Two Rings

Two Rings,
by Lucy

On the ring finger of my left hand is a silver band. It is simple and pretty, with a light pattern that repeats itself over and over. It’s the sort of pattern you might see on a little girl’s dress or a grown woman’s shirt. There is a slight imperfection in the pattern where the ring was made to fit a finger not present for the making or purchasing. Still, it is a perfect circle.

This ring belonged to my mother, to the woman who raised me, to Sally.

This ring has been with me for my whole life. I know its history, how it was first given, and how it came by gradual transfer to be mine. It has always fit one of my fingers perfectly, although which one has changed over the years. Through changes and moves, losses and retrievals, styles and fashions, it has been there. I’ve washed the dirt of playgrounds and gardens from it, taken it off to swim or change a diaper. It’s my safety, my memory, and it will always be those.

On the ring finger of my right hand is a silver ring. It is nothing like plain: instead of one stone, it has four, garnets, the color of blood. The stones are surrounded by filigree, twists and turns that go in one direction and then change their minds and yet somehow arrive at beauty. The patterns are deeper, darker, mysterious. Its shape is not quite that of a circle, but it is nonetheless perfect.

This ring belonged to my birth mother, to the woman who bore me, to Bonnie.

I only received this ring recently. I know very little of its history, just that it belonged to the woman she became after me, a woman who left this world too soon. It fits a bit loosely on my right ring finger, but too tightly on the next. When I wear it, which is often, it slips around a bit, but never falls off. It matches a fair number of my necklaces and earrings, and looks very much like something that I would have bought. It’s my history, my connection, and it will always be those.

Someday, I will give both of these rings to my daughter, the little girl with Bonnie’s smile and Sally’s turn of phrase. I will give her these words, and hope that when she wears them, she thinks of the two women who wore them first, and of the woman who, together, they made.

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Another Blast From the Past: Matriarchy in Barbie: Princess Charm School

Originally Posted on DW/LJ in 7/12, but still very relevant.

Some of you may know, I have done a 180 on my before-I-was-a-parent anti Barbie stance. There may still be issues, but I have come to believe that Barbie is a great role model, especially in her movies (Life In The Dreamhouse excepted, although I still enjoy it a great deal). If you’re a mom frustrated by the lack of movies about girls and women, Barbie is your girl. She may play princesses or long lost princesses ¾ of the time, and wear clothes that look like they belong in the 80;’, but her characters are movers and shakers, girls who long for adventure and don’t end up settling down with a prince or a pauper instead. They’re princesses who save the kingdom, who sacrifice to do what’s right, who are aided (or opposed) by other girls and women who also have agency and goals beyond marriage or boyfriends. Every movie passes the Bechdel Test with flair. If anything, there is a startling lack of men and boys, and those that are there are often perfunctory, there as background or as potential (often unrealized) for romance.

Ladies and gentlemen, Barbie is the anti-Pixar, which I think is demonstrated in this essay:

Matriarchies, Princesses, and Politics: The World of Princess Charm School.

Help me, folks. I think I’ve finally cracked. I find myself wanting to write a deep feminist analysis of Barbie: Princess Charm School.

Because really, I just cannot sort this out.

I mean, besides the weird politics (there’s a princess of Philadelphia. And you’re born a prince or princess but aren’t really one until you complete this course. It’s seriously weird.), there’s the usual near total absence of male characters – seriously, there are three male characters with speaking roles, and I think they have a dozen lines between them. Barbie movies are seriously like opposite planet.

And the country it’s set in seems to be a matriarchy, I think. Blair (Barbie’s character) is of course the long-lost daughter of the late Queen, and because she’s believed to be dead, the crown is passing to her cousin, Delancy. Who’s becoming a princess, not a Queen (although I think Delancy might become Queen later, if her aunt is any indication? Don’t ask me to explain this stuff.) Delancy’s mother, Dame Devon, is the villain of the piece, who not only recognizes Blair as the spitting image of the late queen, but who engineered the car crash that killed the royal family.

