Dear Audre Lorde,
I have been reading your essay The Uses of the Erotic repeatedly lately, hoping to find it, perhaps, a salve to the burning wound that so many women, such as myself, continue to suffer and endure in society today. On the heels of nationwide women’s marches, your words feel ever more relevant today, and yet I can’t help but feel the disappointment you would share with me if you were still walking this earth, knowing that despite our forward movement in so many spheres, where the erotic is concerned, in some areas, little seems to have changed.
One of tenants you speak of regards the erotic as an element of joy, the sense of finding such happiness in the acts of living and being. I am not sure that women are any happier since your essay first appeared in 1981. Certainly, we have created for ourselves, through persistence and advocacy, more opportunity, albeit some of it afforded by men as a pacifier, yet we still seem to struggle with the power of the erotic as a form of existence. Instead, we become stretched thinner and thinner by the multitude of responsibilities and expectations placed upon our shoulders from the various roles we are called to engage: daughter, sister, lover, mother, friend. All these hats, none interchangeable, perch precariously upon our psyche, as the depth of requirements to be successful at each has widened.
In addition to being pulled in a multitude of personal directions, we also have not yet reached equilibrium in the workforce. As the economy sits stagnant, women bear the brunt, continuing to make less than their male counterparts, creating a vicious cycle of feeling that we must work harder just to be considered as capable as those who do the same job. It feels surreal to know these things, and yet watch nothing being done, even as we continue to ask for fairness.
Another you speak of is the erotic as a source of feminine power, not just sexual, although that too continues to feel taboo in a world where it is considered indecent to watch a woman bare a breast to feed her child, even as we drive down highways with plastered billboards of 90 foot women scantily clad in lingerie. This disconnect feels as powerful as ever. Our divine right to our feminine continues to suffer from oppression, as men insist on claiming a majority share of power for themselves, occasionally opening the door to throw us a bone, thinking this will pacify the simmering desire, quietly building, to regain what is rightfully ours. Their fear of the feminine overtaking the hyper-testosterone laden society we have endured for so long overshadows any capacity to witness how healing and inclusive feminism strives to be.
I think you would be pleased to see that the sands of politics seem to be slowly drifting in our favor, but we will likely only reach this untapped potential when we recognize that we can no longer uplift and perpetuate the current male models of leadership that are divisive, only hoping to break in and swim with the sharks. Rather, we need our own paradigm, one that embraces the strength of the erotic and brings into the fold diverse voices that are being marginalized, particularly in communities of color. We need women who want to run for office with compassion and inclusiveness, not merely mimicking the male successors she is striving to overcome. Instead, we should be backing women who understand these principles and shun the notion that politics, or any arena, must be a continuation of the male influence that came before, and pave a new path that allows for shared ideas, knowledge, and compassion for our communities. The old ways employed to break ground can no longer sustain the weight of the challenges that we face, and it is time to move to sturdier pastures.
I long to touch the depths of such passion that the erotic brings, affording the knowledge and grace that who we currently are as women is but a fraction of our potential. That for all the for five steps into the future, we often still find ourselves gradually, and often invisibly, guided back three, only to begin again believing we are gaining momentum when we still often concede in our ‘best interests’. Many women continue to support the same structure of power built by men, for men, in the hopes that they will recognize us on their own as equals, when we should be consolidating to burn down their faulty towers and rebuild our own, based on all that the erotic offers: balanced power, happiness, and pleasured derived from all areas of our lives, not just snippets and scraps.
It is my hope for women that I am not reflecting on this topic again, in another 37 years, and longing for the same eroticism to enter our lives and allow us to reach our full promise, or that we continue to struggle with conveying our deepest desires and needs, and still find areas of our life unfulfilled and lagging. I dream of a world where women are placid in every possible realm: we have careers where our immeasurable talents are esteemed, and we are truly recognized by those fortunate enough to be in our orbits. I fantasize that our society acknowledges the pillars of humanity we are, and builds upon those by providing more than adequate supports that allow us to be our best mothers, lovers, sisters, friends, and selves. That we are revered, rather than rebuked, abused, oppressed or negated. I aspire for us to have our moment of reckoning, drawing the force within us to counteract and overcome all that we have suffered and endured.
Mostly, Audre, I yearn for all that I know I am to be in the light of day, and for that awakening and naked truth be a source of comfort and peace, rather than fear and intimidation. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t say I have my heart set on incredible, consensual, ethereal sex, and the reverence of my feminine spirit in its act. Yet that is but a drop in the bucket of what eroticism envelops and what we deserve. I hope, just as you did, for so much.
May I get all we have both desired.
I’ve been asking myself that very question for several months now, as I debate whether to keep my ‘married’ name or return to my ‘maiden’ name. I feel at a loss, because the connection to either is bittersweet at best, and disgruntled at worst. My maiden name, Wyble (why-bl) was handed to me via my birth certificate, my father laying claim to me as his seed. I’ve never loved it, suffering through years of elementary and middle school where it was mispronounced on accident and on purpose, or where it was skewed into a form of teasing torment. My relationship with my father is just as complicated, including an almost ten year stretch where we didn’t speak, and very little (once yearly) communication now. There is not much we see eye to eye on: him, a born-again conservative that shuns evolution, and me, the-progressive-as you-can-get, socialist agnostic. The thought of the weight of his name, and our relationship, feels too heavy to return to that appellation.
