“That’s a mighty nice dream you have there little girl. It’d be a shame if something patriarchal happened to it.” – Curtis Stuehrenberg

I’m angry about the Microsoft ad. You know, the one that tells us that little girls don’t have a chance and should stay in STEM fields and keep fighting the good fight but forgets to tell little boys to change their behavior to not be little assholes who then become big assholes. Just click the link if you want details, because this is a different story.

It’s a related story, a tale as old as time…and, as far as I know, has never been written.

The San Francisco Girls Chorus was founded in the late 1970’s by the incredible Elizabeth Appling as a training ground for young singers, a way to provide the San Francisco Opera with highly trained girls to sing onstage. This was a gap that needed to be filled, and Elizabeth was the woman to do it. By the time I joined the chorus in 1983, they were performing all over the place, and the opera was not the bulk of their performance schedule. When I reached the professional (top of five) level in 1988, I was too tall to participate onstage as a child in the opera, but I could sing in the backstage chorus. I only ever got to do Parsifal, which put me off Wagner for over 20 years.

This arrangement went on for years, and my [shorter] friends got to be onstage with Pavarotti, who apparently wasn’t great with kids and, during Boheme rehearsals, if they were in his way would yell “Move your ass! Move your ass!” Occasionally, my friends would get to do amazing, amazing work. Like singing the challenging roles of the Three Spirits from the Magic Flute. These parts were often shared with boys from the San Francisco Boys Chorus, and splitting performances made things easier from a child labor perspective. It was a rare opportunity for this amazing group of award-winning girls to show their stuff. Until 1991. You see, boys at this age “have trouble concentrating” and “don’t learn as quickly” as girls. So it was suggested to Elizabeth that the girls do the first three performances, so the boys could watch, and learn from them, and then do the final three performances. I’m not certain whether it was the boys chorus or the opera or someone else who suggested this.



Do you know Elizabeth? No? Go back and read that Living Eulogy. I can wait. Got it? Ok.

It was my final year in the chorus and I wanted nothing more to do with singing. And there was no way I was going to be onstage anyway – I was already 5’7″, and the cutoff was either 5′ or 5’2″.

My friends had been working for weeks or months on these roles. We also had conflicts on two of the first three performances, so the boys were supposed to take the first three. Also, there was no way they Elizabeth would allow her girls to be used as a training ground for boys who couldn’t learn their music or blocking. We were busy, we were in demand, and if those boys wanted the credit they could take all of the performances.

And so they did.

I am not certain how messily this went down, nor how the relationship with SFO went from there. I know it has been reestablished and everything seems fine and the girls sound, from when I last saw them at their Highlands Holiday concert in December, better than they ever have.

I learned a lot from my eight years in the Girls Chorus. I learned that talent is irrelevant without hard work, and that hard work and talent are irrelevant without teamwork and good showmanship. I learned that the show must, will, always, go on, even if you faint and the girls around you close ranks to hide you. I learned advanced music theory, and that friendships formed between girls without boys around are strong, and unsullied, and that we can have a healthy competition and still, whoever wins, say “your solo was amazing” at the end, and mean it.

But the other lessons come more strongly now, maybe because of my industry, maybe because of this increased conversation around these things, these micro-aggressions, maybe because I am weary about commercials like those made by giants of the industry in which I work. Lessons like, if we do not accept being taken advantage of, we will make room for better things, but it will be scary at first as we turn down what we know. That the status quo is some seriously unacceptable bullshit and that women will be called bitches for calling it out. That calling out unfairness will come as a shock to those who have relied on this unfairness for their own success. That I have never lost a colleague or a friendship that I missed by calling this out.

I obviously admire Elizabeth for many, many reasons. But I have not credited her enough with making me the Nasty Woman I am today. Her powerhouse feminism and work ethic informed a generation of young women of which I am lucky to consider myself a part. She and my father are big parts of why, at ten years old, when my G.A.T.E. teacher asked us to write which roles we wanted in Macbeth, I wrote “Macbeth”, not considering that that was strange (I ended up getting Lady Macbeth, and in retrospect she is a far superior character). She’s part of why it didn’t occur to me that I couldn’t do the things I’m doing… and she’s part of why I find myself confused at the battles to which I’m subjected simply by setting foot in my industry, having a strong opinion, or being on the internet.

This is an exhausting place. We have these utterly blind advertisements by organizations with so much power making things so much worse. We have white dudes thinking that being aware of these issues is enough, so comfortable in their own behavior that it doesn’t occur to them that they are the problem, white dudes thinking they can make advertisements and health care decisions for women. And so we, simply by standing our ground, are “feminazis”, inconveniencing white dudes with conversations they find exhausting, calling them out on their shit, until they tell us that we should be nicer because we’d be better off with them on our side and that we’re alienating them.

