what are you for?

I’ll turn 76 in the year 2050. By then, according to this piece in The Nation, there’ll be over 80,000 homeless elderly people in the San Francisco area. Many (most?) will be women. Extrapolate this trend to every large, expensive city in America — let alone smaller cities, towns, and rural areas — and there’ll be millions of older women trying to sleep in hard plastic chairs at the senior center so they don’t get raped on the streets.

It’s hard to get people to care about old women. Or even middle-aged ones. We’re jokes; objects of contempt; in the way. Even the most successful among us feel the laser shield of invisibility grow stronger around us with every year that passes. It’s when you realize: All that power I used to have? It was false.

That’s why women we fight aging so hard. It’s not vanity; it’s survival. When men start to look at you like, What are you for? Go away, it’s a shocker even if you never cared what men thought, even if their new disinterest comes as a relief. Because when that happens,  you realize the edge is closer than you think. The edge gets closer every year, in direct proportion to your waning fuckability, and the edge involves the terror of vulnerability and humiliation. It involves being at the mercy of those who may or may not show you any.

If you’re a single woman (which, don’t kid yourself, could happen anytime) suffering financial/physical/mental misfortune when you’re too young for Social Security but too old to pick yourself up and start over, the world is going to ignore you at best and beat the shit out of you at worst. We don’t live in multi-generational village dwellings anymore, and no one is going to venerate you as one of the Lady Olds. It’s probably going to be bad. Especially if they keep privatizing public services, slashing the HUD budget, busting the unions, cutting back on welfare, and letting income inequality get more egregious.

We’re all headed there, you know. Unless we die young.

Money (= security) gets us where we live. And I’ve noticed some weirdness among lesbians about it. I know exactly two dykes with a lot of money — not heiresses; not independently wealthy, just great jobs — and in both cases, other dykes give them shit. Not sisterly, kind-hearted shit like, “Hey, will you buy your own country and let me live in it?” but shit like “Rich prick.” It’s as though having money is a feminist betrayal or a moral failing. I think that kind of condemnation comes from fear (plastic chairs! cardboard-box shantytowns!) and from resentment at another woman’s freedom from fear: Why does she get that, when I don’t?

Whatever we’ve got to work with, I suggest we all invest some time in helping out at least one older woman who needs it. Spend some hours volunteering at a care home; ask your neighbor if she needs you to run an errand, etc. While this individual action doesn’t touch the root of the systemic horror, it does make a difference to that older woman — and gives us a realistic glimpse of what’s in store. Which might motivate us to invent alternative ways of living as we age. Couldn’t some of us plan to live together someday; and invest whatever money we’ve got in the best housing we can? Couldn’t we start thinking about that WAY early, in our 20s and 30s? Because the default setting for aging as a woman in America — I mean, I’d rather walk past the senior center and head straight for the Golden Gate Bridge.

privilege-checking: the silencer on the shut-down gun

Oh, the Internet cray these days. I can’t keep up. We got blogs censored over here; death threats over there, general freakout braiding it all together like a horrible Victorian mourning brooch made of human hair.  And Feministing has outdone itself. Just as fat is the most concentrated form of energy in the body, so Feministing (although they sometimes do some excellent reporting) is often the most concentrated form of clueless pomo derp on the Internet.

Today, they’ve interviewed a trans guy performing in a play loosely based on the Tyler Clementi tragedy. It sounds good, and were I visiting Chicago, I’d go see it. BUT. Please shudder at the following excerpt:

AS: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

JJ: I think it’s a constant challenge – whatever identities we align ourselves with – to face our own privilege, and kindly, constructively call each other out when we don’t.

My aghast-ness springs from the following:

1. A constant challenge for who? Navel-gazing academics and performance artists?  Who the fuck sits around talking about which “identities they align” themselves with? Early-20somethings, mental patients (cray!) and the unemployed, that’s who. I wish I had the time, money, leisure, and/or large academic grant sufficient to allow me to sit around and ruminate re: the “identities I align” with. Mostly, though, I go to work, which robs me of 8-10 daily hours of precious identity-aligning time.

2. “Face our own privilege.” I am all for examining what makes some lives easier/less-fraught than others but “privilege-checking” has become a quick, effective way of stopping productive disagreement; the silencer on the shut-down gun. We feel embarrassed and guilty when someone accuses us of being unaware of our privilege; as though we have hurt someone — it’s reminiscent of childhood, when our mothers scolded us for not appreciating how lucky we were compared to less-lucky kids. Women respond to this kind of chastisement because we don’t want to be jerks; we don’t want to hurt anyone. Because hey, we could be wrong, after all. We better apologize.

