Letters In Your Music Heart

The following is a small sampling of snapshots from my experience teaching elementary school music this past year:

  • Twenty five first graders marching and conducting to Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov’s Procession of the Nobles the day after the Seahawks’ downtown victory parade.
  • Playing Irish composer, Enya’s Storms in Africa to Kindergarteners who danced like animals in a thunderstorm, and the little boy who begged me to play it again at each subsequent class.
  • The nothing-short-of-holy hush that fell over 3rd graders as they listened to Bob Marley’s Redemption Song and absorbed the essence of mental perseverance even in the face of physical slavery.
  • The universal pride and sense of purpose of the 2nd graders singing and clapping their “Clean Water is a Human Right” Motown song for Water 1st and the school community.

Shortly after receiving word of the program’s cancellation last week, a bundle of letters arrived in the mail from a second grade teacher at the school.

Encouragement was not among the many emotions I expected to feel upon reading the letters, but that’s precisely what came. These children were not just speaking to me, but existentially to me, with their boundless hearts and minds, their utter lack of cynicism. The teacher was speaking to me too, not just with her letter, but also with her sense of timing and thoughtfulness. She closed the loop that the kids had opened.

Below are two of the letters, with signatures removed for privacy (although with any luck, the world will one day know their names).

In your music heartFeel how we feel


While the blueprints for my new chapter unroll in Seattle, my Aunt B has been painstakingly dismantling chapters down to the studs in her parents’ home in D.C., getting it ready to sell. She sends periodic group email updates to the family about her befuddling discoveries. Would anyone like a 1903 Victorian Chickering grand piano in Honduran Mahogany? It’ll only cost you $15-20k to restore, and be worth less than that upon completion.

My Aunt E, on a recent visit from California, joined Aunt B in the trying task of home redistribution. Together my aunts came upon a Christmas letter saved by my Great Grandfather, a West Virginia farmer born in 1898, known to me as “Gandy.” Though Gandy didn’t achieve his final goal of living to see three centuries (he passed away just months shy of the millennium) he did live to be 101, and in the process gave me a truer perspective on the purpose of personal goal-setting.

Nanny and Gandy

My Great Grandparents, Gandy and Nanny

Aunt B: “Today, while E and I were going through some papers in the room above the attic, we came across an envelope addressed to Nanny and Gandy, post marked Dec 13, 1971. It is a Christmas card from Harry and Emaleen Saville (and children) who lived in Herndon.”

These friends of Gandy’s wrote to him without prior knowledge of his loss: his beloved wife Nanny had passed away less than two weeks before.

Aunt E: “To think that Gandy wanted to weigh in with those thoughts from his side of life was something B and I were so thankful to have been together to share. And all because she, God bless her, is unwilling to just throw the whole box of junk away without sifting through for these treasures. By the way, this was from the bottom drawer of the file cabinet which contained a little packet of these cards (all of which were otherwise throw aways) and years and years worth of old Annual Reports and proxies from Lucent and ATT!!!! Talk about junk – and then, that hidden treasure…”

Though raised in a christian household and extended family, in adulthood I’ve found myself at odds with religion. This new orientation feels less like a choice, and more like a consequence of my gradual awakening to gender inequality. I can’t help but see the imprint of religion, a tool as unpredictable in its overall effect as smartphones, throughout the struggle. God’s name has been invoked time and time again, in every corner of the globe, as justification for the oppression of a gender.

In Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments, a document presented in 1848 at the first ever Women’s Rights convention organized by women, signed by 100 men and women (including key attendee and former slave Frederick Douglass) she writes: “He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.”

Stanton’s literary and spiritual grace lies in her ability to separate an ideal of love or community from it’s maladaptive conduits. The letter that Gandy saved follows this same plumb line, which, despite the fact that Stanton’s assertion remains true 166 years later, I still believe is the one true path to social redemption. Scrawling “SPECIAL” over the envelope before tucking it away, Gandy must have realized (rilized) the same thing, that this letter was for him, in much the same way I had with the second grade students’.

For all the times the thrill of discovery has been dashed (most recently looking up producer Leslie Kong from the back of a Jimmy Cliff record, in the sincerest hopes that it would be a woman I could identify, hungry as I am for additional points of reference for my daughters and me, but it was not so) I would like to gratefully and publicly recognize – to take, if you will – my aunts’ role in the reorientation of my spirituality.

