doctor’s orders

Dear Dr. Pepper,

Thanks for your recent advertising campaign letting the world know that Dr. Pepper 10 is “not for women.” Without that warning, I might have spent money on your product. Phew, that was a close call!

But now I know that Dr. Pepper doesn’t want my money, for this product or for any other.

That’s obvious, right? If you discourage women from trying your (putatively) more robust, flavorful product, then you must think that women only want insipid, flavorless drinks. Therefore, I assume that any product you market toward women is inferior; I’ll make sure to actively avoid all of your drinks! Thanks for the warning!

Seriously, y’all: I understand the marketing trend to avoid associating low-calorie drinks with “diets.” I understand that, in a sexist society that demands eternal body consciousness from women, the label “diet” feminizes a product (and puts you at risk of missing out on the vast male market). But this attempt to attract men by subtly denigrating women is both silly and not-so-subtly misogynistic.

I hope your future marketing doesn’t rely upon gendered insults. Until then, my household (which until today went through several bottles of Dr. Pepper weekly, between me and my husband) will switch to some other, less gender-labeled brand of soda. Thanks for the heads-up!

sincerely,

Elsa

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vagina vagina vagina

As we stood in the grocery line, I had a sudden thought. “Oh!” I said to my husband, “you take these. I forgot — ” and I was off and running. Okay, off and hobbling; my back is still pretty tender, but there I was, loping my way through the aisles toward the toiletries section…

… through the two shoppers whose carts were stopped, head-to-head and crossways blocking the wide aisle while they caught up on their gossip
… stopping short to avoid the dithering little lady with the overfilled cart, who wavered first one way, then another, grazing me on each side as she adjusted
… slinking through between one fellow who was doing recon on the shortest line, and his companion, who was pushing a full cart (and that was my bad, guys — sorry!)
… and into the Feminine Care aisle, only to discover
… a suited fellow standing there, facing me but blankly staring off into space, his body completely blocking the one shelf to which I needed access.

“Excuse me.”

No response.

Ahem. A little louder. “Excuse me, sir.”

Not a blink.

A-hem. “Sir, I just need to get to that shelf.” Nothing. “I just need to get to the TAMPONS, they’re right behind you.”

It was as if somebody flipped his “on” switch: he started, he glanced at me and then away, he flushed a becoming pink, and he skittered out of the corner where he was standing as if he’d been shocked, averting his eyes from me the entire time, because I had uttered the word tampons. I might as well have hollered VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA.

And next time, I will.

tradition

A note for those reluctant to “redefine traditional marriage” — we do it all the time. Here’s a timeline for some changes to remove civil and personal inequities in the marriage law.

An actual “traditional marriage” would deny legal personhood to the wife, allow spousal rape, and deny the right to interracial marriage, among other tragedies. We as a society saw the injustice in these laws, and changed them accordingly. It’s time to do it again.

A tradition of institutional oppression is nothing to defend.

privilege

It’s a story from a few years back. I’m in the oncology ward visiting my terminally ill father. (Dad didn’t have cancer, or at least cancer isn’t what was killing him; the hospital was full and the vacant bed in oncology was a safe place to stash a frail and immuno-compromised patient.)

I’m walking from the break room to Dad’s private room. More like stumbling, really: it’s been a long haul, and I haven’t slept a full night for some time.

I feel pretty rough, and I look it. Every morning, I apply a touch of make-up, battle paint to get me through the school day. By the time I reach the hospital in the the afternoon, it’s all cried off. The normal dark circles under my eyes now look like bruises. I’m rumpled and slouched. I’m walking a little aimlessly, and I know I have that thousand-yard stare, the empty eyes of the grieving.

I slowly turn a corner — and almost collide with a bustling man in scrubs wheeling a teetering piece of shiny hospital machinery. He starts, then looks up into my eyes. I expect the look that all the nurses and orderlies give us: the silent almost-smile of commiseration, the death smile. It’s a small enough ward that they all seem to know the score.

He doesn’t offer the death smile. He looks me up and down and says, “Oh! How tall are you?”

I blink, and automatically answer. “Uh, five-ten. Or so.” I almost add, “What?” but so many inexplicable things have happened lately that I’m all out of “What?”

He shakes his head lasciviously, casting his gaze up and down me one more time. “Whew! I like that! MMM, tall women!” My jaw drops as he trundles his rig past me.