Privilege-checking, though, can become a useless and destructive exercise. From a recent piece at Left Foot Forward:

“At the heart of “privilege-checking” however is a kind of narcissism and desire to exercise guilt, which arouses a great many problems of itself. First of all “privilege-checking” assumes that we can only understand things we have direct experience of, as Tom Midlane recently put it. This just needlessly problematises solidarity and divides those who are fighting the good fight against societal injustice into blocks of oppressed and non-oppressed. The protest space is necessarily subjective, sure, but it is also a space for fighting the greater good in union.

Looking deep into one’s soul and seeking self-privilege is peculiarly individualistic and contrary to the spirit of protest.

Secondly, I suspect it only serves to underline a guilt which, stripped down, is ultimately hubristic. I’m reminded of how Pascal Bruckner defined guilt in his book on the subject, as a substitute for power for the middle class European individual in a post-empire age, or a way to appear to reverse the co-ordinates of power relations in society, when in fact the presence of guilt firmly keeps those relations in place.

In this sense guilt only divides people from the guilty (non-oppressed) to the non-guilty (oppressed).”

3. “Kindly, constructively call each other out.” Is it possible to laugh oneself into a hernia? How many actual times has your average liberal been successful in “kindly, constructively” calling another liberal out? How many actual times has it not devolved into a welter of unhappiness and misunderstanding; a comment thread swirling into the dark? Has anyone ever said “Thank you for calling me out on my privilege” without clenched teeth and/or a vicious little masochistic thrill of self-abnegation? Do privilege-checkers and callers-out have any idea how ridiculous the rest of the world finds this exercise? How much a form of non-action? How effective a distraction from the fact that about 400 people have REAL privilege and control most of the wealth in this country?

Also, figuring out one’s own precisely-calibrated levels of privilege is a Byzantine task, i.e., what if you’re perceived as “white,” but your parents are immigrants for whom English is a second language? What if you come from an upper-middle-class background and hold an advanced degree but earn less than $30,000 a year? What if you were once quite beautiful but, now that you’ve hit your mid-forties, no one really looks at you anymore? What if you make a ton of money but you live in a red state and can’t pass as a non-dyke? Do people need a briefing re: the intricacies of your personal privilege before they decide how seriously to take you? Like I said, NOT ENOUGH TIME. GET ME A FULLY-FUNDED FEDERAL GRANT.

4. The greatest challenge facing feminism today.” Speaking of the rest of the world, I’m thinking the greatest challenge lies there. I would like to make a list of challenges that in my opinion (and yours?) present a greater challenge to feminism — which is a political, not an individual, movement concerned with the well-being and fate of women as a class. Such as:

  • female genital mutilation affecting millions of  girls/women around the globe
  • the sex-selective abortion of girl children
  • the murder of girl children
  • the forced marriage (selling) of girl children to older men
  • sex trafficking/slavery
  • honor killings
  • rape as a weapon in relationships
  • rape as a weapon of war
  • women forced into survival sex (rape) as a direct consequence of war
  • the possibility of rape wherever and whenever
  • increasingly brutal, sadistic rape p0rn available for free online
  • the murder of women by boyfriends or husbands (“domestic violence”)
  • inaccessibility of education for females
  • dearth of female political power
  • the victimization of elderly women
  • curtailed or nonexistent reproductive rights
  • compulsory pregnancy
  • preventable, yet unprevented, death in childbirth
  • economic inequality: women do most of the work but own much less of the wealth
  • poverty has a woman’s face, and a girl’s, and mostly they are faces of color
  • prostitution, prostitution, prostitution

What else?

Started ruminating on the idea of “privilege” as a form of narcissistic guilt/all-purpose silencer when this article came out: http://www.leftfootforward.org/2013/01/comment-on-feminism-and-the-suzanne-moore-controversy/ and today I found this. An important read.

Women of the Patriarchy

If you have been around the feminist sphere long enough to know what “cisgender” means, you’ve probably been around long enough to hear the phrase “cis privilege.”

There are many fantastic blog posts made by some brilliant women who unpack problems with the term cisgender and the concept of cis privilege. Throughout my writing in this blog, I’ll discuss and drool over some of them from time to time.

Right now, though, I want to take on some of this cis privilege checklist that I keep seeing pop up all over the place.

Cis privilege is the claim that people are privileged on the basis of having an internal gender identity that matches their external sex. It presupposes that all people have an internal gender identity and it also asserts that women can be privileged on the basis of gender.


Fucking no.

