Archives for posts with tag: Feminism

I have long loved summer, it’s long long days, the clear blue skies, vacations, and mountain views.  2012 was the summer of surgeries, I had three of them, each spaced two weeks apart. I remember watching the Olympic games from my hospital room on the day after my mastectomy. I spent a lot of that sunny Seattle summer scared and indoors. Since that time, summers have been savored the best that I can. I spend a lot of time outdoors and in nature. I take photos of the beauty around me.

This summer, I’ve been doing a lot of canning. I’ve been preserving the bounty of stone fruits in jams and salsa not to mention our wonderful berries and rhubarb. It reminds me of canning peaches and tomatoes with my mom, when I was a girl. There was so much in the garden, so much in the orchards. It was full and sweet and delicious. Canning is not the same as fresh but in the dark days of winter, it provides a bright taste of summer and the hopes of days of longer sunlight up ahead.

Women, traditionally, are the savers of these normal but parts of life. The save food, remember birthdays, keep photo albums of family vacations, and write milestones, the first steps and first words in baby books. Women preserve history of these day to day memories, the events that are not rare, but to be celebrated and appreciated. These are not events recorded in history books.
The summer of 2016 has brought a new event, one that will be preserved in history books. Yesterday, Hillary Rodham Clinton, was the first woman nominated for the presidency of the United States by a major political party. This is more than a big deal. It is something I did not expect to happen in my lifetime.

Like many major societal changes, the good news has been somewhat offset by negative, qualifying, or discounting remarks. I have seen so many women obviously moved by this historical event include a qualification or apology. “Well, I don’t agree with everything Hillary’s done or said,” or “Hey, I still like Bernie Sanders even if I like Hillary.” I have also seen women admonished for their enthusiasm on social media with cautions of, “Well you know that you shouldn’t just vote for her because she’s a woman. You need to vote for the best candidate.”

As if the women of America would be sent into hysteria and forget how to vote responsibly, something we have been doing as a group, since given the right to vote in the U.S. in 1920. And then there are the other objections, the blemishes, the “good but’s”, and just plain old unadulterated misogyny.

But for now, I am working to preserve, the best and sweetest bits of the summer of 2016, and I am savoring them indeed.


A plastic surgery waiting room can be a very interesting place. I remember how uncomfortable I was the first time I visited Dr. Welk’s office in July of 2012. I didn’t want people to think that I was one of “those” women who are chronically unhappy with their bodies and will go to great lengths to achieve the impossible goal of physical perfection. Further, the plastic surgery office is unsurprisingly swanky. It’s not like the cancer center isn’t nice but in the plastic surgery office, patients dress better and so do the people who work there. For my first several visits, it was as if I could hear an imaginary cash register, “cha ching!” over and over. There were so many patients in the waiting room. Later, I would learn that this is only true toward the end of the year when people are trying to get the surgeries that are covered by insurance finished before the start of the new year when they have a new annual deductible. In other words, they are trying to save money.

I didn’t know until recently that my husband hated going to my plastic surgery visits with me. John didn’t want anyone to think he was one of “those” men, the men who want their wives to look better and are willing to pay money to get a prettier wife. He was ashamed on behalf of men who believe their wives to be defective after mastectomy. At the time I was making a decision about whether I would have reconstruction or not, John was pretty clear that he wanted whatever I wanted. He was absolutely sincere.

I haven’t felt uncomfortable in Dr. Welk’s office for quite some time. A big part of that is I made peace with the fact that I opted for reconstruction and as part of that, I made big strides forward in making peace with the imperfections of my own body, including my imperfect mind that wanted to have my lost breast replaced.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a woman in the waiting room. I immediately noticed the unnaturally tight skin on her face. She was greeted by a woman in a white lab coat whom I’d not previously seen. I thought to myself, “That must be the Botox lady.” (I think a more accurate and respectful title is “medical esthetician”.) The patient smiled at her across the room and said, “You’re my secret weapon!”

