Ms. Magazine and Me
Questions and issues around childlessness are significant and worthy of exploration. This was more evident than ever when I found myself on the campus of Stanford University for a Ms. magazine 40th anniversary forum.
Fellow blogger, Mali in New Zealand, and I have written extensively on the insidious cultural conditioning that devalues women without children. Her latest writing, a passionate post titled, “She has no children. She has nothing,” led me to share this comment:
“One of my long-time blog pen pals once observed that women without children after infertility are extraordinary — in large part because we have to examine ourselves, our relationships and our place in society in a way most ordinary people don’t. Furthermore, we redefine and find our happiness at a point in life when most people, busy raising kids, are on auto-pilot. That puts us much further ahead and able to roll with the changes that life inevitably throws at us…”
Mali and I also responded to two other equally heartfelt posts, one on Simply Inconceivable and one on Real Life & Thereafter. Each ignited more conversations and comments.
And that’s a good thing because the more we (and I mean that to be all inclusive) hash out our thoughts and experiences the more we learn not only about ourselves, but about others.
Ms. 40th Anniversary
This point was underscored recently during a panel discussion Ms. @ 40 and the Future of Feminism.
I was eight years old when Ms. first arrived on the on the news stand.
Among those speaking were early editors of Ms. magazine: Marcia Ann Gillespie; Suzanne Braun Levine; and Helen Zia joined by newer feminist voices: Katherine Spillar; Miriam Zoila Perez; and Shelby Knox (perhaps best known as the subject of the Sundance award-winning film, The Education of Shelby Knox — by all means rent it).
With this diverse set of life experiences — outside the ordinary — on the dais were there differences in opinion? You bet. Have they encountered misunderstandings over time as a result of age, race, religion or sexual orientation? Uh, huh. Were there competing agendas? Hell, yes! And that, according to Ms. Braun Levine, was the nature of a Ms. magazine editorial staff meeting. Near the close of the panel, she observed that the audience had, in fact, “just witnessed an editorial meeting live.”
The incongruities, all agreed, are what has kept Ms. edgy, provocative and not always in step with its readership.
Our readers often informed us, Ms. Gillespie explained, “their letters and phone calls pushed us forward.”
Beyond the Ordinary
You don’t have to identify as a feminist to know that women have always found it difficult to agree. It’s not just our age but our complex life experiences that shape our often differing views.
Each woman brought a unique perspective to the wide-ranging panel discussion, which prompted questions including, “How did we end up with Sarah Palin 40 years after the women’s movement?” and “How do you explain the return to the extreme sexual objectification of women?”
I madly scribbled notes in the standing room only venue. During the 90 minute discussion here are some of the comments I captured (do any of these sentiments sound familiar?):
“The stories I read made me feel less alone and more pissed off. Hearing your own pain and struggle in another woman’s voice you realize you’re not crazy or unreasonable. It’s the world around you that is…”
“Other women’s stories help us make sense of our own.”
“Our tribes are necessary to define and defend who we are…”
What seemed to resonate most with me from the panel discussion and through the blog posts linked in the second paragraph is the obligation we all have “to bring stories to the people who are not living the experience.”
That’s what we in this extra ordinary community, this tribe are doing with each blog post we write and share.
p.s. One other thing that struck me — standing in that campus’ humanities building surrounded by females ranging in age from 18-70 — were the topics unbroached — anything “mom.” Zip. Nada. Zilch. It was amazing — and refreshing. It was just plain nice in an era where “as a mom” seems to dominant (and, at times, divide) all conversations to feel included as a woman.
