Up By Your Bootstraps

September 29, 2016

There’s a video making the rounds on Facebook…I’ve seen it a number of times…it’s supposedly “hilarious.” The gist is that Smart, Liberal Democratic college student berates her hardworking, wise old dad because he’s voting for the Republican Party presidential candidate, and she doesn’t agree with his economic policies.

Now, you’re going to have to suspend credulity at this point that Dem Daughter’s biggest concern about the other candidate is his economic policy (what with the fact that, in the 16 months since he announced his candidacy, he hasn’t actually articulated one), as opposed to all that niggling evidence that he’s a bigoted, ignorant, bloviating sexual predator, but let’s go with it and see if there’s something to be learned here (spoiler alert…no).

Dad chuckles at his simple-minded progeny and begins to mansplain to her why he’s supporting a presidential candidate who wasn’t aware that Russia had invaded the Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014, or that the Central Park Five were exonerated and released from prison based on DNA evidence years ago (he still thinks they should be executed).

So he reminds his daughter, the hard-working Liberal Democrat (Wait! Is there such a thing?!?), that because she takes tough classes and studies all the time and never does anything fun, she has earned a perfect 4.0, whereas her Slacker Girl roommate who never goes to class, parties all the time, and only takes easy courses, has, not surprisingly, ended up with staggeringly bad grades.

Dad then jokes that Dem Daughter should put her economic policy where her mouth is by instructing the Dean to give Slacker Girl some of her hard-earned GPA so that Slacker Girl will not have to face the consequences of her poor choices. And of course Dem Daughter sees the error of her ways and decides that she, too, will vote for her dad’s guy, even though he’s creepy and looks like a giant circus peanut.

What troubles me about the message here is the assumption that those who would benefit from the “wealth redistribution” touted by Dem Daughter have precisely the same opportunities as those in the top 1%. This is a false equivalency, as many who are at the lowest level of the economic spectrum aren’t necessarily there because they are lazy or make self-indulgent, poor choices.

In many cases, familial support, access to good education and healthcare, or quality employment simply don’t exist. Those of us who were blessed with loving parents, intact families, top-notch schools, regular medical and dental care and good nutrition, don’t always understand that what we take for granted as the norm is only a dream for many, many people in this country.

This video also wrongly assumes that those who are wealthy got that way because they worked hard, which is also not necessarily the case. Certainly, the Bill Gates of the world can point to years of backbreaking hard work, but a great deal of the 1% inherited their wealth and have never worked a day in their life. Still others have used family wealth and connections to launch (or bail out) businesses that might otherwise have failed.

Hard work is certainly a virtue, and in many cases is indeed a path to success and prosperity, but not always. It bears noting, moreover, that those who have worked the hardest for their wealth are often the first to want to give it away for the greater good, while others establish “charitable foundations” to which they themselves do not contribute and which they utilize to commission large portraits of themselves or to settle lawsuits.

Finally, this video unfairly and inaccurately attempts to characterize the ideas of those like Bernie Sanders, who has never suggested that the rich should simply be stripped of their wealth and have it handed over to all those lazy poor people so they can blow it by making the same poor choices that led to their poverty in the first place.

At their most basic, policies designed to combat income inequality seek to implement a minimum wage that can actually provide the fundamental basics of food, clothing and shelter, while eliminating income tax loopholes that allow the top 1% to avoid paying their fair share. No one is suggesting that all those on Wall Street who played Russian Roulette with mortgage-backed securities and in turn created the worst economic downturn is 50 years should be forced to sell their homes in the Hamptons, but would it be too much to ask them to contribute, proportionately to their income, for the cost of roads, schools, law enforcement, government salaries, etc.? And seriously…do we really think it’s okay that the CEO of Aetna, Mark Bertolini, took home $17.1 million in 2015, while Wal-Mart holds food drives…for its own employees?

So, no, I don’t find this video “hilarious.” I find it arrogant, overly simplistic, and uninformed. But maybe that’s because I’m a Liberal Democrat who can’t help wondering whether Slacker Girl is okay, and whether her behavior isn’t a cry for help, but I digress.

Hard work, yes. But also, paying your fair share. Oh, and maybe some empathy and compassion, too.

Mother’s Day

May 8. 2016


I’ve never been a fan of Mother’s Day.  As a child, it seemed to me like adults pretty much got to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted.  I thought there should be a “Child’s Day,” to which I was frequently told, “Every day is Child’s Day.”  As an adult, both before and after I had children of my own, I continued to dislike Mother’s Day for the same reasons I disliked Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day – because they were “holidays” created (or at least primarily promoted) by florists, jewelers, and the greeting card industry as a marketing tool that most consumers observed mainly out of a sense of guilt and obligation.  That is to say, if you truly love your parent/significant other, you’d better show up on the appointed day with some (purchased) token of your love.  And that makes me ill.

People shouldn’t be browbeaten into demonstrating their devotion to someone, children in particular.  Children don’t ask to be born, and they shouldn’t feel obligated to thank their parents simply for doing their job.  (As an aside, if you do that job well, you probably won’t have to wait until Mother’s Day for your kid to say “thank you,” or “I love you,” or whatever else you’re hoping they’ll say).  It shouldn’t take some arbitrary day in February or May or June to express your feelings for someone, and expressing your feelings for someone shouldn’t require you to fork out 4 bucks for a card, $20 for flowers, and whatever else your budget permits.  You should be telling those same people that you love them just because you do, in fact, love them, and let’s face it – a card is a poor substitute for saying what you feel in your own words, even if you’re the world’s most inarticulate human being.

Another reason I hate these holidays is because there’s a certain sense of smugness and self-satisfaction that goes along with this Triumvirate of Hallmark Holy Days of Obligation, a feeling that those who are being celebrated are downright entitled to their special day of adulation and worship, which I find utterly confounding:  Is the fact that one has figured out how to procreate, or who happens to have found someone with whom to share dinner and a movie, really so special that we need to set aside a whole day in recognition of something that—let’s face it—is pretty unremarkable?  And hey—isn’t being in a relationship, or having a child, reward enough? It ought to be.

There’s another reason I dislike Mother’s Day, in particular, and it’s because it perpetuates the notion of the perfect, selfless, apple-pie baking, tireless, all-loving woman who gives up everything for her children, always puts her family first, and never, ever complains.  There are probably a few mothers out there who are like that, and they’re probably some of the most frustrated, miserable people alive.  As well, most mothers are loving and self-sacrificing and take really good care of their kids most of the time.  But if all you knew about motherhood was what you saw on the typical Mother’s Day greeting card commercial, you’d think that mothers never curse, sweat, or get angry; that they make their bake-sale offerings from scratch, that their minivans are spotless, and that their kids…well, that their kids are perfect, too.

I’ve been a mother long enough to know that none of that is true, but I still remember being a young mother who thought I was the only one who didn’t know what the hell I was doing, the only one who sometimes felt frustrated or bored, the only one who occasionally let loose an string of expletives in the presence of my children, wondered if the damn puppet show would ever end, and who cheated at Candyland just to get the damn game over with.

The truth is, the typical mom gets tired, and annoyed, and downright sick of her children from time to time.  The typical mother does not love sitting at soccer tournaments, rain or shine, week after week after endless week, or the hours and hours and hours they spend in the car driving their kids from point A to point B, or doing laundry, or running to WalMart at 9:00 p.m. on a Sunday night to pick up something their child absolutely has to have for school the next day and without which they will fail the entire semester.  The typical mom does not clap her hands with glee when cleaning up vomit or trying to scare up dinner after a long day at work.  The typical mom does not love dealing with an exhausted toddler who won’t get into his carseat or a self-absorbed fourteen-year-old who hates her mother simply because she breathes air.

Typical moms aren’t perfect, but Teleflora tells us otherwise, thus raising the question, do you get to be celebrated on Mother’s Day if you’re not perfect?  I think if you’re going to set aside a whole day to recognize mothers, you shouldn’t have to prove you’re perfect in order to participate.  My mother was not a “perfect mother.”  Our family had a fairly stormy history, and there were many years when I was not in touch with her because of the anger I harbored for how things had gone down when I was younger.  My mom and I have made our peace with each other, and these days, my focus is on all the great things my mom did, and the example she set for me.

