When people weaponize cultural inside information

Is there anyone more cruel than an 8th-grade girl who wants to put another girl in her place?

They are cute shoes, even if they were used as a class signifier.

Beth, a lovely, kind woman I know, went to school with rich kids, but was herself from a more modest background.

She still remembers – decades later – the time a classmate laughed at her for not knowing what a Lacoste shirt was.

And she remembers the girl in college who smirked when Beth said something about potpourri.

“It’s ‘po purr REE,” the other girl said, “not ‘POT pour ee.”

Beth’s response was to make sure she was never again in a situation where someone tried to make her feel less than for not knowing the group rules. She vowed to learn the unwritten norms.

And she has – to the extent that it’s even part of her job now to teach salespeople proper table manners and other social graces.


You know who mispronounces words?

People who read.

In an English class in college, my professor kept talking about “Gertah.”

I couldn’t figure out where he was in the textbook – I could find nothing that looked like “Gertah.”

I did see “Goethe,” though, whom I had heard of before. I thought his name was pronounced “Go-EE-thee.”


Kindergarten through 12th grade, growing up on or near air force bases, I went to school with kids from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

I didn’t meet any rich kids until I was in college, where I was astonished to find people whose parents had bought them cars and who were not only paying their tuition and but also sending them spending money.

That’s not to say that the kids I went to K12 with didn’t find ways to create in groups and out groups, but these groups were not based on larger social distinctions into which one is simply born, like wealth.

It felt like we were all kind of the same. And living on base, we were all the same. We all had the same kind of house, with size allocated by need and location by rank. We all went to the same movie theater and the same pool and shopped at the same store.

Even the general’s daughter, who was a class ahead of me, was really nice. She did not act like the person whose father could ruin the careers of any of our dads.


I had a guide to preppy dressing. My best friend in high school raved about Lacoste and Pappagallo and add a bead necklaces and Bermuda bags. But nobody else at school knew about these things and we were living outside of the US, where such items were not easily available, so I knew about preppiness in the way in the same way I knew about astronauts landing on the moon: it was something that existed in the world but didn’t really affect my everyday life.

Mr T’s father was an English professor. He valued “proper” speaking, to the point that he was continually correcting his grandchildren, bemoaning that their mother, his daughter in law, spoke with a South Philly accent, something he thought was wrong and indicated that she was a bad person.

I kid!

Well, not really.

He did hate my SIL’s accent and deep down, probably thought she was bad because of it, although if I had challenged him, he would have denied such thinking.

However.

When Mr T was a little boy, the family lived in a mill town.

Mr T’s parents did not want him playing with the other children in the neighborhood because the children’s parents – who worked at the mills – had not gone to college and the children did not speak standard English. They finally moved to a bigger city so Mr T could go to school with more appropriate children.


My father was the first one in his family to go to college. None of my grandparents went past 8th grade and my dad’s brothers and a few of my mom’s siblings finished only high school.

My dad majored in Russian history and then continued to take classes – in geology, in oceanography, in computer programming – just because he loved learning. He traveled all over the world. He knew things.

I never once ever saw or heard him correct other family members, even when they said “ain’t” or used other non-standard English.


Mr T used to be very critical of people who do not speak standard English.

I have finally convinced him that the rules are subjective and not grounded in any external morality and that we should consider them to be descriptive, not prescriptive.

I should admit it took me a while to get to that point.

Mr T teasing me for using “boughten,” which I discovered upon reading How to Speak Midwestern by Edward McClelland is a legitimate regionalism, and my love for my grandparents, who said “ain’t” and “ainso” started me on the path from prescriptive to descriptive.

Mr T’s father’s snobbery tipped me over the edge and made me realize how wrong I had been. FIL’s constant criticism of my sister in law, whom I adore and who has always been the most gracious and welcoming in-law I have, made me realize how mean it is to judge someone based on language.

So thank you FIL I guess?


Beth’s reaction to someone treating her badly was to learn the rules.

My reaction to such a thing is to blow everything up and to say the rules are stupid.

The rules are stupid and those two girls who corrected Beth were horrible people.

Don’t be a horrible person. That is all.

Assault is not love

They don’t invade our space because we are pretty. They invade our space because they can.

Exit row seat with plenty of room for this man’s legs, yet he spreads into my space. MY space. MINE.

