Archive for the 'feminism' Category

this is not a first world problem

“My drive from work is too short for me to decide what to listen to on Spotify #firstworldproblems” was a recent tweet from the Twitter account First World Problems. The tweet reached over 50,000 people, and it was only one in a long list of mildly amusing little complaints about an easy, well-fed, upper-middle class life.

The idea of first world problems has recently become a meme, with inspired tweeters hashtagging the phrase on the back of every observation that doesn’t seem world-changing or ring out like a strangled scream from the depths of oppression. It’s kind of a fun trend. Maybe it serves to remind us all of what we already have. It offers a little dose of perspective. And when it first appeared, I was totally on board. But then I started seeing the hashtag cropping up a lot more when women were talking about all those things that get labeled “women’s issues.”

(she might be about to say something, not just display her red lipstick. source)

I started seeing it in the comments section under painfully honest essays about weight discrimination or reports about the billion dollar cosmetics industry. “First world problems” was being tacked on women’s conversations everywhere I looked, often by men who sounded like they wished these women would just shut up. Sometimes by women who went on to state that they themselves had much bigger, more serious problems. Before I knew it, “first world problems,” was looking a lot like “shut the hell up, no one cares,” in a lot of contexts.

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Kate on April 24th 2013 in beauty, body, feminism

the things men say about women in front of other women

I began to feel dim, suppressed. The kind of feeling that sneaks up on you and you can’t trace it and it hangs around your neck for a while, staring up at you with glazed, bleary eyes until you have to excuse yourself to sit down and mope.

Everything has been good. And I am one of those frustrating people who isn’t particularly good at good, so this is more like awesome. I attribute it to my baby. I think she’s playing with my hormones, and the result is this creeping, stealthy peacefulness. I sometimes just stare into space and feel content. What the hell.

And then, abruptly, I was slipping, my arms windmilling in slow motion. I toppled into a dark pool of insecurity, and the first thing I hated was my stupid, stupid uncooperative hair. But that was only the beginning. Why haven’t my breasts gotten bigger? This is their ONE CHANCE, damnit. All of these pregnant women are being all delighted about their poofy, voluptuous new breasts, and mine are sulking against my ribs, just friggin’ determined to spite me. There is some ancient grudge here, I can sense it.


Anyway, I knew things were bad when I started thinking about my nose. It’s like a bright red, wildly waving flag now. This little thought comes up, all evil and subtle, like, “What’s one more surgery…” Yeah, like that. “You need it…The surgeon said you need it…” That’s bad. That means I’m already feeling bad. Something is going stale in my head. Something is fermenting.

I was sitting and moping and thinking about how I am unattractive in every way and also I have a shitty career that I should be embarrassed about and also I probably have a lame, unfixable personality. I am probably only rarely truly funny. It went like that. And then it kept going.

“What is going on?” said Bear, a little baffled, as I moped from one room to the next, turtling, tucking myself into my shell in the evenings and poking my head out only to watch some bad TV.

I started trying to explain. It might be this or this other thing or I’m just really tired right now or I need to take a long bath or something else. It’s the pregnancy. My back. Oy vey! My sciatica! And then I said something without thinking about it and I knew that’s what it was. It was this guy, and the way he talked about women.

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Kate on April 22nd 2013 in beauty, body, fear, feminism

make the world a little better: compliment another woman today

I had been feeling really terrible. Actually, I’d been throwing up every day for three months, and I had long since forgotten why I’d thought it would be a good idea to get pregnant. But that evening, I had to put on a gown and go to a work event. An actual gown. It was twilight blue and clingy without losing elegance, with long sleeves and a cinch at the hip, where a sparkling faux diamond bangle nestled. I had gotten it on sale, during a miraculous day of minimal nausea. I felt ridiculous in it, riding the elevator down to the street to hail a cab. Everyone else was wearing normal clothing, and I was unsure of my thickening body—not obviously pregnant yet, but not my familiar shape.

A woman was looking at me. I looked away.

“What a wonderful dress!” she said.

“Thanks,” I said.

“You look beautiful,” she said.

(I kind of wish I had more occasions to wear a gown… source)

I was smiling when I walked out the door. A twenty-something woman on the street paused as she passed me. “You look amazing!” she said.

“Oh, god, thanks,” I said, awkward and caught off-guard.

“Love the gown!” called another woman as I frantically waved at an approaching cab, running late as always. “Where are you going?”

“A work thing!”


I was queasy in the cab, but I felt awesome. I looked beautiful! I sat up a little straighter. I felt sort of queenly, a little glamorous. I imagined myself for a moment as someone leading a fabulous, high-society life, rushing off to expensive benefits and romantic penthouse soirees. As far as anyone knew, I might be doing those things. A woman in a twilight blue gown might have a life like that.

It’s funny, what a compliment can do.

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Kate on April 15th 2013 in beauty, feminism, uplifting

why personal essays are really important

When I started writing personal essays on the internet, I was half embarrassed, half proud. Even though I grew up in a generation that’s supposedly all about oversharing and facebooking and nonstop blabby social connectedness, I’d still learned that privacy is a virtue, modesty is preferable, and you shouldn’t air your dirty laundry. But I also wanted to talk about things that felt relevant but had been kept quiet. And I wanted to share those things with other women, because I had a sneaking suspicion that I might be facing some of the same challenges that girls and women all over the world deal with, even if those challenges at times felt intensely, well, personal. Even if they felt too small and mundane for the news. I came into personal essay writing open-minded, scared, and determined.

And then I read the comments.

But it wasn’t just the comments. Someone (who kept him or herself anonymous) tried to get me fired from my synagogue job after reading an essay I’d written about a complicated romantic situation. The message was clear: no one who works at a religious institution should write about her love life. I was a whore, wrote commenters. I was never going to be happy. Never going to find love. I was going to ruin every man who came near me. Personal attacks were the result of personal writing. Afraid and humiliated, I apologized to the synagogue president and cried all night.

