A Treatise on Toxic Femininity

I think most folks are aware of the term toxic masculinity. If I’m being honest, it’s a term I’ve never been fond of because I think men are incredibly valuable to our society & should not be continuously denigrated. Having said that, I’d be short sighted if I didn’t acknowledge that there are certain parts of traditional masculinity that can in fact be quite toxic. I have recently been involved with several exchanges with men that struck me as toxic- exchanges where men were condescending, demeaning, & downright rude to me. I’ve also witnessed several such exchanges recently by men towards other people, both men & women, & those exchanges angered me as much or more than the ones actually directed at me. In one case I actually spoke to the victim about how inappropriate those exchanges were & how he should not have to tolerate such abuse because it’s “just part of the system” or “inherent in the process.”

So I was going to write about how, as much as I might not like to admit it, toxic masculinity is in fact still a problem. But then I realized I really have nothing novel to say about the subject. It’s been written about so many times as to be a bit exhausted at this point. However, I would like to point out that SOME (not all) of the men who have been toxic to me at various times in my life are the exact men who claim to be feminists & decry toxic masculinity- but God forbid you dare to disagree with them. Then they will be very keen to tell you just how narcissistic, myopic, idiotic, redneck, uncultured, etc that you are. They may even block you on social media because you are apparently such a threat to their fragile masculinity because you have the gall to question them. INSERT MASSIVE EYE ROLL. Furthermore, most of the men who are truly guilty of toxic masculinity are the exact ones who would never listen to a damn thing I have to say. So I’d just be preaching to the choir, so to speak.

Anyway, all this got me to thinking that I’ve never heard the term toxic femininity used, but I googled it, & it does in fact exist. However, my definition of it isn’t exactly the same as what the “standard” definition is. Anyway, before I googled it I came up with a list of traits I’ve often observed in women (including myself on occasion) that are quite toxic- to ourselves & to others. Seeing as people usually accept criticism best from their own “kind,” I thought it would be more productive to write about this issue, especially since it’s one that is rarely addressed. And when it IS addressed it’s usually couched entirely around the concept that it’s all men’s fault & often focuses on other behaviors that I think are already fairly well addressed- or at least acknowledged- by feminism & society in general nowadays.

Of note, I sent this list to several male friends & several responded saying “My ex was just like this!” It’s clear to me that men (& women) experience plenty of hardships & even abuse at the hands of women & while it may not be as life-threatening, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth addressing. So without further ado, here we go:

  • Refusing to make decisions: Oh man, how many times have you heard the jokes or seen the memes about women who just won’t pick a place to eat for date night? Or generally won’t make a decision about something- but whatever the man ends up picking, it’s always wrong. I’m not going to lie, I used to doubt the veracity of such stories because I have always been quite a decisive person myself so I just couldn’t wrap my head around other women being like this. But after talking to several of my male friends, I have determined that yes, there are plenty of women like this. Furthermore, I suppose all those jokes & memes wouldn’t exist if such women weren’t so common. Anyway, the point is this kind of behavior is toxic because it breeds resentment which is never a good thing for any relationship- whether it’s a friendship or a romantic relationship. Not to mention you could argue that it doesn’t bode well for women if we can’t make decisions about something as simple as what to eat for dinner. If nothing else, if we refuse to make a decision we cannot in fairness turn around & blame the person who did.
  • Refusing to acknowledge self destructive behaviors or to accept responsibility for poor life decisions: Now this is where a lot of folks are probably going to want to get off the train. Please know that I am in no way attempting to victim blame. HOWEVER, I do think that it is very important that women become aware of the roles we can sometimes play in the abuse we suffer. In other words, if we never recognize WHY we end up in bad situations, for example why we are attracted to men who hurt us, then we will forever be helpless victims, no better than prey in the wild. To be clear, the exact same thing could be said for men who end up in relationships with toxic women. If they don’t recognize why they’re attracted to these women, they’ll always end up in the same situation. Ladies, we need to do better. We cannot just spend our lives saying “All men suck.” No, they don’t. We need to learn from our mistakes & do better, just like men are expected to do.  
  • Not stating what we want or need but expecting men to read our minds: How many times have you seen or heard the stories about how “When a woman says she’s fine, she’s anything but fine”? Too many to count, right? Again, this is something that has never made sense to me. If I’m not fine, you better believe my husband is going to know it. And so are my close friends. Why would I bottle things up from the people who mean the most to me? If you aren’t comfortable telling someone when you’re upset, why are you even with them in the first place? And if they’re constantly ignoring you or making your life more difficult such that you don’t want to bother them with your problems- again I must ask, why are you with them? I know there are a lot of very valid reasons why women end up in bad relationships, but at the end of the day if we ever want to break the cycle, we have to take responsibility for our decisions & start demanding better. And if that means being single, so be it. It’s exactly like obesity & addiction. There are a lot of very valid reasons why people are obese or abuse drugs or alcohol, many of them rooted in complex emotional trauma. But the sad truth is that obesity & addiction are still hurting people & until those suffering from it recognize & address the reasons behind their condition, they’ll be helpless to fight it. Ladies, we need to claim our own power over our lives & start doing better!
  • Not being upfront with people about problems or misunderstandings (i.e. passive aggression): Here’s another behavior that I think exists for a lot of very valid reasons, both historically & evolutionarily. But it’s still a problem. After all, the behaviors we’ve adapted to survive are not always beneficial long term. Considering all the gains women have made in the modern world, I think it’s high time we started being more assertive & upfront about things, especially with each other. I think this is honestly more of an issue between women nowadays than it is between men & women. I know for myself I am far less comfortable criticizing another woman than I am criticizing a man. I am always far more worried about hurting a woman’s feelings or having her take everything I say as a personal attack rather than as a caring criticism. I’ll admit there have been too many times in my life when I’ve stayed silent for fear of offending another woman. In my career I have observed time & time again that many of my female coworkers will complain about things to each other all day long but will never actually go to management with their concerns. And that management is invariably also female (seeing as I’m in a field that is overwhelmingly female). Ladies, we need to do better than this!
  • Cliques: I don’t feel like I need to say much about this because it’s self explanatory & everyone knows why it’s a problem. All I have to say is, if you’re an adult women & you’re still exhibiting this kind of behavior, please grow the hell up.
  • Making daughters feel like they’re more work: If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard people say “Girls are more work” or “Girls are more expensive,” I’d be a rich woman. What I think is so ironic about this is that it is invariably women saying this. I couldn’t absolutely swear on it of course, but I honestly do not remember ever hearing a man say this. It’s always been other women. I couldn’t tell you WHO said this to my mom when I was a kid/teen, but on multiple occasions I remember hearing this & I remember my mom responding with a fervent disagreement & explaining how it doesn’t HAVE to be that way. I was always grateful to her for how she handled those conversations, but now that I’m an adult & a mom myself, I have to say I am also proud of her because she could have easily just gone with the flow & agreed. (So if you’re reading this, thanks, Mama. You rock!) I’ll never forget shopping at a maternity store when I was pregnant & having the saleswoman ask me what gender the baby was going to be. When I said I was having a girl she gave me this speech about how sorry she was because her daughters were so much more work than her sons. I honestly was astounded & appalled but I also must admit that I didn’t really say anything to oppose her. Probably because I knew her response would be “Oh, just wait, you’ll see.” But I have never forgotten that conversation & part of me would dearly love to see her again (not that I remember what she looked like) & tell her just how wrong she was. At the end of the day, even if you could scientifically argue that girls are more work or are more expensive, telling them that is frankly abusive. Why would you ever want to make your child feel like a burden for something they can’t even control? It’s not like we choose to be born female! I will say it again: ladies, we need to do better.
  • Using men for their money: This should go without saying but apparently it doesn’t. Just in the past 12 hours I’ve had two male friends tell me about how they ended up paying off significant debts for ex-wives or ex-girlfriends who just abandoned them & left them to deal with the mess. So it stands to reason there are probably a lot more cases out there just like this. Ladies, if we don’t want to be abandoned with a baby or with a man’s debt, we cannot turn around & do this to men. Do better!
  • Blaming men or internalized misogyny for every problem: Here’s the one that will really piss off the modern feminists. You see, I’ve read a lot about internalized misogyny & I agree to a certain extent that it is a problem. But I also think our society is doing & has done a lot to address it. Furthermore, if we ever want to be more than hapless victims in this life, we cannot keep blaming men for all of our problems, especially not if we are frequently guilty of the toxic behaviors listed above. Life just doesn’t work that way. We need to do better, end of story.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, I thank you for reading all of this, especially if you’re a fellow woman & have perhaps found yourself feeling convicted a time or two. I know I did when writing this. But I also refuse to accept that we can’t do better, just as a I refuse to accept that men can’t do better than being toxically masculine. At the end of the day, maybe all of this has less to do with our gender & more to do with the fact that we are all HUMAN BEINGS. And- let’s be real- humans can be pretty damn toxic sometimes. But we can also do amazing things- it just requires that we acknowledge our toxic tendencies & find ways to do better.

