I feel dumber for having read this piece on Salon

…about “Matilda the Musical”:


“With a spoonful of sugar comes a transphobic message about the dangers of straying from traditional gender roles, a conservative parable about the “right” and the “wrong” kinds of women.”

:raises hand:

Couldn’t it just as easily be “an anti-woman or anti-feminist message about the dangers of straying from traditional gender roles, a conservative parable about the ‘right’ and the ‘wrong’ kinds of women?”

Or could Dahl, a non-traditional sort himself, have been using satire to encourage children to think more deeply about  what it means to be a girl or a boy? About adult villainy and hypocrisy? About how we ought to treat each other?

Or — and by far the most likely — could Dahl have simply written a children’s book, to appeal to children (who, after all, have a cruder sense of humor than adults? Sort of a starter set of humor, yes? Who’s got kids?)

“Dahl paints Miss Trunchbull as male inside and out. Her physique is ‘gigantic’ and ‘formidable,’ with ‘big shoulders,’ ‘thick arms’ and ‘powerful legs.’ She has a ‘deep and dangerous voice.’ Avoiding feminine dress, she wears breeches rather than a skirt, flats rather than heels, and in Warchus’ play, a coach’s whistle around her neck.”

OK, but does Miss Trunchbull have to be trans? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Miss Trunchbull, you do you!) but…might she just be a butch, or simply a woman who doesn’t fit the traditional trappings of femininity? My middle-school swim coach comes to mind here, but she never transitioned. We’re Facebook friends now and she seems quite happy being female.

“When they stray too far from the feminine path, they need to be put in their place.”

Hoo, that sounds familiar! Just ask my girlfriend, who is not actually even that butch! She’s more “butch-adjacent,” but she sure understands how this one goes! (Also, she is a Theatre Person and hates that Miss Trunchbull is played by a man in this production. She says it’s similar to casting a white actor in a specifically black role).

“One group of people will not miss Dahl’s underlying message, however. Little girls who love sports and not dresses, who are tall or muscular, who are boyish or even perhaps identify as boys, who long someday to possess authority. All of these children will see themselves in the Trunchbull, and they will watch closely as these aspects with which they identify are shamed.”

I guess that makes sense, but let’s be clear: Not all little girls who love sports and not dresses (or who love both!); who are tall or muscular, or who long someday to possess authority, “identify as boys.”

Also, I hate the word “boyish” to describe a little girl or her interests/behavior. Boys don’t own climbing trees or riding bikes or science/tech or being the boss someday. If a girl does these things, or grows up to do them, they’re girl/woman things.

You know?

on Emily Yoffe and the way things ought to be

Women and girls get lied to from all sides. I prefer truth.

So here are two true things: If you’re around men, and you’re drunk enough that you can’t think straight, the likelihood that a rapist will target you is higher than if you were sober. And you will be less able to defend yourself.

Unfair, I know. It ought to be enough to tell men not to rape; end of story; period.

It’s not enough.

Men rape.

As much as I hated the headline (“College Women, Stop Getting Drunk”), I read Yoffe’s entire piece on Slate. Did her critics do the same before they decided she was a mockworthy scold/rape apologist? Because her observations — that women who are drunk are often targeted by rapists, and that drunk women are less able to defend themselves — are common-sense, albeit not the way things should be.

My whole deal is this: I don’t stake my personal safety on the way things should be; nor will I encourage other women — much less teenage girls — to do so, because that would be disingenuous hypocrisy of the worst kind. As much as we thrill to rape-prevention tips for perpetrators — “Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks” — the culture changes slowly and painfully and I don’t intend to be a test case. I’m not increasing my risk of victimization to prove an ideological point. Kind of like I don’t tend to hold hands with my girlfriend as we skip past some rural redneck convention in Killdyke, AZ. It’s so wack and unfair that the onus is on my girlfriend and I to be cautious! We should be able to hold hands wherever we want, without fear of a Killdykian attacking us with a baseball bat!

“Only men can stop rape.” True.

And men rape.