In reconnecting me to my past, they have cast a light into my future.

The contents of the letter, copied from a correspondence written on Christmas Eve 1513, follows:

“A Letter to the Most Illustrious the Contessina Allagia Dela Aldobrandeschi” by Fra Giovanni


There is nothing I can give you which you have not got; but there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. 
No Heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it to-day. Take Heaven! 
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!
The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see; and to see, we have only to look. Contessina I beseech you to look.
Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendour, woven of love, by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the Angel’s hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, or a duty: believe me, that angel’s hand is there; the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence. Our joys, too: be not content with them as joys, they too conceal diviner gifts.
Life is so full of meaning and of purpose, so full of beauty—beneath its covering—that you will find that earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage, then to claim it: that is all! But courage you have; and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country, home.
And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you; not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem, and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.




Equivalism not Feminism: Part III Privilege and Responsibility

Does word choice matter?  The recent rash of “I don’t need Feminism” articles such as this one, with over 1.5 million views, answers with a resounding YES.


Courtesy of Women Against Feminism

Imagine those placards with the word “Equivalism” (meaning “equal value”) replacing “Feminism.” They would look absurd.  To anyone who understands Feminism, the signs look absurd as is, but here’s the rub: We don’t need to reach those who get Feminism.  We need to reach, and reason with, the ones who don’t.

Let me back up and say a few words about my courageous, battle-tested old friend Feminism.  Feminism fought for me to vote, has my back when I disagree with my husband, sits next to me as I devour a book, and helps me choose what clothes I want to wear.  Feminism has opened the doors of universities and office buildings for me.  Feminism has empowered me to have control over whether or not I reproduce and how I give birth.

And with this image in mind, I know Feminism swims beside me whenever I choose to forgo the buoyant accessory of a full length dress.



"It's still 1922 in many parts of the world," reads my favorite comment of this photo.

“It’s still 1922 in many parts of the world,” reads my favorite comment of this photo.


Feminism is our matriarch, whom I will forever honor, and to whom I am forever indebted.  Changing a name doesn’t mean changing a movement. Sometimes changing a name is necessary for growth and refocus.  MLK Jr.’s contributions to the civil rights movement are no less valuable because he employed the now-outdated term “Negro,” as in this poignant line:

The Negro needs the white man to free him from his fears. The white man needs the Negro to free him from his guilt.

Similarly, should we change the name of the gender equality movement, any and all previous uses of the term “Feminism” would carry the heft of historical as well as present-day significance.  Our mothers and grandmothers fought in the battle of Feminism.  They put women on the map.  Now that we are on the map, the new front to defend is Equivalism.  

I recently listened to This American Life‘s podcast entitled “Got Your Back” in which an Afghan woman, Hamida Gulistani, relayed the story of how she was unwittingly thrust to the forefront of women’s rights advocacy in Afghanistan.  Formerly a nurse at a clinic in Ghazni City, where “patients arrived all the time, in burkas, with bruises and broken bones,” Gulistani recounts (via interpreter) the fateful exchange which occurred during the height of US presence there in 2005:

As she lay down, I noticed that she had these brown dark spots around her eyes. And then also, as she lifted up her arm, I could see she had all these scars. And I asked her what happened. She wouldn’t tell me at the beginning. She said, oh, I fell.

Well, I just joke with her. I said, oh, I fell once too, and I was also hurt. And then she all of a sudden starts crying. She had guests over, and somehow she had messed up the food. And the husband had beaten her up. And she lost her baby when she was two months pregnant because of the beating.

With US presence came US news media outlets.  Sensing a new source of support, Gulistani encouraged and somehow convinced this young woman to speak out in an impromptu press conference at the clinic about what happened to her.  Can you imagine the desperation and courage involved in the leap between hiding domestic abuse details from a female healthcare provider, to sharing them with the world?

What women in the US don’t understand is that it is far too costly for us to quibble over issues of nostalgia and bravado where the gender equality movement is concerned.

From what I gather, Feminists are not willing to change the name because they see it as an accommodation, and women have done quite enough of that, thankyouverymuch.  Anti-feminists (see above article) don’t want to change the name because it’s essential to their assumed male bravado, or they are completely ignorant of the worldwide plight of women, or those two things are actually the same.

The tenacity of the term “Feminism” gives me the defeatist notion that privileged people actually feed off the conflict more than the solution.