My mom didn’t have spotless glassware or a kitchen floor you could eat off of, but she took my brother, sister and I camping all over Europe while our family lived in Germany – she would simply pack up the Ford Falcon station wagon and set off to a country whose language she didn’t speak, pitch the tent, and take us to see the sights and eat foods we’d never tried.  My mom didn’t bake homemade cookies (except for at Christmas time, when she made the most incredible iced ginger cookies you’ve ever tasted), but she was a fantastic Brownie leader who taught me how to sew.  My mom wasn’t much for arts and crafts, but during the year my father was serving in Viet Nam, she took us to the beaches of Panama City, Florida every Sunday, made us grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner, and never once let on—not to me, anyway—that my dad might not be coming home.

When we returned from Germany in the early 1970’s, my mom, who’d had to drop out of college because her family could not afford for her to continue, got what was essentially an entry-level position at a friend’s computer software firm; by the time she retired twenty-odd years later, she was running the company.  I didn’t realize then that she, like so many working moms of the 1970’s, was part of a movement whose message—that women can work outside the home, climb the corporate ladder, and shoot for the corner office—I took for granted by the time I started my own career.  It never occurred to me how much courage it must have taken, how much she took on, or how little time she had for herself as she worked a full-time job while still keeping up with the housework and cooking and everything else she’d been responsible for when she didn’t work outside the home.

My mom is a very smart, very curious woman who talked about interesting things at the dinner table—sometimes we’d still be sitting there an hour after we’d finished our meal.  She had enormous compassion and always—always—made people feel welcome in our home.  She was the type of grandmother who got down on the floor and played with her grandchildren, read them books, and was always interested in what was going on in their lives.  At Christmas time, she preferred to give them gifts of experiences or opportunities, such as gymnastics lessons or a subscription to “Archaeology” magazine, rather than toys they didn’t need or clothes they wouldn’t wear.  Just as she always came to my concerts, plays, and marching band competitions, she attends her grandchildren’s milestone events, even though she is deaf in one ear and sometimes has a hard time understanding what is going on.

Our family had its troubles, to be sure, and some of those troubles were hard to get past.  I’m fortunate that after a ten-year absence, when I returned to my mother’s life, she opened her arms wide and embraced me.  In the time since, she has made it her mission to remind me of her surpassing love every day, whether challenging me in “Words with Friends,” sending me a text using my childhood nickname, or insisting that I call her during a midnight drive home after a long business trip, just to make sure I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel.  I’m so deeply grateful for her love, a love which is informed by the fact that she is a mother, too, and she understands when my kids are being rotten or my days have been too long, and what’s more, she always seems to know when that is without me having to tell her.  My mom isn’t perfect, but she’s instilled in me the same values I realized I’ve tried to impart to my own children, and although I spent a good part of my mothering experience trying to do things differently than my mom did, I realize now that every remarkable thing I’ve done as a mother, every time I’ve gotten it right, it’s because I’ve followed her example without even knowing it.

If the point of Mother’s Day is for children to make sure their moms know how much they matter, heck, that’s fine.  If the point is to stop and make a person think about the positive ways in which their mother has influenced them and made them a better person, and to make a phone call or have a conversation where those feelings are expressed, that’s good, too.  But those thoughts, and words, and feelings, don’t need to be accompanied by a $99 necklace from Zales, or a bouquet of flowers that will be wilted in a week, and they shouldn’t be the product of the greeting card industry – they should come from the heart, because we mean them, and because they’re true.

And you know who taught me that?

My mom.

To Vax or Not to Vax

February 8, 2015

Following a recent outbreak of measles in Southern California (ground zero of which appears to have been Disneyland, of all places), there’s been a lot of talk about what should be done about parents who chose not to immunize their kids.  The vast majority of what I’ve read on the topic has come down hard on the “anti-vaxxers,” and there is a lot of outrage over what many consider an egregiously selfish, uninformed, and reckless point of view that elevates the individual choice of a relatively small (and in most cases, highly privileged) group over the well-being of society in general, including its weakest members.  Some pediatricians are refusing to treat children whose parents won’t allow them to be vaccinated, and some schools are insisting that non-immunized kids stay home until the worst of the epidemic is over.  A handful of lawmakers are suggesting that inoculations should be mandatory, while parents of kids who can’t be vaccinated (because of autoimmune diseases or other medical conditions) are furious that their children are at risk of contracting a serious illness because of anti-vaxxer parents whose justification for not immunizing their kids (i.e., herd immunity) is premised largely upon the outrageous hubris that presumes the rest of us will.  

I’m not going to rehash the compelling (and indisputable) arguments in favor of routine childhood vaccinations, arguments that have been made far more cogently and articulately by those with rigorous expertise in the areas of pediatrics, epidemiology, and community health, mostly because there is no reasonable, intelligent, responsible rebuttal.  The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates conclusively, emphatically—with about as much certainty as one could hope for—that routine vaccination works.  It prevents children from contracting diseases that can become very serious indeed and, over time, has virtually eradicated illnesses that used to be considered deadly.  There is no legitimate contrary viewpoint, and every “rationale” for not vaccinating has been roundly, thoroughly debunked though, as Amy Tuteur, M.D. pointed out in her excellent piece, “What everyone gets wrong about anti-vaccine parents,” the decision not to immunize has almost nothing to do with hard science and almost everything to do with a staggering level of self-absorption and arrogance.  

And so, because far smarter people than me—you know, real scientists, whose opinions are backed up by facts, statistics, and studies published in peer-reviewed journals—have already so exhaustively demonstrated the correctness of their position, I’m not going to waste anyone’s time making the case for immunizing your children.  Like brushing your teeth and changing your underwear, you just should, period, and entertaining an anti-vaxxer for even thirty seconds is thirty seconds I could be spending eating a Girl Scout cookie and looking at pictures of koala bears.

Part of the problem is that, precisely because of routine childhood vaccination, we in America have forgotten that not so long ago, it was not uncommon for children to die from diseases like polio or whooping cough.  Most of us in America (and in other industrialized countries) cannot even begin to comprehend losing a child to an entirely preventable illness – it’s simply unthinkable.  We’ve come to take our robust good health for granted, so much so that anti-vaxxers ignore the fact that not vaccinating presents a significant health risk to their offspring.  They pooh-pooh the notion that their kids might get sick, and, in any event, generally have access to the kind of high-quality, affordable health care they assume will guarantee a complete recovery if their kids do get ill.  Because that’s what we expect in the United States of America in 2015 – that our children will be 100% normal, healthy, and perfect.  Anything less is unacceptable.    

And now I’m about to get shrill.

Because whatever anti-vaxxers might say in defense of their position (vaccines are loaded with toxic chemicals, you can’t trust Big Pharma, there’s no evidence that routine vaccination actually prevents illness), the real reason most parents choose not to vaccinate (though few may admit it) is that they’re afraid of the A-word.  You know, autism.  Which, in the United States of America in 2015, is apparently the single greatest tragedy a parent can endure.  Thus, there are some parents who are so afraid, so out of their minds petrified that their child might develop autism (despite an incidence rate of less than 1%), they are willing to ignore mountains of scientific research disproving any link between vaccination and autism and to expose their children (and others) to illnesses that are entirely preventable but in some instances can be deadly. 

Never mind that this autism terror is based upon a single “research study” conducted twenty years ago that time and further inquiry have established was utterly and thoroughly devoid of any merit.  Never mind that since the Lancet article was published, nothing, and no one, has been able to establish (by means of the scientific method or otherwise) any correlation between vaccination and autism whatsoever.  Never mind that the ancillary theories about preservatives in vaccines causing autism have been proven baseless.  Never mind that most of the people spouting anti-vaccination rhetoric have about as much pretension to scientific credibility as I do to playing running back for the Broncos.    

Never mind.

Because even if there was a connection (and there’s not, Jenny McCarthy, so maybe confine your contributions to the world to showing off your spectacular breasts), it says a lot about a person they are willing to (1) expose their child to unnecessary illness; (2) place those who can’t be vaccinated at risk for contracting a disease that, for them, could be deadly; and (3) unravel the incredible success of routine vaccination that, if practiced rigorously, would guarantee the eventual extinction of these diseases—all because they think it will further protect their child against the already unlikely possibility that they will develop autism.

