Teaching children that God hates everything about them as a person and then cutting them off from their family and safety nets leads to depression, poverty, drug use, and suicide?
You don’t say.
Teaching children that God hates everything about them as a person and then cutting them off from their family and safety nets leads to depression, poverty, drug use, and suicide?
You don’t say.
The end of my second decade has been a time of transition. My previous relationship’s end spelled many uncertainties for my future and spun my mind and body down a spiral of confusion, depression, and deep introspection. Luckily, I am made of star stuff. My confusion worked itself out through careful attention to my thoughts, needs, and feng shui, and I emerged fully prepared for 2017. Looking back, my self-care journey had three distinct phases.
Phase I. Looking Outward
I didn’t know what to think or feel. So, my therapy began with working on my outward appearance. Tale as old as time, right? What a cliche. Well, I completed 5 months of Invisalign and a series of teeth whitening treatments to finally get the perfect smile I’ve wanted ever since I was child. I also lost some weight, fixed my hair style & maintenance routine, and changed my make-up.
Akin to changing my look, I also changed my room. I got rid of everything of his that I could and reclaimed the space, cleaned religiously, and began reorganizing and downsizing in preparation for what I knew was coming: an eventual full-scale move to another home. No matter how depressed or confused I might be, a clean and thoughtful feng shui begins to treat my woes.
Towards the end of this phase, I also invested in bikram yoga again–a repetitive and thoughtful activity that gives me great pleasure at the same time that it tones and burns calories.
Phase II. Looking Inward
The hard part, but also the most important: I began an introspective journey through my decisions, my realities, my experiences, and my ultimate goals. Many late nights alone, conversations with treasured friends, and comforting media made Phase II of my therapy successful. I don’t want to linger here because I’ve made a few other posts about my thoughts from this time, and there’s no need to beat those dead horses. Suffice it to say, these months were hard but peaceful.
Phase III. Launching My New Life, Separate from the Old
Phase III has been in progress for some time now. I could argue that it began when I started dating my new guy seriously. However, I recognized it by name today when I signed a lease with a luxury apartment complex. It occurs to me that I naturally moved into new life adventures once my emotional health and world outlook (Phases I & II) finished playing out. Phase III can be summed up by the following unique additions to my life this spring.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The last twelve months and my transition into my thirties was difficult, but it’s brighter on the other side. I’ve regained my personhood, my freedom, my living space, and begun fabulous new adventures. I’ll be sure to post ample pictures and updates from the new digs this summer.
Powerful, isn’t it?
No, not the message. The gall. To feel so victimized as to proudly equate feminist appeals to stop raping and killing women with the self-inflicted duties of …holding doors and handbags.
Pour one out for the meninists and their struggles on Ladies Night Thursdays, when half-price cosmos challenge their holds on their masculine identities.
Women don’t want free drinks, your seat on the subway or your sympathy. Women want equal pay, equal job opportunities and to walk home late at night without their keys poised between their fingers. – Elissa Sanci for Bust.com
With every new relationship one fights the inner battle of “be yourself” against the opposing impulse to please a partner. For over thinkers, a meta-battle also wages behind that; the question of which side is more true to the situation? E.g., are these my true feelings, or have I convinced myself of something in an effort to please?
Chronic people-pleasers deal with this phenomenon, and I’m sorry to have counted myself among their number in the past. Recently, a longtime friend said these words to me over dinner: “I’m glad [prev. relationship] ended. It seemed as though you’d lost something of yourself, but I’m happy to see you’re yourself again.” My friend had thought for years & easily recognized what I had only just then begun to consider: I had said yes to everything that was Him and held on to precious little of what was Me.
Knowing this, whenever I’m with my current partner I am conscious about maintaining my identity against all influences, perhaps to a point now where I’m getting paranoid and questioning every detail. “Am I actually interested in this? Would I actually try this? Do I care? Am I being honest with all parties, including myself?”
