My aunts on the Oregon farm where they grew up in the Thirties. My mother took the picture.
Some time ago, realizing that I was working (long-distance) with an all-boy group (except for Isabella, who is a blue heeler dog), I thought to myself that I ought to create a countervailing female influence. I’ve wanted to be inclusive -- it’s a high value in my life, my “Universalist” principle. So I asked three cousins and three friends to be a sort of “kitchen cabinet.” We’re about the same age, about the same in terms of education and life experience, except that all of them have children and I don’t. The reason I don’t is that I wanted to live a risky, adventurous way and didn’t want to drag children through that. The other women don’t disapprove of that, but they chose to merely read about risks. We’re all readers.
What it took me a while to figure out was that their lives, based on the conventional choices of marriage and middle-class settled lifestyles, were as risky as my career-jumping, Wild West choices. There is no safety. Major challenges walked into their lives, often through losses and challenges to their children, sometimes through big financial drops, and always through the aging and deaths of their parents. In this, they were not different from my “guy-group,” except that many of the latter WERE the children with losses and challenges but had no parents who could or would intervene.
Sometimes I was sniffy about the reading choices of my female panel. They read “immersively.” They mostly read to escape, often as a prelude for bedtime and actually IN the bed, and other times “listening” to audio books of bestsellers. The husband of one cousin generously sent me a little green iPod (I call it “Froggie”) and I listened through “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and my Scots cousins’ fav, “Outlander.” I was shocked by the pornographic sex and violence, which exceeded the level of the risky boys. (The latter won’t believe it, since part of their identity is being on the absolute edge.) My cousins claimed they just skipped those parts. I was beguiled by the accent of the Scots reader of “Outlander.”
Cultural gender assignments have always been ignored by me. As a little girl I went around belting out, “Anything you can do, I can do better; I can do anything better than you,” from “Annie Oakley.” I read my brother’s boy books alongside “Anne of Green Gables” and “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” both of which are rather iconoclastic females.
My blood test panels show I have slightly elevated androgen levels. So? I don’t sit and purr. I’m often impatient with my body -- which follows the male big-belly/small-butt pattern with the addition of (ahem) a bosom. When the public called animal control wanting to talk to their neighborhood officer, they said, “Gimme that babe with the frizzy hair and big boobs.” Inconvenient for archery, as the Amazons knew. But I’ve never been into the surgical alteration of my body. At seventy it doesn’t matter that much. Eyes for the monitor and hands for the keyboard are what count.
My “kitchen cabinet” doesn’t read the same books I do (I read academic stuff -- still struggling with post-modernism) or even watch the same movies. (I like really gloomy and shocking Indie films while they are more mainstream.) I’m on many listservs about books and movies, so I duck the problem of not reading the same books by relaying what I take to be the reviews of most interest to them. Recently a revision of the classic Howard Zinn "The Peoples’ History of the World" was going around the review lists and I forwarded it sort of automatically though I’ve never read it. Surprise! THEY all had read it and now intend to look for the new version.
I’ve been intrigued to explore the writing of transgender people, both directions, mostly Pat Califia and Allucquére Rosanne "Sandy" Stone. Califia (F to M) used to sit in Tim’s Drummer Magazine editorial offices with friends, knitting and visiting. She’s the more outrageous. Sandy Stone (M to F) is theoretical and on YouTube. So far as I know, none of my kitchen cabinet reads these people. I’m not sure anyone in Montana reads these people, though Stone has ties to Banff. (Canadians are far more daring and far less puerile in their doin’s.)
As I’ve tried to pick out book reviews to forward and to read other women’s blogs, mostly the ones picked up by the New York Times (see below) , but also some by Montana ranch women, it has dawned on me that there’s a New Wave of feminism out there, quietly percolating along. Last night -- on the recommendation of Tim -- I watched “Unconditional Love” starring Kathy Bates. I didn’t think I’d like it, because when it comes to fat actresses, I prefer Conchata Ferrell, the actress who starred with Rip Torn in “Heartland.” (When it comes to relationships, I would much prefer Rip Torn to any female!) But also there was Jonathan Pryce -- oh, I’d run off with him in a moment! But then what? Better to stick to my keyboard. But it was a subversively challenging movie and funny at the same time, although casting a beautiful female midget (Meredith Eaton) is cheating.
One of the characteristics of this feminist New Wave seems to be blogging, writing memoirs, or writing novels that are thinly disguised memoir, promoted by telling all about the author. They’re a kind of cross between Ms. magazine and -- well, can you name a “women’s mag” that’s gentler and more family friendly? That is, “immersive,” often historical, fiction about coping and surviving?
But one of these New Woman hallmarks seems to be participating right alongside the men as correspondents, curators, professors. They’re not into clothes and makeup -- much more about reflection and exploration of the edges of life. Mostly these women appear to be exploring the fringes of their own mainstream lives, but the mainstream these days is a braided river and some branches are pretty far out there. I'll have to think about this a lot more.
Selling My Mother's Dresses
How stoop sales taught one Brooklynite to let go.
All My Old Haunts
After my mother passed away, going home to say goodbye made
me remember a few ghosts and a rare brand of politics, too.
THE WOMEN by Tim Barrus
(used by permission)