When I met my second husband, and we decided to get married, I was delighted to take his name, mostly to escape the former. Baldwin. Simple and easy to pronounce, and it flowed with my first name. It’s the name of my younger children, and connects me to them. But it is also a permanent, invisible tie to my now ex-husband, and the thought of sharing anything with him, including his name, is highly unappetizing. It makes me feel like a part of myself still belongs to him, while I am working to reestablish myself as my own person. As if, as I evolve, he hangs precariously above, reminding me how little I gave to myself during our marriage. It is a constant symbol of broken promises, heartache, and disappointment that leaves a lingering, bitter taste in my mouth when I say it out loud, as if I gargled lemons and vinegar.
Women seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to names, and the expectations of legacy. Many of us are indoctrinated with our father’s names, only to surrender it in the future for marriage, with another man laying claim through his moniker. I admire women who consider that possibility when pondering their nuptials, and say no. But it still doesn’t diminish the rights many of our fathers lay on our heads by extending us their names, and the baggage that comes with them.
Names inform who we are, who we are meant to be. We develop kinship with our names, attachments to what they represent and how we self-identify. I find it repulsive that the practice of women taking their husband’s last name was originated with the concept of erasing the wife: only the husband was recognized, so women melted into the background by taking a given name, marking them as property. It wasn’t until 1972 that women could even legally use their ‘maiden’ names.
So for us women who have been marked by our fathers, and then excised through marriage: if we prefer neither, where does that leave us? A special name purgatory where we can neither our chosen selves, nor wish to be what others have projected onto to us?
I am contemplating choosing my own last name, something I love, that resonates with me, and me alone, despite the headache the paperwork would bring. A word that defines who I feel I am, and who I hope to become. For me, that would be something bold, and risqué, and larger than life. Or perhaps I could follow in the footsteps of Prince, and just delete the surname, going only by my forename. At the least it would be clear who I put first. It would be clear to whom, exactly, I belong, and whom I answer to: no one except my dynamic, warrior self.
The world is full of grey, hues and distinctions that we aren’t always taught to navigate with poise and ease. Perspective is a huge part of how we regard the encounters that we negotiate, and how we gain such viewpoints comes largely from what we see and hear, what is modeled for us day in and out by our families, friends, and the media that engulfs us in the present day. It is a tricky business to watch the world around you project certain images and notions, yet then be told that you are responsible for ignoring what they teach. Yet, I feel like this is what we ask women to do over, and over, and over, again.
We are surrounded by films and books that show romance and love as almost violent forces that we may or may not be able to control: the man sweeping a woman into his arms, then leaning forward to kiss her, because she didn’t know that she wanted THIS. I feel like much of what we are indoctrinated to believe sex should be carries elements of this model. I believe that men have been taught that women may not know what they want, and so it is their job to lead us to the possibilities, even if they must do so with an element of force. On the other hand, women seem to be taught that we don’t know what is best for ourselves and our physical forms, which is perpetuated not just through the barrage of media and art forms that reinforce this code, but also through decades of medical practices, particularly around birth, that leave us without truly having a say over what happens to our bodies.
But this post is about Aziz Ansari, and the muddled actions that have hotly been debated, because of a controversial article posted on Babe that has outed him as a guilty party in sexual assault. I have read the original article several times, a few rebuttals, and a few that have taken a wider view of introspection to discuss the culture around sexual norms. My favorite twitter post this week captured the heart of how I feel:
If we are talking about perception, which seems to be the main issue, and if we are going to be real with ourselves, then we are talking about centuries of ingrained misogyny that tells men they do not have to be responsible for not only the pleasure of their partners, but for their comfort and safety. One article talked about Ansari only being guilty of not reading minds, and how this was just a bad ‘date’. I think any date where someone gives a name to a physical maneuver that another is continually attempting to use on one’s body in a fondling attempt (‘the claw’) goes beyond ‘bad’. There is a disconnect that goes larger than just missing ‘cues’. And it goes beyond women being taught to say no, or excuse themselves, or have ‘cab’ money at the ready, as another article suggested, along with claiming that women are ‘dangerous’ at this moment in #metoo for discussing such messy conditions. We have ignored for too long the emotional burdens and responsibilities that women have shouldered that require us to learn the cues of others, because that is the hallmark of nurturing. You cannot take care of people if you cannot read into the things they don’t say (parenthood is rife with these puzzles). Men, I feel, have abdicated much of this to their female counterparts, to their detriment. So if we can recognize that our perceptions are not matched, why are we not talking about it, rather than assigning blame to women?
What this article brought was a revelation to women that we have been living with assault and categorizing it as other things we ‘just need to live with’. ‘Bad’ dates are just something we should power through as we search for whatever it is we are seeking. It revealed that women feel that it’s not only okay for a woman to be subjected to treatment where she felt uncomfortable and gave uncomfortable signs with her body, and felt obligated to perform acts that she wasn’t really into, but that it’s seemingly a rite of passage. And even worse, not only should we just accept these awful realities as something ‘normal’, but we should defend the men who perpetuate them.
For me, #metoo is supposed to do exactly what it is doing right now: calling into question practices and beliefs around sex, harassment, assault, and gender inequalities that we are not comfortable admitting, never mind discussing. The fact that the woman in the article felt doubt as to whether she was assaulted and had to seek outside validation tells us an enormous amount about how the confidence women feel in society believing them. And the articles that defend Ansari are a testimony to such distrust, and I applaud Babe for sticking to its guns and publishing what they felt was right.
But where do we go from here, now that the water is murky, and we are in areas that no longer display strict polarities?
