I’ve had a few challenges to my identity lately.
(The word identity in my mind is said in the voice of Lou Ferguson, who plays Joseph Asagai in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Teasing Beneatha, he quotes her: “You see, Mr. Asagai, I am looking for my identity!” And he laughs. I’ve taught this play to high school sophomores for over ten years, and there are many lines which stick in my brain, especially Asagai’s: “Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.”)
I am 57-years-old, and you’d think I’d have this identity thing figured out by now. (I hear you laughing at me, Asagai, and, like Beneatha, I am both insulted and curious. What do you know that I do not?) Hansberry didn’t live to be my age. What would her characters have said if she had?
At the high school where I teach, we are trying, once again, to address the use of racist and homophobic language. Staff members were lead through an exercise where we were to claim four words as part of our identity — such as name, ethnicity, sex, occupation, religion. Then we were challenged to give up one of them. I discovered that I could give up my name and ethnicity, but giving up being female would be hard. I could not give up being non-religious if that meant pledging to any particular creed. And I could not give up being a writer (being a teacher didn’t even enter my head, which I suppose says more than I would like it to).
I follow “Nerds with Vaginas” on Facebook. Sometimes they post interesting, thoughtful and/or funny things. I don’t like everything they post, and I cringe at the language once in a while. A couple of times lately they’ve made comments in the post about “older women.” Like this one:
No joke, we get messages like this all the time from older women!
There was a picture of Ajax cleanser with lines of white in front of it and a straw.
At first, I didn’t get the Ajax picture at all (yes, I’m that slow) and then I laughed at the dark humor of it, and then I sort of agreed with the “older woman’s” comment (“You’re not funny. You’re dangerous.”), and then I laughed at the Nerd’s response. (“Welcome to the Thunderdome, *edited*”)
Remember, I teach 15-year-olds. I know all too well how stupid and suggestible they can be. But I also teach Rash by Pete Hautman, and I am very aware that we cannot, and should not, protect them from everything. And I came to the conclusion that the Nerds are right. The Internet is a Thunderdome, in some ways, and our kids have access to a gazillion dangerous things. We need to teach them how to negotiate through the dangers because there is no way we can keep them away from them all, all the time.
And… I really don’t want to be one of those “older women.” Okay, so here’s the crux, full disclosure, as they say — it’s my pride that’s grappling with all this. I want to be cool. I want to be woke.
My next challenge was the Women’s March. I didn’t march. I didn’t really consider it. I could blame it on laziness, exhaustion, the bad weather, the many other things I had to do… but… I didn’t feel called to it last year, either.
It’s not that I always sit things out. Years ago, I attended an anti-war rally when the U.S. first invaded Iraq. I’ve been to a gay rights parade, and I’ve been on a Black Lives Matter march, and I attended a candlelight vigil for gay rights. I went to the Democratic caucus and voted for Bernie Sanders. I vote, always. I try to be inter-sectional, although I’m not always sure I know what that means.
But somehow, I just did not go.
Afterward, I read comments like these on Twitter:
“The pussy hats are stupid, banal and a symbol of fake white woman activism. We see how they vote. “
“You went to the Women’s March™, GREAT.
But what’re you planning to do after you post that Instagram picture?
Will you show up for women of color, Black, Indigenous, Trans, undocumented, disabled, poor, and all women that embody multiple of these identities?”
I was glad I hadn’t gone. I didn’t want to be one of those white women in their ridiculous hats. (Even though I have several very good friends who participated.) I think (justifying myself) yeah, how useful and inclusive are those parades?
Sometimes I want to not be a white woman, like that woman in Spokane. –Well, not really. Not like that. I want to see women with more rights, but I also want to see women respecting others’ rights more. I want to see us listening to each other.
I posted this quote on Facebook with a link to an article about children’s books: “Twice as many of the characters who were given a speaking part and a main role in the story were male – and, on average, there were three male characters present in each story for every two females featured. “
An older white woman friend responded, “Sue, I can’t even waste my time reading articles like this, because they are….well…stupid.”
It’s not stupid. It’s not smart. It just is. The fact is that children’s books are filled with mostly male characters. You can say that doesn’t matter. You can say that it’s desperately, horribly important. (I would.) But there is nothing stupid about it. I want girls of the future to be able to find lots of books like Brave New Girls.
I am an older white woman. It’s an identity I cannot discard. But.
But Aidy Bryant “fat shaming” Sarah Sanders on Saturday Night Live challenges me all over again and makes me ashamed to be a white woman of any age. After all, we’ve been saying to men lately in the #MeToo movement, and all that the March was supposed to be about, can we not stop criticizing each other for what we choose to wear and how we appear?
I’m an older woman. I am Susan Elizabeth (formerly Sanchez) McDonough Wachtman, Irish descent, mostly. She/ her. Raised Catholic, and I consider myself religious, but no particular religious affiliation now. I am a writer, a reader, an author, a teacher. I’m a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend, a niece — all those female affiliated relationship words. People who see me, see an older, overweight white woman, and it’s not an image I’m comfortable with these days. But I wish I had gone on the Women’s March.
Do they make black pussy hats? Purple?
(Would that be intersectional? Disrespectful? Even more stupid than the pink ones?)