Mad Women #metoo

at 19

My mother at 19.

What if you had not been afraid to go down that street, go into that bar alone, wear that outfit, be there at night, apply for that job, sit alone at that movie, ask for that favor, drive through that neighborhood, take that creepy prof’s class, knock on that stranger’s door, sit in that seat on the bus, take that trip alone…how different might your life have been? What was lost because you were-are-forced to wear the cold shackles of fear?

Mad Men is one of my all-time favorite shows. I have one friend who didn’t like it for how it portrayed women. She’s 10 years younger than I am, so she missed the era in which it takes place.

Mad Men accurately portrays the culture of the 60s—a culture that was emerging from the emotional fallout from the Depression and World War II. One of Lily Tomlin’s characters referred to the 50s as 10 years of foreplay. By the time the 60s arrived, there was, shall we say, a lot of pent up frustration, along with the Pill. One could have sex, it seemed, without consequences.

I turned 20 at the end of 1969. A whole lot hadn’t changed. Help wanted adds were categorized as “Help Wanted Men” and “Help Wanted Women.” At the University of California San Francisco in 1972, one secretarial position requirements included being multilingual, knowing medical terminology, and having a college degree. That was in the women column. A janitorial position, in the men’s column, required a high school diploma. The janitorial position paid more—because it was assumed that men had a family to support while the woman was just marking time until she got married.

I overheard one of the doctors say that the best secretary you could get was a single mother. She would stick around no matter what because she had a child (or children) to support, and was less likely to get married because what man would want to take on a woman with a child (children)?

Fast forward to 1987. I worked at American President Companies, a company steeped in nautical tradition, including a submission to hierarchy. When you’re aboard a ship, you want the Captain to be in charge. But the hierarchy always had men in charge. So, what cascaded down was an unspoken but firmly embedded sympathy for men and what they had to endure.

I had already proven myself as more than capable. I had taken my assignments and run with them, raising the quality of the publications that were coming out of the department to a level that caught the attention of Corporate Communications. The company was leading the way information technology was changing the shipping industry. Corporate Communications wanted to make sure that internal communications helped shape the cultural change that resulted. They recognized that I had given the Information Technology newsletters a higher profile.

After my success, my supervisor told me that if I learned new technology, I might be promoted. Not I would be. I might be. He told my coworker, a man who was less technically skilled than I, that if he started coming in on time he would be promoted. They both were married with children.

When my mother entered the workforce, she thought there were the “front-office girls” and the “not-front-office girls.” Front office-girls were hired because they were eye candy for whoever walked into the office. Cheered the place up.

My mother thought of herself as a “not-front-office girl.” She had to rely on her skills to make her way in the world. And she resented it. She thought that held her back from realizing whatever dreams she might have had. She thought I was one of the front-office girls. She considered me to be pretty, so thought the way would be paved for me.

That was very confusing for me. I thought I had to choose. I could not be both pretty and smart—a truism reinforced by the culture. I definitely didn’t choose the paved path, but I also didn’t choose the path of embracing being smart. Off and on throughout our lives together, my mother resented me for not choosing to have my way paved as well as for what she thought was an option for me.

I had kept a lid on my smart. Lesson learned not just because of my relationship with my mother, but from the culture. It wasn’t until I was 60, after my mother had died, that I finally made the choice, when I finally embraced that I was smart and talented and was entitled to those gifts. It happened when I directed and produced a production of The Vagina Monologues. Sadly, my mother had died by then. I think she would have enjoyed it. And, may I say, if you look at the photo of my mother at the top of this blog, one would wonder why she didn’t think she was attractive. She was Lauren Bacall-sultry attractive.

I say this not to diss my mother. Or to whine. I say this because I feel like my decision not to choose came from a lack of courage. I was afraid that I would somehow diminish my mother if I showed her that the point was not to be the front-office girl, but to be a woman who is not afraid of her own power. And if I diminished her, I would lose her. I know that last sentence is true because I am on the verge of tears as I write it.

