.  And I’d also bet that Michael Brown replied in kind or led with aggression, because an 18-year old male could never survive socially (maybe even physically) if it ever got out to his peers that he did not stand up for himself and show himself to “be a man.”

So while we’re all screaming about which “side” is at fault in these altercations, there are those of us who see a societal problem that is wider and deeper than race alone.  Who can resolve it? I think women can. At least, we should consider that we be the ones to try.

As mothers and grandmothers, aunts and teachers, as the segment of humanity which has been burdened or blessed with the ability to bring forth and nurture life, we need to take a more active role in promoting compassion. We need to take a wider role in looking out for each other’s children. We need to speak up against violence, not justify it. We need to oppose war rather than glorify it. And most of all, we need to make our male counterparts believe that these “feminine” traits are also masculine traits, traits that we admire and desire to see them display.

 

An Open Letter to Kim Kardashian

Kim

Dear Ms. Kardashian:

Even though you don’t know me, I feel compelled to write this letter to you, a letter in which, believe it or not, there’s both an apology and a thanks to you from me, a stranger.

I’ll start with the apology. Up until a few days ago, I thought I was ignoring you. It’s hard to ignore a celebrity when she appears on one’s Twitter and Facebook feed, whose face is on every cover of every magazine at the supermarket checkout. But I thought I was doing a fine job of it. In fact, I prided myself for not clicking on celebrity gossip, nor commenting on it when I happened to be in the vicinity of someone who was talking or posting about it. Celebrities and celebrity gossip was “beneath me,” I thought.

Nonetheless, despite my lofty ideologies, enough gossip about you had filtered to me, regardless of my efforts to block it, into not only not ignoring you, but, I realize now, into actually judging you. I judged you on your clothing, on your activities, on what I considered your unwarranted fame, and on your choice of consorts.

I can’t even believe I wrote that last sentence—I, who’ve spent the last two decades writing and advocating for women to empower and support other women, I, who’ve been judged so spitefully all throughout my life on some of those very same things on which I was judging you. Yet, without even realizing that I was doing that to you, I did do it. I judged you.
 
And it hurts to be judged. It hurts when one’s choices are mocked or sneered at. Even so, this is exactly what I did, because you didn’t seem real to me—just a name in my newsfeed, not an actual human being with actual human feelings. And for that I am ashamed of myself. For that, I apologize. I had no right to question any choices you make, especially me— whose own personal choices — (I should introduce you to a few ex-boyfriends of mine) —-have been so often far less than stellar. I was a hypocrite and by this public confession of regret, I hope to make amends not only to you, but to myself. If I didn’t apologize to you on paper, even if you never read this apology, I would feel that I should never write another word about women supporting women again.

But I also owe you a note of thanks—a resounding note of thanks, in fact. For the past week, more gossip about you has made its way through my celebrity tittle-tattle blockade, this time about naked photos. Naturally, being the holier-than-thou me, I hadn’t looked for these photos or clicked on any links that had to do with them, but like all other news about you, it was hard to avoid hearing about them.  And what I heard was vicious: memes comparing your backside to a Thanksgiving turkey, celebrity males mocking your pose, and worse, other women making fun of your size. All at once, I had to see what was prompting all the meanness. So I searched for your photos.

Imagine my shock when my immediate reaction to them was of admiration. That’s right—I admired you. I admired you for how beautiful you looked—like a Botticelli painting come to life, and I admired you for having the courage and the self-confidence to be naked and proud of your body, when your body, like mine, is neither the size nor shape that the fashion industry wants us to believe is beautiful. And you know what? That is another thing I thought I was ignoring—the idea that a woman has to be a certain size in order to be considered “sexy.”
 
I’d struggled with my weight as a young woman, but for the past two decades, I’ve been thankful for the fact that I now have a “healthy” body weight, and a “fit” body. But I had resigned myself to never having a “sexy” body. My body would make Calvin Klein, with his idea of a size ten, five-foot-eleven model being “plus size” run screaming in the other direction. In fact, I’ve never been able to buy Calvin Klein bras, because even in my size, they don’t fit me. I’ve always thought of my breasts as being “too” full, my tummy “too” rounded, but it never occurred to me that I was judging myself (just as I judged you) and finding myself lacking.
 
But then, I saw your photos, saw you smiling with such a look of daring and fun, I realized how badly I had let myself down, had let my husband down, even. He’s always told me he finds me sexy, but you know what? There was always a tiny part of me that didn’t believe him. There has always been a tiny part of me—when I would see a Victoria’s Secret model that would think, with despair, “I’ve never had a willowy body like that, and I never will.” How did that affect my perception of myself and maybe even my relationship with him, I now wonder?

Seeing your photos, all this went through my mind. How society has issued an edict on which female bodies are sexy and which aren’t; which women can pose for magazines in their altogether and which should be mocked. At the same time that your photos were released, another star, Keira Knightley, posed topless in a “protest against photoshopping” she said. Was she ridiculed? Did memes of her breasts on a turkey platter show up on Facebook? No. Why—because she’s the “right” size? Because it’s okay to show off one’s body as long as it meets the approval of …whom, exactly?  Fashion designers who force models to starve themselves into their clothing?