First, I want to hear from men, who have been auspiciously silent on this topic. Every article I have read dissecting this issue has been written by a woman. I feel that silence has a lot to do with fear that they have participated in such behavior themselves, and don’t want to reflect and/or admit such things. In addition, the leadership they need to have conversations among themselves seems lacking right now. But someone needs to step up, because SILENCE IS COMPLICITY. Men need to be vocal, and we need to hear from you what you can, and want, to do to help change the dynamic. It isn’t just about poor behavior that men might not have been aware of, but its perpetuation. What are your responsibilities? If you don’t feel you can read signals, how about a conversation around consent, and checking in? I personally am growing tired of the argument that consent removes romance and spontaneity from the sexual narrative. What it eliminates is ambiguity and confusion. Consent can be the sexiest move a partner can make. A partner who has enough forethought and consideration to ask me permission to kiss me, or touch me, or check in to make sure I am feeling comfortable, while creating a safe space where I can be honest about what I want, is completely alluring. Consent is hot and titillating, and if women feel they are losing something by giving up such autonomy over their bodies, and men feel they are losing something because they relinquish a certain element of sexual control, then I feel some self-reflection is long overdue on both sides. Where did we get the notion that our bodies are not our own? Where did you learn that women want a man who ‘takes control’? When did you become aware that sex is for the 'taking'? Where have these ideals sprung from? What has been modeled? What have you seen or heard?
Second, please stop shaming women for coming forward with stories that challenge the narratives we have woven for ourselves. Stop telling women they must do more than they are already doing. We have enough on our plates from all the other roles society has handed down to us that we shouldn’t have to worry that men can’t be responsible enough to cultivate an atmosphere of respect and comfort when it comes to intimacy. Stop victim shaming and blaming acts that women have experienced that cause you discomfort because of a permissiveness you displayed that you might have been conditioned to believe was a ‘norm’. Let go of the notion that women should have to accept such behavior, or that women are not worthy of being heard and supported because they acted differently in a moment that you might have considered acting. If you are vocalizing that you do not want to participate in something sexual, and you are physically indicating such, and you go home crying and feeling like you need to seek refuge in a shower, there has been an element of assault. What we need to start talking about are the invisible ways we are assaulted: the mental, verbal, spiritual, and societal ways we are sometimes coerced into doing things that we want to say ‘no’ to but lack the language and confidence to navigate. It is not always so simple as to state that a man did not physically force himself, and so there was no ‘harm’. There other ways of intimidation and abuse in our society that we continually ignore, and we need to begin to hear each other and discuss how to rebuild our sexual landscapes in ways that we feel heard and listened, and feel safe.
Third, to my artist friends, literary writers, dramatic writers, and all those who have a direct influence on the images we create and place in this world for others to soak in and digest: we need to begin to create the stories and images that shape what we want our sexual topography to look like. Write bold, female characters that embrace sex scenes where consent is a part of the narrative, and men that support those women. Envision the ideal of how both men, women, and those who identify in the spaces between, should be treated, and create THAT. We need new media, art, and literature that emboldens us to strive for what we should want, not what we have been conditioned to believe.
Lastly, please reflect on how you learned what romance, love, and sex should be. What did you grow up witnessing in adult relationships? On television? Movie posters? Music? How have you been taught to react to those you attracted to, and how you been taught to approach intimacy with them? What can you change? What is your responsibility to your sexual self, those you engage with sexually, and the community at large? How would you like things changed for your own children or future generations? How can we create dialogues? Who can be the leaders to bring others together for constructive dialogue? What are the disparities faced across economic, racial, and gender lines that may need more support and more action? How can we work to uplift everyone so that we can all feel sexually safe?
I understand things aren’t going to change overnight, because changing an entire culture takes the energy and participation of a majority, and often one that is sometimes slow and unwilling to join the cause. While there definitely seems to be generational differences in what women should feel they should tolerate or not, and what men may feel they should be responsible for or not, change is inevitable, and once the dragon is woke, we can no longer pretend that we are unaware of the ways that we have been influenced by our environments and the detrimental effects of their impact. Instead, we should strive for creation of terrain that serves us equally, and allows us to utilize communication and respect over force and blame. The grey should not frighten us, or have us begging for dichotomy. Rather, we should we welcome what it is allowing us to uncover, and its provocation to redefine what sex and gender equality means in our relationships. It is an invitation to expose ALL the ways we have been hurt and traumatized, not just the obvious forms, and with that, a way to seek healing and justice, both long overdue.
There are two things I have always believed in, even though they seem somewhat opposed: ambition, and servitude. The former I learned by watching my mother, who was finishing her master’s degree as I resided in her womb, and who pursued her doctorate for over ten years when I was teen/adult. Her persistence and dedication to herself taught me that women should pursue the things they love, no matter how much life seeks to interrupt: marriage, children, work, health or the unexpected. In watching her, I learned that our passions, as women, are just as valid as those of men, if not of greater importance, since women often sacrifice those things we love so greatly to support others in their pursuits. Ours, her hard work whispered to me, carry as much weight, and deserve a solid place in the imaginings of our heart. Because of having such a role model, I decided to pursue a twenty-year dream of obtaining my MFA in creative writing, which I finally, blissfully, began in the fall of 2016.