The ability to empathize is strong in women.  If we could transmute our internal quibbling into empathy for these women in Afghanistan, still not permitted to vote, read, autonomously dress, disagree, or make mistakes without fear of physical harm; wouldn’t we make significantly stronger, longer-lasting progress? Honestly, how on Earth are these women supposed to take up the mantel of something called “Feminism”?

Women need safety, women need education, women need equality, women need influence.  Not more than men, but the same.  Not just here, but everywhere.  If we are privileged enough to live in a country where we can make these statements, let’s make sure we are making them clearly.  

Equivalism not Feminism.  It’s time.

Watch the music video for “Love Song for Cal Anderson”!

I’m extremely pleased to announce the arrival of my new music video.  It would not have happened without the willingness and talent of friends and family, to whom I am eternally grateful.  Without further adieu I present, “Love Song for Cal Anderson.”  (For optimum viewing, please make sure you select 720p HD from the gear icon on the lower right hand of the window, and hit full screen.)

xoxo Connor


Cal Anderson Video

Yellow Truck Getaway

Hi Friends!

I’m so excited to share my first ever self-directed/produced music video.  Shooting began way back in November over Thanksgiving, and the final product will be released on 6.12.14.  I’m extremely grateful to the friends and family who lent their formidable talent, not to mention senses of humor, toward this effort.

For your viewing pleasure, here’s an outtake of the littlest cast members making a break for it.

Yellow Truck Getaway

Peter and Wendy, and Anniversaries

I had hoped to release my “Love Song for Cal Anderson” music video today, but (predictably, sigh) Production is citing delays.  Something about “spring break.”  Lame.

The video, which is sure to go viral, features adventurous friends and family members, along with other ideas I might not have considered since becoming a teacher (a good reminder that music is my real boss).  It was primarily filmed in Carmel, CA where, twelve years ago this mother’s day, my husband and I got married.  At the time I was four months pregnant, so I appreciate the additional lens offered each time the 11th happens to fall on mother’s day.

Regardless of delays, I would like to relay the significance of this date, May 7th, and the anniversary it contains, for posterity.

While researching J.M. Barrie, who wrote the play “Peter Pan” in novel form under the name “Peter and Wendy” (a theme in the upcoming video) I came across this remarkable fellow, an american theatre producer named Charles Frohman.  Frohman leased the Duke of York’s theatre in London, where he premiered Barrie’s play “Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.”  Today marks the 99th anniversary of Frohman’s untimely death at sea aboard the RMS Lusitania, which was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat on the day of it’s scheduled arrival in Liverpool.

Though some might think it odd to honor a person on the anniversary of their death, with respect, based on what I’ve read of him, I doubt Frohman would agree.

Last known photo Of Charles Frohman taken aboard the Lusitania c. 1915

Last known photo of Charles Frohman Taken aboard the Lusitania, May 1915


The actress Rita Jovilet was also aboard the Lusitania and survived.  She recalled that Frohman was working to tie life jackets to infants in moses baskets who had been sleeping in the ship’s nursery.  He then lit a cigar and stood on the deck, “chatting with friends” while panicked passengers stampeded around him.  Following the torpedo hit, a second internal explosion sent the Lusitania to the bottom in just 18 minutes.  Before he was lost in what Jovilet called, “a great wave [that] swept along the deck,” Frohman paraphrased a line from Peter Pan: “Why fear death? It is the most beautiful adventure that life gives us.”

In his lifetime, Frohman produced over 700 shows.  A memorial to him resides in Britain, at Marlow on Thames.

Peter and Wendy published 1911

Peter and Wendy Published 1911



Equivalism not Feminism: Part II A Sterling Reputation

[Equivalism is the word I am using to describe the tenets of Feminism.  The name change is etymologically based (from the latin roots for “equal” and “value”) on the belief that the world would be better if women had equal influence.  It was chosen for reasons outlined in this post as well as posts forthcoming.  It was chosen because I’m a musician, and the sound of a word matters to me (say the word “equivalent,” then change the ending to “ism” or “ist” as needed).]

Although I do not own cable or watch TV, I have been fully inundated by reports of the Donald Sterling scandal via Facebook friends and community conversation.  My favorite op-ed piece was penned by Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and contains the following:  “So, if we’re all going to be outraged, let’s be outraged that we weren’t more outraged when his racism was first evident. Let’s be outraged that private conversations between people in an intimate relationship are recorded and publicly played. Let’s be outraged that whoever did the betraying will probably get a book deal, a sitcom, trade recipes with Hoda and Kathie Lee, and soon appear on Celebrity Apprentice and Dancing with the Stars.”

