Gender and Stomach Flips

I am struggling with what it means in 2017 to be a woman in America.

It wasn’t all the men being accused of (and/or admitting to) sexual misconduct of late that was the tipping point for me (although they certainly contributed). It was a random series of events that caused me to end up sitting through a continuing legal education requirement with an attorney-friend that motivated me to finally sit down at the computer and write.

I was surrounded by about 50 attorneys in a 1-hour class on legal ethics. (Were you aware that attorneys have ethics?) The question was raised regarding the case of Mark Giannini, a Memphis businessman who was accused of raping a woman. Giannini’s defense attorney made the following statement during his closing argument: “People can be very good at lying. Women can be especially good at it because they’re the weaker sex.”

From the Tennessee professional rules of conduct for attorneys, this is an excerpt from rule 8.4:  “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to . . . (d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.” In the comments to the rules (which are meant to explain the intention of the rules), it says, “[3] A lawyer who, in the course of representing a client, knowingly manifests, by words or conduct, bias or prejudice based on race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status violates paragraph (d) when such actions are prejudicial to the administration of justice.” (You can look these up here: http://www.tba.org/info/tennessee-rules-of-professional-conduct).

Yet, in this room of about 50 attorneys, there was a great deal of skepticism that the defense attorney had violated this rule. What struck me most painfully was the moment when the presenter said, “What if his comment would have been about race?”

I imagined that quote again. I imagined it saying: People can be very good at lying. African Americans can be especially good at it because they’re the weaker race. My gut did a flip. The kind of flip that your gut does when the core of your being is reacting to something you know innately is horribly, horribly wrong. I imagined that quote revised one more time to say: People can be very good at lying. Jews can be especially good at it because they’re the weaker race. My gut flipped again.

I’m glad my gut flips when I think about people having such ridiculous, prejudiced beliefs based on someone’s race and/or religion. What I found so disturbing was that my gut DIDN’T do the same flip on the actual quote. Intellectually, I was outraged. But in my belly, the true test of what I really feel, I remained calm. Why? Why would the core of my being feel OK with being accused of being better at lying? Or, of belonging to the “weaker” sex?

I have given some thought to this question. One thing that occurs to me is that in the 2 alternate examples, I cannot be a victim of this thinking as I am neither African American nor Jewish. Is it the innate sense of duty to protect the rights of others that causes my gut to flip? But if that is the case, shouldn’t my gut still flip for the sake of all women? Do I not have the same duty to protect women regardless of the fact that I am one? What scares me the most is the possibility that deep down in my unconscious feelings I feel helpless to protect my own gender.

Is it possible that what I really feel is that it’s every woman for herself? I believe in supporting other women. I believe that women must band together in the face of prejudice and fight it together. I believe in the strength of numbers. Yet, every election, I watch women doing things I cannot explain nor comprehend. In the face of our president being exposed as a self-described grabber of women’s genitalia, I saw women “friends” post things on Facebook like, “boys will be boys.” This is consistent with my personal experience in life–I have found gender to be an unreliable predictor of who will be the biggest supporters of women.

Perhaps then it is a prejudice of a different sort to be emotionally aghast at the thought of someone saying something so offensive about minorities to which I do not belong. To assume that they need me to be aghast. Ultimately to view these categories of people as a whole, homogenous category rather than unique individuals who can also fend for themselves as individuals.

Or, is it possible that our culture is so permeated with subtle messages of misogyny that we rarely notice or, when we do, it seems so normal that people feel compelled to defend such behavior?

I do not have great insight as to why this is. But I am not alone in my gut doing a bigger flip over race than over women. The implication to me is that we, as a culture, are less able to protect women from sexism than we are to protect other groups from other forms of prejudice. And you know what? We really suck at protecting other groups. Where does this leave women?

 

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Taking Stock

It’s officially been 2 months since my leave of absence began. I thought it would be a good time to enumerate both the new lessons I’ve learned and the old lessons that have  resurfaced as particularly relevant to this major shift in my life.