Lest you think I’m suggesting that we should all hope that our child will be born with or develop a disability – I’m not.  To say that it’s hard to parent a child with autism is so ridiculously inadequate as to be laughable – and I know from whence I speak, because I’ve been doing it for almost 21 years.  I’m not going to even attempt to describe our family’s journey (and it isn’t over), or the toll it has taken on all of us, or the heart-breaking struggles my daughter encounters on pretty much a daily basis.  I won’t even say that being Allison’s mother has been one of the greatest joys of my life, although it has been, or that I love her exactly the way she is (I do).    

What I will say is that anti-vaxxers seem to believe that having a kid like my daughter is so thoroughly intolerable that they are will do anything—anything—to prevent the extremely remote chance that their child will develop autism, even if it involves the far more likely scenario that their unvaccinated kid will needlessly contract a disease that could have serious repercussions for them and for others.   The most extreme potential consequences of the anti-vaxxer philosophy seems to suggest a kind of, “soft eugenics,” I’ll call it – the idea that it would be better for your child to die than to be disabled (and I acknowledge that I’m verging on the hysterical with that statement).  It’s worth noting, moreover, that if all of us got on the anti-vaxxer boat, we’d be knee-deep in polio and mumps and diphtheria in no time, and as we buried our children, or slid them into iron lungs, everyone would be asking themselves how we ever allowed ourselves to be so willfully ignorant.

I’m aware that I am particularly sensitive on this subject because, as the parent of a child with autism, I have spent a good amount of time wondering what caused my daughter to be different.  Was it something I did while I was pregnant with her? Was it the fact that she may have suffered from undiagnosed IUGR and was (marginally) premature and low birth weight? Was it a matter of simple genetics? I’d like an answer to this question, and even though it won’t change the diagnosis or make her life any easier, still, I’d like an answer.  It would be so nice to have an explanation, to have a tangible, concrete cause – like, say, a vaccine – because it would give me someone to blame (besides myself, that is).  See, when your child is anything less than 100% normal and healthy and perfect, you want some answers.  So, I’d love it if we could prove that there was a link between vaccinations and autism, because guess what? Then we could stop children from having autism.  

Except that there is no link.  And you can decide not to vaccinate your kid, and damn the consequences (to your kid, and to everyone else), and maybe your child won’t be autistic.  Or maybe he will.  Or maybe she’ll get cancer, or maybe he’ll be dyslexic.  Or maybe—probably—she’ll be just fine.  But here’s the thing:  We don’t get to choose what our children are going to be like.  We don’t get to decide if they’re going to be good at sports or musically gifted or pretty or funny or smart.  We can strive for an optimally healthy pregnancy and the best pediatric care available, but sometimes—and I know this shocks our can-do, no-problem-too-big American attitude—sometimes, kids aren’t normal, healthy and perfect, whether you vaccinate them or not.  I would love to have had a say in whether or not my daughter was going to be autistic, but I didn’t get one, and if I had one thing to say to the anti-vaxxers (aside from, you’re wrong), it would be, if you can’t tolerate a child who is less than 100% normal, healthy, and perfect, you probably shouldn’t have one.  

Do I wish that my daughter was free of the challenges that her autism imposes, that she had the same opportunities as her sisters? Of course.  Would I wish the difficulties she faces upon anyone? Never.  But any parent who willingly adheres to an absurdly indefensible proposition (and all that goes with it) in the desperate hope that he can protect his child from autism communicates with absolute clarity precisely how much he values any life that is less than 100% normal, healthy and perfect.  And that’s a real tragedy.




Swimsuit Models and the Zombie Apocalypse

March 1, 2015

It’s been a long winter.  We’ve been hit with record cold and snow, and I think I speak for many when I say that those of us on the East Coast are pretty tired of school closings, Thinsulate gloves, and short, gray days that end at 4:30 p.m.  How lucky, then, that just as those of us who live in areas that have been blanketed by snow for the last six weeks are ready to stick our hands in a snow-blower set on “high,” the Girls of Winter have arrived.

I’m talking about the one-two punch of the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and the Victoria’s Secret Bathing Suit Extravaganza Television Special.  There’s nothing like these two heaping spoonfuls of well-oiled boobs and butts set against a tropical backdrop of palm fronds and white sand beaches to take your mind off the fact that we will be wearing snowboots and heavy wool sweaters for the rest of our lives, and that the temperature is never going to rise above the freezing mark, ever.  Yes, just when you thought you might have to throw yourself in front of a snow plow, or plunge headfirst into a bucket of ice melt, the SI Swimsuit Edition and the VS Bikini Fashion show are here to drive away your dead-of-the-winter blues.  So, if you’re someone who likes looking at impossibly beautiful women (barely) wearing exceptionally tiny bikinis whilst frolicking in the aquamarine surf, this is good news indeed.  If you’re someone who’s kind of tired of the ceaseless objectification of women, however, not so much.

The SI swimsuit was the brainchild of some (male) editor at the magazine who, over fifty years ago, had a eureka moment when realized, simultaneously, that (1) nothing interesting happens in sports between the Super Bowl and the opening day of MLB baseball (because no one watches NBA basketball or NHL hockey – not anyone I would invite to my house for dinner, anyway) and (2) by the end of January, most Americans are so thoroughly sick and tired of winter that they will eat up anything that provides them some escape from the relentless dreariness of North America in winter.

So this genius – I think his name was Andre Laguerre—said to himself, “how about if we take photos of gorgeous women in bathing suits lounging around in places like Bali or the Caribbean or Mexico?”  Thus, a great idea was born, and every year since, we’ve been treated to an annual parade of beauties sporting the latest in swimwear and showing off their flawless figures.

Not to be outdone, Victoria’s Secret, that bastion of push-up bras and barely-there panties, the same retail genius that first gave us the television lingerie runway show in which supermodels wearing precipitously high heels and very little else (aside from angel wings – and someone is going to have to explain to me, using small words that my tiny female brain can comprehend, the connection between haloed celestial beings and thongs), decided to go high-octane.  This year, VS gave us a late Christmas present in the form of a glossy hour of television featuring supermodels in tropical locales sporting tiny triangles of lycra that barely cover the naughty bits network television isn’t allowed to show.

As between the two, SI is a little racier and has been known to show a nipple or from time to time (I’m thinking of the Cheryl Tiegs fishnet bathing suit that caused such a stir back in the seventies), but VS is perhaps a little sexier, what with the models rolling around in the sand and engaging in the kind of conversation that does little to intimidate the men to whom these sorts of productions are targeted.  But as tired as I, too, am of winter, as much as I, too, am in need of some sunshine and mindless distraction, I feel compelled to say, as I gaze at the lovely Hannah Davis (who, from what I can tell, apparently had to pee just as they were taking this year’s cover photo – why else would she be pulling down her bikini bottoms?), Really? Still? In 2015, we continue to do this?

I’ve been aware of the extent to which woman are objectified by our society since my first year at Mount Holyoke College.  It had not occurred to me prior to that time to question whether what I saw on the pages of fashion magazines or on television was normal or healthy, nor had I ever thought to ask who got to decide what constituted “beauty” or to get angry when the answer turned out to be, in most cases, men. But then I spent four years marinating in feminism and having my eyes opened to the rampant misogyny all around me, and by the time I graduated, I was pretty pissed.

But then I went to law school, and didn’t have time to be pissed anymore, and as I got older and had less time to ponder such questions, I stopped asking them and accepted that we’re all slaves to such societal pressures.

Then I had three daughters, and I got pissed all over again.  It started with Britney Spears in the late 90’s, bumping and grinding her barely legal body into the life of my three young daughters despite my best efforts to shield them from what I considered the antithesis of the kind of women I hoped to raise.  It didn’t end with Britney, and I’ve been fighting what feels like an uphill battle ever since.  Britney’s been replaced by plenty of other scantily clad, gyrating young women, and the fashion industry has continued to push frighteningly thin models upon us while Revlon and Cover Girl show us flawlessly complected beauties and L’Oreal depicts glossy, unfrizzy, even-toned tresses.

I’m somewhat reluctant to tackle this topic because it’s such well-traveled territory that I wonder if there are any points left to be made, and I guess that’s a good thing.  I’d argue, however, that if showing the top half of your vagina on the cover of a sports magazine is deemed an acceptable way to “market” bathing suits, not much has changed.  I mean, when you’re supposedly “modeling” something, isn’t the focus supposed to be the actual item of clothing, and not the orifice it was designed to cover?

