I’ve always been intrigued by Thought Experiments:  the kind that place you in stressful situations and reveal your deepest values when faced with various dire circumstances. Many of us have had some version of a Values class, or training; or maybe we engaged in such Experiments to pass the time:  “You have to leave your house in an emergency and can only take what you can carry in your arms; what will you grab?”  “You’re cast adrift in the ocean and can only help your spouse or your child survive (one or the other); who will you save?”  

I can recall many years ago, when now-global celebrity Oprah Winfrey had barely begun airing her television program, one of her guests was a psychologist who ran selected audience members through these two scenarios. Although I didn’t watch her program routinely (it aired while I was at work), the show must’ve been on when I was on holiday, because I happened to tune-in while scrolling through channels. It was memorable, on several levels.

I can still recall the wild uproar ( audience members – mostly female — were literally on their feet ) when one woman in particular told everyone in the studio that day that she would most definitely save her husband, as opposed to her drowning child, if forced to choose. Now, Winfrey’s a pretty cool head, but she didn’t seem prepared for the reaction of the crowd as it processed this statement. (The woman’s rationale, as she tried to justify her choice over the din of the audience, was “I can always have more children, but I could never replace my husband!”)

I wonder if Security had to escort the woman from the building at the end of the show? Seldom have I seen so many women – a few even in tears – look like they might tear one of their own limb from limb. It was a Thought Experiment run amok, in my opinion:  there wasn’t really room for discussion after that – just an enormous tidal wave of emotion that Winfrey immediately tried to quell with a commercial break.

Our value systems are, in large part, uniquely personal. It’s clarifying and even helpful to explore and talk about what matters to us; what’s really important in our lives. Doing so during pivotal moments, or times of stress, can facilitate wise choices and prevent mental or emotional ‘overload’.

As human beings we share in collective value systems that are deeply tied to our cultures. In the above scenario, where the unfortunate woman became a target for admitting that she could withstand losing her child, but not her husband, onlookers left no doubt in anyone’s mind that her choice was a major Taboo. In most of the world’s cultures, children are automatically bestowed with  a kind of sanctity that adults are not; regardless of any religious backdrop for  this fundamental belief. Which really makes me wonder about the ongoing digression from care and consideration for our most vulnerable in society: those that we’ll rely upon as we all inevitably age.

Several important people throughout history (Gandhi, writer and novelist Pearl S. Buck, and political U.S. presidential candidate of long ago, Hubert Humphrey, to name a few) have stated their values publicly, when it comes to protecting the “weakest members” of society. Using various words and phrases, these three proclaimed that the morality of any society could be gauged by how it treated “those at the dawn of life, and those at the sunset of life”:  children and the elderly. (Gandhi, by the way, also included all animals when he defined those needing and deserving extra care and protection.)

Here in the United States, I wonder about the difference between our espoused values, and the values that we actually act on in our daily lives. I noticed that a particular politician in the U.S. recently cried-out about gun violence, only when it became apparent that his young daughter could have easily been a victim, due to her proximity to the killer during a recent mass shooting.

What do we really believe? Do our fundamentally-human beliefs apply to ourselves and our families, or to all humans of the world? How often do we act on our deepest beliefs? As I look around, I just don’t see the shock, outrage and protests that were so evident in Oprah’s audience, so many years ago. Not that I’m suggesting the attack on the woman, in that instance, on that day, was warranted. But there was a response — albeit to a fictitious scenario. We have the real-thing, right now, right here in our lives. I’m really feeling my own response and wonder if — hoping others — are too…

(Channeling The Who to begin this Post…) Here’s my question for today:  Other than for sociologic discussions, why do we need to isolate, characterize and compare Generations of human beings? It seems to me that we’re already in our ‘corners’ on all kinds of topics, ready to advance with fists up, to argue, fight and defend. Or, we’re ready to cower meekly when others shove us into one-size-fits-all boxes.Why is it that birth generations have become fodder for even more discord? I mean, do we need more?

The Greatest Generation (aka, The Silent Generation). Baby Boom-ers. Generation X, Y and Z (how insulting that Mainstream Minds have so far been unable to create more flattering ‘tags’ for those born after 1965). What purpose do these labels serve? How can they possibly be representative of all people born into certain timespans?

Yesterday I read an editorial by a prolific journalist, commentator and author who writes for the New York Times. His piece was titled, “Will Gen Z Save the World?” Fact: you’ll get no argument from me that our Earth and the people on it need saving. But the implication of the editorial was that everyone else prior to Gen Z has already screwed-up or given up. So now the survival of our planet and its inhabitants rests on the shoulders of those born after 1995. No Pressure, right?

