February 22, 2009

1971 Journal--Doubting Feminism

I was active in the feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I attended 3 separate consciousness-raising groups and read almost all of the early books and literature. I rewrote and edited the first major anthology: Women in a Sexist Society. Although I identified myself as a radical feminist, I always had serious misgivings about the direction of the early movement. I explore them in my journal entry from October 1971. I have not edited this snapshot of a particular point in time. At the time I was a happily married woman working as Editing Supervisor at Basic Books, which pubished social science and psychiatric books. I was a year away from becoming pregnant.
Are men necessarily the enemies? Adopting that logic, couldn't women be categorized as the enemies? Must there be an enemy? Must the movement have a scapegoat? There is a danger of generalizing for all women from a few women's (typical, atypical) experience with men. Perhaps most men are baffled rather than hostile. They have been socialized to believe the myths, so they do believe them. Why does the movement assume that their motives are vicious?

Perhaps the myths are harsher than the realities. Individual women are treated better and respected more than social mythology about women dictates. The movement shouldn't present what seems to be a fatal choice: true autonomy or loving, intimate relationships with men. If all men are despaired of, shouldn't most women be despaired of? Have women tried hard enough to explain themselves? Or would they rather renounce men than fight through to an accommodation?

The movement stresses relationships with women because they are easier (at least for many women). There is no need to confront the enemy directly. Women often have bravely attacked men in coffee klatches, but they then have gone along with their own men, having worked out some of their hostilities with other women. I don't understand; because of my five brothers, I have never had any trouble confronting men. (At that time, NY feminism was rather obsessed with lesbianism. Happily married heterosexual women felt rather defensive about their lives.)

At times Women's Liberation is vulgarly careerist. There is very little speculation on changing the nature of work. There is no recognition that traditional women's jobs, not men's jobs, may be the desirable jobs of the future. Dominant economic values are accepted. A job's value is measured by its pay or its status. There is total denial that raising young children is a uniquely demanding job, calling forth an infinite range of talents and imagination.
Feminists sometimes lack a strong grasp on job alternatives. I am frustrated with so much loose talk about expressing creativity in jobs. Don't women recognize what most workers do, not only blue and white collar workers, but professional and managerial ones as well? Creativity is the value much stressed by woman's magazines. Be a creative homemaker. There is no recognition that post-revolution many, if not most, women might have less creative jobs than they have now. Volunteers are often allowed more autonomy and outlet for imaginative change than regular staff would be permitted.

The emphasis could have been completely different. Feminists need not have accepted the male value that your job is everything, completely determining your social use and people's opinion of you. Alternatives include--more leisure, 25-hour week for everyone, change hierarchical nature of work, decentralize it, recognize that much work is unnecessary. In a more rational society that won't need 100 brands of detergents, toothpastes, and feminine hygiene deodorants. Many jobs now are completely unproductive. Most jobs are not inherently creative. What is a creative job anyway? The solution may be to give people more time, real time, to be creative off the job.
My close friend said almost any job is preferable to staying home with the kids. That is a preposterous statement, particularly from a so-called radical who pays lip service to human values. That is not to say that childrearing as it is now arranged is perfect. We might benefit from more stress on communal childraising, not necessarily so parents can get a "job," but because it may be a better way to raise children from both parents' and children's point of view. I am the oldest of six; growing up in a large family was a positive experience. My parents seemed to have less need to control our direction in life than the parents of my friends with fewer siblings.

The nature of work must change in our society. Women should be at the forefront of the battle for change. Autonomy and self-sufficiency cannot be pictured as depending on capitalist recognition of worth. Rather the economy should be made to value and reward the kinds of work that women do. Men have problems with women's lib on this point. They can't seem to believe that women would want to have equality in men's world. How many men would trade roles if only the objective nature of what they had to do was the consideration and not society's evaluation of it?
Perhaps the major emphasis must be on changing society's evaluation of women. Otherwise, when women enter or take over traditionally men's fields, they would only decline in relative prestige. It can't be difficult or challenging job if mere women can do it. Emphasis should not be on merely putting women in out-of-home jobs. The nature of reward for jobs should change. Money must cease to be the major incentive. The gap between low salaries and high salaries needs to be dramatically smaller. If raising young children had prestige of being a pediatrician or a child psychologist, for example, and it need not be done in social isolation, might not women and men feel differently about it?
You're exhausting me, Mary. I don't have time to read this but of course it looks excellent, so I'll be back. This comment will serve as my reminder on the left side of my blog. :)
This is very close to some of what I was thinking myself back in 1970...I am going to re-read and then comment( in my usual too long, too wordy way) Monday, after I have the house and computer to myself.. I must add that I will be thinking about this all weekend to prove that I am taking this post very seriously...it is actually bedrock material and one of the most substantive , thought provoking things I have seen hit OS since I joined in October!
Ahhhhh, "younger brothers"....the key to why we could not see males as "enemy"......more Monday.
..."the myths are harsher than the realities..." That's a loaded stgatement, Mary.
Outstanding post and persepective from your first hand esperience.
A whole lot of work for a questionable return, yet necessary, tireless effort, none the less.
Like I always way, "Keep on keepin' on!"
Not to get graphic but last night I came across these "male stripper parties" where literally hundreds of women are gathered at a venue and male strippers run around with full erections dancing around and the women are taking turns performing fellatio in full view of the screaming others. Based on the accents they are mostly originating out of UK and eastern Europe. I'd say that's pretty good proof of women's liberation when a bunch of mothers and daughters can get drunk and grab and suck off male strippers and their men aren't clamoring outside to break the doors down and shut the party down. Stripping was once only reserved for females to perform and men to enjoy...not it has progressed to open cock sucking by horny ladies to bad dance music.
Scared grandma, I am looking forward to your response. My mother's younger brothers were closer in age to me than to her--7, 9, and 11 years older than me. I lived with mom's whole family the first two years of my life; I was their much-loved and played-with baby sister.

My uncle Ken, 7 years older, recalled ringing all the bells in the neighborhood the day I was born, boasting to everyone that he was an uncle. They have always treated me as their beloved younger sister. So I actually had three older brothers and five younger brothers. I was 11 and 13 when my younger brothers were born. In pictures I look like their young mother. How could I ever see men as the enemy?
New blog,

