Monday, July 2, 2012

Spinsters, Boys in Skirts, & Anderson Cooper

Three things in the news have grabbed my attention in the past two days, and though I have no time to post and blogspot has just erased the post I did write, I’ll try it this way, via Word.  Who knows what will happen?

Anyway, the first thing doesn’t require a lot of work—everyone knows about it and anyone reasonable is glad for it.  But I always do like my 2 cents…

Anderson cooper must have known when he allowed posting of his utterly dignified, moving and beautiful official coming out statement that he was offering his substantial voice to the gay community, including perhaps most  importantly those bullied high school kids.  He also must have known what awaits him from the right.  He will pay for his courage.  Mr. Limbaugh must be frenziedly composing and reworking his attack, and it will be a doozy.  God knows what crimes cooper will be accused of, but I expect it will be revealed that none of his reporting has ever been objective because it’s all part of his gay agenda, and that he wants to destroy all heterosexuals.

 The privacy cooper so clearly cherishes is shot.  I can only hope that his supporters will use his pronouncement in tasteful ways that can be helpful to the truth that cooper has chosen over his privacy.  And now that everybody knows what everybody probably already knew if they cared, I hope that soon he will be able to get back to his work without having to explain his private life any more.   It’s funny, I my writing class last term I started to use the wonderful ‘6 word story’—a great exercise.  Today in the midst of his piece, Anderson wrote his six-word story. “I love and I am loved.’’  That’s the story of his private life, and what a dear and honorable story it is!

The other two stories are not that well known. They are from a website that I get on facebook, ‘’care to causes.’ But they too matter.  The first is about the rise of ‘spinsters and middle-aged mothers’’ in our country, or at least in new york city.  As much as I loved the content, I really love the title.  When I was about 12, I first saw the word ‘spinster’ in Louisa may alcott’s Little Women.   Alcott used the word positively and proudly, and for the first time I realized that there actually was a word for women who were like I wanted to be.  I embraced it then, and have ever since.  Needless to say, the world has been less impressed than i.  according to the story, 42percent of nyc women have never married.  It’s clearly an inflated number, since the  age of the women surveyed is 15 and above.  I think you’d find a large population of unmarried 15 and 16 year olds in any place at any time. Still it’s a hearty and cheering figure, and along with the later-life mothers, suggests we’re beginning to understand there are numerous possibilities available to all of us.

The third story is really a compilation of small ones.  It starts with a teenage boy in Alabama who walked into his classroom happily sporting  brand-new earring. He was then told to take out the earring or leave; it was inappropriate for a boy to wear an earring.  His parent took the school to court and won.  The other stories were nearly identical, occurring in different schools and different states. Each involves a boy coming to class in shorts on a sweltering summer day.  Nope,  you can’t wear shorts to school.  But, argued the boy and his friends, girls wear short skirts when they want to; why can’t boys wear short pants? No way. So the kid and his male buddies discussed it and the next day a bunch of them showed up in skirts.  There was, after all, no rule on the books about not wearing skirts—the girls did it all the time.  In both cases, the boys won and got to wear their shorts.

What matters in the larger context about these stories is that, though it was boys suffering for their clothing choices, the underlying reason was sexism—and not against men, but against women.  Boys are expected to be ‘manly,’ girls ‘womanly.’  And all those rules are ultimately about male supremacy.  Masculinity is about learning to dominate women; femininity is about learning to submit to men.  That till holds true for all the real and the cosmetic changes over the years.  Look at the words ‘tomboy’ and ‘sissy.’  The tomboy, though she  must eventually change, is often lovable, cute, going through a phase. The sissy is dangerous and has to be stopped at all costs.  She is imitating her betters; he is imitating his inferiors. There are of course limits to the condescending tolerance the tomboy may get:  masculine seeming women can get beaten and killed for their appearance, as can gay, transvestite, or transsexual men.  Challenging roles, even the roles that presumably empower you, is always dangerous.  I doubt that any of the boys in skirts were thinking of this, but I hope some of it still got through to them.  With luck, this is the beginning of their challenging constricting gender rules and roles.

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