I learned servitude from my grandmother. She was a secretary at a votech high school for decades, having sacrificed her dream of a nursing career to help provide for the three children she and my grandfather birthed. She was a spitfire and dedicated to the tenants of the Catholic church in the best possible way that religion can offer. Endlessly, she volunteered to sit on committees, visit with the sick, take meals to those in need, and just offered herself up as an example of gracious spirit and love to all those she encountered. It was by spending time with her and watching her give time and time again that I felt the call to be a member of AmeriCorps, twice, and follow in her footsteps. It is why I have volunteered at almost every school my children have attended in some capacity for the past 11 years. I am currently the parent association president for my older children’s arts high school, raising money to help our arts departments and providing gap funds to teachers and the student body. Before that, I spent two years fundraising close to $15000 for summer dance programs that are often prohibitively expensive for students coming from one of the poorest states in the nation. I believe that opportunities take a village, and that offering my time and talents is one way that I can justify walking this earth, or as Muhammed Ali said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
Working as a lactation consultant in a community hospital, I often find myself coming in on days off to work or teach, as practicing IBCLCs and CLCs are scarce in our community, most working for community agencies. When our doula coordinator left her position last winter, and our childbirth educator abruptly stepped down, my supervisor was planning to cancel our prenatal classes. New Mexico has one of the poorest rates of prenatal education in the country. I’m a certified Lamaze instructor. I didn’t hesitate to ask to take over, rewriting the curriculum and slowly building what has become a solid childbirth class series for our community, and one that is affordable. And from March to the end of this year, I worked a 13-14 hour day every Wednesday, teaching until 9:00pm, because meeting the needs of the women in my community, and advocacy for women, has always been at the central core of who I am.
Around the same the classes began, I found myself living on my own post separation, a single mother of four, with two teenage children who live with me full time from my first marriage, and co-parenting a ten and six-year-old. My second husband, whom the older children lived with for 10 years and call ‘dad’, didn’t even ask if they had a desire to maintain a residence with him. In fact, the first thing my son said to me after we announced our separation was, “You know I am going to live with you, right?” Even though I had tried to salvage my marriage for the sake of my children for as long as I could, I found myself, for the first time in over ten years, able to breathe. My ex-husband wasn’t bad, per se, but he had a quick to ignite temper that often led to verbal abuse of our children (particularly my elder son), and sometimes, myself. But no matter how much you hope that people will want to change and aim for a higher self, it isn’t always enough.
My ex-husband put our younger children in counseling, not telling me until after they had begun, on Wednesday evenings, as that was a day he knew he would have them, per our hastily draw up custody agreement. I didn’t object to the modality: I am a big believer in the power of therapy. But I couldn’t participate, as I was committed to teaching those evenings for the remainder of the year. The therapists only called me for three separate occasions: to come in a sign the appropriate forms, the last week of June to come in and address some issues my son felt he was having with his siblings, and the following Wednesday, where they left a vague message that some disturbing themes had come up in sessions with both the kids. I called back right away when I finished teaching that evening, but they wouldn’t provide concrete details. I made an appointment to come in the next evening after work.
When I arrived, both my children’s therapists, part of a graduate school program that required clinical hours, sat me in a room with their supervisor. They went over the issues that had come up: for my daughter, during play therapy, she had discussed and acted out a scene involving suicide. With my son, there was sand play with sexual overtones that was also had contained violence. They told me they wanted to bring in someone who was an expert to discern if my children might have been subjected to abuse. I was in shock, but I immediately agreed, disclosing my own history as a survivor of sexual abuse (something I am very open about), and offered my full cooperation. I was also told that a referral had been made to CYFD, although they never told me directly that who was the target of the investigation. But they insinuated that there was concern regarding my older son, describing incidents between him and his younger brother out of context, that I calmly and thoroughly explained. I left the counseling center in a stupor, and sat in my car, where I called a co-worker/friend to talk and began uncontrollably crying and shaking for next 20 minutes. I then drove to my workplace to be surrounded by love, because I work with some of the most amazing labor and delivery nurses on the planet, who had been the rocks I leaned on throughout the rough year of my separation.
The next day, I was to pick up my children from their summer program. I tried in vain to reach out to my ex-husband, because I wanted to talk about what the counselors had discussed, and I wanted to see if he was okay. We were also to meet that evening to try to mediate the finances of our divorce on our own. Something in my gut began screaming, and I listened. I left work early to get my children, arriving to find they had never showed up that day. I drove to his apartment, but he wasn’t there. I called, emailed, and texted my ex-husband. No response. Finally, late in the afternoon, again surrounded by my co-workers, I called the police, more afraid than I had ever been in my life. What if an accident had occurred, and they were hurt? Initially, the officer didn’t want to do anything. We didn’t have a formal parenting plan in place. I told him I was worried my ex-husband might have left the state, and I broke down in sobs. The officer finally agreed to investigate, and I gave him my ex-husband's address.
Hours later, I was sitting in a restaurant with my older daughter, restlessly waiting, when the officer called me back to inform me that my children were safe with my husband, but he had filed a protection order against me. He had gone in on a Friday afternoon, at 3:00pm, around the time I was at his home. I was to have no contact whatsoever with my children for the next 14 days until the hearing, and if I saw them in public I was to remain 100 feet away. I broke down completely in the middle of the restaurant, my spirit lying in pieces on the tile floor.
I consulted with one attorney the following Monday who had to recommend me to others as she was to be out of town after the date of the initial hearing. Consultations aren’t free anymore. I paid over 200 dollars to find out she couldn’t help, but got a list of referrals. I went to the courthouse and paid to get a copy of the PO filed against me, because I still had no idea what accusations were being leveled against me. The reasons listed were scant and without substance. I called four other attorneys over the next couple of day, because finding a lawyer in July in my small city is like a needle in a haystack, and lucked out with one who had criminal experience, which proved invaluable when I received a call from the SVU unit for an interview. I also received the awaited call from CYFD, arranging interviews for my older daughter, myself, and with the directors of the dance program my older son was attending in Chicago for the summer.
I met with the SVU detective, whom my lawyer advised me not to talk with. One thing she discussed was a concern raised from my younger daughter’s drawings that the therapists had given her, showing her at her father’s watching television and playing with her dad and brother, while in the drawing of my house she was playing with her siblings while I folded laundry. I let that sink in. Part of the accusation of neglect was that I FOLDED LAUNDRY, a single mother of four who was parenting seven days a week, while my ex-husband had up to four days a week where he was completely childless to do such laundry. I was also questioned because my son, a gifted student, was reading Alexie Sherman’s Diary of a Part Time Indian. In my mind, all I could think was how happy I had been that he agreed to read a work of fiction, since he usually only gravitated toward nonfiction and fought us about reading. It had been a book his siblings read when they were just a bit older, and we talked through any questions he had about the content.
