Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Confessions of an Agnostic Catholic Feminist

There's an old joke about an elderly Italian woman who was praying in church when a workman saw her and decided to play a trick on her. He hid behind the statue of Jesus and called out in a deep voice, "I am Jesus and I hear your prayers." Nothing. The woman didn't react at all. He said it again, a little louder, "I am Jesus and I hear your prayers!" Nothing. The old woman shifted a little on the kneeler, but didn't take any notice of him. So he tried once more, even louder, "I AM JESUS AND I HEAR YOUR PRAYERS!" Finally, the woman looked up crossly and said, "Shutta your mouth, I'm talking to your mother!"

It's an old joke, but the spirit of this story is pretty close to some of the Italian and Hispanic women I worked with at a Catholic nursing home 30+ years ago. I wonder if this generation has died out by now. I was young when I worked there and still involved with the church. With my more reserved German Catholic heritage, I was somewhat shocked, listening to the women. There seemed to be so much superstition mixed in with their beliefs. Was this okay? I mean, they prayed to the saints, but if the saint didn't provide results quickly, their statue was turned to the wall, presumably in time out until they decided to behave.

The two stories have something in common. There is an intimacy in their connection with God, the saints, and especially, Mary. I often got the feeling that their talks to Mary were more like their conversations with each other. Granted, Mary didn't answer back - at least not out loud, so it may have been more of a monologue, but from what I had experienced of older women in groups, they tended to prefer simultaneous monologues and didn't seem to need anyone to provide answers.

At this point in my life, I do not go to church. I am not a religious Catholic. However, growing up in a very Catholic home, I can relate as a cultural Catholic. We still say a Catholic blessing before meals and I automatically make the sign of the cross after prayers or whenever I hear a siren.

When we left the church, we were tired of the hierarchy in Rome, tired of ambitious priests who became bishops and cardinals and went to Rome where they never had to associate with mere parishioners. We were tired of rules made by these men and appalled by the hurt caused by the priests who had molested young boys and how the church had protected the priests instead of the children.

Back to Mary - even though the church would vehemently deny this, it seems, according to their beliefs, she is right up there on the same level as God. Mary was born without original sin. The father of her son was the Holy Spirit, not an earthly man. And instead of dying, she was taken up into heaven in the Assumption. (I enjoy the choice of words: assumption. Did Mary just disappear one day and everyone just assumed she was in heaven?) These three events are things we would normally associate with gods. Mary is the closest there is to a female diety, a goddess, in a Christian church.

It's the one feminist part of the Catholic church and, like all things female, the male church seems to ignore this. The hierarchy reveres Mary while keeping her firmly in her place. The old women knew better. Mary was the Mother of God. Why go to God when you can talk to his Mother? Mary was much more approachable. She's one of them. Jesus was most important at Christmas because new babies were always exciting, especially baby God. Even as an adult, Jesus was still Mary's kid. After all, he was still single.

On Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus. It's all about the baby who was Christ who was God who performed miracles and who was killed and then rose from the dead. I think this year I'll think about Mary who gave birth in a stable filled with straw and farm animals and who nudged her son into turning water into wine (go Mom) and then had to watch her son pay the price of choosing an alternative career and rebelling against authority. 

Of course, we should also think of Joseph. Poor old Joseph doesn't get too much press, but he was rather important, too. 


Adam crunched contentedly, "Boys will be boys," he said.
Abraham sighed, beard in his soup, "Parenting is key."
And Joseph, Joseph shrugged over his ale. "Perhaps he'll be an engineer."

by John Reinhart, published in Black Heart Magazine.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

For Every Action

1. having or showing dogged determination not to change one's attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good reasons to do so.
2. difficult to move, remove, or cure
~from the Oxford English dictionary

Is it something about the American pioneering spirit, pullmeupbymyownbootstraps, rugged individualist that makes us so blasted stubborn? All these descriptions, stubborn included, are so often worn with pride in this country as though it's our straight A report card - but then, that's not right, either, because rugged pioneers aren't wimpy intellectuals so let's make that a straight B+ report card.

