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Archive for the ‘love’ Category

Men are in constant competition with each other, trying to assert dominance, or at least a place on the upper rungs of the hierarchal ladder. Men are motivated by a multitude of punishments and rewards to compete in this game of being a “Man.” This game is unwinnable though, and being successful at the patriarchal version of manliness is not the same as being a successful person. Or a good person. Or a happy person.

Men compete with each other in many ways, like how tall they are, how athletic, prestige of their job, how much money they make, how expensive and fast or large their car is, how large their house is, and other trappings of power. Men also use the woman at their side in this competition.

I have heard many men say that physical attractiveness is very important, if not the most important thing, when choosing a girlfriend or wife. I think this is mostly/mainly conditioned and a response to the constant competition they are in with other men in the patriarchy system.
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I believe men can be and are actually attracted to women of all shapes, colors, and sizes. I have come to this conclusion by reading lots of book set in different lands and different times, as well as just living life and seeing it with my own two eyes.

First of all, what do we mean by attraction? Do we just mean sexual attraction? Do we just mean what we see can see with our eyes? Like roundness. A smoldering stare. The fine curly hairs at the nape of the neck. All the beautiful tones of skin color. A shrug of possibility.

What about your other senses? The texture of skin on different parts of the body. The sound of a gasp. A scent that smells like coming home or visiting a foreign territory. The taste of a warm, hungry, wet mouth.

What other aspects add to attraction (def. – 1. providing pleasure or delight, pleasing 2. arousing interest or engaging one’s thought)? Are they funny? Interesting? Smart? Do they share your interests? Do they inspire you ? Do they support you? Do you feel safe to be vulnerable? Do they excite you with the promise of something you can’t get by being alone? Are you sexually compatible? I would say that all of these things are more important to a happy relationship than physical attractiveness.

Even if we are only talking about a one night stand there are more important things than physical beauty. Good looking doesn’t equal good in the sack, or up against the wall. A symmetrical face and shiny hair don’t necessarily bring fun to the bedroom, or sexiness, playfulness, shared kinks, stamina, imagination, tenderness, or intimacy.  Men are severely limiting themselves when they make a certain kind of physical attractiveness (young, thin, bosomy, long hair, blond, etc)  a priority in a relationship, even just a sexual relationship.

So, why do men make such a big deal about the physical appearance of women? I think it is in part because physical beauty is easy to see and judge and so easier to make use of in their competition with each other.

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For women to be useful in their competition they have to be flattened out, compartmentalized into various pieces so they can be more easily compared to each other. Then the judges (other men) know how many points of power to add to or subtract from the man to whom the woman “belongs”. Common attributes to be judged are:

weight (we all know thin is a win)
height (not taller than the man because men reserve height to compete with each other)
breasts (C and D cups get the most approval)
skin color (White in the western world, and we are unfortunately exporting that prejudice around the globe)
hair length (long is traditional and conforms to gender norms, so, of course, the patriarchy rewards it)
age (youth ranks higher than maturity)
and averageness of facial features (nothing too ethnic, and it is better for the nose and mouth to be too small than too big, but large eyes are a sign of youthfulness)

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Other aspects about a women like her intelligence, sense of humor, kindness, interests, ambitions, and  creativity take too long to ascertain. It is much too complex to compare personalities of one woman with another and also take into account personality compatibility with her partner. So those most important aspects are disregarded and physical looks, which are quick and easy to judge, are prioritized.

Of course men do take personality and compatibility into account. But there is enormous pressure put on them by the patriarchal society to compete and they worry that other men will add or subtract points of “man power” based on the physical attractiveness of the woman they are with.

Yet, many men have opted out of this and other areas of patriarchal competitions. They are honest with themselves that they can be and are attracted to women of all shapes, colors, and sizes. They long for something more than a trophy. They want intimacy and friendship and good sex with an equal partner.

Actually, I think pretty much all men would want that if they could have it. But some are afraid to give up whatever trappings of power they think they possess. They are afraid of being on a lower rung of the ladder than the other men around them. They are afraid of losing the competition. But life doesn’t have to be a competition.

