Archive | Politics

Whose Family Values Are They, Anyway? Happy Adoption Day!

I wrote this post almost four years ago. In that four-year time, gay marriage has become law in almost half the states in the Union and yesterday Tylenol ran a new ad that celebrated all the different types of families you can imagine — including some that look like mine.  To celebrate #HowWeFamily, here’s this post again…

My extended family will officially, legally, extend by one more person today, August 29.

My brother is going to become a father.

It’s very exciting and my mom has gone out west to join him for the big day.  They’ll meet at the courthouse where the papers will be finalized and then they’ll go out to lunch: my brother, my mom, my now-official nephew, his mother, and a few assorted other relatives.

It’s an event that would make Michelle Bachmann’s well-groomed toes curl in horror and make all of Rick Perry’s hair stand up straight (Michelle’s would stand up straight, too, except she uses too much hairspray. Come to think of it, maybe Rick does too).  In fact, my brother is pissing off the entire cohort of the Far Right today, with one simple action.

My single gay brother is legally adopting his biological offspring, the result of a single woman’s trip to a sperm bank some fifteen years ago. Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on June 23, 2015 in birth, Children, family, Feminism, Gender, Politics

Traveling While Female…

Hi there blogosphere….

I seem to have taken an inadvertent hiatus from blogging for a while … it’s the kind of thing like forgetting to write your grandmother: the longer you wait, the more it becomes A THING and the more it becomes A THING the harder it is to write.

So today, I am metaphorically writing my grandmother (may she rest in peace) and alerting you to my column in The National today.

In the column I’m wondering about how we female-type people travel alone without fear — or rather, how we manage our fears and anxieties while still exploring the world.  And by “explore the world” I mean everything from climbing Everest to going out to dinner alone in the neighborhood.   How can it be that after so many centuries, a woman alone still presents such a target/threat/opportunity/challenge to men–and why is it that so many men persist in believing that a woman alone is pining for his company?  See: fish, bicycle, necessity thereof.

Enjoy. And if you have your own travel tips (or horror stories) feel free to share them in the comments.

PS I love you, grandmother.

Continue Reading · on March 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Feminism, Gender, NYC, Politics, The National, Travel, UAE

Ladies Night at the Ice Rink

The image of the veiled woman remains a potent symbol of the “mysterious” Middle East and the question of “do you have to cover…”  is almost always the first question that anyone asks me when I tell them where I live.   It’s easy, particularly in the West, to lose sight of the fact that behind the veil is a person, and to keep in mind that gender politics are complicated here — but then again, point me to a place where gender politics aren’t complicated.

I wrote about Gloria Steinem and feminism the other day, and then the other day, at the ice rink, of all places, I was reminded that “feminism” has many different forms.  I had gone to the ice rink in the ginormous sports complex where Liam and Caleb play football because Caleb and I had to wait for Liam to finish practice, Caleb was hungry, there is a pizza place inside the ice rink, so off we went…only to be told that Caleb couldn’t come inside.  It was Ladies Night, no men allowed, not even nine-year-old men.

Inside, the place buzzed with energy as girls of all ages skated, watched the skaters, or walked around gossiping with each other, safe from the eyes of the men working in the restaurant kitchen:

IMG_8520

I bought Caleb’s pizza and brought it to him outside on the patio.  I’ve never seen so many people coming to the ice rink as I did that night, including some who were clearly coming for the gossip and a night out, and not for the skating, at least judging from her shoes:

IMG_8525can you see the heels she’s got on? Four or five inches, at the very least

The girls in the skating rink seemed entirely delighted to be there, and many of the girls on the ice were twirling and jumping and speeding around with the ease that comes only with a lot of practice.

Did it seem strange that “ladies night” kept out my little boy?  Yes.  Am I reminded that change happens incrementally, in loops and swirls and swerves, and not in a straight unbending line? Yes.

Because that night at the ice rink, sitting outside with my son, I was reminded that the girl in the abaya isn’t a metaphor but just a chick with a wicked slapshot, who perhaps daydreams about an Olympic medal in women’s hockey.

IMG_8524

 

Continue Reading · on March 31, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Feminism, Gender, Politics, UAE

happy birthday, gloria steinem. I wish you didn’t matter.

Gloria Steinem spoke at my college graduation back in 1986.

At the time, as a graduate of a woman’s college, I thought to myself “oh good lord, her. Couldn’t they find someone more relevant?”  It was the era of “divest now” and “free Mandela;” we’d just spent four years at a single-sex college where “gender issues” were as pervasive as the scent of the clove cigarettes many of us smoked.

Yes, it was the mid-1980s: there were shoulder pads, bad perms, Billy Idol on the radio, and we all smoked like our lives depended on it.  We thought that abortion rights were sacrosanct and that surely there would be a woman president before we turned 30, which was about as old as any of us could imagine being.

Now I’m fifty and Gloria, omigod, is eighty and we all of us, men and women, should hope that we do eighty the way that Gloria is doing eighty. Because her eighty would exhaust my fifty, that’s what I gotta say about that.

But how wrong was I—about so many things — lo those many years ago: we’ve recovered from clove cigarettes, bad perms, Billy Idol, and shoulder pads–but women still don’t earn equal pay for equal work.  Mandela was freed, apartheid was overthrown — but the statistics for sexual violence against women in South Africa and elsewhere in the world continue to rise.  We’ve seen the erosion of abortion rights in the U.S. and elsewhere; we’ve seen health care programs for poor women and their families slashed from state budgets.

