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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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.

When I Grow Up . . .

Santa closes the parade.

Santa closes the parade.

Have you ever seen a more perfect elf?

Have you ever seen a more perfect elf?

The young boy sitting next to me had it own miniature santa.

The young boy sitting next to me had it own miniature santa.

I believe this guy was part of the Chattanooga Zoo entourage.

I believe this guy was part of the Chattanooga Zoo entourage.

The Chatt Zoo mascott.

The Chatt Zoo mascott.

A serious color guard does the flag proud.

A serious color guard does the flag proud.

The Chatt Roller Girls pose briefly

The Chatt Roller Girls pose briefly

Some girls grow up to be roller derby stars.   This is a sport I think I can relate to–I’ve never actually seen a roller derby, so I’m only guessing.  It just seems like if you’ve had a really bad day at the office and you like to roller skate, this would be the perfect sport.

With helmets, knee, and elbow pads, it’s enough protection to eliminate the whole fear of skin sticking to wood floors.  I’ve heard there are often broken bones, but heck, broken bones grow back stronger.

This gets me thinking about the classic question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I’m guessing not too many parents says things to their kids like, “Stay in school, get good grades, roller skate every evening, and you can get into the roller derby.”  Yet, why not?

I think there should be a few ground rules for deciding what you want to be when:

  1. Know your instinct.  Before you knew people expected things from you, before you knew you had to make enough money to support a family, before you knew you would be judged for what job you had, what was the thing you said you wanted to be?  Keep some of that with you.
  2. Ignore what other people think.  Many people don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.  Even long after they’ve grown up.  This usually happens when a person allows their sense of responsibility to overcome their desire to be happy.  Don’t do this to yourself.  A job you love is far easier to go do well every day, whether it meets other people’s expectations or not.  A job you do well is a job that creates opportunities for you.
  3. Think short term.  Setting a course is just a direction; it doesn’t obligate you to decide permanently.  Just because you wanted to be a firefighter when you were 7 doesn’t mean that at 18 you’re obligated to go off to firefighter school.  There’s a lot to be said for experimentation.
  4. Bring your best “you” to work.  No matter what you do or how long you do it, it’s a job.  It’s not a “come hang out and talk to me while I work” or a “come get a bunch of free samples”.  And there are always people looking for the up and comers.  Don’t forget to bring your character to work with you–don’t expect to receive what you don’t give.
  5. Remember what’s important.  Every once in a while, remind yourself you’re doing your job for 8+ hours a day, 5+ days a week and ask your internal child (the one that looks something like the Santa’s elf image) if this is how you really want to spend most of your waking hours.

BTW, my brother used to want to be a UPS driver–he thought delivering packages all year was far better than only doing it on Christmas.

 

14,016,000 Hours

I completely missed the news on Friday.  By Saturday morning, posts on FaceBook were furiously popping to the top of my newsfeed about the shooting.  Several were a photo of a beautiful young woman who, at 27, is believed to have died huddled over her first grade class.

I made the mistake of going to the WSJ page that profiles the victims.  Every loss I’ve ever felt seemed to rise up from some place outside my consciousness and stick in my throat.  These tiny children.  These innocent, unsuspecting children with an entire lifetime ahead of them.  All gone.  In minutes.

Another post appeared on FB.  It was a line from comedian Andy Bororwitz.  It’s too true to be funny:  “Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I wish mental health care were as easy to get as, say, a gun.”

I find myself imagining Daniel Barden going to swim practice today.  Olivia Engel twirling around in a tutu.  Catherine Hubbard swinging on a playground swing, snug in a warm winter coat.  Chase Kowalski grinning ear-to-ear while tossing a baseball.  Jesse Lewis drinking hot chocolate with bright pink cheeks, having just come in from the cold.  Emilie Parker making homemade christmas ornaments for her teacher.  Noah Pozner growing up and going to his bar mitzvah.

I read through the list of names that seems to go on forever.  I have to stop imagining the futures that will never come.

A friend posts a quote from Mr. Rogers on FB:  “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.’  To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

I adore Mr.  Rogers.  There is no one more comforting.  But I remain troubled that all the helpers in the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy–and there were many–couldn’t stop one man with 3 guns from killing 26 people in minutes.  Not just 26 people; 26 futures.  About 1600 years of future were lost amongst just the children killed on Friday.  1600 years, 584,000 days, 14,016,000 hours of future.  How many hours does it take to cure cancer, end hunger, solve health care, find a way for us to peacefully co-exist?  What did all of us lose because we collectively haven’t found a way to prevent these tragedies?

Another friend shares a post from Maya Angelou, one of my personal heroes:

“Our country is grieving.  Each child who has been slaughtered belongs to each of us and each slain adult is a member of our family.  It is impossible to explain the horror to ourselves and to our survivors.  We need to hold each other’s hands and look into each other’s eyes and say, ‘I am sorry.’”

