A: “Maybe I’m just a hothead”


1) i feel mostly safe in the world, physically and emotionally (though, intellectually, i know that the universe is NOT looking out for us, esp. for women!)–and this despite the fact that i am a woman, because i am old, white, straight, well-to-do, w/ a history of safety. @ dinner the other night, my cousin and oldest friend (having just told her “childhood trauma story”) asked me to tell mine, but i said i didn’t have one. i really do not. i was raised in a web of safety, which pretty much has held.

2) i enjoy watching beautiful women; i enjoy watching my daughters and daughter-in-law and daughters-out-law and students dress and preen. i myself feel old, and heavy (AM old and overweight), don’t like to see myself in the mirror or photos–except, occasionally, when a snapshot catches me laughing and engaged w/ others. i think others think i have a kind face, listening ears, but am old and overweight. i have developed some adult acne and am conflicted about whether to bother w/ the expensive creams to treat it–seems like fussing about such things is past….

3) i generally feel invisible when walking. i live in center city, and often walk home alone late @ night, but really don’t feel unsafe (though i lately joined the neighborhood watch, and started monitoring all the assaults/realizing how frequent they are, which has altered my complacency a bit…)

4) i was raised to be a lady (wear dresses, cross my ankles, lower my voice, do what i was told) but have always fought that particular middle-class/wanna-be high class inscription of womanhood–the more so as i have aged, and come increasingly into a sense of who i am and what i can do. i wrote this lil essay for our 360 last fall; it says a lot about my sense of power and agency, and about the complexities of identity that contribute to that; i think it speaks to a # of your questions:


3 thoughts on “A: “Maybe I’m just a hothead”

  1. My annotation/response:

    Age is something that’s come up a lot in people’s answers…I mentioned to my mom that another friend of mine referenced a scene in Six Feet Under where Kathy Bates convinces another woman in her early sixties to shoplift because “no one pays attention to us.  We can get away with anything.”  This sense of being invisible once women reach an age where we no longer constantly sexualize them is something I hadn’t really thought about but it’s so intense.

    I really enjoyed the post- the intersection of class privilege with gender privilege when you graduated and had your second child is so interesting- really speaks to the whole second wave, third wave, “you’re a bad feminist for staying at home with your children,” “youre a bad feminist for limiting my options.” Which means either everyone who can afford to do that is a bad woman or everyone who can’t is a bad woman.  Lovely choices.

  2. My annotation con’t:

    I’m 27. I’m exhausted of being what I perceive as VERY visible- a conventionally attractive (thin White) woman- and therefore vulnerable to a lot of feelings of lack of safety. Additionally, I’m open to this amorphous and rarely verbalized sense that I’m the most vulnerable somehow, in my Whiteness, despite the statistics on sexual violence and rape for Women of Color, in poor neighborhoods of color, despite THOSE statistics. This must be related to the association in a White-dominated world of POC with danger and Whiteness with safety.

    Exploring what is behind these feelings (so many of them TAUGHT) in these conversations (see “S” and “B” especially) of being perceived as available, for consumption by males, depending on what we look like and how we are performing our gender identity, has returned me to the question of age that so many older women brought up as part of this process: A says she “generally feels invisible.”

    Yes, feeling very visible can be frightening. But to be invisible? The thought of this terrifies me. And in a sense that terror leads me back to the male gaze, which is really, the gaze of the world, isn’t it? It’s validating, to be told I’m beautiful apropos of nothing. But what does it validate? I’m afraid it only validates our blurring of self around beauty and others’ perception. I spend a considerable amount of time grooming: some of this is vanity (make up), some is love of sparkly things!, some is my obsessive tendencies (hi intersectionality) regarding hair and shaving. It would be lovely to, like my mother, a beautiful woman of 60, cease shaving, wearing make-up, scents, etc, entirely. But I think I have internalized it, that I would not enjoy myself in the mirror as I do now. Perhaps I would even become invisible. This seems to be the crux of aging for women: there is a freedom, but the price of freedom is the lack of validation.

  3. Annotation con’t:

    In terms of the mother vs. ” career woman” dichotomy that A discusses: “When I got my Ph.D. @ Penn in May 1982, I was pushed by my professors and advisors to go on the job market for a full-time tenure-track job. But I was in the midst of having my babies (I was pushing out the second one on the afternoon I was supposed to be walking across the stage to get my degree ;). Because I wanted to spend time with them, to breastfeed, and raise ’em up the way they should go (!), I chose to work part-time,” A says.

    I’m not sure how far we’ve really come, particularly for women of color (http://thefeministwire.com/2013/04/your-feminism-aint-like-ours-because-we-are-raising-quvenzhane/). What does it mean to have that choice to work part time? For that matter, what does it mean to ‘raise ’em up the way they should go’? Can we do this while working full time or only part time?

    Professor Harris not only discusses all the problems that this dichotomy raises, in particular the fact that Black women have not always had that choice and that the choice in this instance of WOC takes on a different meaning than it might for A. Harris uses the example of Quvenzhané Wallis- that raising Quvenzhané is “not the same as raising Dakota Fanning,” as Harris puts it. She describes the hostility she faces for all of her choices (parental leave or staying at home) and it has some similarities but is not the same as what A describes in her linked post to me. A describes a lowering of status but Harris describes hostility. Even the implications are different, the judgements on motherhood, specifically Black motherhood, are harsher TO BEGIN WITH, and as Harris points out, raising a Black child is different. (Even as I write this, my iPad tells me Quvenzhané is not a word).

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