An Imperfect Patriot

crop faceless person showing american flag on field in daytime
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

As I write this, my neighbors land is dotted with flags of every size.  Red, white and blue sparklers and banners are waving in the faint breeze.  The stars and stripes even grace tents they’ve erected for shade.  They are about to hold a large party.  There will be laughing, loud music, drinking, and fireworks.

On my property there are no flags.  There will be no loud celebrations.  The Fourth of July is a day like any other, save that it’s advent may have us looking up more history and revisiting parts of The Constitution that seem pertinent to the current time.

At a glance, our neighbors appear far more ‘patriotic’.  But is that the right measure of a patriot?

The word ‘patriot’ has a very interesting history, with the meaning being very narrow at times, and almost contradictory to our understanding at others.  The original ‘patriote’ simply meant ‘fellow countryman’ – for which we use ‘compatriot’ today.  Under that meaning, all of us living in the United States would be ‘patriotes’.  The rest of the history has both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ meanings for ‘patriot’ – at least by our modern standard.  The dictionary claims that the latest meaning is “one who loves his or her country.”  Yet, I disagree that the word is being used in this way, any more.  Instead it is used as a bludgeon with which to berate our ‘enemies’ who happen to be compatriots.

You see it all of the time on social media.  Share this meme of the flag if you are a patriot!  Show your support for our troops … police … monuments … etc. … if you love this country! The implication is always that if you don’t wave the flag at every opportunity, you are somehow not a patriot.

I know so many people who put a lot of energy into the exhibition of patriotism, yet do little of the effort of patriotism.  I have conversed with many of these ‘bumper sticker patriots’ who know little of the history of this country.  They understand little of the workings of the government – the separate but equal branches and their roles.  They ‘support The Constitution’ but know little of its actual contents.  I have no doubt that they ‘love our country’ – but is that actually enough to be called a ‘patriot’?

Setting country aside, for a moment, when we talk of ‘love’ it is typically ‘for better or for worse’, as typical wedding vows often state.  Love is not denial of imperfections, but the ability to acknowledge that imperfections exist.  Love is not as easy as a catch phrase – it is hard work to keep connections in tact during periods of difficulty.

The history of this country has certainly been ‘better’ for some and ‘worse’ for others.  Yet, along the way even those for whom this country has done it’s worst have expressed love and belief in it.  The cause for that is the ideal upon which this country was founded – however flawed a founding that counted out nearly all of its residents as citizens with rights.  I do not know the full number, but if you add up all of the slaves, Native Americans, and women who resided here at the time, I’m going to bet that it was better than 75% of the residents whose rights were non-existent.

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The fight for women’s rights has been long, difficult, and is not yet over

Yet, they and all of the immigrants who joined us later, who underwent horrific treatment at many periods, persisted.  And, today we are a better, more diverse country than ever.  Have we overcome all of our past ‘evils’?  Absolutely not!  This year we mark the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote – yet much of our country still cannot envision a woman as president.  We have not even had a woman as vice president!  I speak only of my disappointment and frustration at the progress of my ‘group’, knowing that many others have their list of grievances at their groups’ treatment and slow progress to full remedy.

 

Yet, most of us who still have frustration and grievance do not hate or even dislike this country.  We love it as much, if not even more, than the flag waving crowd.  Not for exactly what it is today, but for the hope of what it can yet become.  However flawed our founding fathers, many believed in the country as an experiment that would evolve as the citizenry evolved.  Those who have learned our history, and read our founding documents, generally hold the view that this was never meant to be a static state.

Yet, that is exactly what the flag wavers want.  Many of them want to return to a time that never was.  A time that lives in fantasy and flawed memory.  A time that was good for that small minority that is the straight white male.  “Make America Great Again!”  America has always been great as a concept, but rarely has America been great for all of its citizens.  We have ebbed and flowed in our success in that direction – we are in another of our reckoning points right now.  We will likely come out better, though still not perfect, on the other side.

I have experienced the view of this country from the outside, even if for only a time.  I have seen the ‘ugly American’ tourist in action.  For a time I lived in Hungary while it was still under Soviet rule.  People I met were anxious to ask questions about what they saw of America (some through a Soviet filter, but many who had covert access to outside news from the rest of Europe).  It was sobering to a twenty-something to get such a perspective.  I came away seeing far more of my country’s flaws, and the negative effects we’d had on others.  World War II would never be the same fable to me.

Yet, I also came back with more appreciation for the freedom and quality of life our country offered.  My mother and I had just made our way out of poverty by the time I went to Hungary (my trip, paid for by friends, was part of a farmers exchange program that recruited at our university), yet we had far more than many people I met within  Soviet controlled Hungary.  As I said, we still have a long way to go to achieve the equality imagined in our founding documents – yet I would suggest that those who feel oppressed by this country today should visit a far more oppressed place for some perspective.  We should always strive for more – but also recognize just what we do have.

