{divergence} I’m just a girl

When asked about the meaning behind No Doubt’s “Just a Girl”, Gwen Stefani explained that it was about her struggles against the restrictions placed on her – specifically – because she was female. Every woman I’ve met has at least a half-dozen stories of some kind of injustice or imbalance she encountered in the workplace, at a party, at school, or in the home. It’s like the ridiculous double-standard that a man who’s dating four women at the same time is a “stallion”, yet the woman who does the same is a “slut”. It’s not just the Madonna/whore complex, it’s our cultural unwillingness to treat women as though they are members of society valued equally with the men.

Between last week’s Supreme Court ruling that shreds the protective protest barriers around medical clinics that offer abortions and yesterday’s ruling that allows large companies, like Hobby Lobby, to “opt out” of offering certain kinds of birth control due to “religious objection”, women are more under fire than ever. At a time when over 62 million women aged 20-64 are employed all over the country (roughly one-fifth of the entire US population), it seems like we have a value that’s less than zero. We are not defined solely by our breasts, our uteruses, or our vaginas any more than men can be summed up solely by their penises. The fact that we have brains or spines seems to be completely missing from the conversation.

Will letting “closely held corporations” opt-out of the contraception mandate reduce healthcare costs or the employer insurance burden? No, not quite. Large corporations like Hobby Lobby are typically “self-insured”, meaning that they pay health insurers an administrative fee to get cards and (effectively) rent their network. They get to design their health insurance benefits. BUT, when the government points at insurance companies and says that they have to cover the cost of contraception as a fully-covered benefit when their customer won’t have to foot the bill directly, insurers have to pay for that SOMEHOW. That means increasing premium rates for everybody (and that “administrative fee” goes up, too). Hobby Lobby gets off paying for it this year, but it’s baked into their administrative fees next year…and the year after that…and the year after that…(as well as everyone else’s, since they effectively raised everyone’s rates so they would get to pay less). Nice, eh?

So, does restricting access to low-cost birth control further the pro-life cause? NO. According to a study published in 2012, providing free birth control reduces abortion utilization dramatically. The irony is painful in more than one way, and it shows the short-sightedness of these litigants like Hobby Lobby.

Are birth control pills only for women who want to have sex without consequence? NO. A 2001 study discussed the health benefits of birth control pills in alleviating the negative effects from dysmenorrhea (aka “REALLY BAD PERIODS”) and pain from endometriosis. I can also say that I went on birth control pills to control my periods; they were irregular and sometimes debilitating without the introduction of the hormone therapy offered by the pills I took. And anyone who thinks that IUDs are just for preventing pregnancy just doesn’t know how the female body works. Honestly, people, TAKE AN ANATOMY CLASS, WILL YA?!

Are corporations people? HELL NO. 

I don’t want my daughter to grow up in a world that’s got less freedom and less opportunity for her than the one I grew up in. When I was a child, I was lucky enough to have a mother who worked in management – who showed me the value of education and hard work as a means to a successful, productive adult life. Seeing her example, it never occurred to me NOT to go to college and NOT to get a job and NOT to try to succeed in whatever I did.

I want my daughter to grow up, and then live her productive, successful adult life in a world where she’s valued. I want her to live in a world where her gender is simply a box to check rather than a box that contains her. I want my son to have a healthy respect for all women (not just his sister), and treat women with the dignity they deserve. I’ve never told my kids that one of them could do something the other had no shot at, that one of them was destined to succeed and the other would be great if they can just get married and reproduce. This is 2014, not 1914.

I choose choice. Options. There must be options. There must be freedom. And someone else’s religious freedom doesn’t get to stomp on my freedom to have those choices. So I will continue to exercise my choice by consciously boycotting organizations that have hurtful views, that carelessly aim to pick apart our society until we are nothing more than a homogeneous, mindless pen of sheep.

Are corporations people? NO. But I’m a person – with disposable income – and I vote.

Don’t EVER count women out. Don’t EVER count ME out.

“I’m just a girl” is one hell of a war cry.

Has Disney turned a feminist corner?



And so it was that last night, I saw “Maleficent”. In this twist on a classic tale once done up by Disney in animated form, Maleficent is the center of attention. Most tellings of the story of The Sleeping Beauty share the same general elements: a baby girl is born to King Stefan and his Queen; a big party is held to celebrate the baby’s arrival; fairies from across the land are invited to the party and all but ONE bestow gifts of beauty, kindness, etc.; before the final fairy can bestow her gift, she’s rudely interrupted by an evil fairy – Maleficent – who’s terribly offended by the lack of invitation and decides to curse the child to die on her 16th birthday when she pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel; the final fairy “softens” the curse by instead having her go to sleep until true love’s kiss awakens her; natch, this ALL comes to pass no matter what King Stefan does to prevent it; Prince Philip, who fell in love with the princess when she was incognito turns out to be said true love; AND – key plot point – he slays Maleficent and frees the princess from her sleep by giving her true love’s kiss.

It all sounds so…Disney, right?