And yes, I know some of you have a million examples of how men have wronged you, but let’s try to be objective & admit that we women aren’t perfect either. That in NO way means I’m saying you deserved the abuse or wrongs you may have suffered. Absolutely not. But we cannot continually use the bad behavior of some men as an excuse for our own bad behavior. That is not the key to happiness or success in life. Also, we cannot control everything that happens to us in life. But all the behaviors I’ve discussed here are things we CAN control. They might not be easy but they’re necessary for growth. Remember, while there are plenty of valid reasons for bad behavior, bad behavior is still bad behavior because it’s destructive to ourselves & those around us.

P.S. If I’ve offended you, please remember that you’re under no obligation to listen to me or to agree with me. I do not claim to speak for God or anyone other than myself. I write these posts mainly to toss ideas around in my own head & to encourage others to do the same. That’s all.

A Thank You to Tremendous Teachers

I recently came across a social media post about National Thank a Teacher Day. I googled this & found that the actual day was back in June but any day is a good day to thank a teacher seeing as it is an underpaid, overworked profession that is often not given the proper appreciation it deserves. In any case, it set me to thinking about all the many teachers who have made profound impacts on my life over the years. Obviously I learned a lot from many different teachers down the line but when I sat down to purposely think of specific conversations that have stayed in my mind over the years, I was somewhat surprised at what came to mind. All of the conversations that came to mind were not about any standard school subject- rather they were about life in general. But those are the conversations that have stuck with me the most. Seeing as teachers have undoubtedly experienced some of the greatest- if not the greatest- challenges of their careers over the past few years, now seems like a good time to reflect on those teachers who left an indelible mark on my own life.

I’m going to attempt to go in order so I’ll start with one of my third grade teachers who handled our school’s Advanced Learning Program. One day she asked us about our future career plans. I spouted out with what I thought at the time was a grand idea- I wanted to be a professional figure skater. I’ll never forget the disappointment I felt when her response was something along the lines of “How are you going to make that happen? You’re already past the age at which most of these people start skating. There are no skating rinks around here. Maybe you need to think about something more practical.” Inside I was seething, largely because I knew she was right, because my fantasy was dissolving right there in front of me in face of the pure hard facts of life. However, even as a kid, it didn’t take me long to realize that, while initially painful, this teacher actually did me a tremendous favor because her words spurned me to think about other careers that might be just as fascinating but actually doable. She also taught me that sometimes the truth hurts but we need to face it anyway. And for that I will always be grateful.

In sixth grade I had a history teacher who initially terrified me because she was known to be very strict & generally the sort who did not tolerate any nonsense. I was a complete “goody two shoes” so why I was worried I’ll never know. Anyway, in the course of that history class, perhaps when we were learning about the Holocaust, I remember her telling us that things were always harder for women. Now I was incredibly naïve at the time & I remember sitting there thinking “I’m not so sure about that.” Deep down I knew even then that she was probably right, but of course being young & optimistic I didn’t want to believe it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve cast my mind back to that class countless times & thought how right she was. Now I am not one of these women who spends every day whining about how terrible my life is & how much easier things would be if I were male. What an incredible waste of time that would be! But I’ve lived long enough now to know that this is still very much a “man’s world” in some ways & there are definitely certain times & situations in which I’d be very happy to change my chromosomes, at least for a little while. When I’ve read articles about how women have borne the brunt of a lot of Covid-related challenges, I’m always reminded of that conversation & think to myself “She was right all along.” On a rather different note, this teacher also taught me that just because someone has a bit of a “severe” demeanor does not mean that they aren’t at heart a very kind & caring individual.

Throughout all of middle school I was lucky enough to have the same English teacher every year who was one of the most amazing teachers I’ve ever known. There was something so incredibly human about her & how she approached her students. She saw us as more than pupils to be tested, that’s for sure, but even more than that she saw us as the budding adults that we were, whether WE realized it or not. I do not for the life of me remember the circumstances that prompted this conversation but I will never forget the day that she told me that there was a place in the world for “sensitive souls” like mine. She told me that because I was so sensitive I would experience both the highs/joys of life as well as the lows/sorrows of life in ways that others might never understand. Furthermore she told me that while this may feel like a burden at times it is also a blessing & can be a tremendous way to help others in need. As a somewhat shy teenager who was incredibly self-conscious & often felt lonely at school, these were words that wrapped me in comfort during my hardest moments. I’ve never forgotten them & over the years I’ve often had cause to reflect on how right she was.

In ninth grade (& twelfth grade) I had a science teacher whose motto was “Life’s not fair. I’m not nice. Get used to it.” Or maybe the last line was “Get over it.” Either way, the point remains the same. He might sound mean based solely on this quote but in reality he was a very decent person- he just expected his students to actually work & not just skate along & get good grades simply for existing. I for one loved his class & thought he was hilarious. In any case, that quote has stuck with me over the years & I am always reminded of it when I find myself getting torn up over the unfairness of life. I don’t think he was trying to tell us that we shouldn’t strive to make life more fair, but rather that we shouldn’t expend our energy moping about unfair situations instead of actually DOING something about them or finding a way to handle them even if we can’t change them. I will also confess that I have pulled this quote on my own child a time or two. Ha!

In tenth grade (& twelfth grade) I had a history teacher who was excellent for many reasons but the conversations I remember the most had nothing to do with history & everything to do with the future. And these conversations were not directed at me at all. It might have been career day during spirit week but in any case I’ll never forget the day this teacher asked a male classmate what his career plans were. The student stated that he wanted to be an NFL player. The teacher responded by calmly asking “What are you doing now to make that happen? Do you play on our school’s football team?” As it turned out the student was doing virtually nothing to make his dream come true- if I remember rightly he wasn’t even on the school football team. What I’ve always admired about this teacher is he did not use this situation to make fun of this student for having an unrealistic dream that he wasn’t actually working toward- rather he used this as a way to show us that our choices have consequences & that we have to actually do the work to chase our dreams. We can’t just wait around expecting miracles to happen. I also remember another discussion this teacher had with a female student who mentioned that her parents were very adamant with her that once she graduated she was on her own. She would have to support herself financially & that was all there was to it. Again, this teacher responded by calmly asking the student “What are you doing NOW to ensure that you will be ok after graduation? What plans do you have?” I’ll never forget that conversation for several reasons, one of which was that it made me realize that not everyone had parents who were as supportive as mine. I suppose I had known that on some level for a long time but that conversation made it all the more clear.

In ninth & eleventh grades I had another history teacher who left indelible marks on my mind. I wish I could think of very specific conversations we had but I just can’t. I think there were simply too many of them, especially in his eleventh grade American history course. This teacher was a bit of a former hippie (legitimately) who- at least in my view- was far more liberal & far less religious than the average person, or even the average teacher, in our small town. Throughout his class he challenged me in many ways about so many things I had been taught growing up, about so many pre-conceived notions I had about life. It was incredibly eye-opening & served in large part to make me the person I am today. One could say the wheels of my mind started turning in new motion largely thanks to his classes- even if I couldn’t or didn’t fully commit to some of those new ideas for a few more years.

The exact same thing could be said for my twelfth grade English teacher. Additionally, I literally read books differently now because of her. During her class I started highlighting or underlining important quotes in books so that I could use them to write papers, but all these years later I still find myself doing the same thing just so I can savor my favorite passages again some day.

There are so many more teachers I could mention but I’m trying to write more of an essay & less of a novel here, so I think I’ll end this by simply saying thank you to all the many wonderful teachers I’ve had over the years. I might have grown up in a “backwards” small town, in some people’s view, but there was certainly no dearth of excellent teachers there. And for that I will always be grateful.

By the way, I’d love to hear from my readers about teachers who strongly impacted your lives. Any of my hometown folks have stories to share about some of these same teachers? I bet y’all do. I’d love to hear them.

An Addled Mother’s Thoughts on PPD

Have you ever wished to have a different brain than your own? I definitely have. And I still do sometimes, especially as a mom. Everywhere I look I see friends, coworkers, former classmates, former coworkers, family members, & general acquaintances having their second, third, or even fourth kids. And here I am with a daughter who’s soon to be five still feeling like “Nope, I’m not ready to do that again.” When I say “that” I mean everything involved with having another baby but specifically the newborn & baby stage. As some of you may know, that was a very difficult & trying time for me. It’s really only been in the past year or so that I’ve come to fully appreciate just how bad my post partum depression really was. No, I wasn’t suicidal or psychotic, but I was far further down the rabbit hole of despair than I realized at the time. And the frustrating thing is I did so many of the “right” things that you’re supposed to do to help with PPD: I took medication (a slightly different version of what I took for anxiety prior to giving birth or even being pregnant), I went to therapy, I occasionally went to a new mom’s support group, I worked part time, I vented to friends & family. And yet I still struggled, far more than I ever let on.