But Ms. Knightley has a point too, hasn’t she? Who dictates what size makes a woman beautiful?

And what does it say about us as a society that a full grown woman who boldly shows her full hips, backside and breasts is someone to mock, while an emaciated 16-year-old in lingerie is “sexy?” We, as women, have not only accepted but embraced the idea that a fuller woman has no right to feel as good about her body as you obviously do. Fuller women have no right to show our sensual side. We should be laughed at for not being a size zero. And only a woman who “works” for her body, not by healthy eating and reasonable exercise, but by starving herself, too often suffering from eating disorders, drug abuse and everything else that goes with the modeling industry, is permitted to feel “sexy.” The dysfunction of this has become so acceptable that someone like you who doesn’t buy into it, is the one who’s ridiculed.

I’m not blaming naturally thin women. They didn’t start this–the fashion industry did.  But I do blame myself and others like me who buy into the diktat, sometimes without even realizing that we’ve bought into it, that only certain shapes are acceptable and others simply laughable. We’ve built into our perceptions of beauty a prison for women, just as sexist as other societies who stone women to death for not covering themselves from head to toe. Our stoning is psychological rather than physical.

Kudos to you for breaking free. And that’s why I have to thank you. Your photos made me feel more beautiful. Your photos, your presence in the tabloids, made me see two things about myself that I didn’t like and I am now determined to change: that I not only judge other women when I believed that I wasn’t, but that I also judge myself.
 
There’s a dress that’s been hanging in my wardrobe for over a year, a dress my husband loves, a dress I wouldn’t wear because I thought I looked “fat” in it. Thanks to you, I’m wearing that dress. Thanks to you, I am going to mentally put my middle finger up to anyone who mocks me, mocks my beautiful body, the body that I have never appreciated it, the body that has been healthy and strong for me all of my life.

So, a very big thank you, Kim. Thank you and I’m sorry.

With warmest regards,
Patricia V. Davis
 

Being Brave is Not for Sissies

blogtattle

“Why don’t the good cops speak out and ban together against the bad cops?”

This was a question I saw posted on social media yesterday. I’m pretty sure I know the answer. It’s the same as why good teachers don’t speak out and ban together against bad teachers, why good doctors don’t speak out and ban together against bad doctors, and why good priests don’t speak out against the pedophiles among them: It’s actual fear  ̶ fear of being called a “rat” by your “tribe” of colleagues, fear of being ostracized or known as a “troublemaker,” fear of someone at a higher level in your workplace hierarchy destroying your reputation and your livelihood. (How many of us are old enough to remember Frank Serpico?)

When I was teaching in a New York City public school, here are some of the things well-meaning things friends and family said to me when I told them about the very sickening behaviour of one of the so-called ‘teachers’ at the school: “He has tenure, you don’t. And the principal doesn’t want trouble. He’d have to go through hoops to get rid of this teacher, so he’ll get rid of you, instead. Do you want that? How does that help the kids if they fire you?”

I heard from my then husband, “Why do you have to be the one to report it? Just do your job. We need your salary.”

I heard from a loving friend, “Can’t you at least wait until you get tenure too? Then they can’t fire you.” (At the time I was at least two years away from tenure.) And when I did report it ̶  of course̶  it was met by amazement ̶  not that it was happening, because everyone knew  ̶ but because I voiced it. And just as you’d expect, that teacher wasn’t fired, but I was on the administration’s black list from then on, until I finally left.

So there’s that.

But then, there are also those good cops, good teachers, good doctors, etc, who personalise it: “If you’re talking about a cop, good or bad, you’re talking about me.” Or my son who’s a cop, or my daughter who’s a doctor,” etc.

They think, “I hate hearing this and I don’t want to hear it.” This is the way society in general operates: “Not my country,” “Not my sports team,” “Not my senator. They didn’t do anything wrong, they couldn’t possibly have, because they belong to me.”

We stand up for those whom we think of as ours, no matter how revolting are the things that they do.

And in fact, this is the way dysfunctional families operate too. The one who calls mom or dad or uncle or sibling out on reprehensible deeds is the one who is targeted: “You’re lying.” “That never happened.” “That’s the way you remember it.” Other family members are told, “She’s always been unbalanced. She’s always been different, she’s never really been one of us.”

This is why brave deeds are called BRAVE: to stand up to that, you have to be prepared to lose everything that is valuable to you ̶ your job, your tribe, your income, your reputation. You have to be prepared to leave what it is you love̶  your school, your precinct, your medical practice, your family ̶  you have to be prepared for people to whisper about you for the rest of your life. And today, you also have to be prepared to be slammed on social media too. It’s not only your local citizenry who will know when you stand up and point a finger, it’s the whole damn world. With one click of “send” your protest against injustice can go viral and then perfect strangers will be judging you, based on their own fears, their own prejudices.

How do I know? Because it’s happened to me, over and over again. It’s happened to others I love. I’m proud to be among those who have that kind of integrity, but let me tell you ̶  sometimes it’s horrific and lonely. Doing what’s right, speaking the truth, can end up crushing your soul. Being brave is not for sissies.

