Monday, December 31, 2012

Guest Post: Alice Shafer on Gender & Current Events

I offer as my last word in 2012 what I hope will be a first word in a desperately important conversation, by hocoblogger Alice Shafer.


I am watching football.

My home team, the Ravens, took a loss today - though fortunately we lost when we have already secured our place in the playoffs. My second home team, the Redskins, are currently battling it out with the Cowboys. RG3, Morris, and Garçon are doing what they do, and I'm sitting in bed with a glass of wine and the love of my life, my husband, G. 

Concurrently, G and I have been discussing two books of essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly. We are both fans - I watched the series while it was on TV, G watched it after, and we saw the premier of Serenity, the film, together. 

At the same time, men on television form expert opinions on football, with brief interludes from female reporters on the field. 

And at the same time, a woman in India is mourned. Her death is a terrible and shining point of how things, everywhere, must change. 

Everything we do is so, so gendered. 

I have this game with television - I watch commercials and ask G to switch the genders. Car commercials? Let's have tough women and clueless men. Cleaning products? Obviously, Dad should be there with the Swiffer and paper towels. Power tools and home improvement? Let's see a hardcore mom with sweaty pits and various bits unshaven. It's my small fight with gender, the every day kind, the fight of not really having to feel the effects of gender discrimination and yes, true warfare, because I am so unbelievably privileged. 

Feminism is really, really important. And we need it to do more. 

We need to do more. 

It's really easy to call yourself a feminist when all you do is fight for your own rights. It's simple to play games with the TV. It's simple to point out inequality within semi-nuanced samples of American pop culture. I can rail against Joss Whedon until my face turns blue, and I probably will, and none of that makes a damned difference when we know - we bloody well know - that life being "gendered" means that women are raped and killed. 

Let me say that again. 

Women are being raped and killed. 

First world feminism is awesome. There are gender gaps in pay, in respect, in paid leave, in safety on the streets; there are gaps within our families, in who clears the table, in who is supposed to take care of the baby, in who cooks, in who cleans; there are gaps in how men and women are portrayed in film and literature, in who reports football, in who makes a good TV series. All of these things are so important, and none of them cover the true extent of how damned unequal life really is - not even in other places, now, but just, say, in America, where freedom is supposed to be our creed. 

It would be great to walk down the street without feeling like a potential victim. 

That's not just feminism.  That's human dignity. 

And maybe, sometimes, feminism distracts. 

There needs to be more horror, out there, because women are made victims, are made an easy and excusable target. That horror goes so far beyond the luxuries of independence that allow us to dissent. I am in no way saying that feminism in America is a lost or foolish cause, but I'm saying, in essence, that we still live in privilege.  

I know that rape is a huge problem (problem being a mercilessly paltry word) in the US - I don't need to be told that. I'm saying that perhaps unsayable thing, which is that talking about women's rights, about gender and sex politics, is a hell of a lot different than doing something about it. The fact that we can, in fact, talk about it, is the greatest gift our mostly messed up country can give us. 

Right now people are protesting to be able to discuss the fundamental rights of women. 

And I'm watching football, judging a TV show, and feeling stupid and oh, so lucky to be alive. 

The Skins seem to be doing pretty well, and I see men and women in the stands, full of delight and spit and hellfire. I still wonder what it would be like to live in a world of gender equality, where female commentators give us the scoop on stats and hormones. I still tell my husband that Joss Whedon couldn't write a female character to get him out of a paper bag. 

And women are being raped and killed. 

And that's it, that's the end, because here I am, in my lovely bed with my lovely husband, and I'm a feminist, and I'm not doing a single thing to help. 

I am a woman. I'm a feminist. I am incredibly privileged.  

And I don't know what to do. 

I know I'm not doing enough. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Unanswered Question

I realized yesterday that a reader asked me a question, quite a while ago, that I never answered.  It had to do with the name of this blog. The suggestion was that I had given the blog two names instead of one, i.e. "both "Village Green" and "Town Squared." Now that the sand is just about out of the hourglass for 2012, I thought it was time to tie up this loose end with an explanation.

