Behind Home Plate: Considering a Woman’s Place

league3In my hometown, girls who wanted to play in Little League played on co-ed baseball teams until the 5th grade. Despite being the generation that watched “A League of Their Own” in the theaters, there weren’t many of us who wanted to be Dottie Hinson (played by Geena Davis). We were evenly distributed across all the teams, and that meant that most of the time there were no more than two of us. I wanted to pitch, but a coach told me: “Girls don’t pitch.” But I had a good arm, so I was put in right field (well, that was the justification for it, anyway.) Girl 2 on the team was also put in the outfield… a fake position called “center right.”

Often at practice, Girl 2 and I would out-slug the guys. But when it came to setting up the order, we were always placed at the bottom. Come game time, when we’d get up to bat we were heckled by the boys on both teams — by our teammates and by the opponents. The male coaches never did anything to make the boys shut up. If I struck out, which I did a lot (and no more than the boys), I’d be met back in the dugout with “what do you expect from a girl!?”

When I was finally old enough to join the all-girls softball league, everything changed. I became a starting pitching, a top-of-the-order batter, an All-Star. When we’d play co-ed softball in gym-class, I was a first round draft because I could out-everything the boys.

There was no more heckling. There was just the game.

1923570_528551231932_5298_nI remember being in pre-school and wanting to be a boy. I’d try to pee standing up (I learned after one attempt that we’re just not built for that.) I guess it’s a phase all children go through — that phase when they’re trying to understand what makes us different from the other kids on the playground, and then trying to appropriate some of those differences… because the grass is always greener on the other side.

Maybe that’s why I preferred a hammer, nails, and a block of wood to dolls when it came to toys. My school folders had cars on them instead of “My Little Pony.” As I got older and moved into sports, I always played with the boys. I’d swim in the boys’ lanes, or go to their practices in girls’ off season. I fight the boys in karate and bout with the boys at fencing practice. In college, I majored in Economics. I did my problem sets with the boys and go for morning runs with the boys.

And then I’d throw on a pair of high heels, a bedazzled shirt and some eyeliner and drink beers with the boys. The boys would often still be in their gym clothes.

The battle of the genders begins from day one. There’s only a short, sweet time when the playing field is level and then the realizations kick in – boys and girls are not the same.

We fall from Eden.

Putting aside basic biology, what is it that makes men and women so different? To me, it’s all about experience. We fall from Eden not because we realize our nakedness, we realize we don’t have access to the same opportunities. The boys on my little league team were never told they couldn’t pitch because they were boys. As we think of what makes us strong as women, so much of what empowers us is how we learn to define ourselves in relation to the boys — even if we don’t want to admit it. What if my little league team had been 50-50 boys and girls? What if my coach had had daughters instead of sons? Would I still have been told “girls can’t?” Would someone have said “boys can’t?”

 

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Reflections: She’s More than a Pretty Face

Last week I opened a new exhibition. It’s been two years in the works, and to date is my biggest curatorial achievement. People seem to like it. They’re telling all their friends and sending me nice emails. It’s bringing people together.  So I’m kind of proud of it.

A friend who came to visit was kind of proud of me too, and  passed my catalog onto a friend of hers who happens to be a hugely influential collector of contemporary art. He flipped through the catalog, recognized two of the significant names, and then shared his one comment on the content…

“Oh wow! She’s really pretty!”

He was referencing my head shot.

I laughed when she told me. Inside, I was rolling my eyes.

It’s like Hillary Clinton being told to smile more.

If I were a man, would he have told her I was really handsome?

There really is nothing more demeaning to a woman in a professional setting than a reference to her attractiveness. Don’t tell me I’m pretty. That’s not going to convince an artist to work with me (well, it might if that artist were Jeff Koons) or a museum to hire me. “Pretty” isn’t something I’ve worked to achieve — it’s not a professional milestone. When it comes to my job, I’d rather a criticism on the quality of my work than a compliment on the quality of my face.

good smile
“Good Smile, Great Come” by Tracy Emin. Maybe it’s time we start talking about how men look in the workplace. 

 

Out of the Bell Jar and into the Mason Jar: Considering a Literary Classic and my Teenage Years

“That’s the most depressing book.”

A tall, swim-suit sporting man shouted at me as he sauntered over to the pool’s towel stand. He clearly cross-fitted. #ThoseAbs. I paused and looked up from the book in question which was Syliva Plath’s “The Bell Jar.”

“It is. I clearly have terrible taste in pool-side reads.”

