Tuesday, December 03, 2002

I didn’t expect I’d be able to sleep last night. I almost never do the before I travel. I woke up every two hours and struggled to get back to sleep. I always hope that it means I’ll be worn out and tired enough to sleep on the plane. But I usually can’t sleep on the plane. Which usually means I’ll spend my first day feeling a little bit like I’m coming off acid. Only I was eighteen when I did acid and I can only speculate how much worse it would feel now.

The sexism/girlism conversation continues. But it has expanded. And contracted. I spent a certain amount of time reading the comments at Shelly’s last night. I read them over and over. There was something happening that I couldn’t totally track. But it made me think about an event in the little hippy college where I got my BA.

A young man wrote a response paper to a piece by Richard Rodriguez. Part of the assignment was to try and write in a way that was not familiar. So the young man wrote a racist response to the Rodriquez. It was a spectacularly stupid thing to do. His teacher was a Cuban woman. There were women of color in his class. Things got really out of hand and there was a school wide meeting to discuss racism. You’d have to know how weird the little school is to understand how that could happen. School wide means that about fifty of us squeezed into a meeting room. The young man was desperate to convince the young women that he was not a racist. They were beyond accepting that.

In his urgency to convince them he kept moving across the room toward them. And finally I said, “You know, whether or not you understand why, these women have fear in their bodies because of what you have written. You need to sit down and wait for them to feel safe.” This was a very thin, medium height fellow. He was not a threat, physically. And what he was written was so dumb it was hard to take seriously. But the women had taken him seriously. And they needed to have their feelings be the more important truth. He just needed to say he was sorry. And wait.

I know that it’s hard for men who don’t see them selves as sexist to understand what women mean when they call out something that a man says that feels sexist. In their minds they’re trying so hard to understand and they aren’t getting credit for being the good guys that they are. It’s like liberal white folks who don’t get it when people of color don’t trust them. Liberal white folks can be so offended by any inference that they may be racist. It makes them feel bad.

Yeah. Sometimes stuff feels bad.

And Mike. I really do think Mike is cool. And it may be that sometimes his tone, his way of being tongue in cheek, or purposefully self-deprecating, kinda backfires. I’m uncomfortable with the idea that I am naturally loving. It may seem odd. I certainly hope I am loving. But either we all are or none of us are. And I actually think Mike would be the first to agree with me. We are all naturally loving. Mike’s distinction of me as loving and Dorothea and Shelly as not being loving to themselves is one in which he allies himself with them. He says he sees himself in them. And I believe he does. But, in a way, he is, obdurately, seeing them in the way he wants to see them. Which is, I think, part of the problem they are having with him. The closer he moves toward them the more worried I become, in the same way I was worried in that room back at school.

I think Mike is saying something very real. Those things that bother us most about another person are often the thing we have the hardest time seeing in ourselves. And when it comes to things like all the isms our hearts and minds sometimes work against each other. Or maybe it’s that they tumble around each other. One minute we lead with our heart and the next with our mind. And the debate shifts from the macro to the micro and becomes …loopy.

But. No matter what was said, or is said, at the end of the day, some women (count me as one) felt hurt by what seemed like casual and offhanded acknowledgement of a way of seeing women in the world.

Jonathon wrote a post. As I read it I felt like months of tension dropped from my heart. And, at the risk of sounding self-serving, he did a very cool thing. He let a woman have the last word.

At this moment, in the conversation I feel truly moved by the courage and willingness and care that people have shown in all these posts and comments. And there is a tension. It’s the tension of knowing that we are all still in the conversation. And it is a difficult one. And our hearts are on the line.

And it is not over.

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