Donald Sterling is (finally) beginning to reap his just reward, racism will not be tolerated.  The last line of Jabbar’s words, however, continue to haunt me.  He’s absolutely right:  The praise and celebrity that will undoubtedly be lavished on “girlfriend” V. Stiviano is the sexist equivalent of the NAACP taking money from Donald Sterling while turning a blind eye to his racism.  If Stiviano actually does appear on one of the few female-influenced shows (Ellen, the View, Hoda and Kathie Lee, etc) then I will know how doomed we all really are.  Here is a woman who abused her power, just like Sterling.  Here is a woman, of mixed race herself, who carried on an inappropriate relationship with a married man, a known racist, and received four cars (including not one but two Bentleys) and a 1.2 million dollar LA duplex in the process.  Here is a woman with five aliases, who used illegal means to create a scandal by breaking news that had already been broken many times.

Why is this abuse of power acceptable when Sterling’s isn’t?  Is it because Stiviano is an attractive woman, providing what appears for all the world to be some sort of sexual satisfaction to an elderly man?  Is it because, after three and a half years together, she decided to “uncover” his racism for her own personal gain, even though that racism was available for all the world to see in the form of multiple, public, court-settled discrimination charges?  Though Sterling got what he deserved, Stiviano won’t.  She will be praised.

I ask you, what does that praise communicate to young girls right now?  As long as you stay attractive and available for the taking, you can amass wealth and fame, adulation even, through dishonesty and deceit.

Stiviano and Sterling: birds of a feather

Stiviano and Sterling: birds of a feather

I dare you to listen to the tape again, and this time focus on Stiviano.  Tell me you are not listening to the yogic voice of a practiced sociopath.  Jabbar nails it again: “Man, what a winding road she led him down to get all of that out. She was like a sexy nanny playing “pin the fried chicken on the Sambo.” She blindfolded him and spun him around until he was just blathering all sorts of incoherent racist sound bites that had the news media peeing themselves with glee.”

Is there any reason, besides corruption, that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People would accept money from a known racist and in turn bestow him with humanitarian awards?  (Confidential to all non-profits: if there are strings attached to a donation, it’s not charity, it’s money in exchange for your morals.)

Is there any reason, besides corruption, that women (and men) would seek to empower and further the field of influence for V. Stiviano, rather than bring her to justice?

On May 15th, the NAACP planned to bestow Donald Sterling with another humanitarian award, this one for “Lifetime Achievement.”  Following the tape release, LA’s NAACP chapter president Leon Jenkins cancelled the upcoming ceremony and issued the following statements to CNN: “The mission of the NAACP is to eradicate discrimination and racial hatred in all its forms, and each year our executive board votes on who we decide that we are going to honor.”  Jenkins continued, “Mr. Sterling has given out a tremendous amount of scholarships, he has invited numerous African American kids to summer camps, and his donations are bigger than other sports franchises.”

“That is something that shows that there is a consciousness of the plight of African Americans in this country,” Jenkins concludes.

Unless Jenkins lives under a rock, I’m sure he was aware of the high profile discrimination charges filed against Sterling, for which he was found guilty, repeatedly demonstrating the exact opposite of “a consciousness of the plight of African Americans.”  I’m sure the NAACP is also aware of the media construct known as a “PR stunt.”  Perhaps Sterling’s money sent some deserving kids to camp, but what about the determination of his former tenants and their families, who persevered for justice to the point of taking a powerful mogul to court, only to watch hopelessly thereafter as he was continually honored by the very institution entrusted with the task of advancing them?  That degree of injustice smacks of a Kafka novel, it reads like fiction.

Who will hold the NBA and the NAACP accountable for essentially harboring Sterling, in effect protecting him as well as his bigotry?

Similarly, what can be done to stop the glorification of V. Stiviano?   How can we ensure that no more of this blood gets on our hands?  How can we expect to get a woman into presidential office if we are still playing against our own values?  Maybe women have permeated more and more male dominated realms, but what good does that do us if, once there, we keep snapping to the attention of the old rules of engagement?