Maleficent revealed in adulthood (played by Angelina Jolie)


So, then we have “Maleficent”, where we start out with a backstory of Maleficent as a kind, brave fairy in the Moors, a magical land bordering a wretched kingdom led by a cruel, greedy King. Maleficent saves the life of a young thief, Stefan, whom she befriends and soon falls in love with. In one example of how much he cares, when she tells him that iron burns fairies, the dirt-poor Stefan tosses away an iron ring, probably his sole possession of any value, before it can hurt her again. Over time, their friendship does turn to romance – sealed with a true love’s kiss they share when they’re both teens. As time passes, Maleficent becomes the protector of her magical home, and she turns away the King’s army before it can pillage and plunder. Stefan, now a royal retainer, takes up the King on his offer to become his successor by slaying Maleficent. He goes to the Moors and they spend a magical evening together that ends with – sorry, no polite way to say it – Stefan rufeeing her and stealing her wings instead of her life. Maleficent awakes to find herself violated, horribly in pain and maimed both by the betrayal of her love and the vicious amputation he’d performed. She manages to recover physically, over time, but her emotional scars run deep, as one might expect. Her only trusted ally is the crow, Diaval, she transforms into a man (or other creature), and he becomes both her familiar and her lieutenant.


Diaval and Maleficent

Diaval (Sam Riley) and Maleficent (Jolie)


When (now) King Stefan and his Queen have a grand party to celebrate the birth of their daughter, Aurora, three simpering, Keystone Kop-like fairies come to bestow their gifts – and the third is interrupted by the arrival of BOSS Maleficent, resplendent in her black “crown” (a pleather skull-and-horns cap) and full of cruel revenge. At this point, she offers her “gift”: the curse of a death sleep that can only be awakened by true love’s kiss. Maleficent curses her in this fashion because her jaded soul now believes there is no such thing as “true love”. King Stefan, completely freaked out by the ex-girlfriend-from-Hell (and totally in denial that HE MAIMED AND BETRAYED HER), becomes obsessed with saving Princess Aurora from her fate. He sends her to live with the trio of witless fairies (a terrific waste of some great actresses), puts all of the kingdom’s spinning wheels in sequestration in the castle dungeons, and violates every iron worker union rule by having them work around the clock to manufacture iron implements of destruction.

Maleficent and Diaval oversee the three fairies’ raising of the child, becoming surrogate parents to Aurora and generally making sure she survives. Over time, the “beastie” (as Maleficent calls her) turns into a lovely – if completely vacuous – young girl, and Maleficent realizes that the ice in her heart from Stefan’s violation has thawed thanks to his daughter. She attempts to undo the curse, but she’s unable to stop it. When she sees that there’s no way to keep Aurora from her fate, she even rushes heroically to her rescue, dragging along a sleeping Prince Philip to serve up true love’s kiss. Philip’s kiss fails to revive anything (except maybe One Direction fans in the audience), but a teary kiss from a regretful Maleficent brings Aurora back to consciousness. Maleficent and Diaval fight their way out of the castle, so Aurora may escape to freedom in the Moors with them, and redemption comes at a heavy price. Aurora finds Maleficent’s wings, which – once freed from imprisonment in a display – rejoin their owner and make Maleficent’s physique finally match the wholeness of her heart. King Stefan, driven mad by obsession, dies in a final battle with Maleficent. Once Stefan dies, the tale can finally have its happy ending: Maleficent can return to her homeland to be a kind protector, Aurora is crowned the good Princess, and Prince Philip makes a sheepish appearance so there can be puppy love stares.

The new storyline puts Maleficent firmly at the center and finally gives us some justification for how she got to be thought of as the evil fairy. You can clearly see that the reason she’s so angry and badass is because she was mutilated by her human boyfriend, who thought he was doing the right thing by sparing her life. Of course, his ruse still involved maiming her, so perhaps he just didn’t understand that his lust for power was evil? This calls to mind the new-fangled origin story of the Wicked Witch – Theodora from “Oz the Great and Powerful” – who, while scheming, was certainly “turned evil” by Oz’s rejection. And Queen Elsa from “Frozen” wasn’t an evil queen, but she is terribly misunderstood; others expect her to control a power she’s never been taught to use or manage, and she is horrified to be treated like a monster after she’s already endured years of solitary confinement.



Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) in self-imposed exile at her ice palace


In “Maleficent”, as in “Frozen”, the love that saves the younger female is one between family. Princess Aurora mistakenly believes Maleficent to be her fairy godmother, and their bond is far stronger than that between her and her “aunties” (the fairies), although the mistake may be more Maleficent’s. As she protects, guides, and ultimately interacts with Aurora, Maleficent unwittingly becomes fairy godmother to the child, and the completely-off-the-rails King Stefan provides the perfect counterpoint to show just how she’s the righteous one in this fight. Similarly, Princess Anna of “Frozen” can only be saved by “an act of true love”, and while much time and teeth gnashing is spent identifying exactly which boy will save the girl, it’s actually her sister – the familial bond – that thaws her and brings her back from icy statuehood. Boys on the side, indeed.

