A Little Cathartic Baking
Last year I went to Kohl’s to buy my 6 year old daughter a sweater. I literally could not find one. In the boys section of the store there were plenty. Pretty much the same shape and style, but lots of different colors and patterns. Sweaters. You know, to keep them warm.
Over in the girls section there were leggings and tops with sayings on them. Things like “Smile. Hug. Repeat.” ,“If the Crown Fits” and my personal favorite: “Cookies Solve Everything."
To be clear, they had winter clothes for girls. The aforementioned layering tees and a fur-lined pink puffer jacket. Lightweight pullovers with a snowflake or hot cocoa applique. But in looking over the inventory at this one particular store it just seemed so odd that they weren’t offering more practical clothing options for the weather. As if keeping our daughters cute was decidedly more important than keeping them warm.
As we are all aware, the election was last Tuesday. The day before, I sent my mother a stunning op-ed written by our national treasure and Pulitzer prize nominee, Barbara Kingsolver. Perhaps the most jarring quote from the article:
“This race is close. Polls tell us most Americans believe Trump has sexually assaulted women (to name just one potential disqualifier). A majority also believe Clinton “can’t be trusted”, for unspecified reasons. We’re back to the ancient conundrum: a woman can’t be that smart and commanding, so either her womanliness or her smartness must be counterfeit. To set that hazy discomfort next to a sexual assaulter and call these defects “equivalent” is causing my ears to ring as I write.”
I did my best to assemble a pantsuit Tuesday morning. I had voted the week before and greatly regretted that I had not waited so that my daughters could stand in line with me as we completed a ballot to elect the first female president. I made a list and ran errands in a tan blazer and black slacks and I was filled with what I thought was silent, stoic comaraderie. Everywhere I went, with every woman I encountered. I was proud. But as the polls across the country began to close, as the numbers changed in ways I had not expected, I realized how very wrong my assumption had been.
We are not in this together.
The next day, as we went through the motions of the morning, I was mostly quiet. I was mostly injured. The loss felt so startling, like the theft of something precious.
I checked my email and found this found this reply from my mother: “I hope this isn’t how you feel. We always had complete confidence that you would succeed in whatever dreams you had.”
And her reply is quite possibly the best way to explain the dangerous disconnect between the two halves of our nation.
Because as much as we hope this isn’t the way women in our country feel, as often as we tell them that we believe in their ability to succeed, and want that success for them, there is the fact that, nationally speaking, we don’t.
For starters, we don’t consistently offer women equal pay and employment opportunities. The women that do somehow make it into top positions are judged in unfair and inappropriate ways: by their looks, by their parenting choices, by their ability to remain calm under pressure and not become 'bitchy'.
And those are just some of the problems they face once as employees. What about the crapshoot that is being a girl?
What about the commercials we must watch with our daughters, the ads that use their bodies to sell everything from cars and alcohol to appliances and hamburgers?
What about the role models we give them? Or withhold. Because we don’t; we give them no role models. We give them Girls’ Life magazine and Instagram accounts.
Best case scenario they learn the value of education and work ethic and look up to Taylor Swift and get used to the mind-numbing reality of over-sexualization. Worst case scenario they are watching the Kardashians and talking selfies, and later commit suicide after being gang raped behind a dumpster and then slut-shamed on social media.
“I have complete confidence that you will succeed in whatever dreams you have.” We say this to our daughters. We tell them it’s what’s inside that matters. That we value them, appreciate them, see their great potential.
And then we hit the drive-thru at Hardee's and vote for him?? The contradiction is mind-boggling.
Look, it isn’t my intention to lose friendships over this. I do understand where people are coming from. I mean geez, places like McDowell, WV where their community is so ravaged by poverty that the desire for a candidate who could shake things up and perhaps return them to the economy of their past was overwhelming. They could not vote any other way, they were “desperate for hope”.
And then there is the outright hate that some people had for Hillary. I don’t feel it myself. But I accept that others do, and I won’t even try and defend her by getting into right-wing media misogyny.
I get it. People wanted change.
But to me, this was about something bigger.
In 1998 I opened the door to my Women in Literature classroom to find darkness, and the single stream of light from a projector. On the screen a giant photo of dark skinned men. They were barely clothed, in chains. They looked abused, malnourished. We were asked to discuss our feelings about the image. We agreed that it was categorically wrong, an example of unspeakable oppression. What monster would do this to these men?