I'm stubborn, too. Why are we so proud of this? It usually doesn't serve me well. When I was co-teaching, the two of us teachers often disagreed. We couldn't work it out so we stubbornly disagreed. Digging in our heels was the least effective way to solve any issues because it meant we both became more extreme in our own opinions.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
~Newton's Third Law of Motion

And we've become a nation of extremists. We're either radically left or radically right, fundamentalists or atheists, pro-gun or anti-constitution, pro-life or baby killers, pro-marriage equality or homophobic, the ones who are right and the ones who are idiots, good guys and the enemy. Black, white, there's no middle ground on any issue. Many of our presidential candidates are exploiting this. I'm sure they think it'll win them more votes. 

At least this is what all our media, social media, and clever photos and quotes seem to say. I suspect that, when it comes to many important things, we're a lot closer than we think. There's just one little problem. WE DON'T TALK ABOUT ANYTHING, unless, of course, we're fairly certain we agree. If we don't agree, we don't talk. We unfriend them or hide their Facebook posts. We move out to the country and live near others who believe as we do or we move to the city where there are people from so many different backgrounds and we can blend in.

We've substituted cleverness for thoughtfulness. We can blast our opinions out as loud as we want as long as we're blasting to those who believe the way we do. Or we blast at others without listening. What we don't do is talk...together...and listen and learn.

The problem with this is there are no simple solutions to our issues. Nothing we are facing right now has a simple black/white - right/wrong answer.

Extremist rhetoric, whether it's coming from social media or political candidates or a religious radicals, does nothing to solve problems and instead, fosters fear, anger, suspicion, and can encourage violence. It tells us it's a good idea to dig in our heels, stubbornly disagree, and become even more divided. And there are too many people out there who will jump at the chance to act out against a perceived enemy.

"How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does what they're always going to have to do from the very beginning -- sit down and talk! Listen to me, listen. I just -- I just want you to think. Do you know what thinking is? 
It's just a fancy word for changing your mind.
The only way anyone can live in peace is if they're prepared to forgive. 
Why don't you break the cycle?"

~taken from the script written by Peter Harness and Steven Moffet for Dr. Who

I suspect most people who read this will automatically apply it to those who do not agree with them. If so, I have wasted my time and energy. And why do I quote science fiction writers? Those who write science fiction have the task to imagine worlds, complex worlds. Good science fiction helps us to reflect on our own world. 

                                                   "Why don't you break the cycle?" 

Moving away from our stubbornness will be hard work, but our lives may depend on it.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gratitude for a Diverse and Beautiful World

Last night I danced with my square dance club at the First Unitarian Society of Denver. There was a banner hanging in the hall that read, "Black Lives Matter". It had been hanging outside, but last week, the church was vandalized. Red paint was thrown on the banner and a window in the church door was broken. I'm glad the banner was still hanging in the church. The message was very powerful.

What's going on in our country? I wish I could say all this hate and bigotry was just some random crazy individuals, but then I read how some of the presidential candidates are responding to the Syrian refugees. Of course we know what happened in Paris was horrible. The refugees are running from this same horror - and there is no place to run to in their country.

Donald Trump suggests registering all American Muslims in a database. Jeb Bush says we should take in refugees, but only if they're Christian. Ted Cruz is even more emphatic, saying that accepting Muslim refugees would be "lunacy", but if Christians are being persecuted, we should be providing safe havens for them. Ben Carson compared Syrian refugees to rabid dogs. Mosques are being vandalized, human beings are being attacked and beaten because of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, their sexual orientation.

Despite all this, I know the world is a beautiful place and there are so many good people everywhere. I was reminded the other night of how thankful I am that we are living in a large and diverse city. The more we get to know people, the less easy it is to hate. I love being able to know a lot of people from different backgrounds.