It’s no secret that our culture perpetuates ridiculously unattainable standards for “feminine beauty” and that there are about 23 women in the entire country who come even sort of close to conforming to those standards, and then, only after hair, make-up, wardrobe stylist, and Photoshop have worked their collective magic.

We should know by now that none of us measure up to the absurd (not to mention narrow) ideals of perfection we see in magazines and on billboards, on television and red carpets.  Pick the most beautiful woman you can imagine, be she supermodel, actress, or reality television star, and I can probably hunt up, in under half an hour, some picture on the internet showing her without her make-up and in sweats, looking decidedly normal.  Give me an hour, and I can probably find one with pimples or cellulite.  Bottom line? Even the most perfect women aren’t so perfect.

And we all know that, or at least we should, and so one would hope (at least I do) that we, as a nation, would stop pretending that what the media portrays as the ideal of female physical perfection is realistic, or even desirable, so that we could focus on more important things, such as, how does one get a job as a koala wrangler, or, why all the sudden interest in zombies?  But here we are, almost thirty years since I graduated from college, and we’re still being sold the same bill of goods—that is, that unless you’re 5’10”, 115 pounds (more or less), with long, flowing locks, a lovely face, and a flat stomach, you’re pretty much a troll who might as well just put on a burka and accept your lot in life, which is to be unlovely and, therefore, unloved.

I want to be clear that I think these women are beautiful – my god, they’re gorgeous.  Would I like to look like Kate Upton, what, with my 4.0 GPA cup size? Of course I would.  I don’t begrudge these women their beauty.  And, to be perfectly clear, I have no problem with the naked female body (or the naked male body, for that matter).  As well, I have no issue with taking pride in one’s appearance or wanting to look one’s best—male or female.  I own more than a few lipsticks and eyeshadows, I like wearing heels, and I regularly pay a significant amount of cash to hide my gray roots.

But there is no denying that how we present ourselves is in large part guided by what society tells us is attractive, and that the reason most of us take pains to look our best is because of the extent to which we are evaluated solely based upon our appearance.  Thus, it becomes necessary to either accept this fact and do the best we can with what we have in the name of moving successfully through our professional and personal lives, or to take a militant stance by eschewing all the trappings of what magazine editors and the Fashion Police tell us is acceptable, consequences be damned.  Who even knows what we would wear, or how we would style our hair, or whether we would shave our armpits or pluck our eyebrows, if not for fashion magazines and cosmetic companies?  If there ever really was a zombie apocalypse (which, I understand, generally results in poor hygiene, a lack of beauty products and electricity, and the more pressing concern of not being fed on by the undead), I guess we’d have to throw aside all those notions about Botox and bikini waxing.  We’d probably be less attracted to Pilates abs and more intrigued by biceps toned in more honest pursuits – that is, wielding machetes and kicking zombie ass.

It’s sort of sad that it would have to come to that for us to rid ourselves of these deeply-entrenched notions of what is and is not beautiful.  I’m encouraged that, unlike in the 1980’s, when I was having my eyes opened at college, we’ve expanded our ideas about beauty to include women of color and, in some cases, women who weigh more than 120 pounds.  I guess it’s progress that “plus size” is no longer quite the fashion death sentence it once was, though many of the models who identify as such don’t look much different (to me, anyway) than most of the women I see in the course of a normal day.  I suppose I should take comfort when Huff Po features yet another article revealing how extensively Photoshop is used to create images that bear little relation to reality, and how about Keira Knightly, my personal hero, who recently agreed to pose topless only on the condition that her modest breasts not be enhanced, as they were in a poster for an upcoming movie.

So, yes, there’s room for a modicum of optimism that men and women in America may be less inclined to blindly accept whatever vision of female perfection the media tells us we ought to aspire to.  It troubles me, however, that SI and VS think that we, as a society, are so stupid (justifiably so, it turns out) that we are all willing to pretend that the Swimsuit Edition and VS television special are actually about swimwear fashion, when we all know perfectly well that both should come with a container of lotion and a box of tissues, because the people at whom they are targeted don’t wear (or buy) bikinis and wouldn’t even notice if every model in every edition was wearing the same swimsuit, year after year after year.  They’d never figure it out.

SI and VS will continue to foist these lean, long-limbed beauties on us for years to come, because sex sells.  For my part, I’ve tried to raise daughters who care more about their character than their appearance, and I’m hopeful that they will pass the same message along to their children—male or female.  I suppose I should be heartened that my oldest daughter was a bad-ass hockey player at college, that my middle daughter can control an 800-pound horse at a full gallop, and that my wee youngest is working on her black-belt in karate.  While I have to admit that I think my girls are just as beautiful as those SI and VS models, I’m more proud of the fact that in a zombie apocalypse, they, and women like them, would probably be running the show, that’s probably more important than looking good in a bikini.

I’m hopeful that in thirty years’ time, we’ll be laughing at the SI swimsuit edition and the VS bathing suit fashion show the same way we now chuckle over Barbie and those home ec books from the ‘50s where women are admonished to greet their husbands at the door with a martini and slippers, hot meal waiting on the table and children fresh-scrubbed and docile, but I doubt it.  I have a feeling that as long as there are men who like to look at scantily clad women, we’ll be treated to the SI S

Enough About Prom

September 15, 2014

Several weeks ago, I was poised to rant about what I believe to be a disproportionate emphasis currently placed upon the ritual known in the United States as Prom. I got distracted, for two very good reasons, which I’ll explain later, but after catching a few minutes of Katie Couric’s talk show this afternoon, my ire was re-ignited. Here we go:

Let’s talk about Prom—what it should be, what it shouldn’t be. Prom SHOULD be a nice opportunity to celebrate with one’s classmates the end of the academic year and, for seniors, the end of their high school career. The dress code is traditionally formal, as befitting such an occasion. It’s a chance to share memories as well as plans for the future, and it’s a time to begin the process of saying goodbye. Prom is a lovely custom, a charming ritual, a time-honored rite of passage.

That’s what Prom SHOULD be. Here’s what it SHOULDN’T:

It shouldn’t be about spending upwards of $1,000 (dress, tux, flowers, limo, tickets) – the average amount estimated by the “Seventeen” magazine editor guesting on Katie’s show today. A lot of families don’t have that kind of money, and being able to share a special moment with your friends shouldn’t be contingent upon your economic status.

It SHOULDN’T be the high-school equivalent of a wedding. I’m thinking specifically about the disturbing “prom-posal” trend in which teens spend an inordinate amount of time and money trying to one-up each other when they should be studying for algebra, attending soccer practice, or performing in the spring musical. It’s Prom, not marriage, and an invitation to attend a dance—even one where girls wear long dresses and boys wear ill-fitting tuxes—should be a fairly straightforward affair. There’s plenty of time later for grand romantic gestures, and such gestures should be reserved for a sufficiently significant event—like, say, asking another person to spend the next fifty years of their life with you.

And it REALLY SHOULDN’T be, as Katie’s “Seventeen” magazine editor suggested, “the teenage girl’s red-carpet moment.”

You might say that, at the ripe old age of fifty, I’m getting old and crotchety, that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be young, and maybe that’s true. But I guess I just don’t think that teenagers (or their families) should be pressured to spend an excessive amount of money on one night. I think a teenager (or the family of a teenager) who has $1,000 to spend on Prom would be far better served using that money to pay next semester’s tuition. I don’t think that teenagers should be encouraged to play at getting engaged when most of them can’t be counted on to reliably take out the trash or empty the dishwasher without being nagged almost to death. And I REALLY don’t think that teenage girls should be urged to spend more than about two hours fixating on the perfect prom dress when they should be focused upon getting an education, setting goals for their future, and beginning to think about how they’re going to change the world.

There’s a lot of money to be made on Prom – the magazine editors, the fashion industry, the limo companies, and the florists, figured that out a while back, just as they figured out how to market the idea of the “fairy tale wedding” to such an extent that today’s nuptials are likely to be bloated, overpriced affairs that sorely tax the finances of the couple or their parents in pursuit of that “one perfect day.” The massive impact of shows like “Say Yes to the Dress” and “Platinum Weddings” have paved the way and trickled down to high school, and just as there are now magazines devoted to Prom, I doubt it will be long before TLC premieres “Promzillas.” It’s a trend that perpetuates the notion that all a woman should want is to wear a pretty dress and be the princess at a party where the only thing she has to do is look good, and the only thing her date has to do is show up.