Men who are reading this, wouldn’t it be nice not to have to worry about that shit anymore? Wouldn’t it be a relief to just stop playing a game that limits your choices, wastes your finite time, and hurts you? Not to mention oppresses the lives of half the population, including your mother, your wife, and your daughter. Because, while focusing on a narrow definition of physical beauty limits your choices and chances of a happy and healthy relationship with compatible partner, that focus affects women in much more damaging ways. Women are bleaching their hair, their skin, and their vaginas, cutting up their faces, their breasts, their stomachs and butts, straightening, flattening, botoxing, suctioning, starving themselves to death, dieting themselves into depression, hating and shaming themselves every time they look into the mirror. In a patriarchal system men’s attempt to feel powerful and secure makes women literally depressed, disfigured, and dead.

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p.s. I use Barbie Doll in the title as shorthand for young, thin, bosomy, long hair, blond, etc. If you are young, thin, bosomy, long hair, blond, etc I am not judging you. Young, thin, bosomy, long hair, blond, etc is one of many ways that women can look. I do not mean that you are a doll, that you are fake, or that you are less than other women. I am not actually talking about you. I am talking about men and how they are conditioned to find a specific look attractive.

p.p.s. I hope that as you read this you understood that when I said men or women I didn’t mean every single man and every single woman but that I was speaking in generalities and talking about a system to affects all our lives to some degree. If you are a guy that does not feel like you use woman in in your competition with other men that is a good thing. I hope more men make the choice. We don’t have to argue about that. If you disagree that that is a thing that happens, or that it is a bad thing, or that the majority of men should and can opt out of that competition then we can continue the debate in the comments.

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The Perils of Pretty

I wasn’t that attractive as a kid and teen. I had short hair, braces, acne, glasses, no breasts, and a malnourished thinness (also big teeth and long toes). Whatever boyfriend I had, and I always had one if I wanted one, I’m pretty sure I got by sheer force of personality.

Back then I didn’t worry too much about being “pretty.” In my teens I cultivated a look, but it was a look that pleased my aesthetic. I dyed my short hair many different colors and and got my clothes, which were always too baggy, from the thrift store. I wanted boys (and girls) to like me but I wasn’t trying to get there with my looks, because I never had.

Then, when I was around 18, the braces and acne were out and contacts and c-cup were in. My hair had grown out long and I dyed it blond. I looked pretty good. Good enough that it mattered. Now people paid attention to me without ever having talked to me, without even having made eye contact (Pre-pretty I had developed exciting eye-contact skills).

I look back now and try to remember how being conventionally attractive helped me. Did it open any doors that I wanted to walk through that I couldn’t have opened pre-pretty? I am not so sure it did. But it did get me unsolicited attention from people I didn’t want to talk to. Creepy stuff like “anonymous” presents left on my desk at work (I knew they were from an older Director level guy, outside of my chain of command). And guys I had only briefly talked to a handful of times in a professional setting, getting drunk and calling me late at night. And attractive but ultimately annoying co-workers calling to ask why I don’t like them and why we couldn’t “hook up” since, hey, we are both attractive. And lots of married men letting me know that they weren’t that married, and basically ruining my faith in menfolk for a long, long, time. And always jokes and comments about my breasts and my body that were probably supposed to be complimentary, and in some ways made me feel special because I was getting approval from men, women, and society, but also made me feel unsafe, targeted, like my mind was divorced from my body, and devalued.

As this kind of behavior went on from age 18 to my mid-thirties I developed coping devices, like not making eye-contact (when you are an attractive female regular eye-contact can be interpreted as an invitation for much more than you intended). I erected a stony wall that would protect me from smarmy guys. I mostly stopped befriending any guys, even though growing up guys were my best friends and I tend to have a lot in common with them (comic books, role-playing games, fantasy novels, horror movies, sci-fi television, etc).

As my weight, post-baby, fluctuated I struggled with feeling like a failure and a loser because I knew my body wasn’t sticking to the narrowly prescribed standards of beauty communicated to me through the media (even the geeky media I continued to consume). I felt like I was losing something, a special power that male/patriarchal society had granted me. Their approval. And, it was all the worse because there were so many things I could be doing to earn back their approval. So many different kinds of diets, exercise, constricting and uncomfortable undergarments, pills, eating disorders, surgery (both outpatient and in), and even sickness (I used to say the silver lining of getting really sick is losing weight.)

I didn’t try all of those things but almost everyday I felt like a loser. Was it because I lost society’s approval or because a long time ago, when I was still pretty much a kid, I had lost the power to define my own self-worth? I didn’t give up that power knowingly. But the approval you get from conforming to society’s standards is pervasive. The skinny, ample breasted girl with long blond hair is practically an archetype, and she is celebrated everywhere.