The truth is part of me is angry because I feel like PPD stole things from me. I feel like I lost precious moments that I can’t get back. I also feel so guilty for complaining because I know many women have had far worse situations- but I also feel like I’ll never get past this fear if I don’t air it…. So, on that note, here we go…

Because of my pre-existing anxiety I was high risk for PPD anyway. Then throw in a jaundiced baby who had to be readmitted to the hospital after just one night at home- a miserable night that left me in tears too many times to count- & I think it was just too much for me. I know social media is always a highlight reel & most people don’t share the hard stuff, but every time I see people so excited about going home with their new babies & enjoying those early days at home, I must confess I feel a pang of jealousy. Again I know so many women who’ve endured far worse, but I just didn’t get a peaceful newborn period. Physically I recovered phenomenally well- I can’t complain there- but mentally was a whole other story.

Our first night at home I spent in anguish because I knew my baby was sick & nothing I was doing was helping. I felt helpless, terrified, & lonely. It’s not like my husband could breastfeed, you know! When we went to the pediatrician the next day, the doctor graciously helped me with breastfeeding & even taught me how to use my pump. But because it was a Saturday they couldn’t do labs there, so we had to then cart her 20 minutes across town to a hospital to get her labs checked. No sooner than we got home from that did we get a call from the doctor telling us she needed to be admitted for bili-light therapy. That required packing up & driving another 20 or 30 minutes all the way across the city to yet another hospital. So those first few weeks I spent pumping & recording the baby’s intake & output like a mad woman, meanwhile also struggling to breastfeed- which was FAR harder than I’d imagined, even though I’d taken classes & read up on it- & generally feeling like I was losing my mind. Over the weeks that turned into months, things slowly got better. We found a rhythm with breastfeeding. We finally got some decent sleep. We bonded more & more & things slowly began to feel more manageable. I slowly began feeling like less of a zombie & more of a proper human being again. But I’ve never forgotten those long nights & those incredibly dark moments of despair. And I truly think that the only real “answer” for my PPD was time- which makes the idea of potentially facing it again quite intimidating.

I’ve realized over the years that my experience is actually quite common. Yet what is less common is women being truly honest about it. There are so many legitimate reasons why we aren’t, but in the big picture staying quiet about our pain only hurts ourselves & each other. I’m writing all this to try to come to terms with my own experience in the hopes that maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to try again. I’m very encouraged by some friends who have told me that they actually fared far better with their second babies. But right now I’m still scared. I know this time I’ll have the advantage of experience, the advantage of knowing that what I thought was going to kill me didn’t- so if I can survive it once, feeling like that & having NO experience, I can definitely survive it again. Even so, with the state of the world today, it’s hard to be a parent of even one kid, much less more than one. Not that it’s ever been easy, but Covid has without doubt made parenthood FAR more complicated.

I’m also writing this in hopes that if another mom is reading this & struggling with PPD she will know she’s not alone. I’m here to say that if you don’t like the newborn or baby stage too much- because of PPD or other reasons- it’s ok. It does NOT make you a bad mom. If you have moments- maybe more than you’d care to admit- when you regret your choice to be a mom or fear you’ve made a mistake, it’s ok. You will survive, things will get better, & you are not alone. If you want to roll your eyes every time someone says “Oh, I’m so sad my baby is growing up” or “She’s getting too big, I’m not ready,” it’s ok. You can roll your eyes right along with me & silently (or not so silently) cheer every time your baby becomes more independent & learns something new. It’s ok! Some moms love the newborn, baby, & toddler stages. Some don’t. Either way is ok. We all have our own experiences & they are all valid.

Also it occurred to me last night that the fact that my kids will be at minimum 6 years apart in age- IF I ever have a second one, that is- really shouldn’t surprise me. It’s far more common to have kids 1.5-4 years apart but since when have I done things the “normal” way? I got married young (at 22) which was not unusual for my upbringing but IS unusual in the greater scheme of things these days. Furthermore I married my high school sweetheart which, while “traditional,” isn’t exactly the normal thing to do anymore. I left my hometown & never moved back which certainly isn’t unheard of but also isn’t the norm for most people from that area. I could go on & on but in many ways in life I have not done what “most” people have done, though I’ll be the first to admit I know folks who have strayed far further from the “normal” path than I have. But the point is it probably shouldn’t surprise me that I’m choosing to approach motherhood a bit differently than many others. I must also take the time to note that because we got married young I have the advantage of not HAVING to rush into motherhood because my biological clock isn’t ticking but so loudly (yet). I realize not everyone has that advantage & I am grateful that I do.

So will I ever have another kid? I have no idea at this point. Part of me feels like I just can’t go through all of that again. But part of me also feels like I’d really like another shot at it, that I’d really like to give my daughter a sibling & all the experiences that come with that, that I’d really like another baby to love & teach. But the truth is I’m just not sure I’m up to the challenge. This has been weighing heavily on my mind this year & frankly if it weren’t for Covid, I’d probably have been ready by now. But Covid makes parenting SO much harder & there is absolutely nothing I can do about that. Part of me wants to wait until the dust settles a bit more, but I also fear that may never happen & I’ll be left regretting my indecision someday.

So yes, right now I wish I had a different brain. I wish I didn’t feel the need to plan things so much. I wish I could just go off birth control casually & “see what happens,” like so many women seem to do. I wish I didn’t CARE so much about doing everything right & could just throw caution to the wind & say “Oh well, I’ll figure it out when it happens.” But my mind doesn’t work that way, it just doesn’t. And that’s all there is to it.

Dress Code Dilemmas

This is a blog post I’ve been wanting to write for a while but it seems like another more pressing issue always takes precedence whenever I find time to write. However, I saw the below picture posted on social media recently & it inspired such conflicting feelings in me that I felt like I finally needed to make a go of it & delve into this complicated matter.

Before diving into the implications of the above picture, I’d like to first share some experiences that I gleaned from my own friends on social media this week. I’ll start with my own experiences & then paraphrase those of my friends.

I personally never got in trouble for a dress code violation. That’s principally because I would never have made it out of the house wearing anything that could have been a violation. My mom was a teacher so she knew the rules & wasn’t about to let me break them (which was wise of her). Secondly, because of how I was raised I wouldn’t have felt comfortable wearing anything that might have broken the dress code anyway. So for me it was effectively a non-issue. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t think about it when I saw other people getting in trouble for dress code violations (some more egregious than others). And it certainly doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it many times over the years since middle/high school, perhaps even more so now that I have my own daughter’s future to think about.

What I will share from my own experience that I think is pertinent to this matter is a certain situation that happened every spring or early summer at my church. Every year as the weather warmed up, the pastor’s &/or youth pastor’s wife would take us teenage girls aside & tell us how important it was to dress modestly because we didn’t want to tempt the boys. We didn’t want to be a “stumbling block” to them. They may have meant well & I can’t say I’m angry at them for doing what they were probably instructed to do by their own husbands- whom they were conditioned to obey- but I must confess that I always found these conversations bizarre & uncomfortable. Furthermore, as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized exactly what kind of damaging messages these kinds of conversations sent. The underlying message was “Boys can’t control themselves. If they harass you or hurt you, it’s your fault. You tempted them. Just be modest & nothing bad will happen to you.” Even as a teenager I picked up on these messages a bit & found them disturbing. I read several books about Afghanistan in high school & found myself thinking “These women are literally covering every inch of their skin at all times in public. You can’t even really see their EYES. And yet they still get harassed & raped.” So I knew, even then, that these messages didn’t totally add up with what I was seeing in the real world.

Now here is a list of some of the experiences my friends reported. These come from women who are now late 20s to 40s & who grew up in various parts of the country, so these are not just covering folks my own age or from my hometown. By the way, I’m using the term girl in these bullet points because while these people are now women, they were still girls when these events happened & I think that bears considering.