I'm encouraged, especially when I see people dealing with the issues of hate and bigotry in a positive way. My big shout out of THANKS for this Thanksgiving season go to:

The American Muslim comedians who work consciously to help bridge cultures with stories and laughter: Maz Jobrani, Maysoon Zayid, Ahmed Ahmed, Dean Obeidallah, Wonho Chung, Aron Kader and others. We had the privilege of seeing Maz Jobrani's show in Denver last week, reminding us that laughter is the universal language. It was amazing and I am already saving to go to his next show.

Governor Hickenlooper, here in Colorado, who has supported having Syrian refugees in Colorado. Please, Gov! Keep standing up for the refugees.

President Obama - I am so proud of our president.  He is standing up for what is right.

Thirty-three years ago, during the Ethiopian civil war, my husband and I sponsored a young Muslim refugee to come to the US. Elias stayed with us until he had a job and could afford to move into an apartment with some friends. It was fun! Elias was in his early 20's. He enjoyed TV, especially Wonder Woman. He tried to teach me how to cook Ethiopian food and I tried to teach him how to make pancakes. He taught us some of his language. Our lives are richer for having him with us for those brief few months.

There will always be people who will promote hate and violence. We have plenty of those in our country right now. The scariest violent people are religious extremists - it doesn't matter what religion - because how do you counter the "God says" argument? The violence which has happened in France, in Beirut, in Baghdad was horrible. The possibility this could happen elsewhere is real. It doesn't let us off the hook. The only way to defeat terrorism is to show the terrorists we are bigger than they are, there are more of us who believe in compassion than fear.

I'm grateful our president knows this.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Climbing around in the Family Tree

Several of my friends have become addicted to genealogy. They talk of days spent following clues on and suddenly looking up to find it's dark outside and they have forgotten to eat. I figured I'd better stay away from this work because sometimes I forget to eat anyway and if I would sit that long, Chris would have to come with an appliance dolly to bring me to bed. I decided to leave the tedious ancestor work to those who can't seem to get enough of it.

Then I started trying to identify people in old family photos. I don't have, but I looked up a few things on - the free site. It took a bit of digging, but I found some of the information I was looking for and, one thing led to another.

When I looked at the clock, I was surprised to see I had been working for nearly 4 hours. Damn.

On the other hand, I was fascinated. Other people have obviously done a lot of work connecting branches to my family tree, which is as tall as Jack's beanstalk and even wider than it is tall. I couldn't stop clicking on those little arrows to make the previous generations of ancestors show up. When the Welsh names started to appear, I was hooked. It's cool to find names like Gryffydd or Dafydd or Angharad, especially when I actually know how to pronounce them. I knew my Welsh language study would be useful.

Then King Henry I, sitting on a royal branch, made his presence known.

Whoa. Am I really a direct descendant of King Henry I? Well... if everything is correct, I'm related through one of his bastard sons. I've heard he had approximately 200 illegitimate children so it's entirely plausible. I went further and further back, mindlessly clicking on those little arrows that showed up with each new branch. I saw various kings and queens and princes and the names went from Welsh to English to Scottish to French to Roman. I passed by Constantine with another click. By this time, I was getting used to the fact I was of royal blood, and yawned.

Then the Norse line came with names like Agnar Sigtrygsson and Solveig Halfdansdatter. Amazing! I had no idea there was any Norse blood in my veins. But..when Odin of Asgaarde appeared, I began to wonder if this was totally accurate. So what did I do? I asked Google. Okay. The records kept by the Church of Latter Day Saints are accurate - or as accurate as they can be considering the spelling errors on some of the hand written census records. The family trees are only as accurate as the supporting documents or lack thereof which are attached to them - or not.

There are small red boxes containing exclamation points that alert you to "data problems" in your family tree. This might mean that, according to the dates (which you or someone has obviously researched), the mother was born after her husband died or she was 4 years old when her first child was born. I still haven't figured out how to correct mistakes on the family tree, at least the one I just made. Sawing off the branch doesn't seem to be an option.

On the other hand, considering the number of descendants many of those famous folks have, being related to kings, queens, and other celebrities of the ancient past, is not at all unlikely. From the time I was young, I was taught to be proud that we are direct descendants of William Bradford from the Mayflower. We have the proof for this one. And good old Will has at least two million living descendants.