The paranoia might seem extreme, but I think it’s a natural backlash from people-pleasing, a behavior of mine that was so rampant with [prev. partner] that I can barely stomach to think about all the ways in which it manifested. I could not possibly archive all my people-pleasing sins I committed with him, but a simple and quick example to paint a picture for you would be music. He always played his music. He’d sometimes offer for me to play mine in the car, but I honestly preferred silence to hearing negative comments and/or sensing the lip curling that went on during mine. I am very empathetic, and so if I perceive any disapproval, I get anxious and just want to escape the situation in the easiest way. So, I went nearly four out of our six years together never playing music. I held keeping him pleased above most of my own desires, and he was more than happy to accept my deference to his whims.
After a while though, as my friend alluded, identity degrades under such pseudo nonconsensual weight, and our lack of connection (him being so boldly outward with his identity and me becoming so inward with mine) morphed into permanent boredom and loss of communication. There was nothing to discuss–our relationship was us both enjoying his identity and hobbies. There was no I, only he or us. And I allowed it; often encouraged it or was its architect.
So, eventually I dissipated into space: fantasizing about made up characters, writing fan fiction, creating tumblrs, binge television, watching porn…. anything unreal was a thousand times more interesting. And, again due to his natural selfishness, he kept to himself and devoted all of his time to his own hobbies during that era, only to be alarmed and disappointed at how I “didn’t talk to him anymore”. Talking requires two parties, of course, but selfish people don’t think this way. We didn’t talk; ergo, I was ignoring him, and it was my fault. Simple. He surely doesn’t remember all the times I asked him questions in the car or at the table to a resounding silence as he scrolled through his phone not hearing me. Oh, how I hated his phone the first few years. I fantasized about lighting it on fire, hitting it with a hammer, beating it to a battery acid pulp, throwing it under bridges…. You name a violent thought, and I can cite you a phone-related violent fantasy I’ve had. Eventually, though, and perhaps in defense of my sanity, I gave in and stared at my own phone in return.
I don’t want to imply poor things of [prev. partner] as a person, because–as I’ve written before–the crux of our issues was our incompatibility; he was a naturally selfish person, and I was an emotionally subordinate pleaser. That has Bad News written all over it, but I was too emotionally invested to ever rationalize a breakup. He’s not a bad kind of selfish, per se. Rather, he is the kind of selfish that requires a particular kind of partner–one that is not, for example, an amiable doormat, but instead someone who will openly and proudly challenge him and bullhorn him back with her own demands and her own gas lighting; someone to act as a mirror and who can lead to self-evaluation. I was not capable of this. My stalwart silence and bending to his whims were not capable of this. A selfish person thinks “she’s not talking to me, so I am on my phone.” An empath thinks, “he’s on his phone, so I won’t talk to him.”
The challenge with romance is staying true to every important aspect of my identity while simultaneously being open to exploring someone else’s. This is a dance I will need to dance with eyes wide open going forward.
Which…. brings me back to my original impetus for this post. I am not afraid of trying new things that are important to him. I’m afraid of not liking them. While I’m dancing in the empty space that comes beforehand, I can relish the idea that maybe I’ll like it. There’s an excitement in the possibility of it all. But, I know that in protecting my identity’s validity I won’t hide my reactions, which means that once I try things and hate them, it’s over. He’ll be gone. And that makes me very melancholy.
In my quest for perfect compatibility, how many potential partners will I drive away? What’s a red flag and what’s a red herring to a paranoid, ex people-pleaser?
The power of the Handmaid’s Tale is how perfectly believable it is. It’s a modern woman’s nightmare. Men (and certainly numerous women as well) like to think we’re in a post-racial and post-sexist society in the United States because everyone has equal rights on paper. However, regressives frequently challenge those rights in courts or through legislative gymnastics. Women made incredible strides this century to be sure, but modern women fear the recoil. After all, the first African American girl to attend a desegregated school is still alive today. She is only 62 years old. American women have held the right to vote for fewer than 100 years. Let that sink in. The men who wanted women to be voiceless raised an entire generation that is still alive and, in many cases, in power today. In fact, they whittle away at women’s reproductive agency and bodily autonomy every day at their jobs. Watching the Handmaid’s Tale while a woman (WHTwW) will surely be a buzzy health condition this month. I wonder how many right-wing viewers will miss the mark, though. “Isn’t it just the pits that women aren’t trusted to make their own bodily decisions?” an anti-choice viewer will muse to his or her neighbor.
