Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Those Women.

When women who are now in their 70s and 80s were growing up, they could be housewives or career girls, the latter carrying a whiff of disappointment. The women’s movement of the 1970s was largely made up of women of that generation who wanted more and insisted upon it. They changed the world, and in particular they changed the workplace. Sexism and misogyny did not disappear and there are many battles still to fight, but their determination changed things dramatically for the better for working women. Women of that age group forged their identities in relation to that change, that struggle, that relationship between home and work.

I thought everybody knew this history.

My parents were working people but not blue collar. Mom had a secretarial job right out of high school but quit when she got pregnant with my brother. She stayed home to raise her kids but, as soon as my little sister was in first grade, she went back to work and held a series of administrative/clerical jobs first with a university and later with Ball Glass. My mother was a staunch liberal and a proud Democrat, her sympathies mostly formed at the local level.

I remember when the Clintons moved into the White House, and Hillary was criticized for continuing her own career, and she said “I supposed I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to build my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life,” my mother, and millions of women along with her, cheered. Hillary Clinton was and is a hero to those women. Her refusal to define herself in terms of her husband, her unabashed ambition, was a kind of signal that their persistence was paying off. The national drama of a first lady fending off critics of her refusal to settle for the role of hostess and helpmate to her powerful husband echoed their own desire for more and the flak they endured for it. That Hillary was outspoken and often impolitic only added to their admiration.

The dismissal now of these women’s support of Clinton saddens me. The scorn heaped on Gloria Steinem for a glib remark on a comedy show, the relentless suggestions in think piece after think piece that older women are blind, that they are racist, selfish Capitalist pigs for supporting Clinton, who is now transformed in the minds of these scolds into the symbol of everything wrong with the world, is condescending and offensive.

I shouldn't be surprised I guess -- collective memory is short -- that people are surprised to find a cohort of older American women who have a different view of the world, women who were balancing the checkbook and feeding kids and arguing with patronizing bosses at the office instead of crushing on Howard Zinn and Naomi Klein. Women who see themselves in Clinton, and who feel proud.

What I’m not surprised by, not after the last couple months of scolding condescension on my Facebook feed every morning, is that there is a cohort of people whose politics I generally agree with but who have their heads so far up their critique of neoliberalism that they can’t see why some people might make an informed decision based on the circumstances of their own lives, the vicissitudes of their own biographies, the content of their own dreams.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Two or three weeks ago, there was a big commotion in our hallway one morning. Shouting, pounding, lots of concerned-sounding voices murmuring. When C was leaving for work, we both stood at our door for a minute or two and watched 2 or 3 firemen using some kind of heavy instrument to beat down the door of our neighbor, Kitty, a very old woman, the first of our neighbors to introduce herself to us and welcome us to the building. Along with the firemen, in the hallway were a couple of other people, and a gurney. I recognized the others as, I assume, Kitty's caregivers, maybe family, more likely home health workers. Since moving in, I'd only seen Kitty one other time, but I saw these people going in and out of the apartment nearly every day.

C had to leave, but the banging went on and on. When it stopped, I wanted to open the door again but stopped myself because the moment felt private, or at least felt like it deserved privacy. The gurney was just like those I woke up to the sight of twice at my mom and dad's house in the middle of the night, when I heard a lot of noise and opened my bedroom door to see EMS workers maneuvering that huge contraption down the hallway with Mom on it, rushing her to the hospital.

So, I didn't find out what happened to Kitty. I didn't see anyone go in or out. Just that beat to shit door with newspapers piling up on the floor in front of it. I feared she had died, but thought maybe she'd moved to a nursing home.

Yesterday, stepping off the elevator, I saw one of the women I recognized leaving Kitty's apartment. I said hello and kept walking but then turned and asked her, "Has Kitty moved out?" She looked surprised and said, "No." I said, "Did she ... pass away?" (I hate that expression, it always sounds more like something a train would do, not a person, but I know people sometimes find the words "die," "death," "dead" to be rude.) The woman smiled and said, "No! She's in there."

I said that I was sorry for being nosy but that after all the commotion a few weeks ago I was worried about her. She told me Kitty had fallen, but was doing much better, and she was Kitty's "aide."

When I got into my apartment, tears came out of my eyes with no warning. I knew that I'd been concerned about Kitty, but I had no idea how heavily it had been weighing on me. The aide told me that Kitty is a very strong woman and that she's 92. All the old women in our coop make me think of Mom. And there are a lot of old women here.

I've settled into an email correspondence with my dad now. Our emails are not long, but they're more chatty and informative than nearly any conversation we ever had one-on-one before Mom died. It's very nice, feels less fraught and awkward than talking on the phone, and I think lets us be more natural with each other, in the way that email and social media generally allow shy people to communicate more easily. I speak for myself, and wonder if it's the same for him. He's old-fashioned, and I suspect he still likes it when I call him on the phone.