Sharing my wisdom, an older woman’s reflections, part 1

“Nana, what’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” my eleven-year-old grandson asked.

“Picked my nose,” I answered.

“No, seriously.”

Seriously? What can a child understand about bad things adults do?

If someone asks what life has taught me, I’m not one to spout clichés that promote a positive attitude. Neither will I suggest a “stop-and-smell-the-roses” philosophy. Mine is more the “beware-the-thorns” life view.

Unfortunately, I’ve discovered, we learn best from our mistakes. I’ve certainly made my share. I confused sex with intimacy, betrayed those who truly love me. I’ve also been privy to blunders other women have made. Our mistakes help explain why many older women, if we weren’t feminists in our younger years, certainly are now.

Today I hear young women say, “I’m not a feminist.” As if there’s no longer a need to analyze women’s conditions both globally and locally. Sure, American women today work at jobs held only by men when I was considering career options in college.

Yet I watch movies and TV, read the newspapers. (I want to be clear here: I don’t blame rape and other crimes against women on the behavior of the women themselves.) What I see and read inspire me to share an observation based on my own mistakes and those of other women:
Men benefit when we wear clothes that reveal much of our bodies;
Men benefit when we believe that sex is the path to intimacy;
Men benefit when we drink and lose our inhibitions.

It’s time for a new stage of feminism, one that says I will not live my life according to men’s pleasures.

If political advertising can’t be trusted—what to do

You studied them in middle school. Probably took a multiple-choice test on which is which. I’m talking about propaganda, that is persuasion techniques that rely on manipulating information to suit the purposes of advertisers, politicians, etc.

While I advise voters not to listen to political advertising this time of year, we’re surrounded by it. So it’s especially important that we recognize techniques candidates are using.

Namecalling or demonizing the enemy: “Ultra-liberal,” “ socialist,” “friend of the rich.”

Repetition: “Obama’s approval rating, Obama’s approval rating, Obama’s approval rating.” “Helps big corporations, helps big corporations, helps big corporations.” The idea is to repeat a message so often that uninformed citizens will accept it as truth.

Showing part of the picture: Often pieces of legislation are bundled together. A senator or representative opposed to one part may have to vote against the whole thing. A vote against a transportation bill doesn’t mean a representative is opposed to filling potholes.

Testimonials: A celebrity endorses a candidate.

Plain folks: An ordinary person who has encountered an extraordinary situation tells what the candidate did or how the candidate’s position would benefit common people in similar situations.

There are too many kinds of techniques to mention them all. You get the idea.

So what do we do instead of paying attention to advertising? Most of us don’t have time to research each candidate’s positions. I can think of two alternatives: 1) Ask someone whose opinions on issues match your own. 2) Search the internet for endorsements by organizations you trust.

Since my politics are progressive, and I live in North Carolina, I google my county and “Democratic Party.” The site tells me what representatives and judges are likely to be progressive. (Don’t ignore the important role judges play.) Women’s organizations, police, educators, lawyers, environmental groups, unions—many have posted candidates they endorse. Most are state or county specific.

In most states early voting starts soon, which makes it easier for you to go at a convenient time. The environment, a woman’s right to make her own health decisions, rights for African-Americans and the LGBTQ community—these are all at risk.
This is one midterm election we dare not miss.

2014 voting made easy (well, at least easier)

The future of our environment, educational systems, gay marriage, and women’s health is decided by people we elect. The list of offices to be filled is long, overwhelming when it comes to deciding who to vote for.

The internet has made it easier to cast an informed ballot. Here are a few suggestions.

1)  First, be sure what district you live in and the voting location. This can usually be done by Googling “voter guide” for your state. Remember, it may be easier to cast an absentee ballot. The League of Women Voters also lists rules. For example, in North Carolina you do NOT need a photo ID this time, but you will the next.

2)  Find the website of an organization that shares your primary concerns. Many organizations, such as the Missouri NEA (National Educational Association) endorse candidates.

environment: http://content.sierraclub.org/voterguide/endorsements. Most endorsements are listed by states.

women’s reproductive rights endorsements: google that or “Planned Parenthood Endorsements” and locate your state or region.

education endorsements 2014: state teachers unions or organizations often keep track of who is education friendly.

workers’ rights , workplace safety, consumer protection: google “aflcio endorsements,” then find your state.