Men spread because they think we’re pretty!

I had a conversation with a male friend about manspreading. He seemed to think it was a compliment to me that a total stranger on a plane – when this stranger had plenty of leg room because we were in the exit row and the stranger was not eight feet tall – wanted his leg to touch mine.

Friend: I thought you knew him?

Me: Nope. Total stranger.

Friend: Wow! You just felt familiar, I guess?

Me: This happens to me every single time I am on public transportation. Men take my space.

Friend: you must have a very inviting aura… 🤔

Me:  I would like to think I am special, but this happens to almost all women. 😟

Friend: Only the pretty ones… 🤫


I do not have an “inviting aura”

I have been doing all I can to cultivate an RBF. I do not want to be approachable. I do not want to be nice.

What I want is to be left TF alone.


It’s not about pretty, it’s about power

I am not nor have I ever been particularly pretty. In addition, I am a Woman of a Certain Age, which means that in general, I have become invisible as a sexual object to men.

And yet, I am manspreaded upon.

Why is that, do you think?

Do men manspread other men?

Hahahahaha. No of course they don’t.


Battery

1. In criminal law, [battery] is a physical act that results in harmful or offensive contact with another person without that person’s consent. 2. In tort law, the intentional causation of harmful or offensive contact with another’s person without that person’s consent. (Source)

That is, if you touch me without my permission, you have committed battery.

(In some places, they call that “assault,” although assault is also defined as the threat of unwanted touching or physical harm. I used “assault” in the title because I think that’s the term more people use when they think of unwanted physical contact.)


What is “manspreading?”

I will define “manspreading” just in case you are a man and have never experienced it.

Manspreading is when a man spreads his legs out beyond his space into the space of the woman next to him. Sometimes, that spreading means the man’s leg touches the woman’s leg, but often not, as we women tend to pull our legs in because we don’t want to be touched by a stranger.

Sadly, the response of the manspreader can be to spread even further, encroaching deeper into our territory. We pull our legs closer together and lean to one side.

Or, if we push back, thinking, “Maybe he doesn’t know he’s in my space and if I push, he’ll move his leg.”

Hahahahaha nope. That is not what the manspreader thinks. Instead, I think they think we’re coming on to them.


Boys tease us because they like us

It goes back to childhood, when even people I adored, like my own father, who was in most things a feminist (although he never would have used that word) – he required all of his children, boy and girls, to learn how to maintain a car and to cut the grass; he encouraged me in all of my dreams – to become a doctor, an astronaut, a writer; he suggested I apply to the Merchant Marine Academy because he thought it would be a cool profession – repeated the same BS many of us were taught: That when boys chase us or pull our hair or tease us, it’s because they like us.

That is, shut up and take it – it’s a sign of love!


Some men seem to consider our mere existence an invitation for their attention

All I will say about Punny Badger’s stupid take on books in bars is – Why does he even care? It’s not like people – probably women like me who used to take a book when she would watch her musician boyfriend perform in a bar – are reading AT him.

I promise that when I was reading, waiting for John’s band to set up and get started (they tended to run late), I was not crying for attention.

I wanted to sit in a bar and not be bothered.

That’s all.


Could we start teaching boys not to touch girls instead of teaching girls that unwanted touch is a good thing?

I hope that parents now are enlightened enough that rather than telling their daughters to suck it up when boys give them unwanted attention and touching, they are teaching their sons NOT TO HASSLE WOMEN.

It doesn’t matter if they think we are pretty.

It doesn’t matter if we have an “inviting aura.”

Stop. Touching. Us.

Stay out of our space. Stay out of all of our spaces.

A Black woman’s experience matters

It’s essential that the power structure look like all of America

I would also say it’s essential to have people who are SUPER QUALIFIED on the court, not people whose main qualification is that they are buddies with the former president. Source

My friend L and I were out with a male friend, Bob (a lovely, thoughtful man) at midnight.

(I know. It was very odd. We were at a party. With other people. I didn’t even know how to act.)

We were driving home from the party and saw a woman jogging.

Me: Holy smoke she’s running at midnight!

L: Yeah but look at the size of that dog with her.

Me: Oh, right.

Bob: What do you mean “the size of the dog?”

L: There’s no way she’d go running after dark without a big dog.