As for the questionable ancestors, we just have to go through and find all the birth records, death records, immigration records, marriage records, photos of gravestones, and on and on and on. Find enough records, attach them to the people in your family tree, and pretty soon, there you go. Climb around in the branches and chat with Marcus Aurelius or trade stories with Attila the Hun.

Enough going back in time for one night. I think I'll veg out for awhile and watch TV. Dr. Who, anyone?

Friday, September 11, 2015

By Candlelight

My lover speaks and says to me, 
"Arise, my friend, my beautiful one, and come!"    Song of Songs

We don't have to use candles. Even if the power goes off, there are flashlights and other battery operated options for us. Candles, you'd think, would be obsolete. So why do we use them?

I had been invited to attend the ordination of my friend, Mary Ann. I was looking forward to meeting her in person for the first time and seeing her mentor, whom I had known for many years. I knew this would be a small gathering. In all, we were six - me, Mary Ann, the two priests who ordained her, and two other priests. I felt incredibly honored to be invited to witness this special moment in my friend's life.

The chapel was in a tiny room in the basement of a house. I was instructed to take off my shoes before I entered this dim, candle lit space, and shown to my chair next to my friend. I sat down and she reached over and took my hand. In the quiet, we touched for the first time.

Candles are for special times and sacred spaces. They soften the edges and allow us to see each other gently. We become quiet. Candlelight encourages us to listen and to speak only what needs to be spoken.

Prayers, readings, and vows.

I listened. In a tradition that is ancient yet, somehow felt fresh like a walk just after sunrise, my friend spoke her promise to serve others. There were more words, of course, but what I remember most was all about love and freedom and being there to serve, not to judge or tell anyone what to do or what to believe.

In the quiet of a sacred space, in the dim light of the candles, it is somehow easier to see myself and understand my own sharp edges. This space, perhaps because of the people inhabiting it, did not hold judgement or criticism, only support, generosity, and love, even (or maybe especially) towards our own failings. It is hard to express what I felt during this time, the closest would be that I felt utterly and completely and beautifully human.

May we be granted peace.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Stitch in Time

"Knitting is very conducive to thought. It is nice to knit awhile, put down the needles,     write awhile, then take up the sock again."   Dorothy Day

There are 96 stitches on 4 needles, size 3. The entire project will only be 8 inches long. This is something I generally can knock off in a couple of evenings, especially if we have a good movie to watch. Not this time. I've been at it for nearly a week and have just over 3 inches done. I've spent most of my time slowly taking out mistakes.

Last month, I lost a friend. Kathy was not someone I hung around with all the time, but she was a friend, a colleague, a mentor, a confidante. She was also a knitter. A number of her beautiful projects were on display at her memorial celebration. They reminded me of her - large, soft, warm, classy, beautiful.

I decided I was going to try lace knitting this time. I've done it before and I enjoy it, but it's not something I can work on without concentrating on every stitch. Even so, I often get to the end of the needle and have too many or too few stitches to complete the pattern. Then I have to go back, slowly, stitch by stitch, until I find out where I made my mistake.

As I've worked on this project, I've thought of Kathy a lot. One day, soon after we celebrated her life, I went back and read some of the emails and messages we wrote to each other. I was saddened when I realized one of the last things she had written to me was a request that we get together for lunch. It was a trying time for me - in some ways it still is - as I was navigating the practical and emotional issues of moving my parents to assisted living. I told her I'd love to have lunch with her, but I couldn't right then. I was swamped.

No, I don't feel guilty, just a little sad. I was swamped and there wasn't much I could do about it. Kathy understood complicated family life and medical issues. She always understood. This is what made her the incredible teacher, principal, advocate, and friend she was to so many people.

No, I didn't feel guilty, but it was one more reminder to take care of the people I love and to keep mending my mistakes.