3)  I find it especially hard to decide what judges to vote for. They make a lot of      important decisions, though. State Bar associations, while not endorsing judges, do evaluate their professionalism. Again, some special interest groups, such as LGBT lawyers or Hispanic lawyers, make endorsements.

4)  The following sites are for North Carolina, but each state has similar resources that are easy to find.
If you are concerned about equal rights for gays and lesbians, go to:   http://equalitync.org/pac/voterguide2014/index.html

If you are concerned about jobs, workplace safety, workers’ rights: aflcionc.org

Voting isn’t just a privilege. It’s one of the few tools you have for deciding the country’s future.

For those thinking it’s better not to vote at all than to cast an ignorant ballot

In 1986 I was a young working mother too overwhelmed by responsibility to keep up with politics. But I felt an obligation to vote. In the Illinois primary election I entered the booth knowing nothing about the candidates. Afterward, I discovered that out of ignorance I had cast my ballot for a man running for lieutenant governor whose extremist views were abhorrent to me. Fortunately, though he won in the primary, he lost in the general election.

Since the 2014 election doesn’t include a candidate for President, a lot of people haven’t been paying much attention to politics. They’re thinking, like one young woman I recently spoke with, “It’s better not to vote at all than to cast an ignorant ballot.”

Instead of choosing between not voting or casting an ignorant ballot, consider a third possibility: Take some shortcuts to getting the information you need for making an informed vote.

  1. Check the website of an organization whose opinion you trust. During election time many special interest groups post endorsements. If the environment is the issue that most concerns you, seek out the guidance of an organization such as the Sierra Club (http://content.sierraclub.org/voterguide/endorsements) or a local environmental group. If you’re particularly concerned about equal pay for equal work, check the National Women’s Political Caucus (http://www.nwpc.org/2014endorsements) or see if your area has a Women’s Chamber of Commerce. State Bar associations often evaluate candidates for judicial positions.
  2. Get a sample ballot ahead of time and fill it out. One is usually available online, at a party precinct office, or at the poll. Have your choices recorded on that ballot, so that all you have to do is transfer them. And yes, it is better to leave some blanks than make an uninformed guess.
  3. When you get to the voting booth, take along the sample ballot.

Whoever wins the 2014 elections will make laws related to the environment, the workplace, reproductive rights (accessibility to contraception as well as abortion), education, college loans, and immigration.

It’s your life—your future, your children’s future—that’s being determined. Vote.

Why the November election is important for young women, part 2

You’ve just changed jobs, and this one’s really demanding. You recently moved. Maybe you struggle just to get by financially: work, sleep, work, maybe socialize on weekends. A romantic breakup has you tied up emotionally. In any of these scenarios you feel too stressed out to give much thought to voting in November. And you certainly don’t want to cast an uninformed ballot.

But the November, 2014, elections are especially important to women. While we won’t be electing a President, we will elect women and men whose decisions impact our daily life.

Here are suggestions on how you can quickly find out which candidates best represent you:

1) Choose one or two issues that are most important to you: the environment, education, reproductive rights, income inequality, the national debt, immigration, racial justice, gay rights, taxes, health. There may be another issue that personally affects you.

2) Find out who’s running for office. You’ll need to know what district you’re in. votesmart.org is a helpful site, or Google your state’s name and “voting districts.”

Yes, there are a lot of positions to be filled, but don’t let yourself be overwhelmed. I suggest you pay particular attention to just five office holders: at the federal level, U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative from your district; in your state government, governor, your state senator, and your state representative. Your U.S. Senator has a six-year term so may not be running this year. Your governor might not be running either. In this case you only need to learn about candidates for three or four positions.

3) Now begin matching the issues you’re concerned about to the person. Again, votesmart.org is a helpful site, though it does seem to give the person currently holding the office more prominence. Also, it can be a little confusing in that it identifies individuals who already lost in primary elections.

4) Go to candidates’ websites. Check them out in social media, Facebook in particular.