Again, in all of this, there is pretty much NO MENTION of men. There are no fathers anywhere. Blair’s adoptive mother is a single mother who adopted (in Blair’s case, found on the doorstep) two daughters. Her biological father is dead, but he’s really not talked about.) There’s no mention of Delancy’s father, even though I would assume he’s the reason she’s the heir, although Dame Devon could be the late king’s sister, which again makes it odd that he is mentioned all of once.

Because (and this is what set me off at 5:30AM) it’s made clear that her mother is only “special” because of Delancy’s status, not her own – she went to the school but failed to earn a spot after her own graduation from the school. This is said to make Blair feel better about Dame Devin always cutting her down. And they’re not outright saying that marrying into status is inferior than earning it through character as Blair (along with her royal lineage; character is mentioned a lot in this movie) and eventually Delancy do, but you know, it’s kind of implied whether they meant it or not.

See? I told you to talk me down. And did you? No.

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Lucky Me

Like some other posts, I wrote this a while back. But it hasn’t stopped being relevant, as articles like this post on the praise dads get for EVERYTHING demonstrate. I feel I should add that my own situation has changed dramatically. Now I’m told how lucky I am that my husband picks up the slack caused by my health.

About five different articles, events, discussions, and other things have coincided to prompt this.

If anyone ever tells you either that (a) we don’t need feminism anymore or (b) that motherhood is not a feminist concern, consider the following experiment:

Approach a mother whose child’s father is in any way willingly (or at least agreeably) involved in their child’s life. She may be a stay at home mother, or a working mother in a two-income household, or a single mother who shares physical custody or even just gets regular, reliable child support.

Ask her if anyone has ever told her how lucky she is. Because I bet she has. She’s been told she’s lucky that Dad takes the kids out on Saturday afternoon so she can nap (or even clean the house in peace). She’s lucky he changes diapers. She’s lucky he pays child support. She’s lucky he’s around at all. And if she has a medical situation that makes the physical tasks of parenting difficult, oh boy is she lucky if he picks up the slack or even if he just stays with her.

Approach the fathers in those same situations. Ask if anyone has ever told them how lucky they are that mom “helps out” so much. Changes diapers. Takes the kids out on Saturday so he can nap or watch the game or do chores in peace. Earns half (or even more) their household income.

I will eat my hat even a handful ever have.

It seems like such a little thing, doesn’t it? But it’s really not. It’s a fucking huge thing. It ripples out to workplaces and politics and the military and everything else. It’s why marriage and family are at worst neutral and at best a benefit to men in the workplace and politics, and a barrier for women.

And it irritates the crap out of me. The notion that I should be grateful to my child’s other parent (who does not believe this, btw) for changing a diaper, or that asking him to do so on a day when I haven’t been able to so much as pee without child following me into the bathroom is being unreasonably demanding (actual conversation with my mother) is seriously the straw on the camel’s back that is the Second Shift.

Am I lucky? Yes. Because my spouse is kind and compassionate and a good father, not because he parents at all. And you know what? He’s lucky, too. He’s lucky that my career not only provides half our income, but allows me to take daughter to doctors and other such things. He’s lucky that I push through a bad migraine to help daughter with math. He’s lucky to have me. I’m lucky to have him.

Funny how only one of us ever hears it.

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All I want for Christmas is Cinderella.

I actually wrote this years ago, but tonight, my daughter read me a cute fairytale in which the brave knight married the prince instead of the princess, and it reminded me of this (not particularly original) lesbian version of Cinderella I mused about when thinking of stories for my daugher.  I thought, hey, why not share for a wider audience.  If I had more energy, I’d seriously think about a Kickstarter to write this and pay my amazingly talented friend Korafox to illustrate it.  This would be created, sold, and marketed as a children’s book, without any parody or nudge-nudge-wink-wink.

Here is how the story goes:

The king and queen decide to throw a ball for the princess, who has been stubbornly refusing all the suitable princes and noblemen they introduce her to. They point out that she’s the heir to the kingdom (special bonus points if she has a younger brother, and yes, that’s a fuck you to Horton Hears a Who – the movie, not the book), and really, she needs to at least think about getting married. She sighs and agrees, but doesn’t look happy about it.

