I'm too old to care about being cool, though I like to think I never cared about being cool. Same goes for PC. Not as in personal computer, but as in Politically Correct. I disdain group think, I believe bandwagons and many causes are just opportunities to check your brain at the door and leave all answers to the loudest, brashest and most annoying person with a megaphone. I am a registered Independent, though there is some irony in that statement. I am Catholic, but with a strong streak of "yeah, but... let's look at it this way" coursing through my veins. I have always been a "feminist" but I refuse to go along with equating feminism with the right to destroy life.

Ah, see, there's the rub.

I live in Texas, raised in NYC. The big story here is the crowd, huge, massive, noisy crowd, cheering and hollering in Austin for the defeat of a bill which would have further restricted access to abortion.

What a terrible word. It sticks in my throat, it hesitates in my mouth before tumbling out. Abortion.

I am an advocate for women and women's health care. I know personally the difficulties and dangers of pregnancy and childbirth. I have four children and have been through life threatening situations with some of their births.

I realize that many women have no "choice" when it comes to sex. I realize many women are abused, physically, psychologically and emotionally. I know my own church has bullied women for generations against exercising any control over how many children they could bear.

I want to shake the men, whether they wear a suit or a cassock or torn up blue jeans, to just shut up when it comes to women and their reproductive lives, since even the most well meaning really knows nothing, not a thing, about what it is like to be pregnant, to give birth, to be the main, and too often sole, provider for that child.

But that's what "it" is. No matter how you would like to toy with words and play semantic games of what grows inside a pregnant woman, "it" is a child.

With all the celebrating and partying and reproductive "rights" rejoicing, let's be honest and at least remember that much of the truth.

Girl, Ferocious

We have two refrigerator pictures of the grandkid's visit to Santa. One is the before shot which Katie took while they were waiting in  line, a very long line. Both Jude and Sophia look happy in their Christmas finery, though Sophia is scratching at the stiff fabric of her fancy dress. Fast forward an hour, and three and  a half year old Jude is smiling like the proud and happy little man that he is and his just about to turn two year old sister is squealing and squirming while the man with the big white beard has his broad arm around her belly. Typical, huh? Yes, it is. (Now we have no pictures of our youngest child with Santa because the few years we attempted it, he screamed from his stroller. He was not going to sit on a giant red-clad bearded man's lap.)

I had both pictures on the refrigerator until one of my son's bandmates-- thank you, Rob-- commented that this was one unhappy little girl who didn't want to sit on the creepy man's lap. (I make no judgment on that man in the beard who puts up with all variety of children, some damp and smelly, some thrilled to be in the presence of the king of fairy tales.)

Rob's comment brought into sharper focus my initial reaction to the picture, that is, we need to respect when little girls and big girls do not want to sit on someone's lap, or however you would like to extend the metaphor. (Really, I am not leaving out little boys, but this piece is about girls. I have much to say about little boys and the broad 'taming' of them so they sit still in school, but that's a different piece.)

A few weeks ago I attended a GirlsRising/Room to Read (www.roomtoread.org) presentation of the conditions of half the world's population and their systematic abuse decreed by state, family, tribe and 'tradition'.  Tradition.  A term used to evoke a nostalgic feeling of the good old days where families were always warm and loving and, within the protective arms of 'the way we do things' peoples lives are safe and ordered. Ordered, perhaps, but safe has nothing to do with it.

Girls around the world are discarded, sold to pay family debts, married off as nine year old children to grown men who can use them any way they desire and are bearing children their tiny bodies are not designed to accommodate. Then, when they are broken in childbirth, they are exiled to live out their short lives where their problems present no offense to their families.

Many girls are taught to be docile, pretty, compliant, uncmplianing and illiterate. Then they are blamed if a man cannot control his sexual desires toward her for having these very qualities they are told will provide them with security.

Our little Sophia likes pink ribbons, pink shoes and pink polish on her tiny toenails. She is also fierce, fearless and ferocious. May those traits never be educated out of her.

Brick by Brick

Excuse me: What!!!? Now, really, I didn't plan this juxtaposition of events in the news and at a less public forum I attended, but I sure do intend to expand on it.

We are, by now, all familiar with the Akin comment and ‘legitimate rape’.  Infuriating that people are still that stupid, but there it is.

Last week I attended a speaker’s forum, looking to get my toe in the water of professional speaking, something I have done quite a bit in the past, but have neglected lately.

As a general rule, I would like to think, I don’t keep my mouth shut when I hear something offensive or questionable. But there are exceptions.I have been trying to figure out why I didn't object when I first heard the comment or even afterwards at the Q and A. Here’s what I've come up with: it was my first time with this particular group, the atmosphere was all supportive and positive and a bit ‘rah-rah’ lets listen to the experts who’ve made a ton of money speaking, therefore they know what they’re talking about, and the atmosphere of pleasantries and success. That, and I had to be somewhere else.

The keynote was a charismatic fellow, a former Olympian, smooth, commanding, all the qualities one would want to cultivate in the speaker biz.But, but, there was one comment, almost a throw away line, that in order to be successful as a speaker one must be vulnerable, let the audience know you are one of them, invite them in. And, surprise, those who are better at being vulnerable at the podium are men. Why? Because they are not pre-occupied with whether their shoes and purse match.

I know I furrowed my brow and the side of my mouth pulled up at this, wondering if there would be some brilliant insight to follow. Alas, there was not. There was only some supportive laughter.

Vulnerable? Men are ‘better’ at being vulnerable? Excuse me, what!!!? 

What a crock of shit!! Now, I don’t curse. I am, on principle, against vulgar language. Not only because it is ‘unladylike’ but, because it is, generally, ignorant and brutish and overused.