5) Ask someone whose opinion you value who they’re voting for and why. Then go to the candidates’ websites to make sure their stance on issues agrees with yours.

Only a hundred years ago women fought hard for the right to vote. Some went to jail, many were publicly humiliated. (My grandmother was among the first generation of women to cast a ballot.) When they did finally get the right, many relied on their husband to tell them who to vote for.

As a woman today, you have more education and experience “out in the world.” You can decide for yourself who supports your values, what candidates will work to ensure the best future for you, your children, our country, and our world.

Don’t let a few individuals determine the future for you.

Contraception and why you must vote in November

When it come to your reproductive rights, not voting in November makes as much sense as having sex without protection. Sure, you can take your chances, hope you don’t get pregnant. Likewise, you can risk letting other voters decide who will make laws that directly effect you. In fact, those most strongly opposed to women’s reproductive rights can be depended on to show up at the polls.

In the oldest section of many cemeteries you’ll find the graves of young women next to stone slabs inscribed with “Infant daughter” or “Infant son.” Only a hundred years ago, when my grandmother was in the early years of her marriage, Margaret Sanger was arrested for giving out information about birth control. Deaths related to childbearing were not rare, and large families overwhelmed many women. I was among the first generation of women to have access to birth control pills.

Last September Cosmopolitan ran an article, “11 Politicians Standing Between You and Your Birth Control” http://www.cosmopolitan.com/health-fitness/advice/a4845/politicians-anti-birth-control/. In primaries leading up to the last presidential election, Republican candidate Rick Santorum openly spoke of his opposition to many forms of birth control, including the pill. Legislatures in several states keep whittling away at women’s rights to contraception and abortion.

Check now to make sure your voter registration is up to date. You must change your registration if you’ve changed your legal name or moved to a different precinct. This site may answer your questions: http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/ive_moved_recently_can_i_still_vote.aspx

And be sure to vote November 4.

 

When tragedy has a name

The Milky Way stretched across the clear night sky. Over the vast expanse thousands of individual stars were discernible. To my right, Polaris. Vega, almost straight overhead. From the multitude above me I could identify only a few. Astronomers, though, know many others by name. Knowing a star by its name makes a difference in how you look at the night sky, I’ve decided.

Recently I had the privilege to lead a concurrent session at the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society Conference. About 250 (I’m estimating) amateur genealogists gathered to learn more about how to trace their ancestry. By “amateur” I’m not implying these are beginners. No, they’re quite sophisticated in searching data-bases, locating cemeteries, and combing all kinds of records. Over and over I witnessed the satisfaction, delight too, of attendees who have identified slave ancestors. In many cases family oral histories have led genealogists to search manumission papers, ownership records of slaveholders whose surnames slaves took upon emancipation, military records of the United States Colored Troops, and Social Security Applications.

A name. Sally, female slave on XTZ Plantation, mother of Mr. G.’s grandfather. Willy, male slave on UVW Plantation, father of Mrs. L.’s great grandmother. Not simply a slave, but a real person, a woman or man who breathed and labored and loved. That, I think, must be the reward of searching for ancestors, finding a name. So that slavery becomes not just a historical event, where millions suffered and died, but central to a personal narrative.

A name. Malala Yousafzai. We Americans have shaken our heads in sympathy for Muslim girls denied an education by the Taliban. Along comes the story of a sixteen-year-old Pakistani girl shot because she spoke out on behalf of girls wanting to attend school. Not a faceless girl but a real one.

The photos of children in Sudan and Ethiopia, in Sao Paulo and Port-au-Prince—like the stars overhead their names are unknown to us. Polar bears and Bengal tigers are disappearing. We know no polar bears or Bengal tigers by name.

When stars or people or animals have names, they matter more. A people captured and enslaved, girls denied an education, children starving, animals facing extinction.

Many in our community lack good medical care. Children go to school hungry. Veterans suffer from PTSD. Women are battered by husbands or boyfriends. The mentally ill sleep under bridges.

What would happen if we learned their names?

Politics—who cares?

I’ve been trying not to care. It just makes me worry, deprives me of sleep, interferes with writing fiction. Reading the newspaper and watching the news on TV make things worse.