Not to say that 24 or 25 year olds aren’t up to the task; but, what does this say about everyone not in this group? Are they, like the Roman emperor Nero, just blindly playing their fiddles while Rome burns? I don’t know about you, but I’m more aligned with the character Howard Beale, in the movie “Network”. His famous rallying cry  “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” is still hailed as a pivotal moment (righteous tirade) in U.S. film (and social) culture evolution. (Especially appropriate, here in the States, right now.)

According to a nationwide Pew survey conducted in 2018 (as noted in the editorial I’m referring to), thousands of American citizens were asked what, if anything, brought meaning to their lives. An overwhelming number of respondents (of all ages, btw) reported feeling besieged by depression, drug and alcohol dependency; a bit fuzzy about meaning and purpose; and struggling with a nationwide moral-compass spinning cartoonishly, out of control.Once again, you’ll hear no disagreement from me about the confusion and chaos, despair and divisiveness coating our hearts and minds like toxic sludge. But – how far back do we go, to arrive at the beginning of how this current situation evolved?

Looking at the way we put people into buckets, we tend to start with The Silent Generation:  stoic, penny-pinching Depression-era survivors who, incidentally, also heroically joined with allies to defeat Hitler. They came home from World War II and celebrated by creating a tsunami of babies:  These Baby Boom-ers were raised in households focused on Exsitential Lessons. Finding some kind of work (e.g., mowing lawns) just to have pocket money was a motivator starting at around age 10. The drive continued, to college or trade schools; making money and busting all kinds of materialistic moves in the world. Their actions may seem a little selfish in hindsight, but such were the expectations.The common belief now seems to be that this group has done little beyond consuming too much and trashing the earth. To add insult to injury, Boom-ers are also showing remarkable longevity.

Pros and cons are debated and on-view ( books, articles and on the Internet) about Boom-ers and subsequent generations, with finger-pointing and labeling in all directions. But the truth is, each generation is unique in the challenges it faces, growing up and then entering the world. No single group of people can or should take all of the blame for our society’s dysfunctions;  nor should “X, Y, or Z” be assumed to be the only groups in possession of the morality, sensibility, intelligence and motivation needed to get-moving on fixes (as the writer of the editorial directly claims the Z-ers are).

Most people feel anxious when confronted with significant, or unwelcome Change. This is especially true now, with so many high-stakes topics to deal with globally, and all at once. But for each generation of human beings so far, there’ve always been challenges to navigate. It seems to me, that humanity has much more to concern itself with in the Now than calling-out past or current generations.

Our world is more complicated and dangerous than it ever has been. This we know. What are the Forces at work, causing us to focus so intently on our differences, rather than on our commonalities? Not one of us can go back and re-write the time or circumstances of our birth. We just have to “Deal”: whatever it takes. Spoken like a True Boom-er, I know; but it’s a lesson I learned from The Silent Generation, and feel it’s pretty much worth passing-on.

My father was a French professor and total Francophile. It wasn’t that he thought so highly of the French as individuals; his personality type just gravitated toward French culture’s well-known celebration of its own opinions and beliefs about the human condition. From my perspective (parental influence and my own travel experiences), the French have the most wonderful way of “nailing” a situation with an economy of words; or, silence and a raised eyebrow;  or, silence and the classic Gaelic Shrug (while the lower lip turns slightly out, and down). Even miniscule changes in a French person’s body language can convey that the topic (whatever it is) is probably unworthy of serious consideration.

The Eyebrow speaks volumes.

 “J’Accuse!” (first proclaimed and penned by French author Émile Zolà, author and journalist in 1898), translates as ‘I Accuse You’, or, more colloquially, This Whole Situation is Your Fault. Over many years, “J’Accuse!” has become an enduring trope in movies, television program dramas and sitcoms, and even animated ‘adult’ cartoons. In whatever context, the exclamation’s usually shouted with an attempt at a French accent, and accompanied by a dramatically-pointed finger in the face of the wrongdoer. “J’Accuse!” came into my mind today, after a couple of major ‘This is Your Fault!’’ moments in the media (print and recorded conversations) that feel, as I mentally compiled other recent moments, like indications of a developing Tsunami of Blaming and Shaming in Western culture.