Here’s another true thing I learned from spending time with 18- and 19-year-old women: They’re still developing that mental algorithm which, in women with more life experience, works automatically and quickly when we’re around men. When we walk down a dark street alone, our brains conduct an unconscious series of equations; an internal call-and-response:

I see a strange man coming towards me.

Is he alone, or are there other men nearby?

Is he walking purposefully? or erratically?

Is he carrying anything? Walking a dog?

Do I feel uncomfortable in any way?

Could I get out of this situation quickly if I had to? How would I go about doing that?

Life experience teaches us not to wait when we get that creepy, prickly danger-feeling. We don’t need to spend precious seconds analyzing it, questioning ourselves, or justifying our decision to exit stage left.

Our brains run the algorithm at parties and on dates, too. We’re less likely to stick around because we’re afraid of hurting his feelings or looking foolish. It’s a key part of getting home safe. It’s not theory. Not politics. Life is not a Gender Studies class. You want to talk “lived experience,” I got some lived experience right here for you and so do all my friends.

I care about girls and women. So I won’t tell them that their choices, in a dangerous world, are meaningless. That’s infantilizing.

Our choices matter. Our survival skills matter.

Rape is never our fault — whether the rapist is a stranger, a “friend,” or a partner. We can’t guarantee that we won’t experience sexual violence at the hands of a man, but we can stack the deck in our favor. You can choose not to stack yours in a show of insistence that women ought to be able to get drunk in the company of men without increased risk of rape. You do you.

I choose to stack mine. That’s not blaming victims. That’s me trying not to become one.

I am not resigned

Dear Principal Armbruster (not your real name!):

You’ve made me cry five times over the last two years, but today wasn’t one of them. When I looked into your eyes, thanked you for everything, and quit my job, you said, “OK, thanks” with less emotion than you did last Christmas when I brought you a plate of Santa-head cookies. It was such a graceless, off-the-charts display of Diminished Interpersonal Capacity Syndrome (DICS) that I walked away laughing. It was like you’d run out of latex patches to keep the air from leaking out the holes.

I wasn’t expecting a hug or anything. Still, why not make an effort to be graceful? Of course you’re pissed that I’m leaving before the end of the year, but also? To you and your closed fist of a head, I was a regulation widget easily replaced by another regulation widget: I was a teacher.

You and I always disagreed re: the importance of the human touch in education (I am for it) but I always wanted you to succeed because you were an older woman with power; an older woman charged with making unpopular decisions. I’m close to several women like this — women who have far more power than you do — so I know: That shit is difficult. I figured, Of course she can’t be too nice. People will run right over her.  So when you shat on lesson plans I was proud of, or ordered me to “drill and kill” rather than have the kids write memoirs, I did the Christian/Buddhist/Reform Jew/Land Dyke thing and bathed you in a white healing light. Did you feel it? I’m curious about whether it works, or if it just keeps the white healing light-sender from crying a sixth time.

I used to picture you exhausted and stomped on by the little demon hooves of peri-menopause, dealing with demanding parents, antiquated facilities, and condescending doods. I imagined you going home, putting your feet up, having a glass of wine and talking to your buddies on the phone — finally able to be yourself. I thought there must be a “yourself” in there.

But every time you made it true, what people say about women in charge, I cringed. I saw a lot of people leave your office furious; in tears. I thought about putting up a sign: CALM DOWN. SHE’S LIKE THAT TO EVERYBODY.

So when people said you didn’t like women, I filed your vibe under “internalized misogyny.” Or Asperger’s, which often goes undiagnosed until midlife. I suggested this theory to one of the Exceptional Ed teachers, who sniffed and said, “Oh, she’s an ass burger, all right.”

I was on your side.