  • Several girls reported getting in trouble any time they deigned to wear shorts, particularly if they were on the taller side. But even some who were shorter had trouble with this. Several pointed out how hypocritical this seemed since cheerleaders were allowed to wear their cheer uniforms to school on game days & these showed far more skin than shorts. And any other outfit that wasn’t a cheer uniform but was equally showy wouldn’t have been allowed. (No one mentioned this but it just occurred to me that the shorts girls’ volleyball teams usually wear probably wouldn’t fit the dress code either. And yet they are given these shorts as if a prerequisite for playing volleyball as a female is having your ass hanging out. Hmmmm….)
  • One mom reported that she took two children in her family to school recently, one child being a boy & one being a girl. They had on the same length of shorts but only the girl was made to change clothes. So yes, this crap is still happening even 15-20 years after most of us graduated! (Insert massive eye roll.)
  • One girl got in trouble because her shirt had shrunk a bit in the dryer & her abdomen showed just a tiny bit when she raised her hand in class.
  • One girl reported a dress code violation for wearing a sleeveless shirt. Despite the fact that the straps met the required “3 finger” rule, she still got in trouble & was made to change.
  • Many reported that Confederate flag clothing was allowed & was quite popular. Others reported that Confederate flag clothing was technically against the dress code but was generally tolerated anyway (interestingly, most of this clothing was worn by boys, not girls).
  • Several reported that dress codes seemed to unfairly target black (or Hispanic) students with prohibitions against doo-rags, bandanas, beads, chains, etc.
  • One student got in trouble for wearing jeans with holes in them despite the fact that she was wearing leggings underneath so no actual skin was showing.
  • Several girls pointed out that curvier, more busty girls or girls with more proverbial “junk in the trunk” were far more likely to get in trouble for dress code violations even when wearing the same thing as other girls with “skinnier” figures. However, one girl reported getting in trouble for wearing leggings with a long shirt when she was less than 100 lbs & flat chested, yet another far curvier girl wore the exact same outfit & DIDN’T get in trouble.
  • On the same token, many reported that dress codes were not enforced equally. Students who were “popular” or who were related to a teacher or other “important” person in town were less likely to get in trouble for the wearing the same things that other kids with lesser status were punished for wearing.
  • Lastly, at the time of the violations, many girls reported feeling angry, frustrated, & unfairly targeted, particularly if it was an outfit they’d worn before without problems or if other students were wearing the same thing & not getting in trouble. Some reported still second guessing their choices of attire even today because of some of these situations. Many reported feeling like the message that was sent by these dress codes, & perhaps more importantly how they were enforced, was that girls were responsible for how boys treated them & that their education wasn’t as important as not distracting the boys.

Now, let’s examine the implications of that photo from the beginning of the post. I agree with almost everything in it. But when you get to the last line is where I run into trouble. Obviously I agree that we should be teaching boys not to view girls as sexual OBJECTS, & we absolutely should be teaching them that just because a girl is dressed a certain way does NOT mean that they are entitled to touch or harass her in any way. HOWEVER, the fact remains that we ARE sexual creatures- & that includes teenagers. While nowadays most of us agree that most teenagers are too immature to really handle the consequences of sex, the fact remains that for most of human history they weren’t regarded that way. It is biologically programmed into us- part of our DNA you could say- that we are inherently sexual creatures, just like any other mammal. And for most of human history that has started during the teenage years- & frankly still does for most, even if it’s under very different circumstances.

What I’m getting at is that in an ideal world women could wear however little (or much) they wanted in any situation & it would never change how they were perceived. But for better or worse we DON’T live in such a world & I’m not sure how realistic it is to say that women should be able to wear really provocative clothing in every situation in life. I’m not sure that the person who created that meme was saying that either. But I have certainly seen such arguments elsewhere. To be clear, I am in no way saying women are responsible for men’s bad behavior- no one gets raped because “she was asking for it, being dressed that way.” Absolutely not. Furthermore, I can definitely speak to situations in my own life when I received unwanted attention/harassment from men when I was NOT wearing anything particularly provocative at all. At the end of the day, much of this behavior isn’t about the women- it’s about the men & their own control/aggression issues.

Having said all that, I think it would be remiss not to mention that the way humans have evolved women are undoubtedly more often viewed as the objects of sexual desire. In many animal species, men are the more “interesting” gender visually- think about birds or lions for example. It is the males who have the brilliant colors or the mane. But in humans, men are much more visually stimulated by women’s bodies. That is not to say that women don’t enjoy looking at men- clearly we do- but there are far more magazines, porn, movies, strip clubs, etc with men as the intended audience than women. What I’m trying to get at is that women’s bodies ARE sexual, whether we like it or not. And as much as we might not like it, we are all selling ourselves in this world, both men & women. What I mean by that is that for better or worse the clothes we wear do send signals to those around us &- fair or not- this is particularly true for us women.

I’m always hesitant to make generalizations based on my own experiences because I realize they don’t necessarily represent the experiences of everyone else, but I’d be blind if I didn’t admit that the women I’ve known who’ve consistently dressed provocatively attracted a very different type of man than those who dressed a bit less provocatively. Do I think that’s “fair” or ideal? No, but it’s what I’ve observed & I think it would be unwise not to consider what this means. Again, I am not advocating for actual LAWS regarding what women can or can’t wear or that any woman should be shamed or looked down upon for her choice of attire. Nor should women be made to feel like harassment or rape are natural consequences of their own clothing. Absolutely not. Do I in fact wear things now as an adult that I wouldn’t have been allowed to wear to school or in my parents’ house? Yes, I do (though not to work of course). [For example, I wear shorter shorts than I’d have worn at home, & I wear tank tops or old cut up T shirts that sometimes show my bra straps. And while I don’t wear intentionally low cut shirts my figure is such that a lot of things become a bit low cut that weren’t necessarily intended to be. And had I had the same figure in high school maybe I’d have gotten in trouble then too. Anyway, I don’t feel uncomfortable or like I’m being overtly sexy in any of these outfits. I mean, none of my neighbors or men at Wal-Mart have yet prepositioned me.] Do I think that teenage boys or adult men are incapable of controlling themselves? No, we ARE animals but we are also MORE than animals. However, does that mean I will be encouraging my daughter to wear booty shorts & extremely low cut shirts on the daily? Absolutely not. But I will NOT be phrasing it as “You shouldn’t tempt the boys by dressing like that.” I will be saying something more like this instead: “Do you want the boys to notice you for your personality or just your body? They’re probably going to notice your body regardless of what you wear, but you can increase the odds of catching the attention of more decent boys (or girls) who actually care about you as a person if you avoid certain clothes.” My hope is that kind of phrasing won’t send any kind of damaging messages but will still be preparing her for the real world.

Now does any of this mean we should be punishing 6 year old girls for wearing short shorts? Absolutely not. They are CHILDREN. But when it comes to teenagers, biologically speaking they really AREN’T children anymore. So is there a place for dress codes in schools? I’m inclined to say yes, largely because it’s an environment meant for LEARNING & is basically the teenager’s equivalent of a job. And as adults most of us don’t wear provocative clothing to work because it’s just not the place for that, right? The question of course is where do we draw the lines? And how we do it in such a manner than we aren’t sending damaging messages to girls that their education isn’t as important as not distracting boys? How do we teach boys (& girls) that girls are more than their various “assets”? How do we raise boys to respect girls regardless of their choice of clothing? And whatever rules we agree on, how do we make sure that they are enforced equitably? (Also, can we make sure that we aren’t issuing uniforms for girls sports that would violate the dress code? Because that’s sending incredibly mixed messages.)

I don’t have the answers. I’m just trying to start a discussion here because this is a subject that is really difficult for me. I feel so conflicted because I can see good points on both “sides” of the issue (as with most things). I definitely got angry reading about many of my friends’ experiences as teenagers & getting in trouble for things that to me seem completely ridiculous. It’s not like any of them showed up to school in a bikini or a tube top & a miniskirt a la Britney Spears! It’s certainly disturbing to think that Confederate flags were often ignored- despite the fact that they were worn at least partly to intimidate black students- but girls’ legs were frequently deemed too sexy for school. Please. Let’s get our priorities straight here.

So what do you think? Does any of this make sense? Am I being sexist against my own gender? I’m really trying not to be but I’m also trying to be realistic & not fight biology here. Thoughts?

My Greatest Dilemma

My husband & I (& our 2 corgis) just spent the better part of the past week vacationing in Eastern West Virginia (massive thanks to my parents for keeping Rachel so we could do that!). I was about to say rural WV but then I remembered that the state is by definition rural. The largest city in WV, which is the capital city of Charleston, has about 50,000 residents. The whole state has about the same population as the greater metropolitan area where we currently reside. As people who grew up in a similarly rural area in a nearby state, for us vacationing in such a place did not produce the kind of culture shock that a lot of other folks from our current home might feel. Being the kind of person that I am (& my husband being very similar, I might add), naturally I can’t take a vacation from my own brain, so as much as I enjoyed our time in the relative wilderness- that in some ways felt like a bit of a time warp- I couldn’t turn my mind off from thinking about all the implications of living in such a rural place as Eastern WV- or really any part of the state- or any other similarly rural areas in VA, NC, & frankly the whole country.

If I could define my life by one dilemma- or one paradox- it would be the conflict between my rural roots & my more urban/suburban adulthood. I’ve written about this before but the truth of the matter is that I don’t feel truly at home in either place. At the risk of being overly self-indulgent, here are a few reasons why. I also suspect more people can relate to this than perhaps I am naturally inclined to assume- hence why writing this feels worthwhile for more than my own sanity. (To be clear, I realize these lists draw on stereotypes but in this case they’re stereotypes that exist for a reason.)