In the United States, we’re in the throes of our 2020 presidential election process. During a recent debate of hopeful candidates, verbal fireworks erupted when one accused the other of making “hurtful” (racial bias-related) comments. The verbal blast (shaming) went on for some minutes, while the accused hung his head and looked contrite. Regardless of whose side might be considered more correct or sympathetic, the spectacle was deliberate in its assignment of blame, and its effort to demolish an opponent’s credibility and worth as a potential Leader of the Free World. This “J’Accuse!” moment clearly came from a place of pain, for which there was no immediate balm. Blame, with a large dollop of Shame on the side; called-out in public, and reverberating around the world.

Just a few hours later, scanning the latest print headlines, I came across an editorial claiming to be written “on behalf of Millennials”, by a self-identified 30-something person. The title of her piece was,  “The Baby Boomers Stole My Future!” The editorial began with a presentation of  trends and statistics related to significant life choices being made by Millennials. But it continued in its speculation that those choices were, and are, the direct result of Millennials feeling impacted (impaired, thwarted, highjacked) by the decisions of those born between 1945 and 1964 (so-called Boomers). It was a scathing rebuke (“J’Accuse!”) of the collective (as she viewed it) greed, selfishness, disregard, and ignorance of the Children of The Greatest Generation. According to the editorial, but for the Boomer generation, the vast majority of “dysfunctional” Millennials wouldn’t be so nihilistic about their futures, so anti-social (about jobs, marriages and babies) in their commitments, or living like gypsies (or in their parents’ basements). Regardless of whether or not these accusations are accurate (read the autobiographical book “Sea Stories”, by Ret. Admiral William McRaven, for a polar opposite view of Millennials), the editorial stands – recorded for posterity — in its potency of Blame and Shame.

Most of us have felt, at some point in our lives (maybe even repeatedly), hindered by people and circumstances beyond our control. We may have been born into unloving families or raised in the midst of violence, addiction, or severe mental incapacity. One of the most poignant and angst-ridden Blues songs (all about pain)  I’ve ever heard is Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign”. As the songwriter says, “I’ve been down since I began to crawl; If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”  Sometimes simple survival in the Arena of Life can feel like a miracle in itself. Lies, betrayals, abuse & neglect, bullying, persecution, or just idiotic decisions on the part of someone else may have stunted our growth, diminished our sense of self-worth, stymied our ambitions, or kept us locked in a prison of despair.

Is there any value in assigning Blame for what others may have done to us? Is there something worthwhile to be gained through Blaming and Shaming people who’ve harmed us? Is there an expiry date for either, or both? After a while, even those with the most legitimate-seeming complaints may feel like scolds, whiners, weaklings – being told to Just Get Over It – compounding the hurt. An injured person who blames and shames usually wants acknowledgement (no guarantees there!), and often seeks some kind of justice or reparation (maybe, maybe not). Some injuries can be tended-to, even “fixed” in some way; but most can never be undone except through the decision to Forgive.

I lived my own life, for many years, in the clutches of the need to Blame:  primarily, family members whose impactful behaviors ran the gamut from thoughtless and hurtful, to truly vile. I eventually realized that Blame (and its partner Shame) is like a dead-end street: you’re not going anywhere unless you turn around and re-trace your steps, back to yourself, and choose a different path.

So, I thought I’d just let this go, but my mind kept circling back to it. With me, that means, Time to add my two cents’ worth of commentary.  I’m referring to a recent Instagram ‘flap’ (creating a collective gasp and flurry of chat in our cyber world) over 53-year old model Cindy Crawford’s decision to Post “racy” (her word) photographs online. Nicely done, Cindy. I mean that. The pictures are tasteful, yet undeniably sexy. Crawford’s still a beautiful woman, regardless of how much air-brushing or photo-shopping was done:  The Bones are there.

I’ve had more than a few friends who’ve taken what used to be called “Boudoir Photos”, feeling the urge to capture for all time a fantasy-like beauty and sexuality. Most haven’t posted them online, however. Crawford’s reasoning for doing so – she was vocal and righteously snippy about it – is that she wanted to speak to the fact that women should not feel they have “Sell-By” dates, when it comes to their sexuality. I couldn’t agree more. Especially if they look like Cindy Crawford. In her statement, Crawford implied that the photographs were also sort of a ‘gift’ for her husband. Not going to argue with that either; but there’s a bit of a weird mashup here:  a political statement and a little eye candy for her spouse? On Instagram? You claim to be speaking for me here, Cindy, so I just want to make sure I’m understanding you.

