|December 29, 2011||The Bus Stop Divide: Working versus Stay-at-Home Women||3 comments|
|December 19, 2011||The Pitfalls of Political Withdrawals: Remembering the Hmong||3 comments|
|November 16, 2011||Talking with the Taliban?||4 comments|
The Feminist Movement has a long and interesting history that has been written by many women who are greater than I will ever be. Partially because of that movement, I grew up understanding that my voice is as loud as my brother’s. I have never been told I am limited simply because of my gender. I have always had choices, and that is a beautiful thing.
However, there is another side to all this “choice” that warrants discussion.
Not that long ago, I ran into a friend of mine who has three gorgeous children as well as a demanding job as a lawyer. She is ebullient, smart, and ambitious, and I am certain she is capable of making partner at her firm if that’s the path she chooses.
Yet our conversation took a familiar turn when she acknowledged it is difficult to balance professional pursuits and parenting. The expectations that are put upon modern women to achieve that perfect balance can feel a bit crushing. Per the blurred roles many women now play, there is a tug that constantly pulls on a woman’s spirit, that can rip her apart if that pull becomes a tug-of-war on her time and emotional resources.
This brings me to the great lie ultra-feminists seem to have established as the gold standard for which we must all aspire. When we are young, we are told we can have everything, but how is this possible? Most of us are not wonder women. We cannot bend time. We must choose one stage on which we’ll star, or we must accept we will play supporting roles that don’t come with top billing.
Intellectually, I think women know this is truth. Emotionally they often feel that when they can’t do it all, they are less than everyone else. Forget the professional glass ceilings that are inevitable for women who in their prime earning years choose to interrupt careers with the duties of child rearing. Forget the men they say get in their way when they want to move forward. Women judge themselves much more harshly than men ever could, and they also judge other women.
As my lawyer friend pointed out to me, this is clearly evident at her Cobb County bus stop where women who work and women who don’t show up in their respective suits or slippers to send their children off to school most mornings. The suits stand on one side of the curb. The slippers stand on the other.
Perhaps in those wee morning hours, the working moms are dismissively thinking as Hillary Clinton once said, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession…”
At the same time, perhaps the stay-at-home moms feel superior as they know they will be back at the bus stop in the afternoon, and they will provide the snacks and supervision for some of those latchkey kids, who crave adult attention that they simply won’t get from their own parents,
Who is better? Suits or slippers?
Now that’s a loaded question.
Personally, I’ve been on both sides of the bus stop divide, and I know the choice to work outside the home or not, is never clear-cut. Sometimes finances determine this choice, especially in a downturned economy. Sometimes a special circumstance such as a special needs child makes pursuing a profession more difficult.
So when I asked friends this question—which choice is more valid--regardless of their household circumstances, I wasn’t surprised when many of them came clean about feeling judged for whichever life they’d chosen and resenting women in the opposite position.
One said, “I’m sick to death of hearing stay-at-home moms say they’re tired.” But another noted when she worked in an office, she felt she had more time to sit down and gather her thoughts, so working outside the house was easier in her opinion than the constant treadmill lifestyle of catering to kids, making contributions to her family that she felt were as valid as her husband’s paycheck.
This all brings me back to those feminists.
I understand mothers who work in and outside the home are the same in that both are working. Both must prioritize in their lives, and both are often left questioning whether or not what they are doing is the right thing for themselves or for their families.
Neither one can do it all.
Perhaps instead of staring quietly at each other across the bus stop divide as if suits or slippers signify different tribes, women should have more open and honest conversations about the implications of the choices we all must make and how these choices truly impact us and our society. Perhaps through mutual respect, we could even find a way to help each other.
After all, I believe we should embrace the choices feminism has opened up for us, but we should also understand that reality shows us choices are inevitable.
If we don’t accept this truth, we will never feel whole, as we will always be torn in two by none other than ourselves.
In the end, that’s far worse than being judged by someone else.
As our flags go down over Iraq and surge troops pack to leave Afghanistan, I cannot help but think about that other war to which our current entanglements in the Middle East are so often compared. I especially worry that while President Barrack Obama is keeping campaign promises to antiwar activists that the United States might inadvertently inflict damage on allies who must continue to live in regions we evacuate long after we’re gone. After all, this is exactly what happened to the Hmong in Laos after Vietnam. To add insult to injury, not only were these allies abandoned for political reasons, most Americans have never even heard of them.