Dudes. Have you seen our side? It is glorious and hot and big and small and kind and angry and amenable and pitchfork-carrying and smart and giggly. It pole dances, and it wears baggy men’s clothing with short haircuts. It has thigh gap and no gap. It has conversations with you to try to get you to understand, and it tells you to fuck off if it’s just lost patience with you. It has been raped, and it has healed, and it is catcalled, and called an ugly bitch, and it is stronger than anything you have experienced on your side because our side has had to work, to really think about it, to band together despite our minute differences in ideologies and appearances. We band together for the right to be a pole dancer and not be called a whore, the right to wear men’s clothing and not be called a dyke, the right to control over our own bodies, whether we want to sell them to the highest bidders or use them to nurture tiny little vacation-fund-sapping parasites. We don’t need you on our side if you want us to compromise. That’s your side. We’ve seen it, and it sucks. We gave birth to you, we raised you, and we know you can do better. You’re welcome to our side, but it’s on our terms, not yours. That’s what that means. So stop playing “devil’s advocate” with us on the internet, stop trying to explain why you’re a feminist when someone has called you out on not being one. Stop making shitty advertisements that focus on the wrong behavior. Look in the mirror, look at your sons, and know that it’s up to you whether they turn into rapists or help solve climate change, and that the former is much more likely so you have a lot of work to do. You are qualified to make an accurate commercial with Brock Turner in a P.S.A. about how to not be a rapist. If you can’t be on our side but still want to call yourself a feminist then just sit this one out. It’s easy. Just don’t do anything; we got this. The women I know could make a better advertisement than this while drunk and shooting pellet guns at beer bottles on a post.

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Changing Me

You don’t like me.

You don’t like something about my behavior.

I rub you the wrong way.

The answer is simple; change yourself.

The fastest way for me to achieve what you perceive to be correct behavior on my part is by modifying how you interact with me.

I’m too loud? Send me an email instead.

I’m not receptive to your ideas? Have an even slight concept of audience and timing.

I’m too opinionated? Stop having an opinion of your own to battle mine.

You know what’s not going to work? Telling me you have a problem with how I am, and then suggesting I change. I am a grown woman. How I am is one of my favorite things about me. Your opinion of how I am isn’t – how shall I put this so as not to offend your delicate sensibilities – relevant to me.

People say cruel things and then expect me to treat them well.

People grab me at an unscheduled time to discuss something they’ve been thinking about for months but for which they are too lazy/disorganized to schedule a discussion and wonder why I am not focused on their long, drawn-out concept.

People create issues for themselves and then dump them in my lap for me to solve and wonder why I give them the emotional clearance I would a child.

Stop placing a value of zero on my time.

Have a remote sense of personal responsibility.

Develop your emotional maturity.

Change yourself. It’s the quickest way to change me.

Notice of Owner Move-In Eviction

Dear men,

we’ve been reviewing your file and, unfortunately, your record does not entitle you to additional lease renewals. In fact, we’ll be moving in right away.

We note the following violations:

wars (majority men)
bombings (majority men)
terrorist attacks (majority men)
rape (majority men)
institutionalization of slavery (majority men)
physical violence (majority men)
violence against women (majority men)
violence against children (majority men)

You’ve had since the dawn of recorded history to get it right and, well…you’ve failed. You can’t tell me you didn’t see this coming. You had, literally, all of the time in the world. You fucked it up. You don’t deserve it anymore.

So, we’ll be moving in. I mean, we’re already here, but we’re going to be taking your leadership positions; your presidencies, company CEOships, any place where you’ve been committing atrocities in our name… we’re going to need those. You understand, of course.

Don’t worry; it won’t be so bad. If you didn’t specifically perpetrate any of these crimes, there will still be a place for you. If you did, you’ll obviously go to the island. You can’t get to other land from there, but we’ll airdrop food to you once a month and let you fight it out. Don’t worry; we’ll castrate the rapists before we drop them there.

But if you didn’t participate (knowingly; we’ve all participated in some of these unknowingly.), there’s still a place for you. I think we can get rid of this bullshittery in one generation. Hear me out.

See, having a functional uterus is a very, very powerful thing. And we don’t need nearly as many of you as we need of us. One of you can inseminate a fleet, an army (see what I did there?) of us. But instead of a Genghis Khan, a Montezuma, we’ll have some new standards.

Men who do basic household chores without being asked or expecting constant thanks will take priority. So will men who take care of their children while their mothers go out without referring to it as babysitting. Men raised by single mothers. Stay-at-home dads and men who have called out their male friends for shitty behavior. Men who earn secondary incomes and support their partners without subtly undermining and men who earn primary incomes but still come home and cook because, holy crap, taking care of children is exhausting. Men who have never, not once, referred to themselves as a “nice guy”, or as having been “friendzoned”. Men who fight tooth and nail to remain in their children’s lives, at appointed times and without guilt or manipulation, after the romantic relationship with their mother is over. Men who are not just “not evil”; that is no longer enough; these must be men who are proactively good.

Straight ladies, you have a role in this, too. It seems simple, but please pay close attention; Stop. Sleeping. With. Assholes. Assholes beget assholes. Assholes raise asshole children who grow up to be asshole men and women. So, if you just STOP sleeping with these guys, then they won’t have any babies. And the only men raising children will be NON-ASSHOLEs. It’ll be magic. 50, 75 years, and it’ll be gone. No one to call “war”. No one to organize terror attacks. No shitty young men going in and shooting up schools and everyone making excuses. Mentally ill people don’t kill people. Assholes kill people. Ladies, you have the power. Just… don’t wait by the phone for the guy who’s playing hard to get. Don’t go anywhere near the guy who only makes the slightly racist comments when he’s drunk, who never seems to be kind to animals, for whom you aren’t good enough to meet his parents. Don’t settle for any drop of less than you want, and don’t be afraid to communicate exactly every bit of it; that’s your responsibility. You can do better. Do it for all of humanity.

In this way we leave the world a better place. In this way we cease wars, terrorism, slavery, violence. In this way we leave the world better than we found it, and begin to clean up this disastrous mess we’ve allowed to go on for far too long.

 
Yours,
Marisa