I immediately felt sad for her and if I am being completely honest, a tad superior. I know I had a tip off being that we were in a plastic surgery office but really, the unnatural look of her face was no secret. If she had a secret weapon, Botox is not it.

I think a lot of us kid ourselves about things we don’t feel good about. When I’ve been overweight, I’ve used long duster length cardigan sweaters to cover up lumps, bumps, and wide hips. But really, adding clothing doesn’t hide size. I may have been hiding a fat roll or two but I wasn’t hiding the fact that I was overweight any more than that woman was successfully hiding the fact that she wasn’t 25 any more.

I have some vanity. I dye my hair because I don’t want to be gray. I wear make up, stylish clothes, and moderately impractical shoes 3-4 times per week. I like it when people assume that I am younger than my actual age. When I find myself, as I was, judging people in a plastic surgery office, I find myself in a dilemma. There are lots of people who would question my values, how I live my life, and how I spend my money. With reconstruction, I find myself asking, “At what point does my seeking breast symmetry become elective surgery?” And I mean “elective” in the figurative sense. Insurance would cover subsequent surgeries if I were to decide that my breasts were not “matchy matchy” enough in my own view. Intuitively, I believe that I am done with this unless I have a complication that needs to be addressed. But I have been swimming in gray waters. Reconstruction is done when I say it is done and there is no hard boundary. I imagine that there are people who opt for surgery after surgery after surgery in the quest for putting things back to right.

Almost all of us engage in excess. When is the excess balanced out by sacrifice and altruism? When is a little vanity balanced out by respect for oneself or others? When is wanting to feel pretty self expression and when is it self-oppression? There are no formulas for identifying the precise tipping points for these questions. We have the extreme examples on each side. The rest of us live our lives in the gray areas.

Today I had a liberating thought. I just have to make my own decisions as a person, a mother, a wife, a friend, a psychologist, a writer, a consumer, and a voter. Worrying about a woman getting Botox is not going to help her. She may be using her “secret weapon” in an unhealthy way. I will likely never know for sure. But I don’t have to because I can focus my efforts where they count.

Minding my own business is the secret weapon that I am working on, to protect myself from the negative self judgment that ripples out toward other people.

I grew up in a loving household, in a good neighborhood, and went to good public schools. Despite this, as an adolescent girl, I became quickly and keenly aware that part of being female was being prey to boys and men.

I went to middle school in the late 70’s. Like many teens, I had an ugly duckling/swan transformation. As a 7th grader, I was considered to be rather homely. Boys fake-flirted with me to humiliate me. They treated me like I was stupid. By 8th grade, I had undergone a bunch of pubertal changes, lost weight, grew several inches, and got fashionable. But it didn’t matter whether I was pretty or not. That school was an incredibly humiliating place for a girl. Walking the hallways was like running a gauntlet because boys hands would be groping everywhere and I mean everywhere in what seemed to be full view of teachers. Not one of the adults did a damn thing about it.

The summer after 8th grade, we went to a Seafair (Seattle’s summer-long festival) parade. One of the Seafair clowns, a GROWN ASS MAN, picked me out of the crowd (did I mention I had just finished the 8th grade?) and gave me a sloppy kiss full on the lips. I tried to make a joke to regain my footing and recover from the confusion and humiliation. He made some mildly sexual comment. That was my first kiss, by the way.

When I was a high school freshman, I often walked the mile between my bus stop and home by myself. There were other kids in the neighborhood so I don’t know exactly why I walked alone so frequently, but I did. On more than one occasion, a car would pass, come to a halt in front of me, and open the door to the passenger side of the car. They were strange men waiting for me to get into their cars with them like this would be something I would want to do. I would freeze and I remember being afraid to walk past that open door. After a bit the door would close and the car would drive off.

