Why I Love Men

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A professor from Northeastern University recently wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times entitled Why I Hate Men. It was a kind of screed outlining all of the worst traits of the male half of the population and lamenting the unfair inequality of women. The author argued that it was time for all women to begin telling the truth about the horrific treatment that they have historically been forced to endure so that much needed changes might be made. She furthermore insisted that all of us who proclaim our support for feminism stop making excuses for the males who have, according to her, held us down.

I found myself feeling increasingly uneasy as I read her arguments and wanting to debate so many of her points. Mostly I wondered what had happened to her that had made her so angry. I suspect that if truth were ever told she would have a heartbreaking story in her past that had to do with abusive treatment from a man. Otherwise I can’t imagine why she would bear such a grudge against an entire group of humans.

First of all, I was always taught that the best way of living was to learn from the past, put it behind, and then look to the future. All of this dredging up of horrific acts committed by ancestors from another time reminds me of those folks who run around in hair shirts and have whips to beat themselves as penance just for having human frailties. I’ve always found such guilt trips to be nonproductive. To quote a feminist who recently ran for President of the United States, “At this point what difference does it make?” What was done was done. Now move on with resolve to do better.

Additionally, indicting the entire other half of society is akin to those times in school when the teacher punished the entire class for something that only a handful of students actually did. I recall with great disgust the times when I was subjected to a group detention or harangue and then told by the teacher that she knew that I had not been involved. I always thought that if that was the case, then why didn’t she leave me out of the indignity of the affair? It is not just bad psychology to use such methods, it also bad science. We all understand that we are a collection of individuals, each of whom differs from one another. While we might have similar traits, it is unlikely that we will all behave in the exact same manner simply because of gender.

It is true that there have been some very bad men in the world, and there are still far too many to this very day. There are men who are violent with women. There are men who are truly sexist in their thinking. There are men who are unfair to women. At the same time every one of us know men who are kind, loving, and eager to help everyone to be his/her very best.

I frustrate my husband from time to time, but in close to fifty years of living with him he has been mostly patient and loving with me. He has encouraged me to pursue my dreams more than any other person I have ever known. He is proud of my accomplishments and does not feel the need to be competitive with me or to somehow outshine me.

Is he an exception to the rule? I think not. I can name hundreds of wonderful men like him just from my own small circle of family, friends and acquaintances. In fact I would argue that the oafs and mysoginists are more the exception than the rule. We are horrified by their behavior because it is so unlike most of the men that we know.

Certainly we need to do a better job of protecting women from anyone who would do them harm. We must take firm measures to send the message that acts of abuse are not ever to be tolerated. We might also work harder to narrow the gaps between men and women in their careers. We have already achieved a great sense of progress in sending more women to college than men, but we must be careful that those same women do not emerge with their degrees intent on wreaking vengeance on the males.

I have six grandsons who are true gentlemen. They have learned how to treat all people from both their mothers and their fathers. They have terrific role models in that regard. I would be crushed if I thought that they were going to be hated even before someone knew the essence of their character. It would worry me if I thought that they were going to be denied possibilities simply because they are male. The way to reach true equality is not to take away from one group to give to another. That just creates yet another lopsided situation. The best way to even the playing field is to provide everyone with the education and the training that will ensure that their talents will be utilized to the fullest extent.

I am who I am and where I am today because of a huge cast of both men and women who loved me, taught me, mentored me and pushed me to be the person I wished to be. There was nothing in the equations of my life that was marked with a preponderance of male domination. Both sides were kept equal by people who supported me. I encountered a few men who attempted to use their masculinity to side track me, but other men (and women) always helped me to move right past them.

I have to say in all truth that I love men because I know all too well that they are an important part of our world. We need them and they need us. Together we make a great team. I will continue to fight for more opportunities for women, but I refuse to hate men as a weapon for achieving that goal.

 

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Our Mothers, Our Angels

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I recently participated in a podcast dealing with the question of how to form meaningful relationships. As I told my own stories I realized how much I had learned about compassion, gratitude, courage, loyalty, trust and other important morals from my own mother and those of my friends and cousins. I suppose that in many ways I lived a kind of unblemished childhood with the exception of my father’s untimely and unexpected death. From the many women that I encountered, the mothers of my peers, I learned the lessons of being someone on whom others might depend. These were wonderful women who opened their homes and their hearts to me little realizing what an impact they would have on my own development and worldview.