That wasn't what we were fighting for.
I would have to hope that my grandchildren won't feel compelled to return to work after a two-month maternity leave when they have children or imperil the future economic security of their families. For someone trying to combine parenting with work, this is probably the worst country in the industrialized world.
That's a huge, always important question, and it looks like you did a good job of attacking it. My (baseless) take on this is that men evolved to fight, or have one "fight," whereas women evolved to do everything else. That clashes with a male-dominated working world, because of the different perspectives alone, not even speaking of the biggest problem, how "Money must cease to be the major incentive." I wonder how things play out in careers or institutions made up of mostly women; if there are some good innovations to be found there or if it's more of the same; strings always being pulled from the top.
The harshest anti male rheroric probably comes from lesbian feminists with a vested interest in seperating men and women. Some seem to have an outright pathological hatred of men. Maybe they were molested or raped, but the large majority of us are not psychopaths. Like them we are products of how we were raised, the images we got from television. In terms of careers, most men don't lke their jobs. Work is being sold to women as personal fullfilment. Basically it was all just to get all women working and paying taxes. Our taxes go to the IRS who gives them to the Federal Reserve, funded by the same people that fund universities, studies and orgs. The Rockefellar, JP Morgan element. Connected to The Rockefellar, Ford, McArthur and Carnege foundations, the guys funding the UN, IMF, WHO, World Bank, etc. Every study is essentially the same, spend more money, have bigger government, men don't want women to work so you have to to get back at them. Which is absurd. What men mind additional income in the home? Lies, propaganda and more bullshit than a stable. A lot of women are learning what work really is. A drag.
Mary, What a pertinent, insightful post. So many valid points. I grew up right on the cusp of expectations of marriage and children right after high school, or continuing education, with equality in jobs of women and men. But you could not have both, and even if you tried, you were treated with a pat on the head and a wave of the hand, dismissed to the world of fairy tales and unattainable ordeals. I remember when I told two older guys that I was planning to join the peace corps, and one of them asked, "Are you a dyke?" I was so naive, but that question angered me so much. Why did the peace corp enrollment make me a dyke, and if I was, so what?
I can feel my blood pressure rising right now! Great post...rated for raising children full time
Three decades later, still the same questions. It's exhausting. Yet we have made progress. And feminism isn't dead, the radical wing had its place but that's the part that's gone.

Men are feminists now too, as well they should be. You'll meet some of them here, full time child-raisers. Lonnie, bbd (Barry), Skeptic Turtle (Derek) and more.

It's sad that growing up in the 50's and 60's we were proud of our mother's full time career but resented her absence from home and our time spent with nannies. I stopped working full time for 5 years when our son was born for that very reason. Best move ever. Found creative ways to use my intellect and energy. Still, I had the luxury. Too many do not.

How can raising children ever achieve prestige when teaching still does not? Hard questions, Mary. Glad you're asking them.
Mary, I think the biggest truth in your post is in your last paragraph. We see care of our nation's elderly and children to be considered low-skill or no-skill jobs. The only conclusion to which I can come regarding this is how these segments of our society are not earning wages, therefore their worth is considered to be nothing. Added into the equation is that these jobs were the traditional domain of women. Regarding the elderly, the majority of nursing home residents of women, many of whom never earned a wage outside of the home. Is it any wonder that we raid 3rd world countries to find people to work for the very low wages these places offer or that these are people who often could not find work anywhere else?

I was born in '71 so I was born to many of the fruits of your labor. Most of my jobs have been in traditionally male-dominated fields, quite simply as that was where the money was. We've seen jobs which were once the sole domain of men now have a majority of women, the result of which is lower pay in that field (the field of psychology is an excellent example). Perhaps the next generation of feminists should focus further on re-defining the differences between "money" and "worth", thus giving the status of "value" to all? Thank you for your post.
I should have also added, "Thank you for fighting the good fight. Thank you for continuing to ask these questions." -- RL
Jim,

You raise excellent issues. I don't want to overgeneralize. Yes, there were many lesbians in the NYC women's liberation movement. More upsetting is that there were few mothers with children. It became a vicious cycle. Women who insisted they were in happy marriages were too often accused of "false consciousness."Women who stayed home with their children were sometimes derided. Because it was not a movement of mothers, abortion, not child care, became the key issue. Women with happy marriages and children were turned off , left, or didn't join in the first place.

I entirely agree with you: "the large majority of us are not psychopaths. Like them we are products of how we were raised, the images we got from television." You argue: "Work is being sold to women as personal fullfilment. Basically it was all just to get all women working and paying taxes." I would have rejected this statement in 1971. Looking back, one could indeed argue that that the women's liberation movement was co-opted by corporate capitalism. Women went to work in huge numbers, and at the same time one wage earner could no longer support a family. Women's working disguised wage stagnation.

I grew up in a lower middle class community. Most residents were not college graduates; many had solid union jobs. How is it that fathers in the 50s could support much larger families on one income? Yes we lived very frugally, but our mothers were home; our grandmas or aunts helped out. There were no day care centers or nursery schools. we started school in half-day kindergarten that was all fun and games.We were given much more freedom to roam the neighborhood without direct parental supervision. No cell phones monitored our every move. We would have pitied children with overscheduled lives, ferried from one" stimulating" lesson to another. But we didn't know any such children .

By 12 or 13, we were supposed to figure out how to earn some money--babysitting, paper routes, snow shoveling, leaf raking, etc. By 16, we had jobs all summer, from the time school ended to the time it started.
Junk1,
My mother had not been able to attend college because her dad died when she was 17. She attended night school and worked full-time, then got pneumonia and didn't have the energy to continue with college. She went back to college; we both graduated in 1967.

My parents and my teachers always encouraged me academically. No one one discouraged my dreams. My dreams were distorted because I brought myself up to be one of the guys. I didn't investigate female fields like psychology or early childhood education. My mother was appalled when I dropped out of Stanford's Political Science Ph. D. program, throwing away a chance she never had.

The conflicts between love and achievement were in my psyche. Before my first daughter was born, I assumed I would go back to work full-time. But I fell madly in love and found that spending all my days with young children was the most fascinating, rewarding job I had ever had.
Cocoalfresco,

You raise questions I am incapable of answering. For most of human history there was not a split between home and work. Women's work was fully as important as men's work. Both parents were around; they were too busy to spend time stimulating their children. But children watched and participated in the work going on around them.

I don't think men evolved to be fighters and women evolved to do everything else. Women did the work that was compatible with pregnancy, breastfeeding, and caring for children. Men were not so tied down to the homestead.

Since I had children, I have worked mostly as a public librarian, a field dominated by women. Crippled by civil service in too many localities, library careers tend to be hierarchical. You advance by years spent on the job, not by innovative talent.
Sally, I appreciate your encouragement and your excellent questions. How lucky your son was for those five years at home! In 1973, when Anne, my first child, was born, I never anticipated that she would be facing the same difficult choices as women of my generation. I have always believed men can be feminists. Thanks for naming some full-time dads; I will add them as my friends immediately.

My mom only went back to work after I had left for college. And I was home for my daughters. I am sad that daughters will not have that time with their children. Agreed, that most parents don't have the luxury of one staying at home with their babies or toddlers. But some have higher expectations of economic security that we did. We always lived from paycheck to paycheck. We lived in an apartment. The kids knew their choice was the State University of NY or a full tuition scholarship. I believe the first few years of life are more important than any college.

In New York, teachers actually do pretty well with great pensions, because they unionized and were willing to strike. Parents can't go out on strike.
Reniassance Lady,

Your excellent comment raises so many more issues. Elder care is a looming crisis. Women my age spend most of their time discussing their parents. As families get smaller, more of the burden falls on fewer children. The need for child care ends; the need for elder are is entirely unpredictable. Increasingly women lose more work time to elder care than they did to child care.

I took care of my mom in my home for the last 3 1/2 years of her life. Because she had long-term health care insurance, we were entitled to 6 hours of a home health aide daily. We might have had an aide a third of the time. So many of the aides' stories were tragic. None of them had their own cars. Agencies would assign them to places without public transportation; many had to take two buses and a subway to work. Many had left young children in the Caribbean with their families. We paid the agency $18; the aide was lucky to get $8. There was a constant turnover. They sent an 4'11 "aide to care for my 5 ' 8" mother. The first time she tried to help my mother up, she fell into her lab.