Not to say that I think this is a plot device that should be used all the time, since eventually it may get played out, but I’m happy to see Disney doing something other than the same old tactic they used for so long: a girl who’s in trouble just needs saving by a man. Now, it seems, someone believes that sisters are doing it for themselves. Beyond giving Maleficent the humanity that (oddly) is missing from the humans in her story, she’s given motivation and earns sympathy. She’s not just some evil creature, she’s a flesh-and-horns person deserving of respect and dignity. Princess Anna, for all her gullibility in believing that Prince Hans was THE ONE, acts solely out of sisterly love – risking her life and that of her companions to save Princess Elsa from herself. As much as Elsa saves Anna, Anna saves Elsa right on back: teaching her the key to controlling her power and giving her hope that they can both be happy.

I like where Disney’s headed lately, giving young girls – and boys – a new paradigm to consider. Instead of girls’ eyes fluttering open from a death sleep at the slightest peck from some wandering prince, girls (and women) are being given motivation and depth, and they’re saving each other instead of waiting for a guy to come along and do it for them. Little girls who dress up as Maleficent will think of her as a villain, and a hero, and they’re right on both counts. She finally has depth of character. By putting these characters on film and giving them wide release, Disney seems to be attempting to undo (or at least soften) the curse of the myth that all girls need a prince to save them. And like Maleficent, while the horse is firmly out of that barn and the curse can’t be revoked, it’s nice to see some stories riding to the rescue that help “flip the script” and give girls a chance to realize that they can have depth of character, strength, courage, and love – with or without that prince.

Progress? What Progress?

Yet again, Time Magazine has something interesting to read. This time out, I guess in observation of “International Womens Day” (who comes UP with these holidays?), Jessica Winter wrote a fabulously funny commentary asking that most obvious of all questions these days: “Are Women People?”

The answer is, sadly, no. We’re just about everything BUT people. Of course, according to former Massachusetts Governor and eternally animatronic GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, “Corporations are people, my friend!” Yes, dear, of course they are. And the first day that a corporation shows up asking to date dd, I will drive to BassPro and buy the biggest shotgun I can get my hands on.

I also found it quite amusing that Winter came to the same conclusion I was discussing with a co-worker just yesterday: the lack of a Y chromosome is NOT a disability. Women can do all kinds of amazing things, excepting that whole (reliably) peeing standing up thing, and yet we’re still treated as second-class citizens. Even now, it still seems highly unlikely that this country is ready to elect a woman President – although I really did think Hilary had a good shot at it. The only female brought up to the podium on the GOP debate stage this cycle was just Rick Santorum in bad drag.

I feel like women are just under attack lately. Maybe it’s not lately – maybe it’s been a lot longer than that with seemingly no end in sight – but it seems like any lull has certainly been broken by just a spate of really horrifically anti-woman statements and actions that managed to make it to the news. Whether it’s being called “sluts” for using contraception, being threatened with transvaginal ultrasounds when deciding to have an abortion (I’ve had a transvag ultrasound – NOT comfortable) or just about any of the other WTF-inducing moments, I can’t decide whether I should strap my breasts down or whip ’em out and stand in the middle of an intersection.

Part of what frustrates me is that things continue to move backwards, even as we move forward in time. I’m a statistic, many times over, whether we’re counting the times I was sexually harassed at a workplace (years ago) or when I fended off a sexual assault so that it could stay in the “attempted” category. I probably know lots of other women who are statistics, too. I would like to think that all the complete tools that are out there trying to degrade the public standing of women, like the Limbaughs and the Santorums of the world, will one day WAKE THE F*%K UP and realize that they know women. The women they know deserve better than what they’re trying to do to all the women that they don’t know.

The other part is that I can’t protect dd from all of it. When I was a little kid, Gloria Steinem was always in the news, and Ms. was a title that working women were proud to use as a symbol of their independence from a male-dominated hierarchy. Now, I wonder how many women below the age of 30 could even pick Gloria out of a lineup, would even know what she went through to help get it to the point where it could be commonplace for women to be in roles other than steno pool, waitress, or on our backs. I want things to be better for dd than they were for me, as they were better for me than they were for my mom. That’s how it’s supposed to be, right?

There’s no reason to have to accept a male-dominated dialogue that favors mean soundbites over sound reasoning. There’s no reason to have to accept being treated like a walking incubator instead of a thinking, feeling person with an ability to make rational decisions about my own health care. And there’s just never a reason to listen to a hate-filled windbag from either extreme end of the partisan scale. Extreme views may win ratings, but they rarely win arguments.

When I go into the voting booth this November, I plan to fill in the oval for the candidates I believe to be least detrimental to women. None of them are really pro-woman (excepting maybe someone like Elizabeth Warren, who seems to be fairly self-aware about her whole XX chromosome situation). See, I don’t just owe it to dd to make things better…I owe it to myself.