It’s a rarity when the first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving fall on the same day. We can look forward to that happening again in 77,798 years. That is, of course, if there IS a Hanukkah or a Thanksgiving in 77,798 years. Think how much the two occasions have changed in, say, the last hundred. Thanksgiving would be only barely recognizable, and this year, both holidays seem to be mere distractions from the great shop-a-thon that won’t allow cash registers to stop humming until Monday next (if then). And although we’re only half-way through the push at this writing, I’d be surprised if the reports of shootings, stabbings and fist fights in the pursuit of sales don’t break previous Black Friday records.
Hopefully the festivities on Thursday produced less grim statistics. We each have traditions regarding the national day of thanks, most centered around food, family and television. I’m assuming that prior to television and a less mobile nation that kept family close by, it was mostly about the food. And although there are some exceptions, that means that this holiday was designed, orchestrated and accomplished by women who did more than boil the turkey handed them in a pot; they created an occasion.
Ultimately, I think that how we feel about this holiday speaks volumes about how we feel about our parents. Our appreciation, hostility or disdain for the festivities of the season are shrouded in the dreaded “family dynamic” – a loaded topic — but today I’d like to focus on the part women play in establishing values and creating balance.
My mother loved two things besides Dad and me, Coke with lots of ice and her toy poodles. She was an avid football fan and she never missed a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. One of those cheerful morning people, she was invariably up with the dawn, getting a jump on stuffing the turkey, baking pies and tuning in the early West coast broadcast of Santa’s official arrival. Born a night owl, I was indifferent to her attempts to get me up to enjoy it with her. I would usually stumble out of bed just as the last of the balloons and marching bands swept by, followed by Santa’s sleigh and final panoramic views of the crowds. She would pour me coffee (mostly milk when I was little) and fill me in on all the wonders I’d missed.
I watched the parade this year, partly because Central Time makes it more palatable and also in honor of a woman whose presence I miss every day, especially as the holiday’s near. The spectacle was threatened by weather, but besides everyone but the performers bundled against the cold and the NYPD ordering the balloons lowered to avoid the wind – putting Spiderman’s arm out of commission when it was skewered by a tree limb in Central Park — it seemed to come off without a hitch.
Watching a parade “modernized” for a new generation of kids, I wondered if my mother’s generation was dismayed when ‘new’ balloons like Mighty Mouse replaced Mickey or when Kermit the Frog took Superman’s slot. This year, a lot of older folks are no doubt shaking their heads over Sonic the Hedgehog, Finn and Jake, and Toothless the Dragon. Me, I plead guilty to not knowing the middle set of players. I’ll have to ask my grandkids.
I also wondered if it was just me — sensitized to the glut of commercialism — that was put off by how MUCH of this annual event is about brand, logo and product placement, punctuated by a giant hovering Ronald McDonald, a smiling Kool Aid pitcher (with an announcement of two new flavors this year) and a pudgy, grinning Pillsbury Dough Boy. But it’s a MACY’s day parade, after all. It was always about boosting sales, a topic that was addressed in the 1947 Christmas classic, Miracle On 34th Street.
In researching, I discovered that this beloved movie was black-listed by the Catholic Legion of Decency because the mother was divorced. Worse yet, Maureen O’Hara’s character worked outside the home. The sour-minded were stumping for cinema “purity” back then, a concept that never seems to go out of fashion with the literalists. Better by far to disregard the back-story of good will and cooperation defeating profit and greed than allow an assault on traditional family values. Patriarchy pushing back against Goddess rising, methinks. I’m pleased to report that the attempt failed, given the popularity of this film from “way back when” that even 21st century kids have seen.
I was a toddler when that movie came out, many moons ago. Sadly, commercialism is still the focus of the day, public consciousness seemingly having surrendered even the possibility of the good will and common cause that made one last effort to trump political cynicism and corporate domination modeled in that sweetly naive and dated movie. On the other hand, from what I’m seeing around me and all I sense gathering around us in the ethers, what the League of Decency hoped for is changing more quickly than we think.
The women’s voices I hear speaking now are very modern, indeed. These women may or may not know how to cook a dynamite Thanksgiving dinner, but they still have considerable influence on what we find valuable, nationally and globally, and that energy continues to expand. Let me give you some examples.
I’ve noticed a number of women news anchors who seem much more aggressive than their male counterparts, more determined to get past political rhetoric. Here’s CNN’s Carol Costello tenaciously going after the answers like a little bulldog. You can sense the GOP politician’s frustration that she’s not being allowed the usual nod to doublespeak acting as smoke and mirrors.
Featured on MoveOn.org’s “gamechanger” site, which encourages people to start their own petitions, here’s a young woman who took action to remove the Montana judge that sentenced a former teacher who raped a 14-year old (who later committed suicide) to 30 days in jail. Taking the story nation-wide, she and her supporters put a spotlight on the egregious failings of the old paradigm’s sexual bias and proved the power of conscience and community.
