Disce aut Discede

By the ’90s, when the soft curves of Ursula Andress had been replaced by the hard bodies of Cindy Crawford and Elle Macpherson, you still worked out to prepare for the beach or the bedroom. These days, though, you aren’t preparing for fun or romance. You’re preparing for an unforeseen natural disaster, or a burning building, or Armageddon.

The “extreme” version of anything is now widely assumed to be an improvement on the original rather than a perverse amplification of it. 

Michelle Obama’s career as a Harvard-educated lawyer and her near-perfect performance on the campaign trail made her appear poised to be able to hit that very narrow target of being an effective—but not overreaching—first lady. She even hinted at keeping her job—a 2008 article reported her as saying that she sees the role of the first lady as a full time commitment, but that “she reserved the right to change her mind if she gets there.”

Once in office, though, she visibly played it cautious, working only two or three days of the week and sticking to the traditional women’s and children’s-interest advocacy role. Since then, she has been labeled everything from absent to a feminist nightmare. Earlier this year, former White House Assistant Press Secretary Reid Cherlin outlined how Obama’s star faded when she became first lady because she was constrained by the very office everyone thought she could change. “That the position of first lady has become embarrassingly anachronistic is no big revelation,” Cherlin wrote. “But after the 2008 victory, there were hopes that Michelle Obama’s political appeal and charisma would enable her to transform it into something that reflected the role of modern women as equal participants in the political process.” (Jill Biden, however, is the first second lady in history to keep her job.)





credit: goodsoutherngrl

the pews of many of the Catholic churches I’ve visited are populous with worshipers on their second and even third marriages. They walk merrily to the altar to receive communion, not a peep of protest from a soul around them. They participate fully in the rituals of the church, their membership in the club uncontested.

The rules prohibit artificial birth control, and yet most of the Catholic families I know have no more than three children, which is either a miracle of naturally capped fecundity or a sign that someone’s been at the pharmacy. I’m not aware of any church office that monitors such matters, poring over drugstore receipts. And I haven’t heard of any teachers fired or parishioners denied communion on the grounds of insufficiently brimming broods. 

About teachers: When gay or lesbian ones are let go, the explanation typically cites their contractual obligations, as employees of Catholic schools, not to defy the church’s strictures, which forbid sexual activity between two men or two women.

But there are many employees of Catholic schools nationwide who aren’t even Catholic, who defy the church by never having subscribed to it in the first place. There are Protestant teachers. Jewish ones. Teachers who are agnostic and, quite likely, teachers who are atheists and simply don’t advertise it. There are parish employees in these same categories, and some remain snug in their jobs.

“Is it more important to believe in the church’s teaching on same-sex marriage than to believe in the Resurrection — or even that God exists?” asked the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and the author of the 2014 best seller “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.” “I don’t hear anyone calling for the firing of the agnostic parish business manager.”

Things I did not know about Alaska:

" … it’s a mistake to check Alaska off as bright red. Large numbers of voters here register as nonpartisan. We abolished the death penalty in 1957, two years before we were even a state. In 1959, we were the first state to adopt a minimum wage higher than the federal level, and we maintained the highest minimum wage in the country for more than 30 years. We were one of four states to legalize abortion prior to the decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973.”

 For centuries, women couldn’t protect their own safety through physical, legal or financial means. We couldn’t rely on the law if our safety was threatened. We couldn’t use our own money to escape or safeguard ourselves and our children, because we could not own property. Being likable, or at least acceptable to stronger, more powerful others, was one of our primary available survival strategies. For many women around the world, this is still the reality, but all women inherit the psychological legacy of that history. Disapproval, criticism and the withdrawal of others’ approval can feel so petrifying for us at times — life-threatening even — because for millenniums, it was.

Add to this history what we see in our time: Powerful women tend to receive overreactive, shaming and inappropriately personal criticism. Kirsten E. Gillibrand’s colleagues in the Senate making comments about her weight. Christiane Amanpour being blasted for expressing even a hint of anger about the deaths of children in Syria. Hillary Rodham Clinton for not looking well rested enough while circling the globe. In our Internet age, this criticism often also becomes vulgar, sexualized and angry.

"Our shortsightedness afflicts so many areas of public policy. We spend billions of dollars fighting extremists today, but don’t invest tiny sums educating children or empowering women, even though that’s the strategy with a solid record of success at reducing extremism in the medium term — and even though we can finance at least 20 schools for the cost of deploying one soldier abroad for one year."