In an emotionally grueling scene, one of the handmaids opens up about her horrific gang rape experience at school. Afterward, the other handmaids are forced (by threat of bodily harm) to shame her for “leading the boys on” and bringing the gang rape upon herself. In the Handmaid’s Tale, as in many real-life modern societal circles, women are unironically viewed as powerless and meek at the very same time that they’re thought to wield the all-powerful weapon of sex. From the show’s reception, these scenes clearly strike deep chords with women today. Rape victims are generally viewed as liars until proven raped in a court of law (see: nearly any case involving sports figures or celebrities ad nauseum), senators and congressmen argue whether pregnancies can biologically result from “legitimate rapes”, judges ask if victims bothered to move their butt around to avoid the penetration or if they kept their knees together, and even legislators go so far as to uphold rapists’ parental decision and visitation rights.
Still not convinced? Still think women’s closeness to this novel and mini-series is self-indulgent paranoia? Try playing Refinery29’s game, “Republican or Handmaid’s Tale” and see how well you do.
Another blogger delved into Atwood’s real-world influences for the novel that make it almost biographical:
“When Atwood was writing it in Berlin in 1984, she determined that she would put nothing into it that hadn’t already happened to women somewhere on earth. …. The novel has its origins in the 17th-century Puritans who settled in America, and in contemporary Afghanistan, and in Romania’s Decree 770, which dealt with a plummeting birth rate in the 1960s by outlawing contraception and abortion. That so many women feel so keenly attuned to it now demonstrates an acute awareness that the impulse to police women’s behavior and reproductive systems is as old as history itself.” – Sophie Gilbert for The Atlantic
Beyond the glaring premise of the show are other human rights atrocities that are just as believable. LGBTQ people gathered up and executed? Happening right now in Uganda, Russia, and Chechnya to name a few off the top of my head. And who can forget the ISIS video last year of a gay man being flung from a roof in execution. Female genital mutilation? Rampant in northern Africa and some parts of the middle east. Rape? No citations needed. These are common human rights crises happening at this very moment around the globe. One does not need a tinfoil hat to see the plausibility of American society’s downward spiral as illustrated by this television show. In the story, all it took was desperation and fear. One gruesome, alleged terrorist attack, and the bible belt handed the reigns of governance over to martial law. Welp, have you watched Fox News yet today? Its viewers are frothing at the mouth to do just that and support every idea that reroutes funding from critical services to the ever fattening military industrial complex (while inexplicably fighting for the right to stockpile guns in case a tyrannical government turns on them?) And did the show’s march for women’s rights remind you of a certain Women’s March on Washington in defense of women’s healthcare (among many other issues)? It’s startling to think that this scene was likely written and filmed long before our real march occurred. Yet, here we are.
— Emily Gaudette (@emilygmonster) April 24, 2017
Front and center to the show are the women of privilege–the military wives–who seem to help enforce the new social constructs and keep select women enslaved. We hate them at first as we view the plot through a lens of the “have everything”s versus the “have none”s. Almost as soon as we begin watching, though, we see that many of the privileges the wives enjoy are barely that, as they still cannot work, own property, or have their own money. We’re also led to believe they may not have chosen their husbands and that all companionships are assigned. Take Mrs. Waterford. She looks pristine and clean at all times: hair, makeup, dress, high heels while she walks around the house. Her husband is out of town, yet she must still don her uniform of the privileged woman. She may visit friends that day, but that is the totality of her freedoms. She can’t even enter her husband’s study in their home. Privileges are thrown at these military wives like bones–nice homes, macarons and ice cream, fancy clothes–but bones are all they are. And these women, desperate to maintain what little status and few privileges they have, will do anything to keep them, including keep slaves. In this same way, the Handmaid program’s leader, Aunt Lydia, takes delight in lesbian Ofglen’s court-ordered “reformation”, a genital mutilation to remove sexual arousal for the wrong gender. Aunt Lydia rose to power for her pious devotion to conveniently cherry-picked dogma that supports the current powers, and she won’t abide women whose positions (or very existence, in Ofglen’s case) challenge her. This show does an incredible job of including the reactionary ways in which women help to uphold patriarchy and the ways in which women’s complicity are integral to its continued existence. It would have been easy and safe to focus on the male over female power structure in this adaptation, but that would not have been entirely true to Atwood’s tale nor to the reality of patriarchal structures.