And ironically, on the same day I was reading gossip on the internet researching very important researchy things, I saw an article on Jezebel about New York State’s new educational guidelines, which have been overhauled to fit with the new Common Core History Curriculum.

I know, I know, it sounds so totally exciting!  But you have to understand: I’m a literature professor. I actually like to think about things like “curriculum” and “reading lists” and “rubrics.” Well, okay, not so much rubrics, but the other stuff? Love it.

So I read the article and here’s the gist: in the pages devoted to all the elements that students in high school will have to learn about US and Global history, would you like to know how many women get name-checked? About seven.  Would you be shocked to find out that on the lists of What You Should Know there are many, many more men?  Jezebel doesn’t connect the dots they way I do, though, in their discussion of the women who are mentioned on this list: Mary Wollstonecraft, Ida Tarbell, Ida B. Wells, Jane Addams, Margaret Sanger, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe.  All of them are writers and reformers. None of them are, you know, world leaders.

I’m just wondering … if you’re talking about English history, I’m thinking that Liz I (Tudor, not Taylor) might be a name to consider; ditto Isabella of Span, who I guess maybe didn’t do anything except, I don’t know, bankroll the guy who stumbled into North AmericaAnd what about in the category of “imperialism?” Dontcha think maybe Queen Victoria might have warranted a mention?She’s got an entire era named after her bad dowager self.

A person could read through this list and come away thinking that women have never been involved with any aspect of world governance, anywhere in the world, at any point in time.

I realize lists like these can fuel the “what about” arguments for days; I’ve fought with myself about what to include or leave out, as I write syllabi for my classes (upside? I always win the fight).  I am sure that these guidelines are the product of hours, months, maybe years of people meeting and talking and yelling, of sending endless emails back and forth, of cutting-and-pasting and then cutting-and-pasting some more.  And I know these are “guidelines” and “conceptual” and not meant to be proscriptive or definitive or absolute.

And yet.

If I’m a busy, probably underpaid teacher (yes, I know, hard to imagine but just imagine, okay?) and I were being asked to re-vamp my curriculum for the next school year,  I might just scan these guidelines and zip zap zoop, add some names from the list, swap some titles on my current reading list for the ones mentioned here and be done with it.  Yes, we’d all hope for more thoughtful and considered revisions but I know how hard it is to write a syllabus and I know that it is really tough to teach a brand-new course, much less make sure that I can get all my students to pass a set of proscribed exams as a result of my brand-new course—all of which suggests that following the guidelines to the letter becomes really, really tempting.

That’s how “convnentional wisdom” starts, I think: not with conspiracy or patriarchal malice (okay, maybe a little of that), just an insidious, easily overlooked neglect, and then suddenly there we are (again): women do the soft stuff, men do the hard stuff; women write books and news articles, men write treaties and doctrines and foundational texts; women report on things, men do things.

Happy Birthday, Gloria.  I wish I’d been right, all those years ago: I wish you were irrelevant. But you’re not.

Gloria at my commencement

Continue Reading · on March 26, 2014 in aging, Education, Feminism, Gender, Politics

UAE Bans Super Size Soda…you’re welcome

The other day The National ran an article about various health-care reforms being suggested by the UAE government.  Among those reforms are—wait for it—a proposed restriction on portion sizes for fizzy drinks.  Yes. That’s right: Mayor Bloomberg’s despised soda ban may be about to take hold here in the UAE.  Now, I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I’ll just say that last summer, I wrote this column for The National, in which I said, among other things:

The fact that so many people suck down giant-sized soft drinks may be a significant factor in some of the health problems that have become prevalent in the UAE in recent years. In those supersized soft drinks, you will find more than 75 grams of sugar and up to 400 calories. And before diet soft drinkers pat themselves on the back, scientists have shown that artificial sweeteners lead to elevated glucose levels, which the liver then converts to body fat.

If New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg has his way, however, “soda belly” might become a thing of the past – and I think that the UAE might consider following his lead. Mr Bloomberg has proposed a ban on selling more than 16-ounce (0.45 litres) cups of soft drinks, which most nutritionists would consider as two servings. Cinemas, sports arenas and restaurants are among those that would be affected by the ban. While it’s true that you could buy two cups of soft drinks for yourself to get around the rule, I’m betting most people won’t. After all, when you’re carrying the tub of popcorn plus the packet of liquorice, it’s hard to juggle two cups.

New Yorkers, who always love a fight, are furious about Mr Bloomberg’s proposal, just as they were when he proposed a ban on smoking in public places (the bill passed); on the use of transfats in restaurants (the bill passed); and his law requiring fast-food chain restaurants to post the calorie count of their menu items (that bill passed too).

 

Okay, I suppose it’s possible that the Sheikhs aren’t reading my column but I’m still going to take some credit for their decision.  True, in the States, various courts have said that such a ban is unconstitutional but I’m not sure that can happen here. Here, what the government wants, the government gets. That means you’re probably not going to be able to get a Big Gulp here for very much longer.  And that, I think, is a very good thing.

 

Big-Gulp-Drink

 

 

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Continue Reading · on December 11, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, health, NYC, Politics, The National, UAE

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