When I was in the 10th grade my history teacher, who was at the time THE SAME AGE AS MY FATHER, engaged in some super creepy behavior with me. Whenever we had independent work time, he would sit on top of the desk in front of me and stare at me. Occasionally, he would try to start up a conversation. I hate to be crass but feel compelled to point out that when he was seated this way, his crotch was right at my eye level. I argued with him about one of my grades once and he looked a little desperate, as if he were somehow losing me. He put his hand on my shoulder and told me that he loved me. I told two teachers and a guidance counselor about this. I was told that I had misunderstood what was fatherly concern. My peers teased me and told me that I thought everyone was in love with me. I felt ashamed and didn’t tell my mother about this or any of the other middle school and high school incidents. I would learn later in my life that my mother would have likely kicked some ass and taken names on my behalf. That’s because my mom did kick ass and take names on my behalf but that’s an incident that I’d rather keep private at this time in my life.

These events were creepy and felt clearly wrong to me. But there were many other experiences with peers that were far more confusing. Some of my male peers could be disgusting one moment and sweet another moment. I dated very little in high school but I did have one little “fling” at music camp when I was 15 years old. The boy was smart, funny, and at times, sweet. At one point he characterized the appearance of my legs as “good for spreading.” I can’t remember the context of this comment except that there were other kids around when he said it. I made out with him anyway, in the kind of barely PG-rated way that a 15 year-old girl “good Catholic girl” would do.

This is the world of females, when being sexually desired is mixed with degradation. And I would clarify that it is the world of straight females but even non-heterosexual girls and women are subjected to expectation from many boys and men that they exist for male pleasure and domination. What a way to tarnish healthy sexual development. What a way to make it feel wrong and dirty.

Why do I tell you about my life experience? Is it because it is so unusual? No, I describe my experiences because I think they are close to the typical female experience. Actually, my experiences may arguably be better than the typical female experience. Tellingly, I took myself off of the dating market until college by having crushes on boys so shy they’d never ask me out or boys who I would later learn, were gay. And I went to a high school where being a smart, outspoken girl meant a death knell to dating. I kept my head in the books. I decided when I was 12 years old that I wanted to get a Ph.D. I was lucky enough to have academic skills and support that I could leverage, to build this future for myself.

Last week, I learned that Larry Flynt and his “gentleman’s club” put on an event called “Flight of the Ta-Tas”, a topless skydiving event to benefit Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC), an organization devoted to women and men who have had breast cancer and later developed metastatic cancer. As it turns out, LBBC’s logo was used to promote the event without their permission. They did not sponsor the event. To read more about this, Knot Telling wrote an excellent series of posts about it as well as communicating directly with LBBC about it.

But let’s back up a second to Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler Magazine. The first time I learned about this magazine was when I saw this 1978 cover.


But look at Larry Flynt’s quote on the side, “We will no longer hang women up like pieces of meat.”

Oh wow, Larry Flynt was speaking up for women. He was trying to help! You buying this because I’m sure not. When one looks at the context of this statement, the context of all of the degrading photos of women in Hustler not to mention the juxtaposition of this quote with an image of a woman in a meat grinder, the real message is as clear as day.

Sexism has long been protected by ignoring context. That is why I’ve told you about aspects of my life. And no, not all males are exploitative of women. And not all women allow themselves to be exploited. I am talking about culture, the group. And as a group, girls and women are subjected to sexism and it hurts.

Yes, I can see a specific instance where going topless skydiving might be a positive experience. But done within the context of the sexism that pervades our culture as well as the culture that trivializes and sexualizes breast cancer because it involves “boobs”, “The Flight of the Ta-Ta’s” does more harm to women and girls than it does to help by raising money for a worthwhile cause. A lot of people may think that I’m making too much out of this, wasting my time and energy. I mean LBBC would get a big check if they chose to accept it, right? Let me ask you this. Would the same rationale apply to a black face/minstrel show to raise money for the NAACP?

Larry Flynt, I’m not taking the candy you offer me to get into your car. Keep your money. We aren’t going to sell ourselves, other women, or our daughters.

Art, Science, Heart ❥

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (


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