Category Archives: Women

Lessons from the Hot Tub

I was in Florida for work.  Pulled a muscle in my back getting dressed (yes, you can do that.) Decided to hang out in the hot tub during the pre-dinner break.  It was cloudy, no one was swimming, and I chose the hot tub that was empty.  Relaxing in the heat, water pounding against my back was heavenly.

I was in the area marked “Adults Only,” but when the man with his young daughter appeared and asked if I minded if they joined me, I didn’t mind at all.  The little girl was maybe 3, curly blonde hair, pink bathing suit, pink plastic sandals, still wearing her little inflatable life vest.  She was shivering.

“The pool was too cold for her, ” the dad says as he slides down into the heated whirlpool.  “Here honey,” he says, “Get in, this is warm.”

But she pulls back, shakes her head, “no, no, it’s too hot.”

He shakes his head.  “It’s not too hot, come on, get in.”

I laugh, “Like Goldilocks, that pool’s too cold, this one’s too hot – where’s the ‘just right’ pool?”

Dad continues to urge little Goldilocks into the pool, until she agrees to sit on the side. She dips her feet, still encased in little pink plastic sandals, in the water, then pulls back, “no, too hot.”

“No, it’s not,” Dad insists.  “Just try it.”  He grasps both her ankles in one hand and pulls her feet into the water, holding them there.

From the other side of the hot tub, I’m at eye level with her feet.  I can see her resisting at first, trying to pull away, but he holds firm.  He doesn’t release her ankles until she relents.  Then he lets go.

“See,” he says, “It’s not too hot.”  She doesn’t say anything.  She’s still shivering, even though her feet are in the water.

Goldilocks’ grandfather comes by.  “You should get in there,” he says, all gruff.  “Go ahead, get in!”  She shakes her head.

Grandmother comes to join us.  “It’s too hot for her in here,” she says, looking at me rather than Dad.

I smile, “And she knows that!  That’s why she’s not all the way in.  She already knows it’s too hot.”

Grandmother agrees, “She’s little bitty, she doesn’t have an ounce of fat on her, it’s too hot for her.”

Dad ignores us.

Mom, holding a baby, comes to sit on the edge of the tub.  We chat a bit – where are we from, how long are we staying, and yes, the water is really hot.  Goldilocks is still sitting on the edge of the tub, feet in the water, shivering.

“Are you cold?” says Dad.  Her teeth are chattering, she nods.  “You should get in,” he says, “Want me to put you in?”

She shakes her head, “No.”

“Hot,” she says.

“Come on,” he says, “I’ll just dip you to the waist.”

“No,” she says, softly, but the head shaking is a bit frantic.

“It’s not too hot,” he says, and he begins scooping water in his hand and pouring it over her legs.

Remember, I am at eye-level with her feet and legs.  I watch him pour water on one leg while she pulls it up, trying to move it out of his range.  He switches to the other leg, and she pulls that one out, shaking her head, “No.”

She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t protest loudly, she doesn’t have a tantrum.  She is a good girl, our little Goldilocks.  But she keeps trying to get her legs away from the relentless stream of water that feels too hot to her.

I leave the hot tub.  I can’t stay and watch her Dad – by all other evidence, a kind and loving Dad – I won’t stay and watch him teach her that how her body feels doesn’t matter. That her saying, “no,” is pointless.

In a wildly inappropriate moment, I want to ask his wife, “Is he like that about sex.  Does he try to talk you into it?  Does he keep doing stuff you don’t like while he tells you, yes, you do like it?”

Ok, time to go.  There are three hot tubs in this hotel.  I don’t have to give up my hot tub pleasure, I just move to one that’s empty.  And from that distance, I ponder.

I may be oversensitive.  The election of our racist, misogynistic President has heightened my already acute awareness of how we control female bodies.  That Dad wasn’t “abusive.”  He wasn’t scalding her.  He wasn’t even mean about it.

And he gently and relentlessly showed her that how her body feels doesn’t matter.

It’s not like he was making her take medicine, or get vaccinated.  No health or safety reason to override her need to be comfortable in her body.  He ostensibly wanted her to enjoy herself.

The women around her acknowledged that she was right – that her body was right – they agreed, the water was too hot for her.  But they didn’t offer any help.  They could have brought her a beach towel.  She could have sat on the edge, quite cozy, wrapped in a big fluffy towel.  I don’t think it even occurred to them.

Maybe I’m making too much of it.  But I keep seeing her skinny three year old legs, pink plastic sandals still on her feet, trying to pull away from the water.

And I keep thinking that somewhere in this story is the reason some of those white women voted for Trump.  If you learn that it doesn’t matter what your body wants when you’re three, if you learn not to trust your own best instincts at three years old, when do you learn to trust yourself?  How do you know that it matters?

 

 

After 50 – Another View

I’ve been pondering on a couple of articles I read lately.  In Aging while female is not your worst nightmare,  Lori Day poignantly describes the impact of ageism – summing it up in these words:

“The wisdom that comes with age has little value to anyone but those possessing it, because wisdom is another word for old, and old is what no one wants to be.”