The image was then replaced with another, only this time instead of dark skinned men it was women, of all colors. Still in chains and still appearing victimized. But our feelings inexplicably transitioned from anger toward some non-pictured abuser, to acceptance of what we know to be pornography. We knew it when we saw it. Something obscene, but allowed, approved for adults over a certain age. And, in fact, it was an image from Penthouse Magazine.
This election has reminded me of those images and that lesson. No matter how upset we act about the subjugation of any person or group, ultimately we are still a nation that turns a blind eye when that victim has breasts and the context is sexual.
I don't want to make it only about women and in any way diminish what is being experienced by minorities everywhere in this country. In the last two days alone I have heard three stories from people I know who have been subjected to some form of harassment, all three incidences involving some sort of allusion to Trump and the election. But I would like to point out that while bigotry and racial ignorance are undeniably part of our culture, decent Americans seem to collectively despise the perpetrators of these attitudes, and do our best to shut it down when we see it. Even Trump himself encouraging us to “Stop it.”
For women (of all races) it is different. Objectification and victimization are the white noise of our existence. And there doesn’t really seem to be anyone, least of all ourselves, coming to our defense.
I had a committee meeting last night where I met with a small group of women about how we are going to feed and entertain the neighborhood families for our annual Children’s Christmas Party. Feeling that same stoic comradery, I brought up politics and eventually ascertained that I was the lone Clinton supporter in the group. The subject of “the Grieving Democrats” came up. What are these people so upset about? Why can’t they get over it?
In 1981, the Reagan Administration passed the Adolescent Family Life Act, nicknamed the “Chastity Law” which funded abstinence-only sex ed in schools across America. It had humble beginnings with a modest $4 million a year, that is until 1996, when an increase in funding was tucked into the Welfare Reform Act during Clinton’s tenure in office. Two years later, in January of 1998, Bill Clinton infamously told our nation that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman”.
Let me break that down for you: during a time when we were throwing money at programs that preached the dangerous and sinful nature of pre-marital sex, our PRESIDENT publically declared that oral sex was not sex.
Today, 1 out of 5 ninth graders has engaged in oral sex. Those are 13 and 14-year-olds if you are still trying to do the math in your head. By the time they are 18 it jumps to two-thirds. Kids that were committed to waiting for the right person were doing a whole heck of a lot with just about anybody. Now, if that isn't troubling enough, consider that, to paraphrase Peggy Orenstein; "[abstinence-only programs] reinforced that intercourse was the line in the sand for chastity... and our president at the time provided our youth with an obvious work-around".
Point being: if you think the youth isn’t listening, if you think the morals and attitudes of our leaders don’t trickle down, aren’t reflected in our behavior and by the things we view as permissible, well then you ought to open your eyes.
And THAT is why we can’t get over it: the uncertain trajectory for the social-sexual-emotional-wellbeing of the young women of tomorrow is a tough pill to swallow.
Does this mean we can’t be pleasantly surprised? No. Does this mean he can’t bring jobs back to McDowell and shut down ISIS? No. And I hope he does these things.
But for women like me, for the gay community dealing with a VP-elect that supports conversion therapy, for Jews dealing with Bannon, for the disenfranchised minorities, for the immigrants, for the disabled. For anyone who fought so hard to have laws passed that are now in jeopardy of being reversed: we are gonna need a minute to process it all.
For me personally the greatest loss last week was not the presidency. It was my credibility. Because as long as it’s okay to harass people on social media, to mock and belittle and man-terrupt and hate, I can’t really tell my children that being brave and kind and educated is what our society values most. Over their appearance, over their sexuality, over whatever disabilities they may have, what country they were born in, what men they choose to question.
Because, ultimately, who we elect to sit in the Oval Office and speak on our behalf, is as much a reflection of us now, as we one day will be of him.
The winners in all of this? The women who voted for Trump. Clearly they are profoundly better at being women. And I swear to you I mean this as a compliment. They aren’t disturbed by the rhetoric. They do not worry that their daughters or granddaughters will in any way be negatively affected. They are confident in their abilities to parent above the white noise, and they certainly didn’t pin their hopes on a female president. My mother is one of them.
What I would give to not be worried.
I guess it’s a good thing for me that Cookies solve everything. I best get baking:
Hillary Clinton’s Chocolate Chips:
Vegetable oil for baking sheets
1 ½ cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease baking sheets.
Combine flour, salt and baking soda on waxed paper.
Beat together shortening, sugars and vanilla in large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs, beating until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in flour mixture and rolled oats. Stir in chocolate chips.
Drop batter by well-rounded teaspoonfuls onto baking sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden.
Cool cookies on sheets for 2 minutes. Remove to wire rack to cool completely.