The Weekly Book Review by Jane the Austen

Hello!

This week I thought it might be nice to start off with “Cheaper by the Dozen” and its sequel “Belles on Their Toes.”

If you ever feel that five children in the house are a lot, read these two books. It will make make you relieved  and wanting more kids at the same time!

Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes are so so sweet and lovely.

Even those wild brothers of mine would most likely love it. And That is something.  If they  could sit still long enough. He,he,he.

It will make  laugh out loud.

It will make you cry out loud.

I advise you, read these wonderful two books.

-Jane the Austen

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Nonreason and Reason for Modesty: an addendum

There’s one more* Nonreason for Modesty:

Nonreason for Modesty 6:

Because I’m OK being party to dress codes or modesty guidelines that are sexist because they disproportionately effect girls.

Actual Reason for Modesty 6:

Unless a dress code has different body coverage requirements for men and women, it’s not actually sexist.

But…but…it’s harder for girls to comply with dress codes establishing a standard of modesty!

Perhaps that’s because society, not the standard of dress, is sexist.

I live in Fancypants University College Town, a delightful city rife with overachievers. This means that I can’t go anywhere (read: anywhere affluent) at six a.m. without seeing cardio enthusiasts out and about in all manner of spandex and lululemon and cycling gear. And athlete for athlete, the girls will be less covered, and more tightly wrapped, than the boys. WHY? There is no (practical) reason for this.

When I go to a concert on the town green, the boys will wear t-shirts and jeans. The girls will wear tank tops and short skirts.

When I go out on the town with Husband the Man, the men around us will be covered from bowtie to argyle sock, while the women will be mostly bare from strappy heeled-ankle to flippy mid thigh skirt to plunging neckline.

I have enormous respect and admiration for the women of my generation. They have broken into one Good Old Boys’ club after another, they have sweated and worked and become the tops in their fields. They fight for social justice and equality, seek to reform the world into a better place, and command respect with their passion and eloquence.

But in the face of breaking down one barrier and glass ceiling after another, many, if not most outside of religious and orthodox communities, passively service society’s insatiable demand for exposed female flesh.

They’ve submitted to the notion that “athletic” for women is tighter and lower than for men. “Casual” for women is shorter and barer than for men. And “formal,” for women, is 2-3 times as exposed than it is for men.

This enables and feeds into widespread public entitlement to women’s exposed bodies.

Some will even defend it. Passionately. They will say that championing the notion of modesty is oppressive, cruel,shaming,** and that bared flesh is empowering, without bothering to ask the very crucial question:

Why do we feel that nakedness empowers us?

Because we’ve been told it does.

We’ve been told millions of times, in advertisement after movie after TV show that uncovering your female body, down to the breast, up to the thigh, sheer through the lace, tight at the waist, is how we can be beautiful, how we get attention and praise and respect.

We’ve been told that our value lies in our giving the whole wide world access to our bodies, access to our flesh.

If we defend this narrative, dismissing championing of modesty as misogynistic, how can we expect the world to change? How can we push back the constant demand for and commodification of women’s bodies when we are feeding it with our own?

The world wants to commodify women. We’re expected to be tightly packaged, transparently wrapped pieces of meat on public display. We are expected to be bare, vulnerable, unprotected from the elements, unable to so much as squat down to change a car tire without giving ourselves to every passing motorist, baring our flesh for public gratification.

Where men are covered, dignified, closed off from the scrutiny, shielded from heat and cold or a fall to the asphalt, a woman’s body is eternally vulnerable, held up to a microscope by the sheer, scanty, and tight clothing offered by fashion and trend.  It is unfair and deeply, deeply sexist.

When a dress code that holds men and women to the same standard of coverage makes dressing harder for women, it’s not because the dress code is sexist. It’s because the rest of the world is.

*OK, this isn’t the final Nonreason and Actual Reason for modesty, but it will do for now.

**People saying stupid and unkind things is not OK. Having a basic dress code for a place of work or a school is another thing. If you want to be taken seriously, distinguish between the two. If you want to change a dress code, don’t disregard it and throw a tantrum (ON. OR. OFF. THE. INTERNET.) when it’s enforced; talk to the people who make policy. In a nice, calm voice. But really, is splitting hairs over shorts length or shoulder coverage worth your time and energy? I would submit that there are

many

other

causes

that

help

women

more.

It’s (nearly) spring!

And spring means compost. And rain. And germinating seeds, and hope for all things new.

IMG_20160414_141527937

And because there cannot be too much E. E. Cummings in the world, here’s another one of his poems.

in Just-

spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
whistles          far          and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring
when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
it’s
spring
and
         the
                  goat-footed
balloonMan          whistles
far
and
wee

Polygamy Pasta (or, something funny happened on the way to the art gallery).

Man: Wow, you’ve got a lot of kids!

Me *suppressing the “I haven’t heard this one before” look*: Yep.

Man: Are they all yours??

Me *Suppressing harder*: Yep.

Man: Are you a Mormon?

Me *actually surprised this time*: Yeah!

Man: Are you from the Midwest?

Me: Yeah! (Former beehive in the Nauvoo Stake. Heck yes I’m midwestern!)