Bob: What? That’s nuts! Of course she would.

L, Me: ??????

Bob: Why wouldn’t she?

L, Me: Because it’s not safe!

Bob: Why not?

L, Me: BECAUSE IT’S NOT SAFE FOR A WOMAN TO BE OUT ALONE AFTER DARK.

Bob: What?

L, Me: What world do you live in?


In The Authority Gap: Why Women Are Still Taken Less Seriously than Men, and What We Can Do About It, Mary Ann Sieghart talks about systemic sexism and how women are diminished and discounted in public life. To overcome that, it’s important for women to be part of the groups that make decisions.

What’s really interesting about representation, though, is that there needs to be more than one woman in that group. If there is only one woman, the group and/or institution feels like it’s done its part to overcome sexism, but the lone woman is often pressured to go along with what the group (ie, the men) wants anyhow.


Sieghart talks about the women who go along with the sexism. Sometimes, it’s the group pressure.

Sometimes, it’s Queen Bee syndrome (there’s room for only one woman in the space).

And sometimes, it’s the patriarchal bargain, a concept I had never heard described with that term but understood immediately when I read what Sieghart had to say:

….to get along in a system with rigid gender rules, women will disadvantage their group identity or interest to get what they can out of the system individually. In the case of Republican women, the patriarchal bargain has a lot to do with relying on men for economic resources and male validation.

The Authority Gap, Mary Ann Sieghart

I remember the Clarence Thomas hearings and how so many men discounted what Anita Hill said.

Every single woman I knew at the time had a similar story. Every single one.

We all had been sexually harassed at work.

Every. Single. One.


I can’t even begin to understand what it’s like to be Black in this country (although I am not confident at all that Thomas will ally with Jackson to protect Black interests), but I do know what it’s like to be a woman. And it wasn’t until we had women fighting for other women that sexist laws and institutions started to change.

(Have you watched the two movies about Ruth Bader Ginsburg? “RBG” and “On the Basis of Sex” are both excellent.)

Maybe with three good women on the court now (Barrett undoubtedly has struck the patriarchal bargain), we will see women’s interests protected.

Our lives are worthy of art

When you (finally) see art that reflects your own experience

When your tinfoil has done all it can for you and has to be sent to The Good Tinfoil Place.

I hated poetry when I was in high school and college. All the BS about an athlete dying young (which now makes me weep because now it is real) and daffodils and celebrating and singing myself and the end of civilization as we slouch toward Bethlehem (which also now makes me weep because – well, everything) meant nothing to me.

Nothing. It was just a bunch of crap written by old men and I had to decipher the meaning and I did not know the meaning because there was nothing about the poems that touched my own experience.

The art I saw did not represent my life.

Sure, I had Judy Blume and Margaret and Nancy Drew and Meg Murry and Anne Shirley, but they weren’t part of the canon. Even The Diary of Anne Frank was something I read because my mom suggested it.

In school, we read Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace, and Catcher in the Rye.

Stories about boys.

I don’t remember reading a single book or poem in high school English with a female protagonist. I barely remember reading anything written by a woman. Maybe Emily Dickenson and Jane Austen, but they were not exactly accessible.

It never occurred to me that there could be poetry about menstruation and needing a tampon. Or breaking up. Or about wanting pockets in our clothes. Or about housework.

Then I found those poems. I found Kim Addonizio and Sharon Owens.

And last month, I found the book Sweeping Beauty, an anthology of poems about housework.

WHO WRITES POEMS ABOUT HOUSEWORK?

Women. That’s who. Women write poems about housework and how dreary it is and how they are stuck and how nothing is ever done but sometimes there is ephemeral joy in a newly-made bed with hospital corners.

They write things like this, excerpted from Pamela Gemin’s poem “Upper Peninsula Landscape with Aunts.”

The aunts won’t be dickered down,

they’ll tell you a buck is a buck,

as they wash and rinse freezer bags,

scrape off aluminum foil.

Upper Peninsula Landscape with Aunts, Pamela Gemin

These aunts are My People.

And this is my life. And my mother’s life. And, as my mom wrote after I shared Gemin’s poem with her, my grandmother’s life.