But I am not an archetype. I’m really really not. And if I could choose to be one I would be the Hero, the Rebel, or the Sage, not a drawing of a person that can be summed up with a silhouette on the back of a trucks mudflap.

I am not saying this is the experience of every slender, blond girl in America. I have my own complicated reasons why this approval was important to me. When I was growing up and still the too skinny girl with short hair and big teeth I was also the smartest kid in my class. I was smart and weird. I read thick books and wanted to talk about deep things. I valued that about myself but being an intelligent and different girl rarely gained me approval.  With an emotionally absent mother and physically absent father the opportunities for validation of who I really was and what was special about me were few and far between.

I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that being pretty is not the answer. It is not how you make friends, it is not how you find love, it is not indicative of your value. Being pretty may bring you attention and approval, but not the kind that matters. Being pretty is not an uncomplicated good feeling. Being pretty has a price.

I wish I could help my younger self stay strong and stay true. I wish I could have helped her when the message she got from society, that her appearance was more valuable that who she was or what she did, started to infiltrate and get a strangle hold on her self-worth. I wish I could have been there to validate who she was as a person rather than what she looked like. I wish I could have told her that she could walk through this world with true friends, true love, a strong sense of self-worth, and the power to make a difference. That all that and more could be hers and it didn’t matter one damn bit the color or length of her hair, the size of her breasts, or if she was pretty.

I can’t go back and help myself, but I have a 12 year old daughter.

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Parallel Realities

Very infrequently I post articles and comments about Women’s Issues and Gender Equality. Some of those posts make me outraged and/or disheartened. The reality is that many women around the world and the U.S. are oppressed. They are physically attacked, harassed, excluded, secluded, confined, marginalized, and belittled. But women, all over the world, still manage to do great things. There is a parallel, but no less real, reality where women are achieving, succeeding, and doing exactly what they want and need to be doing.

I know women who started their own school.
Women who run their own non-profit.
Women who have Ph.D.s.
Women who are the primary breadwinners.
Women who are the only breadwinners.
Women who are publishing books.
Women who are leaving unhealthy relationships.
Women who are reinventing themselves.
Women who have paintings in galleries.
Women who are working for LGBT rights.
Women who are their own bosses.
Women who are programmers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, writers, photographers, musicians, editors, psychologists, television producers, actresses, and poets.
Women who are redefining their field.
Women who travel around the world.
Women who are wicked smart and marvelously hilarious.
Women who are handling everything all by themselves.
Women who write music.
Women who run marathons.
Women who run ranches.
Women who are doing the best they can with what they have.
Women who are starting new ventures.
Women who are off on adventures
Women who are kind and compassionate and also powerful.
Women who are going back to school.
Women who are graduating.
Women who are activists.
Women who have changed things and helped many.
Women who are teaching their sons and daughters to treat everyone with respect.
Women who are doing very interesting things that are important to them and that just might change the world in a small or big way.
Women who are creating a better future for themselves and their children.

And when I say women I mean several, not just one. And my friendship circle isn’t even that large, although it is obviously pretty accomplished. The women I know are inspiring, smart, funny, strong as steel, and awesome.

I also know some really good guys:
I know more than one stay at home dad and even one stay at home husband.
I know several men who are Feminists and use their voices to further gender equality.
Men who support their wives’ dreams and ambitions.
Men who are gentle and kind and good.
Men who listen.
Men who are actively engaged in parenting, teaching and homeschooling their sons and daughters.
Men who are activists.
Men who will not let themselves be defined by archaic gender roles, nor define others that way.
Men who share and help and are awesome at cooking.
Men who watch Downton Abbey. 😉
Men who are good husbands and good fathers and interesting people.
Men who want to make the world a better place and are doing something to make it so.

I mostly know cool men. They give me faith in men and mankind. I know there are guys out there who are oppressing women, making things worse, and making things harder. But not my peeps. I know so many inspiring people and I haven’t even mentioned the amazing kids.  It is good to remind myself of this reality, a reality that is closer to home.

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12th Birthday Party

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Why do we even call it homeschooling at this point? I guess our home is still our base, the HQ of her education, but this year, more than ever, Z is ranging out far and wide to meet her educational needs. She is actually taking more classes outside of the house than in and I am only teaching five of her seventeen subjects.

Seventeen? Really? Wow! How are we managing that? I don’t know! I have been really lucky finding local resources that are a good fit for Z, especially her homeschooling school, which is she going to two full days a week this year. This year she is doing more subjects but spending less time on each of them. We will see how that works out.

