“It is my honor to be here, to stand on the shoulders of those who came before,” Kamala Harris, the first female, the first black, the first Asian American Vice-President of the U.S.A. proudly said in her first address to the nation on inauguration day. Her tone is optimistic, her goals are ambitious, and her energy seems unlimited.
It is true, we all are standing on the shoulders of those who came before, all the women who prepared the way for our progress, our achievements. And there has been quite a bit of progress as Carol Dyhouse, a social historian at the University of Sussex, describes in her new book, Love Lives: From Cinderella to Frozen. The title is a bit misleading. Though myths, fairy tales, and popular culture tropes still influence us, Dyhouse outlines how women in the western world have abandoned the restrictions of domestic life since the 1950s and gradually, though often painfully, have claimed access to education and the professional world. A long path it has been to self-determination and economic independence.
But even now the question remains: Have we made enough progress? Because I do worry about “my girls” these days, as Michelle Obama describes them. I worry about “my boys,” too, but this is a blog post to remind ourselves of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. Both encourage us to reflect on those who came before, but also on those to whom we pass the baton, whose legs we steady on our shoulders.
Americans do not vote directly for their presidents. We vote for the people who will vote for our presidents. Each state is assigned electors, based partly on population, but each state is assigned an additional two electoral votes, regardless of its size. Consequently, a vote from a person in a rural state has more influence than a vote from an urbanized area. This system has given us five presidents who came in second in the people’s vote with mixed results. Three have made us question this system. With Rutherford Hayes, we got Jim Crow law that denied African Americans their civil rights for more than 100 years. With George W. Bush, we got the Iraq war. With Donald Trump, well, we got – Trump!
I am writing this on the first day of a new year that arrived not a nanosecond too soon. We needed a new year as sorely as we ever have.
2020 will take its infamous place in history, a time Queen Elizabeth II once charmingly – if woefully – dubbed an annus horribilis. We have to be careful not to misspell that, though given as hard as these last twelve months have been, it’s tempting.
Segueing from the Queen’s real Latin to my own faux Latin, exactly ten years earlier, in 2010, my play Mundo Overloadus premiered in New York’s East Village. The title was my stab at describing what seemed already a world overloaded. That play is my absurdist take on a sugary sweet American cultural landmark, the silly and now forever-rerun TV comedy from the 60s, Gilligan’s Island – my version set in an insane asylum. In my play, I was asking the audience if the unapologetic innocence of that show still had currency in this new, already cynical century. From 9/11 in 2001 to the corona virus lurking about roughly 20 years later, it feels that – for sanity’s sake – we desperately need a gentler, kinder point of view, even if it’s the cotton candy of a sitcom.
The holiday season is a unique time. We go through the full spectrum of emotions within a span of two weeks only. We constantly have to deal with family members and guests; we eat way too much while telling ourselves we’ll be going on a diet next year; and we tend to get overly emotional, especially on Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Since it’s such a wonderfully stressful time, I chose three topics to help you through the last few weeks of the year.
Early in November 1620, after a rough Atlantic crossing of about two months, an aging ship called Mayflower arrived in the coastal waters of what we today call Cape Cod Bay. By mid-December, the colonists had chosen a site they called Plymouth, which is about 40 miles south of the current city of Boston. Although English colonization had begun further south in the Chesapeake Bay area over a decade earlier – not to speak of even earlier Spanish and French efforts – the arrival of the Mayflower is frequently imagined by many in American mainstream society as the founding moment of the United States. Largely spurred and popularized by the Thanksgiving holiday, this founding myth all too often minimizes the impact of colonization on the indigenous peoples of the region; theirs is a history that hides in plain sight.