As I said earlier, my rant on the current state of Prom in the United States was interrupted, for two reasons: First, my daughter, Allison (who is autistic, and who has worked harder than any student I know to earn her high school diploma, at the age of twenty, thanks to the tremendous help and support of our school district’s special education services) was accepted into a very competitive, highly-regarded job skills program for next year. The application process was very challenging for Allison, and it took a lot of courage for her to take what was, for her, the huge risk of striving towards a goal, with the very real possibility that she might fail.

And then my husband and I went on a second honeymoon to celebrate 25 years of marriage, which, teenagers, is no small feat, even when you’re married to a smart, funny, hard-working guy who’s a great dad and who can really rock a pair of Levi’s.

So, my Prom Rant had to wait while our family celebrated (1) the achievement of a brave young woman who’s had to work harder than most to achieve a fraction of what her peers assume as a given; and (2) two people managing to stay together while negotiating mortgages, diapers, orthodontia, and flatulent canines. Those are things worth making a fuss over…and so is Prom, sort of. It’s just not worth going bankrupt, forcing teens to simulate something they aren’t (and shouldn’t be) ready for, or perpetuating the notion that the most a woman can or should aspire to is having a boy ask her to go to a dance or looking pretty.

My daughter, Allison, will attend her Prom this Friday, with a group of five friends, and yes, she’ll have an updo and will be wearing a pair of fabulous shoes. Her older sister is taking her for a mani/pedi later this week, and a dear friend will be hosting a pre-Prom photo session at her home. It’s a big deal for Allison, and for our family, but it’s not the only thing, or the most important thing, or the moment that will define her for the rest of her life. It’s a time to look back on what she’s accomplished, and to dream about what lies ahead, and, yeah, to wear a pretty dress. But that’s it.

Looking My Age

April 19, 2015

Last Friday night, the hubby and I attended a black tie event; in honor of the occasion, I got my hair done and put on a fancy dress.  Since we were looking awfully posh, I asked my daughter to take a picture; later, Michael snapped a selfie as we entered the ball and posted it on Facebook.  While I have to say that we clean up pretty good, when I looked at that photo, I had to admit something to myself:  I look OLD.

My whole life, I’ve been told how young I look.  This meant that well into my mid-thirties, I was routinely carded whenever I went into a liquor store or ordered a drink.  I was 25 when I got married, and guests attending another event at the venue where our reception was held surreptitiously asked my sister if I had graduated from high school – apparently, they assumed it was a shotgun wedding.  Up until a few years ago, I could reliably count on credible gasps when I (accurately) revealed my age.  I really, really liked that.

But when I look at that photo, there’s no denying it:  I look OLD.  The crow’s feet and bags under my eyes, the beginnings of jowls, the neck that’s starting to look a little crepe – y.  What’s happened to my body isn’t pretty, either – after years of managing to keep my stomach relatively flat with almost no effort, I’ve got a legitimate potbelly, and don’t get me started on the cellulite, spider veins and (my personal favorite), my bingo wings (the flab that hangs off the upper arm, that is).

My body is failing me from a functional standpoint as well – I recently nursed an injured shoulder for a week after doing nothing more strenuous than sleeping on it wrong, and the right knee gets pretty cranky after a three-mile walk.  Although I’m actually about the same weight as I was ten years ago, things aren’t exactly in the same place – just ask my jeans.

I have to cop to feeling not so great about the realization that these days, I look my age, and it bothers me that it bothers me.  After all, I’m a Paragon of Feminist Outrage when it comes to photo-shopped swimsuit models and the Fashion/Cosmetic Industrial Complex that since the beginning of time has brainwashed all of us into believing that no woman, no matter how thin or beautiful, has ever looked good enough.  I’m the mom who wouldn’t let my pre-teen daughters go to birthday parties at Sweet and Sassy where the main activity was transforming eight-year-olds into pint-sized Vegas Hookers by teasing their hair and slathering their faces with make-up.

I’m also the mom who counts among her proudest moments the fact that on the day of my oldest daughter’s senior prom, she spent the afternoon learning how to roll her kayak and threw on her dress, wet hair pulled into a neat bun, fifteen minutes before her date arrived.  I’m a woman who’s happiest in cargo shorts and flip flips, hair pulled back, no make-up.  If I find myself with the time to engage in some form of self-improvement, it’s far more likely to be of the internal kind, and although I adore my stylist, it’s a bit of a tragedy to me how much time I waste at the hair salon coloring my grays, so much so that I have decided that on the day I retire, I am going to shave my head and let my white hair grow in.  Neither my beloved stylist nor my husband are on board, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Because I’m that kind of woman.

But apparently, I am also the kind of woman who, unexpectedly, doesn’t like the fact that she looks her age.  I don’t mind getting older, or even being older, I just don’t like looking older.  Perhaps it’s because as the baby of the family, I’ve always believed I would be forever young, so the evidence to the contrary is a little unsettling.  Additionally, I didn’t actually think I looked all that great until I hit 40, and I was still getting used to feeling sort of attractive—that is, until Michael’s selfie of us at the gala snapped me out of it.  And now it’s all downhill.

I guess I should take comfort in the fact that the only person besides me whose opinion on my appearance matters—my husband, that is—claims with a straight face and uncrossed fingers that I am “smoking hot.”  He told me this last Friday, at the gala, but he’s a generous man, and he’d had several glasses of wine, so I can’t exactly consider him an unbiased, objective critic.  It’s not that I need members of the opposite sex to fall over themselves in the wake of my surpassing beauty, but nowadays, if a man other than my husband gives me a second glance, it’s probably because I’ve got lettuce in my teeth or I’ve spilled something on myself.  Glamourous, I’m not.

So I guess I’m going to have to get used to people being able to figure out without me telling them that I’m over fifty, and I’m going to have to be okay with people not being shocked when I mention that my oldest is in graduate school.  In the not-too-distant future, I’ll be sharing pictures of my grandchildren, and I doubt anyone’s going to mean it when they say, “but you’re too YOUNG to be a grandmother!”

I’m mostly okay with the whole aging thing.  I’ve never been happier or more at peace in my life, and since I’m a pretty healthy girl, I’m hoping I’ve still got a lot of good years ahead of me.  I wouldn’t switch places with my twenty-two-year-old self for any amount of money, and I’m not ruling out the possibility that someday I’ll have enough time to get my body into the kind of shape that would justify my husband’s sweetly inflated assessment of me.  And, too, I remind myself to be happy with how I look right now, because it’s only going to get worse.

There are worse things than looking your age, or feeling creaky, or knowing that your best days, looks-wise, are behind you.  Perhaps one of the unexpected blessings of believing yourself to be a troll for as long as I did is that it never occurred to me to rely on my looks to get me anywhere in life.  Thus, it shouldn’t be too much of an adjustment for me to go from “smoking hot” back to troll, and women like Meryl Streep and Judi Dench give me hope that I might be able to eke out a few more years of not-too-shabby.

All my life, if you asked me what I’d change about myself, it’s never been to be better looking, even in my teens, the time of my life that (not) being pretty mattered most.  No, I would have chosen to be braver, or stronger, or to have a really great singing voice.  When I die, I don’t want to be remembered for always looking great (and, let’s face it, there’s no real danger of that ever happening); no, I’d like people to say, “you know, even though she looked her age, she was an interesting woman, and she hardly ever had toothpaste in her hair.”

So here I am at almost 51 and looking every minute of it and you know, I think I’m going to be okay with it.  But you can still tell me I don’t look a day over 35, because you should always be kind to the elderly.