But, once in a while, it’s the only fit.

I have a daughter, a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter. All girls, all women, must learn, at a very young age, how to protect themselves.We learn how to build walls, and we better learn early.We learn how to read a room, learn how to pick up on facial and body language. You remain innocent of these lessons at your own peril.

This is not optional. It is mandatory. We must develop this sense, this intuition, if you will, of how to read people, how to sense threat, how to step away from danger. But often, too often, that is not enough.

Why? Because we are vulnerable.

It has nothing to do with matching shoes and purses. It’s a fact of life.

Women are vulnerable all over the place: in dark parking lots, in pregnancy, in size and strength (generally), in our willingness to take the little ones of the world into our hearts and bodies. And, listen carefully, we are vulnerable because we so often want to assume the best in people, we want to trust and be empathetic and let people in.

Women have cornered the market on vulnerability, fellas. If that is the key to success in the speaking business, then sign me up.  If I trust you, I’ll let the shields down. If I don’t, then watch out for flying bricks.

PS:  I am available for speaking and readings to your groups on a range of topics.

Women and Conscience

I’ve been trying to write something else. Something to play around with to start my next book. Something different than this. But.

I’ve spent years involved, one way and another, with the pro-life movement. I was a freshman in high school when the cases were coming to the courts, the court my father was involved with, the New York State Supreme Court. I had not heard of abortion before my freshman year in high school. I was horrified when I learned that some women, some mothers, would choose to end the life of the child growing in their bodies.

I am the fourth of six children. The image of the Madonna and Child was a family portrait. The holiness of life, the holiness of each individual life, and soul, underlined and contained the essence of the gospel reinforced by the images of saints and the stained glass windows that were an essential part of my living space. The consecration of the Eucharist and the culture of sacrifice that before I was born, for generations beyond counting before I was born, was imbedded in my DNA.

From the moment I heard that word abortion, I identified with the child. Not the mother. Not the father. The child. An Innocent. Each child breathed into being by the whisper of God. It wasn’t biology, it was divinity. It was elegant. Romantic. Simple.

At that young age I knew the mechanics of conception. Man and woman; egg and sperm. And I knew that it was wrong to engage in activity that might lead to a child if you weren’t married. That had certainly been scared into me in my Irish Catholic home and community.

I also breathed in the lessons that if anything ‘happened’ to a girl, it was her fault. Her fault for being attractive, for leading boys and men on by being herself.  I learned that women were ‘the occasion of sin’ just for being female. I heard my mother say that a woman should not accuse a man of rape because it would ruin the man’s life. The man’s life. I heard my father comment on girls ‘walking by in their summer clothes’ as Mick Jagger sang, who knew what they were doing by dressing in shorts and sleeveless blouses. They knew they were driving the boys crazy and they enjoyed doing it. And the boys couldn’t help themselves for the thoughts and feelings, and thus, actions, which such vixens would inspire.

Years ago I was asked to ghost write a newspaper article for a dear friend of mine who had an abortion when she was nineteen. By then she had four children and I was pregnant with my fourth child.

I struggled, gut wrenchingly struggled, with this task. How was I to write from the perspective of someone who got up on a table in a clinic, opened her body to a stranger for the purpose of removing this ‘product of conception’?

Then, slowly, painfully, I realized just how scared she was. She was engaged but not married. Her parents would turn on her, turn away from her. She broke the rules. She disgraced the family. At the moment she got on the table fear of her parent’s disgrace and anger was bigger than any bunch of cells threatening to turn into a baby. And years later, she mourned for that child. Mourned for that child and for herself for being shamed into doing something that betrayed who she was.

And now. With men in black suits and vestments, men who will never become pregnant, or in the case of Catholic priests, never become fathers, speaking out on Capitol Hill and in state senates and radio broadcasts, speaking of ‘conscience’ when it comes to contraceptives and their availability to women. Men who have no understanding, no empathy, no compassion, for women and all the responsibilities and burdens and depths of understanding of life and its mysteries, yes, mysteries, where women dwell, still, they are making policy and belittling women, echoing, if not quoting the old teaching that women are 'the occasion of sin' and they have asked for whatever happens to them.

I’m looking for an ending phrase, sentence, or paragraph to tie this post up, but I don't have one. There is nothing neat and simple about this.  So I will have to continue next time.













Today is the 89th birthday of the American woman's right to vote.  89 years, and still, you have to wonder, what took so long? It is 2009, right?  We are in the twenty-first century, so the calendar says.  So how come Richard Engel of NBC News still has to report on women in Afghanistan who are in prison because they left violently abusive husbands, were shunned because they were raped, are in prison just because they are women? It is a matter of law that a wife cannot refuse sex to her husband on pain of imprisonment and that every 27 minutes (!) an Afghan woman dies in childbirth!!!! The report showed a nursery as part of the prison where the women can play with their children from time to time.  Looking at the young, beautiful faces of these boys and girls it takes little imagination to fast forward 15 or 20 years and see those little girls as wife-slaves to men who were once beautiful little boys, beloved by their mothers.  When will those toddlers be taught that women are worth so much less than men?  When will those beautiful little girls learn that the boys they once played with in a prison nursery have the right to abuse, rape, shun and violate them?

How do we reconcile these images, these stories that we encounter day after day in so many places in this world with what we know to be right and what to be wrong?  How is it possible that people can continue to treat each other with such barbarity?

Over the last several years polite people find it acceptable to downplay the revolution in the Western world of women's rights.  Yes, some of the warriors were shrill, irritating, un-ladylike.  Some were extreme and made us uncomfortable.  But, look what they have accomplished:  educated, intelligent women who are able to speak up for themselves and for thier children and state the obvious:  we are all created equal.

What's taking so long?