Posted by Maya Paley
This may sound self-centered, but the main person I need to ask for forgiveness from over this past year is me. Now hold on a minute, allow me to explain.
I have a tendency to be way too hard on myself. I expect to achieve everything right away, to do so well, and to get it all done at the same time. I am angry with myself when I cannot make it all happen. I have guilt about the goals I did not accomplish, the people I did not help, the friends I did not call, and the family I did not spend enough time with. When I’m not feeling guilty about the past, I have anxiety about trying to do it all in the future. Does this sound familiar to any of you?
Over the past year I’ve thought a lot about how much I envy my grandmother. She is 86 years old and she knows she’s had a satisfying life. She traveled all over the world, fell in love, spent her life with her soul mate, had three healthy children and six grandchildren, and she’s still healthy and independent. If I were her, I would feel free.
While driving myself to LAX a month or so ago, “The Logical Song” by Supertramp came on the radio at 4 am. I’ve been obsessively listening to it on repeat every day since then:
“When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees, well they'd be singing so happily, joyfully, playfully, watching me.
But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical.”
I haven’t been living an adult life for all that long, but I’m already exhausted. How did my parents and grandparents do this? Supertramp is so right: Growing up and becoming a responsible human being makes you cynical. At least for me, adulthood has added weight to my responsibility to help other human beings and to be a dependable friend, daughter, sister, employee, activist, etc.
While it’s good to strive to be the best I can be, it’s also burdensome. I’m sure a lot of you feel the same way. The more we learn, the more we know how many appalling things are happening in this world, both internationally and locally, and how our own actions perpetuate and exacerbate many atrocities, like child labor in sweatshops and gruesome regional wars over oil reserves. Yet I’m still buying new clothes and I’m still driving around LA.
Can I live with myself for the rest of my life knowing that I am contributing to a societal structure that abuses, murders, exploits, and excludes innocent people?
I like to glorify my childhood and think of it as a playful, easy time in my life, and I like to glorify getting older and not having to worry about the future anymore. But the truth is that childhood was not easy. Kids made fun of each other, friends dumped each other, and it was impossible to fit in. Old(er) age is not easy either. It’s much harder to maintain your health and your physical capacity wanes. And I imagine you have just as much anxiety about your future as you do when you’re in your early adulthood.
So I’m asking myself for forgiveness. I’m asking myself to take a deep breath, remember that I am doing the best I can, and remind myself that everything is always going to be okay and that it is impossible to fix everything in this world. The most I can do is talk about issues, write about issues, and advocate for change. The bottom line: I may be cynical and have anxiety and guilt issues, but it’s made me a better person and it’s made me grateful for the life and privileges I have. I forgive myself for being the way I am. I hope you can forgive yourselves, too (if that’s what you need to do).
What are your thoughts on atonement and your personal goals for the coming year?
Shana tova, g’mar chatimah tova, and may you have a wonderful, fulfilling, and positive year!
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September 13, 2012 | 4:07 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
The question was brought up yesterday at a “Woman to Woman” forum on issues facing lesbians that was hosted by the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles. The unanimous response from the panelists was “yes.” Of course, some of the topics were specific to the lesbian community, but it’s important to recognize that the stereotypes placed on lesbians are those that have been used for years to oppress, belittle, and shame all women.
Lieutenant Yana Horvatich of the Los Angeles Police Department spoke about the challenges she’s faced there during her 24 years as an officer. Horvatich spoke about how back in the ‘80s, there were very few women on police patrol. When they did get those positions, male police officers would complain to their dispatchers that they didn’t want to work with “tunaboat.” Horvatich said she and other women in law enforcement had to overcome male chauvinism and women in general had to constantly prove that they could do the job as well as men. Sound familiar?
On the other hand, I’m pretty sure most straight women don’t deal with stories like this one: Anne-Marie Williams, executive director of the California Lesbian Project, told the story about her visit to a medical doctor in Beverly Hills a few years back to the doctor to discuss her allergies. The doctor, a woman, asked about her sexual practices, and Anne-Marie told her that she didn’t want to answer the question. When the doctor kept probing her about it, Anne-Marie gave in and told her she was a lesbian. At that point the doctor pulled her own skirt down, stepped back, and told Anne-Marie that their session was over and that she should go to a gynecologist for her medical needs.
I was appalled upon hearing this story. How can a female doctor, who should understand the challenges women face just for being women, treat patient this way? Was she really that ignorant that her perception of Anne-Marie changed so drastically when she found out she was gay?
Effects of Shame, Fear, and Low Self-Esteem
Licensed clinical social worker J. Denise Fuller explained how stories like this make many lesbians afraid or ashamed to go to the doctor or to come out of the closet. According to Dr. Allison Diamant of UCLA, research shows that lesbians in the U.S., in comparison to straight women:
• have a higher rate of depression and anxiety
• have a higher rate of substance abuse
• have a higher rate of obesity
• have a higher rate of smoking
On top of it all, the LGBT population has a much higher suicide rate than the non-LGBT population, especially among youth.
Are we harming ourselves?
When we treat each other the way that doctor treated Anne-Marie, we only perpetuate the negative stereotypes about women and lesbians that women have fought against for so many years.