My knitting pattern is a little like my life right now: too complicated, demands attention, and easy to make mistakes. It's taking a lot of patience to get through each round, knit a little, count, take out stitches, re do them, go on. It's taking a lot of patience to get through each week, too, and I often spend a great deal of time going back and fixing mistakes, and then taking a breath and going back to one more doctor's appointment, one more afternoon with young grandchildren, one more day of figuring out insurance companies, school schedules, and cleaning house.

I'll take up the knitting needles again, too. With each round completed, the pattern can be seen more clearly. As I begin to understand the pattern, the mistakes are easier to fix. The patterns in my life are a bit more complex than this lace knitting - or are they? As I begin to understand my life patterns, I alternately groan and laugh at how often I make things more difficult than they need be.

Oh well. For now, I'm ready to take a deep breath, go to bed, and rest up. Tomorrow I'll start another round.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Yahtzee Golf – Reinhart version 101

The goal is to score the lowest number of points.

On the first roll, the player will decide what they are going for (1s, 2s, full house, etc) - though they can change their mind if they get a better combination on a subsequent roll.

The player must then roll the dice until they get at least three of the number (if working on the top half) or the combination they are going for (full house, large straight, etc).

The score will be the number of rolls.

After the first player gets their combination, the next player begins.

The last play will be for chance. On this turn, the player only rolls 3 times, trying to get the lowest score they can.

Scoring bonus points – If a player receives more than 18 points for the top half of the score card, they will add 5 points to their score.

The fun part of this version (invented by Emma and me) is everyone gets a Yahtzee and you don't ever have to zero out anything. The downside? I've lost every game.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Fox went out on a chilly night

Now back to our regularly scheduled blog....

My original purpose in having this blog site was so I could write about our urban farm experiences as well as our experiences going down the yellow brick road of caring for our parents. Along the way, I have done as I always do, I've taken just about every side road, gravel walk, or dirt pathway possible. You may applaud me for my adventurous spirit, but in reality, I'm just easily distracted or, as a few people would put it, a little dingy.

Long ago, I gave up and realized anyone who knows me or has looked at this blog or my other blog (the first Studio Foxhoven site) knows I will tackle all sorts of subjects. If you've stuck with me this far, you're probably okay with it. I'll trust you.

Today, however, I must give you an update on the Reinhart Family Farm. It's been awhile and a lot has happened. Our population of farm animals is currently: 9 hens and 3 rabbits. That's all. It seems way too quiet out there from what it was just a few days ago when our tally included 2 large female white embden geese. But, at early morning roll call yesterday, the ladies didn't answer and, on further investigation, we found they had fallen victim to a predator.

White embden geese are big. Really big. Generally speaking, foxes steer clear of them because it can be an even match. Our 5 year old grandson, Mattheus, reminded me about the song about the fox who went out on a chilly night and ended up with a goose dinner for his family. So we figure perhaps there was a large fox family with little ones (eight, nine, ten) needing to chew on some bones'o.

While we understand how nature works, it's still a little too quiet back there. We'll miss the geese - and their eggs. Our 3 1/2 year old grandson, Lucien, came with me to look for the last goose egg. Usually, this was his sister's job, but it was pouring rain still and big brother did the chores for her. Lucien also expertly helped to get the hens into their house for the night. We weren't going to take any chances with our hungry fox family around town.

Monday, April 20, 2015

For the Love of Math

Math was never my favorite subject and I wasn't very good at it. But, as an adult, I realized one day that math problems, at least the basics, were easier than any other problems in my life. There's one logical way to solve them and, if I follow the rules, the answer will be correct. No gray area. No debate.

2 + 2 = 4

This revelation hit about the time my oldest child turned two. Parenting is the most humbling job on the planet. We all know this. Most of us start out with such high ideals. We're going to be the best parents and we're going to do everything right - or at least different from what our parents did with us. By the time our kids turn two, most of us just hope they won't end up in therapy some day because of something we said or did.

3 x 1 is 3, 3 x 2 is 6, 3 x 3 is 9

The multiplication tables do what they're supposed to do. They're constant. 3 x 3 never says, oh, today I think I'll be 22. Relationships with numbers are much more reliable than relationships with people. The latter have too many variables. In my first real job, I used to dread when my boss would suddenly become very patient because I knew he was about to forgive me for some mistake HE had made.

