The Dreamer: Part III

I did NOT want to move to Cairo, Egypt!  I had already moved across the country with my three children to join my new husband in 1981. Virginia had become our home.  Schools were wonderful, we all made new friends, and I was happy with my better-paying job.  I was an equal contributor to our family finances. And after the death of my first husband, I had sued his estate to create a trust fund for our children’s future educational needs.  But after a few years of marriage, my second husband wanted to join the State Department’s Foreign service- destination TBD!  After working a couple years at the State Department in Washington, DC, he was finally given a three year foreign assignment in Cairo, beginning in August of 1987.  We had magnificent arguments for months! Finally we agreed on a compromise. I agreed to interrupt my career and quit my job early enough to set up a study program as a student abroad.  I had been taking evening classes at George Mason University (GMU) toward an anthropology degree for two years.  Being a full time student for awhile again appealed to me. In return, my husband agreed our time overseas would be limited to three years, under any and all circumstances.

Over the nine months prior to our departure, I applied to and was accepted by the American University in Cairo (AUC.)  I then secured an appointment with the Dean at GMU to propose my course of study at AUC.  Because the two universities had no contract allowing credit transfer, I would have to do all the groundwork myself. I had to show courses at AUC were comparable to those required at GMU for my desired major. To do so, I must visit with the heads of all departments involved and get their formal written consent.  Eight of the classes I needed must be taken only at GMU before I left.  One of those was a senior class for which I would need special permission to take early.  For the first time in my life, I worried there was insufficient time available to accomplish all the necessary requirements!  Not to mention I would also have to pack up my household for a move halfway across the world! But I got through it all and the Dean finally gave his blessings to my proposal after I presented him with the formal consents from five department heads and the record of my six A’s and two B’s in the eight courses I’d completed!

FLASHBACK: 1989

We are sitting in the Dean’s office at AUC. On my left is Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles; on my right is the Dean of AUC; across from me is a woman who is from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, who has chosen a path similar to mine.  Governor Baliles is greeting us: “We wanted to honor you both today for the work you’ve done in creating programs of study at AUC.  You have shown courses at AUC are comparable to those at your respective home universities.  In part due to the work you have done, we are prepared to create contracts with AUC so future students at public universities in both Virginia and the District Of Columbia may use AUC to pursue their studies abroad. They will be able to transfer their credits without having to do all the preparation you both have done.”  (paraphrased by me from memory.)  The Governor and Dean ask for further input from us. We converse for an hour then part with warm handshakes.

When we are able to define our own priorities and what we want in life; when we know we can create and direct our own path; when we are prepared to change course as necessary to enhance our path,  life becomes more joyful!  Don’t we all  have the right to pursue our own destiny and experience the joy inherent in doing so?

Women can complain and manipulate.  We can demand. We can argue and fight. We can join groups, march for what we want, what we believe.  All will create societal change to a greater or lesser extent.  All will be temporary . . .  UNLESS OUR MINDSETS CHANGE ON A GRAND SCALE!

Patriarchy has defined civilization for at least 10,000 years. It is ingrained deeply in our minds, in our world view.  It’s almost like the air we breathe; it just seems “normal.”  But abuse and atrocities perpetrated by one group over any other is not normal.  Claims of superiority by abusers are invalid and used by those who wish to enhance their own lives at the expense of anyone who gets in their way.  Intellectually we all know this to be true.  But until we become capable of feeling and believing we are all equal though different and instilling this same sense of worthiness into the minds of our children,  we risk succumbing to those who claim to be “better than- .”

Let us stand together and reclaim the course of civilization for the benefit of all humanity.

 

 

The Dreamer: Part II (of III)

One of my mom’s favorite bits of advice was the cliché, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”  The problem with such advice, as I see it, is that each and every one of us was born into a pool of lemonade created by the thousands of generations which came before us.  Our natal micro- and macro-cultures are all the result of how each group defined their societal and organizational challenges and created solutions which would be passed down to the next generation.  Civilization as we see it today is a composite of the varying solutions our ancestors created, including: the methods to provide basic human needs, such as food and shelter; educational and legal systems, defining acceptable knowledge and behavior; belief systems, defining our character and morals.  All have evolved over millennia as our population grew, moved and changed.  Some present day solutions retain elements of their origins, but most would be unrecognizable to our ancient ancestors.  Yet patriarchy, the foundation of human civilization, persists.

Early on,  men claimed the right to define  the challenges society faced and then to create the solutions to those challenges.  Through asserted superiority and power, they forcefully subjugated women.  Their solutions inevitably perpetuated their assertions of superiority and the right to enforce their choices.  When challenged, they fought. Eventually, according to Professor Lerner, patriarchal success led to the subjugation of weaker men and of children.  Slavery was born.