I have no doubt that our neighbors love this country.  But I would argue that what they love is a myth.  Next to all of the flags and banners is this yard sign:

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I could say something political, about this administration’s overt efforts to destroy faith in our institutions, but I’m less concerned about the outright politics of this sign.  It is the sentiment “Keep America Great!” that belies their patriotism.  It is a denial of the challenges our country is currently facing, and the inequities that it must rectify.  It is an avowal of support for a view of America where the smallest majority of straight white males enjoy all that is great in this country, while the rest of us are expected to keep our place.

I am an imperfect patriot.  I love what is good about this country, while acknowledging what needs fixing.  I can admire what our founding fathers accomplished, against all odds, while acknowledging that they were flawed men.  I can support the constitution while also stating that it has to evolve as we evolve to understand each other’s needs.  I love this country “for better or worse” and do what I can to make it “better” for more people.  I love a flawed country, not a fantasy.

I recently heard a report that patriotism is becoming unpopular in this country.  That saddens me, as I think we should love our country – warts and all.  But if it means that people are rejecting the ‘bumper sticker patriotism’ then I’m for that.  Perhaps it is time for ‘patriot’ to get another variation on its meaning.

 

 

On The Reality of Sexism

Long ago and far away I had a brief “discussion” with my older brother. He maintained that his life would be richer than mine because he was male, and I was a mere female (he did not put it quite like that, but looking back the inference is there). Being a history buff almost from the minute I could read, the idea was immediately rejected in my mind. After all, women had starved, been essentially Womens march for votetortured, and endured ridicule in order to provide future generations with the vote, ability to own property in their own right, and equality of life issues. The early clues of my naiveté were forgotten as I matured, such as being relegated to the kitchen washing dishes while the rest of the family was in the living room watching TV. My one year at WSC was proof, to me, that women were on a par with their male counterparts as I was welcome even in a seminar meant for upper level students…and aced it.

A few years after that I was picking up units at a JC in Redding, CA, and unsuspectingly walked into a physics class, to be faced with a male instructor stating categorically that women did not do well in his class. Needless to say I walked out and changed classes.  Years later, attempting to complete my degree at U of W in Seattle, I entered the Speech Therapy Department office to sign up and was told by

Womens march down fifth Ave. 1970
First Women’s March down Fifth Ave. 1970

the rather old, red-nosed chairman, women do not do well in this department.  As a recently abandoned wife I was too fragile at that moment to fight back, changed my major, and therefore the trajectory of my life.  Upon completion of degree requirements and entry into the required quarter of student teaching I faced another dilemma. It was the era of mini skirts and without transportation I was riding a bike to the grade school to which I was assigned. I chose to wear slacks for obvious reasons, and the first thing the woman Principal told me was that pants were not allowed…but mini skirts, it seemed, were fine! Fast forward to graduate school in California. I was in need of a small loan until I could get a part-time position. Filling out the paperwork I came to the line that required, if the borrower was female, a signature from the husband or father. (That is no longer required). I was forced to beg my father to sign, and endured his lecture on paying it off. I was a mother, and in my thirties.

Recently my very articulate daughter shared a post she had written on her Facebook page, and I have chosen to use her words to speak for all women:

I am tired …
I am tired of the patriarchy.
I am tired of women being called weak or hysterical if they show emotion, while a man is “sensitive” when he does.
I am tired of women being labeled as cold and unfeeling if they don’t show emotion, while it is called “strength” in men.
I am tired of a man being called assertive, while a woman acting the same way is called a “bitch”.
I am tired of men, and women, thinking that “boys will be boys” excuses all the abhorrent sexist, and even sexually violent behavior out there.
I am tired of people worrying about how a man’s life might be ruined by allegations, charges, and convictions of sexual violence, without considering how the women’s lives have already been ruined.
I am tired of comments about women not smiling enough.
I am tired of worrying that what I say will be seen as bitchy or too aggressive, while I sit in meetings where men yell at other people, or put them down, but are called “strong leaders”.
I am tired of an expectation that I have to live up to some agreed upon standard of beauty, in order to get any attention from men, while they can be fat, ugly, orange painted slobs and expect beautiful women to adore them.

I have been tired for a long time, as I’ve experienced and observed the embedded sexism in our society … but the events of this week have just made me angry! It is not about the two people at the center of the storm – we do not know the truth and never will. No, it is about how our country is reacting, and the fact that for all the progress that has been made in my 50+ years, women are still judged by standards NEVER applied to men, and have to play by a different set of rules. And it is about the fact that we are still not appropriately represented in the government that affects our daily lives. We are more than fifty percent of the population, and we deserve better!!!

Women's_March_on_Washington_(32593123745)
2017 Women’s March on Washington

I could not have said it better.  Ladies, know your history, fight for the rights your dead sisters won for all of us, hold your heads high and never give up. We owe it to the past to protect our daughters future!

On Abortion

NOTE: This post may anger some people, including friends and relatives. Sadly, the trajectory our country is on demands that everyone needs to do what they can to support our democracy, its laws, values and standards of care for its citizens. Being only 3 months from turning into an octogenarian the one thing I can do is search my memories and raise my voice. If this post offends I am sorry, but it is one subject wherein I can offer a dose of reality about life for females in the forties and fifties.