In rural areas, like my hometown, I feel out of place because:

  • I’m a big believer in science which of course translates to supporting Covid vaccinations.
  • I support gay marriage.
  • I strongly dislike abortion but do not think it should actually be illegal, certainly not in the first trimester. (I think we should be focusing on all the many things we can do to prevent so many women from getting to a place where an abortion is a viable option- but that’s a whole other blog post right there.)
  • I do NOT believe in abstinence only education or the “true love waits” movement. I have seen what it does & the results, frankly, aren’t good.
  • I believe in the existence of white privilege. And I support the removal of Confederate monuments. (Notice I said removal, not destruction.) I find the Confederate flag offensive & outdated. LET IT GO, PEOPLE!
  • My husband & I haven’t routinely worn our wedding rings for our entire decade of marriage. We also have never had a shared bank account. We do no think this reflects poorly on our marriage or that it implies distrust.
  • I enunciate my words a bit more than a lot of people do & probably come across as “overly educated” or “getting above my station” to some folks, simply because of my elocution/vocabulary.
  • I have gone fishing a grand total of once in my entire life & found it incredibly boring. I have never once been hunting, “mudding,” or cow tipping.
  • I have very mixed feelings about country music & particularly despise the kind that glorifies small town life as some kind of heavenly perfection, meanwhile completely ignoring all of its pitfalls.
  • I never use religion or the Bible to force my beliefs on anyone. I don’t believe in a god who gave me a brain & then said “Don’t bother using it.”
  • If I drove the same roads every day that I’ve been driving my whole life, if my child went to the same schools I did, I would never escape a sense of failure. I know that for many people these things bring comfort & even happiness- but for me they just don’t. But that doesn’t mean I hated my childhood or regret my past. And it doesn’t mean I look down on those who feel differently- if anything, if I’m being truly honest, I’m a little envious of them.
  • All of my favorite foods- with the exception of pizza- are not standard “American” fare. When I go out to eat, I almost always choose restaurants where the food is cooked by people with darker skin than mine. Because, let’s face it, it’s way more interesting!

Now here’s a list of reasons why I feel out of place in my current urban/suburban home:

  • I staunchly support the 2nd Amendment.
  • Though I sound far less Southern/country than many folks from my hometown do, or even than I used to sound, I still have a bit of an accent, especially on certain words, & probably sound like a “redneck” or a “hick” to certain people.
  • I know that life doesn’t cease to exist if there isn’t a Starbucks or a Panera within a 10 mile radius of oneself at any given moment. In fact, I lived the first almost 2 decades of my life having neither one within 20 minutes of my residence. I survived.
  • I hate bars & nightclubs. I also hate fine dining. If I have to dress up to go somewhere- especially if there is a more casual alternative- I probably don’t want to go because it will likely just feel pretentious & stupid to me.
  • The idea of living downtown in a place with restaurants, clubs, or offices in the same building as my residence sounds miserable. I can see why some folks like it but- damn it- I NEED MY SPACE! I need my own yard!! And I don’t want to share walls with anyone else. I had enough of that in college.
  • While I don’t support the “true love waits” movement, I also don’t support hook up culture. I think it leads to far too much heartbreak for both men & women (not to mention STIs). Furthermore I think monogamy & the nuclear family (though I have a much broader definition of what a nuclear family can be than some have) are the single most important backbone for any civilization.
  • I’m not a Democrat (or a Republican, for that matter, but people in urban areas such as this are overwhelming Democrats soooo…). I do not decorate my house or yard with virtue signaling signs. I might agree with a fair amount of the philosophies behind some of those signs but I don’t think signs change lives- actions do.
  • I believe in lower taxes & smaller government. I believe in individual freedoms & liberty & self-responsibility. I believe that government is quite often the WORST instrument for helping people in need, but that does NOT mean I don’t believe in helping others- contrary to what some might think. In short, I do not think socialism or communism is the answer to our society’s ills.
  • And last, but certainly not least, as much as “rednecks” drive me crazy sometimes, as much as they test my patience & sometimes make me want to disown them, I can never truly look down on them. Because at heart I am one, whether I like it or not. Because even though I often disagree with the conclusions they come to on certain issues, I can understand their line of reasoning. To be clear, that doesn’t mean I always AGREE with it- sometimes I adamantly disagree- but I can see where it comes from, if nothing else because I grew up in an area where I was immersed with that kind of reasoning. And I know that the issues they face are far more complex than the average “city person” realizes. (I also think this gives me a lot more license to call them out on certain problematic behaviors, such as racism.)

So, you see, no matter where I am, I always feel like a bit of an outsider. I always feel like maybe I’m the crazy one who just can’t fall in line with everyone else. Thankfully I have a handful of wonderful friends & family, from both rural & urban areas, who accept me for who I am, with all my many foibles & eccentricities. I also realize that a lot more people- both in rural & in urban areas- probably feel like this than are truly honest about it. Most people value security- i.e. fitting in- too much to break their façade. And who can really blame them? Life is hard enough without making yourself stand out from the crowd.

So where am I going with all of this? Excellent question- I’m not sure. I guess I’m just trying to say that after all these years, I still find myself wishing for something I can’t have. I want my child to grow up in a place that is geographically gorgeous & inspiring- preferably with glorious mountains- but I also want her to grow up somewhere with plenty of economic & educational opportunities. I want her to grow up in a multicultural area where she has classmates, friends, & neighbors from all races & walks of life. In short, I want some of the culture of urban areas & some of the culture of rural areas. But it seems impossible to find somewhere with both! Furthermore, I want her to have opportunities I didn’t but I also don’t want her to be a snob. I always want her to be aware of how privileged she is to live where she does but never to look down on those who have less. For example, if she ever asks a student from a rural area why they don’t have their own private flute instructor, as someone once asked me, or if she ever looks at someone like they have 3 heads because they haven’t heard of Ikea, as someone once did to me, I will have failed as a parent. I want her to know that just because we as her parents chose to live somewhere very different than where we grew up, it doesn’t mean that we rejected that culture altogether or that we are better than those who chose to stay. It just means we wanted something different- but different doesn’t necessarily mean better or worse- it just means different.

Does anyone else feel me on this or am I just shouting into the ether again?

White Fragility, Elijah McLain, & Robert E Lee

Do you remember Elijah McClain? If you don’t, here’s a quick summary. Elijah McClain was a young black man who was walking home from a convenience store in Colorado one evening in 2019 when he was put in a chokehold by police officers & then given an insane amount of strong sedatives (specifically ketamine) by paramedics without proper cause or proper monitoring afterward. Shortly afterward he died. And McClain had committed NO CRIME, nor even truly been suspected of one- unless of course walking while being black is a crime. Let’s be real- the way he was treated certainly indicates that it was.

I’ve always been surprised & disappointed that this disturbing case has not received the same amount of media sensation as many other cases, especially considering it seems like such an open & shut case. There can be little argument that the officers & paramedics were justified in their actions- it’s so painfully obvious that they weren’t. Thankfully, some two years later, a small measure of justice has been served as the officers & paramedics involved have all been found guilty of manslaughter & criminally negligent homicide. (To read more, click here: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/01/us/elijah-mcclain-officers-charged-colorado.html). Of course true justice can never be reached in tragedies like this because the innocent life that was lost cannot be brought back. But at least there has been some measure of accountability put in place here. I suppose that’s the best we can hope for- that & of course sending the message that such tragedies cannot be allowed to continue. Yet once again I am surprised & disappointed at how little attention this has received in the media, including social media. I realize we have other big news stories right now with Afghanistan, Covid, & hurricanes ravaging our country & the world, but even so, I’ve seen very few headlines, even deeply buried ones, about this. And I find that odd. And disappointing.

On a slightly different but somewhat related subject, a massive statue of Robert E Lee was removed from Richmond, VA this week, the capital city of my home state (as in the state where I grew up, not where I live now). As someone who loves history I’ll confess that this is always a challenging subject for me. But over time I’ve come to believe that such Confederate statues belong in museums, not in our city streets or parks. And yet I am disappointed at how many friends & family members I have seen posting & commenting about how heartbreaking it is to see this statue carted away. Y’all, no one is saying we should erase history here! We’re just saying that we shouldn’t have public monuments to people who fought for such inhumane practices as slavery. And whether we like it or not, that is exactly what Robert E Lee did.

Fellow white people, it has been over 150 years since the Civil War. It is high time we admitted that many of our ancestors were in the wrong. It’s not like our parents or grandparents or anyone we actually knew fought in that war. Those people are all long since dead & gone & were never known to us! Besides which, I have friends who have parents & grandparents who are (or have been) alcoholics, narcissists, drug users, & abusers. And as incredibly difficulty as it is, they have found ways to say “I might love this person but their behavior is wrong.” Or “I know I ‘should’ love this person but their behavior towards me has been nothing but hurtful so I am choosing to walk away.” If they can do that, we have no excuse for not being able to admit that our ancestors from well over 100 years ago whom we never even knew weren’t perfect. Grow up, folks!

