Friday, October 31, 2003

The Black Moon

This is an email from KT who read the little article I posted about marriage about a week ago:

I have read your article and I wish that I could have had the same insight at a young age. I am the same age as you and I would like to do all of the things that you are able to do as a young independent woman.
I am married with five children although I love my family so much I wish that I would have had the insight and the guidance to make the decision not to give in to the notion that you have to get married and have children. I want so much for my life but now I have to wait until my children are grown and out of college before I can truely [sic] enjoy being who I want to be.
I applaude [sic] you for your strength it encourages me
to be strong and stand up for me even in my situation

It is tempting to turn to those men who unleashed a barrage of email on me and yell, A-HA! So I won't--not yet.

KT's email was one of three written by women; it was the only unequivocally positive message, if you can count a woman's sadness toward her life 'positive.' Writing those 4 essays (which will be put together eventually to make a whole, legible diatribe against un-fun marriages) provoked such hostility from male readers, it was stunning, though not unlooked for. I was called whore, worldly, unsaved, unsound, sinful, rebellious, destined for hell and wrong. There is a certain exhileration in being the target of masculine ire; if one was to make a current foreign policy analogy, one could say the attacks on my person are signs of a desperate foe who is terrified I may be right. But the thrill of debate fades when you start to think about how quiet these women are.

Over the past six months, a handful of women wrote me telling me they agreed but, shh, it'll be our little secret that this is how we feel. They wrote they had friends who thought the same way and to whom they showed the articles; they all agreed with them.

But it's a secret and I don't know why. Apparently, there's a small group of Christian women who didn't want to marry quite so young, didn't want to have quite so many children (if any), would rather travel than debate Ecclesiastes (though that's fun, too) and don't want to link their lives to men who can't get rid of a suffocating view of a woman's purpose. But these women are silent; they're in relationships, watching their partners, their husbands, strut around the home confident in their superiority while they are resigned and silent.

I wonder if KT's husband knows about how she feels; I wonder if he knows what she dreamt about before they married. I wonder if he knows that she's counting the years until all five of her children are gone and she can finally escape her house. I wonder if he ever feels conflicted, torn between love of his family and a desire for *something else.* Or, does he wake every morning, kiss his wife and kids, do his morning devotional, go to work and come home to a scene that is only slightly different from the one he left in the morning, completely unconscious of the tiny ripples that moved through his home while he was gone?

Wednesday, October 29, 2003


There's nothing much in my britches today. I couldn't decide if I wanted to write about my favorite feisty dorks, virgins and/or feisty dorky virgins. Concentration eluded me. However...from Salon, another article on the religious right's collusion with the Shrub administration to keep at-risk, underserved populations ignorant of comprehensive sex education.

Again (I *can't* say it enough,) I hate stupid people.

Also in Salon, an interview with Camille Paglia. What is it about this woman that skeeves me out and makes me want to slap her? The bizarro image I have is cracked red lipstick, yellow teeth and gin breath--I can't help thinking of Miss Havisham on Tina dressed in a sagging Versace.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Cop Out vs. “Opt Out”

There are two articles about women and work this weekend: one from the New York Times magazine writer Lisa Belkin ( and one today from Salon’s Joan Walsh rebutting it (‘Clueless in Manhattan’—you have to subscribe to see the full article or get their day pass.)

The line of Belkin’s argument is easy to follow since there isn't one; it’s basically another ‘feminism has failed middle class white women somehow and so this is my choice’ piece – at least that’s the way I read it. But three things caught my eye. There’s this paragraph:

“Look at how all these numbers compare with those of men. Of white men with M.B.A.'s, 95 percent are working full time, but for white women with M.B.A.'s, that number drops to 67 percent. (Interestingly, the numbers for African-American women are closer to those for white men than to those for white women.)”

Interesting how black women don’t choose to be part of this Opt Out Revolution, huh? I wonder why? Really, I do; I'm not being snarky. I wonder several things she never answered or even investigated: What are those numbers for black women, exactly? Why don’t women of color choose to opt out? Where are the women of color in her piece? What would those women have said? I’m not saying she MUST interview women of color but, hey, she brought it up. Why not follow that thread and see where it leads?

Then there’s this:
“Why don't women run the world? Maybe it's because they don't want to.”

I don’t know who Belkin hangs out with or where she found these sad-sack women, but I’ll stand next to Walsh and say, I wanna run the world! Why not remake the world? Why not wipe some slates clean and tell some people what to do and where to go? Will I ever? Odds are, not really. But odds also are, who knows? Wouldn’t it be great if a 34-year old brown woman with almost a PhD could change something?

This world sucks! There’s a growing uneducated underclass, our inner cities are getting poorer, our labor force is growing smaller (and poorer), access to education and healthcare by the lower middle class and working class is shrinking, the economy stinks, our political process has been hijacked by radical conservative extremists and we haven’t even addressed our geo-political quagmire over there in the Middle East. What world are these women living in that they’re so comfortable they can’t even think about changing anything?

