In the Hall of Mirrors

I keep seeing the faces of that couple standing in iconic pantomime on their lawn with their guns. He has the white-man deadpan I’m-in-control thing going on on his face. Don’t tread on me, or on my precious grass. Don’t let the Black people come too close to my massive white palazzo.

Her face is a lot harder to interpret. Is it anger? Is it fear? Her mouth has the petulant cast I have seen on children who are trying to convince you of their fierceness. She seems to be play-acting, her hand on the trigger of her little chrome-plated pistol, her eyes darting around. Is she dangerous? Or comical? Or pathetic? Or tragically sad? Why am I so obsessed with figuring her out?

I think it’s because she is a caricature of a caricature of something that is also me. Her angry/pathetic/frightened stance there on her lawn is the ultimate caricature of the Karen–the entitled white woman who uses her social power and connections to white patriarchal power to raise her own personal power. She’s the semi-comic (and terribly dangerous) end result of the remora of white female attachment to the shark of white male power, drawing a sense of strength and protection from her connection to the perceived most-powerful agent in room. She calls the police. She calls the manager. She notifies security. She feels unsafe. She feels ridiculed. She feels powerless. So she pulls the strings of white patriarchy to increase her own sense of empowerment.

In Ms. McCloskey’s case, that shark was pretty indiscriminate, pointing his machine gun at her on his way to aim at the protesters he claimed were about to burn down his home and happiness. That’s a whole other issue to unpack–the Karens are really only marginally more safe than the masses they are so desperate to separate themselves from, the black and brown people they would disempower in order to increase their own social standing. The shark has its own agenda at all times and no one is safe if his power is threatened (as it is in these times of change and transformation).

I like to deny that I have any Karen in me. I don’t remember a time when #smashtheatriarchy hasn’t been my rallying cry. I want to completely destroy the power of the patriarchy–in religion, in politics, in economic systems, in governance, in relationships. I think that is necessary in order to create a just future. Still, I cannot deny that my life has been privileged by the threads that connect me to white patriarchal systems. And those systems try to demand allegiance from those who benefit at any point up and down the power structure. I may not be explicitly accepting those connections or “calling the manager,” but I benefit in myriad implicit ways simply from my perceived connections to the shark.

My work is to keep finding those threads and disconnecting them, cutting them away so they hold no power over me and my sense of belongingness and wellbeing in the world, to find ways to connect whatever threads of power are bequeathed to me by my race and culture and education to those who were bequeathed fewer of those threads but who deserve them as vitally and as certainly as I.

It’s ugly. To call myself one of them. To see that petulant set of the lips, that situating herself in the context of the patriarch’s emblems of violent maintenance of power, and say that there’s something of me in there too, in the pathetic, comic, tragic, furious face of a white woman grasping for power. Knowing that in the system she fights for, she too is expendable, that the only way she survives in the patriarchal system is to play their pantomime along with them, to do their dance.

No, of course I am not her. But yes, I am her, in some strange and twisted distant reflection. She is a caricature of a caricature of a caricature. . .that somewhere weaves very close in the tapestry to me. If I am to participate in this movement for justice for all people, for true equality, for the destruction of the white patriarchy, I need to recognize that connection and learn to face her in the hall of mirrors.

My wise and thoughtful friend Chris of Soulence has written a really powerful piece on doing this work of untangling these threads through unconditional love and doing deep inner work. She offers a grounding chakra meditation. You can find that here.


Gratitude List:
1. Working at Radiance again. It’s wonderful to spend time with Sarah and Laura, to be out in the world, to shape the sweet river grass baskets from Ghana and feel a sense of connection to the women who made these spherical containers. When I got home, I walked into the room with Josiah, and he said, “Mmmmm. You smell like Radiance again.”
2. A day ahead to sew and poem and tidy and create and cook.
3. Cucumbers are in season. I think my lunches for the next couple weeks will be cucumbers and cheese.
4. Tomorrow, time with beloveds.
5. I’m feeling a little fired up to begin designing my courses for the fall. I’m glad to get that energy now instead of on August 15.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!


