An emptiness about the heart of life

I will share a few photos from our weekend in London with Grace and Jack, but I feel like I can’t post anything without saying a few words about Sunday’s massacre in Orlando.

I am so heartbroken and grieved for our country. We are such a disaster right now. I grieve for the LGBTQ community in Orlando and in the United States at large. I have ignorantly and naively believed that homophobia is passé, that we have progressed beyond such hatred and bigotry, and that gay people can finally exist, on the whole, in freedom and safety. Sunday was a horrific reminder that they cannot and do not.

And our country cannot and does not dwell in safety — but rather wallows in paranoia — because we are ignorant. Because the NRA lines the pockets of our legislators. Because we have chosen to believe that more assault rifles, legally, in the hands of civilians is a virtue. Because our elected officials would rather give people on terrorist watch lists access to guns than curtail the expression of the sacred (and I declare, fraudulently interpreted) Second Amendment. Because we would rather prop up a military state controlled by a reality TV star-cum-tyrant than live in freedom. We seem prefer this world of terror to the humanist and democratic ideals that the United States of America was supposedly inspired by.

Racism, fear, and ignorance will never make America great again. Trump and the Republican party seem to believe that they will.

But I can only hope — with no small degree of desperation these days — that the majority of Americans will look to Orlando, will look to the monthly mass shootings, will look to the faces of refugees and imprisoned black men and transgender people in North Carolina, and say: We reject fear. We choose freedom.

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On wearing clothes

Wardrobe essentials

“Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.” — Virginia Woolf, Orlando

At the turn of each new year, I apparently expend a good deal of mental space thinking about clothes. What can I discard and donate now? What did I not wear in the past year? What, in Kondo’s life-changing phrase, sparks joy?

If anything, the simple act of tidying my wardrobe sparks joy for me. (I unashamedly admit that I love folding my underwear.) Last night, I edited my closet and came up with armful of things, once more, that I ought not hold onto. It thrilled me. I am so much happier with less.

Wardrobe essentials

But. I am struggling with a new desire. I do not want a pile of new things, but I want but fewer, far more expensive, and well-made things. Gobs of cheap garments from Target and Old Navy no longer appeal to me, as they did when I was younger. I just want one ludicrously expensive pair of jeans. Or a luxurious, sustainably made handbag. Which is a different (fiscal) problem altogether.

My style aspirations haven’t changed at all since I last wrote about them. I still want to dress like a Parisienne, however that is within my power in Central Virginia. I have successfully edited out most colors and prints, except for stripes. I wear rather plain things now, and I love it.

Simply put, people who say they “don’t care about clothes” are not truthful. Everyone cares about clothes. Everyone makes deliberate choices about what they buy and how they wear it. Our wardrobes are not happy accidents.

What people mean when they say this is that they don’t care about fashion or trends. Which is fine. But everyone cares about clothes.

And that is why I like thinking about clothes and observing what people wear and why. What we say to the world through what we wear. Is the image that I think I’m projecting through my clothes what the world actually receives? It is something to ponder.

Next: Perhaps some thoughts on uniforms and minimalism.

Women walking

A Shaker woman with her dog, from the LIFE Magazine Archives.
A Shaker woman and her dog. Source: LIFE Magazine Archives.

Women have routinely been punished and intimidated for attempting that most simple of freedoms, taking a walk, because their walking and indeed their very beings have been construed as inevitably, continually sexual in those societies concerned with controlling women’s sexuality.

— Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

Since finishing Rebecca Solnit’s lovely book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, I have continued to reflect on the pleasures of a good, long walk.

Specifically, I feel breathless when I consider the large number of barriers that still exist to women who dare to walk alone.

(1) In history, any woman who was on the street alone was a prostitute (a street-walker). Even today, any woman who exists on a street unaccompanied by a man could be accused or suspected of prostitution. In some countries ruled by fundamentalist religion, it is still unlawful for a woman to exist in public without being accompanied by a man. (I recall Malala Yousafzai laughing about the absurdity of this rule in her memoir; by law, she had to be accompanied by a man on her errands in her Afghan village. But that “man” was her 4-year-old brother, who she was just baby-sitting on the way to the market. But by Taliban order, he fulfilled the law and was “protecting” her.)

(2) Furthermore, women are daily subjected to sexual harassment if they deign to exist on a public street alone. Regardless of attire, women come to expect some form of verbal or even physical harassment on the street. A woman alone on a street? Surely she deserves to be ridiculed and disgraced for her existence, for her outrageous boldness to possess a body! So men may yell at her, shout obscenities at her, do whatever possible to make her feel belittled, ashamed, and used.

(3) Women’s clothing has also been a barrier to free movement. And even though women no longer have to wear corsets and yards and yards of fabric to pass the muster of common decency, we are still hobbled by high heels and mini-skirts. Woolf puts the sartorial tension between the sexes perfectly in Orlando:

Thus, there is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking. So, having now worn skirts for a considerable time, a certain change was visible in Orlando, which is to be found even in her face. If we compare the picture of Orlando as a man with that of Orlando as a woman we shall see that though both are undoubtedly one and the same person, there are certain changes. The man has his hand free to seize his sword; the woman must use hers to keep the satins from slipping from her shoulders. The man looks the world full in the face, as if it were made for his uses and fashioned to his liking. The woman takes a sidelong glance at it, full of subtlety, even of suspicion. Had they both worn the same clothes, it is possible that their outlook might have been the same too.

— Virginia Woolf, Orlando

(4) Accordingly, violence against women is commonplace, and so a woman alone is constantly thinking about being mugged, assaulted, or raped. And yet this threat of violence is also used to keep women continually living in a state of fear; to live under the constant reminder that you are never safe, you are never whole unless you have a male protector from male violence.

It is simple, societal examples like this the mere consideration of something as mundane as walking that makes me ASTOUNDED when people say that we have no need for feminism, that our feminist work here is done. Or when supposedly intelligent women eschew the term “feminist” as if it were an epithet; it really and truly blows my mind.

Solnit writes in Wanderlust that she had been followed by a man who was yelling vile sexual proposals to her. When she finally turned around and told him off, he was livid and told her she had no right to speak to him that way and threatened to kill her. She writes:

It was the most devastating discovery of my life that I had no real right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness out-of-doors, that the world was full of strangers who seemed to hate me and wish to harm me for no reason other than my gender, that sex so readily became violence, and that hardly anyone else considered it a public issue rather than a private problem. I was advised to stay indoors at night, to wear baggy clothes, to cover or cut my hair, to try to look like a man, to move someplace more expensive, to take taxis, to buy a car, to move in groups, to get a man to escort me—all modern versions of Greek walls and Assyrian veils, all asserting it was my responsibility to control my own and men’s behavior rather than society’s to ensure my freedom.

So, what is a modern woman to do if she wants to take a walk?

Simply, I think, keep walking.

I have also found that having a pair of German shepherds is a benefit. For better or worse, I never feel my typical whispers of fear when I am walking solo if I have Pyrrha and Eden at my side. In general, people don’t try to eff with German shepherds. (Even though the worst my dogs would do to you is jump on you and maybe bark in your face.) But they are my constant walking companions. Scary or no, they improve my mental state. There is nothing quite so enjoyable as a good, long walk with a dog at one’s side.

My feminism posts always end with this note of grim reality, a recognition that women are still not free. It drags me down, but I am resolved to keep thinking and walking, regardless of cultural mores, and take the dogs with me.