I met with the CYFD case worker in our home, a tough, no-nonsense woman fitted in boots and jeans. Her first question when we sat in my dining room was straight to the point: did I think my husband might be doing this out of spite? She then commented that she had been doing this a long time, and had an instinct for when things didn’t seem to match up. We talked for a bit about my relationship history with my husband, and the kids, and she walked through each room of my house, only momentarily pausing before moving on. It took less than 20 minutes.
For those two weeks, I sat in agony. I stopped sleeping, and only found solace in exercise, writing, preparation for the hearing, and my work. It helped me to help others. It gave me relief to teach and be around expectant families full of the promise of parenthood. It was one of the few glimmers of hope that sustained me during this awful period. Friends from work created a Go Fund Me, and I raised part of the $2500 retainer my lawyer would require, the rest emptying my savings.
We went to court, and my lawyer negotiated an agreement to have the protection order dropped that included keeping the custody schedule the same (I had them Sunday morning to Wednesday morning, with every other Friday), while I begrudgingly agreed that my older children would not be left alone with my younger children. Our divorce would likely be settled in formal mediation, where I felt I could hopefully renegotiate that stipulation, and I desperately wanted to see my kids, not wanting to risk the protection order being increased for any length of time (I might have only gotten short visitations). That afternoon, I raced to pick them up. My son ran to me and hugged me so hard I thought he might hurt my ribs. But my daughter, my baby that I breastfed until she was four, looked at me with cold formality and would not hug me at first. Again, a piece of my heart irretrievably broke on the spot, and that night I lay in bed, weeping for all we had lost.
But we began rebuilding, although my ex-husband still had not reached out to the twins, and had not had contact with them since Father’s Day. It was an adjustment, particularly when my son came home from Chicago at the end of the summer. He was, rightfully, angry that he had been accused of any kind of potential abuse, and was extremely upset with his former stepfather for allowing all of this to occur. The kids were unsure how to ‘be’ around one another, and I found myself nitpicking normal sibling behavior that I was worried might be misinterpreted. I started therapy during the two weeks they were taken from me, and that helped me tremendously, particularly recognizing the abuse I had endured but felt incredible shame admitting. However, my younger kids remained at the same counseling center, and I began to insist that we find a new therapy group, particularly after I found out that he sat in the room with them when they made the phone call to refer me to CYFD. Because of our custody schedule, I asked for someone who could see them Fridays, when we both had availability and rotated the children. A couple of weeks later, I received a letter from the CYFD case worker with a simple, checked box that indicated the claims made against me were ‘unsubstantiated’. I never heard back from the SVU detective, but my lawyer found out the kids had been taken for forensic interviews and nothing that indicated abuse had been disclosed. I finally felt that we could begin to leave that experience behind, in the dust, where it rightfully belonged.
In October, my ex-husband and I sat with a mediator to haggle through the finances of our divorce. His lawyer came without having any prepared documentation of his income and other financials, which took up sizable time. At the end of it, I was still left with most our credit card debt, and would only be receiving less than $50 a month in child support despite him earning a great deal more than me, as he insisted on paying for an afterschool program that was more a luxury and not a necessity, as I would have gladly used my lunch hour to pick up the children and bring them to my work daily. He nickeled and dimed every point, and despite us not owning a home or any other mutual property of value, the proceedings took six full hours instead of the four I budgeted, and I was now also left with legal debt to the tune of over $4000.
Since we didn’t get to issues with the kids, and my ex-husband continued to refuse change of any kind to the kids’ schedule, I filed for a priority consultation with the court. I wanted to change the days we were following, as the transitions felt like too many for the kids, and it always felt frantic. I also hoped to finally switch counselors. We had called other therapists, and I had finally found one that could see them on Fridays, but he had dragged his feet and she became booked. Ideally, I hoped for a week on/week off, as I had not had a full weekend with my children since March. I dreamed of taking them camping when the weather eventually warmed, or just having a Saturday to go on a day trip. I also wanted my older children to can be left alone with their siblings, so that they could walk the dog together, roller blade, go the park, or even just watch a movie while I ran to get a gallon of milk. The younger kids had been asking endless questions of why they always had to be with me when they wanted to stay home or do things with their siblings, and I had no answer to give. I also still didn’t know what my husband had told them during the two weeks of my absence from their life, and so finding the appropriate response felt impossible.
We finally met with the mediator. She asked me to rehash my relationship from when we met. It felt crushing to discuss and relive a relationship so fraught with abuse and trauma. We had moved 8 times, and had a period of homelessness. My husband had at least 10 different jobs during our relationship, often chronically underemployed, some of which he was abruptly fired from, and we had been hand to mouth for 90% of our time together. He had often been unhappy or seemed to have conflicts with supervisors. I had worked at three places during our entire relationship, only leaving my educator position at a local middle school when my program folded in NM, then working with WIC as a peer counselor as I returned to school to become an IBCLC, and only leaving that when I gained full time employment at the hospital. Otherwise, I had been pregnant, or a stay at home mom, working on my childbirth certification. I cried most of the session. We discussed the issues with the therapists and I brought in the treatment summaries, which I felt were biased, where one therapist had written that I, “seemed to not react to the news” when they discussed the themes of the scenarios my children had acted out, my shock being misinterpreted for callousness. I outlined why I felt it was in the best interest of the kids to have a week at a time: less transitions, time to settle, quality time with parents, which I felt having a whole weekend at a time would give, since I had to maintain my work schedule as an hourly employee to feed my family. I had also decided to scale back my prenatal teaching to every other month, and changed the day to Monday, so that I could have more quality time with my kids and give more flexibility to participate in their therapy, even though I still felt strongly that I needed to do that work for my community.
