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Running While Woman

June 10, 2016

It’s not illegal, not even a misdemeanor.   Might she be pulled over and checked out, arrested, injured? Yes. Of course.

1) When and where I was in grade school, during the Truman and early Eisenhower years, shortly after a war, girls ran on the play ground until age 10 or 11, and then only in gym class, where they wore a strange-looking garment, as if to identify the prisoners, by sexualized de-sexualized gender. By the time we reached high school they stopped running. Good girls didn’t run. Or if they did, by then they had learned good form in feminine running. You can try it: no digging for speed at the start, straight-up from go; and most important, hold both arms up and out to the side, horizontal, then crook your elbows so that your upper arms and hands point straight up (your arms form standing Ls); now try to run, and as you take each step, hold your shoulders, ribs, and arms stiffly in line, but twist your trunk to push your arms alternately forward with each step.

You seriously have to experience it. Feels awkward? Looks silly? Hey, you’re being young ladylike.

2) Mothers

In Hillary’s eloquent victory speech on June 7 she explicitly campaigned as a feminist woman, running for women, running for power (as I’ve been hoping she would do). Her praise of her mother brought to mind my sister’s and my mother, who raised us with steadfast love in a painful life, and her mother, who lovingly helped from next door. Here I want to all-too-sketchily share a few of the sad, representative points in the common pattern that they shared.

Our grandmother, as a girl (about a hundred years ago) had a very promising voice, and the family hoped that she would train professionally. Instead she married the handsome young man and bore three children, beginning with our mother, who spent her girlhood protecting her mother and sibs from a violent alcoholic. (In those days drunken husbands often waved shotguns in the house. It was a thing.) She took after her father, however, in being intellectually and artistically lively, and so she wanted to go to college, as her father had. But only the son attended (for a year). With no prospect of financial independence (just before the employment of women as riveters) she married into ambivalence and bore a son, then five years later a daughter. (I’ll understate, with verisimilitude, what was missing in her sexuality—such a thing was generally believed not to exist for women, and shouldn’t.) Children expanded her life, but otherwise it was sealed, and it narrowed until she died of a heart attack at age 62 (five years after surgery for breast cancer). She had dealt with stress by smoking, and she didn’t exercise. I remember, for instance, that she wanted to bike ride, and her husband might have been right in insisting that it was too dangerous at her age. What if she fell? But how about daily walks? (That’s a rhetorical lethal question.)

I remember, too, mention when I went out for track, that as a girl she had been the fastest runner.

3) A Tale of Two Women

This personal reflection on political responses by women, which to me seems like remarkably telling evidence, is nevertheless strictly anecdotal—but hey, I’m narrating a novel, for goodness sakes.

Among my politically, sharply engaged friends are two women who are much alike but different. Both are bright, thoughtful, educated, cultured, traveled, artistic, hard-working and very competent. Both are at or beyond retirement age. One has retired from a top administrative position and enjoys the financial rewards of her achievement, including ownership of two residential properties. The other works as a waitress and recently moved to a different apartment, happily reducing her rent.

I’m not making this up. Both friends, both women, avidly supported a candidate in the Dem primary. Did they vote for the same candidate?

4) Among so many powerful images that have streamed into my unconscious life, during so many years, one that rises to the surface very, very often is of the line of women waiting to enter the shower building. Several persons are looking toward the camera, their eyes meeting my eyes, meeting their eyes. Their eyes. May they live forever, in Great Peace. I suppose I should ask the same for the women of the prison staff.

5) We have our breath.

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