Keeping Up with de Tocqueville

January 28, 2015

Kim Kardashian drives me crazy.  Actually, all of the Kardashians drive me crazy.  And the reasons why they drive me crazy are precisely the reasons why I shouldn’t be writing this blog in the first place, because writing about the Kardashians (1) presumes that they are worth writing about in the first place; (2) requires me to spend time thinking about people who drive me crazy; and (3) contributes to their on-going notoriety, which will in turn result in my continuing to be driven crazy.  I guess my outrage (although that’s probably too strong a word) is sufficient that I’m willing to spend a few minutes focused upon this ridiculous family instead of volunteering at a homeless shelter or lobbying congress for more spending on autism research, but since I probably wouldn’t be doing those things anyway, I’m going to give in to my baser instincts and waste some time talking about a family that sort of single-handedly represents everything that’s wrong with America.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, and because I try to make sure I don’t go running off my mouth about things I don’t know about (hence the reason I’ve declined to weigh in on “Fifty Shades of Grey” and how millions of otherwise intelligent women have allowed themselves to be fooled into thinking that having the shit kicked out of you by a misogynistic psychopath is romantic and an example of love worth celebrating), I should say right off the bat that I have never watched any of the various television shows featuring Kris, Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, Kylie, Kelvin, Kepler, or Kandinsky (those last three are made-up Kardashians)(at least I think they are).  I turn the channel when a Kardashian comes on, I skip the Kardashian stories when I’m browsing People or Us, and the only time I’ve ever heard Kim or her sisters say anything was while flipping through the radio dial while driving in the car in which Kim insisted that “we work really, really hard.”

And maybe she does.

But although I go out of my way to avoid all KRP (Kardashian Related Product)(and I really do), it’s almost impossible to escape being buffeted on a fairly regular basis with news of all things Kardashian.  I guess it all started when dad Robert signed on to be part of O.J. Simpson’s legal team, and that’s probably as good an explanation as any as to the rest of the family, which later grew to include Bruce Jenner and the kids he had with Kris.  Now there are, like, 900 Kardashians, all of them with their own clothing line, perfume, and bottled water, and they’re a pretty insistent lot.  Here’s what I have sort of been forced to know about the various Kardashian Family:

Kim:   Most famous for (1) her enormous butt; (2) her million dollar wedding (paid for by other people) to that NBA player to whom she stayed married for about 15 minutes; (3) her nude Champagne photo that, sadly, did not succeed in “breaking the internet” but which allowed all who were so inclined to view some oiled-up full frontal; (4) saddling her child with the world’ stupidest name; and (5) being married to an arrogant, obnoxious jerk.

Kourtney:      Most famous for (1) being Kim’s sister; and (at least for now) (2) being married to an arrogant obnoxious jerk.

Khloe:            Most famous for (1) also being Kim’s sister; (2) also once being married to an NBA player; (3) sometimes (unfairly and unkindly) referred to as “the fat one;” and (4) possibly not actually being the biological child of Robert (but we’ll never know for sure).

Kris:   I can’t even talk about Kris, except to say that she will not likely be saddled with accusations that she has accepted the natural aging process gracefully.

Kylie and the Other One Whose Name Starts with “K”:           Two underage (or barely legal), leggy young things who have been pimped out by Kris from a fairly young age to attend functions in nightclubs wearing couture that leaves little to the imagination.  Because that worked out so well for Lindsay Lohan.

There are some assorted others, although I think they may be Bruce’s (Belinda’s?) children from a prior marriage, one of whom may or may not have dated someone who was on “The Hills” (a show I never watched and to this day am not sure whether it was scripted or reality television, except I think one of its “stars” has a line of clothing at Kohl’s and another has spent the equivalent of the GNP of The Gambia on plastic surgery and, like Kim and Kourtney, is married to an obnoxious jerk).

So there you have it.

Now, I’ve just spent a good 45 minutes thinking and writing about the Kardashians, when I could have been reading “Democracy in America,” which is something I’d really like to do before I die.  I could have been raising awareness about illiteracy – hell, I could have been scrubbing my baseboards, but you get my point:  I’ve allowed myself to get sucked into the Kardashian Vortex, and I don’t think I can fairly argue that it was exclusively in the name of a good blog.  So, that’s on me, and I’m going to have feel embarrassed about the extent to which I ruminate about these mindless idiots, who, on second thought, must have at least a few communal brain cells, seeing as how they have built an entire dynasty based upon nothing more than large butts and a lot of hair.

I have to acknowledge that there may be some amount of jealously going on, as in, I’d love to make millions just for having a big butt, since I happen to have one just lying around on the back of me, and it hasn’t made me one penny in fifty years.  It would be nice to find a way to cash in on that and, as well, I also have a lot of hair.  And while I certainly wouldn’t want to see myself on every tabloid cover and would never voluntarily relinquish any notion of privacy, as the Kardashians have, there’s no question that one silly little reality show has opened a lot of doors for a group of people with no apparent talent or intelligence and has presented them with opportunities that, pursued thoughtfully, might have added something of real value to this world.

It’s my understanding that, aside from the television shows, the various Kardashians have business interests in a clothing boutique, a shoe line, and other various fashion products to which they have leant their name.  I should note, by the way, that it took a little Internet sleuthing to figure that out, because for all Kim protests about how hard she works, most of the actual “work” seems to involve being followed around by someone with a video camera or posing for photos in which most of her is uncovered.  For all of the supposed legitimate businesses helmed by the various Kardashians,

I’ve yet to read an article in Fortune magazine or the Wall Street Journal touting their amazing business acumen (maybe because I don’t read Fortune magazine or the Wall Street Journal, but still).  Maybe I’m shopping at the wrong stores, but I’ve not once seen an actual product designed, produced, processed, marketed, promoted, or sold by KK, with the exception of KK herself.  Maybe they exist.  I’ve never seen them.  But then, I’ve never seen a narwhal (in person, anyway), and I’m pretty sure they exist.

Maybe there are actual enterprises which Kim (or her mom, or her sisters) oversees and directs.  Except I’m pretty sure it’s a case of her lending her name to some generic schlock merchandiser that slaps her name on crap (manufactured, no doubt, in Azerbaijan by underage workers in sweatshops who earn 85 cents a day) and then sells it at K-Mart.  These days, it seems that’s about all it takes to call yourself a “designer,” and while we’re on the topic, note to brands like Wal-Mart, Target, Macy’s, and every other chain retailer who thinks that just because something was “designed” by a celebrity, I’ll buy it:  Never in my life have I ever said to myself, “I want to smell like Britney Spears.”

So, my consternation is mostly over how a bunch of mindless numbskulls have made a small fortune and have somehow continued to keep this country enraptured with their idiotic lives without having contributed (either individually or collectively) anything…anything…to the world except more of the reality-show hijinx (table flipping in fancy restaurants, wine-soaked cat fights at luxury resort destinations, quickie weddings doomed to fail, etc.) that, when consumed on a regular basis, slowly invade our psyches and kill our souls to the point that we become the human equivalent of nacho cheese Doritos.  Somehow, they have managed to remain in the spotlight far longer than their predecessors (whatever happened to Paris Hilton?), and the public (including me, I guess) has yet to lose its fascination with all things Kardashian.  And we wonder why we can’t find a way to solve those pesky social issues like income inequality, homelessness, or the Westboro Baptist Church.

But that’s America, I guess, where there’s no law against being a shameless self-promoter (in fact, if you’re good enough at it, you get your own television show where you get paid a lot of money to do nothing more than say, “You’re Fired!”)  What troubles me (aside from my concerns about just how messed up Kylie and The Other One will surely be once Kris has wrung every ounce of income potential out of them) is that there are people in this country who watch the programs, read the magazine articles, buy the products, and are responsible for supporting and perpetuating the notion that if you’re relatively attractive and have some pretension of a lifestyle that seems glamorous (even if it’s being paid for by someone else), there’s a lot of money to be made simply by being willing to fight with your family on television and show the world your massive, enormous, Montana-sized butt.

I find that very, very depressing.

So, in the interest of attempting to counteract the collective Dorito-ization of America, I promise here and now that I am never, never, NEVER again going to make reference to anything Kardashian.  Whenever I feel the impulse to comment upon what this band of ridiculous nincompoops are up to, I’m going to pull out my copy of de Tocqueville (I do actually have one; it’s served me well as both a coaster and a door stop) and attempt to get through a page or two before succumbing to the urge to look at koala videos.  As well, if I feel the need to gaze upon a very large posterior, I’ll turn around in front of a mirror.  I think I can do it.  And de Tocqueville gives me hope:  He said, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”  Let’s hope he was right.