Furthermore, if you are heartbroken over the removal of a statue of a dead man you never knew, but you have never once expressed outrage or sorrow over police brutality in cases like Elijah McClain’s- or other flagrant racism in our society- may I suggest that you need to get your priorities in order? I realize that as a white person it can be easy to ignore racism sometimes, to just say “Well, that doesn’t affect me since I’m not black. I don’t hate black people. Whatever.” Newsflash- been there, done that, had the courage to admit how wrong I was! Over the years I have come to realize how important this subject still is for all of us. One of my absolute dearest friends is married to a black man (she is white). Some of my next door neighbors are black. So are several other families on my street & in my neighborhood. Both of my managers at work are black. My new dentist (who is also my husband’s & daughter’s dentist) is black. So are several of the doctors & surgeons I work with. And of course I work & have worked with countless black nurses, nursing assistants, & medical assistants over the years. Many of my patients are black. In fact some days, most of my patients are black, & some days most of my coworkers are too. To not care about racism would be incredibly callous & cruel of me. And frankly, even if you are a white person who doesn’t interact with many black people, you STILL should care about racism, at least if you care about PEOPLE at all. After all, as Martin Luther King, Jr said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

So if you’re upset about these monuments being removed, please take a moment to consider how you might feel if you were a black person seeing monuments to people who fought to keep your ancestors enslaved. Please also consider how you would feel if you were black & had to see your white friends posting about how heartbreaking it is to see these monuments removed & yet to never see those same people speaking out against racism. If you’re offended by this, congratulations- now you know why the term white fragility was coined in the first place!

Why the Afghanistan Mission Failed

As I’m sure most of you know by now, the American military involvement in Afghanistan is finally coming to an end after 20 years- two whole decades! And it hasn’t exactly ended the way anyone would have hoped. But the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t come as any real surprise to me (& I think to many others) that things have ended as they have- that it feels very much like we’re back to square one, so to speak, with the Taliban right back in control, just like they were when all this started.

Before I dig deeper into this subject, let me first preface this by saying I am in no way a foreign policy or military expert. Furthermore I am in no way claiming I have all- or even a tiny fraction- of the knowledge necessary to say what is or isn’t the right thing to do in these incredibly complicated situations. But what I do think I have a good understanding of is human nature. More than anything though, I’m just tossing around ideas & trying to make sense of an incredibly complex & horrifying situation. If you find anything I say here offensive- particularly if you served in Afghanistan yourself or if a loved one did, or worse yet if you lost a loved one in Afghanistan- please know that I am very sorry for any offense I may cause. I understand that having not been there myself & having not lost a loved one there, my mindset on this issue may be quite different than yours (though I have spoken to veterans who agree with me on this).

First off- why do I care so much about this? Well, most importantly I care about people. So to know that the Taliban are back in control in Afghanistan & what that means for human rights- especially women’s rights- is horrifying. Furthermore, 9/11 happened when I was 12 years old. It was in many ways the defining moment of my generation. I realize most of us did not lose a loved one that day- I certainly didn’t- but there is no denying that the events of that fateful day had lasting impacts on our culture & in many ways shaped the mindset of my generation. Between that & the many recessions & the increasing inflation my generation has experienced, it’s no wonder that we’re largely a cynical generation that is distrustful of authority (or maybe that’s just me projecting myself onto others). I remember when Osama Bin Ladin was killed when I was a senior in college & people burned couches on the street & all kinds of stuff in celebration. Being the studious person I was, I slept through all that of course (or at least stayed inside). Granted college students are always down for any excuse to party but it actually made sense because Bin Ladin was the mastermind behind the event that changed our culture in so many ways when we were still so young- but not so young as to be oblivious to it. So to see things in Afghanistan end this way is indeed a tragedy & a disappointment that I think many of us feel quite strongly right now.

Having said all that, I’ve often seen lots of parallels between Afghanistan & Vietnam, certainly in terms of the American military involvement in both places. And this week of course we are seeing another parallel- with helicopters & planes leaving Kabul much like they did in Saigon in the 70s. The main parallel I see is that both wars seemed truly unwinnable– if that’s a word. And I think the biggest reason for that is that we can’t fight other people’s battles for them. We can’t force democracy on people. It’s quite antithetical to the very idea of democracy, if you think about it! The end result is that you can’t accomplish something that neither side really cares about, so inevitably it’s a loss, really on all sides. At the end of the day as incredibly complex as all of this is, it boils down to the fact that you can’t change a community or a country or a culture from the outside. It has to start from within. Imagine if I (or folks like me)- a white woman from a very rural background- tried to infiltrate an inner city gang in NYC or southside Chicago or even somewhere more local like Durham. It would not work for a multitude of reasons! It’s like trying to erase racism from people’s hearts. No matter how talented, educated, & professional black people might be, they alone can’t stop some white (or maybe I should just say non black) people from being racist. Those changes have to start from within. Same as you can’t make someone quit smoking or drinking or using heroin, etc. People have to make that choice themselves. The point is you can’t change a country from the outside, & the reason for this is that you can’t change a PERSON from the outside. And what are countries except for a multitude of people?

Furthermore, while I clearly think our (American) culture- while far from perfect- is preferable to any culture ruled by the Taliban, is it really our place (or anyone’s) to police the world? My heart says no. While my heart breaks for the people of Afghanistan, I don’t think it’s our place to be the “savior” of the world. Certainly not our military. Militaries were not designed to set up entirely new systems of governments in other countries. They were designed to fight wars. And this was so much more than just a war. We were asking our servicemen & women to do something that in all likelihood was impossible. As much as it hurts to think that their sacrifices may have been in vain, I think the truth of the matter is- like a toxic relationship- it was always going to end this way. Whether we left five years ago or ten years ago or if we stayed another 20 years, the end result would be the same, for all the reasons I’ve just discussed.

There is so much more we could deliberate here. We could talk about how Afghanistan as a country was largely defined by outside powers carving up the land with no respect for tribal history or local traditions. We could also discuss the opium trade, which is massive in Afghanistan, & of course oil. We could discuss how religious extremism is incompatible with freedom & democracy. While all of these things are relevant I still think all of this boils down to our essential human nature. And that nature says that change must come from within. As much as it sucks to admit that sometimes, as much as it makes us feel powerless at times, it’s just the way it is.

Now does any of that make sense? Or am I just spinning my wheels on a lot of BS trying to make sense of a shitty situation?

P.S. I do 100% believe the actual evacuation of Afghanistan could & should have been handled better. But that’s a whole other post right there.

The Problem with Small Towns

This blog post has been a long time coming, to borrow a small town phrase. Perhaps it was finally pushed into fruition since I spent a few days in my hometown earlier this week while my daughter’s school was closed & my husband was traveling for work.

For those who don’t know anything about me, allow me to preface this with a quick autobiography so you will have a better context for the rest of this post. I grew up in a small town in central Virginia, a place with 4 stoplights in the entire county (there are 5 now since we got a Wal-Mart!). A place with one primary, one elementary, one middle, & one high school for the whole county. A place that- at the time I was growing up there- required you to drive a minimum of 20 mins to get to the closest Wal-Mart. A place with more churches than restaurants. And zero bars. I moved away for college when I was 18, albeit to another small town but it was sufficiently bigger that it felt like a small city to me. Which is probably proof of how rural my early years really were! Anyway, aside from the summer after freshman year of college, I have never lived there again (after college my husband & I moved to an urban area in another state). And that summer was the longest one of my life because I spent most of the time counting down until I could go back to school & get out of there. I can truly say I have never regretted moving away & I’m quite certain I never will.

For a little more context, allow me to add that for the first few years after I left my hometown I was quite angry & bitter toward the town. Because it was all I had known for 18.5 years, it was quite a shock to find out at college that my formative years were quite different than those of many of my peers. It was easy to feel like I’d missed out on a lot in life, to feel like my town had somehow held me back or deprived me of experiences. However, as time has gone by I’ve become a lot more forgiving of my hometown. I actually feel more connected to the town & many people there than I have in a long time. Even so, I’ll never be that person who loves their hometown & thinks it’s the best place on Earth- not even close. But I’m no longer angry & bitter about it. However, I think I’ll always have very conflicted feelings about it. I think it will always be a place that conjures as much sadness for me as it does happiness, as much disappointment as it does pride.

Now to get to the meat of the message- there are so many problems with small towns in the rural South, & I daresay with small towns the world over. Of course there are plenty of problems with more urban areas too- but that isn’t the focus of today’s post. So- what are the problems plaguing my home town & thousands, nay probably millions, of others like it? Well, there’s poverty, racism (some quite overt, some much more veiled but equally sinister), religious extremism, drug use (this one has spiked exponentially over the past few years), closed-mindedness, unemployment, depression & other mental health issues, domestic abuse/violence, cronyism, isolation, & obesity- to name a few.