In my view, a woman’s beauty and her sexuality are inextricably intertwined. In using the word ‘sexuality’ I’m not referring to sex, or the ability to conjure sexual feelings in anyone else. Feeling beautiful is something every woman on the planet is entitled to, and she should get to define what that means to her, and for her. But there’s a particular aspect of beauty that all women share, and that is our sexuality. Our sexuality is based, first and foremost, on the simple fact that we were born female. If we choose to embrace this (feel comfortable in our birth gender), our sexuality as females blossoms as we age. Our sexuality originates as a sense of self, a knowledge of self, a celebration of self and the ancient power inherent in being a woman. A woman’s sexuality does not , nor should it, require a male’s attention or validation in order to flourish.

Despite the “Swinging 60’s”, the brief illusion that women could truly celebrate being female in ways that suited their own bodies, minds and spirits, all women have faced a narrowing of the definitions of ‘beauty’ and ‘sexuality’ over time. Yes, faces on glossy magazine covers have become more diverse (a good thing), but many of the images we see – within the pages of the top fashion sellers —  still project a version of femaleness that is unrelatable to most women. There are also plenty of examples (movies, music, social media) guiding us in how we should feel about our sexuality; defining what it means  for us. No wonder that, as women age, many begin to feel what Crawford called out as the “Sell-By” date fears.

I’m cheering for Cindy Crawford and her nude photos, regardless of the reasons they ended up on Instagram. (I’ll be curious to see if the next decade brings a new photo shoot). I’m just longing for the time when an Influencer like Crawford’s proclamation includes a shout-out empowering  all women, of all ages, shapes and sizes. She has a right to do her thing, for as long as she chooses to. I’m just not convinced that the 53 year-old women she’s talking to are the same ones I know.

Yesterday I was out running errands – not the fun kind, but out doing ‘essentials’. I had Sirius on as a distraction. The politics of these days are nothing, if not ‘distracting’! Anyway, it took me almost two hours to finish up what I had to do, and in that time, in between pundits discussing the spin-cycle we’re in until at least 2020, I noticed a different kind of insistent messaging assaulting my brain.

When I was fresh out of college and not yet employed as the teacher I would soon become, I took a summer job working as a sales rep for a rock station (I feel old, just saying that). I actually did pretty well in the role, and was fascinated by my learning about how station ratings are dependent upon ratios of advertisements and music; the difference between “drive time” and “quitting time” ( we called it Happy Hour); and how messaging that is repeated so often as to be crazy-making, is actually extremely effective in shaping consumer behavior (purchase habits).

Back to my errands. The advertisement that stuck in my mind (good work, Sirius) repeated itself three times in less than two hours, which is a lot, for a 60-second ad. It featured a female voice-over and the message was half-praise, half warning, which is a super- effective advert tactic. The lead-in was, “Good news:  you’re taking such good care of your body that it’s going to outlast your brain!” (My own paraphrasing, by the way, but the overall gist is accurate). Being the visual person I am, I saw myself on a tennis court, strong and fit…not realizing that I don’t play tennis until a ball smacked me in the head. As you would expect, the message was designed to make me feel that I needed to forget about my errands and make a beeline for the nearest pharmacy before my brain did any more deteriorating.

I wouldn’t give these commericals any thought at all, if there wasn’t such a proliferation of them. They all begin with, “Research shows…”, which many people I’m sure are tempted to accept as Truth. Brain health, bone health, gut health, stability issues, digestive issues. I can hear and see that companies are creating and marketing products, based on the fact that people are living longer and better lives; and this fact needs to be addressed, they think, with medication. “If you don’t have it yet, you’re in line for it, trust us.”

 Back when certain congressional hearings dominated an entire news day, I had the television on in the background while I did some writing and housework. Nearly every “break” was punctuated by an advert for a medicine thought to be needed by “older adults”. By the end of the day, not only was I saturated and disgusted by the hearings, but I realized that the product messaging had invaded my brain and I found myself actually thinking…Is all this s*** (the symptoms and actual ailments) inevitable??

I’m trailblazing here, and maybe I’m alone, but I don’t think so. I don’t take medication and don’t like taking it even when I absolutely have to. I exercise every day and try to do the hydration and clean-food things. The last time I saw my doctor (whom I truly love), he laughed as he said, “It’s a good thing I’m retiring – people like you are about to put me out of business!” (A compliment to my age and relative health). I thought so. We are a healthier group, mid-life, than ever before. But companies know that this has us feeling just a wee bit insecure, as in, “I wonder how long I can make this last?”