Feeling (Not Too) Sorry for Jennifer Aniston

February 16, 2015

I feel badly for Jennifer Aniston.  Not because her husband left her for Angelina Jolie, and not because nothing she has done career-wise in the ten years since “Friends” went off the air has come close to that level of success or critical recognition.  Before you tell me not to waste a lot of time feeling badly for someone who is stunningly beautiful and fabulously wealthy and who seems to have found true love with the guy whose name no one (translation: me) can either remember or pronounce, don’t you worry:  I’m going to feel badly for Jennifer Aniston for only as long as it takes to write this blog, and then I’m going to make a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough and eat all of it while I watch “Downton Abbey.”

But for now, I feel badly for Jennifer Aniston, because no matter how lovely she is, no matter that she’s shown some considerable acting chops in a few small-budget films and has garnered a few nominations this awards season, no matter that she’s managed to endure with grace and good humor being a fixture in the tabloids despite the fact that she’s not prone to the sort of behavior that usually earns one that sort of exposure, no matter how many things she can list in her positives column, it always comes down to this:  Why doesn’t she have a kid?

To the extent that it is anyone’s business (and we’ll talk about that later), the answer seems pretty obvious to me:  About the time she was thinking of starting a family, her husband decided he didn’t want to be married (to her, anyway), and he left her.  As anyone who has ever been the recipient of that sort of news can probably tell you, sometimes it takes a little while to get over it, especially if you never saw it coming, and even more especially when it becomes a subject of such public examination and discourse that some enterprising apparel manufacturer successfully markets “Team Anniston” and “Team Jolie” t-shirts.  (Note to the people who actually bought those t-shirts:  If you have enough money to piss away on that sort of crap, you have enough money to make a donation to feed hungry kids or prevent animal cruelty).

So, maybe it took Jennifer a little while to process the end of her marriage, and maybe she wanted to wait until she felt she was in a good place emotionally before she thought about having kids, or maybe she wanted to be in a relationship before she became a mother, or maybe she’s been trying this whole time to get pregnant with what’s-his-name and it hasn’t worked, or maybe, maybe, (wait for it)…MAYBE SHE JUST DOESN’T WANT TO HAVE KIDS.

And this is why I feel badly for Jennifer Aniston:  Because regardless of the reason, there are people out there who think that they (1) have a right to ask her that question; and (2) are entitled to comment upon the answer.

Let’s talk about the first point—that is, whether or not it’s anyone’s business other than Jennifer’s why she’s childless (or child-free, depending upon your perspective).  It’s an age-old issue, namely, to what extent do those in the public eye have a right to complain about the media attention that in some respects feeds their career and fuels the fan interest that makes such a person more marketable?  I’m not really interested in dissecting the opposing viewpoints of that debate, except to say that when your husband takes you to the Caribbean for what you thought was going to be a baby-making vacation, only to have him tell you he’s ending your marriage, I think it would be nice not to have to worry that some paparazzi is going to sell a photo of you clutching a tissue as your heart breaks, while the same husband who no longer wants you wraps his arm around you and pretends he’s not counting the minutes until he can be with Angelina.  Suffice it to say that in our society, whether or not it’s right or okay, if you happen to have the incredible good fortune of starring in an unprecedentedly successful sitcom for 10 years, you’re probably going to have to give up any expectation of privacy.  Forever.

So, I’m not going to rail against People magazine or analogs thereof, because that would be sort of hypocritical of me, given that I’ve been known to peruse that particular periodical from time to time whilst having my hair done or waiting on line at the grocery store.  As well, I believe that those who grace the pages of such publications benefit at least to some extent as a result and, by and large have signed on (or, at the very least, are on notice of the potential) for that sort of exposure.  Let’s not forget, moreover, that there are plenty of celebrities who manage to stay out of Us and Star and In Touch magazine; I’ve never seen the headline “Meryl Streep’s $40 million Divorce!” or “Daniel Day Lewis DUI Disaster!”

So, no hating on People for me.  But what about those people who think they have a right to comment about the choice Jennifer Aniston (or anyone else, for that matter) has either made or had thrust upon her vis a vis parenthood?  I have to admit, I find such an attitude more perplexing than infuriating, because for the life of me, I cannot fathom why any gives a fuck in the first place.  I mean, who cares whether or not Jennifer Aniston has a kid or not? The only thing I think I care less about is Kim Kardashian, or perhaps her equally idiotic spouse.

Sure, I could get uppity:  I could point out the audacity of presuming to inquire about or comment upon such a private, sensitive topic.  I could get strident and draw the (hard to miss) parallel between such scrutiny and the apparent belief of some in this country that a woman’s family planning decisions should be subject to society’s imprimatur.  And yes, I could go all (proudly) feminist on you and ask why, in the United States of America in 2015 do some continue to embrace the notion that a woman isn’t really a woman, and will never be fulfilled, until she reproduces? Because I know a lot of women who don’t have kids who have somehow managed not to throw themselves under a train and, against all odds, have derived meaning and satisfaction from life despite never having a child.

But I’ll stick to the immediate topic, which is that I feel badly for Jennifer Aniston, who recently said in an interview that she is frequently chastised for being “too selfish” to have children.  That just about blew my mind, because implicit in that statement is the notion that it’s inherently wrong not to want to have kids and that whether you want them or not, whether you are equipped to care for them or not, you should just go ahead and have them anyway.  You know, to not be selfish.

Really? Are you kidding me? I have three kids, and I love them dearly, but deciding to become a parent pretty much means setting aside everything you ever wanted to do, have, or achieve (to a large extent, anyway) for the better part of two decades, and by the time you’re done, you’re really, really tired.  Few people appreciate that fact when they’re painting the nursery or ordering a crib mattress, and indeed, it’s difficult to have any real sense of what being a parent is really like until it happens to you.

But having kids is hard.  It is bone-wearyingly, mind-fryingly hard, and few things one can do in life invokes the level of responsibility and constancy that should be part and parcel with bringing a life into this world.  So, at the least—at the very least, for Pete’s sake—don’t you think the decision as to whether or not to undertake that level of commitment should be made exclusively by the person whose going to be charged with the responsibility attendant thereto, the person who, presumably, is probably better qualified than you or I to know whether or not they are up to the task?

Maybe not having kids is selfish (although I don’t agree that it is), but if it is, then isn’t that all the more reason why a person who doesn’t want kids shouldn’t have them? If someone is truly selfish, then maybe they’re not the kind of person you want raising a child in the first place.  Kids cost money, they need a lot of time and attention, they can be really annoying, and they tend to mess shit up.  So, if you like buying (and having) nice things, if you like being able to do stuff for more than four minutes at a time, if you’re not the most patient person in the world, then maybe having kids isn’t for you.  And that’s okay.  There are a lot of people who maybe should have thought about all that before they had kids, but few people ever do, and as a result, there are a lot of crappy parents out there.

I don’t know why Jennifer Aniston doesn’t have a kid, and frankly, I don’t care, nor should anyone else aside from her and the guy whose name I can’t remember or pronounce.  I sorely wish people would stop asking her about it, just as I wish that the tabloid press (which apparently consists entirely of men, and women with rock-hard abs) understood that what they’re calling a “baby bump” may actually be nothing more than too much lasagna.

But for what it’s worth, here’s my suggestion, tabloid media:  Let’s lay off Jen.  I know, I know, it will leave you at a loss as to how to fill those column inches, but most of us will be more than okay with an extra dose of Bradley Cooper or photos of Prince George, both of whom are absolutely adorable.  If Jennifer wants to have a kid, she will, and then you can report on that, but if she doesn’t, maybe you can figure out something else to write about.  I mean, there’s always Kim Kardashian.



In Defense of Accountability: Taming the Angry Beast

December 14, 2014

I haven’t read the grand jury transcripts.  I haven’t followed the news coverage.  What I know about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, I’ve learned from reading what others have posted on Facebook.  Which is why I haven’t said anything about it—because I know that I don’t know.  I know that, before I’m qualified to issue an opinion as to whether Michael Brown’s death was the result of institutional racism versus the result of a police officer exercising his honest best judgment based upon his training and experience, I should educate myself thoroughly as to what actually happened.

Since I haven’t had the time to do that, I don’t think I have anything even remotely intelligent to say about this issue, because anything I could say would be based on nothing more than sheer speculation.  As a litigator, it’s a fundamental tenet of my work that “evidence” based upon speculation should never be considered by a jury because its probative value is so vastly outweighed by its potential for confusion and mistake.  I think this is a pretty good rule outside of the courtroom as well, so I try not to expound upon things I don’t know about.  Which apparently sets me apart from 98% of people who post things on the Internet, all of whom are certain (based upon re-tweets, Fox, Huffington Post, or wherever else they get their “news”) that their opinions are entirely accurate and utterly unassailable.

