Mansplaining and Golda Meir

Savannah Morning News

Feb. 7, 2018

How about this flu? Is it over yet? It’s kind of freaking me out. All those viruses; I’m starting to think the Russians are behind it. Do we need a committee to investigate this?

How about that Roger Federer at the Australian Open? Thirty-six years old and still standing, still winning, still weeping after he’s done winning. And no whining when he’s not winning. Tennis continues to be the closest thing we have to a gladiator sport, two armed (with rackets) combatants in the ring. Mano a mano, hand to hand. Since none of my cable channels run the big tournaments I have to go up to the tennis courts at Forsyth Park to get my fix. Ringside seats, free admittance. There’s some lean and mean and young players there. And no commercials.

How about these women? I did not make it to this year’s march (it was a perfect day to plant sugar snaps, one of those must-get-my-hands-in-the-dirt days) but who could miss the post-march signs, the art, the fervor, the energy? One million people marched. “Resistance is not futile,” one sign read and, “A woman’s place is in your face.” I like that one. Something is going on here. It’s not the first time we’ve heard from women but in this latest version I’d say the movement has legs. If we don’t have a female president we do have lots of women running for office, speaking their minds, being heard. If we don’t have a truth and reconciliation commission, as they have in South Africa, we are starting to have our own form of truth and reconciliation.

It’s about time. Did I think twice in the mid-60’s when my high school principal told me not to wear pants when I showed up for my first job as a high school English teacher? No. I did what I was told (for a year).

Did we think it odd that women were kept from broadcasting positions because their voices were thin or their intellect lacked gravitas? No. Most of the time these broadcasters – men, women alike – are just reading the news anyway. Trust me, it was a big deal back then when women sat behind the reporting desk, when women did the reporting.

Would I refuse a man’s offer to change my tire? Heck no. But I do know how to use jumper cables to start my car. Red is positive, black is negative. And I do have a good mechanic.

And we do have a great, new word at our disposal: mansplaining.

Would that we had this word, this awareness years ago to deal with all the one-sided “conversations” we’ve had with men, waiting for them to get to the point.  But no. We just stood there mute or hushed or talked over while they offered those loud and long explanations guised in that “I know best” attitude. We just stood there and endured the hectoring, the swagger, the bluster, the interruptions, all the while thinking, “Boring! When can I get out of here?”

The other night at a concert a man behind us was speaking LOUDLY and OFTEN with no awareness of how his voice was carrying. “Mansplaining,” I whispered to a friend next to me. Would that I could have told him.

The good news is women seem to be waking up from a long, long slumber. So far, 325 non-incumbent women are running for the United States House compared to 167 two years ago with 38 running for positions in the Senate compared to 16 in 2016. This is just the beginning.

There’s plenty of room for women to rise in the ranks of leadership. But it’s good to remember none of it is new. Women have been making their voices heard for a long time.

Witness Golda Meir, Israel’s first female prime minister, who had to endure plenty of mansplaining, I’m sure. She was born in Ukraine and, an early immigrant, grew up in Milwaukee. As a Jew, as a lifelong battler for the state of Israel, she liked to call herself an atheist who identified culturally with Judaism. There’s a bold description.

The other day I came across the following passage in a biography I’m reading about her (“Lioness,” by Francine Klagsbrun).

When asked how she rose so far in the ranks of leadership she answered, “I don’t know anything about leadership. I can only tell you that I was going to the theater one evening and I got on the elevator. Nobody in the elevator bothered to move. So, I pressed the button. That’s all I can say about leadership.”

The last I checked there are still plenty of buttons that need pressing.





“I’m moving to Mexico”

Savannah Morning News


Jan. 28, 2018


I’m moving to Mexico.

