The Gauntlet

images

I wear a short Afro and have my hair cut several times a year. I love my hair with its thickness and mix of salt and pepper. There is more salt shaking these days but the salt has an orderly plan for framing my face, while the pepper fills most of the sides, back and top of my head. I usually go to see my stylist on Saturday afternoons when my schedule is more relaxed. I like the area the shop is located in – across the street from Peet’s Coffee, down the block from Arizmendi’s and a few blocks from one of the best farmer’s markets. It’s busy with all shades of people, kids in strollers, folks eating, shopping, clutching coffee cups, talking, and being with one another.

The minute I sat down in my stylist’s chair, I landed in the middle of a lively discussion about Jennifer Hudson, her partner and their son. One of the 30 something male stylists seemed to have done a lot of research on Jennifer’s business. According to him, Jennifer was taking legal action against her partner because she wanted custody of their son. Jennifer had been touring and she had been leaving her son behind with her partner, who had been doing the job of raising and caring for him. And now ungrateful Jennifer, who wasn’t carrying her weight as a mother, wanted to use legal means to get custody of the boy.

Since I wasn’t up on this story or the rest of Jennifer’s business, I was intrigued about the scoop and the commentary. My stylist, Sam (not his real name), is a man, too and it seemed as if both men were taking sides. The decision for both of them was that Jennifer was wrong. She was a bad woman and she was (and has been) doing her man and her son wrong.

I have to admit that I don’t know Jennifer Hudson. I am only acquainted with her performance as Effie in the most recent film version of Dream Girls. I really can’t take sides on something or someone I don’t know a good deal about. This does not mean that I have never engaged in such behavior before. Of course I have.

The discussion about Jennifer became even more interesting when it somehow veered toward Black women who say, “there are no good Black men.” I don’t remember whether Sam, a 70-year-old Black man, mimicked the phrase or whether he led into it with “And they say there are no good Black men.” Meaning that Jennifer’s man is good and she of course is bad. No matter, I am old enough to know that at that point in the conversation the gauntlet had been thrown down.

I declined to pick the gauntlet up and continued to listen to the two men talk. What followed was an indignant, “Well, white women are finding them!” and that was followed by a “Yeah.” Again, Sam spoke this. Again, I remained silent and chose not to pick up the gauntlet. I knew I was being baited. Sam was waiting for me to either say that I couldn’t find a good Black man (and was guilty of saying or thinking this) or rail against white women and blame them for my sorry predicament. I did neither of these things because I am neither sorry or in a predicament.

As if on cue, a gorgeous brown woman walked into the shop with a Black man, who she called “honey” as she asked him to take her jacket and she sat down in the stylist’s chair, which was opposite mine. She was tall and curvy, with great cheekbones, and wavy black hair. She might have been Asian, Latinx, Native or Multiracial. After all, we were in Oakland, and everyone lives and loves here; the ethnic possibilities are endless. We smiled at each other when Sam turned my chair in her direction. I wanted to stand up, look Sam in the eye and say “Ha!” but I also wanted a really good haircut, so I restrained myself.

The truth is that, like Jennifer Hudson, in the past I have been cast as a bad woman. I’ve been called bad for telling the truth, and bad for being independent. A friend’s husband once asked me why I didn’t call on him for advice when I bought my first car. The truth was that was confident in my evaluation and negotiation abilities to do what I needed to do to buy the car. I had a mechanic look it over. I negotiated a fair price. I bought the car. That was that. The fact that I didn’t ask him for advice wasn’t personal. However, this man was not implying that I was a bad woman. I had recently moved to California to attend graduate school and I needed to buy my first car. I was from New York City and had only borrowed cars for shopping trips to New Jersey or rented cars when I had needed them for road trips. My friend just wanted to be helpful and make sure that I would get a good deal.

On the other hand, the bad woman shaming I have experienced usually occurs through comparison. One of my ex boyfriends was a master at bad woman shaming. He once stated “Why don’t you cook for me when I visit you? A woman cooks for her man when he visits her.” His reasoning was that I did not cook for him, so I was a bad woman, bad girlfriend. I was not moved to change my ways.

This same ex boyfriend also compared my spending time with him to my watching a sunset by myself. I’d asked him if he’d wanted to come with me to one of my favorite places during a summer evening right before sunset, but he had said no. Later that evening when he saw me, he presented the comparison in the form of a question. Did I like spending time with the setting sun better than spending time with him? I told him that the question was silly. How could one compare the two things? My real answer, unstated, was the sun, definitely the sun.

Bad woman shaming can wear on a person. For the one being shamed it can mean suffocation, doubt, holding back. It can mean being miserable, but it only means these things if she believes what the speaker or the passive aggressive parent, boyfriend or relative says, for these beliefs really belong to the ones who voice them. Once the person they are trying to shame stops believing these things, even for a few minutes, she can breathe again. And that is why my time with the shaming boyfriend lasted only 6 months. Shaming is just not sustainable in a relationship with anyone. I’ve very happily been a “Shamers need not apply for friend, acquaintance or boyfriend status” woman for many years now. And I can breathe.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t personally know Jennifer Hudson, but I do know about the gauntlet that is often thrown when men are discussing gender roles and women are within hearing distance. I could have picked up the gauntlet, but I don’t think that the best time for me to share my thoughts on gender roles and shaming is when a man is cutting my hair. After all, I want to walk out of the salon looking good.