  1. Your time will fill. No matter how much you have to do or how long you think you have to do it, time will pass more quickly than you expected and you will get less done than you planned.
  2. It doesn’t matter how much of an out-of-the-box thinker you are; if there is no box, you can’t think outside of it.
  3. When you have a mile-long list of things to do and believe you have only a fraction of the time you need to get them done, you manage your time far more judiciously than when you have a short list of things to do and believe you have all day. (See #1.)
  4. There is always more opportunity than capacity.
  5. When one thing has been your biggest time investment for a long time, when you pull it out of your schedule, everything that surrounded it collapses on top of each other and you have to scratch and claw your way through the crap to shove in something new and get all the little stuff safely held at bay.
  6. Staying busy is not the hard part. It’s staying busy doing the important things instead of the distracting things that’s hard. (See #1.)
  7. Just because something must be done urgently doesn’t mean it should be done at all.
  8. I really mind a dirty house less than I mind cleaning it.
  9. We treat people we have an intimate personal relationship with like someone we have an intimate personal relationship with even when the topics are professional–it takes effort not to hear “I don’t love you” when you disagree.
  10. Working with your spouse is an opportunity to better your overall relationship. Creating artificial lines between your personal and professional relationship is only lying to yourself. The two roles are inseparable and must feed one another, driving both a closer, more intimate relationship and more creative energy from the feeling of being on the same team working towards the same goals.
  11. Sleep helps. This is theoretical. I used reverse logic: lack of sleep makes everything harder. Therefore, I believe that if I someday get enough sleep, it will make everything easier.
  12. Every day we have the opportunity to be more focused, more productive, more playful, more creative, more effective, more attuned to our health, and to get more sleep. We probably won’t do all of these things in the same day, however.
  13. At the end of the day, it’s you. There is only you and what you did and didn’t get done, whether what you did made a difference, and whether that difference is the difference you intended. Ultimately, there is not, and really never has been, anyone else to blame.

Showing Up

I remember once, many years ago when I was teaching for a community college prison program, having a conversation with another instructor who was telling me about advice he’d given a student.  He’d told the student, “Just show up.  Showing up is half the battle.”

I was reminded of a student in one of the classes I taught during my teaching certification field experience.  He showed up to class, sat down, put his head down on his desk, and promptly fell asleep.  I asked him if he was feeling OK and he told me he’d been up until 2AM that morning playing video games.  When I asked him how he expected to succeed in school if he didn’t sleep at night so he could stay awake during class, he replied, “I’m here, aren’t I?”

I think this requires considering what “showing up” means in this context.  It doesn’t mean physically moving your body from one point to another and not actually being there mentally.  Showing up means paying attention, watching and listening for opportunity to present itself.  It implies both an awareness and recognition of opportunity.

Even with this revision of the definition, I don’t know if I agree that just being there is 50% of the battle.  There’s also preparedness.  It doesn’t do much good to realize you have an opportunity if you’re not in a position to take advantage of it.

For example, I walk my dog in our neighborhood park 3-4x a day.  I spend this time mostly looking for birds.  I am aware, paying attention, watching and listening for the opportunity to see interesting birds present themselves.  However, I’d really like to get great images of these birds.  Yet, in spite of this desire, 9 times out of 10, I rush out the door with the dog but not my camera.

The opportunity to photograph birds presents itself nearly every time I walk, but only 10% of the time am I prepared to actually capture an image of a bird.

Yet, oddly, I seem to be less likely to see birds when I am most prepared.  This is like seeing that the weather forecast is for rain, taking an umbrella, a raincoat, and wearing waterproof boots only to have the weather turn sunny against all odds.

If we apply statistics to this equation, I think it comes down to this:  I’m going to see birds I could photograph 90% of the time I walk.  If I carry a camera only 10% of the time I walk, the odds that I will actually capture an image of a bird drops to 9 times out of 100.

Like everything else in life, showing up, being present, and being ready have to come together with luck.  The more frequently we do our part, the more frequently our readiness will connect with good fortune.  So, I guess that means I will be carrying my camera a lot more often in the future!

Meet Tom Turkey

Meet Tom.  Tom is a Bourbon Red heritage turkey who is free-ranging it on a farm in Wildwood Georgia where the grass is green, the sun is bright, and the hens are . . . well . . . at the moment, scarce.  Tom’s Tinas are off sitting on about 20 eggs they laid in a secret hiding spot where the two hens share incubation duties of a combined nest.

What’s remarkable about this story is that Tom and his Tinas participated in the act of procreation without assistance from humans.  That happens to be one of the criteria for a breed of turkey to be considered “heritage”–they have to be able to breed on their own.

But what exactly is a “heritage” turkey?  Perhaps the best way to define a heritage turkey is to say that it is a traditional turkey from back before tradition became to factory raise turkeys who can barely walk, let alone breed.

The criteria to be a heritage turkey are:  mate naturally, have a long productive lifespan, and grow slowly.  By “long” and “slowly,” I presume what is really meant is “longer than” and “slower than” the dominant breed of turkeys used by factory farms.  You can read about it from a better resource at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy website, which I was paraphrasing.