This is one thing I love about California: you don’t need to have a “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit model body to get attention at the pool (that’s because, thanks to cross-fit, botox, and boob jobs, everyone has a SI swimsuit model body). No, to stand out at the pool, you just need some socially progressive modernist literature.

He winked. Suggested I switch to something like Cosmo, and was off before I had a chance to exchange room numbers (it’s entirely possible that the toddler toddling behind him was, in fact his, but then again, at hotel pools it’s so hard to tell which parent belongs to which child… oh, well.)

My pool-side view in Silicon Valley. A little 20th century feminist lit didn't make light reading
My pool-side view in Silicon Valley. A little 20th century feminist lit didn’t make light reading

I had committed to reading such heavy literature at the pool side for two simple reasons: 1. I don’t do fluffy chick-lit, and 2. It was research for the gender-identity/femininity exhibition I’m in the process of curating.

For those that haven’t read Sylvia Plath’s one canonical novel, it was to the 1960s what Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” was to the 1890s. If you’ve never read “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and have no idea what I’m talking about, “The Bell Jar” reads a lot like “Catcher in the Rye.” If you’ve never read “Catcher in the Rye,” well, shame on you and your grade school English teacher.

Here’s the mega abbreviated cliff’s notes run down: Esther Greenwood is a successful and attractive 19 year old college girl who lands a great summer internship at a mega lady’s magazine in New York City. But just when the future looks bright and full of possibilities, Esther hits a wall. She breaks down, crashes, and bottoms out.

The story is dark. The writing, superb.

But as much as I was engrossed in and enjoying such wonderfully, honestly crafted prose, I’m glad I didn’t read it was I was 19. I think it would have felt too familiar… even more familiar than it already does…

Digging around my bedroom this weekend, I found a notebook with the jottings of a frustrated young story writer. Most of the scribbling came from ages 16-20, and they all raged with a kind of loneliness and angst. I think I felt that stories about breakdowns and being misunderstood where what you were supposed to be writing about if you wanted to be considered a good writer. Melodrama seemed to be a prerequisite for the Pulitzer or for making the American English classroom curricula. I don’t think any of what I was writing was reflective of what I felt or of my mental state because I never got very far with them (try like, 3 pages, max.) But then again, I don’t really remember how I felt about life or school at 16. I was just kind of doing rather than feeling. Feeling came in college.

But I did find one piece of writing that was troubling to me, because it was the one piece that wasn’t an attempt at fiction. It was an attempted personal essay and the only thing in the book that was typed, with blue-ink edits.

In it, I rattled off my string of accomplishments, concluding with “I was considered mature and well-round, well cultured and intellectual. Yet something was missing.”

The punchline, of course, because I was 18, was that I needed a boyfriend. Reading it, while I admired her self-awareness and vulnerability, I hated that teenage version of myself for defining happiness in terms of being attached to someone else. I couldn’t go to college without being someone’s girlfriend! I wrote. “The fact I had never been kissed seemed small in comparison.”

Flash to Esther:

“Instead of the world being divided up into Catholics and Protestants or Republicans and Democrats or white men and black men or even men and women, I saw the world divided into people who had slept with somebody and people who hadn’t, and this seemed the only really significant difference between one person and another.

I thought a spectacular change would come over me the day I crossed the boundary line.” 

This was how I saw the world — a simple division between lovers and loners. Reading on, I saw that 18 year old me hated me for feeling that way too. What a relief. As I got older, while the idea of a companion was and is always intoxicatingly appealing, there was another feeling I had — a fear of being tied down.

Flash back to Esther:

“That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored around from a fourth of July rocket. “

There’s a lot of vignettes in the “Bell Jar” I could relate to at 19 and even now. Ones that are in many ways more meaningful to me than the ones about men, about the double standards for the sexes, about marriage. Esther has a moment when she compares her moment in life to standing under a fig tree. Each fig represents a possible path — marriage and a family, Olympics, famous writer, famous editor, and so on. But she can only pick one, and once she does, all the other will fall, spoiled. The tree of possibility can get you down — knowing you have so many options but can’t really have them all. I remember sitting alone on my university quad one cold late autumn night while I was grad student, feeling overwhelmed by possibilities and crying a bit at a fear of achieving non of them, of mucking it all up. But unlike Esther, I didn’t let the fear of failure or indecision win. I learned that with a little cunning, and fast feet, you can grab as many fruit as you can before they all go rotten. Maybe you won’t get them all, but you’ll get enough to make a decent pie… sharing optional.

In life, you can have your pies and eat them too.
In life, you can have your pies and eat them too.