When I got the priority consultant recommendations, I was stunned. It was recommended that I receive LESS time, a schedule of Wednesday to Friday with every other Sunday. She had called the executive director of my children’s counseling center who claimed, “the Father has consistently brought the children to counseling, and has shown concern and involvement, whereas Mother has regularly neglected to bring the children to sessions.” This led the consultant to decide, “Mother’s inability or unwillingness to participate in the children’s counseling and to regularly get them to sessions is another indication that she is not taking their mental health seriously, and that she has potentially neglected to adequately respond to their emotional needs.” It stated that she felt the younger children needed to minimize contact with their older siblings, as she still had concerns based on the accusations that had been raised in July. The ones CYFD investigated and found unsubstantiated, the same ones where they reported no abuse during their forensic interviews.
I met with my lawyer, who was also stunned, as my ex-husband had not asked for increased time. We filed an objection, finally got a court date, and yesterday I finally got to sit in front of a white, male judge and give voice to my story. I discussed how I had been unable to participate in counseling as I had committing to teaching, and my ex-husband enrolled them without asking me, then refused the change the day of the week since he did not want the kids to experience any shifts. I discussed why I do the work I do, helping women, how teaching in a population with health and economic disparity is a passion, and how essential it is I continue that work for our community, even if on a smaller scale. How I work hourly and often need maintain at least 40 hours a week just to afford rent, utilities, food, and pay down the debt I was left from our marriage. I have no savings, and have even begun contemplating a second job or leaving the job I love since the raise I have been asking for still has not come to fruition, and my kids come first. Despite this, I maintain and excel in graduate school, and still give back by volunteering with my children’s school, because I want to model for my children a woman who not only pursues her own dreams through hard work, but also believes to help others achieve theirs as well. Because what is lost in our society today is that open, giving heart that allows us to lean on each other in times of need, and gives us the perspective to see those around us as humans who hurt and bleed the same. It is a sense of connecting to others outside of technology, knowing them as people, and recognizing we are all in this together, not just individually for ourselves.
I discussed how I have supported my older daughter’s participation in therapy for the past three years, and how my son only stopped formal therapy with a counselor for his first semester this year (he is resuming), because he chose to take extra academic classes and has a more rigorous schedule than in the past, and the guidance counselor, whom he would talk with regularly, just returned from maternity leave. Both are high performing students, and amazing human beings, who will be leaving in a year and a half to seek their own journeys as adults, and this time, this now to be together as a family, is something we will never be granted again.
My husband’s lawyer made it a point for the judge to know that I leave my children for 20 days a year to attend two, ten-day graduate school residencies, so the younger children are ‘used’ to being away from me. I could hear the oxygen suck from the room when I openly admitted that my older children had one night they spent alone when I was away at my a residency. I never got to clarify that it was due to a family issue my friend who was staying with them had to deal with at home, the night before I came back. Or that she lives less than 2 miles away, and they had a laundry list of people I compiled for emergencies. I also trusted them when they told me they felt capable being on their own for one evening. A product of the 80s and 90s, I can remember being left home alone as a teenager when my parents took short trips, having family phone numbers at the ready, which would probably qualify as intentional neglect these days.
My ex-husband kept repeating how he felt I wanted to make modifications to the schedule, when what he really meant is that I had been leaning on him as my co-parent to help me. Since I had had the children on Mondays, and public schools love to give more Mondays off than any other day of the year, I was constantly the one having to take them to work, since I couldn’t afford to take off, or hire a babysitter. So I would ask him to split those days here and there, or if I could bring them by if I had a meeting they couldn’t go to with me, or I had an appointment for one of my other children, since I manage all of them. And because kids are incredibly unpredictable, sometimes you must shift things to accommodate their needs, and when you are an hourly employee as I am versus the salaried employee my ex-husband is, every minute missed on the clock counts. His tone as he discussed how I depended on him, because I always have felt that good co-parents should be able to rely on each other, was just short of bitter resentment.
But the most damning moment came when my lawyer pointed out to my ex-husband on cross examination that he had opposed changing our schedule because he did not feel that the children should be without seeing each parent for five days or more. Yet, with the court recommendation, that is exactly how long they would go without seeing me. She asked him directly if he felt that being without their mother for five days was in their best interest since he previously opposed such a length for both of us, and he had not requested additional custody. I watched him squirm, sitting with his eyes slanted to the right, staring at the floor as he had for most of his testimony. He sighed and licked his lips, then repeated what he had said for almost every question my attorney asked, not answering anything at all, “I only want is what is in the best interest of the children, and if the court feels this way…”
For the ten years we were married, he never voiced it was against the best interests of our children to spend most their time with me as he jumped from job to job, or as I supported him when he needed time to complete his BA degree, and then when I encouraged him to get the MA degree he completed in December. He didn’t ask for addition time because I truly believe he knew deep in his soul it was not in their best interests, but he still wouldn’t vouch for me as a woman and mother. He should have just punched me, and then threw me under a moving bus.