 

Lessons Taught by Cardboard Boxes

Stuff

It’s funny how I’m sure I’ve learned a certain thing in life and then something (or someone) comes along to illustrate that I haven’t learned it nearly as well as I’d thought. This one is on the subject of what’s really important in life.

 
So, I’ve been stressed lately because we made a giant move in thirty days. I had to pack up my entire house by myself. I barely had time to say good bye to friends and colleagues who I really care about. Arriving at our destination to a house my husband has owned since before we were married, I now have to clear out my husband’s “bachelor stuff” which includes rusty, burned pots in the kitchen, piles of papers and magazines he’s hoarded since 1996, furniture he bought for no other reason than because it was cheap, and the bed he and his ex-wife used to sleep on before they got divorced, which, by the way, he did not tell me used to be theirs until after I’d been sleeping on it for ten years whenever we visited this house.  (Let’s not go there.)

Stress has been exacerbated because I’m on a time crunch to get it done because I’m going to Nevada for book events in August and then overseas in September. I’ve been losing sleep and not eating very well, not writing, not exercising except for running up and down steps carrying boxes, because “it would be nice” to come back in September to “an organized house.”

 
Apart from that, my agent is shopping my novel, but we now need to pause in showing it around to acquisitions editors until the end of August since the NYC publishing industry closes shop for the summer. So that’s an unresolved issue that’s been niggling at me too. “Did I pick the right agent?”  “Will she sell it?”  “Will we get more than one offer, and if so, which should I choose?”  “What are my options if she doesn’t sell it?”  And “Goddammit — I have bruises on my inner arms and upper thighs from hauling heavy boxes.”

The above has been what my husband has been listening to for the past three weeks. Believe me, it’s got to be a helluva of lot more exasperating for him to be hearing that non-stop from his wife than it is for me to get rid of his old papers and rusty pots.

So, move, packing, shopping a novel, and bitching about it all. That’s been me for the past month or even more and it’s been ugly.   Instead of looking at all that as though it’s really fortunate that I have a house to live in, that I have too much furniture and that I’m damned lucky to have an agent, I’m stressed.

(I’m sure I’ve bored half of you to tears by this point in this story, but hang in there.)

Some of you already know that I posted some of that furniture on Craig’s list as ‘for free’ and even made a joke about it at the expense of some of the people who came to pick up said furniture.  So it wasn’t a reminder to me that many of us don’t have a house to live in or have too much stuff, it was an opportunity for me to make a sarcastic quip on Facebook about meeting the people from the Star Wars bar in person. Funny at the time, maybe, but not so funny in the following context.

 
And then I met someone who came to pick up the very bed I couldn’t wait to get rid of, because he doesn’t have a bed.  He’s twenty-three years old, an ex-Marine and is missing three of the toes on his foot. (The other two will soon need to be amputated.) He’s in constant pain from other injuries he picked up courtesy of our involvement in Afghanistan. He was nineteen when he got married and last week his wife told him she didn’t want to be married to him anymore, so he left another state too, and drove to Colorado with whatever he could fit in his pickup. He chose Colorado not because he has any friends here, but because pot is legal and he prefers that to alleviate the constant pain rather than the pain meds the U.S. military prescribed to him that nearly made him an addict.  He gets about 2,300 dollars a month from the government because he’s no longer of much use to the military, but he left everything he owned to his wife and stepdaughter, and had seven dollars left to hold him until the first of August when his monthly money comes in.

 
Seven dollars until the end of July. We met on July 12.

In the six days since, he’s put up two shelves for me, disassembled yet another bed, put up two ceiling light fixtures, fixed the leak that sprung in the basement that I was also bitching about just a few days ago, because I’d stored all the packed cardboard boxes down there. He’s moved heavy furniture, took every bit of “junk” that I offered him because it’s not junk to someone who isn’t a well-taken care of, well-off writer.

The whole time he’s worked, he’s talked. I learned that his mother is an addict and he blames her habit for the birth defects his brother suffers. I learned that he loves his father very much. (In fact, he called him twice during the past few days to get his expert opinion on how to fix the leak for me.)  But it was his father who told him when he turned eighteen that he needed to get a job or get out, and that was the one and only reason he joined the military. I learned that his wife already had a two year old child when he met her, they got married when they were both still children in my opinion, but even so, his little stepdaughter calls him (and not her biological father) “Daddy,” because he’s been that loving to her.  He wanted children of his own but can’t have them because he was exposed to radiation in the military and is now sterile.

 
And as he was telling me all this, he was working happily, efficiently, with no resentment whatsoever towards me or my big house full of boxes and furniture. When we shook hands yesterday, he said, “Miss, you saved my life this month. I live off my odd jobs and try to save what the military gives me, so I can buy another house. I had one, but I let my ex-wife keep it if she’d promise me that I could see my daughter.”  

(By the way, this is practically word for word—I am not making any of this up or in any way embellishing it to make a better story.)

While I was listening to him talk, I was thinking about my own kids and how much we gave them, how much they have.  I was thinking about my own life as a younger woman which I truly thought had been challenging, and I was realizing how pampered I’ve become that a few boxes and some daily damn lucky living could be so stressful for me.