We are facing a catastrophic crisis in home care as the baby boomers age.. Medicare and private insurance don't pay for the home car unless you are suffering from an acute medical problem. They don't cover help with the activities of daily living that frail and demented adults require, Medicaid only kicks in if you are absolutely impoverished and skimps on home care. Eventually Medicaid is the primary payer for nursing homes. In the NYC area, a year in a nursing home is well over $100,000 a year. Medicaid could bankrupt most states. All the discussion on health care rarely mentions this problem.

Every single aide we employed and every single nanny in my son's neighborhood is a woman of color. A white woman caring for a toddler is recognized immediately as his grandma. At least in areas with a large immigration population, women's liberation has come at the expense of much poorer women with no job security and few, if any, benefits, separated from her own children. If you stay home and take care of your kids, you are not part of the GNP. If you hire someone to care for your kids while you care for someone's kids, both salaries are counted.

Can the question of money versus worth even be understand in today's capitalistic society?
Two points: as we become more and more of a "service" society, rather than producing goods, the evolving marketplace favors women's natural skills, such as relationships and communicating--not the males--so prospects are good for gals.

Second: women still have a much broader base they can use in forming their identity. A males identity is still based on his ability to compete and to win. When he stops competing and winning he loses almost everything--often even that woman he is competing and trying to win for.

Thirdly: (I lied, I have three points) The problem with "feminism" in my view is that it is an "ism" in the first place--an ideology--and like all ideology it is a projection either of the individual who is putting forth their "perfect world," or acting as a spokesperson for the collective conscience at any particular juncture in history.

I have a hard time with ideology. Hugs,
Ben Sen has a point.

When this "ism" is presented in vast, heroic terms within a relationship (and is paid heed with the best of intentions), but the reality devolves into tangled negotiations about the division of labor in the kitchen, some men, even deeply well-meaning men (such as I have been), find they want to go outside. For a while.

Or longer.
... "or longer"...
It's better to eat bitter herbs in the wood shop all alone,
then quibble with a grouchy pard`nerd. I too can wash
a dish, and pat dry, as if the plate was a soft babies butt.
she has a soft behind when she grows older? Shush ups.
Mary King has become a treasure of wealth. I learnings.
Arthur, I agree. This Mary is something.
Hmmm...interesting. I've personally never thought of men as "the enemy." I see our struggle as being against the patriarchy which I see as a system of privilege. It hurts some men and helps many others. But the basics for me: pass the ERA, equal pay for equal work, equal marriage, protection of bodily autonomy, affordable healthcare and affordable quality childcare for all. Many of these things benefit men as well as women. I want men to join in the fight. In countries where women are educated and able to plan their families and control their reproductive destiny, life expectancy and prosperity increases for all. When women make equal pay, the burden of providing for families need not weigh so heavy on men's shoulders. There should be paternity leave as well as maternity leave. Fathers should be free to stay at home if they wish. I welcome men as feminists.
I don't have a lot to add here, Mary. Another great post and set of comments. I find your musings back then prescient or at least indicative of the real issues, then and now. I do think many feminists see men as the enemy, and I have thought that some have taken feminism in a direction that sold motherhood down the river. I saw my first brand new baby as an opportunity to live out every intellectual principle I'd ever learned--and all that on top of the emotional attachment I felt at his birth. Though I too had expected to go back to work immediately--teaching at the business college--I couldn't do it--literally couldn't go through with it and felt lucky to have a husband who could support us.

I've worked part time on and off over the years and feel completely competent in almost any endeavor I embark upon, including grad school, volunteer work, new jobs, social situations, etc. It's always been difficult for me to get on an anti-male bandwagon--how could I? It's antithetical to my life: I've been frankly supported by a loving, attentive, hardworking, and family-oriented husband, and I have lived with and raised three fine boys who are sensitive, funny, and brilliant. What's not to like? I loathe when friends or neighbors generalize in either direction--and it's often male bashing.

All that having been said, I do look for patterns in the genders and see some things that seem more "male" or more "female." I know it's often said that sexuality is on a continuum, and I'm wondering if gender is, too. Do you know? There do seem to be more masculine men and more feminine men and more masculine women and more feminine women and all the types in between. I'd have to think for a minute to figure out if I'm talking about appearance here or including aggression as well. It's hard to say. I know that I'm much more outgoing and aggressive than my husband, who is fairly mild mannered. When I call him passive-aggressive (which he can be), he shoots back that I'm aggressive-aggressive (which I guess I can be).
Good stuff, Mary. I find pushing myself to consistently go outside of the box is the only thing that will really make me happy in the work field. As a single mom of two, I had no choice but to start working at home. This lead me to really get off my ass and find ways to bring in money, while at the same time, be around for the kids at all hours. Yes, sometimes I could scream because I need adult socializing! (Hence, a place like OS), but the opportunities that have opened up for me and the joy I have had helping the kids along their way would have never come along had I thought like a man. :)
Ben Sen,

You make excellent points, and I accept the third completely--your analysis of feminism as an ism, an ideology.

You write: "as we become more and more of a "service" society, rather than producing goods, the evolving marketplace favors women's natural skills, such as relationships and communicating"
You sell men short and underrate the impact of sexist stereotyping.

Let me talk about the fields I know most about. The fastest growing job field in NY is home health aide. If the sexism could be overcome, men's superior strength would make them better caregivers for the immobile elderly. At least half the aides the home health agencies sent us were physically inadequate for the job of taking care of my mom. My husband was absolutely necessary. We always employed a male physical therapist for my mom.

Men are often superb caregivers of young children. The male children's librarians, teachers of young children, and nurses I have known have all been excellent.

You write: "males identity is still based on his ability to compete and to win. When he stops competing and winning he loses almost everything--" You overlook what I consider the most important male role of all--fatherhood. That is the subject for any number of posts.

Your perceptive comments here and your own blog posts have opened my eyes and clarified my focus. I am grateful.
Dirigo,

I greatly appreciate the appreciation:) I have seen what you describe in so many marriages, including my first one. I hope I am wiser now and understand what is truly important. "When the reality devolves into tangled negotiations about the division of labor in the kitchen, some men, even deeply well-meaning men (such as I have been), find they want to go outside. For a while. Or longer."

And everyone suffered. And the children, grown, are desperate to avoid their parents' failures.
Arthur, you always astonish me. I learnings too. Thank you.
JustJuli,

I wish your intelligent perspectives had shaped the movement. Our struggle was with the patriarchy, which helps some men but hurts many more. But how many of us succeeded in making that distinction when arguing with the man in our life about housework or child care?

In the last 40 years, caring for children has been drastically devalued, increasingly seen as a job for the poorly paid nanny or child care worker. Even the demand for "affordable quality childcare for all" outsources the job, overlooks the possibility of tax breaks, job protection, or other incentives for parents caring for their own kids. Among my daughters' and my nieces' and nephews' highly educated friends, I know exactly one parent who stayed home full-time with her child for 2 years. That strikes me as a tragedy. These people have choices, but seem afraid to make them.