STILL going through Grandma’s diaries, I’m reminded of the ceaseless cooking, baking, canning, freezing, washing (clothes and milk machine), ironing, mending, sewing, milking, transporting, etc., etc. that constituted her daily life. Almost no day went by without at least one extra person at the table and more frequently four or five. Company from any- and everywhere popped in and were fed.

My mother was a one-person factory! 🥴 

I leave you with three amazing poems. But get the books – Sweeping Beauty, Bukowski in a Sundress – and read more. I think you’ll like them.

Upper Peninsula Landscape with Aunts

Home from casino or fish fry,

the aunts recline

in their sisters’ dens,

kicking off canvas shoes

and tucking their nylon footies

inside, remarking

on each other’s pointy toes

and freckled bunions.

When Action 2 News comes on

they shake their heads and tsk tsk tsk

and stroke their collarbones.

The aunts hold their shoulderstrap purses

tight into their hips

and double-check their back seats.

The last politician they trusted

was FDR, and only then

when he kept his pants on.

The aunts won’t be dickered down,

they’ll tell you a buck is a buck,

as they wash and rinse freezer bags,

scrape off aluminum foil.

The aunts know exciting ways

with government cheese,

have furnished trailer homes

with S&H green stamp lamps and Goodwill sofas;

brook trout and venison thaw

in their shining sinks.

With their mops and feather dusters

and buckets of paint on sale,

with their hot glue guns and staplers

and friendly plastic jewelry kits,

with their gallons of closeout furniture stripper,

the aunts are hurricanes who’ll marbleize

the inside of your closets

before you’ve had time

to put coffee on.

The aunts are steam-powered, engine-driven,

early rising women of legendary

soap and water beauty

who’ve pushed dozens of screaming babies

out into this stolen land.

They take lip or guff from no man,

child, or woman; tangle with aunts

and they’ll give you what for times six

and then some: don’t make them come up those stairs!

And yes they are acquainted

with the Bogeyman,

his belly full of robbery and lies.

The aunts have aimed deer rifles

right between his eyes, dead-bolted him out

and set their dogs upon him,

or gone tavern to tavern to bring him home,

carried him down from his nightmare

with strong black tea, iced his split lips,

painted his fighting cuts with Mercurochrome.

And they have married Cornishmen and Swedes,

and other Irish, married their sons and daughters off

to Italians and Frenchmen and Finns;

buried their parents and husbands and each other,

buried their drowned and fevered and miscarried children;

turned grandchildren upside down

and shaken the swallowed coins loose

from their windpipes; ridden the whole wide world

on the shelves of their hips.

The aunts know paradise is born

from rows of red dirt, red coffee cans,

prayers for rain. Whenever you leave

their houses, you leave with pockets and totes

full of strawberry jam and rum butter balls

and stories that weave themselves into your hair.

Some have already gone to the sky

to make pasties and reorganize the cupboards.

The rest will lead camels

through needles’ eyes

to the shimmering kingdom of Heaven.

Pamela Gemin

To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall

If you ever woke in your dress at 4am ever

closed your legs to a man you loved opened

them for one you didn’t moved against

a pillow in the dark stood miserably on a beach

seaweed clinging to your ankles paid

good money for a bad haircut backed away

from a mirror that wanted to kill you bled

into the back seat for lack of a tampon

if you swam across a river under rain sang

using a dildo for a microphone stayed up

to watch the moon eat the sun entire

ripped out the stitches in your heart

because why not if you think nothing &

no one can / listen I love you

joy is coming.

 Kim Addonizio

And this gorgeous poem by Sharon Owens.

Simple dreams

When you realize how lucky you are that you get to live what your grandparents dreamed

I think often of the time my grandparents – my mom’s parents, who were dairy farmers and hence almost never got to take vacation, visited me when I was in college. They had retired – which meant they finally had the time to travel (although they still had hardly any money – dairy farming in northern Wisconsin has never been lucrative, I don’t think) – and had driven to San Antonio to see my mom and dad and brother and sister.

All of my grandparents had to leave school at 8th grade. Their families could not afford for them to continue their educations. But my mom’s father was a lifelong reader and kept a globe next to his armchair so he could find the places where the adventures in his books were happening.

My grandmother, who drew exquisite cross-sections of tissue samples and wrote a clear, intelligent, logical analysis of Columbus and the new world in her schoolbook – my mom still has all of those mementos – would have studied art in Paris if she had had the chance.