I remember being called a “militant feminist” a few times over the years. The first time, I said to the guy: “What makes me militant? Am I carrying a gun?” If anyone is militant, I’m pretty sure it’s the male politicians in our country who are so obsessed with proving that we have the largest and wealthiest defense in the world. But that’s a topic for another blog post.
At the end of yesterday’s panel, Anne-Marie told how she confronted the doctor, helping her see that she had mistreated her. I’m not sure what the details are, but Anne-Marie said the doctor continued working with her and eventually saved her life. It doesn’t matter if we’re lesbians, queer, straight, old, young, single, divorced, married, teenagers, or whatever--we’re women and we have to work on standing up for ourselves. Nothing changes when we remain quiet or ignore the plight of others in our own communities.
For me, lesbian issues are women’s issues. They are my issues and I take them personally.
I’d love to hear your stories about negative stereotypes you’ve faced and how you’ve dealt with them.
September 5, 2012 | 2:29 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
I’ve been avoiding doing the whole Ann and Michelle comparison thing for as long as possible, but I feel that it’s time I put in my two cents. I’ll be honest: I haven’t had time at all this week to read what others have written about their respective convention speeches. I’m sure that every word they’ve said has already been over-analyzed, discussed, researched, and torn apart. That alone makes me anxious to think about it because, as far as I’m concerned, there’s not too much to analyze here.
Love in Politics
Both women talked a lot about love. I didn’t research past speeches by Hillary, Laura, Eleanor, or anyone else, but did other First Ladies and wives of candidates talk this much about how much they love their husbands? It’s interesting to me that part of the dialogue this election year is that we’re obsessed with people needing to prove their love for one another. Maybe this is because we’ve lost so much faith in our politicians and in their marriages that we just assume they don’t really love each other.
But why does this really matter? Why do we care if their wives love them or if they love their wives or if their love story fits in with our romantic comedy fantasies? Shouldn’t it be enough to know what their opinions are and what their policy agendas would prioritize as presidents?
The other day a friend from France mentioned how strange he thinks it is that Americans are so concerned about the personal lives of our politicians. He said that in France they find it interesting and amusing when their Presidents cheat on their wives, but their heads of state don’t get questioned about their ability to perform as politicians as ours do for infidelity or if their marriages are in flux.
Bringing Women into the Mix
Let’s examine what Michelle and Ann had to say about women in their speeches, since this supposedly gives us insight into what their husbands think about women’s issues.
• Ann Romney addressed the work-life balance for working moms to make the point that our current economy is failing them: “The working moms who love their jobs but would like to work just a little less to spend more time with the kids…but that’s out of the question with this economy.”
• Michelle Obama reminded us that her husband signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to “help women get equal pay for equal work.”
• Ann gave a shout out to American women for being the ones who really put in the hard work in this country: “We’re the mothers, we’re the wives, we’re the grandmothers, we’re the big sisters, we’re the little sisters, we’re the daughters. You know it’s true, don’t you? You’re the ones who always have to do a little more.”
• Michelle talked about Barack’s single mom and his grandmother who was stuck under the glass ceiling: “Barack’s grandmother started out as a secretary at a community bank…and she moved quickly up the ranks…but like so many women, she hit a glass ceiling. And for years, men no more qualified than she was—men she had actually trained—were promoted up the ladder ahead of her, earning more and more money while Barack’s family continued to scrape by.”
• Ann connected all women with each other, saying that men don’t really understand what women face: “I’m not sure if men really understand this, but I don’t think there’s a woman in America who really expects her life to be easy. In our own ways, we all know better!”
• Michelle said that Obama gets that we women know what’s right for us and for our health and bodies: “And he believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care.”
• Ann reminded us that as a mother, she wants to make sure we don’t “raise our children to be afraid of success.”
• Michelle compared Barack to his grandmother: “He just keeps getting up and moving forward…with patience and wisdom, and courage and grace.”
Obviously, as a liberal Democrat, I almost cried when I heard Michelle speak. I thought she was brilliant, engaging, and spoke to us on a human level. I didn’t quite feel the same about Ann Romney’s speech, but I did feel compassion for her as a woman as well. She is trying really hard to relate to the everyday woman in America by reminding us that she is a mother and that all moms have the same issues in dealing with their children and balancing their lives.
What I didn’t get from Ann Romney, however, was anything other than that. Her focus was mainly on the economy and on how the most important thing in our lives as women is to raise our children well, have time for them, and help them succeed. While I agree with all of those ideals, I also think that her speech excluded a large chunk of the population of women in America—single women, senior women, working women, career women, queer women, etc.
Michelle’s comparison of Barack to his grandmother was unique. I like when a powerful man is comfortable being compared to a woman figure in his life, rather than always being compared to successful men. Michelle addressed some of the issues that still concern all of us—hitting the glass ceiling in our careers, not having the right to choose, and equal wages.
At the end of the day, I respect both women and I imagine that their lives are extremely difficult and stressful as the mates of presidential candidates. I agree with a lot of Ann Romney’s thoughts and I’m sure many women can relate as well to what she said on women working harder to balance more than men do, but I got more substantive answers and opinions from Michelle’s speech about how Barack feels about women’s issues, and that’s by far more important to me than how much they both love their men.
Whose speech resonated with you? And what do you think mattered about what Ann and Michelle had to say?