And speaking to the topic of rape culture, here’s an interview with comic book illustrator Tess Fowler, whose wonderful work has inspired a group of avid followers. Working in a male-dominated industry, she discussed the misogyny and sexism she faces and the growing evolution of thought that she finds encouraging. Tess is standing tall in an ol’ boy system.
As quoted by columnist Brent Budowsky, the new Pope Francis — who seems more than just a little conversant with Goddess and the populist plight that originates deep in the heart of humankind — offered this prayer recently: “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor!” Amen to that!
We have a very engaging group of women legislators at the moment. One of my favorites, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, has gone to war with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and she’s made her concerns public. As chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the NRC, Boxer has been thwarted by commission staff from reviewing records pertaining to the San Onofre nuclear plant closure. She has accused commission employees of trying to intimidate congressional staff, and taken the agency to task for creating “substantial hurdles and delays that interfere with congressional oversight of the agency,” as well as changing policy without consulting Congress. She’s demanded that the commission withdraw the changes.
There are actually many impressive women in Congress these days — too many for this article — and if Emily’s List has its way there will be many more in the coming elections. Still, I can’t discuss impressive women who speak their minds without mentioning populist superstar Elizabeth Warren. Her accomplishments in speaking truth to power are many, but if you can get past the huffinpuff from this Young Turks commentator, here is an example of why Elizabeth is being suggested as running mate or even candidate along with Hillary Clinton for 2016.
The United States is not the only place feeling this rising Goddess energy. Listen to this young activist from First Nation in the Grandmother Land — Canada — protesting fracking. Her candor about assaults to her people is laudable, almost as impressive as her open spirit and remarkable demeanor.
Having defied the Taliban, Malala went on to speak out against Obama’s drone strikes. That level of courage includes facing the American president when she did so, which should come as no surprise. She has become an unlikely leader for women’s rights. Listen to her in her own words.
Meanwhile, there is continuing ground giving way on the prohibition of Saudi women driving. King Abdullah has gradually introduced reforms to allow women to vote and hold office, yet the more severe tenets of Islamic Wahhabism continue in the mainstream. An official speaking against women driving recently instructed the public that doing so “risks damaging ovaries” by “pushing the pelvis upward, producing children with varying degrees of clinical problems.” Here’s a short article and video about the courageous women defying that nonsense.
Please forgive the many links this week, but it is encouraging to know that these important voices push forward the equality of women and their leadership. All of those listed continue the legacy of my last example, someone who has spent a lifetime being both candid and authentic: Gloria Steinem.
Steinem will turn 80 next year, and was recently awarded the country’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Obama presented her the award along with praise for promoting “lasting political and social change in America and abroad,” and for “inspiring us all to take up the cause of reaching for a more just tomorrow.” Steinem told the audience that she could ” … think of no president in history from whose hand I would be more honored to receive this medal,” and that “I’d be crazy if I didn’t understand that this was a medal for the entire women’s movement.” In my opinion, it is an honor well deserved.
When I think about strong women and how much they’ve shaped this moment in history – especially each November — I have to default to my great-grandmother x13, Elizabeth Tilley, who arrived in this country on the Mayflower. She survived the first dreadful winter that took the lives of five of her relatives, and shortly after, not much more than a child, she married John Howland. She produced 10 children, who begat and begat and now there are millions of us cousins who can claim this pair in our DNA signature. Elizabeth outlived John by fifteen years and died on December 21, 1687, having lived with one of her children in her final years. She was buried in Connecticut, where it was said she was able to shift for herself for decades as her husband was often gone, and that she had a good working relationship with the native people of the area.
When I think about what life must have been like for Grandma Elizabeth, I wonder where the men of this era got the notion that women were the “weaker sex.” Probably the same place where they decided that people like our president were only three-fifths of a soul. I suspect this flawed perception was passed down from father to son as the norm in defense of the obvious: power and privilege require constant mythological shaping, a good bit of violence to prevent uprising, and unfailing control. It’s worked for a long time, hasn’t it?
Having outgrown much of the patriarchy dialogue in this century, women have finally taken their rightful place as equal citizens, despite their legal status, which remains pending. But not, I think, for much longer. I suspect the legality of the Equal Rights Amendment will follow long after women have demonstrated their innate ability to lead and have helped establish the balance needed to rewrite the basic understanding of gender roles.
“In my old age—really old age, since I’m going to live past 100, I hope—I would love to have a diner,” wrote Gloria Steinem in New York magazine’s 30th anniversary issue. “Everyone goes—truck drivers go, people from the neighborhood, people in their tuxes after parties go…They’re truly populist places. And in the back room, we could have a little revolutionary meeting from time to time.”
[R]evolutionary meeting, indeed! It all starts now, with or without the diner to host the party. And I suspect that having managed the childbearing and the wilderness, surviving with the assistance of “the neighborhood,” Grandma Elizabeth would approve.