I am deeply, deeply sorry.

Monkey Feet

It all started on the hike to Grinnell Glacier in Montanna.  Pat and I were working our way up the mountain trail with me in my hiking boots that felt like giant led-filled balloons when we passed a couple on their way back down.  They looked impossibly fresh.  They weren’t limping.  They looked relaxed and comfortable.  As I looked down to find footing, I noticed their feet.  Low and behold, they were wearing fivefingers shoes.  I had heard of fivefingers before, but it hadn’t occurred to me people would wear them on the trail.

After limping our way back at the end of the hike with me barely able to put weight on my knees and hips, I found myself wanting to try fivefinger shoes.

When we got home, I bought a pair like the ones we saw on the trail–black neoprene.  Although I didn’t give them a true trail test for many months, they turned out to be a miracle on the treadmill.  My knees and hips felt better than they’d felt in years after the initial adjustment period.

There definitely is an adjustment period!  A whole bunch of tiny muscles in my feet and ankles had to be reborn and developed before I could walk as fast or as far as I had been walking.  But, once I’d adjusted my stride and footfall and developed weakened muscles, I was pretty sure I could walk forever without getting the shooting pains I’d become accustomed to.

Alas, the neoprene was hot.  It was hot indoors and hot in the fall and spring, but not warm enough for the colder temperatures I’d hoped to wear them in.  That led to the trekking pair.  They have a mesh weave that breathes.  Unfortunately, they weren’t made to be drug across the ground on their tops, which is exactly what happens when one is learning to hang glide, resulting in excess wear and tear.  My feet also do not like the tread on those shoes.  If I walk on hard surfaces in them, I get blisters on my big toes.

This led to the much softer and cushier black and gray pair, which I love.  However, they are a little too soft for the trail, which brings us to the orange pair.  They are supposed to have some extra support to protect against rocks.  I’m testing them tomorrow for the first time on the trail.

There are definitely tradeoffs.  Kicking a rock or stepping on something sharp feels a lot different (and not good!) in fivefinger shoes than in hiking boots.   They are also not good in cold and/or wet conditions.  My feet turned to blocks of ice on a short 2 mile walk that started off slogging through mud last November.  I was glad I’d brought my boots for the longer hike we did right after that.  For this reason, I bought a new pair of boots, too, much lighter than my previous pair.  I wish I didn’t need them.

February?

It’s February, right?  I’m prone to confusion on these things, sometimes mistaking Friday for Monday, or, far worse, mistaking Monday for Friday.  On the rare occasions when I still write a check, I often have to ask someone for the date, but I don’t usually mix up which month we’re in.

This year, I have to double check.  The weather feels like April and sometimes even May (in Columbus) but when I look out the window, I see a giant Christmas tree and holiday tinted lights on what are normally golden fixtures.  I suppose if I average December and April, I get to February, so maybe that’s how I can keep track.

I don’t mean to be snide–I still like to believe with childlike naiveté that it’s possible to keep the Christmas spirit alive all year–but I tend to think of the trappings of Christmas like trees and lights and giant blow-up Santas as not having so much to do with the Christmas spirit.  They do, however, take a lot of extra electricity.

I find myself wondering why this town that prides itself on cleaning up its river and developing in environmentally friendly ways supports keeping this all-electric decoration going for nearly 2 months after Christmas.  I wonder exactly when they will turn off the Christmas tree?

It’s actually not a tree at all.  It’s really many strands of lights hung in the shape of a Christmas tree.  Which I like better.  I feel bad when I see a tree that will die soon.  The lights may be killing thousands of trees via strip-mining for coal, but it’s kind of like buying chicken free of feathers, blood, beaks, and feet and all neatly packaged in cellophane.  It allows me the fantasy I’m not responsible for the death of a chicken.  Similarly, the lights-only tree allows me to fantasize I’m not responsible for the death of a tree.

It’s funny how the removal of responsibility allows us to walk away from things, to think “they” should do something about that.  Sometimes, I just don’t know what to do.  Other times, I feel like it’s not my place.  But a lot of the time, I simply fail to do what I believe is right because I don’t want to be the nay-sayer–the pain in the rear who always complicates things.

What is that quote?  “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  Apparently it’s a fake quote.  Regardless of whether Burke said it or not, the meaning rings true.  I would not, however, argue that leaving Christmas lights on constitutes the triumph of evil.

In lieu of civic action, I decide I will shoot these remaining Christmas lights from our balcony.  They are approximately a 1/2 mile away on the far side of the river.  I shoot with my 100-400mm lens with the 1.4x extender on it (left over from trying to get a shot of the moon several nights ago).