My answer to that question is this:  it’ll last a helluva lot longer if we don’t pay attention to the Reaper brain-washing from media. I can’t totally avoid hearing the ads, without giving up the media services I enjoy; but I can, and do, talk back to them. In my opinion, we all should.

Most of the women I know consciously strive to release what we all recognize as unhealthy ways of thinking and patterns of behavior. The amount of introspection and effort required depends on how long we’ve nurtured an emotional wound. The act of Release is an amazing thing. Some women use lovely and elaborate ‘cleansing’ or ‘healing’ rituals that close with celebrations. Some simply meditate, breathe, then release what’s no longer needed to God or the Great Mother, or to the Universe. Some women are so strong that they simply decide: “That’s enough of that!” And then they go for a walk, or to the gym; they treat themselves to a shopping spree or spa-day; a new scent or adornment, or to a full-on vacation.

It feels like I’ve been finding and releasing this kind of “junk” for years. Likening it to one of my least favorite household chores, it feels like I’m stuck in a Groundhog Day of folding and putting away a never-ending basket of now-clean laundry. Just when I think I’ve paired and inverted the last pair of socks, I look down and see there’s more clean laundry in the ‘basket’.

This past weekend I did something (then berated myself afterwards about it) that I thought I was done with: I apologized ( to someone very dear to me) for apparently causing ‘hurt’ — which I felt in my bones was actually an overreaction to a casual comment I’d made. He was upset, and I wanted to soothe him; which I know really meant, enable him. Of course he felt better, having someone to pin his reaction on, but I was left feeling annoyed with myself for having taken on the responsibility for his outburst. Still, harmony was restored, so that was a net-gain for me. For a minute.

In the aftermath of this personal exchange, I wondered why and how my instinct to restore peace has always been — it seems to me — over-developed. As I’ve done my reading (academic and recreational) over the years, I’ve learned that this is a pretty common trait among women. (An underlying reason, I’m convinced, that the majority of males are so fearful of a woman in the White House.) Still, it’s important to be able to take a stand and remain firm in refusing blame that’s not legitimately your own. In the workplace I’ve become skilled at this. My go-to line: “I’m sorry you feel upset,” versus “I’m sorry for what I did” (because I didn’t do anything wrong). In our personal relationships, it’s often more difficult to offer rebuttal when someone’s put-out (unless it’s a child, and you are the parent). As women we’re expected to be receptive; to absorb discord; to offer ‘honey’ instead of ‘vinegar’ to disagreeable people. And we do this; but, at what cost to ourselves and our personal development?

Meanwhile, the Media shows us that a growing number of people appear to be acting on impulse, irrespective of others’ needs and feelings, without ever apologizing. It’s clear that more men than women are in this category. Ironically , we’re also exposed to an increase in outraged voices and very ‘public’ demands for Apology, for perceived slights or injuries. Thanks to our real-time media, public shaming can be instantaneous when/if an apology is not forthcoming. It’s as though our collective, internal perceptions or definitions of What I Believe I Did, versus What You Seem to Think I Did, and What I Really Did have become irreparably distorted and opaque. Are we doing this intentionally (avoiding taking responsibility), or are we really no longer sure of the standards of behavior in our personal lives, nor of the parameters or decorum in our social groups?

I know one thing for sure. I’m going to keep ‘doing my own laundry’ (back to my metaphor) and self-checking ,when an Apology doesn’t feel like mine to make. And I’m going to be totally un-apologetic about that.

Before reading further, please note that some of the material in this Post may cause some Readers (who’ve perhaps had similar experiences) discomfort.

I characterize my  “#MeToo Moments” as follows:  feeling sexually intimidated, coerced, or threatened by a male.

My first #MeToo Moment happened when I was only 9 years old. Not even an adolescent, and I was already the target of a 14 year old boy:  a good friend of my oldest brother, who was also 14. Both of my parents had 9-5 careers. After breakfast, and at the end of the day, my two brothers and I walked or bicycled to and from school. I was usually the first to arrive home in the afternoon; I never knew when my older brothers would show up at home, due to sports and whatever else they did. When they got home, it was still usually two hours or so before an adult was in the house. My brothers had friends over in this timeslot, from time to time. One day, “Doug” showed up at my house, ostensibly to meetup with my oldest brother. Not having any reason to feel fear about being in the house with a 14 year old boy, and a friend of my brother’s besides – someone who I recognized as ‘familiar – I wasn’t alarmed. Doug went into my brothers’ room , but then called to me. When I walked in the room I saw that he was lying on the bed, his legs dangling over the end of it, his pants down around his knees. Now, growing up with two teenage brothers and a pretty healthy balance between ‘information’ about body parts, and modesty, I knew what a penis was and had seen my own father’s once, when he dove into a river sans underwear, during one of our road trips. But a stranger’s anatomy was another matter. I stood frozen where I was, confused about why I’d been called into the bedroom, but Doug cleared that up quickly. He guess he assumed that my hesitance meant I was waiting for instructions. “Touch it.” (No) “Blow on it, then.” (No). Doug was about to ask for something else penis-related, but there was a noise from the hallway of the house – it sounded like one of my brothers was now home. He hastily did up his pants and gave a breathless, “Don’t say anything, ok?” Of course he did.