A Village Green is just a piece of land if no one is there. Having the land set aside for the people is of no purpose if the people aren't there.  It is though our coming together, exchanging ideas, learning, growing, and changing that the Village Green takes on a special meaning. Its power is increased exponentially. Thus, what this blog hopes to be:  Village Green/Town Squared.  The human connection is the point.

I was reminded of just how important this mission is when I read the following post by Sharon Williams.

"I promise this is NOT political: I'd just like to share my thoughts on the Sandy Hook tragedy from a professional/personal perspective and express what I believe all of us can do as individuals to help make things better. And in the end, regardless of our political beliefs, isn't that what we all want, to make things better in our country, our world?

I have been a social worker for 12 years at an inpatient psychiatric hospital working with children, adolescents, and their families. Among the adolescents who present as homicidal (and to a lesser extent, suicidal), the most pervasive phenomenon I have observed is that these children experience anomie. Anomie is defined as a breakdown of social bonds between an individual and their community, resulting in a disconnect between the person and society. Sometimes the children have personal reasons for feeling this way, but my impression is that community, which used to be endemic in this country, has been breaking down for decades. There have been books noting this trend, most notably "Bowling Alone", written by Robert Putnam and published in 2000.

What I think we can all do is start small: Talk to your neighbors. Talk to their kids. Have block parties. Frequent local stores and restaurants and talk to the patrons and employees. If you feel the call, join a church. Join community associations. If you have kids, get involved with the PTA. Start a book club. Volunteer at a local food bank or hospital. There are dozens of things you can do. I realize everyone is busy, but if we can just take a little time to try to connect with others around us, that will do wonders for all children, not just our own. Children will feel part of something, and that feeling will be belonging. And with belonging comes value. And with value comes treating themselves and others well, with dignity, respect, and care. And this will spread like ripples in a pond; it will reach beyond your own neighborhood and town. I know it's not the answer to everything, but it's the answer to something. I think since December 14th, 2012, we've all been striving for answers."

Enjoy your holidays, love your family, keep warm, be joyful. And one more thing: reach out, and keep on reaching, until you make a connection.  


Friday, December 14, 2012

HoCo Holler Returns!

When I was growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, one of the department stores ran an ad campaign with this jingle, "If you haven't seen Higbee's today--you haven't seen Higbee's!" This style of slogan is still in use, apparently, as evidenced by The Washington Post:  If you don't get it, you don't Get It. At the risk of sounding just a little bit hokey, I'm going to put this out there:

The Oakland Mills Food Lion. Try it again; you'll like it.

These are some of the reasons you might try the Oakland Mills Food Lion:

1. You live in Oakland Mills.
2. You are patronizing one of the other Village Center establishments.
3. You are visiting the Columbia Ice Rink.
4. You are attending a service at the Interfaith Center.
5. You have a meeting or event at the Other Barn.
6. You have a doctor's appointment in the professional building.
7. Your child is a member of the Youth and Teen Center.
8. You are attending an event at Blandair Park.
9. You have picked up a prescription at Walgreen's but need something for dinner.
10. You don't have a nearby grocery store where you live. (i.e., Running Brook, etc.)

Here is the reason you might not not try the Oakland Mills Food Lion:

You've tried it before, and were disappointed.

That's a pretty big reason.  We have a great selection of grocery stores in Columbia. Why keep patronizing one if you have been disappointed in customer service, selection, or quality? Until very recently Oakland Mills residents have been grateful, on the one hand, that we have a grocery store in the Village Center, and sad, on the other, that it was so lackluster in fulfilling its mission.

So the people who could choose went elsewhere, and the people who couldn't were stuck.  And for a while it seemed that the Food Lion Corporation was just fine with that. "Give us your tired, your poor...your struggling masses that have no other choice..."

Enter the new manager, Joe.  In the space of a few months he has brought huge changes to this store.  He is the first to admit that improvement will be an ongoing process, but anyone who has patronized this store will see a big difference. The produce section is laid out better, and food is fresher. Displays are more organized and well-stocked. When crowds appear, management responds much more quickly in adding cashiers.