p.p.s. This post marks my blogiversary. Five years in the blogosphere, my dear Internets. And for those of you who are not familiar with Avril Lavigne’s songwriting, you may find these lyrics from ‘Anything But Ordinary’ particularly relevant:
To walk within the lines
Would make my life so boring
I want to know that I
Have been to the extreme
So knock me off my feet
Come on now give it to me
Anything to make me feel alive…
14 thoughts on “Ms. Tales ‘Anything But Ordinary’”
I’m going to check out all those blog posts you linked, and the meeting sounds very interesting. I’m sure (despite the audience’s diversity) that I don’t easily number within their ranks, because I definitely don’t self-identify as a feminist, so perhaps my view on this matter carries no weight. However: I think the vilification of Sarah Palin (which you echoed only lightly, I realize) is unjustified and unacceptable. How did we “end up with” her? Well, she was born, like the rest of us women, and tried to live her life according to her convictions. They may not be the same as those of the editors of Ms., or their audience, but she is no less entitled to her opinions, her humanity, or her gender because she ran for Republican office, or has been proud rather than ashamed of being a conservative, or has happily hailed from an area other than New York or Los Angeles, or because she decided not to abort her disabled child (which I think, in the eyes of many, is her real crime). I certainly appreciate that many do not agree with her, and I don’t agree with all of her ideas or methods of presenting them, but the degree to which she has been demonized (and her family attacked) regularly astounds me. In fact, I think that exposes what I consider one of the chief ills of feminism – its arrogance in determining that it speaks for all women (whether they have ratified its representation or not), and then decides what women may believe and still be allowed to be “women” (refer to Camille Paglia’s piece on Sarah Palin), and viciously attacks any others. Feminism has, in my experience, defended “freedom” for women only if and insofar as they use that freedom to pursue EXACTLY the goals approved by the feminist movement. One would expect that a female governor and VP candidate AND working mother would be an exemplar of the movement’s success – a woman who uses her enfranchisement and her agency as a political and human person to pursue the values and goals she holds dear. In my opinion, the failure of feminists to do that betrays the fact that feminism is, at its core, a lie.
I try not to debate politics on IF blogs, I really do, but then, if we’re to be affirmed in our diverse experiences of women, I think a drive-by attack (or ratification of another’s attack) on Sarah Palin has no place. Just my $.02.
first of all: congratulations for the fifth blogoversary!!!
I didn’t know this Avril’s song… I am listening to it now, on youtube. It is beautiful! Yes, the lines are powerful…
I agree that most women living childfree after infertility are extraordinary. Because we can not rely on our children as a source of happiness, we have to reinvent ourselves and find alternative sources of happiness. I am better at this each year!
So glad to read about Ms.’ event. How good to feel included as a women!
First, can I say that I am SO JEALOUS you got to go to an event like that?? lol Second, that I completely agree. We need to ensure that all women’s voices & experiences get shared and heard and valued, and that includes ours. I love that the conversation was all about women, & not necessarily women as mothers, even though the majority of women in that room were probably mothers or expecting to be mothers someday. It’s a big part of the female experience, for sure, but it isn’t the only experience.
Happy 5 Year Blogoversary Pamela! Your book and blog were the first lights in a dark tunnel I found myself in when I was deciding to be a Non-Mom. Thank you for your courage, inspiration and your extraordinary example! Thank you also for mentioning my blog!
Wow! 5 years! That is amazing and wonderful. You are an inspiration and I am proud to call you friend.
It sounds like a great event you were able to attend (other than having to stand through it). I am learning myself that there is a lot to be gained from hearing other people’s stories. Thanks for your inspiring writing!
Thanks Klara – for some reason your line about not relying on our children as a source of happiness really resonated with me. That is what the parent centric world really, really does. This whole post is great and it does remind me of the Robert Frost poem of the road less traveled which is what all of us are on.
it was lovely to see your comment!
Yes, I agree… it is difficult in parent centric society. I learned (for now) to be happy only getting as much moments of happiness as I can.
Uf, hard to find the right words in English. Would much easier express my feelings in Slovenian :)
Wishing you all the best!
Congrats on your 5 years!!! That’s awesome. I also feel very honored to have a link on your blog :)
So many of those comments DO sound familiar. We do need each other as we all add something to the conversation and I find myself inspired by so many of the women I have met since infertility. I also love getting these different perspectives. It is the best.
Happy Belated blogoversary!