Even if companies have paternity leave, most men are afraid to take it because they worry no one will ever again see them as serious workers. Our brave new world for women has too often become a nightmare world for children.

If we truly valued children, child care workers would be educated and paid like teachers. Often I am shocked to learn what salary very affluent couples deem adequate for their nannies.

February 20, 2009

Who Takes Care of Babies and Toddlers?

I hope the comments don't become a parent care vs. day care debate. We all need to unite to create a society where parents can afford to decide what is best for their families and their children, where parents even have the economic option of caring for their children at home.

US Census Bureau, February 28, 2008

Relatives regularly provide child care to almost half of the more than 19 million preschoolers, according to tabulations released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. Fathers and grandparents were the primary relative child care providers.

The series of tables, Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2005, showed that among the 11.3 million children younger than 5 whose mothers were employed, 30 percent were cared for on a regular basis by a grandparent during their mother’s working hours. A slightly greater percentage spent time in an organized care facility, such as a day care center, nursery or preschool. Meanwhile, 25 percent received care from their fathers, 3 percent from siblings and 8 percent from other relatives when mothers went to work.

I question the unthinking hierarchy set up by the Census Bureau. They seems to be saying mothers are always better than grandparents who are better than institutional day care, which is better than fathers and other relatives. Still I was pleased that the Obamas' grandma solution is more widespread than people realize. I wonder how grandparents can afford to take care of their grandchildren as their pensions and savings disappear. I certainly have no problem with paying relatives for child care.

Were you surprised that 25 percent of preschoolers received care from their fathers? According to the Census Bureau, "Preschoolers whose mothers worked a night or evening shift were more likely to have their father as a child care provider than those whose mothers worked day shifts (39 percent and 18 percent, respectively)." "Research shows that blue collar fathers have actually changed more in terms of their involvement in homemaking and child care than have middle class fathers (including professionals), when their wives are employed away from home. " Middle-class and professional fathers profess to believe in more egalitarian sex roles, but they don't provide the child care.

Although I was fortunate enough to be able to stay home with my 4 daughters for 15 years, I am not a traditionalist who believes all mothers should be home with their babies. I wish more fathers could take care of their young children. I believe children thrive when raised by people who love them--mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, siblings, close friends--who are a permanent part of their lives. I believe group care too early in life is not the ideal solution; conforming to group norms is hard on toddlers, especially boys. My highly creative first daughter even found all-day kindergarten hard to take. At 3 PM, she warned me : "Mommy, I used all my goodness up in school." The other three thrived in half-day kindergarten.

The energy wasted on the vicious mommy wars could be directed toward Corporate America. The idealistic young feminists of the early 1970's believed that social change was possible to enable both parents to care for their children. As the work week got shorter, that seemed a possible goal. We did not envision a world whether mothers and fathers worked far longer hours than their own fathers had.

It would not require a massive reshaping of the American economy to make it feasible for parents to stay home more with their babies and toddlers. If we can outsource radiology jobs to China or India, we can figure out a way for parents to work partly in the office, partly at home. Most people only have two children; most children at three can benefit from care outside the home. Unlike the parents of my generation, today's young parents have no expectations whatsoever that anyone--government, employers--are going to help them with their work/child care dilemmas.

The argument that taking time off work would ruin career advancement is absurd, particularly in the Internet Age. Soldiers fighting World War II were absorbed back into the economy, given help with education and retraining, without being penalized for leaving their jobs for four or five years. If raising young children were properly valued as an essential contribution to the nation's future, parents need not suffer dire career consequences for working part-time or taking a childrearing break.

Taking care of my grandson in Manhattan, I talk to many nannies in playgrounds and playrooms. I am aware that very few working parents can afford even a badly paid nanny. Virtually all are women of color; most come from foreign countries. Too many have left their children with relatives in their own country. One superb young nanny told me, "this job hurts my heart." Nannies come to love the children they care for, but parents can call them Sunday night and tell them they are not needed anymore. Few are paid salaries they can live on; few have health care benefits.

Tragically, women's returning to work had resulted in the devaluing of nurturing young children. Day care workers are paid too badly to make a long-term commitment possible. Taking care of children under five is not a viable career option unless you have a working partner who makes a more adequate salary. If we truly wanted the best for our children, day care teachers' training and compensation would resemble that of grade school teachers. Companies would provide excellent onsite day care, so mothers could spend more time nursing their babies than pumping in the toilet, so parents could play with their babies during lunch and coffee breaks.

There are excellent day care centers. I suggest parents join the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The NAEYC provides a list of accredited child care centers. But high-quality child care is out of the reach of most parents. Surely society could figure out a way to make it more possible for parents to take care of their own children. If a mother or father cares for their own children, their work is not included in the GNP. If he cares for someone else's child and hires someone to take care of his own child, both salaries are included in the GNP, even though the children almost certainly receive less optimal care.

My granddaughter, my grandniece, and my grandnephew go to excellent day care centers. Excellent day care seems a much better option than isolated nanny care. Most parents cannot afford excellent day care. But group care starting in fancy doesn't work for all children. I suspect only my youngest would have thrived. My first daughter even found all-day kindergarten hard to take. At 3 PM, she warned me : "Mommy, I used all my goodness up in school." The other three were happier in half-day kindergarten. Y

Early child care seems almost entirely women's job. How many day care centers, nursery schools, kindergartens have male teachers? In NYC playgrounds, I occasionally meet a male babysitter who has a flexible work schedule. I have yet to meet a man who cares for young children as his regular job who is not a father or grandfather. How old was your child before he had his first male teacher? What message does that send to children?

The choices facing my daughters in 2008 are no better, possibly worse, than those facing my husband and me in 1973. We could live frugally on my husband's income. Enough parents were at home to create highly successful playgroups and babysitting coops, so we could work part-time or go to school. Mutual aid was a more realistic possibility.

I believe how society treats its children, not its wealth, not its military strength, is a measure of its worth. Feminists, nonfeminists, parents, grandparents, progressives need to unite in a movement for a family-friendly, child-friendly society.

February 16, 2009

Mom, They Hate Each Other

I don't want to masquerade as an all-wise grandma. No mother of 4 daughters ever masters sibling rivalry.

Fall 1976--When Anne (3 1/2) came home from nursery school, she asked me to read Green Eggs and Ham. She settled on my lap in the small black chair, and I began to read. Michelle (17 months) immediately came over protesting, tried to climb into the chair. I assumed she wanted to listen to the story, so I asked Anne to move to the couch, so we all could fit. But then Michelle started grabbing the book, bringing me her books to read.

I discouraged her, feeling she had had my exclusive attention for 4 hours; now it was Anne's turn. My friend Terry offered to read to Michelle, but she struggled down from her lap 2 or 3 times. I finished reading Green Eggs and Ham. Terry started to read to Anne and Erin, so I could read to Michelle. Michelle got down from my lap and tried to grab the book away from Terry. When that failed, she tried bribery--3 books, her blanket, a slip, her rabbit skin. Erin wanted the rabbit skin, but every time she took it away from Michelle she protested and only stopped when Terry took it back from Erin.