Here they are:

Math: Holt Fuse Algebra app for the iPad  – 3 x wk

Piano: private lesson –  1 x wk + practice –  3-4 x wk

History/Geography : Post Revolution stuff I’m cobbling together/ Around the World in 180 Days – 2x wk

Current Events: OnlineG3 – 1x wk + homewrk (With Z’s favorite teacher Headmistress Guinevere.)

Reading: Right now we are reading The Great Gatsby and various poetry. After TGG we will start on Master Pieces of Short Fiction from The Great Courses.

Language Arts: Another one that I am teaching, we are still using Michael Clay Thompson Word within the Word, Advanced Academic Writing, Magic Lens, and Poetry– 2x wk

Odyssey of the Mind: a collaborative creative problem solving class she is taking at our local homeschool school. – 1x wk

Model U.N.: another collaborative class at her homeschool school where the students are doing hands-on/roleplaying learning about current events, international relations, diplomacy and problem solving. – 1x wk

Naturalist Training: Her 3rd class at the homeschooling school. Described online as teaching an awareness of the patterns of animal behavior and the key characteristics of plants, maintaining a nature journal, creating a plant and animal census, participating in a Hawk Watch, learning to use a variety of field guides, using a compass, making watercolors and sketches, and drawing maps. – 1x wk

Writing Workshop: Her 4th class at the school. This is the same class she took last year where the students made their own newspapers, wrote lots of poetry, participated in Nanowrimo, and wrote and performed a 45min play. I don’t know what they are going to do this year but I expect it will be great. – 1x wk

Biology: a high school class for homeschoolers. Most of it is stuff she already knows but it is cool for her to have access to labs.- 1x wk + homewrk

French: private lessons – 1x wk +homewrk

Musical Theater: Z is finally getting to fulfill a dream she had since she was 3 or 4 to be in Les Miserables. This is a local theater production for middle and high school students. – 1x wk

Circus Aerials: Z moved up to the advanced class this year. – 1x wk

Art: Another class I facilitate. We just do a lot of random projects. Zoe enjoys anything hands-on. – 1x wk

Girl’s Choir: This is Z’s second year at Girl Choir. – 1x wk

Hebrew/Religious School: When we changed temples I moved Zoe back a year (she was grade skipped) so that she (actually so I) would have another year to get ready for her Bat Mitzvah. The verdict is still out on this new Temple. . . but I feel like we just need to stick with it. We can’t keep changing communities this close to her Bat Mitzvah. – 2x wk

Don’t those classes look great?! Some of those might need to drop off in the Spring if, as I fear, we over-scheduled ourselves.  But, even with all those classes, I have managed to protect some free time for her every day. She uses it to write music or stories, read, swim, design outfits, hang out with her friends, play, etc. She is a creative girl and she needs that downtime to create, to be herself, find herself, create herself, etc.

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I guess everyone knew it was going to be harder for me when Zoe went to sleep-away summer camp for two weeks than it was going to be for her. Not that Zoe isn’t adorably attached to me, we are still as we have ever been, the closest companions. But going away on an exciting adventure is fun and diverting in a way that being left behind usually isn’t. Except it was.

The initial five days were easy. Brian and I had our first alone-for-longer-than-a-weekend vacation  in years and years. We slept in every morning. We spent some part of each day outside, hiking up to waterfalls, riding zip lines, or ski-dooing around the lake. Every evening we ate and drank at a fine French restaurant. It was decadent.

And the next week, all alone during the day, my time was my own. I could go when and where I wanted, eat where and when I wanted, watch British movies on Netflix, read, write, and nap. And that felt even more decadent!

I was totally prepared to miss Zoe fiercely and painfully. Her summer camp doesn’t allow cellphones or email. I thought I might only hear from her two or three times and, in between, I would be worried and wondering if she was happy and safe. But her camp has this cool system where I can send her an email and they print it out and give it to her and she hand writes me a letter and they fax it to me. My dear girl sent me nine letters in two weeks. They were short but long enough to let me know she was happy and having loads of fun. So there was nothing to worry about.

So, this little experiment of mine, has been a success, at least on my side, and by all accounts, for Zoe as well. I decided to celebrate this last afternoon of my vacation with a slice of cake. I’m not celebrating Zoe’s absence or her return, but the not small triumph of things turning out better than you thought they would.

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