I have sadly been reminded again and again of what these ladies meant to me as they one by one die from the diseases of advanced age. Just last week I learned of the death of the remarkable mother of one of my high school friends. I had only met this woman once, but in that brief encounter I was taken by the way in which she welcomed me and made me somehow feel quite special. I would tell people about her and that brief encounter from time to time as the years passed. It was only in reading her obituary that I realized what a truly stunning life she had lived, and I felt proud to have known her no matter how fleetingly. 

The women who were my role models were children of the Great Depression. They were young and on the verge of beginning their lives as adults during World War II. Their early years were often punctuated with sacrifices that few of us born in the second half of the twentieth century will ever completely understand. In spite of varying hardships they all maintained a strong sense of optimism and can do spirit that followed them into their roles as mothers. They passed down their love of family to all of us, both male and female. They were devoted to their children without hovering like helicopters. They worked hard to maintain a sense of peace and contentment inside their homes. They rarely complained, instead celebrating the blessings that they had, regardless of how small they were. They were an exceptional group, and it pains me to see their generation slowly leaving our earth, because they were living breathing angels who gave their all to be certain that we would have good lives.

These were not women who were always barefoot, pregnant and under their husband’s thumbs, even though many of them never worked outside of the home. They were strong and able to overcome incredible challenges. They worked for the betterment of their little corners of the earth through jobs, volunteer work, keeping their families safe and happy. Often their responsibilities included elderly parents for whom they lovingly took into their homes. I used to enjoy visiting with the old ones who became part of the big extended families of my friends. It was not until my own mother came to live in my home in her final year of life that I realized the difficulties of caring for an adult day in and day out. The women I had witnessed had always made it seem so easy.

The women who continue to inspire me thought it natural to pitch in whenever someone was in need. They’d bring food, condolences, and a helping hand to any tragedy. They were not the least bit afraid of long hours of back breaking work. They did whatever needed to be done with little fanfare or need of accolades. 

If I were to make a list of the women who taught me how to live a purpose driven life it would begin with my own mother but then continue almost endlessly, for I always found something remarkable about the generation that came before me. Mrs. Barry showed me what love and loyalty really meant when she stepped forward to help me during my mother’s first mental breakdown. Mrs. Daigle taught me how to be the consummate hostess regardless of who came to my door. Mrs. Bush demonstrated courage over and over again, even in situations that might have overwhelmed a lesser soul. My aunts showed me how to keep family close. Mrs. Janot helped me to understand how to balance the daily toil of living with fun. Mrs. Frey demonstrated how to fully utilize my own talents and creativity. Mrs. Wright helped me to discover my own worth. Mrs. Loisey was my teacher who showed me the impact of a great educator. Mrs. Pryor helped me to understand the possibilities found in giving myself to the community. Mrs. McKenna brought beauty and music into my life. Mrs. Martin showed me the new worlds to be found in books. Mrs. Brochtrup seemed to be a living saint whose faith inspired me. Mrs. Caldwell, Mrs. Gallerano, and Mrs. Cash made my life more fun and interesting by spending hours  guiding me in Girl Scouts and on our school’s drill team. Mrs. Mandola was elegant and made me feel that way as well. All of them had a way of making it clear that they genuinely cared for me. They listened to me and valued what I had to say. They understood the importance of every relationship, but probably never realized what an enormous impact they had on me.

Our mothers were our angels on earth, and now so many of them are our angels in heaven. I do miss them and the calmness that they always brought to me. When we speak of women’s rights and the roles of women we would do well to look to these wonderful ladies for examples and guidance. They were far more amazing than our society gives them credit for being. From them I learned what it really means to be a woman.

An Open and Loving Heart

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I have to admit that I am one of those people who is sometimes uncomfortable with my appearance. I’ve had hair dressers and acquaintances make negative comments about my tresses, noting how difficult it is to do anything with them because they are so baby fine. When I complained about having bangs it was noted that my forehead is too high to sweep my locks back away from my face. I’ve been asked if I’ve had a stroke because one of my eyelids is drooping noticeably. I never had much of a chin, and I try to forget that facial flaw until someone asks if I’ve ever thought of surgery. I don’t think that anyone intends to be mean by making such comments. They are probably just passing suggestions meant to give me ideas for self improvement, but sadly they only tend to remind me of my imperfections.