When I was reading reaction blogs today, a piece in The Atlantic echoed my thoughts on this topic:
“The complicity of many wealthy women in the tyranny of Gilead is another aspect of the show that sharpens its topical relevance, particularly after an election in which a majority of white women voted against a female president. But casting women as co-oppressors in the novel, Atwood told me, was merely another way of remixing history. ‘They’re the roles that women have always played,’ she said. If someone were creating Gilead from scratch, she said, the most intuitive thing to do would be to enlist women in the policing of it, offering them limited power over other women. ‘There are always takers for that.'” – Sophie Gilbert for The Atlantic
In the same way women are antagonists, the show is also careful to include men in an ally role. In the women’s march scene, men are gunned down on the front lines alongside the women, and of course we start the show with Offred’s husband dying in order to give his wife and daughter a running shot at reaching Canada. This inclusion is, of course, great on its own. But every now and then, it did make me laugh out loud. For example, while taking notice of men during the march scene I had the simultaneous thought, “this is to placate the MRAs who will surely frame this show as us versus them, anti-men propaganda.” If it had been a few men included in the march scene, I would have smiled at the simple inclusion and moved on. But, it was a gratuitous, slow motion homage to men at the women’s march. It even looked like a 50/50 gender split. It was as if the episode director was shouting preemptively, “See? We KNOOOOW #notallmen, you guys. We get it. Just look at all the men we put in this protest scene for you!” See, I know they had to, and that annoys the living shit out of me. But, as I find myself saying a lot lately, “here we are.”
In conclusion, it is the law of the internet that comments on any post about feminism justify the need for feminism. And, where men can look at the entirety of human history and still have the absence of mind to find the Handmaid’s Tale (novel, movie, or Hulu miniseries) “hysterical, criminally unerotic, and a symptom of the author’s misandry“, let these same rules apply.
What is the unicorn frappuccino? A preteen fantasy: a maelstrom of creamy, fruity sweet tarts topped with whip and colored sugar crystal sprinkles. It’s a liquid Fruity Pebbles, if you will. It’s a tropical dreamsicle push-pop, but in a cup. It’s Halloween candy, but none of the chocolate ones, and during the summer. It’s a Nickelodeon slime drop over your senses, but instead of slime it’s a tarty pink and blue cream. It’s like if a mango and a squirt of vanilla got lost in the creme frappuccino assembly line, but the baristas just went with it. It’s a sugary smurf poop. It’s like if Spengler asked sweet tarts and pixie sticks not to cross the streams, but they did it anyway because they’re candy and don’t understand English. It’s like if Starbucks had its own Master Chef Junior where the kids were the baristas, and this is what they presented to Gordon Ramsay. It is colorful and silly and sugary and whimsical but also kind of disgusting, and it will cost me 90 minutes of bikram in caloric intake. Someone on my facebook feed called it “mixed berry confetti cake”, but my taste buds didn’t pick up any cake. I might have enjoyed it more if they had.
This drink is not for me despite my love for both unciorns and fun beverages. I made it a grand total of five sips, and that’s only because I kept drawing new, curious flavors into the straw, and I wanted to be able to accurately describe it.
In closing, this was not one of my prouder moments, but I can’t turn my head away from amazing marketing.
— Kendra Alvey (@Kendragarden) April 19, 2017
Just a reminder that there is no room for your hopes, dreams, jokes, or problems in the headspace of a narcissist. Your words deserve more than to live in the vapid limbo where a narcissist is waiting to speak again.