Not today, not tomorrow, probably not next year. But I’d like to, maybe to Merida on the Yucatan peninsula, probably in the winter. Summers are scorching. The people are kind, they are good workers, they love the earth, they love their children, they love their fruits and vegetables, they take care of their elders. On Sunday afternoon, they go to the town square to walk around or sit on the benches. They schmooze. When the band – lots of horns, musicians of all ages – starts playing they start dancing. On Sunday morning in Merida they close the main street to cars from 8 a.m. to noon. Only bicyclists and walkers. This is for the people who live there, not the tourists.  Their tilework is exemplary, so too the marble. They eat a lot of turkey. One palm tree might produce 120 coconuts in a year; you can risk losing a finger by trying to pry open one of those suckers or you can give them to a neighbor, all of them. There are white pelicans. An Uber trip across town cost $1.67; the dollar is strong. Most drivers don’t speak English. You do not need a car to live there; buses work just fine and drivers are accustomed to looking out for people on bikes. Health care – available to everyone, resident or visitor – is cheap.

At restaurants, waiters serve women before men. Old school.

True to today’s world economy, the town has a Walmart, a Cosco, a Krispy Kreme, a Sears, a Best Buy, a Sam’s, a Starbucks, a Fuddruckers.  In a corner variety store that sold soft drinks, tortilla chips, candy bars, Bubbaloo bubble gum, tamarindo candy, candy fruit chews, Saliditoes (salted plums and apricots), Our Lady of Guadalupe candles, the daily newspaper and celebrity magazines, workers in hardhats and dirty jeans line up to buy lottery tickets. I did not pass anyone asking for money or sleeping in a cardboard box. There was a police presence but not a crime vibe. The drug cartel does not target the Yucatan. The peninsula is out of the way; it’s on the way to nowhere.

There seems to be a keen sense of aesthetics, including the large murals in the walled courtyard of the downtown Governor’s Palace by Merida artist Fernando Castro Pacheco (reminiscent of Diego River’s work at the Institute of Art in Detroit) and an impressive night-time laser show against the front of the Cathedral.

As with many of the colonial houses – or haciendas – they were built by the indigenous Mayans, often forced by the Spanish to re-use stone blocks from their own temples. Mayans, who date back 1,000 years B.C., still have a presence in Merida. Of the million or so residents over half speak Spanish and Mayan. At the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya – or the “bird’s nest” museum, reminiscent of the one in Beiijing –  many of the explanations are written in Mayan, a series of hieroglyphics or symbols presented as blocks in columns.

Our guide, Ricardo, whose grandparents on one side of his family were Mayan, knew a little of the language (probably as much as I know Yiddish), but, he said, it is still taught in certain schools. There appear to be lots of “k’s,” apostrophes, dashes and spaces between the words. Mayans, he said, were obsessed with construction. They would burn limestone into dust in their construction, a process that required high temperatures, which resulted in deforestation. “They were victims of their own success,” he said – and of the conquering Spanish.

“You can see Maya traits,” he said. “Black, straight hair. Big nose. Asian eyes. Brown skin. Not too tall. Like me. I’m a mestizo. Spanish and Maya.”

He founded forgiving toward the Spaniards. “The place you are at this very moment is the one you have to accept,” he said.

The spirit animal of the Maya people is the jaguar. (Just saying, Jacksonville).

That the pyramids, sacred temples dedicated to the Mayan gods, still exist – and are still available for tourists to see (although like Pompeii access is limited; you can no longer climb on them) – is a testament to the building acumen of the Maya people. The limestone blocks are fitted so tight, Ricardo said, a single piece of paper couldn’t slide through. Mayas were masters of physics, mathematics, the calendar and the astronomical system.

With balconies, ironworks, and curved doorways, the streets of Merida resemble New Orleans and/or Cuba. Except for the two-seater concrete chairs in the shape of an “s.” Painted white and called saillas tu y yo –  you and me chairs – they are unique to Merida. They are connected by arms on opposite sides so when you sit down you are facing the other person.

Houses sit close to the sidewalk; each neighborhood has a square, a church, a market, a bar/restaurant and sometimes a movie theater. When I was there, “The Shape of Water” was playing, a movie that had not yet come to Savannah.

I’m moving to Mexico.