But the number one problem that I think plagues small towns is a refusal to see the full potential in others, an insistence on categorizing people & making assumptions about them based on said categorizations. This is especially true in adolescence but I’m very sad to say that I think it often extends far beyond high school & into all of adulthood. Now hear me out on this because I realize this may seem like a far smaller problem than the other things I listed above. The reason I say this is the number one problem is because I think it is the root cause- or a root cause anyway- of many of the other problems, including racism. When people feel categorized from such a young age- whether it be as a nerd, a jock, an athlete, a class clown, a goth, etc- this can & often does have a crippling effect on self esteem, ambition, etc. People feel stuck in roles that quite often they didn’t truly choose. All of this can lead to depression & isolation which are hardly good starting points for happiness & success in life. Not to mention there is the pressure people feel to please others or to conform to local societal norms to avoid rejection & humiliation.

To expound on my own experiences, one of the reasons college was so exhilarating for me was because it was the first time in my life I didn’t feel looked down upon for being smart. It was the first time I felt like I could be truly & authentically myself without people immediately categorizing me in a negative way. It was also the first time I felt free to fully explore my own ideas & beliefs about life without people breathing down my neck telling me how wrong or sinful I was to question things. That’s a whole other blog post right there but the point is that being away from my hometown really allowed me to come into my own, so to speak. And it also allowed me to appreciate all kinds of different people, many of which broke the stereotypes that I’d so often seen or heard at home.

I always hear the stereotype that small towns are the friendliest places in the world. I can see why people say that but I think they can be the meanest places too. For example, in a small town, it’s so easy to see someone who uses drugs & just say “Oh, they’re a useless druggie.” You’d think that small towns might have more empathy for these people because “everyone knows everyone” but what I’ve realized is that everyone does NOT know everyone at all. Sure, most people know each other as far as names, relatives, things like that. But that does NOT mean we actually know each other. We often know only the most superficial things about each other but end up assuming we know so much more. Just because someone is or was categorized as a certain thing in school or beyond in no way means we actually know anything about their true personality- their likes, their dislikes, their dreams, their ambitions, etc. And yet so much of the time we are so quick to assume we know everything about everyone just because we’ve all lived in the same area for so long. How do I know this? I know it because I have been guilty of it too. And still am at times.

As far as the drug use issue, such attitudes only serve to further isolate these people & therefore drive them further down the hole of addiction. I am in no way saying they aren’t responsible for their decisions but I do think our world would be a much better place if we spent less time looking down on addicts just to feel better about ourselves & more time understanding WHY people make such unhealthy decisions, & thus tried to address the root causes of addiction. But, again, that’s a whole other blog post right there.

What I’m trying to get at here is this. Agatha Christie said over & over in her books that even the smallest village is a microcosm for the world as a whole because no matter how small a place is the essential nature of human beings doesn’t change. All the good & all the evil that can be accomplished or undertaken in the world can & does happen in the smallest of towns, just as it does in the largest of cities. I started reading her books in high school- actually probably middle school- & even then I knew she was probably right in this assertion. But I hadn’t yet lived anywhere but a small town so I had no experience elsewhere to confirm it. Now I do. And now I know that the reason small towns have the problems I’ve discussed here is because HUMANITY has these problems. And as much as you might think that having a smaller amount of people might somehow lessen those problems, I think it’s actually quite the opposite. I think it only serves to heighten the problems, perhaps because there are fewer people to dilute them, if that makes any sense. What I’m saying is it’s so easy for outsiders to see places like my hometown as these perfect, quaint, peaceful towns but in reality there is so much darkness underneath the surface. But I think that’s because there is so much darkness in human nature as a whole. And just because there are fewer people doesn’t mean there is any less darkness.

Remember how I said I will always have conflicting emotions about my hometown, how it will always elicit as much disappointment as it does pride? Well, the truth of the matter is that the same is true for HUMANITY as a whole. It’s just that I feel so much more strongly about it when it’s associated with the place where I grew up, the place that “should” feel like home but really doesn’t.

So my unsolicited advice to all my friends & family back home or anyone else reading this from a small town (or anywhere really) is this: don’t assume you know folks just because you’ve known them your whole life. Allow people to be more complex than you might have previously pictured. I know the world is scary & confusing- perhaps all the more so since Covid struck- but categorizing people in an attempt to simplify things doesn’t help anyone, including yourself. And remember, I am writing this to myself too.

Just to be clear, I haven’t written all this to point my finger at my hometown & others like it. I have not written all this to say I’m better than anyone there because I moved away. I’ve written all this to try to make sense of a confusing world. To try to find some peace about a place that often causes me such unrest. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. The older I get the less I care what others think because that doesn’t pay my bills or help me sleep at night. If you’re truly happy living there or in another small town somewhere, I am sincerely happy for you- & even a bit jealous if I’m truly being honest. Remember, my gripe here isn’t really specific to small towns- it’s to humanity as a whole. And I know I’m part of that too.

Edit: I’d like to share one of my all time favorite songs. It’s sad & beautiful all at once & while it was clearly written with a person in mind, I feel like it perfectly sums up my relationship with my hometown & with small towns in general. “I love you, but I leave you. I dont want you, but I need you… I’ve got a gypsy soul to blame & I was born for leaving…”


The Perfectionist Conundrum

How do you define yourself? What are the main characteristics that encompass who you are? Is it a strong work ethic or athletic, musical, or artistic talent? Perhaps generosity or courage or fortitude? For me it’s always been my intelligence & my kindness. Throughout my whole life the main feedback I’ve ever received from the world, be it teachers, family, friends, coworkers, or managers- whether said feedback was solicited or not- has always been, “Oh, Rebekah? She’s so nice. And very smart.” Or something very similar to that. Now there’s nothing wrong with that & I’m certainly not complaining. Whether intentionally or not, these are the ways I’ve defined myself too. But I’ll confess I’m having a bit of an identity crisis right now, precipitated at least partly by two events that have occurred in the past 24 hours.

First, when I was coming home from work yesterday I stopped to get gas. As I was finishing up at the pump, a man approached me with a sob story about how he & his pregnant wife needed money to fix their car to so they could get back home to Charlotte. I was suspicious of his story, partly because I’ve heard this same story from other people quite often in my life, but being the nice person I am, I couldn’t say no seeing as I DID actually have cash with me & I COULD actually afford to part with some of it. I ended up giving him most of the cash I had because he was so persistent. He didn’t even say thank you, just moved on to the next pump saying “I need 7 more dollars, 7 more dollars.” I left feeling a bit used, I’m not going to lie. And yet, I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I’d either lied & said I had no cash or just refused to give him any. I know this is a very complex issue & in many cases I have given homeless people food or water rather than cash, but on the chance that this man’s story WAS true, food or water wasn’t going to fix the problem, so that wasn’t really an option here. Even if he was in fact lying, I can’t help but feel that he must have had SOME kind of need or he wouldn’t have been begging from strangers.

I am always happy to help when I can, so in the end I don’t regret giving him the money- I really don’t- but I DO have to wonder if I have some kind of sign on my forehead that unbeknownst to me proclaims “CAN’T SAY NO- WAY TOO NICE!” And if so, how the hell do I go about removing that “sign” without actually becoming a cold-hearted mean person? After all, I have long since learned how to draw boundaries at work & in my personal life so that I’m not constantly being taken advantage of there. In reality, that would be a much bigger problem. Even so, in situations like this where I don’t actually feel threatened but do feel a bit pressured, I can’t seem to find the guts to say no. Hell, once I had a man approach me at a gas station saying something creepy along the lines of “Hey, if your husband doesn’t appreciate you, I can” all while leering at me lecherously. As angry I was, I was so shocked that all I said was “Have a nice day.” In my head, once I drove away, I was saying much worse, believe me, but in the moment I was so flabbergasted that I couldn’t formulate a better response. What I suspect is that I’m giving off some kind of vibe where these types of men somehow KNOW that & that’s why they approach me in the first place. Actually, I shouldn’t say men because these things have happened with women too. And I find it even harder to say no to them!

Now obviously if I saw the same person every day telling this same story (or a very similar one), naturally I would not continue giving them money. I am not Jeff Bezos or Oprah here, after all! I cannot fund every crisis I encounter. It’s just hard to be a kind person in an often cruel world, so often wondering if you’re being taken advantage of & yet unable to live with yourself if you say no to someone who may in fact be in real need…

As a side note, these are the stories I always want to scream at people who tell me that I’m such a terrible, uncaring person because I’m not a socialist or communist (as if the only way to have compassion is through the government- please, give me a break!) I always want to scream “You don’t know anything about me. You have no idea how many times I have given my time & money to help both friends & strangers in need.” But usually I just clam up & let them rant because it rarely feels worth the effort.