We enjoyed a decadent Caribbean Saturday morning brunch: fresh buttery cornbread, pulled pork, corn grits, greasy chorizo, and scrambled egg soft tacos. Now we lie in bed, lounging in fresh sheets and an afternoon sunbeam, our minds bubbling with the lingering buzz of mimosa and boundless possibilities for our day. The gardenia and balsam fir candles waft calming scents through the room, warm the carpet, and set the mood.
He cuddles me, I cuddle back. We roll over. I rub his butt in seduction, and then we hold each other close. Consciousness fades.
We wake up two hours later, groggy and confused.
Me: I thought we were going to have sex.
We fall back to sleep.
^ Yeah no. I saw this and sundry other doormat lifestyle posts today on the web about giving people chances and finding the good, and I arched a brow and made a pfft noise into my coffee. I don’t subscribe to the social requirement to abide toxic relationships. I am no martyr, I do not give of myself ceaselessly, and I see no reason why people should give back to those who hurt them. Those are the types of people who are chronically unhappy despite the smile they force themselves to wear while being stepped on. So, why take the wrong lessons from them? The biblical stories of Jesus are parables, but not in the way their devotees think. Give of yourself completely, and the world will take everything from you in kind; that’s the lesson of Jesus’ murder from the gospels, folks (but also, don’t be a political rabblerouser in classical Roman colonies?)
On a serious note, humanity is not all good, nor is it all evil; it’s a marbled mixture of millions of walks of life. You will not and can not be compatible with everyone. Some people are not meant for you, although you know them personally through family, friendships, romances, colleagues, clubs, or casual encounters. And I’m here to tell you that it’s fucking OK not to reciprocate interactions with toxically incompatible people purely because they want you to. It’s also OK to hold on to your bitterness about it (albeit in a way that doesn’t overtake your psyche) because that shit will evolve you for future endeavors. Never miss an opportunity for a teachable moment.
Want healthy social wisdom? Try these gems that I live by:
My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever. – Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice
When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. – Maya Angelou
Once you learn to be happy, you won’t tolerate being around people who make you feel anything less. – Germany Kent
Self-respect knows no considerations. – Ghandi
I realize that happiness is a maelstrom of variables such as environment, privilege, skill sets, and other circumstantial items in addition to personal choices, but I firmly believe that regularly excising toxic people from your bubble (and then keeping them out) is central to your well being and happiness.
My body has never held up well in the fight with nature. I think I’ve spent two weeks out of every month since this past fall with some kind of congestion cold. I’m sure that hanging out in a sweaty yoga studio doesn’t help. My colleagues keep telling me to go to a doctor, but I’m not in a hurry to waste trips and co-pays just to be told the obvious; “Yup, you’re sick. Drink fluids. Rest. Have juice. Eat healthy.” Thank you, oh wise health advocate. What would I do without you?
So, in an attempt at self-help, I’ve built a vitamin regimen for myself. I’m posting it here to a) help me understand what everything is and b) as reference for making modifications later. If you’re knowledgeable, please feel free to comment and suggest modifications too.
I didn’t want to write this. For as long as this has been going on, I’ve avoided discussing it, but I don’t think I could say I truly moved on without it. And I am ready to move on. Last year the longest chapter of my adult life came to a close; longer than college, longer than grad school, longer than any professional project. My relationship with Matt ended.
We were an It couple; a reliable duo always in tandem. Presidential campaigns came and went, a few nations were rearranged on atlases, and a rover landed on Mars, and through it all Mary and Matt were a unit of measurement. We were together long enough to acquire holiday traditions, accumulate years of running gags, and to travel the country. We survived three moves, nightmare roommates, two schools, multiple bands and albums, unemployment, crippling debt, two health crises, a family intervention, and even one breakup. You could say that I had faith in us for better or worse, in sickness or in health. I may be at a place now where I can sound clinical as I dissect its closure, but don’t let that minimize your perception of the impact this had on me. Losing my rock was a devastating reality regardless of how stable or unstable that rock may have been.