-3x + 2y -2z = -10

A math problem with variables can still be solved logically, once you know how. Our political science professor used to tell us over and over, "The easy problems have already been solved". This, of course, leaves us with the difficult, messy, human problems to wrestle with, like poverty and bigotry. There are no easy logical 2 + 2 kind of answers to these problems.

dy/dx = x sin 2x + y tan x, - π/2 < x < π/2

Historically, 2 + 2 has always equalled 4. Math is comforting that way. Other fields of study require constant updating and changing as we learn more about our world, whether it involves the stars and planets or tiny cells in our body.

Historically, we've had to unlearn a lot of things. The earth is not flat nor does is it the center of the universe. The founding fathers did not intend for the US to be a Christian nation, Autism is not childhood psychosis caused by the mother. Homosexuality is not a choice. Poverty is not caused by poor people not knowing how to save money. Hard work doesn't guarantee success - luck is also a factor. Even good relationships have hard times. College degrees don't guarantee a good job. And your mom isn't the perfect mom you always knew she wasn't. She's imperfect in many ways you have yet to discover.

These days, as I am making a thousand little and big decisions daily in regards to my parents, my grandchildren (no, you can't eat all the cookies for lunch), our finances, what to make for dinner, and how to spend my 15 minutes of free time, the idea of a simple problem and simple solution sounds very appealing. It's not there and won't be.

That's probably just as well. If every problem in life had a logical solution, it would be a lot like a math class. I'm too much of an artist to want everything to be logical. I may have learned to appreciate math, but I wouldn't want to go that far.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

So Many Different Ways to Be Beautiful

When I was young, my best friend was a little girl named Gina who was quite vocal about how she wished she was a boy. She even wadded up kleenexes and put the wad down the front of her pants because she wanted a penis so badly. I didn't think anything about it. Children usually don't. We had a great time climbing trees and hiking through the wild areas near our neighborhood.

All was fine until I joyfully came home one day and announced to my mom that I was Gina's girlfriend. I was too young to get the icy tone accompanying my mother's response of "what do you mean by that?"  I said that since Gina thought she was a boy and I knew I was a girl, I was Gina's girlfriend. At age 9, friends are friends - period. We had fun together.

We moved to Colorado soon after and I missed Gina and my old neighborhood terribly. Being shy and quiet, entering a new school mid year was torture. I hated it. I wanted to go back to my home and my friends. There was something else, too. My innocent comment had obviously made my mom very nervous. I had never been a "girly girl". I liked climbing and hiking and catching lizards.. I did not like playing with dolls and I hated Barbies. The label of Tomboy was a badge of honor.
By the time I was in high school, the dress code had changed and, for the first time, I could wear jeans to school. This can't have helped Mom's anxiety about my lack of femininity. At a time when it was stylish to wear old overalls and t-shirts, I was scolded for not wearing nice clothes, not curling my hair properly, and teased for being small breasted.

In my mom's defense, in the 1970s homosexuality was still listed as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. It was also a crime. Scary stuff. She needn't have worried. I am straight. It's just who I am. I could no more make myself lesbian than my lesbian friends could make themselves be straight.

Perhaps it's no wonder I struggled with what it meant to be feminine. I know I wasn't alone, not by a long shot. Struggling with identity and figuring out how to fit in and still be a unique individual is the definition of high school. With the feminist movement of the 1960's and 70's breaking down barriers for women, we were all dazzled with the possibilities ahead of us. It was exciting and overwhelming for us, but must have been puzzling and threatening to some of our parents.

There are still times I hear the voice in my head, letting me know I'm not attractive and not feminine enough, but I can deal with it now. I'm lucky to be married to a wonderful man who doesn't insist on me being a girly girl. In fact, generally when I've felt the most insecure about my identity has been when I have to deal with professional women.