And the judge bit. At the end of testimony, he called a recess, and when he returned, I knew the verdict before he said a word, because he wouldn’t look at me. Then his opening sentence mentioned how difficult and complex our case was, and how his decision wasn’t intended to disparage me as a mother. Tears started welling in my eyes. And then he said that because I seemed ‘overwhelmed’ as a single mother of four and a graduate student who worked full time, that he was adopting the recommendations, because I needed to ‘prioritize’ some things. I completely lost it and almost fell in a heap to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably. He also felt that despite the investigations that had cleared any us of any charges from the summer, he felt that those allegations should be treated as if they had really happened and not ‘fictitiously’, and that warranted me less time, even though I had 50% shared time with them for the last SIX MONTHS without an iota of concern. We were mandated to six months consecutive counseling before I can petition a change, and when listing therapy groups, he at first mentioned us utilizing the center where my children still attended, although when under oath I said multiple times they had made me feel unsafe. Then (and I think he genuinely thought he felt he was exhibiting compassion) he said that if a neutral first choice wasn’t available, a place I had already contacted prior to the hearing as I am very eager to remove my kids from the inexperience they have been subjected to, I could draft a list of three counselors, but my ex-husband would get to choose. It was the only thing I got that I asked for, and it was still an afterthought.
In addition to now only getting to see my children for five overnights every fourteen days, I also lost my petition for us to each have a child for one of their birthdays each year, since my ex-husband had my daughter last year and I had our son, and I hoped to reverse this year. Instead, because he gets the even years, I will miss my daughter’s birthday for the second year in a row. Again, it is time lost that can never be replaced.
Here is some of what I learned: single mothers of four children who dare to work full time, help their communities, pursue their dreams, and try to model service for others get punished. Instead of finding a way to help lift me up, the court instead found a way to try to break my spirit, and drove a greater wedge between all of us. I saw very clearly the vested self-interest my ex-husband has, despite continually trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, because he is still a father to people I love more than anything in the world. I do not see a foreseeable future where I can feel forgiveness on the horizon. I’m giving myself the permission to feel rage. I learned that men can abandon children that call them father and who expect them to be a part of their lives after a decade, and suffer absolutely no consequences for such desertion, while women can be put through exhausting processes that pick apart their lives and actions, and still not be trusted or believed. I learned that you can fully cooperate with investigations, be completely cleared, and still be told you are not trustworthy. The rules of accountability for gender are ripe with inequality. I learned that our patriarchal society is fear based and concerned with covering its own ass, which is part of why I felt the judge issued the verdict he did. CYFD in New Mexico has come under fire, at times rightly so, for being understaffed and allowing children to slip through the cracks, resulting in horrendous outcomes. I’m not deaf and blind to the political aspect of that reasoning. But I’ve also been the more stable and consistent parent for ten years. I barely watch television. I’m not an addict. I don’t have mental issues. I’m a nonsmoking vegetarian who exercises every day. Occasionally, I like a good bourbon, or a glass of wine. I probably should sleep more. But I’m mostly an ambitious woman who can multitask with incredible efficiency, who doesn’t waste the small, precious time she’s been allotted for her life, and who believes that giving back should be a central part of community and living. And I was penalized for that, as were my older children, who are two incredible, loving, smart, and kind individuals who work hard, are talented artists, and who love their siblings with full hearts.
I learned that anything you do or say can be twisted to serve the wants of others. I learned that hurt men do strange things to cling to their own sense of importance and self-worth. I learned that sexism is alive and well, and that we still have such a long way to go to balance the scales of justice. I learned the importance of electing women to positions of power, particularly women who understand the self-sacrifice that many women endure so that they can do more for others, as we often do. My judge should be up for reelection this year, and I will be vocal.
We need to have conversations about how we treat women in this country, and the invisible bias wrapped in disproportionate expectations for mothers versus fathers. Let’s talk about the wage gap, the outrageous costs of childcare, paid maternal leave, and how we perceive women who work versus those who do not. Let’s get real about how we punish families who are struggling, and how economics plays a role in how justice sees individuals, because it is not blind. I am not unaware how fortunate I am that I had representation because I could scrape together a retainer, even though how I will pay the remainder of my legal costs is something that keeps me up at night, even though the outcome without a lawyer likely could have been so much worse. At close to a staggering $10000 later for my fees, I can’t help but think of how much better that money might have been saved for my older children to take driver’s education, for college, for emergencies, or a million other things my kids need.
I wrote this because I want other women who have suffered similar fates to know they are not alone. For all the women who have come out of abusive relationships and still feel further abused by the systems that are supposed to help, not harm. For those financially struggling but who would and have to spare any expense to fight for their families. For those single mothers, holding down one job or more, who may rely on sibling babysitters, who live paycheck to paycheck, who want more and have the audacity to go after it, who might be championing women every day in positions that often don’t pay enough, or who feel the same call of servitude I always have: I see you. If you are a WOC, I see you more, because I know the struggle for you is so much greater. At the end of the day, we need to face such injustices. We need to scrutinize how we treat women in our culture, and begin to demand that men relinquish some of the power that has led to such fragmented bureaucracy. We need to critically analyze and address who benefits from systems that result in broken families and more trauma, because society does not. It wasn’t just that my children lost time with their mother: this was a loss for all women, especially those on their own working hard to provide for others and better themselves in the process. No one is winning when women can’t be seen, when our ambitions become a liability, or we can’t serve our very own communities to promote health, or create opportunity. Instead of begging to be heard, let’s start demanding those with power to listen: let’s be OVERWHELMING, and create the change we need so that women will no longer be ‘overwhelmed’.
We live during interesting times upon us in this country, as we endure a national government that seems not only bent on controlling women and their bodies, but also oppressing them as living, breathing human beings. Not only have they made it clear that we are incapable in their eyes of making solid choices about the skin we inhabit, or what may be best for our futures, but they have, beginning with the top of the shaky totem pole, blatantly disregarded and disrespected women publicly and professionally at a level that should be intolerable. Instead, somehow, we continue to trudge through the unending deluge of masculine, self-worth hypertrophy that may, in the end, see us all evaporated in dust simply because even the size of a button is a threat to the security of the male ego.