What struck me while reading the bleating justifications for leaving work by the women interviewed was the question, Why should we care about these women if they don’t want to run the world or show even the least ambition to do something other than bear and care for children (something at least half the world’s population can do)? Should we care what ambition-less upper class privileged women think? Why should we care when it’s so obvious they don’t? Here are the words of an Opt Out Woman:

''I don't want to take on the mantle of all womanhood and fight a fight for some sister who isn't really my sister because I don't even know her.''

Wow. It must be true. Feminism must be dead if sisterhood can’t even get a shout-out.

And then I tried to imagine what Belkin’s article might have looked like if she had interviewed a woman of color who didn’t go to an Ivy League school, but attended two good ones like UCLA and University of Michigan, has managed to hang on to a job in this messed up economy and can’t ‘opt out’ because she makes less than 50k annually. I think the interview would be rather short:

Q: There are a group of previously successful women who have chosen not to pursue work, who have chosen instead to stay at home and raise their kids. Is this an option for you?
A: Uh, no.
Q: But you have, haven’t you? You left your Ph.D program—you were on the academic track and then you left it.
A: But not to raise kids. I left it because I was eating ramen out of a coffeemaker and hated living in a small town in the middle of nowhere. That was a quality of life decision. And I’m single, by the way.
Q: But if you could, would you?
A: Would I what?
Q: Not work. If you could stay home to raise kids, your husband makes enough money, you don’t have to work, would you still work?
A: We can live off one income?? Wow. Truthfully, I think I’d go nuts; am I writing while I’m home? Am I working from home? Do I have a book deal? That would be great.
Q: No, you’re not working. You’ve stopped working to raise your children. It’s to raise your kids.
A: I can’t afford not to work.
Q: But you can—hypothetically.
A: Ah. Hypothetically.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

A letter posted to Daniel Chang, creator of Ghettopoly (
Mr. Chang:

Bad taste has sunk to a new low. Your game Ghettopoly can join the ranks of Amos N' Andy, Sambo and Step 'n Fetchit.

I'm not going to go into the whole 'as a black asian woman...blah blah blah' thing, but really. Your ignorance and poor taste is amazing. I think it's safe to assume you've never lived in a housing project or 'the ghetto' and your version of urban life as a game of theft, pimping and dope is gross. But what do I expect from a guy who got this idea from a stupid MTV show?

However, the universe seems to be righting itself; I just read Urban Outfitters dropped your product and Hasbro is suing you.

Good luck with that.

It makes me tired, the stupidity, greed and casual meanness of people. What happened in Daniel Chang's brain while he was watching Cribs (thanks, MTV)? What clicked to make him think this was an ok idea, and what clicked in other people's brains to make them give him the money to do it?

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Perhaps because it was Marriage Protection Week I’ve been thinking about marriage lately. Unlike most women, I don’t think about marriage often and I think about marrying a Church Guy even less, but again, lately I’ve been wondering if I could be happily married to a Church Guy and what it would mean for me if I were.

Overall, marriage holds no compelling interest for me. I’ve concluded that marriage brings me nothing I don’t already have. Security? Got it. Social acceptance? Got it. Companionship? Got that, too. Children? Don’t want ‘em. Tax break? Doesn’t matter—and it’s insignificant unless you have property or children. Property? Good credit withstanding, I don’t need marriage to get that (see Security.) So there sits Marriage, like a used car in a bright parking lot with plastic flags whipping overhead, and I approach it, check out the price tag and keep walking. I’ll grab a taxi, thanks.

I also imagine what's written on that price tag: a total loss of independence and a significant loss of identity, critical thinking faculties and self. I would disappear and in my place would be a We, one half of which would be paternalistic, boring, uncool and, most likely, fundamentalist.

As always, I begin with a caveat. I do not hate marriage (or men—I like them quite a lot, actually.) I think marriage is nice. My parents were married. My sister is married. At least thrice, I’ve thought favorably about marriage. I respect marriage and the fact that it’s hard and weird and, because of it, your life turns absolutely upside down and you’re dunked in the middle of all sorts of social, economic and legal upheaval. I look at my sister's marriage and I admire her and her cute little family for working hard to raise a family now. But I take one look at a traditional fundamentalist marriage and I think, Yuck, you two are poster children for celibacy and desert islands.

Back in Los Angeles, circa 1992, I began to date a man in my dad’s church. Let’s call him Bob. We were the perfect picture of Christian dating—no funny stuff, no hanky panky, no heavy breathing. We held hands, we went to movies, dinner, theater, ballet, he had me home at a decent time and there was no flak from my folks—who were curiously silent about the whole thing. (However, my sister thought our age difference was weird and one Sunday afternoon on the church parking lot, she freaked out and yelled that it was gross.) There was a curious absence of heat between us, but I was a chaste 21 year old and wouldn’t have known what to do with it if heat had suddenly appeared while we shook hands goodnight on my parents’ front porch.