Even so, originating in the mountainous regions of China, the tribal Hmong people have a long history that extends more that 2,000 years. They moved south to escape brutal Chinese oppression at the beginning of the 19 th century. There they were subject to new influences, as Laos became a French protectorate in 1893. In the first half of the 20 th century, Hmong clans would fall on different sides of the “Free Lao” movement, which would further complicate their modern history.
Regardless, in 1961, one of these Hmong factions led by Vang Pao, a Royal Lao Army officer, answered the call of the CIA under President John F. Kennedy to open a secret front designed to resist the advance of communism. Armed by the United States to be guerillas in Laos and working as spies who gave safe haven to American pilots shot down over the jungle, these Hmong valiantly fought for American interests for more than a decade.
Unfortunately, the Hmong decision to ally with the United States would prove to be a costly one. Apparently unconcerned about the consequences that were inevitable for any American allies abandoned in the region, Congress stopped funding the war effort in Vietnam in 1975. For many of the Hmong, this political action of “friends” in Washington meant exile or death was soon to follow.
In fact, many Hmong were simply shot and killed by the triumphant Pathet Lao communists. Soldiers who had served with Vang Pao were sent to “re-education” centers where they suffered through hard labor and starvation. Hmong peasants who remained in the hills were (and are) subjected to political indoctrination “seminars” and forced labor collectivization.
All of this gave rise to refugee camps that still exist on the Thai border, which is where I first encountered the Hmong. In the 21 st century, those Hmong who are in these camps live in a perpetual no man’s land without hope of entering Thai society, kept under tight military scrutiny, and frightened of taking their children back to Laos.
For this reason, many Hmong are still granted political asylum to live in the United States, and there is even a Hmong community in the Atlanta area. In light of our current withdrawals, it’s ironic that Vang Pao, the complicated but revered leader of the Hmong who continued to work for his people while in exile, just passed away in 2011.
Of course, I know the United States can never leave troops in any one country forever, and President George W. Bush created our withdrawal date in Iraq. However, I cannot help but be concerned about the political machinations that seem to have infiltrated military decisions in the Middle East because I know—while liberals at home may think they’re doing something wonderful for the people we leave behind—if we are not careful, we will create new misery and hardship for those who bravely partnered with us to build better futures in their countries. To prove this point I only need to remember the Hmong.
Rising to prominence in the wake of a power vacuum after years of devastating war in the late twentieth century, the Taliban derives its name from a plural version of the Arabic word talib or student because it was first controlled by disaffected youths educated in Pakistani madrassas.
An extremist group of radical Islamist militants, the Taliban has forced members of minority religions within Afghanistan to wear tags to identify themselves as non-Muslims, instituted medieval punishments such as stoning and amputation for petty crimes, outlawed free speech and education for women who are now treated by Taliban men as less than chattel, sanctioned murder, and reigned with uplifted fists closed as iron tight around guns as any Nazi fascist’s in the dark days of Hitler. The Taliban has openly harbored terrorists, killed American soldiers, and brutalized local populations with a totalitarian mindset focused on restoring an absolutist (and ideally global) caliphate in which human rights are secondary to an ideology built upon a terrifying zealotry.
Yet President Obama announced as part of an American drawdown from Afghanistan, our country is about to “reconcile [with] the Afghan people, including the Taliban.” Furthermore, Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that, “You end wars, unfortunately, by talking with people whose interests and values are very much opposite of yours."
Is it common practice to leave a political entity with different interests and values, which many in the United States consider evil, standing in a country after they have been brought militarily to their knees? If so, why bother to go to war to topple them from power in the first place? Why did we follow a policy of deNazification after World War II? Why did Allied powers occupy Japan for seven years after an unconditional surrender that required a new constitution be written? How were those countries rebuilt in a more Western image when we certainly did not initially share the same ideals?
I understand that Afghanistan is a complex and multilayered political problem for the Obama administration. The years of war under Bush were no less frustrating. I also must acknowledge we have achieved part of our mission by destabilizing al-Qaida in the region and killing Osama bin Laden. However, if we are to claim any moral authority — or to seek any long-term solutions in what has long been a troubled country — it seems nonsensical to pretend the Taliban, which can’t be ignored ever again, can be moderated now through diplomacy.
Rather, if any move towards freedom or enlightenment or human dignity is ever to be made — those things we portend to uphold — a malicious group like this one, which is not even as old as I am, must be disabled, disbanded, destroyed before it takes deeper root. Period.