He went on, “I’m hoping you’ll tell your friends about me, so I can get more jobs. I will do anything that I don’t need to take a piss test for, because if I can’t smoke pot, I can hardly move without pain.”

So, I’m telling my friends. But most of all, I’m telling myself.

What does “The Good Wife” Teach Us About Female Entrepreneurs?

In Season One of “The Good Wife,” Alicia Florrick, wife of disgraced politician, Peter Florrick, stands at the podium next to him in a pose we’ve seen far too often in real-life politics: that of the stoic and silent spouse as he apologizes for his misdeeds which include, in this particular case, sleeping with prostitutes in a sex scandal that is only outweighed in repulsiveness by his corruption trial.  We watch as she battles with the fallout from his actions, both financial and personal, and those women who’ve dealt with a cheating spouse, or know another woman who has, empathize with her internal struggle to do what’s right for her children and herself.  In my case, there was also, I admit, the morbid curiosity of what might make a woman like Alicia tick. Why would a beautiful, intelligent, successful-in-her-own-right woman like Alicia “stand by her man,” who has proven himself to be nothing more than a very greasy ball of sleaze? If it’s not for the reflected power of being the spouse of such a public figure, if it’s not for love, as pathetic as that might seem, then, what’s it for?

We never really find out. But as for the rest of what we learn, well, I think the above publicity shot for the series says it all. The photo of Alicia, seated while holding hands with two men, standing over her, her cheating husband on the right, her lover (and boss) on the left.

 

Alicia is a woman who graduated from law school, and is purported to be, by one of the male characters on the program, “the smartest student in her class” at Georgetown. Yet, in the series she’s rendered paralyzed and helpless for a time by the realization of her husband’s perfidy. Okay, I can forgive that portrayal. Being betrayed rocks our world, no matter how competent and intelligent we are. Then, she cries when her children can’t see over the mounting bills that she may not be able to pay because she’s been out of the workforce for 13 years. Too true and I can accept that depiction too. But when we watch as her daughter, a girl barely in her teens, frets and worries over her mother, feeling that she’s fragile, that I just can’t forgive. Role model to growing daughter (and other young women who might be viewing) much?

 

The Alicia character is then offered a job as an associate lawyer at the law firm of her former lover, who’s not hiring her because she’s needed there, or because the notoriety of her name will do his firm any good, but because he still has the hots for her. She takes the job and I can forgive that too, because so far, it’s all too realistic.

But the writers lost me when in the midst of her still trying to prove herself at said firm, she embarks on a affair with the former lover, while still married to the sleaze bag who’s now in prison. That’s TV, and I guess I can forgive that too. But then, she hides her relationship with her lover from her children because it’s something that makes her feel “guilty.”  Ah, sexual guilt.  Is it written in because that’s the way women feel, or because that’s the way we’ve been conditioned to feel? And does her lover feel guilty? Of course not.

Although clearly their relationship is deepening into something more than sex and said lover has more respect for her than her husband clearly ever did, her guilt causes her to break it off with him and we see her, walking through the hallways of the law firm, in full view of other lawyers, secretaries, the whole lot, crying. Boo hoo hoo.  A woman crying over love in her workplace, where she’s trying to earn a right to not only be, but show herself as capable. The shot cuts to the lover, who is of course sitting at his desk, cool and composed, despite being devastated. Because girls cry and boys don’t.

In the next season, when the husband is released, the writers depict her having horny, uncontrollable urges. The lover is now out of her life, so in her mind, who better to satisfy those urges than her now no longer incarcerated, but still not living with, husband? So they go at it standing up his campaign trailer. I’m now feeling a serious yuck factor going through me. Women. Can’t live with them, but you can, as Alicia says, “bang” them whilst standing up in your trailer.

Her personal sexual principles aside, the character further evolves to: 1) help her husband’s campaign. (He’s now back in office. And I’ll hand it to the writers there– that is a realistic depiction of our current political process if ever there was one)She does this by helping to cover up the discovery of a stuffed ballot box. She even utilizes their son, who has been shown to have more integrity than any other male on the show, with this endeavor.  2) conclude that her feelings for the former lover will get in the way of saving this so-called marriage of hers. She schemes behind the lover’s back, who is still her boss, to start her own firm with several of the other associates. She even steals some of his clients, including a despicable drug dealer who we see, a few seasons back, kill his former wife, the mother of his son, for attempting to divorce him. Dang. Hell hath no fury like an emotionally twisted woman. (And naturally, the drug dealer is black.)

At the same time that this character had originally aroused some sympathy in her fellow sex, Alicia falls prey to the Hollywood writing stereotype of the scheming, sexually motivated, cheating, emotionally over-reactive, lying business woman who’d be nowhere (or perhaps thinks she wouldn’t) if it weren’t for her very attractive genitals and the powerful men she’s able to lure in with them.