Finally Michelle used one of the cardboard blocks to climb on the ottoman; from there she lunged for the big black chair where Terry was sitting with Anne and Erin. She didn't quite make it and had to be rescued, but she had achieved her purpose--the reading stopped. I've noticed that she often starts fussing if someone picks up Anne, reads to her, pays her exclusive attention in any way, shape, or form

I'm glad to see such self-assertion on her part, even though I feel pulled in two directions now with both of them clamoring for exclusive attention. It frees me from being Michelle's defender. More and more I can let them learn to handle their disputes by themselves. I know Anne's worst won't really hurt Michelle, and Michelle's protests more than enough to warn me if any mayhem is actually occurring. Once or twice lately I've rushed in ready to scold Anne, when Michelle's protests had absolutely nothing to do with her. Anne's being away at school mornings seems to have encouraged Michelle to increase her demands. If she could get rid of Anne in the mornings, why not all day?

After describing this revealing incident, I earnestly tried to establish rules for myself . As the oldest of six, I probably overidentified with Anne. I read this to Anne recently, when her son was Michelle's age, and we collapsed in helpless laughter. How earnest and intellectual I was trying to be, pretending I could objectively stay above the fray. Some of my advice is excellent; too bad I wasn't able to follow it. I had obviously read too many parenting books and taken too many contradictory parenting classes.

  1. When in doubt about what to do, don't interfere.
  2. If I am concerned that one of them could really get hurt, always intervene. In practical terms, that means always being within interfering distance when they are both playing on the slide, on the climbing structure, or on the terrace.
  3. When other people are around who would tend to think very badly of Anne, intervene.
  4. Protect Anne from Michelle. She should have time alone in her room to paint, to build with blocks, when Michelle is not constantly at her back, intent to destroy what Anne just made. When Anne complains that Michelle is bothering her, respond and help her out. It is completely unreasonable to expect Anne to handle Michelle's interference by herself. I find it hard enough to distract single-minded Michelle.
  5. Encourage Anne to find solutions to the problem herself. "I'm sorry Michelle keeps knocking down your blocks. Do you have any idea how we can stop her from doing it." Poor Anne. No wonder, she told me, a few years later, "Don't give me any of that active listening crap."
  6. Try to spend one hour special time with Anne after dinner. Now that she will be away from me three hours a day in nursery school, this is particularly important.
  7. Make a firm rule about no hitting with things. The thing used as a weapon gets put in the closet until the next day. "Blocks are for building, not for hitting Michelle. You can have it back tomorrow."
  8. When I find it necessary to intervene, use actions not words. No screaming, no getting angry. Separate them physically. Then, and only then, try to help Anne. "I think you are trying to say something to Michelle. Talk it. You can talk; you don't have to hit. I know how you feel, but I can't let you hurt Michelle. It makes her feel like hitting you."
  9. When one of them is likely to continue hurting, use physical restraint. Take her to another room to calm down, telling her she can come back when she can play without hurting.
  10. Don't get angry. If I can't intervene without getting angry, don't bother. Michelle is not a helpless baby, and she is not always an innocent victim. Don't always assume I saw the curtain-raiser to this particular squabble.
In my defense, my daughters are all very close to one another and form a wonderful support system.

Worm Turns; Younger Sister Learns to Scheme

I don't want to masquerade as an all-wise  mother and grandma. No mother of 4 daughters ever masters sibling rivalry. In the last 3 years, since 3 daughers became mothers, I feel like I am back in adolescence and all the rules have changed.

My daughters find my journals hysterically funny.

 Fall 176--Emma is 3 1/2; Michelle is 17 months


 When Emma came home from nursery school, she wanted me to read Green Eggs and Ham. She settled on my lap in the small black chair, and I began to read. Michelle immediately came over protesting, tried to climb into the chair. I assumed she wanted to listen to the story, so I asked Emma to move to the couch, so we all could fit. But then Michelle started grabbing the book, bringing me her books to read.

I discouraged her, feeling she had had my exclusive attention for 4 hours; now it was Emma's turn. My friend Terry offered to read to Michelle, but she struggled down from her lap 2 or 3 times. I finished reading Green Eggs and Ham. Terry started to read to Emma and Erin, so I could read to Michelle. Michelle got down from my lap and tried to grab the book away from Terry. When that failed, she tried bribery--3 books, her blanket, a slip, her rabbit skin. Erin wanted the rabbit skin, but every time she took it away from Michelle, she protested and only stopped when Terry took it back from Erin.

Finally Michelle used one of the cardboard blocks to climb on the ottoman; from there she lunged for the big black chair where Terry was sitting with Emma and Erin. She didn't quite make it and had to be rescued, but she had achieved her purpose--the reading stopped. I've noticed that she often starts fussing if someone picks up Emma, reads to her, pays her exclusive attention in any way, shape, or form

I'm glad to see such self-assertion on her part, even though I feel pulled in two directions now with both of them clamoring for exclusive attention. It frees me from being Michelle's defender. More and more I can let them learn to handle their disputes by themselves. I know Emma's worst won't really hurt Michelle, and Michelle's protests more than enough to warn me if any mayhem is actually occurring. Once or twice lately I've rushed in ready to scold Emma, when Michelle's protests had absolutely nothing to do with her. Emma's being away at school mornings seems to have encouraged Michelle to increase her demands. If she could get rid of Anne in the mornings, why not all day?
After describing this revealing incident, I earnestly tried to establish rules for myself . As the oldest of six, I probably overidentified with Emma. I read this to her recently, when her son was Michelle's age, and we collapsed in helpless laughter. How earnest and intellectual I was trying to be, pretending I could objectively stay above the fray. Some of my advice is excellent; too bad I wasn't able to follow it. I had obviously read too many parenting books and taken too many contradictory parenting classes.
  1. When in doubt about what to do, don't interfere.
  2. If I am concerned that one of them could really get hurt, always intervene. In practical terms, that means always being within interfering distance when they are both playing on the slide, on the climbing structure, or on the terrace.
  3. When other people are around who would tend to think very badly of Emma if she made Michelle cry, intervene.
  4. Protect Emma from Michelle. She should have time alone in her room to paint, to build with blocks, when Michelle is not constantly at her back, intent to destroy what she has just made. When Emma complains that Michelle is bothering her, respond and help her out. It is completely unreasonable to expect Emma to handle Michelle's interference by herself. I find it hard enough to distract single-minded Michelle.
  5. Encourage Anne to find solutions to the problem herself. "I'm sorry Michelle keeps knocking down your blocks. Do you have any idea how we can stop her from doing it." Poor Anne. No wonder, she told me, a few years later, "Don't give me any of that active listening crap."
  6. Try to spend one hour special time with Anne after dinner. Now that she will be away from me three hours a day in nursery school, this is particularly important.
  7. Make a firm rule about no hitting with things. The thing used as a weapon gets put in the closet until the next day. "Blocks are for building, not for hitting Michelle. You can have it back tomorrow."
  8. When I find it necessary to intervene, use actions not words. No screaming, no getting angry. Separate them physically. Then, and only then, try to help Anne. "I think you are trying to say something to Michelle. Talk it. You can talk; you don't have to hit. I know how you feel, but I can't let you hurt Michelle. It makes her feel like hitting you."
  9. When one of them is likely to continue hurting, use physical restraint. Take her to another room to calm down, telling her she can come back when she can play without hurting.
  10. Don't get angry. If I can't intervene without getting angry, don't bother. Michelle is not a helpless baby, and she is not always an innocent victim. Don't always assume I saw the curtain-raiser to this particular squabble.
In my defense, my daughters are all very close to one another and form a wonderful support system.

