08 March 2016

International Women's Day

According to my Facebook news feed, today is International Women's Day. According to the IWD website:
Worldwide, women continue to contribute to social, economic, cultural and political achievement.
And we have much to celebrate today. But progress towards gender parity has slowed in many places.
The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn't close entirely until 2133.
Education and representation are key elements of achieving gender parity, just as they are with most of the global-societal issues that we face (but that's an essay for another time). A few years back I was sitting in traffic while my mind wandered, thinking about a book of short stories I had recently read where all of the protagonists were women.

As my thoughts often do they crashed together and there I was with my foot on the brake, one eye on the stopped sea of cars in front of me, and my journal in hand as I feverishly scribbled down a list of titles. That list would eventually become "In Heels," the first in an ongoing series of short story collections about women but for everyone. Stories where the protagonist was both ordinary and extraordinary, but always a woman and never with a name, so that the person reading could more easily think of themselves as that person. I then published those stories under my pen name, "AK Moray."
But Rob, you ask, why the pen name? And furthermore, why are you -- a man -- writing stories about women? Well, I went with my pen name because for the new reader I didn't want to be dismissed out of hand as a man writing about women, to be somewhat tautological about it. As far as the level of my gall to attempt such a thing, these were stories I felt compelled to write. They are as much written as my extended thanks to all the strong and amazing women that I have had the honor to know in my life as they are my attempt to close that gender gap in my own small way by countering the onslaught of public perception and entrenched behavior of and toward women. Call me an ally. In hindsight, I've been told that the stories themselves are good.

I'll leave you with a pair of my writings. First, is the first story I wrote that eventually became the title piece for that collection. I wrote it that same morning, sitting on a Metro train on my way to work surrounded by fellow commuters, men and women alike:

In Heels 
You got this. You got this. This is nothing new, right? Remember mother's closet when you were six and she had all those pretty shoes and you knew being a grown up meant no school and money to buy everything you wanted, especially stickers and make-up and candy and shoes? Not just any pair of shoes, though - they had to be the right kind. Style, color, height - you listened to mom for what seemed like hours, not really understanding what she was saying but knowing that she was excited -- interested -- that you had found her shoes.
Part of you was relieved, even though at six you did not think about consequences of digging through someone else's closet uninvited. You sat there on the side of the bed, little feet barely holding on to the sparkliest pair of shoes you had ever seen, found at the back of her closet, in a box under two others.
They had been carefully wrapped in paper. They looked like Dorothy's slippers. They were so sparkly and so silvery-white that they seemed to have their own inner light, their own power. They were magical, you were certain, and when you put them on you were taller! And mother was suddenly very interested in sitting down with you and talking when she came into the room and saw you there, just before you opened her make-up drawer to complete your transformation. She talked to you -- with you, like equals -- about shoe shopping and finding the right size and then she told you that these shoes, those sparkly shoes that you already figured were magical, she said that they were Special Shoes, for special occasions. You knew then beyond any doubt that they were magical; something in mother's voice made you a little afraid of them; of their power. Her gentle tone had an edge to it that you would never have been able to directly recall that yes, I heard that in her voice, but still you slowly, carefully, reverently even though a six year old does not really know what reverence is, you slowly took off those magical shoes and put them back in the their box. You carefully wrapped them in their paper as you had found them. You handed the box to mother and checked your feet to make sure nothing had happened to them while inside the magical shoes. You wiggled your toes and waggled your feet but they were still just feet and toes. But you had to be sure, because that sort of thing happens when you mess with magic; everyone knows that.
You can do this, it is balancing like on ice skates, but way easier -- there is no cold, hard ice waiting for you if you slip, just the judging glares of all the other girls. Cold, icy. I bet they do not have problems with heels. Chrissy has been wearing them since seventh grade but mother told you it is because all the women in her family never get more than five feet tall so they want them to get used to it early. Chrissy pulled your hair and said you were the bitch when you pointed that out to her last year that she was being a bitch to all the girls who were not yet wearing heels.
You were not going to wear them this year but after finding the right dress your mom disappeared into her bedroom and came back to your room with a box you did not at first recognize. It did not crackle with magical energy like you remembered but it was ten years since you had seen it, Little kids imagine all kinds of things but then mother opened the box and peeled back the paper and there they were. Brighter than you remember. She laughed a bit when she handed you the box, but it sounded like maybe she was a little bit sad, too.
"I think they'll fit better this time," she said.
It was one of those moments when you thought that maybe mother does get it and then that warm memory of that special -- magical -- moment you shared way back then. Was it a decade or a lifetime ago? Those memories came flooding back and you hugged her tight and grinned as you would not do again for five more years, tears welling up in the corners of your eyes. Mother stayed in your room, chatting, but you made excuses and stalled and finally she got the hint and left you alone and here you are ten years and fifteen minutes later and you are still afraid to put them on because those are not just any shoes; those are The Heels: a milestone in rhinestones.
Take a deep breath, sit down. Take them out, slip them on. You do not need Prince Charming to get these glass slippers on you, girl.
No: Woman.
That's it: once these are on it is not just playtime in your mother's closet any more.
Everything is new. There are expectations.
You ready?

Finally, an excerpt from my upcoming book of poems, wherein I address my feelings about privilege, specifically my own:

Excerpt from "Hard Truth"
The Hard Truth is that I cannot shed my privilege like a coatBut I can be awareThat it's thereAnd be an allyEven though that might mean standing silent.

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