On Mad Men, Joanie was one of my favorite characters. She personified what my mother thought of as the front-office girls. They were the beauties, the women who brought men to their knees with their beauty. They had it made in the world. They would be taken care of. They were safe. They were paid for their beauty.

Joanie’s reality was, of course, far different, as was the reality for all those front-office girls my mother longed to be. Joanie, however, persisted and she prevailed. She found the success she thought was only available to men.

But what a price she had to pay.

Which is why #metoo happened this week in response to Harvey Weinstein.

This is not about Hollywood. Harvey Weinstein does not just happen in Hollywood—Hollywood just reflects the culture that casts women aside once they reach their 30s.

This is not about men. I am married to a man who cherishes me for being smart and tells me every day that I am beautiful and he worries that I don’t know that I am.

This is not about alpha men. Alpha men are leaders. And by leader, I mean one who has the best interest of the pack in their heart. They are the Mufasas. The Trumps, Weinsteins, Cosbys, Iagos, and so on down the road are the Scars—aware enough to know they don’t have what it takes to be an alpha, but simmering with resentment because they don’t.

This is about a culture that has become so poisoned by the fear of beautiful smart women that it enforces a code of silence when women are brutalized, raped, and emotionally bullied to humiliate them. To put them in their place—rob them of the dignity of their life spirit. And, by beautiful women, I don’t mean the front-office girls. I mean the beauty of a soul that has not been brutalized into submission.

I’ve been angry for a long time about my choice to not choose. I own that. But now, I’m choosing. And I’m mad. I’m mad because we are allowing a sick, festering culture of meanness to prevail.

I’m a Mad Woman. And it’s time for Mad Women to rise and rid our culture of the festering meanness.

Wonder Women, indeed.

The Light at the End of the Hall

earth from the moonAs it happens, the world did not stop while Tom and I went from being in the jaws of the shark, to being spat out, to swimming to shore.

So much going on in the world:

The struggle between those who seek to start another war to enforce their belief in American exceptionalism, and those who seek to use America’s strength to lead a global community.

The struggle between those who want to declare religious dogma is a person and thus should be granted civil rights equal to an actual person, and those harmed by—and those who think no one should be harmed by—another’s religious beliefs.

Again, an unarmed black man has been shot dead by a policeman who claimed he feared for his life as the fleeing man ran away from him. Shot in the back multiple times.

Oh, and Mad Men returned.

Mad Men is always a great reminder of where we have come from, telling the story of the cultural changes that catapulted America out of World War II and the Fifties, and into the a world that stretched boundaries. The first episode begins in 1970, when the counter-culture got assimilated into the status-quo culture. Businessmen wearing shaggy hair, sideburns, and mustaches. Women venturing into the business world, where, of course, their power and standing were trivialized and diminished by frat-boy-men who humiliated with them with snide, stupid innuendo and sarcasm.

I thought we were past all that.

And, then, Indiana passed a law that allowed businesses to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. Fortunately, it created a backlash, led by the market place. Indiana relented and included a statement that it was illegal for a business to deny services to an individual based on his or her sexual preference.

Well, hallelujah, I say.

There was the debate that tried to defend religious beliefs. God tells some people that those who are wired to love someone of the same sex are an abomination to him. And, they have a right to hold that belief.

Well, yes, they have a right to believe that. But my god tells me something very different. First she’s a she and doesn’t cares who you love and commit to. The point is to be kind and loving.

There is great harm done when the culture, the society, and the government supports a group’s right to shape the world in its own image. Look no further than gay teen suicide as an example.

Imagine how bleak it must seem to believe you are unworthy of love in the eyes of god—not because of having done harm to anyone, but because of what you inherently are. Imagine believing that you can never have a home and family and life partner unless you are willing to live a lie. Imagine what it must feel like to the spouse who lives with that lie.

It’s tough enough when one’s family enforces such a limited world. When a government reinforces it, there is no escape.

Believe what you want, but you do not have the right to mold the world to reinforce it, especially if it inflicts harm on others.