The struggle is okay. It's made me into the weird person I am and hopefully more understanding of others who struggle. I know I've had it easy compared to friends I have in the LGBT community. There is no way I could ever claim to understand what they have gone through. I often wondered if Gina's parents tried to squash her desire to be a boy. Did she get into trouble because of what I said? Was she teased at school? Did anyone try to make her someone she wasn't? Wherever she is and whoever she has become, I hope she knows how much I valued our friendship. I hope she's happy and doing well.

And coming full circle, I have always had close friends who are part of the LGBT community. Now, as I dance with a lovely, inclusive gay square dance club, I realize more and more how comfortable I am with this community. It's a place where everyone is accepted. I delight in seeing one young man occasionally come to a party dance wearing a dress and heels. Actually, I'm totally impressed seeing anyone square dance in heels. And I'm delighted I don't have to.

It's a place where I never hear the voices in my head tell me I'm not attractive and not feminine enough. It's a place where I've learned what my new friends learned long ago: there are so many different ways to be beautiful. Male and female, masculine and feminine are not opposites. They are splotches of many colors on an artist's paint filled palette and often run together, making even more beautiful colors.

"I was not ladylike, nor was I manly. I was something else altogether. 
There were so many different ways to be beautiful.”

~Michael Cunningham -  A Home at the End of the World

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My Favorite Strong Female Characters

There are a lot of strong female characters in books, TV, and film. They've always been there, but now I'm noticing them more. At least my daughter notices them and brings them to my attention, characters such as Phryne Fisher from "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries", Amy Pond from "Dr. Who", Buffy from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", and others.

I decided to take a look at some of my favorite female characters and why I believe they are strong role models. This task was meant to be an easy blog subject, something I could pound out on the keys in 20 minutes or so...right.

Here are just a few of my favorites:

Margret Lechow - The Ark by Margot Benary-Isbert
     This is a story of post WWII Germany. Mrs. Lechow and her 4 surviving children are refugees in their own country. Margret is the oldest daughter who is dealing with her own grief for her twin brother and working to find her way in a new world with a whole different set of rules and expectations. Margret has a quiet, steady strength about her.

Meg Murray - A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle   ,
     Meg is imperfect, angry at times, insecure about how she looks, and impulsive in her actions. In other words, I can relate to her. In the series of books about her family, Meg works on her own issues while dealing with all sorts of other challenges - like rescuing her father from a distant planet. Despite her issues, and in some ways because of her faults, she is able to save her father and her younger brother from the evil IT... and that's just in the first book.

Emily Pollifax - The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, etc by Dorothy Gilman
Wouldn't she have made a great
Mrs. Pollifax?
     Ah, Emily... she's a wonderful role model for women over 50...or 60. What could be better, after being widowed and finding yourself alone and bored, than to become a spy? These stories are very dated, some of the dialogue borders on ridiculous, but I've read every Mrs. Pollifax book written - some twice. Strong woman? Emily volunteers at the hospital gift shop, attends her garden club, and takes Karate classes. There's just enough romance and lots of action.
     There was at least one movie made from these stories, but I didn't like it at all. In the 1971 movie, Mrs. Pollifax is played by Rosalind Russell (His Girl Friday, Aunty Mame). If I had been casting, I would have chosen someone more like Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show). This is how I picture Mrs. Pollifax and it makes her more accessible as a role model if the actress is someone a little like the rest of us.

There are many others, of course: Hermione Granger, Phryne Fisher, pretty much any character from a Tamora Pierce novel, Ellis Peters also has strong female characters. For pure fun, I love Thursday Next from the Jasper Fforde novels and Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. There are too many to list.

My favorite female characters are in stories where there are also strong male characters and they don't build up women at the expense of men or vise versa. I like to see a range of different types of strengths in male and female characters. Women should be able to be warriors, but they don't need to be "like men" to be considered strong. I think this is why Margret Lechow was my first pick.

One female character didn't make the cut:

Charlotte - Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
     Don't get me wrong. I love the book and love the characters. I'm just not sure about Charlotte as a role model. She works and works and works and doesn't even get credit for it. In the end, she dies and all the glory goes to a spoiled, whiney, male pig. Bacon anyone?

Who are your favorites?