I remember my mother talking about feeling like she wasn’t heard, at meetings,  interacting with sales clerks, and even in groups of friends.  She was much older than 50 when it happened to her, but she was frustrated and indignant.  Often, it was that thing that happens to all women sometimes – Mom would be in a meeting, she’d suggest something, and no one would say anything.  Five minutes later, someone younger, or male, would suggest it and suddenly everyone thinks it’s a great idea.  It used to drive her crazy.

But at least Mom gave me advance notice.  I knew this was coming someday.  Day, who is 51 or 52, bemoans the fact that no one warned her.

“I’m looking at perhaps three more decades of my life that will be shaped to some degree by not only misogyny, but by the intersection of misogyny and ageism. That’s a whole bunch of years I never gave the slightest thought to when I was younger. No older woman ever demanded that I think about the fact that it would eventually happen to me. No one asked that I care about it, respond to it, and recognize the unfairness of what can sometimes feel like a one-way feminist street.”

She ends the article with a call to action:

“Let’s stick together. Let’s make a conscious effort to stop putting down older women to set oneself apart from them and from an inevitable form of bigotry that cannot presently be escaped.”

Good advice.

Then I read this article.  Women Over 50 are Invisible? I Must Have Missed the Memo.  Erica Jagger challenges the narrative that aging brings a new level of discrimination.  She says:

“I could look at myself and see a middle-aged, cash-strapped, over-worked, and occasionally overwrought single mom. OR I could see a survivor who shed her Stepford Wife shell and now isn’t letting anyone dictate how she should live, who she should date, or what kind of sex she should have.”

She attributes her sense of well-being, despite being 52, to her attitude.

“Shrugging off society’s death knell to mature women takes audacity, something every 50-plus woman needs if she doesn’t want to go gently into that good night. Feeling invisible stems less from one’s appearance, and more from the value we put on other people’s often shallow judgments of middle-aged women. I think it’s my refusal to listen to the messages telling me I’ve passed my expiration date, and my determination to create a brilliant second act, that makes me seem younger than my years.”

So I’ve been pondering these articles and my own experience, thinking about the women I know, and trying to figure out where I stand.  I think…

Fifty is not actually old.  It may be the beginning of the crone stage of life, but just barely.  At 50, I began to celebrate life.  I realized that I really could do anything I wanted, without seeking anyone’s approval or permission.  I took risks and made life changing decisions.

In my 50’s, I grew into myself.  If something didn’t work out, I quit doing it and tried something different.  I spoke up and spoke out (not that I was exactly shy and inhibited before) and I expanded my world.

But I also remember being 35 and in graduate school.   In the middle of class, some older woman would raise her hand and I would roll my eyes, thinking, ‘Here we go again,” as she started a long and slightly off-topic tale of her experiences.    I felt bad for doing it.  I did.  But sheesh.  This woman (and there was more than one of her) had a story for every single situation, you know?   Being old doesn’t automatically confer wisdom or make all your words golden and not every occasion has to be a sharing opportunity.

I’m almost 60.  Well, just turned 59 – same thing.  My life is super good – I have a career I love, with enough variety to keep me happy.   I live with my partner, who I love.  He’s fun and interesting, and we’re comfortable with each other.   We have enough money to cover all our needs and many of our wants.   I have delightful friends, who I enjoy; activities that keep me busy and are rewarding.  I have amazing grandchildren, and even though one of my daughters lives very far away, we’re still close, and thank goodness, we live in the age of Skype and air travel.

I would not trade any part of my life for a chance to be younger.  It took me 59 years to get here, and I have no desire to go back to being 40 or 30 or 20 – and, absolutely-no-way-in-hell, not a teenager.

So I’m not young.  I’m a crone, and proud of it, but just beginning to come to terms with it.  I don’t quite know what it means yet, or how I will grow into it.

Some thoughts I consider:

1.  It’s ok to need help.  (I know, of course it is.  Particularly if it’s you that needs help, and not me – it’s totally ok for you.)

2.  Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I have to.

3.  It’s ok for other people to figure things out for themselves.  Even if I already “know” the answer.

4.  Sometimes, my right answer is not actually the right answer.

5.  No matter how wise I am, not everyone is obliged to listen to me or agree with me.  It’s up to me to say the things I think need to be said.  I don’t have to make anyone hear me.

6.  It’s ok if someone explains something to me that I already know.  Even if I learned it the hard way, before they were born.   It’s ok to just agree with them.  I don’t always “already know,” and they can’t read my mind.

8.  I am headed toward death.  Seriously.  People my age die all the time and only old people say, “But they were so young!”  If I get to die without a long layover in dementia, I’ll consider myself lucky.

I’ve noticed that as we age, often, we simplify.  We move to smaller places, strip our homes of everything except the most necessary or treasured belongings.

