Mary Beth Writes

4/19/2022

Who’s in the Mirror? Representation Matters

Old story, I’ve probably mentioned it before: In 1977 I was visiting a friend in Ohio for a weekend. We went to her United Methodist Church on Sunday which is in itself amazing since we were two single 20-something women who had been out drinking the night before.

The minister was a woman. She preached an interesting sermon using Bible scripture and a couple stories of her own. She never raised her voice. She didn’t use multisyllabic words. She didn’t swing her arms around or stab the air to makes points. She just talked.

It was the first time I had observed and listened to a female preacher.

Within a year I was in seminary.

Representation matters.

We think something is too hard, or some option we admire is for more impressive people than ourselves. We think an activity or opportunity is not acceptable or appropriate for the sex, gender identification, age, abilities, IQ, race, ethnicity, or body shape that we are. We self-limit ourselves knowingly or unwittingly. We follow arcane and non-relevant laws and rules because we don’t even realize how co-opted our lives are.

When we live in someone else’s paradigm much of it makes enough sense. We get used to the feel of the place and don’t realize we live in lies and indoctrination.

Such as women and girls being embarrassed by what our bodies do. Our mortification at having periods and someone might be able to tell. The myriad goopy wonders of pregnancy and menopause. But then some person we respect says aloud some of the words; periods, menstruation, vagina, discharges, abortion, cramps and yes, the hormonally driven flabby arms of old women - and inside we cringe while wondering – why am I ashamed?

We have learned all our lives to hide mention or discussion of sexual assault because it isn’t a ‘fit’ topic. Right? I believed this for decades. One never mentions rape anywhere except in support groups for survivors. Keep it hidden and private.

When I was running the Employability Skills program in the jail, I occasionally attended seminars on relevant topics. I once went to a workshop run by local women who offered programs for women who had experienced sexual assault. I learned a lot and then took a stack of their business cards. The following week I was running a program upstairs in the jail for about ten women. I was a hesitant to offer the cards because how awkward would YOU feel if YOU were offered contact information for services that help victims of rape? Isn’t this too intense and off-putting? Who, me?  

I will never forget that first moment when I offered those cards. Not one snicker. Each women took one, several took more because they wanted to give them to sisters or friends. All of those women had experienced sexual assault and violence, many as kids.

And yet we don’t mention sexual intimidation or assault in “polite society” because as long as it is too uncomfortable to mention - it won’t seem real.

Representation matters. Say what’s true.

Most of us don’t talk about race and ethnicity, we just have opinions about it. Yet I can tell you the ugly racist things my very nice grandpas said about people of color. I know what I witnessed and inherited. This is not Critical Race Theory, it’s what we saw and heard and where their prejudice came from, too.

We don’t talk about money and debt. We don’t talk about our children who didn’t “succeed” by conventional definitions of that. We don’t talk very much about our family members who are affected by drugs and alcohol, even though if we all did, we would discover how not alone we are.

..

Writing for me is often an unexpected journey of getting on the horse that walks by and then I keep on going. This morning I read this current ACLU list of banned books. I copied it because I don’t know most of these titles; I want to borrow them from the library to read.  

This growing (or so it feels) cultural fog of intolerance is ugly, strange, and fueled by ignorance and greed. Fight it by saying what’s true.

Don’t let them define who we are, what our experiences have been and are now. It’s critical that we keep saying who we really are. Representation matters.

James Baldwin: “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

…………………………..

Like I just said; I don’t know most of these books. Some are for adults, some are YA, some are kid’s books. But if you want to support representation then borrow, buy, and read some of these books.

ACLU list of books most challenged right now in various states and school districts.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman, illus Diana Souza (1989 picture book for kids)

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George Johnson (about being Black and queer)

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe (being non-binary)

Melissa by Alex Gino (POV of a trans girl)

“Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds (a book for Black kids/all kids that helps them understand how the history and legacy of slavery and racism affects their lives now) 

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely    YA novel

Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison (Mexican American boy; poverty, sexuality, self-identity)

“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas (Black girl on scholarship at a privileged-kids high school and the racism she observes and experiences trying to put her two worlds together)

Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

 

Comments

I think people see me and see a white woman with no financial worries and an easy life. Ahhhh…my parents were racists and alcoholics; my sister and I could never spend the night with friends because we “ could not reciprocate”. It was not that the house was small, we never knew how my father would behave. He could be a violent drunk. I have one of those children who is not successful and has an alcohol problem that rears it’s head from time to time. I have been to a lot of alanon meetings and was surprised by the number of accomplished people who fought their way away from bad situations. I could share with them but not the straight people I meet even though I know a lot of us have wrestled with the same demons. It is hard for me to step away…
Mary Beth's picture

Len's parent were both alcoholics. My family was hugely affected by alcoholism. Of the 30-40 people of my great grandparents' generation, every single one of them was a rigid born-again Christian or a drinker. In our middle 30's both Len and I did a lot of reading and therapy and talking about what it means to grow up in families woven with alcoholism. One of my weirdest memories is of talking about this with a new person at a party. Another person, a "friend", came up and said, "Are you talking about alcoholism again, Mary Beth? You'll talk about it to just anyone, won't you?" Bingo. Don't mention it. Talk about the weather and sports, I guess. Nope.

I tend to talk and question everything that affects me and my life whether it ends up taking things apart or not… I was in a relationship that was affected by male rape that happened decades ago, and yet was with us almost constantly because it had never been addressed, and my partner had never gone in search of counseling/treatment for what happened to him… It tore apart our relationship because he refused to seek treatment, so I did it and remain in treatment to this day (best thing I’ve done for myself in years…) I’ve spoken about the way I’ve been treated differently because I happen to be a POC which I’ve been told NOT to call myself because it makes non POC uncomfortable to hear me describe myself as such (too bad people it is what it is…) I have not only discussed my use of drugs to try to end my life, but I’ve also talked about how drugs affected my family members… I’ve spoken a great deal about the way my parents and siblings addressed the fact that I wasn’t as book smart as my parents thought that I should be… Or their embarrassment at having a child who didn’t quite meet their expectations of what and who I should be…I speak the truth about these things helps those in the same situation, and because hiding it helps absolutely no one… it only act’s to cover up the the simple truth that we all have issues…
Mary Beth's picture

Yup, we all do.

yup, we all do

yup, we all do

Representation matters. Yes, it does. I am being weighed down by what I see happening in our country, this desire to silence, while being done in the name of "freedom." I struggle to understand. Representation matters. Patricia
Mary Beth's picture

... and here we are, hoping Disney (???) will protect us from our legislators and judges.

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