Patriarchy itself has evolved of course.  Women through the ages have manipulated their manipulators, rebelled, yelled, and marched for their freedom and equality.  But not until women became capable of controlling their own fertility did they realize a modicum of true success.  In 1960, the first birth control pill became available for use by married women.  It took another twelve years before the Supreme Court ruled birth control methods could also be used by unmarried women.

In 1991, Susan Faludi, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, published Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.  In about 500 pages, Ms. Faludi describes in excruciating detail the patriarchal denigration of feminism and the fight for women’s rights concurrently and in recent history.  Now in 2020, the “Me Too” movement and the “Supermajority” are taking up the very same causes of fifty-plus years ago.  Meanwhile, the “Right to Life” group are claiming a moral high ground, stating their goal is to “end the murder of the unborn.”  Their actual end-game is to once again legally control the sexual and reproductive lives of women.

Yes, patriarchy is alive and well around the world. Consider the control over women in countries ruled by dictators and royal families.  The very core of our civilization has irreparably damaged us as a civilization.  By subjugating more than half of us, it has limited our education and wisdom, our imagination and creativity.  The solutions to the challenges we face will thus be flawed and inadequate.  They will also be skewed to benefit the minority who claim authority to choose them.

It is time we deny that claim.

The Dreamer: Part I (of III)

My Only Regret

If ever we met
In a world newly blind
To the acceptance of
Maid-whore and man-
The idyllic couple . . .

If ever we met
In a world unconfined
By denial of our worth,
Woman and man-
Forever unequal . . .

If ever we met
In a world without lines
Drawn in anger and fear,
Man versus man-
Perceived to be normal . . .

If ever we met
In a world where our minds
Perpetually sought
Care, not control:
Perhaps I would love you.

After composing this poem I wrote a note to myself saying, “I cannot accept patriarchy as the basis of civilization.  Nevertheless, reality can’t be denied.  So I have lived: challenging and circumventing each barrier to my freedom as I encounter it.”

For decades I have played a little game with myself as I reflected on current events in my life.  For example, after a challenging day juggling my commitments I might say to myself, “Just one more day in the life of Sue, ‘Single Mom of Three’.”  Over the years my self-ascribed titles have reflected my changing life circumstances. Lately I have become “Sue, ‘Dreamer Extraordinaire’.”

And yet, I have always been a dreamer. My basic dream has never changed. I dream of a world in which all people are considered equally worthy and therefore all treat each other as they hope to be treated themselves.  But human civilization has not evolved in a direction conducive to realizing such dreams. The foundation of civilization was rooted in power, particularly the power of men over women.  [My assertion is most convincingly and eloquently documented in the prize winning book by UWM History Professor Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (1986).  Professor Lerner’s research is based on 10,000 years of recorded history of human civilization.]  So my dreams of late tend to revolve around imagining how the very core of our civilization might be overcome.

FLASHBACK:

It’s 1979.  I have worked in my first job as a Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) for just one year, having completed both nursing and anesthesia studies after my divorce in 1972.  I’m sitting in our tiny anesthesia office with three male anesthesiologists and our female secretary. We have been discussing various personal financial concerns.  The eldest doctor looks at me and says, “Sue, what you really need is a sugar daddy!”  We all respond with surprised, nervous laughter.  Everyone glances at me to note my reaction.  Now he’s elaborating on his proposal.  One of the other doctors responds asking, “So how much should she get from this ‘sugar daddy’?”  The elder anesthesiologist names a dollar amount.  Everyone seems uncomfortable and all are making excuses and standing to leave.  Absolutely mortified, I’m walking out as well.  This was not my first such offer.

Long before I had remarried and divorced again; long before I had added a degree in Cultural Anthropology to my resume; long before I had visited and lived in exotic areas of the world, I had concluded my freedom relied upon becoming financially independent.  Despite the challenges I faced in attaining my goal, I was learning this first step was necessary but insufficient.  In fact it would become, in retrospect, an easier part of my journey. Society favors conformity and conformists.

Recently in a text conversation with my 21 year old granddaughter I told her, “By 1972 I became what they called a ‘bra-burning feminist’!”  Actually, I never burned any of my bras; I simply didn’t wear them much of the time.  As a quiet rebel, I hoped to escape the double whammy of being viewed as both an intimidating,  independent woman and a ‘man-hating feminist.’  Yet I didn’t escape much.  Many women seemed to fear I was out to grab their husbands.  Many men assumed I was eager to grab their . . . well, you know.  I cared about neither.  All I’ve ever wanted was the freedom to live my life as I chose within the law and with the rights I believe should be afforded to me simply because I am a human being.  Knowing revenge and retaliation against those who may wish to block my quest for freedom would come at too high a cost- namely, my integrity- I sought gentler avenues.  The path would be difficult.  But ultimately, the path would be my very own.

Part II of The Dreamer will be published Monday, February 3rd. I hope you’ll return to follow my journey!