It’s not difficult to understand why we got together at first. There we were at 24 & 25, two single-and-ready-to-mingle musicians brought together by chance on an obscure project. We met twice a week to make art (already an intimate endeavor). Sharing little in common with our families, colleagues, and even most of our friends (at the time), we bonded hard and fast. We found each other attractive, sure, but we also shared intellect, nerdy interests, political leanings, brooding outlooks, and short term goals. It’s easy for twenty-somethings with this much in common to fall in love. So few logistics and long-term planning come into play. It’s not until later in a relationship–long after most tie the knot–that the hot burn of new love fizzles out and youthful optimism and naivete wear off; where things like long-term compatibility and partnership become real questions… And a testament to my faith in us: that it took so long for my commitment fog to dissipate enough to ask these real questions.
What constitutes long-term compatibility? At 30 I can’t say for sure. I can only relay what I understand in contrast to where mine failed. We looked good on paper. Our interests were similar. But, they were tangentially so; they never intersected. We would like the same music but never the same bands. We liked the same film genres but never the same movies or tv shows. We liked videogames but never wanted to play the same ones. We liked to travel but not to the same places. We liked to go out, but not to do the same things when we got there. We had strong attention to detail, but never on the things we each felt mattered. Most critical of all, I think: we had similar goals but never the same priorities.
With each passing year it should have become easier to fit into each other’s lives, not increasingly difficult. Time together was forced and often silent. It was a duty of schedule that we fulfilled before returning to our preferred passions and pursuits. It was a costume that we wore to events when we could hardly participate in the same conversations for want of differing company. Everything was routine, and dates were exciting things that you did Platonically with other people. Trying to make us work felt like throwing a pebble into a well and listening for it to hit the bottom, but I wanted to keep trying to rescue us because I loved us. He may even have tried too. I don’t want to know because it doesn’t matter now.
What made the breakup difficult to understand and cope with at first was that ultimately there weren’t any “he did this” or “she did this” to tip the blame. We were incompatible in the long-term through no faults of our own (although we worked long and hard on each other to find ways in which it was our fault). The fact of the matter is that sometimes two good people with good chemistry isn’t enough to sustain a lifetime together. Commitment alone does not get you over the finish line, and sometimes quitting the race before you hate each other is the right choice, as difficult as that choice may be to hear.
In the long-term, I need more than a buddy. What I need is a partner. That requires long-term compatibility, the definition for which seems like a moving goalpost as I get older and which of course is highly nuanced and subjective depending on who you ask. Whatever this mystical conglomerate of traits looks like for me, though, I am wholly determined now to demand it. I think real partnership requires an intersectionality of similarity, sacrifice, and general goodness. A partner should want to give of themselves to you, not just show themselves to you.
Do you ever get the “self respect” comments from people with regard to your looks? Has anyone lambasted you for going to the store, the gas station, the coffee shop, class, or any other errand not “looking your best”? Well, people mostly leave me alone now, but I used to get this in college. I remember one conversation in particular when a friend [male, of course] professed his hatred of sweatpants (I was the daily sweatpants queen). He dressed dapper (shirt, vest, tie, slacks) for class every day and proclaimed to me one morning that students dressing down for class don’t respect themselves or their peers. I didn’t have the words to decry this at the time. Truly, I think I just snorted and rolled my eyes and let it go. Yet, sometimes–even today, ten years later–I think about this scene. It pops into my head in full detail.
I laugh now remembering that in college I tried to work as close to 30 hours a week as I could, overloaded on credits to have two majors and a minor (e.g., 5 classes per semester), play a sport, sing twice a week in chamber choir plus concerts & trips, exercise regularly, and have a social life all while being constantly ill due to a sickly constitution. I think one of the very last things I thought about at night was whether my peers liked the way I dressed or wore my makeup and hair. I didn’t attend college to be looked at, and I certainly didn’t feel the need to seek the superficial approval of my peers in order to coexist and learn beside them or to work as their manager. I feel bad for my accuser now, looking back and realizing that it wasn’t pride he spoke from but deep, raw insecurity. He wasn’t offended at my looks. He was offended that I didn’t need to manicure them. He was upset that I was regularly happy without the outward appearance of trying while he tried so very, very much.