M own husband, bless his heart, says I’m taking a TV show too seriously that’s, through his eyes, “strictly for entertainment.”  But, though I want to state for the record that he is a loving, supportive spouse who applauds my courage and my business acumen, he’s never had to hear from his colleagues that he’s “too take-charge,” too “rough around the edges.” He has never been called into his superior’s office and told, “there’s nothing wrong with your office clothing. It’s very professional. But I feel you should know that on you it looks provocative. But you can take that as a compliment.” He’s never been called “a bitch” by a colleague. He’s never had to deal with the puzzled and sometimes even poisonous envy of another woman who, having the learned mindset of an Alicia Florrick perhaps, a woman who only knows how to achieve through connections, sexuality or an advantageous marriage, doesn’t understand a woman like me or what it is I’m doing to get ahead. How could she? In a culture with a media that promotes females to behave like this TV character, a woman who is climbing her way to the top, inch by slow inch, utilizing nothing but her talents, drive, honestly, forthrightness and integrity, is too often not only considered an anomaly, but an actual threat. Business can cope with an Alicia in the workplace because she fits into the majority of the male executives’ view of the women they come across in their work day. (Don’t bother writing to me to tell me that she doesn’t, because in my extensive experience, she does.)

Where do these cultural norms and mores come from? The things we read and the things we see in the movies and on the telly, of course. This series, while highly entertaining and popular, is not really something I’d want my teenage son or daughter to watch.

Now, with no deplorable, sexually rambunctious male in sight to come rescue me, I guess I’d better get back to work.

When Bad Becomes Good

If I hadn’t have married the wrong man, I would never have foolishly given up my teaching career to move to Greece with said man. I would never then have been in a sudden desperate financial situation, which forced me to start my own business overseas. If I hadn’t started a business overseas, wherein my poor grasp of the local language, customs and business practices were challenged daily,I’d never have learned that I could be a more-than-competent, creative and tenacious entrepreneur. If I hadn’t learned that I was a competent, creative and tenacious entrepreneur, I wouldn’t have developed the confidence I needed to do what I really wanted to do, which was to write a book and see it published, then another and now a third, fourth and fifth. If I hadn’t written and published books, and weren’t looking forward to writing many more, I would never have had to promote them and myself, another skill which having my own businesses helped me develop. And if I hadn’t been putting myself out there to promote my books, I would never have met Siobhan Neilland.

If Siobhan Neilland hadn’t been forced by a parent into driving a getaway car when she was five years old, (“I did it with long sticks that reached the pedals”) and been taught how to shoot a gun that same year, if she hadn’t been using drugs by the time she was in elementary school and become addicted by the time she was nineteen, she may never have reached rock bottom. If she hadn’t reached rock bottom, she may never have learned that she had the strength to claw herself all the way back up to the top and then some. If she hadn’t done that and then sought out a reason to explain her journey, she may never have come up with the idea to start her clinics in Uganda. If she hadn’t struggled (and still continues to struggle) to achieve that goal, hundreds of newborns and their mothers would never have survived.

And if our paths hadn’t crossed on our individual journeys, one disappointing and challenging, the other downright heartbreaking yet miraculous, I would never have known what a truly strong woman is. I would never have realized that there was another woman out there, another entrepreneur who just like I, wants to generate not only revenue, but as she states it, “joy.”

Siobhan Neilland is an extraordinary human being. Over this past weekend, I had the honor of getting to know her during our session at The Marin Teen Girl Conference 2014, which we’d titled “Fighting for Your Joy.” Though we were jointly credited for this session and though I was the one who, knowing the organizers were looking for an inspiring presenter, had actually invited her to speak with me, it was Siobhan who was the star of the day. She stood up and told a room full of teenage girls that feeling joyful, worthy and purposeful is a “choice,” just as feeling unworthy and victimized is also a choice. She spoke to their hearts and spirits, and while they might be still be too young to have understood what “fighting for your joy” truly and deeply means, I understood it and felt I’d found a kindred spirit in Siobhan.

This Saturday was the first time we’d spoken in depth and with such honesty. But we’d met earlier than that through another fighter, Hyla Molander ,when both Siobhan and I spoke at Hyla’s “Women Rock It 2013” conference. Siobhan also brought her beaded necklaces, rag dolls and women’s clothing items made in her Ugandan village which help fund the clinic for display at my last year’s Women’s PowerStrategy™ Conference where she received a Powerful Woman Award.

“I want to build 250 birthing clinics for women all over the world,” she told me. “But I’ve only built one so far.”

To which I replied, “‘Only’ one? I don’t think there’s another person in this room who’s built any.”

If Siobhan hadn’t lost her own child when she was a very young woman, many Ugandan mothers would have lost theirs. Siobhan has also created Shaboom Cosmetics, a for-profit, all natural cosmetics line to supplement her substantial salary as a consultant for amazon.com. A goodly portion of what she makes at the online retailer goes to fund her clinic and one hundred percent of the profits she makes from Shaboom goes to the clinic, too. (“Every four dollars spent saves two lives,” is what’s written on the home page of the cosmetics site.) She takes no salary whatsoever for her work at the clinic, which between consulting, running the cosmetics business and overseeing the Uganda project, brings her regular work week up to seventy or more hours. Jeff Bezos has no idea what a magnificent human being he has working for him. Someone should tell him, because Siobhan hasn’t. She rarely talks about herself, and has a tough time asking others for help. (Another thing we have in common.)

