Funny story

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At the Wild Writers Festival this weekend, here in Waterloo, I took my daughter along to volunteer. At lunchtime, I gave her some money and she went across the street to the grocery store to buy herself something for lunch.

Something for lunch, as purchased by AppleApple: a 500 ml tub of lime-flavoured Greek yogurt; a plastic-wrapped English cucumber; a loaf of Italian-style bread.

She found me in the green room, chatting with a handful of writers/editors/publishers, sat down beside me at the table. “This must be your daughter,” was a refrain we heard all day. “What’s that?” said the editor. “It’s my lunch,” said my daughter.

“Oh?”

And then, this-must-be-my-daughter proceeded to eat the cucumber, whole, in great munching bites. I didn’t see what happened to the bread. The yogurt she polished off directly too. I could not have been more proud.

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The thing about blogging is that so much gets left out. I haven’t, so far, made this a particularly political space. It’s not terribly ideological either. That doesn’t mean I lack for political thoughts and opinions, simply that I haven’t felt this to be the place and space to raise them.

I’m struggling with this choice at present. There are zeitgeist moments when an issue seems to get ripped open and demand conversation. But the conversation is never ever simple, that’s why issues are buried and need an almost shocking violence to bring them to the surface; we don’t want to have these conversations. Why would we? They’re painful. They tear us apart. They challenge our safe ideas of who we are. In Canada, that issue is sexual harassment and violence against women, and underlying it, biases and beliefs so entrenched that we don’t even notice they’re there. It’s distressing and depressing to be talking about this again or still. I suspect that no one wants to talk about this less than women. I consider myself an equal. I consider our culture much-changed and for the better. But it hurts my head to try to make melodic the dissonant chords of experience.

Consider this. A woman on stage presenting her book: she looks like she doesn’t care, she gives off an aura of irritation, responds to questions with her own personal grievances, cuts others off, and appears to be drunk. Would this ever happen? I’ve never seen it. But I’ve seen a man on stage doing that. (Granted, it’s unlikely to win him fans, but he still feels like he can do it.)

Maybe that’s a bad example. I would never want to feel like I could do that.

What about this? A woman writer on stage making fun of the other writers on stage, all in good fun. This also almost never happens, but if you think about it, friendly mockery is frequently the patter between men on stage, and it is funny, it’s appealing, not negative. So why do women rarely do it? Could we get away it? I wonder. It’s not that women can’t be funny on stage. I’ve seen a lot of funny women on stage these past two months. But here’s the difference: women on stage make fun of themselves. (So do men sometimes; I’m not suggesting otherwise.) That’s funny too. It’s self-deprecating. But it’s not the same thing.

I think that’s the difference between the privilege of being taken at face value, of being given the benefit of the doubt, and not. Some of us women would like to be joking around in public with the men (and women), joining in the joke—really, that’s what it is. Some of us would like not always to be so damn self-deprecating in order to get laughs. We would like to be taken seriously without having to be so serious. I would like that very much, at least on occasion. I would like it to be an option. This is a small small observation, and you may think it unrelated to the issue at hand, and certainly it’s not serious in the way that sexual harassment and violence is serious. But I think it’s a small piece of the larger picture. It points to a difference in the parameters of public behaviour open to women who wish to be taken seriously, versus men.

Listen. I’m a polite Canadian woman. I fear offending. I’m not especially brave. (And may not be very funny, either.) I prefer to be liked. I can’t help worrying as I push publish on this post. But I’m going to push it anyway.

xo, Carrie

Eternal present
Fifteen minute post

9 Comments

  1. Carrie – I ran into your daughter with delight volunteering on Saturday as I popped in to the festival. Kudos to her! Reading this was so intriguing. It reminded me of this beautiful speech given at a memorial service I had been invited to speak at in remembrance of the women shot & killed at Ecole Polytechnique in December of 1989 (just for being women studying engineering at that school).

    The wonderful prof giving the speech said he was sitting outside a building at UW campus and he was positioned such that he could see two separate women wandering down two hallways that were going to meet at the “V” and he could see them separately in the glass reflections of those two hallways careening towards each other oblivious to one another and, being outside, he could do nothing to warn them. He watched as they collided, grabbed hold of each other in shock, kept hugging while they laughed at the hilarity of their collision, actually ENDED up hugging, faking a wee waltz before they parted ways and danced off in separate directions. And he talked about how different that experience might have been had it been two men, the awkwardness, perhaps defensiveness, certain embarrassment, might there have been even fear/anger exhibited? It still moves me to tears when I think about his words and how we raise our boys and girls and how gender is boxed off and cordoned for both sexes. I long, how I long, for a world where we find some harmony between gender and gender expression, enough that no one suffers violence/assault. Enough that all genders can have encounters of gentleness and peace. This is a beautiful, heartfelt piece. Thank you so much for writing it. xo

    Reply
    • Yes, I’ve long felt that boys suffer too from gender stereotypes. It isn’t only about women and girls. Thanks, Nancy.

      Reply
  2. I love your blog, and so appreciate your honesty and trepidation in this post. It sometimes feels that even raising a whisper of a sigh of an opinion casts us into the raging debate, when really, we’re just trying to figure it out without insult or conflict. I’m glad you posted. Thank you 🙂

    Reply
  3. I agree that men and women have to present themselves differently in public and I don’t like it. Good thoughts, yours.

    Love your girl’s lunch. I might experiment with my kids – they’re younger, but still, it would be quite revealing and interesting to see them wander around a store and pick their own lunch.

    Reply
    • I’ll admit that I was surprised by her choices, Margo! It is a fun experiment. I let the boys walk to the grocery store awhile back to pick out something for lunch, and they came home with cereal.

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  4. Interesting observations. I’m not sure I appreciated the misbehaving Four Michaels—barely kept in order by schoolmarm Diane Schoemperlen—any more than the participants in other panels. But I agree, it would be nice to have the choice to be as at ease as they were. And it’s true that as a male, this is an issue I rarely raise with myself.
    One thing I appreciated about the four men was that although they were mildly out of control in demeanour, when it came to answering questions and talking about their craft they were very serious and always helpful. In the end, this is why I attend author panel discussions.
    And here I thought I was the only one at the whole festival who had said “You must be Carrie’s daughter…”

    Reply
    • I hope it didn’t sound like I was maligning the Michaels — a panel I truly enjoyed. And they have the comfort of familiarity between them that Marita refers to below. And yes, they made serious and meaningful observations amidst the fun; I took lots of notes. In fact, I was thinking of them when I said that it would be nice to be taken seriously without having to be so serious.

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  5. There is a levity that comes with privilege and confidence–not worrying that he will say the wrong thing or not take things seriously enough, because of course, even if he does, he’ll be invited back. There is also the levity that comes from familiarity. Some of these writers have enough books and have been to enough festivals that they know each other very well.

    I haven’t been on many panels. It’s rare enough that I take it very seriously. It’s a gift to be given a platform and I don’t want to seem like I don’t appreciate it.

    Reply
  6. This is smart: “We would like to be taken seriously without having to be so serious. “

    Reply

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