Maybe we strip our egos too, gradually scale down from strong active leader to wise consultant.  From star to supporting character.  Maybe our voices need to become softer so that other people can find their own voices, so they’ll be ready to carry on without us.

I’m not there yet – let me be clear – I’m not stepping aside right now.  Life still has plenty of challenges and surprises for me.  But I am letting go of some things, and feeling ok about it.  Working on figuring out how the “growing old” thing works.

I can almost envision a time of being truly retired.  Maybe not til I’m 80, but someday.  I’ll take a leisurely walk on the beach every morning, read for sheer pleasure, and enjoy all the small moments.   I won’t have a long to-do list to put off doing.  If anyone wants my advice, they’ll have to email me, or call, or come visit.  They’ll have to ask me what I think.

I’ll spend time with loved ones, family and friends.  Maybe I’ll write, or volunteer to read at a nursing home or kindergarten.   I’ll have little projects that will enrich my life without any effort to change the world – and do it content in the knowledge that y’all young people are out there working hard at all the things that matter.

That doesn’t sound so bad.

 

Contrasting Articles on Women

On facebook today,  i saw two articles, both posted by people at UniteWomen.orgKY, but so different in perspective that i had to look twice to make sure they really posted both of them.

The first one ~ How Not to Get Raped ~ is based on interviews with rapists about what they look for in a victim.   It ostensibly gives us ideas on how to avoid being raped.  It says things like:

1) The first thing men look for in a potential victim is hairstyle. They are most likely to go after a woman with a ponytail, bun, braid or other hairstyle that can easily be grabbed . They are also likely to go after a woman with long hair. Women with short hair are not common targets.
2) The second thing men look for is clothing. They will look for women who’s clothing is easy to remove quickly. Many of them carry scissors around specifically to cut clothing.
3) They also look for women on their cell phone, searching through their purse or doing other activities while walking because they are off guard and can be easily overpowered.

The second article ~A Message to Girls ABout Religious Men Who Fear You ~ is a recognition of the ways many cultures, and particularly patriarchal religious systems, seek to control women.  It says things like:

 they single-mindedly focus their attention on you, your body, your clothes, your hair, your abilities, your physical freedom. When their “manners” and “morals” are not universally applicable, but different for boys and girls, you can be sure that this is why. They seek to teach you, subtly, through small slights and gendered expectations, that you are “different,” weak, unworthy, incapable. The sadness is that, in their perception, if you are none of these things, then they are not strong, worthy and capable. This is not an excuse, but an explanation. It’s why they find infinite “benevolent” ways to undermine and disparage you, all in the name of “God’s word.” When that fails, they resort to violence. All over the world, their anxiety is manifest in a spectrum of actions ranging from mild paternalism, respectful of “proper boundaries,” to deadly enforcement of their rules.

The first article is an excellent example of what the second article is talking about.

I had to laugh at some of the things in the first article.  For example, if rapists go for women who are wearing clothes that are easy to remove {and what does that look like?} then why would they carry scissors for that purpose?

Oh, wait -I get it.  Light clothing would be easier to cut through.  Heavy clothing that covers your whole body might be more difficult.  And layers of clothes would be really good.  I bet if I wore enough layers, and covered myself thoroughly enough, they couldn’t even cut through it all.

Ok, not laughing any more.

Further on in the article, they give a lot of suggestions about being on guard and ready to attack if necessary at all times. I picture myself carrying an umbrella (an actual suggestion) and any time a man walks towards me in a public parking lot, I wield the umbrella like a sword and scream, “Get back, you crazy rapist!!!”

I imagine that most of us recognize the problems inherent in women trying to prevent our own rapes.  Rape happens because we cross paths with a rapist at a time that we’re vulnerable in some way.  That vulnerablity might be age ~ children are particularly vulnerable ~ or place, or lack of sobriety, or all kinds of things.  But the rape happens because we cross paths with a rapist.

You’ve probably seen the lists of advice for men on how to avoid rape.  There are many of them, but I think this blog post ~ 5 Rape Prevention Tips (for guys) ~ is my favorite at the moment.

Also, there are organizations like Mens Work  that help men recognize ways to end violence against women.  This isn’t a men vs women issue.  It’s women and men who support us vs men and women supporting patriarchal cultures that try to control women through intimidation and shame.

Anyhow. I saw the two articles this morning on the same website, and had to say something.  Now I feel better.

{In case my short links don’t work, here’s the sources for the other blogs and the stumbleupon that I reference.}

How Not to Get Raped:

https://www.stumbleupon.com/su/2vEKx0/www.joyfulinspirations.com/rape_deter.htm

Message to Girls about Religious Men Who Fear You

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/message-to-girls-about-re_b_1518849.html#s327348&title=Dr_Ingrid_Mattson

5 Rape Prevention Tips (for guys)

http://community.feministing.com/2011/12/18/5-rape-prevention-tips-for-guys/

Mens Work

http://mensworkinc.com/