February 12, 2009

Misandry, Misogyny, and Sexism

Smashing Sexism
Let's distinguish among misogyny, misandry, and sexism. Misogyny is hatred and disdain for women in general. Misandry, hatred and disdain for men in general, is probably the most underused word in political debate. What reception would a man get if he accused women of being misandrists? Although a lifelong feminist, I have always loathed knee-jerk male-bashing and defended men against stereotyping. Wikipedia has a decent definition of sexism: "Sexism is commonly considered to be discrimination and/or hatred of people based on their sex rather than their individual merits." Both men and women can be sexists; both men and women can be the victim of sexism.

I struggle greatly with my own misogyny. I was much more comfortable being the only woman in my political science classes at Fordham than attending all-women Catholic Nazareth College of Rochester in my freshman year. I convinced my parents to let me transfer after the dean told me they didn't have a debate club, "because the nature of women makes it inappropriate to debate with men." At Nazareth, I felt like a stranger in a strange land. My friends and I stayed up all night having a heated political debate (1963); all the girls on the floor were furious at us for gossiping at them all night.

I credit my 5 younger brothers and 5 young uncles for my comfort with men. I am far more confident that men will like me than women will like me. I don't do tact. If I see a group of 5 men at a party, I know they need me:) I don't do shoes, don't want to talk about fashion, diet, and makup. I am not fighting gray hair or wrinkles. I doubt I could be friends with a woman who had been botoxed. Women's fashion magazines appal me.Yet I still have a passionate sex life with my dreamy English husband.

Misogyny and misandry are equally sexist. Women can be just as guilty of sexism as men. When people complain that Obama isn't tough enough, or nasty enough, they are being sexist. The glorification of the macho man is sexist. The idea that little boys can't cry or wear pink or play with dolls is sexist. The denial that fathers are just as loving, nurturing parents as women is sexist. Questioning the masculinity of a man who stays home and cares for his children is sexist. Expectations that daughters are better qualified to care for aging parents are sexist.

Spending time with my 21-month-old grandson Michael, I recaptured many memories of my youngest brothers, 11 and 13 years younger, as little boys. I remember their tenderness, sensitivity, gentleness. Yet even when we were all keeping watch at my mother's deathbed at home for a week, only one of my brothers cried openly. His four brothers in another room assumed it was me.
Sexism underpins our whole glorification of war and violence. It cannot possibly be defeated in one generation. All of human history is not changed quite so quickly. Taking care of my toddler grandson, I am conscious that preschool boys possibly suffer more from sexism than little girls. When a girl shows interest in traditionally masculine activities, it is often seen as upward mobility. When a boy shows interest in girlie things, people start wondering if he is gay. Older men in the elevator are already fretting about Michael's curls.
Stroller
Even I hesitated to buy Michael the pink doll stroller, even though it was the only one I could find. I could say his dad struggling between his guy reaction and his feminism. About 12 kids, mostly boys, borrowed it in the playground the first day. Michael was busy playing with another pink stroller. In his favorite playground, the rule is if you bring something and let everyone play with it, their toys are public property. This is only if the real owner doesn't protest. Most are so happy to be enjoying everyone else's more desirable toys that sharing isn't a problem.

All of us are crippled by such sexist attitudes. Preschools and elementary schools are a better match for most girls. Boys too often wind up on medication so they can conform to classroom rules and expectations. The idea that boys can't be babysitters or men can't be daycare, kindergarten, and grade school teachers is disgustingly sexist. Home health agencies seem to find it unimaginable that a client might want a guy to care for their aging mother. The idea that every man is a potential rapist or sexual predator is hideously sexist. Admtittedly Michael will probably be a much better babysitter than my brother 18 months younger. who led his charges out on the roof the only time my parents trusted him to babysit:)

My daughter and her husband hadn't wanted 21-month-old Michael to watch television until he is two. The only two exceptions are the wordless video of The Red Balloon and an absolutely wonderful Tales of Peter Rabbit by England's Royal Ballet. I urge you to get the Peter Rabbit Ballet for every young child you know. The costumes and marks are magnificent, and all the animals are dancing classical ballet. Watching Jeremiah Puddleduck's duet with the Fox is an experience everyone should have once in their lives. Michael watched the whole 90-minute DVD sitting on my lap. Seven times he said "I like it." When it was finished, he said "again. " He loves trying to imitate the dancing animals, and asks for them unsuccessfully at least once a day.

I was telling an acquaintance about it, and she reacted as if I had announced he was gay or I was determined to make him gay. I can't bring myself to even chat again with such a revolting sexist. BeatrixPotter4

Is School for Learning or For Socialization?

I had 16 years of academically rigorous Catholic education... In high school we read all of Shakespeare's major plays, many of the classics of world and English literature. Our history teachers expected us to read a daily newspaper; ignorance of what was happening in the world was not acceptable. I had six years of language study, three in Latin, three in French. There were no electives; everyone had four years of math, four of science. In grade school we had superb instruction in English grammar and surprising good lessons in American history.

I did not appreciate my good fortune. I was obsessed with the conformity imposed, with the nun's puritanism about makeup, hair decorations, hemlines. My high school uniform was designed to remove all secondary sexual characteristics. I led a crusade against uniforms and fought for the right to wear political buttons. However, in grade school I was a good girl who did all the homework and was various teachers' pets. My first grade and second grade teachers pasted gold stars on our foreheads. I have to resist the temptation to seek editor's picks as the equivalent.

At Fordham everyone had to take 21 credits in philosophy, no matter what their major. So we all had a major and two minors. My four kids went to excellent universites, but they are totally ignorant of philosophy. What they know comes from Wikipedia articles on the philosophers Lost characters are based on:)

High school graduates, never mind college graduates, of Catholic schools were expected to have a broad general education. They understand the constitution; they woud have enlightened voters if they hadn't had to wait three years or more to vote. They could quote many excellent poems and Shakespeare's most famous sonnets.

The teachers didn't give a damn about our social skills. Their one concern was that we didn't fall into the clutches of a bad crowd of kids. Living up to your intellectual potential was their priority. Underachieving was how you got in trouble with Sister and it was extremely difficult to bullshit them about that. Cheaters and plagiarists faced dire consequences.

Going back three generations in my family, people are very intelligent, but socially shy and awkward. Boredom in school has been a persisting problem. Being the oldest in the class just exacerbates the boredom. School is for learning. Catholic schools were known for intellectual challenge, not social remediation. Socialization was what happened at recess and after school. It was not in the teachers' job description. The nuns didn't care if we liked school or had friends. They had no idea.They cared about how hard we worked, whether we were lazy and not living up to our intellectual potential. They had their priorities straight.

Looking back, I simply cannot understand how the nuns did it. Could the habit be that powerful? Do they bewitch us? In postwar suburbia Catholics schools could not be built fast enough. I never went to school in my hometown. For the first two years I went to a split session. The teacher had to teach 60 kids in each session. That is 120 students.Yet our first grade teacher taught us all how to read, to print, cursive writing. She worked with me separately. Now her brother owned a candy factory, but this does not seem humanly possible. Can wearing uniforms make such a difference?