I tried to put this incident out of my mind. It made no sense to me, but I already felt complicit, somehow, in something bad. The sad truth is, a similar scene played out again, about one week later. This time, however, the boy had more in mind. He came into my own bedroom, where I was putting some little art piece from school on a small table by my bed. Doug got down on his knees, pushing his body against mine and the table, trapping me. He started to put his hands all over me, but this time I pushed past him and ran out of the house. I walked around the block several times – I must have appeared like one strange little girl to the neighbors – until I saw my oldest brother’s bicycle parked in our drive. I shot into the house and told him what his friend had tried to do. (I’d shared the first incident with my best friend at school, and she gave me an “earful” about how stupid I’d been.) My brother, when I told him, at first looked shocked. Then his mouth twisted into a snarl and he accused me of making both events up, trying to get Doug “in trouble”. To this day, I don’t know if my brother ever said anything to his friend – we never spoke of it — but Doug stopped coming to the house. I do know that I continued to feel ashamed, frightened, confused, betrayed and sad that I’d made my brother angry. I definitely felt as though I’d done something to cause this situation; I just didn’t know what.

The second incident happened when I was a beginning teacher, at age 23. I’d been trying to land a permanent position, but had no classroom experience. I was told that, by applying to work summer school, I might earn some quick status that might lead to a contract in the fall of the year. I’d heard that a particular principal had openings in his summer program, so I made an appointment to see him, at very end of the school year. To my amazement, the principal responded enthusiastically to my request and told me how to take care of the “details” of my official hire with HR. It was my very first week of teaching a 9th grade summer school English class. I was so excited, and so happy to be teaching in my subject area. I was also very nervous. I wanted to do a good job. I wanted the students to like me as a teacher and hoped they would enjoy my class. One day, I was in the middle of setting up a film (back in the day of reel to reel projectors!) to introduce a novel to my class. The principal walked straight into the room, directly toward me, with a very stern look on his face. He was at least 6’4″ and very powerfully built. He was also at least 20 years older than I. Of course I was terrified, and paranoid that I’d already done something wrong; something that would cause him to release me from my position. I need this job badly. The man leaned in close to my left ear as the very full class of (almost 40) curious students watched both of us. I was expecting the principal to say, “Report to my office, after class!”. I was sure that his behavior meant a reprimand was coming. Instead, the principal whispered in my ear, “I’d like to f*** your brains out!” Then he turned away and walked out of my classroom.

My face burned. The students in the front row, closest to where I stood, looked freaked-out. They were watching me very intently, perhaps expecting me to cry or to bolt from the room. I struggled to not “lose it”, but it was impossible to teach after that. I put the film on, let it play in its entirety, then dismissed my class at the end of the hour. Shortly afterwards I went to the principal’s office to vent about what he’d done, hoping he wouldn’t fire me on the spot. He accepted me into his office, shut the door and began making suggestive comments about meeting someplace later in the day. I stood by the door and told him clearly how his comment had made me feel and that I was not interested. How the man laughed ! His face was a strange mask of anger and amazement. He began ‘back-pedaling’. It had all been a joke. I was ‘stupid’ for taking him seriously. I had better ‘grow up’ if I wanted to work at his school. He continued belittling me, telling me I was ‘confused’, that I ‘flattered myself’, thinking he was interested in me. His words made me feel that I had somehow imagined the whole thing – a kind of waking nightmare.

I know that neither of the above events were as bad or as harmful as what other women have endured. But I also know that the memories of how I felt when I resisted or objected to being bullied sexually have remained – not only in my memory, but in some deeper, more private place – into adulthood. The shame of ‘the act’ perpetrated on me (especially as a little girl); the frightening moments of not knowing if my resistance would stave off an attack; being ridiculed after the fact; and being accused of making up stories or imagining events all impacted me as a girl growing up, and my perceptions of male authority figures.