We are not bound by those rules.  I am reminded of a scene in Anchorman 2, where Ron Burgandy cuts to a live feed of a car chase in order to subvert rival Veronica Corningstone’s interview with Yasser Arafat.  When the car is finally pulled over, the driver is revealed to be an elderly, senile man.  In the movie, this calculated move is directly credited with the downfall of modern media.

Must we all continue to suckle the teat of this train-wreck?  Where is it getting us?  Who can change it?

What would it communicate to the international female community, especially those without free speech, if all female anchors in free nations refused to interview V. Stiviano on account of her abuse of freedom and power?   What if they instead spent that time talking about the importance of rooting out individuals who would undermine the cause of equality, as everyone is now wishing the NAACP and NBA had done with Sterling.  That is influence.  That is news.  That is power.

What the hell, in the spirit of equivalism, why doesn’t everyone snub Stiviano?  How about, instead of Bill O’Reilly ogling her décolleté, he declines the interview and comes tearfully clean about his mommy issues.  Between sobs he will tell us, that it’s women like her (“a sexy nanny playing “pin the fried chicken on the Sambo””) that make him scared shitless to consider a female president.

In these tumultuous times, when hair-trigger reaction seems to be the norm, I am grateful to Doris Kearns Goodwin for her comprehensive look at Lincoln in Team of Rivals, in which she is careful to include male and female influences.

When Lincoln spoke to a crowd of fifteen hundred at Cooper Union in 1860, shortly before receiving the Republican nomination, he was greeted with palpable tension between pro and anti-slavery factions.  Putting his previously-delivered temperance speech to the test (a quotation from which begins my last post) he refused to meet denunciation with denunciation.

“Let us do nothing through passion and ill temper,” he implored the anti-slavery northerners, “Even though the southern people will not so much as listen to us, let us calmly consider their demands, and yield to them if, in our deliberate view of our duty, we possibly can.”

Inspired by Lincoln’s wisdom, MLK Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the foot of the Lincoln memorial.

Both men sensitively and consistently nurtured, rather than aggressively demanded, the progress of a nation.  It is the dream, not the anger, that needs feeding.  This is why I am in favor of employing “equivalism” over “feminism.”


Sadly this approach could not prevent war, but I’ll bet it had something to do with winning.

Equivalism not Feminism: Part I Historical Conviction

 Introduction:  This is the first installment in a series of blog posts entitled “Equivalism not Feminism,” in which I intend to make a case for changing the name of the feminist movement in order to further the cause of gender equality.
 “Equivalism” is derived from the Latin, equ meaning “even or level” and valere meaning “be of value, be worth.”  

The following is an excerpt from Abraham Lincoln’s speech to the Springfield Washington Temperance Society, delivered in 1842:

“I say, when they were told all this, and in this way, it is not wonderful that they were slow, very slow, to acknowledge the truth of such denunciations, and to join the ranks of their denouncers in a hue and cry against themselves.
To have expected them to do otherwise than they did – to have expected them not to meet denunciation with denunciation, crimination with crimination, and anathema with anathema, was to expect a reversal of human nature, which is God’s decree, and never can be reversed.  When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted.  It is an old and a true maxim, that a ‘drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.’  So with men.  If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.    Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great highroad to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really be a just one.”


Though it has taken me a long time to realize it, I believe there is no cause more just than that of gender equality.  As a middle child in a large family, and a decidedly feminine woman in the world, I evolved to privately consider issues at length before coalescing my thoughts into opinion, with interest usually waning before those opinions could fully form.  Uncomfortable as I am with the confrontation that often ensues from expressing one’s opinion, in the case of gender equality; diligent observation has given way to moral obligation, sewing a deep concern where fear once lived.  At times this realization has woken me in the middle of the night to find my heart in my throat.

In order that we might aid our sisters in countries where their education is punishable by death, and on any given morning their childhoods may be forced into motherhoods; and our brothers whose lives were not considered sacred, but recklessly spent in a real-life game of Risk, we must proceed here, in our free nation, with the utmost clarity of vision.  I believe we can revive the vision of gender equality in the hearts of men and women by identifying with the term equivalism rather than feminism.  “Give me six hours to chop down a tree,” Lincoln wrote, “and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”  The power of preparation before a mighty task is not to be underestimated.