So, I’m going to do it. There are a lot of remarkable people here who read this blog. If any of you happen to have Jeff’s phone number, give him a ring, will you? Let him know that Siobhan Neilland, his employee, is saving lives in her spare time. Let him know that she wants to build 249 more clinics. Tell him that although he has a myriad of geniuses working with him and for him, he has at least one who has literally made Bad into Good. Tell him that it would be to his advantage to get to know her personally. Tell him that, at the very least, he might want to take her out to lunch.

And so should everyone else.

________________

www.onemama.org

What’s In a Name?

Shakespeare’s Juliet asked this question in self-reflection and came up with the right answer for her, despite the tragedy to which her conclusion ultimately led. My answer to the question, “What’s in a name?” is the opposite of Juliet’s: there is a lot of meaning in every one of the names of my characters in my upcoming work, Cooking for Ghosts and Lost Lovers.

This is a story I had been thinking about ever since my first visit to the RMS Queen Mary in 2008. I’d been given the honor of being asked to work on First Lady Maria Shriver’s California Women’s Conference in Long Beach, California. All the rooms at the conference center were booked. I could only find a room on the ship, which is moored near to the center. At the time, I knew nothing about the Queen Mary’s history, nor that she was considered “haunted.” When my eyeglasses were snatched off my nightstand and placed on my bed pillow, I returned them to where I’d left them three times before realizing that someone, or something, was moving them from one spot to the other.  There’s more to this event, but suffice it to say that I was determined to learn all I could about the ship after that, and my novel bloomed from what I discovered.

Over this six-year period of time, as I pursued other goals, this one story stayed in my head and grew into a trilogy of stories. My characters began speaking to me every day and night, until I finally put aside all else I was doing and wrote down what they were telling me about themselves.

Could this have happened because I was “visited” while on the Queen Mary? A fanciful thought, perhaps. But what isn’t fanciful is how real the people in my trilogy became for me. Upon reflection, I realized why: All of them are made up of the thoughts, dreams, fears and desires of people I know. Some of these people I’ve not met face-to-face, but have talked to on social media. For me, many of those connections have become as authentic as the connections I’ve made in person.

Let’s take  my father and son characters, Lee and Jack Branson, for example. Without giving too much of the story away, a friend I’d met on a blogging site once confessed in a heartbreaking post that he was only eight years old when his father left his family, never to return. He went on to write that though he knew on an intellectual level that the abandonment had nothing to do with him, as a child, he’d always believed his father left because he wasn’t a lovable enough son.  What went through my mind when I read that post (by this very lovable human being) was, “what if his father loved him more than he knew?” And so the father and son in my story bear that friend’s last name and answer, in my story, at least, what might make a loving father leave his son.

As for their first names of these two characters, there are several men I’ve had the privilege of knowing in my life who strive to always do the right thing. One of those men is Lee, a minister who’s fighting through his religious writings for the rights of gays to be accepted and welcomed into his church and other houses of worship. This fight comes at some personal expense, as you can imagine. As a result, though we’ve only met in person once, Lee has become one of my role models of integrity.   Another man who lives by this same code is my husband. I would have used his first name for one of these two characters, but then my father-in-law passed away. It was Jack Davis who taught all four of his sons, including my husband, to always do what is right, no matter how hard. All these men live (and die) by that code and I know my husband also taught his sons to have the same integrity.  So, there you have it—two characters named after three men I admire. (And since my husband is the only one of Jack’s sons who inherited his lovely blue eyes, both father and son in my story have those eyes, also.)

For those who might have an interest, the meanings behind the names of the other characters in Cooking for Ghosts and Lost Lovers are summarized below:

_________________________________________________

Angela Perotta – first name of a dear friend with whom I “grew up.” (Meaning although we were already grown, we blossomed and matured together through our experiences living as foreigners in Greece. We maintain a friendship to this day.)

Betty Montalbano – a detective who is named for two real-life law makers who helped with all the legal aspects of this story, including the crimes discussed. They are Betty Tsamis, a Chicago-based lawyer and Rosemarie Montalbano, Queens District Attorney. These women are amazing and their expertise helped prevent plot holes that may have occurred if I hadn’t had the legal information they so helpfully supplied.

Cynthia and Sarita Taylor – named after two beautiful blogging buddies and true fans of my writing. Cynthia and Sarita are main characters in my story but the actions of them both in the story, their backgrounds, abilities and experiences, are all invented by me. Thank you, Cynthia and Sarita, for being so inspiring and so supportive of my work.

Dolores Simpson – (this would be a giveaway, so I can’t say.)

Eric Gladwell – named for Eric Gladstone, a true-life food critic who writes for Bon Appétit. Without Mr. Gladstone’s patient and knowledgeable answers to my questions about running a restaurant, some of the descriptions and the dialogue that takes place in the galley of the imaginary Secret Spice Café would have been embarrassingly incorrect.

Inez and Marisol– two women who worked aboard the Queen Mary and told me of their encounters with the supernatural while they worked aboard the ship.(Marisol, who is only four in Book I, shows up again in Book III of the trilogy in a big way.)

Jane Miceli – another dedication to a very dear friend. She knows who she is and also knows the playfulness behind this first name.