When a girl child or a woman is sexually intimidated (or worse), I’ve learned — through my own research – that it’s very common for us to assume that something we did, or, the way we acted or looked, summoned The Beast. We provoked him, and therefore, got what we were secretly hoping for; or somehow deserved. This is the most vile misconception and obscene excuse for male arrogance and aggression toward women that exists.

The more women enter into full awareness of their innate rights, as well as their personal and professional power, the greater the potential for these scenarios to repeat themselves. At this very moment in time, the  growing hostility of males in the media and political arena makes clear how vulnerable we all are as women.

We must stand together; we must be proactive in our actions, showing strength and unity; and, we must protect one another by sharing our stories and validating each one.

Without over-thinking it, ask yourself, “How often, in the course of a single day, do I suppress or “filter” who I really am, what I really think, and what I really want, in favor keeping some kind of harmony in my life?” It could be at home, with family, or in the workplace that you downplay your own ideas, opinions and wishes; it could be a stifling of something so personal to you, like your voice, makeup choices or sense of style.  It could be, out in the world you’re wildly assertive, but in your relationship with yourself, you really don’t approve or accept that who you are is worthy of all of the good things in Life.

 It doesn’t matter what age you are:  if you’re engaged at all in social media or exposed to media messaging of any kind, one of the dominant themes these days (it’s actually a resurgent theme from a few decades ago) is that it’s totally “ok” to Be Yourself. In fact, if you have school age children or grandchildren, you know that being referred to as “fake” is one of the most common and devastating insults to be on the receiving end of. If young children, even in elementary school, are chastising one another for being – intentionally or not – the child’s version of inauthentic or even duplicitous, that tells us a lot about our current culture. So: if authenticity’s not only acceptable, but an expectation for ourselves and others, why does being authentic feel like so much effort? Part of the answer is that learning to be and stay “true to yourself” goes against our DNA. We’ve absorbed a life lesson that’s been clobbering people since we first became social animals, and the fear of being ostracized was legit: being expelled from the protection of the tribe could mean certain death. But we’ve evolved, of course; so much so that we can choose our tribe, and – to a large extent – control much of the personal exposure we have to the larger society of potential critics. Still:  why do the comments and opinions of other people – whether close to us, or coming from cyberspace – get under our skins and make us feel insecure? Why does our sense of being approved of, accepted, (Liked, Followed) sometimes seem more of a determinant of our actions and Life Path than our own inner guidance system?

“Just Do You” is actually a contradiction for us:  a cute little catch-phrase dressed up as thoughtful gift that’s meant to empower in our modern times. But, as anyone who’s exposed a tattoo or piercing in the workplace and gotten negative feedback knows, self-expression is more of an ideal, than a practice consistently sanctioned by society. We’re naturally wary, when we’re on our way to a big interview and a colleague says, “Just be yourself !” We know what’s expected, and we doubt our ability to deliver that, in the process of sharing who we really are, what we know, and what we can do.

Recent events in various newsfeeds (I’m referring to several women currently in the political spotlight) highlight just how hard it is, especially for women, to find and hold on to that place within ourselves that allows for and promotes authenticity. Among other difficulties, we’re constantly being judged by others by our “surface” attributes:  every detail about how we look, how we speak, and what we wear. On a deeper level, projecting strong viewpoints and behaving outside of established norms will usually earn derision of the most personal kind.

Is there a “happy medium”, then,  between retreating into a shell of our own making – letting others dictate our thoughts, feelings and actions — and living a life that is authentic, powerful and fulfilling, but puts us in regular confrontation with others? Older, wiser women know that part of the answer to this question is to stop caring so much about what other people think, while in the pursuit of personal happiness. The way to develop this strength is to take an honest look at your current situation and evaluate for yourself what needs to change, based on what your heart wants. It takes courage to be who you really are;  you might find that people close to you become upset or confused by your changes. You don’t need anyone’s permission (except your own) or approval, before you act on what feels so natural to you.  In fact, the only difficulty you may have is deciding what  (and who) you really want, for the kind of life that really is best for you. Trust me on this:  that’s actually the fun part.

Every woman in my circle has bemoaned the way aging eventually shows up in our faces. Thankfully, we seem to have swapped-out hideous words like “marionette” and “crows’ feet”, for “laugh lines”. We’ve learned to appreciate these changes as badges we’ve earned by living and loving, losing and grieving. Life is a package-deal: no one gets out alive (as the saying goes), and no one gets to avoid wrinkled skin.