When the word goes out, Cinderella, who is similar to the more proactive versions of the heroine, works ong hours at the family shop under the direction of her stepmother, who is not very nice, alongside her two stepbrothers, who are not so much vain and cruel as lazy and petty.  Cinderella wistfully expresses a wish to go to the ball, mostly to wear a pretty dress and go to such a grand party, but there can be some subtle clues that she would like to meet the princess. Her stepbrothers laugh at her, because, duh, it’s for the princess, which means they’re looking for a prince. Stupid girl.

The rest goes as you might expect: stepbrothers go off to the ball, Cinderella stays at home, fairy godmother, etc (although please, no mice). I’d love to have Cinderella make a grand entrance and dance with the princess, but I think instead that she sort of stays on the sidelines and just watches with awe (people assume she is there with a brother).

At some point, the princess sneaks off to get a moment to herself, and she and Cinderella meet in a little alcove, on a balcony, pick your location. They talk, and laugh a bit, then dance, and share one sweet kiss before the clock strikes midnight. Cinderella runs home, leaving the shoe, you know the routine.

The next day, the king and queen ask the princess if there was anyone at the ball she particularly liked. She hedges a bit, blushes, and then finally blurts out, “the girl in the dark blue dress.” Or something similar.

The king and queen look at each other for a moment, not fearfully, but just that kind of silent communication parents have, and the king asks the princess if she’s sure this girl is the one. The princess nods, and the king says, “All right, then. How do we find her?”

You know how the rest of the story goes. Searching, shoe fitting, etc. Eventually, the princess and Cinderella are married, and live happily ever after. The stepbrothers get to run the shop.

The End.

Someone should really write that, don’t you think?

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Trigger Warnings For College Classes

I have been reading some discussions lately about the idea of providing trigger warnings for material in a given college course, generally somewhere that the student would see said warnings before selecting the course. (Note: I am not linking to any stories because I really want to talk about the general idea, not the specific implementations.) Unlike the requirement that schools list textbooks next to courses in the schedule (which was allegedly about allowing them to shop around for best prices, but was really part of David Horowitz’s campaign to make certain that students never be exposed to ideas they disagreed with), this movement seems to target the same sort of triggers that are discussed in relation to fanworks: sexual assault, traumatic events, racism, colonialism, etc. The idea is that these things are not merely upsetting, but can trigger a panic attack or other psychological trauma in the reader/viewer.

I am having trouble organizing any thoughts on this. How to deal with controversial or potentially upsetting, to say nothing of triggering, material is something I have gone round and round on several times, and in fact have found myself in a pretty sound minority on at times.

So, I thought I’d ask: what do people think of this idea, of a college or university providing trigger warnings in course descriptions? Yay? Nay? Put them in the syllabus but not the catalog? Other thoughts?

Please note: I…well, obviously, I do have a horse in this race, but I haven’t named it yet, so I am not intending to argue one side or the other. If I ask you questions, I am not challenging; I am seeking clarity. Likewise, please be aware that this is an emotional topic, and try to be respectful, okay?

(Is it sad that now I’m kind of pondering making this a paper topic?)

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Confessions of a Confabulator

I am currently reading Walter Kirn’s true crime novel about his relationship with the con man who called himself Clark Rockefeller. If you have never hear of “Clark Rockefeller,” or don’t know his story, it basically comes down to this: 17-year-old comes to America from Germany, works through a variety of identities (most of which allowed him to mooch off of others) until eventually settling on that of an orphaned Rockefeller. Eventually convicted first of custodial kidnapping* of his daughter, and later the many-years-ago murder of the son of his landlady, he describes himself as a “confabulator,” someone who makes up harmless inventions. A habitual liar, in other words, who generally lies to make himself more interesting than he really is. (If you are interested in the details, the Wikipedia entry under his real name is a good place to start.)

Whoa, do I know the type. Not the true psychopath that he turned out to be, but the inventor of identities and stories that were so incredible you almost had to believe them, because really, who would make that up and expect people to believe them.