 “Women suffrage,” said US Speaker of the House, Champ Clark to his delegates in 1914, “is as inevitable as the rising of the morning sun.”  Widely credited with the first political statement which led to the passage of the 19th amendment (women’s suffrage) in 1920, Clark adored and publicly supported his suffragist daughter, Genevieve Clark (pictured below).

Suffragist Genevieve Clark c. 1914

Suffragist Genevieve Clark c. 1914

Clark’s sun metaphor is applicable still: How are we to change the future if we do not view every day as a chance to begin anew?  When we use the term “feminism,” we are referring to the past oppression of women (be it yesterday, 100, or 1,000 years ago) in order to further gender equality.  “Feminism” is looking back in time, and therefore can never offer us a vision of the future upon which to place our dreams.

The term feminism was first coined in 1895.  Admittedly, my mind formed a somewhat jaded theory as to it’s origin.  Oh yeah, women stuff, let the category fit the audience.  Here ladies, let’s call your little side project “feminism.”  How quaint to have your own political cause!  However, my younger sister offered a fresher perspective.  “It must have been like a phoenix rising from the ash,” she said, and I believe her.  In a time when femininity’s public influence had been buried for so long, “feminism” felt like the balm of recognition that it was.  Axiomatically, since women would not be granted the right to vote for another 25 years, many men, including those in political office, had by this time taken up the cry.

While a young Lincoln served his first and only term as congressman for Illinois, the newly formed Liberty Party (comprised of staunch slavery abolitionists) added women’s suffrage to their presidential campaign.  At the Liberty Party’s helm was Gerrit Smith (pictured below) first cousin of, and frequent debater with suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who would later form the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) with Susan B. Anthony.  The following excerpt was taken from Smith’s speech at the 1848 Liberty Party National Convention in New York:

“Neither here, nor in any other part of the world, is the right of suffrage allowed to extend beyond one of the sexes. This universal exclusion of woman… argues, conclusively, that, not as yet, is there one nation so far emerged from barbarism, and so far practically Christian, as to permit woman to rise up to the one level of the human family.”
Liberty Party Presidential Nominee Gerrit Smith c. 1840

Liberty Party Presidential Nominee Gerrit Smith c. 1840

The Liberty Party would not go on to gain much political ground on account of it’s radical platform, but an unprecedented achievement was established.  Following Smith’s speech, five delegate votes were submitted for Lucretia Mott, the first woman in the United States to be nominated for federal executive office, to be Smith’s vice president.  It would be another 72 years before women were allowed to vote.

While men and women alike have faced scorn, scrutiny, and seemingly endless defeat on behalf of gender equality, as hard as it is to believe, women have also played a role in undermining the movement.  In this 1914 article detailing Champ Clark’s support of women’s suffrage, Vice President Thomas Marshall’s wife came out against it, causing her husband to claim, “I can’t get away from my wife, and I don’t want to,” when withholding his public support.  This set back undoubtedly contributed to the six year interim before women’s suffrage was actually granted.

Regardless of whether or not it was initially sound to draw further attention to gender equality issues with a female-derived term, it’s since defined the movement, dividing and thus diluting the powers that would engineer lasting solutions.  We have become unwitting collaborators in the systemic and categorical limitation of the feminine, like a university’s “Women’s Studies” major, or female American novelists getting ousted from the “American Novelists” category on Wikipedia.  Like my older sister accidentally sewing her homemade skirt-in-progress to the jeans she was wearing when we were kids; we have hemmed ourselves in with the name of our movement.

“Feminism” is supposed to mean:  The belief that men and women should have equal rights, opportunities, and influence.

Doesn’t this sacrifice of linguistic precision rob us, especially our children, of the chance to form our own opinions of equality based on observations that aren’t shackled to the past?  Doesn’t it obscure the fact that oppression of femininity negatively impacts all human beings?Doesn’t it “meet denunciation with denunciation”?

Masculinity : Strength :: Femininity : Sensitivity


Humanity is made up of these two forces, which together create the most polarized system in the known universe.  If we can improve the global cooperation of these two fundamental bodies, not unlike the effect of a happy marriage on a household or community; what potential exists to improve all other power struggles; be they racially, religiously, politically, or geographically derived?

If Pluto can be taken off the list of planets, we can change this term.  We need not dwell in the pitfalls of the past, but are in fact capable of renewing life, and as such are architects of the future.  I do not want to be called a “feminist” any more than I want to be guilty of emphasizing the importance of one gender’s influence over the other.  Perhaps the movement will continue under the feminist heading in the US, but what about the rest of the world?  What hope do we have of every earthly male, or female for that matter, identifying with the tenets of feminism as long as we employ a name that separates us?