I don’t know what happened in Ferguson, except that a young man—who may or may not have been at least partially responsible for creating the situation that lead to his death—is dead, and a police officer—who may or may not have placed less value on the life of a black man than that of a white man—has now resigned (some would say in disgrace), his life forever altered.  But I think it’s important that I know what I know, and what I don’t know, because to the extent that there’s anyone in the world who gives a fig about what I think, I believe I have a responsibility to make sure that what I say is actually informed by verifiable facts.  Based upon what I see every day when I peruse the Internet, however, this would seem to be a minority view.

We’re roughly twenty years into the Internet era, and for all that this remarkable, amazing creation could be—a vast source of limitless information, enabling just about anyone to learn just about anything they might wish to know, from how to make an apple pie to the gross national product of Jakarta—what it has actually become is one part porn, one part cute-baby-animal videos, one part selfies, and one part uninformed opinion—and the more uninformed, the louder the opinion.  It’s distressing to me that something that has the potential to disseminate information worth having or connecting people across the globe in a positive way has mostly degenerated into one massive pile of wildly misinformed invective.

I’m not speaking exclusively about the “trolls”—those pasty-faced, under- or unemployed men moldering in their parents’ basements playing “World of Warcraft,” eating nacho-cheese flavored Doritos, and picking fights, for sport, on their laptops about things they don’t even care about—although one can easily conjure up thirty or forty thousand things that add greater value to the world, including infomercials and KFC.  I doubt there’s much disagreement that the hate-filled diatribes that litter the “comments” section of just about every online article that’s ever been posted diminish society in general and have rendered intelligent discourse virtually non-existent.  There’s no question that people say things online that they’d never, ever say at work, at a church social, or standing on line at the DMV.  But since the Internet provides as much or as little anonymity as we like, people feel free to express whatever they think, certain that the consequences of their words will never catch up with them.

What if that anonymity was gone? What if your user name was your actual name, along with some other identifying information, something that would make it a relatively simple matter for anyone so inclined to figure out that the guy who wrote that unmarried women who use birth control are whores is actually that seemingly nice fellow who owns the insurance agency on the corner, or that the woman who thinks President Obama is an “N” word fascist communist socialist who should be executed is actually your son’s second grade teacher?  Do you think people would ever say such things if there were a chance that they would have to look their neighbors, co-workers, or family members in the eye and admit that yes, in fact, those words were theirs?

The Internet makes it possible for us to say things we’d never say “in public,” but maybe it shouldn’t.  After all, most newspapers and magazines won’t accept for publication “letters to the editor” unless the author agrees to identify himself or herself.  That’s called accountability; it’s also called putting your money where your mouth is.  If you’re not willing to stand behind your opinions, maybe you should keep them to yourself.  At the very least, your convictions can’t be all that strong in the first place if you’re not willing to take ownership of them.  And while I guess people have a right to their opinions, whatever they may be, the older I get, the more I ask myself, before I let something negative, nasty, or hurtful slip from my lips, does this add beauty or value to the world? We all have to say difficult things from time to time, usually to people we care about very much, but is this one of those times? Is there a truly compelling reason for expressing something that may cause pain to some (or many)? I submit that, unless you can answer that last question in the affirmative, it’s probably better for everyone involved not to say it in the first place.

So maybe the Internet shouldn’t be anonymous. Maybe it should be impossible for people to drop their heaps of anger and spite and bile under the cloak of a user name that makes it impossible for the reader to determine the identity of its author.  Maybe when we make a sweeping generalizations based upon unfair and hateful stereotypes, or when we call people racists without ever examining the underlying facts or circumstances, we should have to take ownership of those words.  If nothing else, it would probably give people pause, and perhaps cause them to engage in a moment or two of reflection.  Would that really be such a bad thing?

But we live in a country founded, at least in part, upon the principle of free speech, a nation in which we are all guaranteed the right to express our opinions, regardless of how repugnant or stupid they may be.  Of course, the First Amendment does not confer an unfettered right to say whatever you want, whenever you want; our Supreme Court has imposed certain restrictions on what type (child pornography, for example), or under what circumstances (shouting “fire” in a crowded movie house) some speech may not be protected.  As well, when our Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment, they likely assumed that the exercise thereof would be informed by the inherent accountability attendant to most forms of expression available at that time.  Stated differently, I doubt Ben Franklin or James Madison ever imagined that it would be possible to blast one’s opinions all over the world in a matter of seconds without ever having to accept any responsibility whatsoever for those words.

But it’s not just those who spew their nuclear vitriol that concern me—in fact, they concern me a lot less than those seemingly “innocent” users that look just like you and me—the mild-mannered accountant, the sweet-faced Sunday school teacher, the innocuous co-worker, the pleasant-enough distant relative you see at a Fourth of July barbecue—a person of apparent credibility, a reasonable person, a person who generally exhibits good judgment in what they say or do.  I’m talking about when that person clicks “like” or reposts/retweets or forwards something that they maybe did (but probably didn’t) read thoroughly, without ever bothering to find out if it is actually accurate, or considering the agenda of the person who wrote/posted it in the first place.  All too often, if it conforms to our world-view, we “like,” or re-post, or re-tweet, never troubling ourselves with whether it’s true, or fair, or even grammatically correct.  It makes me crazy.

Why should I care, you may be wondering, what anyone says on the Internet? It’s easy enough to ignore the nonsense people post on their Facebook pages, or on Twitter, or on the comments section following a Huff Po article, so why does it matter? Well, in part because those unchecked tirades have fomented an atmosphere of downright hostility that has seeped into what used to be an unbiased news media that dispensed the facts and allowed viewers/readers to come to their own opinions.  These days, most “news” programs don’t even try to hide their agendas (I blame both Fox and MSNBC equally for this), and any sort of media “roundtable discussion” usually ends up devolving into a bunch of loudmouths screaming over each other, where it probably doesn’t matter that no one can be heard since there’s precious little worth listening to.

It also seems to me that there’s a direct correlation between the fact that it has become possible—and acceptable—to say despicable and/or unsupported things without fear of consequence and the extreme divisiveness we see in our government and in our society.  It’s a sign of my age, I guess, that I’ve lost all confidence in elected officials to work collaboratively, regardless of political affiliation, and I’m beyond discouraged by the manner in which we as a society have become so aggressively intolerant of any viewpoint that doesn’t precisely line up with our own.  Even our judiciary—the branch of government that is supposed to be free of political agenda or bias—has become the subject of much speculation in recent months as some Supreme Court justices appear to be nearing retirement, sparking concerns that whomever is elected to the presidency in 2016 will have the opportunity to stock the Court with politically like-minded jurists.  It’s offensive to me that an otherwise qualified Supreme Court nominee may be rendered unfit merely because he or she has espoused viewpoints which are contrary to the Congressional majority, but that’s the country we now live in.

I wonder how this nation will ever survive the vast gulf that now exists between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, whites and blacks, Christians and anyone who isn’t a Christian (and even men and women where reproductive rights and equal pay are concerned).  Perhaps one small step in the right direction would be for people to think before they speak, and then take responsibility for what they say.  That’s a wildly Utopian ideal, one not likely to take hold in today’s environment, but it’s one I’m urging, quixotically, certain in the knowledge that this blog is likely to generate comments along the lines of “shut up, you crazy liberal bitch.”  But it’s an ideal I’m going to try to adhere to myself.

So, I’ve got nothing to say about Ferguson, except that it’s tragic that a family has lost a son (just as it is tragic when any family loses a child, for any reason), that an entire community feels that their lives don’t matter simply because of the color of their skin, and that a police department that is probably made up of mostly good people and which probably does most things right is now subject to relentless scrutiny that may or may not be fair.  It’s tragic.  What’s more tragic, however, is that we don’t seem to be able to talk about or process what happened without resorting to name-calling and demonizing those with opposing viewpoints, but we have to try.  We have no apparent ability to feel compassion for whichever “side” we’ve identified as contrary to our own, but we need to start.  Otherwise, we’re all a bunch of trolls.