I know many men sympathize, and I believe there are many men who ‘get’ it, and who are staunch supporters of women’s rights in all the best ways. I know there are men out there doing their best, day in and out, to be decent human beings, and who examine the heavy-handed privilege they have been born into simply by the grace of a marked box on their birth certificate that certified them as a ‘male’.
I say this to recognize that there are many great men who have been there to support women as we see our rights, and the rights to our own bodies, stripped away, and who are fighting the good fight, and I salute you. But I also say this to recognize that it is simply not enough anymore to be the supporter who is fighting the fight as allies in power. Rather, men, it’s time you abdicate some of your power.
We have a fascinating mayoral race in my humble abode of Santa Fe. Four men, and one audacious woman. Of the four men, three are city councilors, and the fourth a very successful entrepreneur. Some of them were raised here, some migrated from elsewhere. Some were educated locally, some at Harvard. But they all share that unique, singular trait of being men, and more importantly, men in power, and men who have known success both politically and in business.
And then there’s Kate Noble.
I watched a debate of all the candidates tonight, and she blew me away. She grew up in Santa Fe, and knows the heart of the community, but she’s also worked abroad, and it gives her a very distinct understanding of the big picture of inclusiveness. Her answers were well prepared and eloquent, and having worked for the city government for years in economic development, she has her finger on the pulse of what the region struggles with and the infusions it needs to stop bleeding our youth. She’s the perfect blend of insider and outsider, the prodigal daughter that leaves for a time, but comes home to use the wisdom and experience she has gained to strengthen a world she has never truly left.
Yet, with all this direct and indirect experience, all the understanding of the inner workings of the city but personal experience that captures a larger perspective, it is possible this may not be enough for her to win. Even though the conservative competitor has gained audience with a ‘raised in Santa Fe’ label, and she shares that same direct experience of being raised in the City Different. Although while he bumbles through answers without any concrete plan (other than we need a bowling alley?), Kate is meticulous guiding us through her vision for what this city could be. And I sit wanting to bang my head against my laptop while mumbling: “What’s it going to take?”
Seriously, I’m asking. What do women have to do? How accomplished do they have to be? How much more experience do they have to list on their resume to be recognized as someone worth throwing support to?
The nail in the coffin is that Kate’s closest progressive competitor is well versed and popular, with a laundry list of supporters. He’s a great candidate in his own right, who was a very successful entrepreneur, and who understands economics just as well. However, at the end of the day, I am so endlessly tired of being presented with male candidates when there are so many capable women with bold ideas and fresh perspectives. And it would really nice if men could, just once in a while, recognize they that don’t need ALL the power, ALL the time.
I, flat out, have ‘male fatigue’ (particularly when they come in ‘white’).
Because men are everywhere you turn. Men take up all the oxygen in the room. Men are constantly rewarded with more and more power, and as we continually see from the damage that is being unwound from the #metoo movement, it is frequently abused. I am not insinuating that any of the male candidates in this election are in that vein by any stretch. But I am saying that in a city where the female population has the edge, hovering around 51%, where is our representation? If we are, technically, the majority in this town, where is the equal balance of women that are our voices in power? And where are the men who support women, and women support women, and why aren’t they supporting a woman who has the substance and qualifications that this city needs?
Women fight for basic privileges that men take for granted: we are beaten, raped, abused, and told what to do with our bodies at alarming rates and insidious ways. We facial institutional sexism and a hierarchy that has boldly, and without remorse, degraded women and their roles in society. We are constantly asked to prove over and over how worthy we are when a man is granted that support with ‘invisible’ discrimination, often hidden in his lauded qualifications. And if you are a minority woman in this country, you face an even greater risk of mortality from all the above with a large heaping of racism on top. It’s exhausting to feel underrepresented from every angle.
I think it is easy to pick the male candidates with business acumen and back them. We’ve been doing it for centuries. It speaks to an ingrained pattern we return to, where we seek wisdom from the predominate gender and race that has owned those power centers much longer than we often care to acknowledge. When women attempt to inject themselves into the same roles, they are often unfairly criticized and scrutinized, because power begets power, and it likes itself. Like attracts like. White attracts white. Men attract men. So the cycle continues to spin, because to engage in that sort of self-examination requires the acknowledgement that you are willingly participating in a system that perpetuates systemic prejudice, even if you, yourself, do not feel that those values are a part of who you are as an individual. And that’s a hard truth to swallow. It’s difficult to critique the self, and honestly scrutinize why you choose to back who you choose, because the answers might not be want you want to hear.
Thankfully, the pendulum is slowly swinging, and much of the darkness men have operated in is coming to light. Structures and the old guard are crumbling, and with it, I hope, an advancing notion that the best man does not always need to be the one to win. Rather, women can, and often are, best within their own right, and can be who is best for all. It begins with a simple recognition of what lies on the horizon: the future is female.
I, for one, pledge to do whatever I can to see to it that the intelligent, thoughtful, and compassionate women we have in our midst are brought into leadership roles that allows for more diversity and an all-inclusive perspective. I dedicate myself to supporting and backing quality women in my community, and the nation at large, who not only have the experience, but the heart and courage, to want to take up leadership roles in male dominated paradigms. How much braver could a woman be?
My quest begins with my vote on March 6th for a unique woman who dares run for mayor against a sea of men in our quaint western city.
Santa Fe’s future should be Mayor Kate Noble.
Want to learn more about why Kate should be our city leader?
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