Changing Decades: I’m OK with not Turning 29 Again

“Are you terrified of turning 30?” my lovable Gallery Coordinator asked me when she realized by birthday was a few days away.

“Terrified! Try ecstatic!” I replied with a little skip. “I mean, you only get to change decades once every 10 years…”

It’s my birthday. My 30th birthday. And while many of my friends have found it difficult, nay, painful to leave behind their 20s, I’m stoked.

So, this is 30...
So, this is 30…

Birthdays, are often a time of reflection, and as I look forward to the new decade ahead, I can’t help but notice how much things have changed…

When you’re turning 20, a night out with your best girl friend involved your highest, most uncomfortable heels, perfectly coiffed hair, high hemlines and low necklines, and at least one bar you can’t afford and two you can. Your important question of the night: Are we cabbing or taking the subway?

When you’re turning 30, a night out with your best girl friend, is most likely a night in, at her place… making soup. You know you’re not going anywhere where anyone is going to see you, so you don’t even bother with mascara. Your most important question of the night: Can you find your pasta maker, or should I bring mine?

When you’re turning 20, your social media feed is littered with your friends uploads from parties, semesters abroad, backpacking trips, weekend campus hops, house parties, and dive bars. You think: Oh, god! Everyone is having so much fun! I’m having fun. Wait. Let me take a selfie.

Let me take a selfei
Let me take a selfie

When you’re turning 30, your social media feed oscillates between wedding news/pictures and baby-bump shots. You think: Oh, God. That guy I had a crush on when I was 20 looks so hot in that gray suit… too bad he’s the groom. And gee whiz! Didn’t anyone read that “Your Body, Your Birth Control” pamphlet in the GP’s office? Seriously. I get it. You’re “preggers.” All your BFF’s are “preggers.” You’re all one, big, happy “preggers” family. But do I really have to watch this for 9 more months. Oh! Look! A “hide” feature on my timeline! Thanks, Facebook.

Hide.

When you’re turning 20, you celebrate your birthday by lining up as many (semi-illegal) shots are you can stomach, and you keep the party going as far past sun up as you can. Two days later, you’re still wearing the same dose of mascara, expect now it’s eyeliner, and you think the valet still has your car... where did you park your car???

When you’re turning 30, you decide you’ll invite your friends to brunch. Not since spring break 200X were you all able to day drink, and Brunch is classy day-drinking… because, you’re real adults now, and real adults do classy things, like brunch. Plus, all your married-with-children friends prefer brunch because they can get home in time to put Junior to bed and you can get home in time to binge-watch season 3 of “House of Cards” on Netflix… and still make your 10PM bedtime, without fear of a hangover the next morning.

When you’re turning 20, you order $5 margaritas at happy hour, when they don’t card, because that’s all you can afford.

When you’re turning 30, you’ve figured out how to get someone else to pay for your $15 top-shelf martini, with a twist.

When you’re turning 20, everyone asks what you’re going to do when you’re done with college/grad school/your internship. You have some kind of lofty, made-up answer because you only half know.

When you’re turning 30, you get to lead with a business card. You’ve had a promotion, or two, and while you still may not know where you’re going, at least you know where you are and where you’ve been. You’re still a little green, but you’ve earned some color round the edges. You were smart. Now you’re savvy.

When you’re turning 20, your heart gets broken by a “player” and your best friend says: don’t worry! You’ve got plenty of time to find someone else. Players gonna play.

When you’re turning 30, your heart get broken by a “player” and your best friend says: Players gonna play, but you’re getting too old for this. Have you ever thought of trying Match.com? I hear that’s where all the serious guys go.

When you’re turning 20, your idea of “dressing to seduce” involves showings as much skin as is legally permitted. Hemlines go up, necklines go down. Your crop-top barely covers your nipples and when you bend over the whole world can see the top of your very tiny panties.

When you’re turning 30, your idea of “dressing to seduce” is still “less is more,” except your less is, less skin, and your more is “more designer labels” and “more butt coverage.”

How Crop Tops look in different decades...
How Crop Tops look in different decades…

(Note: Summer 2015 is the summer of the crop top. Of the 6 shirts I brought with me to my birthday celebrations in Napa Valley, 4 are very tiny….)

Turning 30 can be scary, because it’s crossing a threshold. You have to leave behind excuses of youth and naivety and take responsibility. You’re accountable to something — to a boss, to a dog, to a spouse, to a family member. You’ve hit significant milestones and most of your first are behind you. It’s exciting because it’s the start of your prime.