Director of Talent for the Electorate

images

 

 

Since last week’s Golden Globe Awards ceremony the question of whether Oprah is going to run and/or is qualified to run for and become president has been tossed around, and around. And today, the Washington Post has an in depth article with her photo and the headline “Our Next President?”

I am not sure whether Oprah wants to sacrifice her life to run for office or endure the accelerated aging that happens to every person who takes that office. Have you noticed the way that the weight of the job begins to appear on all of our former presidents’ faces? It seems that one cannot really take the job lightly if one has a true understanding of its depth and heft. It is indeed a big job.

This is not a comparison of presidencies. It is also not an endorsement of Oprah for a presidential campaign. And it is not an opinion piece on whether I think she should run for office.

After Oprah’s acceptance speech for the Cecil B. de Mille award, last week at the Golden Globes and the reaction the power of that speech has evoked in so many people, I have been thinking about what I know of Oprah, through her former network television show, her acting roles, her film television producing, her philanthropy, her interviews, and her documented conversations with others.

Oprah could bring a multitude of experience to the presidency if she did indeed decide to run a campaign for and become the next commander in chief. It’s important to expand on the “We don’t need another celebrity” that I’ve been seeing and hearing in the media and on social media. For me that phrase indicates shallow thinking and a habit of making women one dimensional and therefore invisible. The irony of that is not wasted on me.

Although I’m not Oprah’s close personal friend and I have never worked directly with her, I can see that there is a lot more to her than just “a celebrity.” And I would go so far as to say that many who contributed to social media discussions and others who saw Oprah’s speech on the Golden Globe Awards last week were blown away by the power of her delivery and of her words but they can’t consciously articulate what that being blown away has evoked in them. Waking up to something one has been blind to isn’t always easy.

So, I’m going to take on the role of “Director of Talent for the Electorate” and share some of what I see as being Oprah’s qualifications for a job that requires intelligence, good judgment, a high degree of interpersonal skills, the ability to interact and communicate extremely well with people across cultures, experience dwelling in the public eye, which includes media scrutiny, interest in and work toward the common good, and more.

Here are just a few of Oprah’s qualifications:

Oprah’s interpersonal skills are not only top-notch; she has honed them and held multiple positions that have allowed her to further develop them since the mid 1970’s. These positions have been: news anchor, actress, talk show host, producer, media conglomerate owner, philanthropist, and boarding school founder.

She is highly intelligent and thinks outside of the box.

She can deliver focused, clear speeches that contain an explicit main point and sub points.

She is well connected across many demographics, nationally and internationally

She has experience interacting with people from all walks of life from interviewing them as a talk show host, building and hiring staff for her school in South Africa, mentoring young people, hiring and managing staff of her company and its many projects.

She is patriotic, as she is on board with what America could be if it lived up to the ideals and values espoused in its constitution, its amendments and enacted laws.

She has maturity on her side as she’s been around the block a few times professionally and personally, and she is about to turn 64. Although age is a protected category in most hiring situations, when one is applying for the position of POTUS, the age of a candidate is public information.

She is a woman. It’s clear that we need more female leadership in our local, state and federal governments. Women tend to think of the future, of children and of legacies that will be left to their children and to children in general. Women tend to consider these things whether they are parents or not.

So it seems to me that there is a lot more to Oprah than the title “celebrity” suggests. I haven’t even mentioned the social issues her work has uncovered and made part of the global conversation. Her talk show and the issues that it focused on did have a majority female studio and broadcast audience and my guess is that her work on OWN is currently followed mostly by women (and probably a smaller male audience). That speaks volumes as I see it, because the issues and problems that we face as a world can and will only be addressed through the awareness and work of fully conscious women and their male allies.

We currently have and we will have a lot to clean up and make right for many decades to come. Anyone who is still indulging in staring at her or his navel need not apply to the work of turning things in this country and in the world toward a more humane direction.

That is, if any of us are still around to do the work.

 

 

 

Thank You and Happy New Year

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A very Happy New Year, to all of you who so graciously read my intermittent musings on this blog. I hope to post more regular musings this year although I’m not sure right now what “more regular” will mean. I’m up to the challenge, though.

As I was writing these words, I remembered Anne Lamott’s chapter titled “Short Assignments” in her book Bird by Bird. Lamott describes how she redirects herself when her mind spins into overwhelm about writing:

“I go back to trying to breathe, slowly and calmly, and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being…. I remember to pick up the one-inch picture frame and to figure out a one-inch piece of my story to tell, one small scene, one memory, one exchange”

The one step at a time approach can help to allay the impact of the spinning mind that can so easily whip up panic, fear, dread, desire to give up as all is lost, etc. Thank goodness for the breath and the patience we can develop to work with it.

I plan to also continue writing nonfiction essays this year, thanks to the brilliant Vanessa Mártir and the #52essays2017 challenge. I look forward to what is to come in this genre for me. I found treasure in carving out time to write prose reflections on life, love, the world around me and so many things. Bless you, Vanessa for you are truly a gem.

You can learn more about Vanessa, read her work and find out about the classes she will be teaching this year at https://vanessamartir.blog/

And on we go…