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February 9/First Quarter Moon
feminism first thoughts
I have been writing my posts in line with the phases of the moon. Earlier today it was the first quarter moon. I promised to share thoughts on feminism. Today I have two stories to share.
I want to start with something Mom said to me a long time ago. It was irked me, so before I even tell you what it is, I want to say, memory is slippery. Memories are adjusted, added to and subtracted from each time they are examined and then, when replaced back in our brain’s storage, the updated memory over-rides the original. I know that I have mulled over this thing that she said many times. I deliberated on it, trying to understand it, both out loud with others and to myself. And each time I am sure I added more and more of my own interpretation to it. Although I never felt I was misquoting her, I never appreciated where she came from in the first place. From the very beginning, I had a blind spot. The whole memory started with bias.
I think it was early on, when the move to DC for the job was pretty new. I was still in Austin, Minnesota, finishing my senior year, or already off to my undergraduate life in Minneapolis, I’m not sure. But circumstances in the world had changed, family was spread even further apart and money and the cost of things came up in conversation.
She responded to my money concern with this explanation: She was now making much more money. The Nature Conservancy, as a non-profit, shouldn’t be paying her as much as it did, but as a woman she needed to take it and her intention was to share the opportunity with the other women in her life.
I only heard the rationalization. It seemed to me she was going against her beliefs. I had no respect for that. It’s hard for me to write that now. This disrespect seems to me the ultimate betrayal and in its own way, a rationalization as I benefited many times from her TNC salary. It is hard for me now to understand my original trigger. Money was a consequential thing in a divorced family with children of multiple origins. So is travel, time away, time together. But I didn’t connect all those things at the time. I saw it as her taking money she didn’t believe she deserved. It’s hard to find the right words here, because just like memories can be rewritten, so can opinions, so this is blurry.
And here’s something I should clarify. I don’t think I ever knew exactly how much she was paid. If I did, it is gone now. But I don’t believe it was like some current day salaries. This was the late 80s/early 90s and she had broke triple digits. At the time I held the same belief, non-profits such as The Nature Conservancy shouldn’t pay high salaries. I don’t remember if it was a reasoned opinion or a knee-jerk one. There is a difference. Was it because TNC relied on donations? Was it the discrepancy between her salary and the people she left behind in Minnesota? How does that relate to her being paid for her labor? I don’t have the same response now. Why shouldn’t there be competitive wages for people who are doing the important work of pushing against the tide of capitalism and development?
None of what I write here is very educated at this point, my memory is vague and all I have access to is my ire. And a recent memory update, which I realize is murky itself. When she first told me that as a women she needed to take the money, I don’t recall asking for more info. I made assumptions. It was for the statistics, to be representative. Something like that. I don’t know what I thought she should do. Make some kind of sacrifice of herself and accept less pay for what was almost surely to be more difficult for her, working as a woman in the corporate world of men?
One thing I never thought about was how hard it might have been to accept the money as a woman. I never thought of the personal resistance she might have to it. Could she have had a physical, sort of internal, and visceral resistance that the money would have had to flow upstream against to come to her? Was it an exercise in mindfulness to accept the money? Maybe if I had been able to imagine what she said differently, it would have helped me explore some of my own difficulties around money?
And she never stopped sharing the fruits of her labor with us. She gifted us free flights to family gatherings and took us along with her when she could. Sending Josh and I to Norway on frequent flyer miles for our honeymoon and taking grandma with her to Panama to learn about the natural environment even as Mom represented the Nature Conservancy there.
This post isn’t so much a story about feminism as my attitude towards women and their relationship to money. It is related.
My second story has to do with my attitude as well. It involves a woman my mom really admired, Hillary Clinton. I was fourteen when she became First Lady. I was very much paying attention when she got her makeover during the campaign. The first Hillary looked so much like my mom to me. Beautiful, natural, bright-eyed, young. Why did she have to change? I was Gen X and my opinions of the status quo were low. I felt that Hillary caved for Bill (Clinton) to gain votes AND she looked better before her make over. I felt betrayed. And I felt my opinions didn’t matter.
Fast forward to Hillary’s own campaign in 2016. I was only lukewarm on Hillary at first. I would say this was highly motivated by those early opinions. Things creep in to your psyche and accumulate over time, especially when people have so much to say about someone. So much to evaluate and nitpick. The spring of 2016, a friend of mine shared a long story about Hillary and her career that I saw it on my Facebook feed. She highlighted her years of work, advocacy of women, especially women of color, etc, etc. She reasoned with evidence that Hillary had done her time, had changed and grown in her role, and was the obvious choice if you cared about people of color. Her argument had me examining my attitude towards Hillary. It stuck with me and kept returning to my mind. It didn’t happen all at once. But it got me thinking about the voice in my head that had so much to say about Hillary. I began to notice how unkind the voice was, how unforgiving, and how the standards I was holding Hillary to were so much more stringent than for anyone else in politics, almost all of whom were men. I began to see how all the voices and opinions I had been spoon fed were now in my head and that misogyny that had been built into me. There was this evaluation happening of the public women in my life that was beyond my ken.
Especially in wheeling and dealing. My mom was on a sort of front line when she said those words to me. I have a lot of forgiveness because she was trying to do her best with what she got. She worked tirelessly for years and years against the grain of opinion to be a representative, not just for herself, but for others like her. More soon.
Much love, Tina
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