She didn’t go to Paris, but took weekly painting classes in the next small town over with a teacher she addressed until her death as “Mr O’Brian” and painted until she moved, at the age of 95, from her house to assisted living. Her paintings were displayed at the town bank and all of her children and grandchildren – including me – have at least two of her paintings on the wall.

My grandma painted this scene in Spain from a photograph.

My mom and her six siblings are all fiercely intelligent. Four of them graduated from college. My mom was her class valedictorian and attended the University of Wisconsin on a full scholarship, but dropped out to get married. Among her siblings are an ESL teacher, a commercial airline pilot, and an optometrist.

I was the first of the 26 grandchildren to attend college. When I graduated from high school, my grandmother asked what I wanted as a graduation present: a portrait of me that she would paint, which was what every single one of my cousins chose, or $400.

I chose the money.

This, from retired farmers who sent me a one dollar bill tucked carefully into a birthday card every year.

What was I thinking?


My mom drove my grandparents from San Antonio to Houston to see me at college.

Many of my friends were children of professionals – their dads were corporate vice presidents and college professors and lawyers and doctors and their grandparents had been the same.

Thinking about it now, I also remember that there were parents who were small-town pastors or mechanics, but it’s the rich kids that I remember.

My grandparents walked though campus in a daze. My college campus is gorgeous. And it was winter, which is miserable in Wisconsin but not so bad in Houston.

My grandparents, both of whom had been denied a life of the mind, were so proud that their granddaughter was in college.

I can still see my grandmother posing for a photo in the middle of the main quad. She’s wearing an old cloth winter coat, her sensible lace-up shoes with the thick black soles, maybe her Good Pantyhose – hose that she had not carefully mended when they tore, a dress that she would have made because she made almost all of her clothes, her cat-eye glasses, her white hair carefully permed and styled – she had a standing appointment at the beauty shop in town, and clutching her purse in front of her with both hands.


Have you read Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams by Alfred Lubrano?

It’s about class travelers – straddlers – people who move from working class to middle class.

I never even knew that was a thing until I read it a few years ago.

Each group has its own language and customs. And they are really different.

There was an experiment. They gave a task to a group of kids from working-class families and to a group of professors’ kids.

The working-class kids quickly designated a leader, outlined an approach, and solved the problem.

The professors’ kids argued about how to approach solving the problem. They never did solve it.

My dad was an aircraft mechanic. Yes, he went to college – first in his family – but only after enlisting in the Coast Guard so he could get the GI Bill. He grew up working in the family business, a small auto dealership and garage.

Mr T’s father, also the first in his family to attend college, was a college professor.

Mr T and I clash all the time on how to solve problems. I want to solve the problem as quickly as possible while he wants to spend hours and hours and hours analyzing it to find the best approach.

Sometimes, you just need to put out the fire, fast.

(Or, in a case from years ago, remove the bat from the upstairs toilet.)


I didn’t realize until I read that book that there was a reason I felt like corporate America was a foreign country. That there was something different about me.

There was. There was something different about me. I was in a world with people whose parents already spoke the language – people whose parents took them on vacations to Europe but didn’t tell them which countries because they wanted it to be a surprise – people who Knew People and could help their kids get jobs – people who knew how to talk to the boss and the secret code words and all the things I did not know.


I remember my grandmother posing for the photo in the quad – she was beaming – and I also remember, with a shame so deep that it has taken me over a decade to write about this (yes, I really have been thinking about this story for that long), that I hoped none of my fancy friends would see us.


Last night, my mom texted that her cousin J, who is 89, has been put in hospice. I only saw J once or twice. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was afraid to be around people. After his parents – his mother was my grandmother’s sister – died, he would come over to my grandma’s house to eat. He wouldn’t come into the house – she would give him a package at the back door.

J thought he had been responsible for peoples’ deaths but of course he had not. My mom said he was never, ever violent that she knew of.

He was not allowed to graduate from high school. His parents – also farmers – made him stay home from school his senior year to do field work. My mom wrote, “J was very intelligent but never given the opportunity to pursue anything but farming and driving milk truck. He cried when he wasn’t allowed to complete high school.”


My heart hurts. My heart hurts for all those dreams denied.