I appeared on PBS’ To The Contrary, and discussed abortion bans, marking gender on passports, and the Johnny Depp lawsuit against Amber Heard:
My grandparents were hoarders. They had a majestic four-story farmhouse in small-town southern Minnesota, overlooking the park with the baseball diamond, and most of the rooms were sealed, some filled to the ceiling with stuff. Growing up, I would go “spelunking” beyond the two semi-passable rooms in which they had confined themselves. After my grandfather got sick, they moved up to a senior apartment where my grandmother lived during the brief period before he died and the subsequent years that followed. She promptly filled that one-bedroom unit, too, with stuff, creating impassable corridors and unusable spaces with tantalizing green glass knickknacks, piles of books and periodicals, and tins full of candies or coins or buttons everywhere. A covered table and lack of couch did not matter: You could sit on her bed or stand at the makeshift table to eat her luxuriant pies and have a spot of amusing conversation. It would be easy to blame the hoarding on my grandmother, but I believe my grandfather, too, was a hoarder: In addition to the big-old house, he had literal warehouses full of stuff that he would auction. My grandmother’s mobility was limited and I think only he would have been able to fill most of the rooms in their home.
‘Hating’ The Container Store in a principled yet flirty way is part of my feminism. I resent the implication that I can have it all — an office, a kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a Christmas wrapping season that never ends — and be neat, and yet I am tantalized by the implied promises whispering in my ears as I pace slowly, solipstically down aisles smelling of new plastic, gleaming and not yet bulging botulistic with objects that are irrelevant to my present needs but that I have not found the confidence to throw away. I am guilty of purchasing plastic bins that don’t get used, sometimes empty old bins stacked on top of new, aspirational bins, for years-long stretches before I try, slowly, to chip away at my stuff. Mainly I just hate that we expect women to be ready for everything but also to be clean.
I think we’re supposed to hate Marie Kondo. Mainly because she’s a woman and we’re supposed to hate women, but also because she’s a successful Asian woman, businesswoman, and entrepreneur with a net worth that our culture mostly reserves for white men. In my artistic presentation of the problem she treats, her book has sat on my overstuffed bookshelf for well over a year. As I look forward to reading it, I have started watching her show on Netflix. And I love Marie Kondo. I love her skirts and her hugs. I love imagining getting dressed up and walking into someone’s house and loving their energy and giving them a hug during a filming season just before viral loads and droplets wrecked all that. I love how she sits down and blesses a house. I love how she listens to people and offers no judgement over their habits and preferences and quirks. I love how she folds T-shirts in a way that make them seem like little tea towels. I love her name. When I say it I feel sweet, in control, and ready to storm the gates. If Madonna in a cone bra was the next stage of feminism in the 1990s, surely Marie Kondo reassuring women and silently letting men and children begin to observe the latticework of their own over-reliance on Mom is another stage of feminism during this bleak juncture of the twenty-first century.
For this viewer, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo is not a television show about clutter. It is a way of analyzing gender. What I see in these shows is women being expected to hold it together for everyone and slowly, then finally, breaking. It is women navigating grief and loss, picking up the pieces of lives that are no longer in the present. It is women who are so well dressed, forced to confront at an older age a mountain of clothes showing how we are expected to look stylish and fresh. She makes us put the mountain on our beds, where culture shoved us in such a different way when we were younger. Sometimes when I watch this show I cry. Marie Kondo is perfect. She is calm, measured, flexible, patient, and playing her gender role in a radical, subversive way — making bank and also giving women permission to look at ourselves honestly and say what who we really are and want out of life, rather than holding on for contingencies someone else might expect us to have at the ready, just in case. Her television show is, for this feminist, about shedding crap and allowing people in the private sphere to be seen. Subtly, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo acknowledges the complicity of men and kids in delegating the hearth to women in the most unrealistic of ways, and promotes building confidence to see and state our own preferences in a mainstream, unthreatening way that walks and talks like self-help capitalism rather than the radical feminist promise it holds.
In the most recent Republican primary debate, the presidential candidates were asked to name their greatest weakness. For the most part, everybody ducked.
Kasich and Christie invented their own alternate questions, and answered them. Huckabee, Rubio, and Paul used the opportunity to compliment themselves. Bush, Trump, Carson, and Fiorina answered by painting themselves as genuine people rather than political hacks. Cruz came through most honest, acknowledging that most of us don’t want to have a beer with him — which, at some level, indicates he’s not a team player (true, true).