The rest of this post analyzes the…

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sunday free verse

I think everybody gets one miracle. One miracle per life, so

I might have survived an avalanche; ski-kicking up up up towards the light

or 5 years in a DP camp

or been raised by wolves and featured on PBS.

I might have fallen out of a plane, strapped to a seat; walked 10 days out of an Amazonian rainforest with strange insects hatching eggs under my skin; their larvae tunneling out

or maybe

gone without food for two months. A hunger strike; a shipwreck.

I might have been trapped under an I-beam, cut my wrist open with a shard of metal

and drunk my own blood until the rescue.

I might have been kept in a basement for a year

Caught a pigeon in the rafters

Tied a note to its foot.

But my miracle was knowing you

all that time

it was you

You think I just don't understand, but I don't believe you.

First they came for Janice Raymond
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an academic.

Then they came for Mary Daly
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a lesbian.

Then they came for Norah Vincent
and I didn’t speak out because I didn’t even read her book.

Then they came for Lierre Keith
and I didn’t speak out because I was afraid that I’d get attacked too.

Then they came for Sheila Jeffreys
and I didn’t speak out because her honest analysis makes my queer friends uncomfortable.

Then they came for Germaine Greer
and I didn’t speak out because she seems a little full of herself.

Then they came for Diane DiMassa
and I didn’t speak out because Hothead Paisan is soooo 1990s.

Then they came for Julie Bindel
and I didn’t speak out because she seems unpleasant.

Then they came for Cathy Brennan
and I didn’t…

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In the room the women come and go

Are they gone?


You have to understand. No way in hell would I send my writing to Feministing. No interest. I write a small niche blog that sees the same visitors every week: Cherry Hill, NJ; Chatham, ON; Helsinki, Finland. One reader checks in every morning at 6:15 and I wish I knew who she (I assume she) is, so I could say thanks and tell her to subscribe to updates by clicking on the “sign me up” thingy. I feel guilty when a couple of weeks go by without anything new — aaahhhh, she keeps checking! I need to get on it!

I’m not an arguer, though I admire the mad rhetorical skillz of many women on my blogroll. I’m uninterested in persuading anyone to adopt my point of view. (Everybody, h/t Nikka Costa, got their something). Most of my readers are part of a particular feminist crowd; others are into CrossFit/powerlifting or secondary-school pedagogy. Or maybe hairless cats.

But I do read Feministing occasionally, and last week they ran a piece that bothered me intellectually and viscerally. I wrote down my reaction (quickly, and without wearing any pants) and went to bed. I woke up to 3,000 hits because a friend had forwarded the piece to Feministing. Such is the nature of the Internet, yes?

I wouldn’t change a word of what I wrote, but the piece was not addressed to or intended for the Feministing author. She’s a woman writing about what’s important to her. Fine. I took issue with what she wrote, though, and my critique was intended for a specific, seasoned feminist audience.

I am a Christian with a Jewish soul: I don’t proselytize.

The negative Feministing response didn’t shock me (nor did the number of lovely, supportive emails and new readers). What was interesting was the tone of many comments I got — as though the writers were about to detonate with self-righteous outrage. My own tone wasn’t gentle, of course, but the weight and force of all the YOU FUCKING MONSTER!s was a battle axe in response to a fencing foil. It was personal (“you’re just too fucking old to understand, but…”) smug and pseudo-academic (“You may not realize the problematic bigotry and horizontal violence of your response; you need to unpack your privilege” and condescending (“Your blog post gave us all a good laugh.”) I published the ones I thought moved the conversation forward; spammed some unread because the first line was abusive or profane. These writers were going to fucking bring me into line and, failing that, were going to try to hurt me as much as possible. I was wrong, so I deserved to be punished.

Internet incivility and aggressiveness is a thing, no matter what you’re into — I mean, Elizabethan historians and chemical engineers must get up each others’ asses online all the time — but I hadn’t experienced it firsthand until last week. I’ve got friends with unpopular opinions who receive actual death threats, and it’s eye-opening to experience the tiniest, slightest inkling-hint of how that feels.

I don’t mind people thinking my opinion is derp — go nuts! I work with teenagers, so I maintain equilibrium in the face of whiny fists-in-air — but I do mind that expressing it on my own blog got me swarmed with abusive thought-policing.

I’m allowed to have an unpopular opinion. I’m allowed to think, judge, question, complain, dissent, and write a pantsless manifesto without getting a visit from the Shame Stasi and being told I brought it on myself and deserve it. Is that a familiar trope? Have we heard it somewhere before?

I am a small fish. The “bring you into line” phenomenon is writ much larger online this week. It’s a first-world problem, yes, but I find it scary. I find it problematic.