OF CHILDHOOD, PEDOPHILIA, READING AND REBELLION

One of my very first memories is of my father taking me up the stairs to our attic and utilizing my tiny self to his purpose  (no, I will not go into graphic detail, not necessary, not the point). Up the stairs came my mother in search of us, and as she took in the scene before her she immediately burst into tears and ran back down the stairs. My father, of

 

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My parents

course, ran after Mom. I must have been around four at the time and the one emotion I

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vividly recall is puzzlement. I was doing what my father told me to, why were my parents angry? I am sure there were promises to never do anything like that again, a one-off only. Promises not kept, of course, and the abuse continued until my eleventh year.

 

I learned to read at a very early age and found in reading my escape. I would walk from my grandmother’s house in Seattle, past Big Rock at the top of the hill, and haunt the adult section of the public  library. I read about animals, death marches, slavery, and abortion stories. Abortions were illegal, rape was rarely adjudicated, and a single woman becoming pregnant was shameful no matter the circumstances. There were many young ladies who visited illegal abortionists, or worse, would take a coat hanger and attempt self abortion. As a very young girl in a perilous situation I was

 

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My young self

chilled by the images of young women who bled out on a basement floor or lay slumped on a wood table.

 

I remember dreading being alone in the house with my father. He would make me promise not to tell anyone, especially my mother. The trouble was I felt too uncertain, unhappy and ashamed to tell anyone. Sometime around my eleventh or twelfth year the inevitable happened, and realization set in that I could become pregnant if my father continued with his abuse. Strangely and ironically he had provided me with a thin, child friendly book on “becoming a woman” and how one gets pregnant. I did not, at that point, need the book to lay it all out for me, but it did confirm my fears.

One night my mother was out of the house for some reason and I found myself cornered in the bathroom. It suddenly all boiled up and I adamantly refused to do as he said. When he insisted I threatened to tell my mother, and at that he exploded, grabbed his belt and proceeded to beat me. Being a child I obviously cried and yelled…loudly! One other person in the house, in his bedroom, heard the commotion and later told my mother. Again a hullaballoo, a threat of divorce, and more promises. This time the promises were kept, possibly because the story was now out to some extent and I was obviously willing to fight back. Please don’t imagine my actions were courageous, I was aware of cause and effect and consequences because of my love of reading, curiosity to learn and access to reading materials.  My rebellion was governed by abject fear.

Could I have become pregnant? Of course. Would I have wanted an abortion? Absolutely.  An 11 or 12-year-old child is not mature enough physically or emotionally to carry a fetus to term without the probability of damaging her body or her mind to some extent. Add incest and rape to that mix and you would have a very disturbed young girl. Then of course she would give the child up for adoption and spend her life wondering if the child was happy, wanted to know who her birth parents were, etc. Or possibly her mother would say the child was hers and raise the baby as a sibling to the now damaged 12 year old.

Add to my own youthful fears the fact that years later my sister-in-law almost died from an ectopic pregnancy, was rushed to the hospital and saved by removing the fetus, and my philosophy on abortion rights became solidified. Pregnancies are not a walk in the park with a child attached to a rainbow at the park exit. Having gone through what would be considered an easy pregnancy and short, intense labor as an adult let me be witness to the fact that labor is about as painful as one can stand and carrying a child to term is not always easy on the mother to be.

I tend to agree that abortion should not be used as simple birth or sex control. The issue rests in the needs of rape victims, fetuses that expire in vitro but the woman is required to carry to term anyway, child incest victims or the woman’s life is endangered by going through childbirth. As has been a mantra from the past, “abortion should be safe legal and rare”.

I could easily have been one of those women, even as a child, bleeding my life out, because I knew even then I would not survive physically, emotionally or mentally if forced into carrying my fathers child. My rebellion saved me, but not all young girls have access to the information needed, the curiosity to discover facts and consequences, or the ability to fight back. Some abusing relatives are violent and prone to use force. The germ of my pro-choice leaning was born as a child of the 40’s and 50’s, but it was cemented through the tragic stories I heard throughout my adult years of the abuse suffered by girls and women while men (for the most part) determined the fate of these young ladies, and, until recently, society turned a blind eye.

What happened to me is long in the past, but it still lives in memory. I learned many words from my father a child should not know. I have very few memories of my normal childhood activities, whereas I have vivid memories of what I would like to forget. And yet, I was lucky. The sad, dreadful and very personal choice some women have to make, I was spared. Perhaps I was spared so that I could add my voice at this stage of my life to the chorus of women who wish to own their own bodies, and make their own life decisions. Perhaps we need a look backward at what it was like for women and girls 60 or 70 years ago…not as we saw on T.V., but as it was for real people. Perhaps we need to teach each other caring and empathy. Perhaps we need a little more love and understanding, and a little less “holier than thou”. Just, perhaps.