The second thing that happened to provoke this identity crisis is that I wrecked my car on the way to work this morning. Thankfully it was nothing too serious & I wasn’t actually injured- I’m just a little sore & psychologically torn up. Most importantly my daughter wasn’t with me. Furthermore the only major damage to the car was a flat tire & a small dent, the latter of which isn’t worth fixing. My husband was able to come remove the car from the ditch & change the tire so that I could get home & try to spend the rest of the day recovering so that I can make it to work tomorrow. But the whole thing has left me feeling like a total idiot. I mean, for someone who has spent her whole life priding herself on her intelligence & rational decision-making, going off the road & ending up in a ditch feels like an incredibly dumb thing to do (because it IS an incredibly dumb thing to do)! Being a perfectionist is hard because even when everyone around you says “It’s ok, it’s just an honest mistake, it happens to everyone,” your own brain won’t let you off that easily. And I’ve always had this terrible anxiety that if I weren’t such a perfectionist about everything, my whole life would fall apart, like that’s the only thing holding me together or keeping my life “on the tracks.” So when I make a mistake like this, I’m left feeling like: A. “I’m not as smart as I think I am or as people so often tell me I am.” Or B: “My life is going off the rails! How could I slip up like this? What is wrong with me?”

I’m sure this is just part of getting older but I’m left wondering how we are supposed to define ourselves when the things we’ve always been defined by feel somehow wrong or invalid. I’m also sure that after some good sleep I’ll probably feel much better, both physically & psychologically. But one thing I’ve learned over the years- albeit slowly- is that the only way to really move past something is to just face it, to allow myself to feel every emotion I’m feeling rather than telling myself “I shouldn’t feel this way. This is stupid. Just move on.” None of those things are helpful. I’ve found that the best way to actually “toughen up & move on” is to be weak for a moment, to cry when I need to, to scream at the universe when things feel unfair. Otherwise I’m just creating a powder keg that will inevitably explode in a much more unpleasant & hurtful way later down the road.

I think one mistake many people make, perhaps women more than men, though I could certainly be wrong about that part, is that we often allow the world around us to define us. I know I am guilty of this at times. The truth is that we have to learn to define ourselves in a world that so often seeks to box us in or to make us conform to pre-arranged identities. Fighting against that is hard & when we inevitably fail to live up to our own standards at times, we have to learn to forgive ourselves but still keep trying.

So I guess I’ve written all this to say, I forgive myself. I want to do better- I need to do better. But I won’t accomplish that if I spend all my time berating myself for not being perfect.

So dear perfectionist brain, take a “chill pill.” It’s going to be ok.

An Ode to Mediocrity- Or Is It?

If you know me, you know that I have always been, & likely will always be, a perfectionist at heart. An over-achiever. A bit OCD, if you will, but not to the point of having the TRUE disorder. So it should come as no surprise to hear that I got into nursing with the goal of becoming a Nurse Practitioner. I saw it as the cheaper way to become a doctor (or rather something similar enough to a doctor) since I had a full scholarship to nursing school. And I had no problem working as an RN for several years in order to get there. Initially I thought “Ok, I’ll do 3-5 years as a bedside hospital nurse & then I’ll go back to school.” Well, five years went by & the unthinkable happened: I decided to become a mom! If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know that for many years I said I never wanted children. But somewhere around age 25 or 26 I changed my mind. Believe me when I say it wasn’t a flippant decision either. It was something that happened gradually & that I put a monumental amount of thought into- if anything TOO much thought, as I am often known to over-analyze things.

Anyway, around that same time in my life, I realized that becoming an NP just didn’t interest me that much anymore. It’s not that I didn’t/don’t think I was/am smart enough to do it- I had/have no doubt in my mind I could do it if I wanted to. Many doctors & NPs I’ve worked with over the years have told me I’d be a great NP, just as they’ve also told me I’d be a great ICU nurse- but I’ve never wanted that either, for a variety of reasons. The simple truth is I realized being an NP just wasn’t what I WANTED anymore. Now, five years later, I feel even more strongly about this issue. The longer I’ve been a nurse, the more I realize that I don’t agree with certain things that the medical system teaches/does, so being an NP would put me in way too many ethical dilemmas that I don’t want to have to face. Furthermore, as a mom of a small child, I don’t want to take call overnight & on weekends. I don’t want to come home & have a mountain of charting to do. Simply put, I don’t want a job that follows me home & dominates my life 24/7. I had enough of that experience when I briefly did nursing management & I realized that life it is NOT for me. Or at least it isn’t at this stage in my life. Obviously I can’t predict how I may feel in ten or twenty years, just as I didn’t predict I’d eventually want to become a mom (ok, deep down, I knew I’d probably change my mind on that but I fought against it for a long time, believe me).

I know plenty of women my age (& younger) who have gone back to school when they have young children, but I for one cannot even begin to fathom the stress of doing that on top of having a young child. Maybe I just find motherhood more stressful than some women do. Or maybe I just value my own happiness too much. But if there is one thing I’ve learned in a decade of nursing it’s that life is way too short to be anything but happy as much of the time as we can. As someone who struggles with anxiety & depression & OCD tendencies, the last thing I need is to overload my life with too many things going on at once. I’m in awe of those who are able to do it & seem to not just survive but actually thrive. But I know my limits. And I’m not pushing them. Plus, if nothing else, there is no age limit on when I can go back to school if I do decide to pursue that path someday. It’s not like you can’t get a master’s degree in your 40s or 50s (or older)! On the other hand, my daughter will NOT be young forever. Someday she will need me a lot less than she does now. Trust me when I say that I look forward to that more than maybe I should some days. But at the same time I refuse to give up time with her now when I know she is still very much in her formative years. To be clear, I’m not judging anyone who chooses a different path than I have. We all have different personalities & needs, as do our kids- this is just what I’ve found makes sense for ME.

As much as I love nursing, some days I actually dream about becoming a high school English (or maybe even history) teacher. I would love the chance to grapple deep subjects with young minds. But as with being an NP, there are so many things I disagree with about the modern education system. The idea of doing lesson plans makes me cringe. The idea of enforcing dress codes makes me cringe. Furthermore, I’d probably get fired for choosing books almost entirely from the various banned books lists (keep in mind the Bible is on many of those lists so it’s not as narrow of a range of books as you may think). Not to mention there is the sad fact that I’d be making considerably less money as a teacher than I do as a nurse (even working part time). And I’m not going to lie, I don’t want to take a pay cut, especially since I’d have to pay to go back to school to pursue such a career.

What I’m getting at here is that I so often find myself as odds with “the system.” I’m a great rule follower when it comes to following protocols for things like starting an IV, inserting a foley catheter, taking a BP, etc. That kind of stuff is very evidence-based, very tangible. But there are other part of our medical system that are not so evidence-based, in my opinion, but are still done because they benefit the system itself (or the various pharmaceutical companies) or they’re just “the way it’s always been done.” Anyway, on a similar token, if I were a teacher I think I’d be great at getting kids to have in depth discussions about serious life matters. But I’d probably be horrible at some of the more practical aspects of teaching, like lesson plans & grading homework.

I guess what I’m saying is there are so many things in life I think I could accomplish, but there are so many hoops I’d have to jump through, so much unnecessary red tape to battle, that I find myself for once in my life being satisfied with what some might call mediocrity. Being a part time outpatient nurse, partly because the schedule is beneficial to my husband’s career (meaning I’m more available for our daughter when he sometimes isn’t), is certainly something I would have called mediocre a decade ago. But you know what? I’m happy! I don’t mean I never feel sad or disappointed or scared or anxious. Trust me, in truth I’m naturally a bit of a melancholy person. But overall, I am very content with my life. And if that means having a bit more of a traditional role than perhaps I envisioned for myself, so be it. After all, it’s not like I’m stuck at home all day every day. It’s not like I do all the housework while my husband does none. No way! I could never stand for that, as I mentioned in my last blog post. The way I see it is I get the best of both worlds & if that means I’ve settled for mediocrity, for once in my life, I am content with that.

I’m not really sure what the point of all this was, other than to settle my own overly analytic brain. But that’s a point in & of itself, is it not? Anyway, if your life hasn’t turned out quite the way you imagined, if you’ve made different choices than you thought you would, even done things you said you’d never do, just know that you’re not alone. And as long as you’re happy with your choices, the rest of the world doesn’t matter. After all- no one else’s opinion is paying your bills or raising your children. No one else has to sleep with your conscience at night.

In conclusion, I never thought my life would lead me where it has now. Actually, maybe that’s being a bit more dramatic than is strictly necessary. But the point is, my life hasn’t followed the trajectory I would have predicted years ago, nor the trajectory many folks who knew me as a child or teenager might have predicted. But I am happy where I am, & I’m learning that the destination truly isn’t half as important as the journey along the way. I don’t say that to make excuses for bad decisions either. I say that because I’ve realized that it’s ok to change your goals, it’s ok to be something or someone different than you were in the past or than you pictured yourself becoming. If something you once thought would be mediocre (or even lame) makes you happy now, embrace it. True mediocrity, in my opinion, is refusing to be flexible, refusing to adapt to the stages of life. True mediocrity is not doing whatever makes you happiest & most fulfilled.

And based on that definition, I don’t think my life is mediocre at all.

And you never know- maybe I’ll run a book club someday & that will fulfill my fantasy of being an English/literature teacher without having to deal with “the system” & all the red tape it entails!