“Keep strenuously toiling along this path,
do not rest until the last breath;
for that last breath may yet bring the blessings
from the Knower of all things.”
—Rumi


“A church that does not provoke any crisis, preach a gospel that does not unsettle, proclaim a word of God that does not get under anyone’s skin or a word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed: what kind of gospel is that?” ―Oscar A. Romero


“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering its a feather bed.” ―Terence McKenna


“Nature is alive and talking to us. This is not a metaphor.” ―Terence McKenna


“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”
—Raymond Carver


“Her imagination was by habit ridiculously active; when the door was not open, it jumped out the window.” ―Henry James


Orientation
by Maya Stein

Just east of certainty. A little south of courage. A hair’s
width from ease. Clicks away from ready. A turn
or two from acceptance. A shuffle from faith. A set of stairs
from achievement. A riverbed from happiness. A handspan from
peace. A wink away from freedom. A few lines until the poem’s
done. A highway, a night’s sleep, a phone call, a touch, a rotation
of gears away from that certain yes that tells you where you are is
exactly where you need to be. I know, the signs can look as if they’re missing,
and the map so distant and unclear.
But I’m telling you, you aren’t lost. You’re never lost. You’re always here.

He Said. She Said.

“Why would he lie?”
That’s what Chris Matthews asked Elizabeth Warren this week about the numerous accusations against Mike Bloomberg and his company over the years: sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and sexist and harassing comments that contribute to a hostile workplace. Anna North, in an article in Vox, refers to at least 65 women making accusations against Bloomberg and his company in about 40 cases.

“Why would he lie?” Matthews asked Warren about Bloomberg’s denials that he had told one pregnant employee to “kill it.”

“And why would she lie?” rejoins Warren. “That’s the question, Chris. Why would you assume. . .?” And then he interrupts her.

He said. She said. Why would you believe her? Why would you believe him? He’s innocent until proven guilty. Bloomberg, with his dozens of non-disclosure agreements with women. The president, with twenty-seven accusations of sexual assault. Kavanaugh, with his three accusers, one at a public confirmation hearing. Why would you believe her? Why would you believe them?

And that’s just it. The women’s stories are always accusations. Always awaiting that adjective: credible. Always waiting to be proven, always a likely or possible lie, until proven. Sexual assault. Sexual innuendos and crude talk that create hostile and unsafe environments. Pregnancy discrimination. She has to prove he did it, said it, suggested it, made it unsafe. And he is always innocent until he is proven guilty, and until then, she is a liar. She is guilty. Guilty of lying until she can prove he’s the liar.

And he is (usually) white. And he is powerful. And he is male. He is (often) wealthy. He is the default for all the power dynamics: for truth and believability, for threatening posturing, for the pay-off.

Innocence until guilt is proven is an important tool in our legal process. In an ideal world, you are protected from conviction without strong proof of your guilt. It’s backbone, foundation, bedrock.

So what do you need in order to prove guilt? Tears? Hidden cameras? Secret recordings? Semen? Blood? Twenty-seven women coming forward with similar stories? (I’m looking at you, Mr. President.) How many women’s truths does it take to outweigh one rich man’s lie? What is the tipping point when we suddenly stop seeing Cosby, America’s dad, and start conceiving the possibility of Cosby, sexual predator? How do we go from Bloomberg or Trump, wealthy and powerful political leaders, to sexual harasser and sexual predator?

What does it take to believe the woman in the story? Why would you believe her? Why would you believe him? She is the accuser. Always. She is always the accuser in the story, and so her burden is proof.

In the secret stories that women and girls tell each other, he has groomed her for silence, or intimidated her to silence. He has gaslighted her until she can no longer separate his false reality from her truth. He has stepped over so many boundaries with such deadly skill that she no longer knows where the first boundary lay. He has paid for her silence. He has cajoled, intimidated, forced her to sign the non-disclosure agreement. He has told her the devastating truth that no one will believe her anyway.