If we are to live in a country that does not establish a religion, then we all need to live with the ambiguity that comes when we make room for all religious beliefs or none at all.

In The Power of Myth series, Bill Moyers asks Joseph Campbell if humans create myths based on their environment. He said yes. He gave the example of what it was like when a Pygmy, who lived in a rainforest, was taken to a mountaintop. The vastness of the landscape overwhelmed him. He wanted to retreat into the rainforest where he felt safe.

Those of us who live in the “modern” world are much like that Pygmy. Only we are exposed daily to the vastness of the world—a world that includes rainforests, deserts, mountains, valleys, oceans, glaciers—and we don’t have that rainforest to retreat to.

What we have is our planet. Our home. And we need to feel safe here, the way the Pygmy felt safe in the familiarity of the rainforest.

As Joseph Campbell said, we need to write new myths. Science and the information about the world it gives us provide us great tools for doing just that—for finding the divine in the mundane.

But, to do that, we cannot pander to or give credence to solipsistic dogma, anymore than a family can be functional if it sacrifices the needs of its members to the needs of its least functional member.

Mad Men is great storytelling. The characters are catapulted into a world that is vaster than the one they were raised in. It makes visible the devastating effects of racism, sexism, and homophobia through the eyes of the characters who experience them.

We’re not past all that. But, I believe we are on our way.

The governor of Arkansas saw the reaction to Indiana’s attempt to codify homophobia, and refused to sign a similar bill.

The policeman who shot the black guy is being charged with murder.

We have a president who understands the nuances and subtleties of strength. I like to think that it’s because his mother lived in, experienced, and exposed him to cultures beyond her Midwest beginnings. It seems to me that rather than freaking out about the ambiguous nature of reality, he embraces it.

I believe we are spirits learning to be human. Compassion rises out of our experience of being human. The origin of the word compassion comes from “to bear” and “suffering.” To bear suffering.

I think that means a willingness to see and experience another’s pain, rather than avert our eyes from it, convincing ourselves that it has nothing to do with us—it’s not something that could ever happen to us.

In “Conversations With My Son,” Sue Miller says that there was a light at the end of the hall where she grew up. Safe passage. So there was a light at the end of the hall in the home where she raised her son as a single mother.

If we want safe passage in our home, our planet, we need to have that light at the end of the hall. I think that will come from writing the new myths Joseph Campbell referred to.

We’ve come along way and we have a long way to go. Let’s do it.

Two Words: Not Always So

The secret of Zen is just two words: not always so.
Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

I don’t know why I feel drawn to this particular quote today. Perhaps it’s its anticness. And that I could use the two forms of “its” side-by-side in one sentence.

I feel sad about Ted Kennedy. He was flawed – I still don’t know where to put the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in the tapestry of his life. Perhaps I should assign it to that part of the Kennedy men that was careless – much like the male characters in Mad Men.

It makes sense that he went off the rails, given that he had two brothers who were assassinated – whose assassinations defined much of an era in my life. And, that there was this expectation that he should pick up the mantle where they left off. And that he was part of an Irish American family in an era when Irish were still working their way up that social ladder that supposedly doesn’t exist in America.

What I like about Kennedy is that I think he had a heartfelt and soulful understanding that fits my view of America: an idea and an ideal for which we are always striving. As he said of Bobby in his eulogy, some ask why, he asked why not.

I think Obama’s election represents change, just by the nature of his complexion and complexity. He is, I think, a man who can simultaneously have more than one idea. I think it was Jung who said that Americans don’t trust a man who has more than one idea.

It’s time for that to change and I think Obama represents that.

Change is scary. I think that’s why there is such vitrol being spewed at the so-called town meetings. What concerns me is elected officials who stir up that pot.

If wonder if they believe that government is an evil because they are so incompetent at governing – don’t understand the difference between governing and ruling over.

Twisting the concept of advanced care directives into death panels is at best absurd and at worst cruel. We sound incredibly ignorant when we talk like that – as if we are so lizard-brain driven that we are not capable of compassion.