In my stop-caring campaign, I remind myself that retirement benefits, while not allowing luxury, do provide my shelter, food, and clothing. So it doesn’t matter to me when funds are cut to food stamps and programs that feed the indigent. My older neighbors who lack basic necessities should go live with their kids. If young enough to work let them get a job like I did. (Forget that my parents sacrificed for my college education so I could earn an adequate income.)

I no longer need a job, so why should I care if minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and a single mother would have to work 15 hours a day/7 days a week to earn $40,000? It’s probably her fault she’s single anyway.

I have health insurance that supplements Medicare. If my back aches I call for a doctor’s appointment. Others in the country have no health insurance at all. Not my problem.

I’m white, registered to vote, and have a drivers license. The older lady down the street—her friend regularly drives her to the library, which does not require a birth certificate for a card. In fact she long ago misplaced hers. What do I care? She’d probably vote for candidates I don’t like anyway.

The planet’s getting warmer, bringing draught to farmlands, flooding to shorelines. By the time things get really bad I’ll be long gone.

So what if a woman at age 45, who already has three young adult children, gets pregnant and isn’t allowed, even upon her doctor’s recommendation, to have an abortion? I’m past child-bearing years. Her crisis has nothing to do with me.

Yes, I’ve been trying not to care about these things.

But in my Bible I read, “Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall hunger” (Luke 6:24-5).

And my grandchildren say “I love you” as they hug me. I want fresh air and water to be in their future. Adequate shelter, food, clothing. Freedom from debilitating illness and financial ruin. As I want for all children.

I dare not quit caring.

Asheville’s Go Topless rally seeks new organizer

I hear they’re looking for a strong Ashville woman to head up this year’s Go Topless rally. I just may be the candidate Mr. Johnson’s looking for. But first I want to be sure I understand what he means when he specifies a strong woman.

If men ogling at bare breasts get out of hand, does he want a woman with the body of an Amazon to toss the offender in front of traffic? Five feet tall, I’d have to disqualify myself if that’s the case.

Or does he want someone strong enough to deal with types who would have covered Adam and Eve with fig leaves even before they ate the apple? I’m guessing it’s this group he’s more concerned about, that he’s looking for a woman who can stand up to Bible thumpers eyeball to eyeball and argue back. My husband can testify to my ability to argue.

Surely Mr. Johnson wants someone strong in her commitment to women’s equality, which again qualifies me. That is after all the sole purpose of topless rallies, is it not? No doubt he himself spends hours writing to legislators in support of women making their own health decisions. He’s got to be outraged that the Equal Rights Amendment never passed, and has committed himself to adding to the Constitution, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

As ideal as this job sounds for someone with my qualifications, I’m a little concerned about guns. It’s my understanding that good guys with guns are really into the freedom issue these days. Surely they stay awake nights worrying about how clothes oppress their wives and girlfriends and turn out in big numbers to support women’s freedom whenever it’s challenged. So what happens when only a few feet from the armed men, people quoting the Bible are trying to take that freedom away? Now there’s a potential conflict: good guys with guns aiming at—are they bad men?–—with Bibles. Maybe this is why Johnson wants a strong woman. To stand between these groups of men.

As qualified as I am for the job I’m worried there may be criteria as yet unarticulated. Like, is it necessary for the candidate herself to have a pretty good rack? And a closely related question, is age a liability?

A Future with Hope (for survivors of domestic violence)

(In cleaning my computer files, I found the following essay. I don’t recall if/where it was published but thought these words might be of help to someone right now.)

It seemed natural for Linda to take her personal problems to her pastor. He listened kindly as she described her husband’s quick temper, the way he sometimes got so mad he hit her and bruised her body. Linda needed to hear someone say, “This is wrong. God intends that the relationship between husband and wife be one of mutual respect.”
Instead, the pastor said, “Go home and try not to anger him. Jesus set an example for us: that we are to suffer for his sake. God will not give you any more to bear than you can handle.” Then Linda and her pastor knelt and prayed.