That was years ago. Since then, I’ve watched critics and commenters alike chastise personal essayists for their vulnerability, their supposed self-centeredness, their apparent fame-mongering. Even as the personal essay as an art form becomes more popular, its detractors are ready with scathing criticisms that suggest it is worthless, superficial, and, god forbid, easy. And it’s interesting that most of the criticism is lobbed at women. Often young women. Because more often than not, it is young women who write personal essays.


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Kate on March 4th 2013 in feminism, life, uplifting, writing

the generic things that make us all exquisitely sexy

Because I’ve decided to have a baby at some point, I figured I should learn more about birth. I mean, really, I should learn more about babies and toddlers and children and whatever they turn into after that, god help us, but that all seems so far away, and so much less frightening. So I started googling, and I ended up watching a bunch of videos of women giving birth. In giant tubs, by the side of the bed, on the bed, and sometimes in the bathroom.

You have to understand, I am squeamish.

Once my mom took me to see a special film about surgery at the science museum, because she thought it would be educational and interesting, and I thought it looked like a bunch of spaghetti at first, but it turned out that, no, it wasn’t, and then I thought I was going to barf. For the next, say, ten years, when I wasn’t having nightmares about being eaten by a tyrannosaurus rex (my little brother was obsessed with dinosaurs), the horrifying image of exposed guts played vividly through my dreams.


“Your father will die,” the surgeon was telling me, “Unless you restore his tomato sauce levels! You have to reach into the abdominal cavity! Quick, quick!”

The What’s Happening To My Body Book for Girls said to take a hand mirror and pull back the labia and check out the opening of your vagina. I skipped that step. My vaginal opening and I have a cordial, mutually respectful relationship. We send holiday cards. We don’t feel the need to get too much closer.

But there are some steps I don’t want to skip, so I’ve decided to face them.

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Kate on November 19th 2012 in beauty, body, feminism

the only ones not laughing at a comedy show

I was really excited to see this famous comedian* perform. I bought the tickets a long time in advance and it was the first time I ever did something that I first saw advertised on a subway poster. I don’t do a lot of “going out” type things. When I first came to the city for grad school, my mom would call and beg me to please just get a life.

“Go out!” she’d say. “You’re in New York City!” And then, always, she’d have some suggestions that began with “Go to a museum! Go to the opera!” And she’d already done the research. “You can get a student discount if you show up early!”

She never said “Go to a bar!”

I sort of wanted to see an all-male stripping act, but I was too shy and I didn’t know where to find one.

(although the opera can also be quite scandalous! source)

Out of guilt, in the middle of the winter, I took a cab to the Guggenheim. It was the first time I’d ever taken a cab, even though I’d been in the city for months. Students don’t take cabs—they walk or take the subway. But I was being adventurous and a little lavish, so I took a cab. It cost about $6 and I paid him mostly in change and didn’t know to tip, but he didn’t say anything. I’m still viscerally embarrassed, remembering. Who doesn’t know to tip? What did he think of me?

It turned out that most of the Guggenheim was closed that day, for renovations or rearranging art, or maybe for vacuuming. I got in for free with my student ID and I walked very slowly around the base level of the rotunda, the only open area, trying hard to carefully ponder each of the fifteen or so pieces of art. I was going to make the most of this damn museum. For a while, a cute guy stood next to me in front of a painting with one black line on it. My heart beat a little faster, but then he walked away.

I walked across the street to the iced-over reservoir and looked at the world as my face froze. It was peaceful. I was glad I’d come.

The point is, when I bought tickets to see the famous comedian at the Barclays Center that just opened in Brooklyn, it was kind of a big deal.

And then I didn’t think he was funny. And then I got a little offended. 

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Kate on November 12th 2012 in being different, feminism, new york

the man in the baseball cap who thinks women should be a lot more obedient

There were three men sitting together at a table in the corner. The restaurant was very small and they were talking loudly and there was something else, too. Do you know that faint blinking red warning light in the dark of the back of your brain that goes on around certain men? It’s so distant and low that it’s easy to ignore most of the time. And I was with Bear, anyway, so whatever.

We sat down and Bear asked me if I was having a good time almost immediately. We were in Lee, Massachusetts for a night and a day, before heading to Boston, where Bear had a quick conference waiting.

“Want to drive up with me and see the fall colors?” Bear had asked on Friday, the day before. The fall colors are a big deal for him, since he’s from California.

In the Berkshires, we spent the day hiking, amazed by the beauty of the forest. Bear got a sudden very low blood sugar and I saved his life with a pop tart I’d bought on a whim from a gas station convenience store even though I’m really trying to be healthier and not eat stuff with so many preservatives.  So that’s a story about how sugar addiction saves lives.

We drove around and tried to include “the fall color” in most of our comments. “I’m seeing a lot of fall color in this area.” “Yeah, the fall color is especially colorful here in the valley.” We weren’t even slightly dissuaded by the persistent rain and dull gray sky.

By the time we sat down for dinner in the little restaurant, there were puddles pockmarking the street and we were starving.

“Best barbeque I’ve ever had,” one of the men was saying insistently. “There was a whole pig just hanging on the wall. And a boar. Everything was just out where you could see it. They don’t mess around. Not like here. You can’t get good barbeque anywhere around here.”

He had a voice that makes you listen, strung-tight and authoritative. I glanced over. He was probably in his fifties, longish white-gray hair springing from under a baseball cap, wiry and guarded. It wasn’t anything exactly about the way he looked, though. He was radiating that faint red warning.

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Kate on October 1st 2012 in being different, family, feminism, life