Kathy Knight – a notorious, true-life murderess, whose crimes made me shudder.  But, no worries ─ she has no real part in the story at all. (I hope you’ll get a kick out of where you spot her name in the story.)

L’Oustau de Baumanière – one of the most amazing, true-life restaurants. Actually exists in France.

Michael – a name with many meanings, but one that sticks out is “patron saint of soldiers.” I hope those who read the story will tell me if I chose his name well.

Naag – An Indian name that means “snake.” Again, I hope those who read the story will tell me if I chose his name well.

Oliver Jenkins – again, a big give away if I tell before the book is out.

Raymond Thuilier – a true-life, great French chef.

Rohini Mehta – “Rohini” means “light” or “moon.” I chose her last name for Deepa Mehta, a film director considered to be the voice of “the new India.” Mehta is known for her trilogy of films, which includes, Water. This film took great courage to make and has done more than any other film to bring to light certain religious practices that are detrimental to women. Deepa Mehta is a true feminist, a woman I admire as much as my character, Rohini, does.

Tony Chi – a true-life designer. One of my favorites. But I have never met him and though he and his friends become inebriated at the opening of The Secret Spice Cafe, this is not in any way a commentary on his lifestyle. It’s simply something I made up for the story. I have no knowledge of this gentleman apart from his fabulous designs. (Check them out at the link.)

Vanu – means “friend.”

Village of Kambalwadi – a true-life, wonderful village in India that is leading the way in sanitation, self-sustaining farming, and women’s rights.  Read about it here.

Vincenzo Perotta and Douglas Rigby – First names and one last name of three dear friends of mine, who will know why I used their names (with love ) once they read the story.

Zahir – means “shining helper or supporter.”

 

 

Women’s PowerStrategy Conference 2015

 

The next Women’s PowerStrategy™ Conference will be held in 2015. Speaker applications are not being taken at this time. Please continue to visit the conference website for updates and for photos and videos of our 2013 conference. For questions about speaker applications and all other inquiries please email womenspowerstrategy@gmail.com (Any queries here in the comments section will be deleted.)

Thank you for your interest,

Patricia V. Davis and The Women’s PowerStrategy™ Conference Team

Note: Questions about speaker applications

Let’s Not Fight ─ It’s Christmas: Your Holiday Cheat Sheet for Making it Through the Family Gathering

You’re going to see your family for the holidays again this year. You don’t know why you’re doing it, because every year you feel as though you’ve visited a level of Hell Dante forgot to mention. Every year your therapist gets a call on December 26 for an emergency session in which you swear to him or her you’ll never spend another holiday with “those people” again. But for some reason, you’re still not ready to emancipate yourself from this torture and so, every year that promise goes right out the window along with your diet, your hard-earned independence and your meager self-esteem.

But I’m here to help. I’m here to remind you that Christmas dinner is after all, just dinner and not the one and only opportunity you will ever have to straighten out your family’s screwed up perspective on the universe, your country’s foreign policy, health care, Phil Robertson, or you.
The cheat sheet below is a guide to how questions aimed at you during your visit should be answered. Answering questions as suggested will have one of two effects ─ it will shut everyone up and allow dinner to be slightly more bearable this time around, or it will provide you with the entertainment value of watching everyone’s heads explode like the scientist in Scanners. Tear it out and keep it handy while you’re with your family ─ right next to your bottle of Prozac would work ─ and refer to it when they begin the barrage questions that usually lead to a meltdown.  IMPORTANT NOTE: All answers below should be delivered with your warmest, most sincere smile. You can do it. Practice in front of the mirror.

Category One: Questions About Your Appearance

  • As a matter of fact, I have gained weight. Thank you for noticing. I’ve been working really hard at it.
  • As a matter of fact, I do have a food disorder. I just threw up in your bathroom. I hope those weren’t your good towels.
  • As a matter of fact, I have had work done. Hang on ─ I’ve got my cosmetic surgeon’s card here somewhere. They’re having a special. Tell him I sent you.

Category Two: Questions About Your Sex Life

  • As a matter of fact, I am gay. But don’t worry, it’s not contagious. (Note: this reply about your sexuality should be used whether you are indeed gay or aren’t.)
  • I agree. I shouldn’t have married him/her. It was a terrible choice. (Yes, say this even if your spouse is at dinner, too.)
  • No, not dating anyone yet, but my therapist says I’m making progress with my (PICK ONE) obsession with my cat/fixation on Justin Beiber, so I should have a profile up on Match.com any day now.

Category Three: Questions About Your Career

  • I absolutely agree. It was a terrible career choice.
  • I absolutely agree. It was a great career choice, but as you say, I should have been promoted by now.
  • I absolutely agree. I’m never going to (PICK ONE) write that screenplay/finish my book/sell my paintings. That’s why I drink.