My evaluation of my Catholic education as changed as I have grown older and students have become less educated. I never would have sent my kids to Catholic school--too strict, regimented, hostile to creativity and individuality. But my cousin's children have gotten excellent educations in Catholic Schools, and my stereotypes are outdated.

My high school had an extremely active speech and debate club. Many of the top students belonged. Debate devoured your time as much as varsity sports does know. Extemporaneous speech was exalted. There was one debate topic annually. Debaters spent ten hours a week in the library. I was more knowledgeable than most members of the Senate are now. Twice a month we went to debate tournaments, mostly in Queens and Brooklyn, sometimes in Manhattan. It was the most academically challenging and competitive activity I have ever undertaken. My kids' academically strong high school didn't have a Debate Club.

What about socialization? That word didn't exist. We had three, four, five siblings and dozens of cousins. Older brothers and sisters are excellent socializers. You weren't allowed to play board games unless you could handle losing repeatedly. There were no handicaps. Younger kids would do anything to be included. I wonder why I did take advantage of my superiority in height, weight, education, and intelligence over my brothers. The one 18 months younger only reached my height the summer before I left for college.

Most of us spent thousands of hours in the backyards or basements of our neighborhood with only the bare minimum of adult supervision. Now kids are almost never that free. Their lives are completely regimented. I never knew anyone who had planned afterschool activities until they went to high school. Our parents, raising large families on one income, didn't have money to spend on such luxuries.

In grade school we went outside and played after school--baseball, basketball, football, badminton, ping pong, knock hockey. We biked everywhere without helmets.. By 7 you were given free rein of the neigborhood. By 8 my best friend and I walked 2 miles to the nearest big town, disappearing for the day. We had to come home by dark. Our parents didn't drive us places. We biked or took buses. By 12 my friend and I were taking the bus and subway to go to Manhattan. There were no cell phone.

At 12 I was babysitting at least ten hours a week. That financed the trips into Manhattan to see Broadway shows once or twice a month. This is why parents handled having 6 children better than people now handle having 1. We were all expected to figure out some way of earning money by the time we were 12. For my brothers, it was paper routes.

Now we come to the hard part, the explanation that severely troubles my feminist mind and heart. We all had mothers at home. Even lower middle class families with many children could bring up a family on one salary. By today's standards our life was austere. We made our own fun. Cynics sometimes think feminism was the creature of late 20th century industrial capitalism. Why couldn't one salary support a family when women went back to work? Did women's joining the work force hide that salaries were stagnating. I realize things were different in African American familes where women always had to work. I led a sheltered life. The only single-parent families I knew were the result of widowhood.

I loathe the stereotype of 50s mothers presented in TV shows and movies. Long island had been farmland. Communities had to be created. There were not enough schools, few churches, community organizations, or libraries. Libraries were run by volunteers. My parents raised money for a Catholic school, church, rectory, and convent. There were few social workers. Churches took responsibility for the poor and the wretched. Women routinely took care of their sick and aging parents in their own homes.

I am not glorifying my past. But certainly the 50s and 60s were much better times to be a child. We didn't go to day care, nursery school, or after school activities. There was a limit to how much trouble teenagers could get up to in homes where an adult was always there. Denigrating the 50s too often become a way of discrediting the tremendous contributions of those supposedly oppressed housewives, who raised 4, 5, or 6 kids, who gardened, canned the produce, sewed the family clothes, took care of aging parents, made every penny count. Mad Men and Revolutionary Road don't portray any woman I ever knew.

Christian Feminist View on Sex and Politics

This post only makes sense if you read the preceding one, "What Religion are You" I haven't found many comrades who share my political and social convictions. Being for a feminist and advocating a consistent-life view is the stumbling block.

I have always been a feminist. Before my mom got sick in 2001, I always attended meetings of the Women's Ordination Conference (WOC) with her, even when I was in my anything-but-Catholic church-shopping phase. WOC is dominated by fiercely feminist, brilliant nuns who feel called to the priesthood. Many have Ph.D's, have run hospitals, been school principals or college deans. They would be the best priests I have ever known.

There is no shortage of priests in the Catholic Church. The cretins in Rome refuse to bow to God's will and ordain all the women and married men he has called to the priesthood. Many men who left the priesthood to get married and have a family would come back if the church accepted married clergy.

My ethics and politics are shaped by my Catholic education in social justice and our responsibility to the poor. There are many progressive Catholic organizations and publications that are way to the left of the Democratic Party. I have known hundreds of Catholics who are genuinely good people, dedicated to helping people, living out their faith, politically active. Since college and the Vietnam War, I have been a pacifist, always involved in anti-war activism. I am a member of the War Resisters League, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Pax Christi, the Catholic Peace Fellowship. Dorothy Day and the Berrigan Brothers are my heroes. When there was a draft, I counseled young men on conscientious objection through the Catholic Peace Fellowship.

I belong to the consistent-life movement--anti-war, anti-capital punishment, anti-abortion, anti-racism, anti-poverty, anti-euthanasia. I think the church was prescient about the long-term consequences of abortion--a society that increasing devalues children and families. I think abortion is morally wrong, yet support its being legal, at least until quickening. I am appalled at the high percentage of Down's Syndrome babies aborted after screening reveas their disability. That inevitably undermines support of disability rights.

When I speak about teens, I mean those under 18. I believe in a excellent, comprehensive sex education. Ideally parents would provide it, but schools have to emphasize it because so many parents don't. Liberals should scream less about abstinence education and more about parental failure to do their jobs. My 4 daughters all recall the condom-on-a -banana demonstration. My four year old wandered in, discovering a challenging new game. (We were willing to purchase bananas for her, but not condoms.) My oldest told me "You talked so much about sex that I don't even want to think about it until I am 30." At every sleepover, every sex-ed book in the house mysteriously migrated to the basement with the revelers. I corrupted an entire town:) My kids all reported that they could have taught the school education courses much better than their creepy gym teachers.

Emphasis on love and commitment, not using people, should be an important part of the curriculum. I wish adults would see junior high and high school sex as undesirable. Parents should fight the sexualization and pornification of our culture, in our advertising, media, movies, television. Women are denigrated. The sexualization of little girls is criminal.

So many parents are puritanical about drugs, booze, smoking, high school soda vending machines, pizza or hamburgers in the cafeteria, yet are not confident enough to warn about the physical and emotional damage of premature sexual activity. Most teens are not ready for sex. Teens too ignorant and reckless to protect themselves are particularly unready. Too many girls have sex out of insecurity, not lust, and do not exactly find it ecstatic. Oral sex often seems to be about cocks, not pussies.

I work with teens. Teens without adequate parental sex education are more likely to be sexually active. Teens with parents who don't have happy, sexually fulfilling marriages are more likely to be sexually active. Parents whose kids can tell them everything are more likely to have kids who wait until college. If you want your daughter to graduate from high school a virgin, demand academic effort and excellence. Valedictorians tend to be virgins; they have enormous self-respect for their bodies as well as their brains.