I wonder why you never used my Great Wall Of Mommy Issues — WHICH YOU CAN SEE FROM SPACE! FROM OUTER SPACE! — to your advantage. You belong to a micro-generation (1957-1962) that I love — a hiccup of women too young to be Boomers but too old for Gen X; too dark and fucked up for the ’80s but not dark and fucked up enough, or for the wrong reasons, for the ’90’s. You were shaped by social changes you didn’t create but had to bend your lives around:

like this

I’ve spent a lot of time naked with your generation, Principal Armbruster.  I’ve curled up on your generation’s chest, traced little fingertip designs in its sweat, and listened to its vague, pre-verbal memories of the Kennedy assassination. It was dresses to school every day for you, and Vietnam on TV every night. It was gym suits and maxipads with belts; Steely Dan records; Title 9; Pong. It was a growing suspicion that, not only were the people in charge a bunch of liquids trying to do a solid’s job, so were the people trying to take charge.

This created one of two (or both!) things in you: An un-killable, side-eyed hope you lace into the steel-toed boots of your souls, or a white-knuckled conviction that life isn’t about what you have or could become, but about what you’re in danger of losing. My girlfriend (b. 1959) posits that the latter has something to do with growing up without real job security. The sands were always shifty, so you either accepted it and developed an edgy sense of DIY absurdity or became the sort of person who soothed herself by crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s and just generally micromanaging the shit out of everything. Hypercontrol over yourself and others = a charm you weave against disaster.

Lorrie Moore, my favorite writer, describes your generation pretty well: “We used to watch you guys, the eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds, on LSD at the public beach, or playing Duck, Duck, Goose in Horsehearts Park with your beads and long-flowing Indian smocks. But when we got to be that age, and we went to the park, or to the lake, and there wasn’t a Duck or a Goose or a hit of acid anywhere. There was only Ford pardoning Nixon.”

All of which is to say: YOU’RE MY KIND OF GIRL.

So I’m sorry you never warmed to me. The students did, though. I have a drawer full of their letters and cards; their photos and silly little gifts (although nothing from Exam Thief; his friend The Knife Dude; and Janessa in 6th period who always says “Fucking Dyke” before my name, like it’s my official title. An honorific).

Which is kind of cool, actually. I want it on some business cards.

Anyway, every experience is improvement kibble, so here’s what I’m going remember about leadership — and women in leadership — in case I ever have the role:

1. Any organization takes on the fundamental character of its leader.  Employees are like tofu, which as all dykes know takes on the flavors of whatever you cook it with. A leader is habanero chile or chocolate mole or absolute fucking poison, and that’s what her organization becomes a hot, steaming potful of. We like to think we can work as professional islands, but every workplace has a culture and nobody’s immune.

2. People always remember how you treated them, even if they pretend they don’t.

3. People never forget being humiliated — or treated well.

4. If you humiliate subordinates they’ll do as you ask to your face and sabotage you quietly. If you treat them well, they’ll support you even when you aren’t asking them to. You’ll have built up a goodwill savings account instead of a debt.

5.  Make standards and expectations the same for everyone. If you like some employees better than others, HIDE IT. Pretend you’re a movie character: The Supervisor Who Likes Everyone The Same. It’s acting! Have fun with it!

6. Don’t shift blame. It’s transparent and it’s cowardly. No one will ever say “coward” to your face, but they’ll think it real loud inside their heads.

7.  Catch employees doing well and draw attention to it. Know when their birthdays are; send hand-signed cards. Be a human.

8. If someone screws up and you need to have a Conversation, let them keep their dignity.  Don’t make it personal, don’t be petty, don’t hold a grudge. Women, despite what people like to say, have great empathic skills. Use them. Don’t make it true, what people like to say.

9. Know that everything you say gets repeated, verbatim, all over the building. Don’t talk to people in a way that ensures, when your words are repeated, the audience begins to shriek, “NO! NO!!” in rising horror and disbelief. For example, when an employee requests a day off for Rosh Hashanah, don’t request a doctor’s note. This will become legend.

10. Your employees are fundamentally on your side. Don’t assume they’re always trying to get one over on you, or that they’ll slack off as soon as you leave the building. They want to go home feeling the satisfaction of a job well done as part of a well-run team. They’re motivated to please you out of pride and integrity– not out of fear, unless you make it that way. Don’t make it that way. Don’t make it so that, at the staff meeting, one employee turns to another and whispers, “Hey, what rhymes with ‘sociopathic twat’? I’m writing a poem about Armbruster’s people skills.”

All the best to us both,