I’m old enough now to just let such comments go, but like any other woman I’d love to be viewed as someone who is physically beautiful. Instead I concentrate of making my heart a lovely place for people find solace. I smile and live with myself just as I am. At this point in time I understand all too well that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the pursuit of vain glorious attractiveness is worth far less than concentrating on the really important aspects of life.

Our society doesn’t help much with its barrage of so called icons of feminine pulchritude. We are continually reminded of what is thought to be pretty and what is not. Hair and makeup are billion dollar industries, and with all of that emphasis on appearance women often feel as though they are judged not just on their character and talents, but also on their physical presentation.

Social media with its constant flow of photographs and selfies makes beauty seem to be even more important than it ever was. With filters and editing so many ladies and young girls are now removing wrinkles and flaws in attempts to perfect themselves. Now there is a real psychological thing called Snapchat dysmorphia. It is an overwhelming desire to look exactly like the perfected images that appear on the pages of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. In fact, psychologists are learning that many females are often fearful of appearing in person lest their friends learn that they are less beautiful than the photos that they have created of themselves. Some are even going as far as visiting plastic surgeons hoping to make the altered versions of themselves become reality.

I’m not against a bit of self improvement. I enjoy perusing the aisles of Ulta as much as anyone. I apply night creams and moisturizers to my face, and correct my dark circles as much as possible. I like to brighten my face with cosmetics, and I get my hair trimmed once a month and highlighted twice a year. I find nothing more relaxing than enjoying a good pedicure. Still, I worry that we are unintentionally adding just one more stress to women’s plates by not so subtly implying that physical beauty is an important aspect of success.

When I was growing up I was typically gangly. I was probably in the eighth grade before I even thought about attempting to make myself more presentable. That’s when I suddenly became aware of the real beauties around me. In fact, my one and only female cousin was one of those people with golden locks that swirled naturally around her lovely face. As the two of us grew into our teenage years she became known among members of the extended family as the pretty one while I was the smart one. Little did I know that while I was longing to be thought of as attractive at least once, she was stewing over the idea that she was not considered to be as bright as I was. No such delineations were ever directed at the males in the family. They were simply whoever they wished to be. While I don’t believe that my family or most people set out to deliberately make young girls and women feel uncomfortable about themselves, we still have a way of sending hidden messages and hurtful comments without intending to do so.

I’m not certain that there is a clear answer to this conundrum other than insisting to our little girls that beauty is a total package that includes character and talents, not just an image. A truly exceptional and caring person becomes attractive in our eyes without makeup or coiffure.

We all know of people who are lovely by dent of personality rather than superficiality. In particular I recall a student that I once taught who had been badly burned over most of her body. Her face was horribly scarred to the point that people often looked away when she passed before them. Over the course of a school year I learned just how remarkable she was, and over time she became transformed in my mind to a one of the most gorgeous people I have ever known.

If I had one bit of advice for young women it would be to just smile and look beyond themselves. The most beautiful woman in the room is always the one who is more concerned with others than with herself. It doesn’t take plastic surgery or filters to be attractive. It only requires an open and loving heart.

First Women

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My mom was a very confidant woman who did her best to boost my own sense of self esteem. Sadly it took many years for me to overcome the shyness and self doubts that I carried in my heart. I eventually reached a level of comfort in just being myself, but it was not without a great deal of effort and study of human nature. I can now honestly say that I truly believe one of my mother’s favorite mantras which was that even the most outstanding people among us are in the end just as human as we are. Once I fully understood and believed that concept I was a different person, ready to think not so much about the impressions that I was making, but more about how the individuals around me were feeling. It became my goal to focus on helping others to find their inner spirit, and doing so has made all the difference in how I greet life and its challenges.

I was reminded of just how alike we all are in our need for acceptance and love as I read a book called First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies by Kate Anderson Brower. One of my cousin’s had inadvertently left the volume at my home after one of her visits. Since she would not be returning for some time she suggested that I keep it and enjoy reading it if I felt so inclined. For some time I was too busy to pay it much mind, but it kept taunting me as it lay unopened on by bedside table. Recently I decided to give it a try and I have found it to be quite delightful.

