Saturday, May 26, 2018

Count Your Blessings

I remember my mother saying this. Often. Count your blessings. 

I took it literally, then. I counted. 

Now I hear it as the hoped for antidote to a form of despair. The kind that comes when mortality knocks with the inner person yet unfulfilled.

Fulfillment varies, of course. For some women, it is knowing their children are happy, healthy, secure. It encompasses making a beautiful home for their family. Cooking delicious food. Easing the burdens of dailiness for loved ones. Those were certainly the fulfillments I and others of my generation were pointed to. Our mothers were pointed to. They—we—the privileged.

Count your blessings.

So many to count in that life. All the things that really matter. Children, friends, a kind husband, good health (for as long as it lasts), love. Maybe a garden?

And yet, and yet. What of the women for whom family, church and good works left a hole in the heart? An emptiness in the soul hollowed out when talent was set aside in favor of a woman’s duty?

My mother was a trained classical violinist, marrying late for those days. As I’ve mentioned before, I never saw her play a violin until the week after my father died.

He was an oilman, trained as a classical pianist. She respected him and his judgment of her musical ability. Apparently, he found it mediocre. Similar to his own, in fact, for he abandoned the piano for years.

He began to play again, for his own enjoyment and ours, when he turned sixty. She did not accompany him.
Failed artists, I suppose you could call them. Embracing necessities—earning a living, making a comfortable home. Leaving the hole in the heart to scab over, if it ever does.
I watch people I know today making different adjustments. Finding a way to keep working on their art, in addition to the necessities. Counting among their blessings the time they carve out for work on what they love.
Who will see or hear the results of that work? Is it important that the work of one’s soul be shared?
I think it is. In my view, all art is communication. A visual artist works alone. A writer—poetry or prose—works alone. A musician practices alone or with her/his band. We may value solitude. We may need it. But the expression must be received by others in order to be complete.
How lonely otherwise.
Exposing the intimacy of one’s art to others can be uncomfortable. After all, it is the private self that gives the expression life. But it can be difficult, too, because the opportunities for sharing are so limited. The judgments that apportion them so harsh.
I can’t speak for the visual arts, or music. My experience is limited to the literary world, or market, as it is often termed, in this commercial age.
The majority of fiction readers in our country consist of women over fifty, with young women rising fast. The first part of that observation has been documented frequently over the past two decades, corresponding to the boom in book reading groups, “book clubs.”
The principal market for writers of fiction, however, remains the “little magazines,” or literary journals, of which there are many, online and print.
Both book publishers and journals publish more works by men than women, although statistics indicate the majority of fiction writers are female. According to the national VIDA count, publishing around 35-45% women is still the norm. And, in 2016, only two of the major outlets for fiction published works by older women.
The gatekeepers for publishing remain young in general, particularly in literary journals. First readers there are often graduate students. In the offices of literary agents, first readers tend to be freshly out of school, even interns. When I was their age, my passion in literature centered around compelling concerns of my own. I was open to the quality of writing about the lives of middle aged and older people, but really, who cares about that stuff? What’s it got to do with me?

The journal that has published most of my work in recent years, Southwest Review, was cited as among the four worst with regard to numbers of women published. Thirty-nine percent. I have been fortunate, it seems, but last year they changed editors. Two young men now preside.

Count my blessings.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Red Light Blinking

Many women of my generation were shocked by the outpouring of viciousness aimed at womanhood in general during the 2016 election. The Women’s March reflected that we were not alone. #MeToo put teeth in it. With so much outrage displayed, surely the prospects for gender parity have grown much brighter.

Something odd has happened, however. The term “intersectionality” has begun appearing in common usage. Previously confined to academic analyses of social configurations, it now takes over the discussion of gender equality in more practical circles.

The way this happened shows us a lot about resistance in the power centers of our culture to equal rights for women. It also shows us a deep weakness of the Left in American politics, a weakness with important effects on every forthcoming election.

Intersectional feminism, boiled down, says that you can’t have gender justice without racial and economic justice, too. Ordinary feminism is too white, too privileged. White women are marginalized, yes, but a non-white woman is more marginalized on account of race, ethnicity and class—separately or together—on top of gender.

Watch out for that word class whenever you hear it. Americans have an uneasy relationship with the concept. We’ve been denying it as un-American for generations. “I’m as good as you, maybe better.” That belief fuels reality TV, and spills over into the political arena as we are manipulated to hate “elites.”

We used to desire to “rise” in social terms. We wanted our children to “better themselves.” Now, perhaps believing that rising very far is nearly impossible, we appear to deny the value of anything worth striving toward.

I hope that won't become the effect of intersectionality on women’s rights.

When you couple racial, social and economic justice with gender equality you pretty much guarantee that none of it will result. The proponents will spend their passion, energy and industry on the ideal as they see it, while the power structure rocks on, unaffected. Barring violent upheaval, it is hard to see how that can change.

The oppression of women predates issues of race and class, as we define them. In many ways, it is the Original Sin. How can a man be expected to take his rib seriously unless, by breaking it, he feels pain?

And yet, where justice is concerned, we are closer to achieving it in the area of women’s rights than in either of the other areas of concern to intersectionalists.

I’ve never met a white feminist who didn’t desire equality for non-white women. I’ve never met a white feminist who wanted to see non-white women oppressed. We ride in the same boat.

And when we allow concepts such as intersectionality to fragment our determination, we enable our failure. When we allow or force our gains, as a subset of women, to come at the cost of other women, we guarantee failure for all of us.