The biggest change is the most important:  customer service.  Cashiers make eye contact, speak to you, smile.  Employees in the store are willing to help you find things. For the first time ever, I saw an employee run out to the parking lot to bring a forgotten bag to a patron.

I am giving an extra-large, value priced HoCo Holler to Joe and the staff of the Oakland Mills Food Lion for the work they are doing to make our store a better place to shop.  And I am asking you to cast your vote for them and what they are doing by trying the store again a few times.  If you like it, shop there more often.

If you see issues that could be improved, ask for Joe.  He told me he wants to know how they can be better. And let me know what you think, as well.

Right now I'm headed down to the store for some oats to make my Famous Oatmeal Cookies for the Oakland Mills Cookie Swaptacular.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

There's No Place like HoCo

Ah, the Holidays! Such a grand time of celebration, sharing, wonder and delight!  If only it didn't come accompanied by that experience that most of us dread.


Don't protest about how love of neighbor is at the heart of the season. You know what I mean.  If you have ever been to the Mall any time after Thanksgiving, you have most certainly found your love of fellow creature sorely tested.  Then there are "get-togethers."  I practically shudder typing the word. Whether they are for work, school, church, or professional or social organization, we will find ourselves spending more time with some folks than we really want to. Scary, creepy people.

And then, there's Family.  No matter how happy our families are, I daresay there are a few relatives we must endure during the holidays that never fail to make our hackles rise, for some reason or other.While "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays," it is wise to remember that just because there's no place like it, that doesn't make it ideal.

I was reminded of this unpleasant dilemma when I visited Ellicott City Patch this morning. A simple question about sugared drinks brought out many of those folks that populate Howard County in the same way that Holiday get-togethers bring out Crazy Uncle Fred or Negative Nancy from Accounting. I wonder how much fun it is on Patch when they get one of these little parties going?

What a party it is, with many of the familiar faces we have grown to know so well, "Socialist!" "Nanny State!" "Dirty, Filthy!" "Fascist!" Where have you all been since the election? How we have missed you!  See how the adrenaline flows around the punchbowl. One imagines competition for the hors d'oeuvres, a fight over the last cookie.

Yes, sometimes around the holidays we find ourselves at such an event.  Sometimes we are able to politely speak our peace. Other times, it is better to head home early and think good thoughts.

So, wherever in HoCo you may roam this holiday season, however you worship, and whatever you drink, may you find peace, kindness, and patience.

Yes, patience. Some of us are going to need a whole lot of that.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

When The Parade Passed Me By

I'm straying away from my usual home base today in order to rant about something that has been bothering me this week:  HGTV.

Yes, I am aware that time does not stand still and that the HGTV I fell in love with ten years or so ago has been replaced by the "real estate channel".  I rarely watch anymore, but I look forward to December because I enjoy the holiday-themed episodes and specials.

So, I went to the website to find the listing of these programs and when they would be aired. Amazingly enough, that information isn't there.  It used to be. You could make sure you knew when your favorite shows were on and mark your calendar, or set your DVR. If you missed the first showing they listed any subsequent showings.Now?  Nothing.

I tried asking on their Facebook page, and on Twitter. The only response was a link to their "What's on the TV Schedule Today?" page.  The information isn't there. Response to my follow-up question?  Zip. HGTV has decided that people like me don't count. 

It must be something generational at work here.  HGTV has decided that people like me are not their target audience. My approach of wanting to scan all the information and plan ahead must not be the trend they want to follow. There must be some up-to-date theory behind why they are (to my mind) concealing the information about their holiday programming. But what could it possibly be?

I've experienced discrimination in the past because I was a woman, or a blonde (yes, I really was) but I'm finding this hard to accept.  Why would folks in the business of increasing viewership simply not care about what viewers think and want?

And is this what the rest of my life will be like, as I drop out of the target audience for other businesses: a creeping fog of insignificance?

Thank goodness I have a few things closer to home that I can count on:  the Symphony of Lights, Midnight Madness in Ellicott City, the Peabody Chorus Concerts, The Oakland Mills Cookie Swaptacular, the Christmas Eve service at Abiding Savior. No one has tried to hide them yet.

Thank goodness.