Comparing that person with some similar folks I know in modern time, it seems to me that the people who require validation the most are so often the first to snap at a vague, easily misconstrued comment, the most easily offended, the “high maintenance” friends with whom you must always walk on eggshells. They’re the ones who say “I look awful, and I don’t even care today!” while in nicely pressed clothes, a full 30 minutes’ worth of makeup (if applicable), and hair done.
As a fun aside, I used to go camping with someone who would slink off to the restrooms and do her makeup every morning. On a camping trip. I shit you not. “Roughing it!” her selfies would say, to the pregnant pause of the audience.
Anyway, I have never thought I needed to present a dashing front at the grocery store, and I still don’t. That level of “no fucks” feels amazing, and I highly recommend it.
Some think of atheism as a weakness, but I see it as strength: the strength to rely on your own abilities and convictions and acknowledge that they’re enough; that they stand on their own.
For years I have wondered…. How much better at math would I be had I spent those average 2 hours each school day in lecture instead of religious activities? You could say I excelled in some areas and didn’t in others (like most children). However, I find several thousand dollars per child per year for a “better education” to be a suspect expense for a struggling family when that child then tests into remedial math with the mentally challenged and the drug-addled tweens at the start of high school.
Because there’s no such thing as a gap year for math curriculum, getting behind in math is a handicap that plagues you for the rest of your life. I started high school effectively two years behind my peers who came from public or other private/charter schools. Therefore, I never had time to take advanced trigonometry, pre-calculus, calculus, or physics. This meant I tested low for PSAT and SAT, and by extension meant I began college in remedial math theory. To stay on schedule, I pushed through an Economics Bachelors without a background in calculus (there was no such thing as remedial calculus at my college, but a 17 year old can’t plan for what she doesn’t know she needs). After college, I then–naturally–tested low in math for the GRE.
“But maybe you’re a poor math student. Lots of kids are. It’s unfair to blame Catholic education.” I considered that. Believe me, I spent years debating the question of culpability. It’s next to impossible to evaluate my Catholic K-8 education having no control group, never attending a public school. However, I ended up in the statistics field by choice. That’s not exactly what you expect of a literature-hungry arts kid who’s simply “bad at math”.
I’ve spent the last decade working in public school education research. I’ve visited countless public schools across the country to perform observations, and I’ve studied their curriculum and that of the Common Core. Now I work on the national assessments. As I delved into standards and reporting, it seemed horrific to discover that there are no required curricula for private schools. The curriculum is mostly up to their discretion, and parents must somehow make an informed decision from schools’ recruitment materials. What defense do parents of prospective students have against the well-produced propaganda? They’re victims, too, in a way. Society promises that private education is better, but this claim is based solely on aggregate national data and some anecdotes, all of which are correlated with the fact that wealthier families’ kids perform better no matter the school. Put wealthy kids in the same building, and that school will perform better than public schools regardless of the curriculum (for reasons that are discussed at length by numerous books and articles that are superfluous to repeat here). Busy parents with little to no institutional knowledge of private schools can’t be expected to know this, or to parse the propaganda effectively, and their kids can’t be expected to bring home critical reports of the education they’re receiving. For working parents, the education their children receive at private schools is a black hole, and there’s no easy way to fix the knowledge gap if media doesn’t care enough to develop the kind of investigative reporting crusade necessary to break through the private school lobbies that require that black hole to operate. My K-8 school has finally been shuttered, but ultimately not for any of the reasons it should have been.
I think at this point in my life, it’s safe to call it. I’ve made as informed a decision as would be possible for someone in my situation: my Catholic K-8 education was not worth the cost, and I am [scholastically] worse off having attended. I use the qualifier “scholastically” because there’s still the bias (earned or unearned) of college guidance counselors that expensive schools are better, and so my attendance may have bolstered my acceptance into my first choice college. It’s unfortunate that my parents’ expenditures met such unpredictable outcomes when their intentions were so good. School data was not so easily come by in the 80s and 90s as it is now, so I can hardly hold that against them. And, unless you work in the field or have the time and interest to keep up with the field, our U.S. society does not make these things easy to know. And, of course, who can really fathom what a pamphlet means by vague phrases about religious nurturing? Why would a parent suspect that an expensive school that claims to value education so much would then regularly remove their children from classes for noneducational activities? That is simply unknowable at the time of enrollment (in B.I.E., Before Internet Era).