Feminine sensitivity, which has been forged by the combined ability to literally and figuratively conceive new life, despite injustices, must be realized for the nascent potential that lies within.  Woman must not spurn her sensitivity as an impediment; she must embrace it as if it were her child.  Which it is.  To honor it will lead humanity, inevitably, to the desperately-needed embrace of sensitivity within strength.

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”  -Arundhati Roy 

Equalitist Chivalry Part 2: Brawn Structure

My post last week, Equalitist Chivalry: Vaginas are Doors Too struck a nerve, receiving over 350 hits, and stirring up several edifying debates (thanks, Er!).  In the meantime I’ve done a little more research on the subject and it’s inception, and have come to the conclusion that chivalry was one of, if not the first social movement towards gender equality.  Yes, you read that correctly.

Chivalry represented the first areligiously organized push back against barbaric “might equals right” ways of time immemorial.  It was an acknowledgment that for reasons beyond their control (i.e., less physical strength) women were perpetually dishonored and forced to live in fear.  The circle of protection extended to children and elders too.  The story of Camelot, in which “courtly love” manifestations of chivalry were made famous and expounded upon, gives us an example of the chivalrous knight, King Arthur, who is ultimately loyal to his code of honor, “might for right,” despite pressure to enforce the savage punishments du jour following Lancelot and Guinevere’s betrayal.

To further discern why I can’t seem to let this idea go, I explored chivalry’s inception in my life.  As a little girl I remember watching my dad stand up as a matter of course whenever a woman (usually my mother, his mother, or an aunt) came or left the dinner table.  This happens less frequently now, but I still watch for and fundamentally appreciate it, as I did then.  I never sensed for a moment that my dad performed this act to keep women down, or to control them.  He did not ask or even appear to care where they were going or why.  My basic, childlike understanding was: this big poppa bear has these momma bears protected, and everyone better recognize.  Men are physically impressive beings, in different ways than women naturally (I explore this point more thoroughly in my football-lauding Eight Layer Dip recipe) but impressive nonetheless.  Male physicality has been used for ill so often, is it possible to harness that energy for both football and the cause of gender equality, before urgency requires the latter?

I’m not saying the way forward is to reinstate old school chivalry, but I am asking that we take a closer look at this term, at what it means to model the protection of women in modern society, and re-evaluate the feminist assumption that all chivalrous roads lead to Disney Princessdom.  What would happen to rape statistics if every honorable man communicated, through a code of action, that he would put himself on the line for a woman in danger?  Think of the early education implications.  Hypothetically, let’s say a closeted physical abuser (is there any other kind?) and his wife are having dinner with another couple; their kids are present.  The abused wife excuses herself to go to the bathroom and the husband from the other couple stands as she leaves and reenters.  I am not naive enough to think this small action could effect significant change for the abuser, but what about his son?  What about the abused?  It’s a wordless statement of intent, and I wonder how powerful it could be.

While I found nothing to criticize in the depiction of Merida from Brave (which upon first viewing incurred a relief so strong that I cried, much to my son and daughters’ confusion) and the accurate portrayal of women (both mother and daughter) as determined, intelligent, and capable, I believe that’s only half the battle.  I’m all for women learning archery, martial arts, or most any other means of protection, but we have to do more than build up defenses, otherwise we have accepted living in fear.  How can we stop the attacks from happening?  Make would-be attackers think twice?  Create and protect a global standard for appropriate conduct?  To truly explore any of these options we will need the assistance of honorable men: We are all in this together.

Needing male assistance does not mean we failed (think of all the assistance men need being born, for example).  It just means that we can’t win the battle for gender equality by relegating half of the enlightened populace to the sidelines, especially the brawny half.  Everyday there are more men who become enlightened.  What should they do to help?  I imagine that if I were a successful, well-adjusted man, I would want a clear directive upon which I could act, using my male strengths, to end this oppression perpetrated by my kind.  How can we make sure we do not shame men so terribly for past wrongs, or become so hyper-attuned to perceived infringements that we unwittingly prolong progress on a global scale?  The relative freedom we enjoy in this country obliges us to ask these grey-area questions.