This is not something I talk about often, because it remains a source of embarrassment for me, but I went through a period of serious confabulation** from about 13 to about 16. I made up an imaginary boyfriend, an imaginary birth family, and created elaborate narratives around both. I have long since come to grips not just with what I did but why. I won’t go into great detail, because it’s mostly pretty childish and mundane (you can probably guess that enjoying the attention was part of it), but I will say that I winced a little at what Kirn relays as James Ellroy’s opinion of “Clark”: “a case of the artistic temperament operating unrestrained by the strictures of honest intellectual labor.” It’s no coincidence that my need to confabulate eased as I started writing with any real direction, or that I was later drawn to fandom and tabletop gaming.

Karma’s a bitch, though, and for a while, I found myself…accumulating? Attracting, even, the same sort of person. Not liars in the sense of conning people or cheating on lovers or getting a job dishonestly. Rather, people who were clearly embellishing their lives. This person made their past job sound a little cooler than it really was. That person pretty much invented a past career from whole cloth. This person had a really…interesting romantic past. And I will admit that my own past has made me simultaneously more suspicious and more gullible. On the one hand, I have a pretty good nose for what I call the spackle lie: the lie you tell to smooth over something that doesn’t quite match on the edges, the lie that you have to tell or else admit to the first lie. On the other hand, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt even when something seems improbable, because I know so well the temptation to embellish just a little, to make yourself sound just a little cooler.

This is, by the way, one of the reasons I get so frustrated when people treat any imaginative activity for which one is not being paid as childish and a waste of time. Imagination isn’t something that goes away just because you turn a magic number, and if there isn’t a way to get that “honest intellectual labor,” it can twist in some not-so-healthy directions.

I started this thinking I would have some startling insight, and, well, it didn’t so much happen, but still: the various books and true crime episodes I have seen about Mr. “Rockfeller” have been interesting, if at times a little too close to home.

*Not the actual legal term, but you get the idea.
**I use the term not to make my actions sound better – I will freely admit I was quite the liar in many aspects of my life – but because it so well describes that particular type of lying.

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Puppet Sexuality. Oh, Come Back Here.

Dear Sesame Street PTB,

Hey, guys. You know I love you and all. And you know that no matter my jokes and the stories my friends and I spun the night the bill passed, I never really expect Bert and Ernie to get married. Oh, I expect you to have gay characters eventually, but I know that it will likely be with some human characters. I hope we don’t have to wait for my (hypothetical) grandchild to see Gina’s son Marco bring his boyfriend home from college, but I do have faith.

That said? Your response to people asking about it when New York legalized same-sex marriage, to say that “they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation”? This is, to put it nicely, a bit disingenuous. To put it less nicely, it is a steaming pile of poo.

We have, thus far on the show, met Humphrey and Ingrid, the parents of Baby Natasha, and Elmo’s mother and father. Indeed, on Elmo’s World segment depicted a (greatly sanitized and imagined) Elmo’s birth, albeit with Elmo playing the parts of both mommy and daddy.

(Hey, don’t look at me, you wrote the segment.)

And while marriage and family do not prove heterosexuality (*waves*), I’m pretty sure that most people, including you, see a nuclear family of mom, dad, and biological child. They may not be thinking about exactly how the muppets procreated (well, most of them aren’t anyway, although to each their own), but there is an assumption of procreation, which is to say gettin’ it on, there. They may be puppets, but you are, in fact, pretty much depicting sexual orientation. You’re just depicting the majority sexual orientation, the default, unmarked sexual orientation.

For crying out loud, the entire storyline of Kermit and Miss Piggy has been about nothing BUT sexual orientation. After 30+ years of depicting puppet heterosexuality, you don’t get to say, “puppets don’t have sexual orientation.”

If you don’t want to have gay muppets, okay. I wish you would, but I do actually understand the position you’re in right now, with public television on the chopping block and everything you do under scrutiny. But own it, okay? Just say you’re not ready to deal with it yet, or that Bert and Ernie are friends and always have been. That’s okay, too. But don’t pretend that the countless examples of heterosexuality you depict don’t matter, don’t count, aren’t real, just because they’re the majority. You guys are better than that.

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