29 was awesome — a memorable year with magazine covers and mega successes. An exclamation point to a well-enjoyed decade. Now, I get the fun of starting something new.

30 is the new 20, anyway.

Nuff said
Nuff said

NCAA Men’s Basketball, or How Much Older than Him Do I Have to Be to Qualify as a Cougar?

I rolled into downtown Pittsburgh to find the streets lined with banners carrying a familiar logo — the minimalist blue orb of the NCAA. On a Cincinnati-bound round trip, I had accidentally made an over-night pit-stop in the city hosting part of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships.

For a single girl in her 20s, arguably, this was a very good accident.

My hotel entrance was adorned with welcome signs — a sure sign that inside I would likely uncover the gold at the end of the rainbow. When I found myself in the lobby surrounded by a heard of college boys in track suits, coaches, trainers and chaperones, I was glad I had opted to put on lipstick before exiting the highway.

The testosterone was palpable and there was only one thought on my mind: how much older than the guy do I have to be to qualify as a cougar?

Coming back downstairs in heels and my little black ensemble was going to be a wasted effort. It was clear these boys were all business.

But then again, that’s what March Madness is all about — the business of being an athlete.

I was an All-American in college. Not in basketball — in fact, I’m terrible at basketball, like, even embarrassingly terrible at H.O.R.S.E. No, I was an All-American in fencing. So even though my March Madness and their March Madness were very different, standing in the lobby, surrounded by the NCAA Championship banners and athletes in warmups, brought back a flood of memories.

March was always a month I dreaded.  There was always pressure, and in my sport, earning a berth at the championships meant out-performing and even beating your own teammates. In the heat of it, qualifying to go to the NCAA Championships felt like something I was not only expected to do, but entitled to do. Qualifying was something to take personally. For a long time, I felt like I’d failed because I only qualified to compete at the tournament 3 out of my 4 competitive years.

Earning one of these trophies is a pretty big deal, and we couldn't wait to get our hands on that piece of wood

That was a silly attitude to have. But as they say, with age comes wisdom.

In my hotel in Pittsburgh, I was excited… and not just because of the smorgasbord of unsuspecting, 6’4 college-age boys at my finger tips. I was excited for them and what they’d accomplished.

Over the next few days, all but one of these teams will get knocked out. On their way home, they’ll feel like they failed — you’re only as high as your last win. But one day, like me, they’ll turn to look at their top-4 trophy and realize that making it this far is pretty awesome.

Very awesome. Go get ’em.

Insert Groom Here

“Married women don’t get enough credit,” my mother said one afternoon a few weeks back. “Marriage is all about being able to deal with assholes.”

I don’t know what my father had done that day, but clearly, it wasn’t good.

With my great-grandmother's wedding ring in hand, I suddenly felt the weight of the generations.

My mother’s wisdom is always appreciated, but that day’s insight may not have been what I should have heard the night my cousin Julie arrived from Canada with my Great-Grandmother’s wedding ring.

Julie passed the generations-old, Irish-made gold band on to me in an understated ceremony in my kitchen, over a beer. I think the theme from Riverdance was playing from the Bose in the background, then again, my memory could just be over-romanticizing the significance of the scene and the transcendence of my Celtic heritage.

“I don’t doubt you’ll put it to good use,” she said as I slipped the ring out of the silk sack and onto my finger.

Mistake. I was stuck with it as we headed out the door. Cute waiters were no longer fair game – I was, for the night, a taken female.

Starring down at the ring through dinner, watching my finger change colors from peach to blue, I grew strangely sentimental and slightly anxious. Few things have been passed successfully through the generations in my family – a blue vase and a fetish for hats – and to have my great-grandmother’s wedding ring bestowed on me was to have an unexpected amount of pressure on my shoulders.

I guess I was going to have to get married after all.

Another Blue Moon and a bar of soap when I got home made removing the ring somewhat less painful than I had anticipated.

A week later, my friend Julia posted on my Facebook wall: “I had a dream you were engaged!” And then last week a woman stopped me at the cross walk for a chat. She was eager to make a friend and seemed slightly crazed from the hot summer sun. Midway through my story about my hat, she interrupted me: “You’re going to get married. I just know it! You’re going to get married.”

It seems the voices have changed their tune from prescriptions (you need to find a nice rich husband) to premonitions. Luckily, I don’t put much weight in the predictions of raving women on crowded street corners.

Then again, the soothsayer in the crowd advised Julius Caesar to beware the ides of March… and, well, we all know how that turned out.

I don't necessarily put much weight in the perdictions of raving women... but then I remember Julius Caesar