I, for one, applaud any woman who chooses to enhance her appearance by any means she deems necessary, appropriate and absolutely worth the expense. Having said that, I was surprised to observe lately, that women in their 20’s and 30’s are now the targets of advertising for the product Botox. Listening to the messaging, the underlying claims are that “Your face can, and should be exactly how you want it to be!” “Whatever your eyes do when you laugh? Don’t put up with it! Whatever that space between your brows does when you’re worried? If it bothers you, get rid of it!” Of course, Botox Cosmetic is the benign name for the neurotoxic protein that removes lines by paralyzing facial muscles. The medical hazards are clear, but are playfully minimized by advertisers. And, there’s even more of what the media-messaging doesn’t reveal…

Not long ago I went to an aesthetician (who’s licensed to perform all kinds of facial and body miracles) to have a scar looked at for possible treatment. After checking-in, a young and attractive young woman in a lab coat appeared and introduced herself as my Beauty Consultant. While I waited for the actual professional, my Consultant handed me a pink brochure with a scrollwork menu of cosmetic procedures that were currently discounted (my visit being close to Valentine’s Day; I didn’t see the connection and still don’t).

Not wanting to seem rude, I focused on a few strange-sounding products (that turned out to be what are referred to as ‘injectables) and asked a question or two. My Consultant was not only knowledgeable, but had experienced most of them herself. I could not resist asking, “Howold are you?” Her facial skin, to my eyes, looked as perfect as a baby’s. With total seriousness she responded, “I’m 24, and you should have seen my lips before injectables!” Of course I immediately looked at her lips. They looked pretty average, but my Consultant assured me that she had no lips at all pre-treatment. Ok. I tried not to picture that.

Getting to the point of my story, I was compelled to ask this young woman more questions — not because I was interested in having my lips plumped, but because she continued to relate other cosmetic procedures she’d had done on her face to make it “more perfect”. I had to know the downside, from her perspective. She started with the obvious: the expense. She continued with the fact that whatever gets injected eventually gets absorbed by the body. Read: it lasts for a few months, then your ‘look’ goes away. What floored me was this young woman’s acknowledgment that injectables were a lifetime commitment. “You know,” she emphasized, with her eyes looking directly into mine, “like going to the gym” (I felt that). She didn’t plan on “getting hooked” she said, “But once I saw how my face could be,” she beamed, I just wasn’t happy going back to how I looked before.” My Consultant claimed that most of the business’s clients kept to their four-or six-month schedules and that this was just another beauty routine, like hair appointments. 

If I had ever considered having “work” done on my face before, those thoughts were gone forever.

Since my transition from an 8-to-5 career to one that allows for more creativity, flexibility and actual brain space to consider the world around me, I’ve started noticing the way that Media targets our sensitivities about food, diets, body shapes and — of course — weight loss. While I’ve never been one to moralize about the personal habits of others (although I do usually speak out against tobacco products), I take note that we’re all susceptible to the repetitive messaging that coerces us to commit our cash to achieve perfect health, vitality, longevity, whatever goal they believe will resonate with us. Checking-out the grocery store magazines: Paleo, Keto, Vegan Delights, Juicing and Mindful eating. There’s nothing wrong with any of these options, of course. On broadcast and cable television there’s a slightly different spin: packaged and delivered pre-portioned meals (Jenny Craig)- as if we didn’t already know how much is “too much”. The “new psychology” of eating (Noom)-as if we didn’t already know about how our emotions impact eating. And, the challenge of Peloton and Peloton digital: planting a niggling notion in our brains that competitiveness is essential to the mastery of fat burning. “To each, his (her) own”, as far as any of these tools go.

What I observe is the constant insertion of Media into our personal choices. If it really wanted to help, instead of simply sell products and subscriptions, it would back off and let us all figure out what foods and portions work best for us. This is, after all, a personal responsibility: a choice that we make each time we feel hungry (physically or emotionally). There’s plenty of information out there about the importance of clean, versus processed food and how it affects overall health. We pretty much know our stressors and triggers (I used to binge Oreos after a grueling day at work). Living lives at high-speed and often in a state of exhaustion, we under-estimate and even ignore our inner voices: what our bodies tell us is needed in terms of food, sleep, exercise, relaxation. Today, and hopefully tomorrow, I’ll choose to honor myself by listening and consciously choosing what my body asks for. Hey Media? I don’t need any prodding, thank you.