I think that I, my siblings, my children, my nieces and nephews all had sex in college, mostly, but not entirely, with people they loved and were faithful to. I and my sibs mostly married their college sweetherats; my children and my nieces and nephews mostly married people they met after college. Obviously I haven't taken a comprehensive survey. Hooking up, friends with benefits, drunk sex with a stranger upset me, because sex, love, and commitment have been inseparable in my life.

Sadly, even tragically, my first marriage ended in divorce after 25 years. It was a happy marriage for 20 years. I will always love my first husband and rejoice he was the father of my children. I have been able to remember all the thousands of good times. I am happy we both found new love and marriage. We tried very hard to save our, through years of marriage counseling, which wasn't very helpful. We mediated our divorce.

Love is a decison as well as an overwhelming emotion and passion. You can honor the commitment even though love and passion ebb and flow. If you don't feel your love for your husband or wife any more, try acting loving toward him. Obviously I am not talking about abusive marriages. We saw many of our friends give up when their problems seemed so less serious than ours. There have been remarkably few divorces of affairs in my extended family. I have known dozens of happy marriages, some lasting 50 or 60 years. I have seen spouses taking tender, dedicated care of their demented or chronically ill spouses. I know too many excellent parents to count. Faith, usually Catholicism, has played a vital role in their lives.

My views on abortion do not influence my vote. I am a lifelong Democrat, but believe we need to hold Obama's feet to the progressive fire. I have always been way to the left of the Democratic Party; some would perceive me as a lifelong 60s radical. My Catholic upbringing shaped that progressivism. I am infuriated when all Christians are dismissed as dogmatic evangelic fundamentalists. Many fundamentalists do not accept Catholics as Christians.

What Religion Are You?

I have had trouble answering this question since I was 18 in 1963. I come from a family that has been Catholic as far back as our known family history. I had an academically strong Catholic school education for 16 years. I was educated by Jesuits at Fordham University; Jesuits are the intellectual elite of Catholicism. I was an atheist from 18 to 28. Fordham was in the existential, God-is-dead phase of the late 60s, so I never even looked for spiritual counseling.

I became a believer at 27, when my first daughter was born. This miracle could not be the result of a chance collision of molecules. I was in and out of many Catholic Churches for 20 years. We baptized our 4 kids Catholic, but sent them to religious ed only sporadically. Two never received penance, one Holy Communion; none were confirmed Our youngest is a pagan for all practical purposes. We were very bad Catholics even when we were going to Catholic Church

Both my parents and I had always been Commonweal Catholics; Commonweal is the Catholic Nation. Commonweal Catholics are widely viewed as heretics and traitors, relentlessly critical of the church, cafeteria Catholics who pick and choose what to believe.. My enlighted parents and I loathed the church's refusal to ordain women, married men, or known gays. . The church's virulent condemnation of gays is morally wrong.

It seems easier for an ex-Catholic to be nothing, then to step into a Protestant Church, but for ten years I went church shopping--Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Quaker. I will always consider myself a Quaker at heart. We loved Orono Friends Meeting in Maine; it was full of seekers with young families like ours. When we moved to Long Island, we tried Westbury Friends. The meeting house is 200 years old; must of its members are lifetime Quakers.

We had attended an Episcopal Church in Chelsea in 1979 and 1980, but went back to being Catholic briefly in Maine. Ten years ago I started sttending the Epsicopal Church. It seems ideal for a Catholic--no pope, same service, better music, divorce does not bar you from the Eucharist, women, gay, and married priests. Now the US presiding bishop is a woman, and the US Church has ordained a gay bishop. . I was formally received into the Episcopal Church in 2003. For years we shopped widely for the right Episcopal Church. In our area they are likely to be pathetically small or entirely African American or located in offensively rich communities. and have found one in the next town. My English Anglican husband sang in English Cathedral choirs; only two nearby richer churches are tolerable musically. The African American curches are magnificently friendly with a strong social mission, but their musical tradition is completely alien to and Englishman. We have compromised on the church in the less rich town, where I went to high school.

Sometimes I still go to Catholic masses. I still read Commonweal. The Episcopal Church seems a bit too austere for me; I miss the quasi-superstitions of the Catholic Church and the devotion to Marythat lets women into the Godhead. I still remember how thrilled I was to crown Mary as Queen of the May in third grade. I wear a miraculous medal that belonged to my grandma, then my father. People usually notice it, and I tell them it is Mother God. I prayed to Mary when I considered myself an atheist. I have always prayed the Rosary; it is the way I meditate. The rosary has gotten me through every plane trip. Although the Episcopal Church has woman priests and bishops, their God seems very masculine.

I still sometimes walk into a strange Catholic Church and go to confession. My luck has been good; I have found gentle, compassionate men. In 1973, I had a hideous priest, who tried to figure out how many masses I had missed in ten years. I believe he came up with 600 mortal sins, each of which could send me directly to tell.

I love Catholic funerals and believe in an afterlife. I loved learning the lives of the saints in school. What an incredible bunch of weirdos, rebels, heroes, crusaders, and eccentrics. I have always prayed to the departed as well as saints and God proper. I conceive of God as Jesus, Mother, and Holy Spirt. I do not accept a patriarchal God.

I have always believed in evolution; I never have read the Bible literally. I have always despised fundamentalist Christians, who don't regard Catholics as Christians anyway.

My Grandma, My Heroine, My Role Model


My grandmother, Mary Catherine, born in 1898, left school after eighth grade. One of her first jobs was to mount women's combs on cards. She married my grandfather, a widowed lawyer with a toddler son, at age 22. She had seven children, four sons and three daughters; she raised her stepson as her own. Tragically one daughter died before she was two. Her husband died when she was 40; her children ranged from 17 to 2. She had lost her parents the year before.

My grandpa was a lawyer, but had been in bad health for 10 years. There was no insurance. When they opened his file cabinet, they found stacks of unpaid bills that he never tried to collect because his clients were too poor. The Social Security Act was passed in 1938, shortly before my grandfather died. I know she collected something later. She collected rent from three small apartments in Brooklyn, but the apartments were the source of endless headaches. She owned the house, but I am not sure it was paid of. Grandma worked part-time in a laundromat.My mother was 17; she gave up her college dreams and worked as a secretary. All the 7 kids helped support the family as they grew older.

Grandma was a very loving, giving single mother; all her children turned out well--two lawyers, two teachers, a nurse, a social worker, a computer programmer. She was always there to help out when babies were born, when someone was sick, when someone was in crisis, when someone need a kind, gentle, loving listenener. Her oldest graddaughter, I always loved spending time at her house. She was greatly loved by all her daughters-in-law. Christmas at Grandma's house was a joyous celebration with all the aunts, uncles and cousins. When she was older, she visited from house to house, always there to listen, always there to help, never there to tell tales.

A very religious women, she was empowered by her deep faith. A lifelong Democrat, she voted in the first election open to women. A self-educated woman, she read newpapers daily and was always ready to discuss world events, sharing her well-informed opinions. I could tell her things I couldn't tell my parents. She lived long enough to know all 4 of my children. She was a devoted, attentive grandma. All our lives, all 31 grandchildren got a birthday card from grandma, with a $1 enclosed, a widow's mite. Her cards were never late.

When she died at age 86, she had 31 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren; most of them attended her funeral because they had loved her so much. She is my heroine, inspiration, and role model.