Maybe we aren’t. I read yesterday that compassion is much more difficult than loving kindness because with compassion we have to be willing to experience pain – the pain of others – so we might see our connection.

Deborah Saunders, a pundit I find particularly annoying, derisively refers to “our European betters” in her column. Well, you know what, in many ways they have a bit more wisdom than we do. They know, for example, what it means to have war on their doorstep. They have had limited resources for a long time, so don’t seem to think they have a God-given right to have whatever they can afford to buy.

I think that it would serve us well as a country if we were willing to look at our own shadow instead of projecting it onto others.

So, now I need to bring this back to the quote I cited at the beginning of this blog. Two words: not always so.

Ted Kennedy accomplished so much more by being a Senator than I think he could have as president. Born to a life of privilege, he worked to open doors so merit and not privilege granted entry. And why not?

I hope that we start over with Health Care Reform and that it be done in his honor.

I hope that Senators and Congresswomen and men tell their constituents to leave their guns at home when they come to a political rally.

I hope they tell their constiuents that we are a government of, by, and for the people and the only thing we have to fear is fear itself because it is fear of the other that makes our hearts black – and turns a government to evil.

Two words: not always so.

Maybe that’s the mantra we need to use to tame fear and calm the waters. I think that mantra might have a way of opening the heart to other possibilities.

Try saying it.

Two words: not always so.

See what it does for you.

So There is Time Enough

Today’s New York Times has two op ed columns (Frank Rich and Timothy Egan ) that talk about Mad Men, the AMC series that follows Madison Avenue ad men in the Sixties – the Sixties that start in 1960.

So far it has covered the span of history that includes the 1960 election, birth of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), death of Marilyn Monroe, and Cuban Missile Crisis.

Racism, sexism, drinking while pregnant and/or driving, and smoking like a chimney were deeply embedded as cultural norms. Perfectly acceptable.

Tonight’s premiere begins in 1963. Should be an interesting season.

Note: Spoiler alert follows. Although, if you haven’t been watching the series, I don’t think it will spoil anything if you start to watch it.

The protagonist, Don Draper, is who he says he is, though only after assuming a new identity. He lifts the dog tags from his dead compatriot after he is burned beyond recognition in a scene that takes place in Korea.

It’s the moment that Dick Whitman changes his story and become Don Draper.

Story, Robert McKee, says is a metaphor for life.

I have become fascinated lately with rewriting the story. Not a short story or novel I’m writing. But my story. The story that I’m living.

Perhaps the best birthday present I am giving myself as I turn sixty (still two months away, but nonetheless), is to recognize that the story I thought I was supposed to live is not my story.

And so I have started rewriting my story.

Compassion, I believe, is at the base of all good story writing. That means compassion for myself for having tried to live a story that wasn’t mine; compassion for those who wrote the story I thought I was supposed to live; and compassion for the human condition.

And today, at least, I think the human condition is that we do the best we can with what we have. At its highest, the human condition allows us to learn that the best we can do can be really quite extraordinary – once we learn compassion.

In the old story, I was a monster. Monstrous because I asked questions; monstrous because my questions provoke the possibility of change.

In my new story, I understand that I have been given gifts: the gift of asking questions, the gift of being willing to embrace change; the gift of uncertainty. I have come to believe that faith is acting without the benefit of certainty.

And so I have faith in story: to allow story to unfold, reveal character with compassion, and let it end in ambiguity if necessary.

I have come to look at safety in a different way. I don’t think we can make ourselves safe from the unexpected, from the event that pulls the rug out from under us, from losing people we love, or even our own lives.

Now I think safety is more about living life fiercely so when it comes time to face my own death I can say that there was time enough.

Mad Men is good story. It shows the wages of living a life of quiet desperation. What it’s like to live a story that isn’t yours.
As a coda, there is also an op ed column about the American poet Marianne Moore. Ford Motor Company asked her to come up with names for a new car it was getting ready to sell. They turned down all her suggestions – and named it the Edsel.