I am purposefully thinking radical thoughts because I want radical results.  How else can we achieve gender equality in our lifetime?  When the mental tide is shifting, we must take action.  Is it possible that we threw the baby out with the bathwater with regard to chivalry?  Antiquated though it may be, when I look at modern day rape, child bride, and physical abuse statistics, there is no denying it:  Women (children, and elders) across the globe urgently need protection from dishonorable men, and we cannot do it alone.  This does not mean I see myself as less than, inferior, or incapable (if anything, I feel grateful that my gender is not so prone to aggression); it simply means that I am looking for protection for my kind, to sew freedom rather than suffering.  I suppose if chivalry is really out, there’s always this option:

Lenda Murray

So be it.
The incomparable Lenda Murray.

“Chivalry! – why, maiden, she is the nurse of pure and high affection – the stay of the oppressed, the redresser of grievances, the curb of the power of the tyrant – Nobility were but an empty name without her, and liberty finds the best protection in her lance and her sword.” —Walter Scott, Ivanhoe (1820)

Equalitist Chivalry: Vaginas are Doors Too.

I have been chewing on this issue since a year ago at a cocktail party, when a friend of mine with two elementary school-aged sons asked for advice on navigating the conflict of interest between feminism and chivalry.  Her eldest son, who is darling and hangs on her every word, questioned why men should hold the door for women if women can do it themselves.  Didn’t that violate the laws of feminism?  I did not have a clear answer then, but it seemed sad at the least (no thanks, I can open the door myself) to horrible at the worst (I don’t need you to hold the fucking door for me, asshole!) to do away with chivalry altogether.  In the end, it just didn’t seem right to criticize something that’s so… well, nice.

Today the issue was unwittingly brought to my attention again by another friend.  Because I am a Facebook stalker, I sometimes scroll through dozens of comments on popular postings to see what my friends have to say, especially because they might think none of their friends would do that (guess again).  You know, when that little message in your newsfeed comes up because one of your friends commented on something controversial?  This is what I saw:

She's my friend, but she's really nice so she'd probably let you stalk her too.

She’s my friend, but she’s really nice so she’d probably let you stalk her too.

My friend, let’s just call her “Er” for anonymity’s sake, is a gender equalitist (“equalitist” is not really a word, but “feminist” is misleading, IMO, and equalitists know we’ve had quite enough of that) that I admire.  Outspoken but friendly, self-deprecating, community-driven, and best of all, fucking hilarious.  She’ll take the joke over the jab any day.  Now can you see why I spent time stalking her?

As you might have guessed, Er was not really in favor of this article.  She is of a mind that manners trump chivalry, and on that point we agree.  (If I had to choose one, manners all the way.)  She brought up the fact that holding doors for women was born out of a belief that they are weak.  True to the parlance of these internetted times, she did not cite her sources (tsk, tsk, Er).  But considering that every person on the planet was at one point grown and expelled by a woman’s body (the vast majority without medication) I wonder how that belief could have been so widely held (open…hehe) as to spawn (sorry, I just can’t stop) that particular chivalrous act.

Besides, it’s a selfless act, opening the door for someone, and I struggle to believe it was born out of pity.  Knowing, as I so intimately do, the power struggles in my own marriage to a man, I assert that no kind act begins with viewing someone as weak and incapable, especially when they are in fact the opposite.

What if a desire to honor women begot chivalry?  Maybe we weren’t so disconnected from the harrowing tumults of life as we are now, and men recognized that women themselves are doorways, doorways to human existence.  Maybe it started with sons insisting that they hold doors for their mothers out of gratitude, and when they were old enough to marry and have children of their own, they extended that courtesy to their wives.

Aside from being the human portal for three fabulous little beings, I hold doors for all genders.  Chivalry is a gift we give each other, and nothing zaps the pleasure out of gift giving faster than criticism and expectation.  Let us not condemn or demand, but open.


I’m on TV!

Hey guys,
I’m happy to report that a mini doc of yours truly premiered on Friday and will air throughout the week here in Seattle on KCTS.
You can watch it directly here.
Or you can watch the 27min Art Zone episode (highly recommended).  My segment starts at 9:52, fittingly just after a preview of the Moore Theatre’s current run, “Jerry Springer: the Opera.”

Thanks to Nancy Guppy for having me on the show, and Valerie Vozza for shooting it.  I’m proud to have worked alongside two ambitious, creative and genuinely good show biz people, both of whom happen to be women.