I am not necessarily advocating for the elimination of innocence until guilt is proven. It’s foundational to our understanding of legal justice in this country. But I think that there is something terribly broken about the way we use it. It privileges the powerful, the wealthy, the white man, the abuser; it makes eternally possible Chris Matthews’ question: “What would you believe her?” It is a cloak behind which the rapist, the predator, the hateful misogynist boss can hide, with a fair degree of certainty that no one will believe her anyway.


Gratitude List (Beauties I See on Saturday Morning):
Saturday mornings are for birding-watching from the kitchen table.
1. That cardinal is the purest scarlet I may have ever seen.
2. A flock of goldfinches has claimed the thistle sock. They’re beginning to glow gold around the edges, gold shining through the olive, leaking onto their wings. They look so delicate and faerie-like next to the muscular house finch who has zipped in to share the thistle.
3. I heard the doves call this morning. Haunting.
4. The ground under the feeder seems to be alive until you let your eyes focus on the little flock of sparrows, juncoes, and doves feeding.
5. Something in me flies, too. Something sings. Something rises in the cool dawn.

May we walk in Beauty!

Bringing Down the House of Dudebro

The old white dudebros we saw fawning over the job applicant as he wept and professed his love for beer and attacked the woman who dared to ask if he’d ever passed out from drinking are the same old white dudebros who did everything in their power to elect a president who thinks that because he’s a celebrity, he can do what he wants to women, and they’ll have to just take it. These ancient husks of the patriarchy didn’t care then about women, not about their wives and daughters, not about their mothers and their friends, nor about their mistresses either. And they haven’t suddenly started to care, or to consider women in their definition of fully and completely human. It’s always been about consolidating their power, and women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, and people with any hint of “otherness” are right out, simply stepping stones and objects for their pleasure and subjugation.

Their operating systems run on money, sex, and power, and the first two are simply tools to get to the third. They’ll do their best to speak their version of Christianese in order to get the votes they want. They’ll talk about reason and intellect and democracy and patriotism, but their words don’t mean the same as ours. They live with a belief that women are emotional and irrational, but put them in the hot seat, and they fall into irrational, emotional rants and tirades themselves.

We need to get to them in their language. If money talks, we do what we can to hit them in the pockets. We support their opponents in the mid-terms. We boycott anything and everything they’re connected to. We refuse, ourselves, to be buyable and sellable.

The sex is harder. If you know the wives and lovers of the dudebros, use your eloquent influence to call down the legacy of Lysistrata upon their heads. Empower the sisters to abandon the beds of the patriarchs. If you share a bed with a dudebro, practice some celibacy, sister. (I’m not advocating leaving the bed of true allies, of course.)

And as for power, as some wise woman wrote on her protest sign: We grab ’em by the midterms. We empower women and people of color. We stump and rally and canvas and speak out for women’s voices and women’s leadership. We amplify the voices of black women, of Latina women, of trans women, of immigrant women, of women in wheelchairs and women with mental illness.  We listen to single mothers. We listen to teenaged women. We #VoteforHer. We #BelieveHer.

We make a space for Women’s Country within the space of our existing structures, and then we expand and we rise, and we set the old patriarchal structures on fire, to be blown away like so much ash.

The Old Boys’ Club, the frat house, the dudebro world, the patriarchy is dying. Today we light the match to burn it down.


Gratitude List:
1. October. It is, as they say, my favorite color.
2. Stories. How they fuel activism. How they build empathy. How they open hearts and minds.
3. Bright colors
4. The autumn slant of sunlight
5. Books

May we walk in Beauty!


Today’s Notes and Quotes:
“To make a living is not to make a killing. It’s to have enough.” —Wendell Berry
*****
“None of us is getting out of here alive, so please stop treating yourself like an afterthought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth you’re carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There’s no time for anything else.” —Nanea Hoffman
*****
“God is love, without asterisks.” —Father Stratis of Afghanistan
*****
“People often say, with pride, ‘I’m not interested in politics.’ They might as well say, ‘I’m not interested in my standard of living, my health, my job, my rights, my freedoms, my future or any future.’ . . . .If we mean to keep any control over our world and lives, we must be interested in politics.” —Martha Gellhorn