Our faith should be a source of empowerment and healing. Yet churches have more often than not failed women who live with domestic violence. Some ministers preach that divorce is a sin, or that a woman is to obey her husband. Sometimes members, refusing to accept the truth that abuse occurs in Christian homes, ignore signs that women or children in the congregation are being abused, physically or emotionally. “What happens in a family is that family’s business,” church people may say.

In Victim to Survivor: Women Recovering from Clergy Sexual Abuse, Et Al says of her childhood, “People knew of my father’s drinking and physically abusive behavior, but no one intervened or said his actions were wrong….Mama tolerated his verbal and physical abuse. She coped by trying to ignore it and sought comfort in reading Scripture or listening to the radio evangelist extol the redemptive power of suffering.”

It might seem that the church, the entire Christian tradition itself, is not to be trusted with victims’ pain. But that is not necessarily true. Within many religious bodies, attitudes about the abuse of women and children have begun to change. Clergy are being trained to respond with compassion and to assist in finding safety. People of faith are sponsoring hotlines and shelters for women and children living with domestic violence. Christian groups are bringing new eyes and open minds to passages that have traditionally been used to suppress women. At the same time they are lifting up scriptures that empower victims and help them find healing.

Denominations (Jewish and Islam organizations, as well) have been speaking out against violence in the home, forming task forces, writing official statements, training leaders on how to respond. I am most familiar with what the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been doing. In 2001 its General Assembly approved a policy statement on domestic violence, bringing to the denomination’s attention the causes of domestic violence, efforts the church can take to prevent it, and suggestions for ministering to victims. The statement is accompanied by a study guide for individuals and groups (available through http://www.pcusa.org/phewa/resources/resources-padvn.htm).

Because abusers within the Christian tradition have often hidden behind scripture, such as “Wives, be obedient to your husbands,” groups are challenging traditional interpretations. Christians for Biblical Equality deals with abuse issues on its website: (http://www.cbeinternational.org/?q=content/abuse).

FaithTrust Institute (formerly Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence) has for many years provided leadership and materials to the various faith communities: Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians. On its website (http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org), FaithTrust says of its mission: “We believe that the teachings of our religious traditions have been a source of pain and confusion as well as a source of strength and healing for those facing sexual and domestic violence.”

These three groups are only a small sample of the many religious bodies speaking to the issue of domestic violence.
What recommendations do I have for victims who are also people of faith? First, don’t think for a minute that God is testing you or has placed you in that situation for a reason. Affirmation can be found in Jeremiah 29:11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” I believe that God’s intention for us all is that we be part of loving, respectful relationships.

Second, you may want to question your own understanding of scripture. If you’ve been taught that a woman is to obey her husband or that it is her lot to suffer as Jesus suffered, read what Christians for Biblical Equality are saying. Open your mind to alternate interpretations of scripture.

Third, find a spiritual guide. Before you turn to your pastor, consider what clues he/she has provided in sermons about marriage and the relationship between a husband and wife. If the pastor has spoken of the authority of the male and against divorce in general, turn to someone else. My own pastor tells of how often women, seeing a woman’s name on the board in front of the church, come in to seek her counsel because their male pastors have only added to their pain.

My mother once told me that fifty years ago a small circle of women in her church knew that Alice was regularly raped by her husband. They knew that Martha’s husband verbally abused her. From the pulpit the pastor preached that wives were to obey their husbands and that Jesus taught us to forgive seventy times seven. This circle of women, while they felt powerless to take actions that would free Alice and Martha, listened to and offered sympathy to their victimized sisters. Fifty years ago women were helping each other the best they could. Today many communities have faith-based agencies that can direct you to local resources, such as a shelter, and offer emotional support.

Yes, it is possible to find empowerment and healing in your faith tradition. The Psalmist speaks to your pain; Jesus suffers with you. Somewhere a pastor, perhaps not the one in your own congregation, has the training and will to accompany you. Somewhere there is a circle of support, women who have walked in your shoes or compassionate people of faith who want to share God’s love.

Nancy Werking Poling
http://www.nancypoling.com
Author of Out of the Pumpkin Shell
and
Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman
Editor of Victim to Survivor: Women Recovering from Clergy Sexual Abuse