Tom takes the first item on that list quite seriously.  However, after spending about 15 minutes trying to convince Tom that I am not a turkey hen and only being able to divert his attention by offering the distraction of my husband, I wonder if there might be a criteria missing?  I suppose the approach of attempting to mate with anyone and anything until one of those things turns out to be a turkey hen will work as long as the hens are close, but it seems a bit inefficient.

It also made Tom a challenging model when I was trying to get pictures.  It’s hard to hold a DSLR with a heavy lens and press the shutter button with one hand while holding back a horny turkey with the other.  When I squatted down to try to get an eye-level shot, Tom rushed me.  Thankfully, Tom is persistent but not violent.  He just keeps pushing his puffed chest up against whomever has attracted his attention over and over again in this crazy dance of you pushing him back and him pushing forward.  It’s a dance with only one step in two directions.

When we got ready to leave, we pulled an empty Styrofoam egg carton out of the car only to have Tom pull it out of our hands, drop it on the ground, and proceeded to jump on top of it as if it were a Tina.  It was the most remarkable display of species confusion I’ve ever seen.  I guess it’s a good thing that how many attempts it takes a turkey to figure out who to breed with isn’t part of the heritage criteria.

Equinox

I wrote a really long, rambling post of over 800 words and decided it would be easier to just start over.
Here are the pertinent points: my staycation is ending. My 6-month leave is starting. So is my new role of working on my husband’s business and balancing that with my other pursuits like photography and getting myself from adequately healthy to ridiculously healthy.

I immediately feel the need to go on a rant about how long I’ve had a job, been self-supporting, yada yada yada. Basically, the need to justify slowing down, even if only temporarily, as if I have to prove I am deserving of this time.

I have suggested to friends that we should all stop cleaning our houses when we’re visiting each other. Then, we would all just be accepted as we are, clean house or dirty, and we wouldn’t drive each other to keep wasting time pretending that we’re neat nuts for people who are supposed to care more about us than about the cleanliness of our homes.

I suggest we do the same when it comes to using over-work as a way of saying we’re important. Let’s just drop the judgmental tones and patronizing comments about people doing things for fun. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there’s plenty of research that suggests people who play more are also more creative problem solvers and more effective and efficient at work (and healthier). So, let’s start bragging about making play a priority instead.

The next time someone says, “Oh, I don’t have time to do x,” let’s remind one another that we all have time to do what we choose. Sometimes we’re willing to make the choices to prioritize that time and sometimes we’re not.

In the end, we only get one lifetime (at least in this form, depending on what you believe) to create meaning. A universal truth I keep reminding myself of is that people never regret not spending more time at work at the end of their lives. People regret not laughing more, crying more, playing more, connecting with loved ones more.

So, here I go into the next stage of my journey. Perfectly timed with the spring equinox. What better metaphor than spring to begin anew? I might have liked having 13 weeks of winter to rest and recuperate from the past 30 years, but I suspect not. After all, it can be hard work getting rest.

Black, White, and Shades of Gray

The world is not black and white.  Or so we tell ourselves.  If, of course, we were not endowed with whatever particular function of our brain tells us we see colors, the world would be black and white indeed.

Today I decided to conduct an experiment in black-and-white.  I re-processed a series of color images without the color.

It’s interesting we refer to it as black-and-white.  While I suppose in the purest sense, only black ink is used on white to create the shades of gray that lurk between pure black and pure white.

I like the metaphor.  Even when we have only black and white to work with, we still end up with shades of gray.  I am convinced that the essence of life comes in shades of gray.  It’s the shadows created by what we believe to be absolute truths that hold the real truth.

And that real truth is a paradox:  there is no real truth.

Someone recently asked me what a RAW image file looks like.  We cannot view the true RAW file as an image.  We can only view the subset of the RAW file indicated by the camera settings recorded along with the rest of the data or the version we create when we change those settings in software.

This is because the file contains the data for many possibilities and we have to choose which possibilities we want rendered into an actual image in order to view it.  The truth of the file is greater than what we are able to perceive at any given point in time.  I think this is exactly how all truth works.

Take, for example, the old story of the 3 blind men, each touching a different part of an elephant.  Each accurately describes the part they are touching, but each describes an elephant completely differently.  Each is correct, yet they are also wrong.

Today, we have more data available with less effort than anyone imagined possible just a few decades ago.  But we can only extract a small set of information based on our personal settings.  Our internal filters tell us what to notice, what to agree with and what to reject.  Ultimately, we come away mostly with what is consistent with everything we already believe or want to believe.

This is like using the camera settings to decide how to render an image.  It’s automatic and easy.  Peeking into the shadows and looking at what other possibilities we might be missing takes energy and intention.

