Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I want to share two things.

First, an article from Harvard Divinity Bulletin by Chris Hedges, "A Hollow Agnosticism," which is a review of Bart Ehrman's God's Problem. I have not read Ehrman, or Hedges' new book, I Don't Believe in Athiests.

The essay's title drew me in, and despite the kids running around socking each other with plastic swords and begging for my intervention, I had to read it all the way through. It helped me answer some questions I have recently had about what's next in my life. Well, not answer them exactly, but reinforced my sense that the answer is not, "treat yourself to something nice" or "just don't worry about it."

Anyway, read it if you're wondering why we suffer. Not that he answers that question. It's more like, "so glad you asked."

Then my dear friend Parisa sent me a link to a sermon she gave on doubt. Again, focusing on the importance of questioning, doubting, even of heresy. And yet rather than despair at the un-knowable-ness of questions like "where do we come from?" "why are we here?" and "what happens after we die?" she finds wonder and miracle in the very fact of being alive.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Michelle Obama

I ended my last post bracing myself for the treatment of Michelle Obama in the media, and soon after saw this piece in Racialicious discussing how both conservative and liberal media and bloggers have begun to dissect Michelle's appearance, strength, career, and etc. Where Hillary's supposed dowdiness was used against her when Bill was President, now it appears that Michelle's attractiveness will be used against her. (See the photo from a "progressive" blog depicting her in a revealing evening gown, hanging from her wrists and about to be branded by the KKK supposedly illustrating the racist and sexist attacks of right wingers. As if composing that image were not itself a threatening act against her.)

Laura Bush is the ideal "first lady" as that concept is constructed. She is white, Christian, demure, and attractive, but in a conservative way. She is deferential towards her husband even when she disagrees with him, is patient and kind, forgiving him for his youthful excesses. A librarian and a mother, capable of keeping the household harmonious and preventing any distractions from impinging upon her husband's important work.

That the Obamas, like the Clintons and Roosevelts before them, have a marriage based at least in theory on equality and respect is deeply disruptive to the conventions of politics and running for office. (I say in equal in theory because obviously, Bill has shown deep disrespect through his behavior--although he worked like a dog to help get Hillary elected, and supported her attempt to transform the role of "first lady" during his presidency into a job description his wife would want.) I guess it should be no wonder that politics is still such a male dominated profession, when there are such rigid roles prescribed for our nation's highest office and its "first lady."

Here's an idea: I would like to retire whole "first lady" concept. The fact that there were questions about what you would call the husband of the president begs the question of why one's spouse should have anything to do with the office of President in the first place. Spouses/partners show up at the office holiday party--they are not part of the job interview.

More importantly, our country needs to be cured of its first lady fetish--the demand that the wife of the President reflect some idealized notion of feminine domestic perfection: Donna Reed without the sass.

Barbara Bush couldn't live up because she had gray hair and was overweight, even though her personality perfectly fit the bill. Nancy Reagan was too strong and shrill, even though she looked exactly the part.

These are real women, not rarified "ladies." And in the case of Michelle Obama, the "first lady" narrative is going to be an oppressive prison for a woman with her own career aspirations and political convictions--for a woman of color who is bold enough to have spoken out against racism.

Based on a mythological creation of the Christian, white, wealthy, and powerful, it is no wonder that the attacks on Michelle Obama as unfit for the role of "first lady" have so quickly begun.
The fact that she doesn't fit the mold may be all the more reason to elect her husband President.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Mamas for Obama

Barack Obama's speech Tuesday night was a wonderful speech, and he is a wonderful candidate.

He is also so, so smart to be doing what he's doing to reach out to Clinton supporters--to recognize what she has accomplished and not dismiss her as so many have done. He not only needs to do this on a practical level, but he is right to do this.

It's also subtle and smart that he has made it known that he is taking the weekend off to have a date with his wife and go on a bike ride with his daughters. The image that came into my mind as I heard that this morning was so human, and such an image of a man who values and respects the women in his life. Good husband, good father... good way to woo women voters.

When I was a little Rosalie, I listened to Marlo Thomas's Free to Be, You And Me -- an album filled with a multicultural group of actors, musicians and athletes talking about the ways in which gender and race don't need to define or limit us. Songs like "Mommies are people, Daddies are people," "Sisters and Brothers," and "It's Alright to Cry" (aimed at boys) taught me that, in the words of one poem, "A person should wear what he likes to, and not just what other folks say. A person should be who she wants to. A person's a person that way."

As I got older, I experienced and witnessed the same gender indoctrination that everyone does. There were plenty of painful examples, but I still believed I could do anything I wanted to do as I went off to college. Daily, I saw and see messages in the media and heard words on the radio that indicated that women's primary value is as a sexual object or as a passive, dutiful wife and mother. But still, I did not feel defined or limited by my gender until I became pregnant and had children.

I'm so grateful for my beautiful, hilarious, clever little boys. But still, having children has meant making choices for the good of my family that mean compromising some of my own wishes and dreams. If I did not have children, I would be in a much different place in my career because I would be willing to travel, to work different hours, to live someplace where school quality is not something to be concerned about.

The limitations on my personal ambitions have been self-imposed, but still, it's hard to convey just how powerful it has been for me to witness Hillary Clinton's words and actions as a woman who is also a mother -- a woman who works so hard and has inspired so many people and who seems to have a healthy relationship with her brilliant and self-actualized daughter, Chelsea.

Being a mother and a professional is incredibly hard--it's no coincidence that the highest-level women in the executive branch to date--Condoleeza Rice and Janet Reno--do not have children. And that most of the women you see in legislatures and governor's mansions have grown children--whereas you see many fresh-faced young men with delightful young children bounding exuberantly down the aisles of state and federal legislatures.

Investing in children is critical to the work of building a strong community and strong nation, but the daily work of raising them takes so much effort that it's best to have a wife, or if you are a woman, to remain childless and leave that work to others as you pursue your career. And, you don't see many single parents -- moms or dads -- in politics. It's just too hard.

To be clear: I bear no negative feelings toward women who don't have children, and in fact applaud them for the courage it takes not to become a mother--a radical choice in a world that doesn't know what to do with women who are neither sexually available nor devoted to the domestic sphere.

It's just that growing up, I always assumed that we would have a woman president in my lifetime, and it would have surprised me that that's not going to happen before I'm at least in my 40's. I hope that we will some day.

So although my heart did melt just a little bit to hear Barack had plans for a date with Michelle and bike ride with the kids, it's also a little sad, because although Barack Obama is a man I will be proud to vote for, I'm bracing myself for the fashion stories on what Michelle Obama will wear to the inauguration and the plans she has for redecorating the White House.

Because although she is herself a professional and a brilliant woman in her own right, like Hillary, next January (I hope and pray) she will be our nation's next "First Lady."