The author begins with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and ends with Michelle Obama. The chapters discuss what it is like to be a political wife, the sisterhood of this uncommon sorority, the courage that is often demanded of these women, the trials of motherhood while in the political eye, the roles of being wives and supporting actors to powerful men, the bad blood that sometimes spills over from one first lady to another and the general duties required of these women. It is an informative text that provides a rare portrait of each woman and the ways in which they approached a job that some of them never even wanted to have.

I found myself feeling very close to some of these women, and identifying with the joys and heartaches that come from their roles. I was surprised by stories of misunderstandings between them as well as unlikely alliances that evolved over time. Of course developed favorites, some of whom surprised me just a bit. Most of all I learned how truly human each woman was and in some cases still is.

Jackie Kennedy was perhaps the most tragic figure among all of the women. She was truly in love with her husband and she overcame her almost paralyzing shyness to help him in his quest. She totally believed in him and his ability to change the world for the better, but she was not naive about his many dalliances. Nonetheless she forgave him again and again, and upon his assassination she was utterly crushed. She was a beautiful and delicate woman who somehow mustered unbelievable courage when she most needed it, and was admired by all of the first ladies who followed her.

After reading about each of the women I had my favorites. Among them were Ladybird Johnson, Betty Ford, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama. Interestingly Ladybird and Betty became great friends as have Laura and Michelle. All four were bright and gracious women who demonstrated courage under fire during their time in the White House with a dash of kindness. These four seemed to understand better than others just how important it is to be honest, but also to be helpful and kind. The portrait that the author draws of them makes me think that I would truly enjoy a conversation over lunch with any of them.

Pat Nixon was another sad figure. Her life was punctuated with one challenge after another, and during her time in Washington D.C. she was terribly misunderstood. She had a strength that few of us ever noticed. She wanted to be loved by the American people, but that kind of feeling was never really accorded to her. Instead she quietly endured opinions that were often unfounded.

There were little tidbits of information included in the book that were new to me. I had not realized that the Carters did not care for the Clintons and in particular they were unwilling to support Hillary in her bid for higher office. In fact the bad feelings between to two families still run rather deep. The Carters were dedicated to making a better world for the common people and felt that the Clintons were simply in pursuit of power.

Nancy Reagan was so utterly devoted to Ronnie that it seems as though she never really became close to any of the other ladies. Everything in her world was about her man and her protectiveness for him was all consuming. She put up a wall that none of the other ladies in the sisterhood were ever able to breach.

Barbara Bush was one of a kind, a woman who more often than not spoke her no nonsense piece of mind without filters. Everyone liked her and she was perhaps the most popular first lady with the permanent White House staff. Still, she often felt hurt by the kind of political barbs that are so often hurled at the president and his family. On many occasions she asserted that her husband George was a saint, and she despised personal attack on him or members of her family.

What I learned from the book is that being First Lady is a much more difficult job that we might imagine. Every single thing that the spouse of the president says or does is being constantly judged. There is very little privacy or freedom, and yet each woman ultimately fought for her husband to find the respect and love of the people. These women gave up much of their own identifies in a supporting role that few of us would ever wish to endure. Most of all, they were as human as any of us might be in the circumstances and truly worthy of admiration.

First Women is a good, easy and interesting read, a page turner that helps us realize the sacrifices that these our first ladies make in the belief that their spouses are the individuals needed to make our country a fair and just place to be. It’s a great book to carry on a summer journey, to the beach, or just to peruse on a hot humid day.

It Takes A Village

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Fit pitching seems to run in my family. If you’re not sure what that means, it refers to over the top defiant behavior by a child between the ages of two and five. My eldest daughter was quite adept at creating embarrassing scenes both at home and in public. One summer she wore fur lined reindeer slippers everywhere because she refused to put any other type of shoe on her feet. Not even two of us were able to hog tie her so that we might force a more appropriate type of footwear onto her tiny feet. I used to marvel at her strength and wonder if perhaps I had given birth to a superhero. I finally gave up deciding that once her little toes got sweaty enough she would surely eschew the footwear designed in Norway for harshly cold winters. With a mind of her own that is evident to this very day she persisted, and I endured shaming looks and unwanted advice wherever I went.