Category Four: Comments/Questions about Religion, Politics, Social Perspectives

  • I absolutely agree. Paul Ryan is terrible.
  • I absolutely agree. Paul Ryan is wonderful.
  • You’re so right, turkey isn’t really meat. But I think I want to save room for pie.
  • You’re so right, eating meat is murder. I cry every time I do it.
  • No, I don’t mind saying a prayer even though I’m an atheist. Let’s do all the verses.
  • You’re absolutely right. I should convert. Did you bring any pamphlets?
  • You’re absolutely right. I am foolish, naïve and a blight to mankind because I believe in God. What was I thinking? I guess I wasn’t.
  • I absolutely agree. I’ve done a miserable job as a parent. Just look at those kids ─ they’re monsters.

And finally

  • The meal was lovely. The day was wonderful. Thank you for having me/us over. See you next year.

 

The Little Pink Pill

 

What if someone told you that there was a little pink, tasty pill that if you swallowed it, every word that came out of your mouth would be extremely pleasing to everyone? You’d never ever have to worry again, about saying the wrong thing that hurt someone feelings or made you sound selfish? Would you take it? I know lots of women who would.

 

In fact, I swallowed that pill when I was a little girl and I am pretty sure it was my mother who gave it to me. She, like many women of her generation, was raised to be a “good girl.” Her parents liked her best when she was obedient and dutiful and respectful ─you know, all those qualities we’ve been told are “feminine”─ and naturally, she expected the same from her own daughter.

 

So I swallowed the little pink pill and it worked. I said all the right things; I never sounded selfish, or hurt anyone’s feelings and I was extremely pleasing to my mother, my friends and eventually to my husband.

 

But there were side effects to that pill that no one had told me about. Just like all the other pharmaceuticals we’re warned about in those obnoxious ads, swallowing the pink pill caused anxiety, sleeplessness, weight gain, depression, low self-esteem, thoughts of suicide and even the occasional self-medication to alleviate these symptoms with vodka and grapefruit juice.

 

And the need to always be pleasing to others had other repercussions, too.  The “friends” I made were only my friends because they knew I would say the things they wanted to hear, even when deep inside, I didn’t want to say them and they knew I didn’t want to say them.

 

“Patricia, you’ll give up your weekend to babysit my three kids at your house, won’t you?”

 

“Ummm…sure…I guess.”

 

“Awww. Thanks. You’re so sweet.”

 

As for family, my husband and mother were great at giving me the “I’m-so-hurt-because-you’re-so mean” silent treatment should I ever even try to stick up for myself. And I was my mother-in-law’s go-to daughter-in-law for everything from dealing with her business for her at the Motor Vehicles Office to rolling her jars of pennies.  Two real fun jobs, don’t ya think? I still remember sitting there, being the pleasing one, rolling up pennies and seething while she sat and watched television.

 

And let’s not even talk about that husband ─ the one I’d “earned” by always saying the most pleasing things.

 

Believe me, there are special kinds of people leeches—I call them “pleeches”─ who latch on to you the moment they figure out that the only words that you can say are, Yes,” “You’re right” “and “Okay.”

 

I finally discovered that the only antidote for the little pink pill was forcing the word “no” to come out of my mouth.  The first time I said it I was 33 years old and I had a two-year-old son whose grandmother thought there was nothing wrong with holding him on her lap with no seat belt while they were passengers in a car.

 

I had very patiently, in my respectful way, of course, explained to her why this was dangerous and wrong, but since that was not pleasing to her she just ignored it, although I didn’t know that. Until one day, I happened to be out in the front garden when she drove up and I saw my two year old was sitting on his great aunt’s lap.  Wearing no seatbelt.

 

That was a defining moment, alright. I had this one child and I was going to lose him on someone’s whim if I didn’t get the word “No” out of my mouth, loud and clear. Despite the circumstance, it was much harder to say it than you might think. My knee caps were so shaky they felt like they’d been replaced by lemon Jello. But I had a choice that day: obey the pink pill and lose my son in a possible car accident, or say “no.” They didn’t like hearing it, but it worked. My son was always in a safety harness after that.

 

I’d like to say it was easy to say no since that happened, but it wasn’t. It took years of practice before “No” was a true working part of my vocabulary. In fact there are times all these years later when it’s clear that the effects of the little pink pill can reoccur. My “no“ sometimes still comes out too weak:

 

“Um, I don’t think that’s going to work for me.”

 

Or sometimes, because I’m afraid it won’t come out at all, too strong:

 

“NO, goddammit! NO.”

 

But a miracle has happened ever since I started saying it, whether said well or poorly. I have different friends and a different husband whose sole reason for their presence in my life is not because they can get me to “please” them. They like me, even if we don’t always agree. I have a new mother-in-law, too who respects me.

 

Yep. That’s the main thing that’s different: Respect. I am not always necessarily liked, which is still hard, but I am, most of the time, certainly respected.

 

And so, what I have to say to any woman whether she’s old or young, is this:

 

When it comes to taking that little pink pill that will turn you into a pleaser rather than as strong and respected human being, to paraphrase Lauren Bacall,

“Just put your lips together and say ‘no.’”

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Editor’s note: “The Little Pink Pill” was read by the author, Patricia V. Davis, on April 20th 2013 at Women Rock It with a Heart event, presented by  Hyla Molander and Evan Bailyn.  To learn more about this wonderful event that celebrates women, visit their website, or read Jen Duchene’s The Polite Woman’s take on the event .

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