After almost a year of holding hands, theater and ballet, Bob and I had a curious conversation on our way home from dinner.
He said, “What do you think about marriage?”
“I’m still in college,” I said.
“I know, but what do you think? I think I want to get remarried, settle down…” he said.
I said, “I have things I want to do first—graduate, travel, write, go to grad school, travel more….” Maybe smoke a cigarette, I thought.
“What about kids?”
I snorted. “No way. I don’t have a maternal bone in my body.”
Shaking his head, he said, “You’ll change. When they’re your own. Everyone wants kids.”
“You know what I hate? I hate people telling me what to think. That is so sexist, like I don’t know my own mind. And what does that mean, ‘when they’re my own’? So, I hate them now, but after a few years I’ll suddenly love them against my will. What crap. I don’t want kids.”
“Yes, you do. You just don’t know it yet.”
“I don’t.”
“You do.”
“I don’t.”
And so on, until I began to have panic attacks brought on by the vision of marrying Bob and popping out a gang of Bob Jr’s at the age of 22. To save my sanity and pass my finals I broke up with him one week later. Looking back I know it wasn't just that he and I wanted different things that ended our dating, it was the fact he didn't listen. He actually thought he knew better for me. He thought he knew me. I hear he’s married/divorced/remarried and now has all the kids he can possibly want.

There’s a part of the Bible that says something like “…as Christ is the head of the Church, the man is the head of his household.” Something like that, I don’t know. It’s a beautiful way of illustrating Christ’s love for the family of man and of admonishing husbands to love their families the way Christ loves us, isn’t it? However, it’s also a verse that gives me the creeps because I can see some Church Husband spinning it out so that it means, “I’m your personal marital Jesus and now you have to do everything I tell you.” Why would I, a 34-year-old woman, allow someone to tell me what to do? But if I accept the traditional model of Christian marriage, that’s what I’d be getting, I think. Of course, this vision of Christian marriage is an oversimplification, one that many Christian guys would protest, but with all the repression, prudery and witch-hunting, it’s weird how many Christian marriages resemble The Crucible.

What better place for oversimplification than a fundamentalist interpretation of marriage? Oversimplifying things erases nuance, context and shades of ambiguity, distinctions that fundamentalism cannot allow or the entire foundation of the belief system cracks. In such a flat monochromatic landscape, my place in marriage is fixed. Of course, one could argue that my view of marriage and Christian men is itself a fundamentalist position, equally dedicated to oversimplification and the erasure of nuance to defend an unpopular but provocative position. However, I’d pit my oversimplification against a fundamentalist’s any day and argue that their view of marriage is rather un-fun, infantilizing and bizarre.

Here’s a story for you: In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Jane flees Thornfield Hall on her wedding day when she realizes the man she desperately loves, tyrannical Rochester, has locked his crazy wife Bertha in the attic all these years. Homeless, about to eat pig swill, Jane finds her cousin St John Rivers, an Anglican minister preparing to travel to India to convert its heathen hordes. Jane stays with his family, taking dictation and recovering from the Bertha episode, when St. John suddenly proposes. He is a fine man, a learned man, but an unbending priggish man who would break her spirit like a cracker. She refuses him and returns to Rochester after learning Bertha is dead and he is blind, maimed and his house burnt down. To the reader’s surprise, they marry and Jane’s wild spirit finds a home in her broke down, blind, crippled husband.

I love this book.

I love that it was written by the daughter of a clergyman; I love that Jane was plain but smart; I love how she was stubborn, outspoken and knew her mind; she was implacable and unsentimental, and picked the crazed cynical non-Church Guy over Uber Church Guy.

My feelings about marriage evidently come down to a matter of independence. My reading of my self conflicts with the way a traditionally trained Church Guy would see me, which would be through the eyes of an orthodoxy that maintains marriage as a ‘natural,’ ordained event. It becomes the period at the end of a woman’s sentence; it becomes the natural place for her to end, like arriving at the end of a fairy tale in which we are rescued from the ashes of singleness by the love of a good man and we, naturally, marry and have children. I suppose it is a romantic story—if you think your life is ashes and all it needs is marriage to make it better. Most likely, what women need is what Virginia Woolf calls “a room of one’s own”—what people in my generation call ‘getting a life.'

People ask me why I don't date church guys. Well, let’s see: I’m a 34-year-old, non-nurturing stubborn, opinionated, smart-mouthed, rabidly progressive and arrogant over-read feminist/Christian, who would rather hire someone to clean my house than do it myself. Will I ever marry? Whatever.