Most everyone who has been through the job interview process, particularly on the hiring side, knows that an inability to admit weakness is a big red flag.
There’s something deeply wrong with people who are so conceited they can’t identify areas for self-improvement. They’re awful team members, bosses, and direct reports. Perfect people tend to refuse criticism and act like arrogant, boorish jerks. Their ability to grow is limited, because how much can you learn, much less change and improve the next time, if you’re already perfect?
Most of all, an inability to concede weakness is the hallmark of a craptastic leader. Leadership is not the person in the cape who saves everyone. Leadership is helping others do their best. Leadership is working through other people, and to do that well you need to listen to others, have empathy, and be open to changing your mind in the face of new information or additional perspective.
Otherwise you’re just telling people what to do.
Maybe that works for awhile, as in the case of Bully in Chief Donald Trump’s early dominance in the Republican presidential primary season, although his numbers are slipping; or notorious psychopath Al Dunlap of Sunbeam, who wrote a book titled Mean Business before the company was forced to file for bankruptcy in spite of (or perhaps because of) the merciless staff cuts he made as its ‘chainsaw’ CEO.
Leadership as dominance is never ultimately sustainable, because the little guy has tremendous power, especially through organizing and collective action.
And we should absolutely question why ‘the little guy’ has a positive, go get ’em connotation, and ‘the little lady’ has a very different, condescending one.
There’s been a good bit of attention paid to the pitiful percentage of women in the most respected forms of leadership — executive leadership, public service, religious leadership — and there should be more.
The leadership gap is not due to character defects inherent in women, or a lack of appropriate training, although programs that specifically aim to train and develop women and girls must continue until equality has been reached in the ratio of women and men in leadership.
That said, the ‘but we need to build the pipeline’ argument is a bit of a smokescreen: There is an excess of qualified, capable women who are willing and ready to lead today. Rather than ask women why this is happening, it’s time to ask the white men who continue to wield disproportionate power in virtually every corridor of repute. They’re not sharing, and they have some ‘splaining to do.
Commonly it’s suggested, even by those who identify as feminist advocates, that women are more collegial and more likely to listen because they are women — but this is a gender essentialist trap. However, this argument does underlie an important and real point.
Leadership is actually not dominance — a good leader uses empathy, humility, and listening in service of building and supporting strong people who don’t need a strong, blustering leader. Leadership is growing alongside the people you’re charged to support. Sounds like a good parent to me, actually.
Maybe the character traits and experiences that we’ve devalued as feminine and non-leaderly deserve a fresh look.
Is it rude to bring a baby to a restaurant? Should parents get a babysitter or stay home so other patrons can have an adult conversation without the threat of crying in the background? Should mothers breastfeed their infants in the restroom because boobies don’t belong in a dining room? To all of the above: Hell, no!
Let’s be clear about something. The most disruptive behavior I have witnessed in public restaurants, coffee shops, and bars has always been drunk and/or horny adults, not babies. Sure, I’ve been in restaurants where babies cried, but I never remembered those crying babies years later, the way I do the drunk guys who puked on the floor of the restaurant, the frat boys who shouted and shoved each other into the snowbanks on the sidewalk outside the door, the middle-age couple with mismatched ring fingers more or less sliding into second base at Starbucks (it was so clear you were cheating, OMG!).
And yet no one is saying the drunk and/or horny shouldn’t be allowed to go into restaurants.
Being a new parent of an infant in our culture can be incredibly isolating. One of the things you hear new parents say over and over again is that first going into public can be scary for fear of the baby needing to cry, nurse, or both. This fear is culturally supported by the idea that infants in restaurants and other public spaces are disruptive. Further, this fear is supported by deeply ingrained ideas about gender: That women and children should “stay home,” that public spaces are primarily for “adults” (read: men, or women without children), that breastfeeding infants is somehow “sexual” or “dirty.” Gender matters because while this affects parents of both genders, women are disproportionately and uniquely impacted.
It’s something we should overcome because infants are part of our human family as much as everyone else, and deserve to live in public, declare their basic needs, and have them met. It’s something we should overcome because mothers (and fathers!) are adults who deserve to take up space in public restaurants at least as much as, if not more than, rude adults who can be much more disruptive than a crying baby a parent is working to soothe.
No one makes blanket statements that drinkers and people who are going to have sex should not be allowed in restaurants.