Of course, then there’s the other part of my brain that balks at being so forgiving and understanding. Certainly, I’d expect intelligent, rational, working adults to be a little suspicious of the ability of an impressionable young girl to achieve career-oriented education at a facility that openly believed a woman’s greatest life achievement was leaving society. The figureheads of the school prayed full-time and lived off the charity of working people–an idea that would seem to be in direct contrast with my parents’ Republican mantra of welfare recipients are lazy leeches who don’t deserve help. But then again, our nuns were white and Catholic, so….. leeches were OK if they look and sound like you? Or perhaps it was that being poor, non-working, and homeless was OK as long as you threw in the qualifier “But they do it for God” at the end. I don’t suppose these are the kinds of insights Catholic schools expect children to absorb, but they are. What I heard was that girls can do anything, but what I saw was that they shouldn’t if they know what’s good for them. Outspoken girls were told to be quiet. Girls with interest in non-conformist arts (rock/metal music, fantasy/scifi literature) were told their interests were unfaithful and evil. Girls were told their very character was definable by their dress, face, and presence of vaginal blockage. Girls were told that physical activities were useless and that prayer and their eventual wifely service to a man and children were the ultimate expressions of goodness. Girls were told their husbands would be the heads of their household and that the bible commands they obey him in all matters…. In short, I can’t in good conscious give any parent a pass on sending a girl to a convent and then expecting her to come out the other side both empowered and devout. Because of the millennia of gendered repression and baggage that comes hand-in-hand with most religions, it is one or the other. So, with one hand I forgive my parents for their ignorance, and with the other I blame them for it. Ignorance that is so willful is by its nature unworthy of forgiveness.
I’m not just imagining that my Catholic K-8 valued the bible over my scholastic potential. This isn’t hindsight blowing specific moments out of proportion. Unlike many girls who might feel similarly about their experiences at private school and have no proof to back up their sentiments, I have the rare advantage of evidence. Many administrations sugarcoat religious indulgences in order to avoid parental backlash; my school (which has since closed its doors for financial hardship) laid it all out on the table. One day around the Easter season when mass, stations of the cross, benediction, feast day, May Procession rehearsal, & other ceremony schedules were more hectic than usual (consequently, Easter season is also testing season, if anyone cares…. *crickets*), our priest gave a homily that I will never forget as long as I live. In an effort to respond to criticisms about missing so much class for religious activities, he said “When you’re on your death bed, you won’t need math or the sciences. The only thing that will have mattered in your life is your religious education. We give you what you need to get to heaven. Other schools can teach you math and science.” As a seventh grader sitting in that pew, the words shocked me, although I didn’t know why. I felt like someone was revealing something to me, but I didn’t have the objectivity or the worldly knowledge yet to know exactly what. But we aren’t at other schools, and we’re not going to be, I thought to myself, experiencing the first seeds of doubt. Even as a devout 7th grader, the priest’s words upset me. I began to grow very wary of the school I loved, the staff I respected, and the lifestyles it venerated.
I have so many questions about my private education to which I’ll never have answers. Chief among them is, would I have turned out “Exceptional” instead of just “OK” had I not always been so behind my peers as I got older…. had an institution of higher learning not abused its power to convince me that my education didn’t matter as it systematically scraped away at it? Might I have been more successful than I am today had I not been made to carry this angry chip on my shoulder about my life at the convent? Or is the contrary true? Am I actually exceptional because I fought these battles at a critical age? Were these events actually the catalysts for my success? Were these intellectual and emotional battlegrounds I traversed in youth the reasons I took education, atheism, and feminism (the very pillars of my adult identity) so seriously? And is it true that not being challenged in such ways leads to uncritical, under-stimulated minds and selfish, untested perspectives?