Because I am a woman, there is literally no time when I am exempt from an unsolicited appraisal of my sexual appeal by (and to) random men. When I, and other women, bridle under this oppressive and constant scrutiny, we are silly, shrill radical feminists who cannot take a compliment. Note that the flip side is rarely argued: that the men who offer these unsolicited and often unwelcome assessments are tone-deaf jackasses, that a sensible person knows that sometimes a person’s physical appearance is utterly irrelevant, and that there’s a difference between a compliment from a friend and a sexual assessment from a stranger.

I hoped to write something more coherent about this phenomenon. I hoped to address it sensibly, to expand on the impossibility of avoiding it — after all, I’m forty, gray-haired, plump, and bookish, hardly the stereotype of the red-hot mama, and I still get wolf-whistles and catcalls. But it’s been happening, after all, for at least twenty-six years: since I was 14. And that’s discounting all the childhood remarks that both adults and children make, the constant monitoring of a girl’s weight and height and hair style and clothing and demeanor and and and.

I’m tired. I’m exhausted.

And so I won’t discuss it sensibly. I’ll just say: I’m exhausted.

princess for a day

It turns out that planning a wedding is a lot of work, and more than a little unsettling. As I skip from website to website, researching possible wedding locations, budget menus, and the boring nuts-&-bolts-y stuff like (sigh) plate rentals, I keep bumping up against an odd and (to me) nauseating sentiment: splash pages for various caterers, coordinators, and vendors often include tacit or explicit reassurance that on your wedding day, you’re a princess.

I don’t know where to start with this, so let’s start with yuck!

And now let’s look at some underlying assumptions:

The caterers need not address themselves to anyone but the princess the bride the broad, and possibly her mother; the groom is incidental to the process.

Every woman wants to be wrapped up in gossamer and fairy dust on her wedding day. (A quieter assumption, but no less pervasive: she’ll be sporting some pretty fierce high-compression undergarments to keep the telltale bulges of humanity under wraps.*)

This iconic creature, The Bride, is made of spun sugar and fractious nerves, and needs soothing.

Um. Did I say “yuck”? Oh. Well, good. Because yuck!

BOUNCY-CASTLE But now it’s true-confessions time. It’s true that I have no desire for the sparkly dress with the swooping skirt or the tiara or the horse-drawn carriage, because, y’know, I finished playing Cinderella when I was a child.

But.

I confess that I must have some lurking princess fantasy, given the pangs I suffered upon admitting to myself that we could not justify renting a bouncy castle.

*I’m uncharacteristically blasé about getting a dress. In fact, I’ve established only one inflexible guideline: I must be able to wear normal underthings with it. Oh, and to sit on the ground with kids.

Mary Poppins: subversivecalifragilistic

From the very beginning, Disney’s Mary Poppins burbles with subtext: Mr. Banks’ stodgy hymn to the well-regulated Edwardian British household’s predictability (a theme underscored by Admiral Boom’s admirably punctual timekeeping cannon) is undermined by Mrs. Banks’ spirited rendition of “Sister Suffragette,” by the unsettling absence of their recalcitrant children, and by the chummy overfamiliarity of the bobby who brings them home.

Clearly, the order imposed by privileged men will be sabotaged by rebellion — specifically the rebellion of women assisted by children and by men of the underclass.

It’s no surprise, then, that the abrupt departure of yet another nanny disrupts the Banks’ rigidly conventional household. Seeking a stern replacement, Mr. Banks is instead outfaced by Mary Poppins, a pert young governess who flouts her prescribed submissive role by refusing to give references and demanding the family submit to a probationary period.

Mary proceeds to introduce the children to members of a lively underclass, including street peddlers, carnival workers, penguin waiters, her decidedly odd Uncle Albert, and of course Burt (Dick van Dyke sporting a hammy accent), the raffish charmer who, between his makeshift enterprises, accompanies Mary on her many secret adventures. Unlike Mrs. Banks’ flighty clamor for equal rights (which is silenced instantly by her husband’s presence), Mary’s subversive influence begins to color the attitudes of the entire household, and even infiltrates Mr. Banks’ place of work.

Tellingly, though Mary seems at first to overthrow the prevailing power structure, she — and her subversive influence — vanishes at film’s end. After her disappearance, the power structures of the privileged are tempered by familial affection, but otherwise they remain intact and authoritative.