What fascinates me is that even when I know I am uninformed, under-informed, misinformed, I rarely fail to form an opinion–usually a passionate one.  And I am not alone.  Without this human tendency, we would have nothing to argue about–we would all be too busy realizing we can never know who is really right.

Is it possible to decide what we think is best without believing we are right?

Happy Christmas

I am re-posting my blog from last year Christmas Eve.  Feeling both nostalgic and concerned about what small things we can each do to make the world just a little bit better, it seemed like a good time to repeat this post.  This time, I decided to add photos.  I asked myself “what looks like peace?” when I went poking through my photos.  I wish I had more portraits, but, turns out I’m a landscape photographer.  Who knew?

All I Want for Christmas is World Peace

(originally posted December 24, 2011).

I would very much like to think of myself as a non-judgmental person.  But then I catch myself saying something like, “that crazy person is so judgmental–s/he thinks s/he is better than everyone else” and realize this is a lesson I’ve yet to master.

If you judge people, you have no time to love them.  Mother Theresa

Judgment riles me up, makes me feel righteous, justified, and even vengeful.  It separates me into the “right” and leaves those I judge in the “wrong.”  Having cast judgment, there is no need to listen or consider; all that can follow are proclamations.

Why do I judge?  There are practical reasons to make judgments.  For example, I choose to spell “judgment” with the standard American spelling instead of “judgement,” the standard British spelling.  Which is preferable?

In my case, this simple choice hides a deeper judgment.  I spell it “judgment” because I was taught that Americans who spell it “judgement” are ignorant.  If someone were to comment that I misspelled “judgment,” I could point them to a dictionary and explain that this is the correct American spelling.  I would be left feeling redeemed and, if I am painfully honest, even superior.

What I would not feel is connected to my fellow human being, negotiating the world together in harmony.

Love is the absence of judgment.  The Dalai Lama

What would I lose in giving up my judgments?  Clearly, my judgments benefit me in some way or I wouldn’t make them.  Would I be less smart if I never judged someone else to be stupid?  Would I be less hard working if I never judged anyone else to be lazy?  Would I be less competent if I never judged someone else to be incompetent?  Or do I make these judgments out of fear that I am what I judge?  Is pointing at someone else and calling them names a way of separating myself from what I don’t want to be?

I would hate to be discounted because I made a mistake.  What I would like is to be accepted for a flawed human being with the best of intentions.  What I need is to be heard and understood without being called good or bad.

 The moment that judgment stops through acceptance of what it is, you are free of the mind.  You have made room for love, for joy, for peace.  Eckhart Tolle

And that, dear reader, is what I want for Christmas:  love, joy, and peace.  I arm myself with the awareness that I judge.  I prepare myself to notice when I am judging.  I know that with attention, I can create more space for love, joy, and peace.  And in this gift to myself, I hope I can contribute just a little to a gift to the world:

World peace must develop from inner peace.  Peace is not the absence of violence.  Peace is the manifestation of human compassion.  The Dalai Lama

View of Downtown Chattanooga from Stringer's Ridge in the fall

View of Downtown Chattanooga from Stringer’s Ridge in the fall

The rising full moon pauses over Walnut Street Bridge

The rising full moon pauses over Walnut Street Bridge

This Eastern Bluebird--a harbinger of luck and happiness

This Eastern Bluebird–a harbinger of luck and happiness

While mountains offer dangerous adventures, viewed from a distance, their steadfastness always makes me feel peaceful.

While mountains offer dangerous adventures, viewed from a distance, their steadfastness always makes me feel peaceful.

Shot from Signal Point, the setting sun always puts me at ease.

Shot from Signal Point, the setting sun always puts me at ease.

What is more peaceful than a sleeping dog?

What is more peaceful than a sleeping dog?

Beautiful skies always make me feel hopeful.

Beautiful skies always make me feel hopeful.

Christmas trees alone in the dark always seem so quiet and still.  I can sit and stare at a Christmas tree for hours.

Christmas trees alone in the dark always seem so quiet and still. I can sit and stare at a Christmas tree for hours.

The ocean, when relatively calm, soothes all your troubles away.

The ocean, when relatively calm, soothes all your troubles away.

Looking down the Tennessee River valley after a long hike makes my day.

Looking down the Tennessee River valley after a long hike makes my day.

Fog filters through the trees in the Black Forest in Germany.

Fog filters through the trees in the Black Forest in Germany.

I love light beams peeping through clouds--"god beams" as at least one of my photographer friends calls them.

I love light beams peeping through clouds–“god beams” as at least one of my photographer friends calls them.

Beautiful sailboats sail peacefully on this calm day on the Bodensee in Germany.

Beautiful sailboats sail peacefully on this calm day on the Bodensee in Germany.