My niece was not to be outdone. She is the child of an Anglo father and an Asian mother, a beautiful girl who very much resembles my eldest, but has definite Asian features. My mother, my more grown up and matured daughter, this niece and I were once on a shopping adventure together. My niece was still a toddler, but with three of us to help keep her happy we were certain that there would be no problems. I don’t recall what set her off, but something did and she began carrying on like a demon possessed. Her cries and screams became exponentially more insistent with each passing second until my mom wisely decided that we had no recourse but to leave the shopping behind and get her home for a nap. My niece had other ideas and resisted our efforts to move from the spot where she was entertaining a crowd of critics with reproving faces. Picking her up was a bust because she wiggled from our grasp each time we tried that maneuver. When we attempted to get her to walk she lay down on the ground challenging us to drag her if we wished to move forward. Somehow we ultimately got her to the car but not without worrying that we were going to end up in jail for kidnapping as she yelled, “You’re not my Mama! You’re not my Mama! Go away!”

My eldest grandson was not to be outdone by the ladies in the family. On one particular outing he repeated his mother’s propensity for footwear after he saw a pair of very expensive tennis shoes that he wanted to take home. When we denied his request he went into an act of rebellion that outdid anything I had ever seen. It got so bad that I actually whispered to my daughter that I would spring for the shoes if she didn’t mind. Thankfully she stood firm because she was a good mother, insisting that he had to learn that we would not be moved by a tantrum. Having grown weak as a grandmother I wasn’t as sure of her reasoning in that moment, but I ultimately felt proud of her strength of character.

The good news is that all three of these children turned out to be quite remarkable. They did exceedingly well in school and were often complimented by their teachers and other adults for being exemplary young people. My daughter graduated from the University of Texas with a business degree and now balances an accounting job with caring for a household of four young men. My niece is a Pediatrician and works at Texas Children’s Hospital while mothering three boys of her own. My grandson was an honors graduate of his high school and is studying at Texas A&M University and serving as head coach of his neighborhood swim team. All three outgrew the behaviors that had once made them appear to strangers as spawn of the devil.

I have more often than not found that very inquisitive children sometimes become intractable, especially when they are tired. They want to freely explore the world and learn for themselves without barriers. Since we adults have to guide and protect them we sometimes have to inhibit their native curiosities and desires for their own good. We find ourselves locked in a battle of wills that is exhausting and might even make us look bad to passersby.

I feel great compassion for a parent who is attempting to deal with an angry child. Sometimes the struggle becomes so public because the little one does not care that he/she is creating a disturbance. It is apparent that the adult is doing everything possible to quell the situation all to no avail. I always want to help but know that my interference will undoubtedly make things worse. All I can do is quietly send signals of support to the harried adult.

There is a hilarious video circulating on Facebook in which a quite funny woman tackles the issue that mom’s everywhere have endured. She vividly describes the scene of a mother dealing with an uncooperative child in a public place. She wonders why there always seems to be someone in the crowd who signals unrelenting disapproval for the mama, even though we all know that sometimes these things happen. She notes that our inconvenience is temporary while the parent will continue dealing with the problem at home. She wonders why we can’t all be more supportive, especially given that this is supposed to be the era of solidarity with our sisters from all over the world.

In the age of Pantsuit Nation women are doing their utmost to break glass ceilings and join one another in #MeToo moments. Why can’t we also demonstrate a bit of understanding and compassion for anyone who is dealing with a difficult toddler moment? Why do we so often become judgmental rather than helpful, when anyone who has been a parent honestly knows that there are many times when we feel totally inept and defeated by the tiny creatures that we are working so hard to raise.

I always loved my mother-in-law because whenever either of my daughters behaved badly in front of her she would smile impishly and suggest that maybe they had taken after her. She would then recall multiple stories that her elegant mother had told her about her own childhood missteps. One involved a scene in front of a downtown department store which became so heated that her mother had to give her a little swat on the fanny to get her back in line. When my mother-in-law shouted that her mother was embarrassing her the reply from her mom was, “If you embarrass me, I will embarrass you.” My mother-in-law repeated this tale rather proudly as if it conveyed the strength and conviction of her mother that she believe inspired her to become a great woman in her own right.

Next time you see a parent dealing with a seemingly bratty child, try not to judge. Instead send a vibe that let’s the weary individual know that everything will one day be amazingly good if they just hang in there and do what is right. Show that we are all in this parenting thing together. Hillary was right. It takes a village.