In Loving Memory of Katharine Hepburn
I heard something on the campaign trail this weekend that I'd like to address. I'm going to address it with the help of Katharine Hepburn, because this post is primarily directed at women over 50, and we all know who she is. If you are a man or a millennial, please do pull up a chair and stay. You may find something of interest here, too.
Katharine Hepburn was one of my faves. She was an icon of independence, sharp wit, and female equality. She was smart and classy and wealthy and headstrong and self-possessed. I aspired to be like her in my life, at times. We know that Hepburn's private, inner self was more nuanced than her public persona. (Duh. She was born in 1907!) The systemic obstacles that women of her generation had to negotiate required her to make tough personal and professional choices. She was a pro-choice feminist, an unapologetic atheist, and a liberal Democrat who fought for the ERA but nonetheless devoted much of her life to nursing Spencer Tracy through his addictions and mental health issues. She may even have been a closeted bisexual or lesbian, although we can't know for sure, just because she called herself "Timmy" as a child, was a "tomboy," and cut her hair short. All we know is that as an adult, she was considered ahead of her time and unconventional because she wore pants and sometimes, no makeup. FaCtS: She was brave for her time.
Hepburn was cool because she delivered hilarious zingers at men, while surviving the male-dominated studio system. The keyword? Surviving. Because she was not always thriving. In-depth articles about her -- like this one -- will point out that many of her best feminist roles ended with the shrew being tamed, retreating from her principles, accepting defeat. I think about the trajectory of feminism this way: Katharine Hepburn died in 2003 at 96 years old, after a lifetime of activism. It was still another 15 years before the Metoo movement gained traction, exposing the rampant sexual abuse by powerful directors and producers that impeded so many women's careers and lives.
We like to think we're always making progress. And we have. But gender stereotypes persist.
In a wonderful book written by Kasia Urbaniak, called Unbound: A Woman's Guide to Power, Urbaniak examines ingrained patterns of female conditioning and accommodation. She calls it the Good Girl double bind: Even strong, smart women -- Hepburns of today -- still avoid asking directly and persistently for what they want or deserve. Why? Because as soon as another person says no, to protect his own interests or views or position, a conflict may arise. And if the woman in that conflict doesn't drop her claim or her desire, in order to ease the conflict, then she may come across as too aggressive or demanding, even if the woman doing the "demanding" in any given situation is perfectly rational and reasonable and qualified and even correct. We could instead see it thus: If the definition of aggressing is "starting a conflict," (and it is), then asking for equal treatment isn't starting a conflict, because the original aggressor is the systemic inequality, and the people who continue to uphold inequality are, in fact, causing the conflict. Something to ponder....
Now, I've heard folks in the Incumbent Establishment say that Tracy and I -- and some of our supporters --have an agenda. I'm a legal nerd so at first, I thought: Hmm, what do our local code of ordinances, and our state statutes, say about board members having "agendas"? So I read the relevant statutes. They are not helpful, as it turns out, probably because an agenda is just a list of items for discussion. In fact, we do bring a fluid, working agenda to the table: We hope to balance the budget. Prepare for the climate future. Give families new communal recreation spaces. Make streets better and safer. Upgrade our technologies. Streamline our procedures. Fix our broken legal code. Make government more transparent, not only in terms of tax money and staff time, but also in terms of how we recruit and assign committee volunteers, so that more people, including the newer residents and younger families who will be here for years to come, trust in their local government.
Tracy and I have differences, too. But we share some broader, guiding principles. We want people in our community to feel connected, heard, and empowered, and --when their needs don't all align, and they won't -- we want to balance individual needs with the limits of our revenue stream, and the physical safety and comfort goals of as many residents as possible. We emphasize transparency and communication because we've heard from too many residents who've found our political process too cumbersome, complicated, obscure. Folks, we run on volunteer support; this is a real problem. Small municipalities everywhere are disappearing, in part because their longtime leaders failed to be fiscally responsible, transparent, modern, and responsive to their diversifying constituents. Here's one discussion of it. We aim to strengthen Shorewood for the future, using best practices and responsible leadership, and we believe we are the best candidates for this job.
So that's our agenda. But then I started thinking: Do people really mean agenda, anyway? Or do they actually mean a hidden agenda, a secret agenda, an ulterior motive? And what would this secret agenda be, I wonder? Well, I suspect what they really mean by agenda is that we are women who won't back down from a conflict with them -- whether that's over broken laws, tough decisions, or civil rights. We already know from talking to people that women have attempted to participate on powerful committees over these many years, and have been dismissed or overlooked, without stated cause. In the absence of better information, this pattern suggests that some people in charge deem themselves qualified and authorized to decide which women are agreeable and acceptable, and which are not. This practice both demonstrates and reinforces the view that women trying to share power have a hidden agenda, while the incumbent powers rule only with objectivity and value neutrality and compromise. That view is misleading, untrue, and dangerous to democracy.
So I would humbly ask you, residents and voters, simply to listen with skepticism. Reach out if you have questions about "our agenda." Tell us yours. We're very enthusiastic listeners. We want to communicate with people, openly. What we cannot do -- while we campaign to work for this community -- is settle for flinging witty zingers into a void like Katharine Hepburn did. With ALL due respect to her, women have come too far in the last twenty years to 1)ask for what we want, 2) make a good argument for it, but 3) expect and accept failed systemic outcomes and superficial forms of equality. These stereotypes aren't working for any of us. We almost lost our democracy in 2020. We need to build it back up, starting with our own empowered and informed community. We need to include more people and new perspectives. We need it for our daughters, but also our sons. We don't have any more time to wait.