Invisible Women

Invisible women
Wives of men, Mothers of sons.
You ceased to exist the day your body was sold through the holy sanctity of matrimony
Stripped of your father’s name and prettily cloaked by your husband’s name.
Do not be fooled.
Your new identity comes at a price too horrific to name: Erasure.
You are no longer Eve, daughter of Man, autonomous person;
You are now His Wife and Their Mother, invisible woman.
Nameless, faceless
Worthy of mention after you’ve birthed a son to carry the family name.
Worthy of shame after you birth daughters, poor souls condemned to expunction.
Who are you? Where have you been, seen, heard, felt?
Tragically no one but you will ever know.


This piece was written as a response to my many observations of the gender politics that riddle family gatherings. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, the men in my family have the habit of introducing first their sons by name, followed by their unwed daughters by name, briefly mentioning their married daughters as “My daughter, so-and-so’s wife,” and introducing their wife last as “My Wife.” They don’t mention her name and rarely ever turn to look her in the eyes when they make the introduction. If she’s lucky her husband will make a half-hearted wave in her direction; but that’s a veritable rarity. With this behavior he enforces a hierarchy that clearly renders women invisible, worse than a second-class citizen.

———
“Invisible Women” by Azul Serena

Loss

In my former position as the Assistant Director for a nationally recognized research program, I came to know different types of loss: loss of patience, loss of perspective, loss of staff, loss of energy, loss of respect, and loss of students. Of all the types of loss I came to know, the worst type was the loss of students.

I decided to pursue a career in counseling for the very simple reason that I want to help people attain their educational aspirations. This means that in my commitment to help students I also agreed to be their advocate. This belief was reaffirmed in my counseling program where everything we were taught revolved around the notion of retaining our students by equipping them with the skills necessary to successfully navigate educational systems. So, when the day came to tell one of our students that he was being dismissed from the program, my emotions were at war with themselves.

A part of me knew that the student had to be reprimanded for their actions; but the other part of me rebelled at the idea that the reprimand entailed taking away a source of support for a student who was systemically disadvantaged as a student of color in higher education. How was this option acceptable to my Director who wore “social justice” on their lips as though it were a badge of honor? But my Director wouldn’t have it any other way. The student was dismissed in order to teach the cohort a lesson.

Being the person I am, I think I would have overcome this incident had it not been complicated by my Director’s decision to continue helping the student in their research pursuits by offering the same services without the program’s title. The conflict I experienced wasn’t due to the fact that they helped the student, rather it was due to the fact that they applied their punishment inconsistently. Other students had been dismissed from the program but only this student had been offered a modified participation in the program. Where was the fairness in that? What sort of twisted lesson were we teaching the cohort?

The day we dismissed the student I went home with a heavy heart and wondered whether witnessing the dismissal and being unable to stop it made me a bad counselor. More importantly though, was the question of whether or not my quarreling personal biases and professional ethics were indicative of a defective trait in me, The Professional Counselor.

Unfortunately I was unable to answer my questions that day, and I have yet to find an adequate answer today. However, over time I’ve learned that counselors live in a space that requires them to simultaneously enforce educational policies while helping students navigate those policies. It’s a difficult space to be in, and no one has the right answers. Some answers seem more right than others, but ultimately how strongly we view the rightness or wrongness of certain situations depends strictly on our personal biases and professional mores. There is no right or wrong, there is only a question of whether or not we can live with the knowledge that comes with understanding how our professional actions affect the very personal lives of our students.

———
“Loss” by Azul Serena

Age is Only a Number

As I age one more year I try to convince myself that age is only a number. Unfortunately that has proven difficult when you consider the fact that one little number has the power to define an entire person. A number can make you too young or too old, too tall or not tall enough, too heavy or too slim, too cold or too hot. It’s never “just right.” There is always something lacking, something in excess, as though infinity were perfection and non-existence the ideal. The number is never enough. It’s selfish and needy. It is always a qualifier, and sexist at that.

If you are a man, numbers encourage you to grow tall as a redwood, to generate millions, and to forget the confines of your numeric age. After all, the higher the number the more respectable you become. As a man you have the luxury to feel blasé about numbers because you define them! But what a cage those numbers are when you are a man.

If you are a woman, numbers dictate that you aim for everything that is petite, meek, and fragile, because the last thing you want is to overpower Man. Make enough money to assert your independence but not too much lest you overshadow your partner – because you can’t not have a partner. Do not have children when you are too young but hurry, you do not want to exceed your expiration date. Do not date a younger man; it will make you a pariah. Marry an older man. He will make a respectable woman out of you because his age can morph in accordance with societal expectations. He will protect you; you who are invisible.

In an ideal world these confines would not exist. Numbers would be exactly what they are: abstract theoretical concepts dreamt by philosophers in their pursuit of knowledge. And, since it’s an ideal world these abstract symbols would not be linked to oppressive gender roles because gender would not be oppressive. Unfortunately, it’s not an ideal world. The abstract has been qualified and associated with everything that should never have been qualified.

So here I am, valiantly defying society’s gendered terms of aging one wrinkle, gray hair, and unused ovum at a time, wondering what wisdoms this year will bring.

———
“Age is Only a Number” by Azul Serena