Man: So you’re from Utah?

Me *Disappointed with man’s abysmal geography*: Nope.

Man *disppointed with my lack of authentic Mormonness*: Oh. I have some friends who are Mormons. They all live out on a nice commune in Missourah. They go to Florida every winter. Why do you go to Florida every winter?

Me: We don’t.

Man *a little more disappointed*: Oh. Anyway, they brought me some great pasta back from their commune in Florida.

Me: Oh. OK.

Man: So you’re a polyga–

Me: No.

Man *Disappointed*: Oh. OK.

And that’s when we parted ways, me to teach the children about Greco-Roman civilization at Fancypants University Art Gallery, and the man, a little bewildered, to presumably go home and eat Polygamy Pasta.

 

The End.

A Day in the Life (or, the power of lists)

Over the course of our marriage, we’ve passed through several seasons of calm and chaos. The last six months of 2016 were insane, between moving twice, having a baby, and husband preparing for his qualifying exams, gallivanting off to physics conferences as part of his program, and breaking both his arms. Yes, his arms. BOTH of them.

Since the new year, however, things have settled down and we’ve been able to resume some old routines that make life so, so much smoother. You’d think that running your life on a list (and lists of lists) on your phone would be constraining, but the structure (particularly following a season of chaos) is actually enormously freeing. Things get done. Checking off checkboxes fires endorphins. Books and blogs get written. And adventures continue apace with less running late and fewer crises of household.

This is approximately how our little family of seven has been puttering through 2017:

 

6:45: Wake up to hungry baby. Nurse baby. Read scriptures (or, if not on a social media fast, check Facebook and feel vaguely guilty about it.)

7:05: Put sleeping baby back down and go downstairs to start list. I have this magical list of 15 things I need to do each morning before breakfast and school. It appears on my phone at 6 am, and when those are done, my house is mysteriously cleaner, and my brain is ready for children’s school and life in general. There are a lot of enormously basic things on the list like “brush teeth” and “say prayers” and “read scriptures.” You’d think after a decade or two of doing those things, they’d happen without thought. Not so. Doubly not so when a child wakes up vomiting, a basement is flooded, or, you know, I get horribly distracted by an internet thread that I should not have been reading prior to scriptures. Ergo, I have a list to remind me what I still need to do after managing some unexpected crisis (or non-crisis).

8:00-Finish list. The kids are waking up, and need kisses and good mornings and reminders about room tidying, clothes wearing, prayer saying. Kitchen duty child is reminded to put away last night’s dishes. Jane the Austen does Katherine the Great’s hair. Because she’s awesome like that.

8:10-Breakfast. Oatmeal and grapefruit, the standard fare.

8:30-School Starts. Kitchen duty child spends first twenty minutes or so of school doing dishes. Some children are much faster dish doers than others. I have a list of 21 things that need to happen during school. If I don’t have and use it, I will wake up at 11:30 pm thinking, “Jane the Austen did not diagram a single sentence today. Clive the staples did no spelling exercises. I am neglecting their education.” I don’t know about you, but diagramming sentences is not what I want to be thinking about at 11:30 pm.

Noon-ish-School finishes. Here’s when I start my (shorter) list of 8 things I need to do in the afternoon. We’re so very lucky at this point in life that husband can come home for lunch nearly every day. This is when lots of the “what did you learn at school today?” conversation happens. It’s very gratifying to hear what they have remembered, internalized, or found notable about what we covered in the last few hours.

The most treasured and precious item on the noon list, besides our family lunch, is WRITE. The children have 1-2 glorious hours in the afternoon wherein they play, have friends over, run around like insane little heathens, nap, etc. I write amidst the chaos. And we’re all the happier for it.

Late Afternoon-pretty much every weekday afternoon is taken up with afterschool extracurriculars, running errands, helping out immigrant and refugee friends, or all of the above, in the case of Jane the Austen, who helps out in an afterschool program for her refugee and immigrant peers.

Evening-We come stumbling home from our adventures, exhausted, with me reminding the kids a million times to help bring in library books and groceries, because I am carrying in the smallest child or two, who almost always fall asleep on the way home. Generally speaking, they also need reminding to go close the door of the van. Otherwise, our wonderfully conscientious neighbor will come remind us. Enthusiastically.

6 pm-Husband comes home again, and we have dinner. I set about my short (6-item) evening list, which I rarely complete. Post dinner, kitchen duty child and husband or I do the dishes, we read scriptures and pray as a family, husband takes the kids upstairs for bedtime stories, and I do yoga. And write. And prepare to do it again the next day.

It’s a good life.

 

Chilblains and E. E. Cummings

It’s a beautiful night.

The children are in bed asleep, the finest of husbands is doing laundry, and I am soaking the first chilblains of my life in an old sitz bath in the bathroom. Because around here, that’s how we roll.

One purpose of this blog is to review the many lovely books we read.  This particular one inspired Clive the Staples to sit at the living room window, staring out reflectively in between bouts of jotting down freeform poetry for approximately 20 minutes. If you knew Clive the Staples, you’d understand that this is extraordinary indeed.

Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess is beautifully written, tenderly illustrated, and sprinkled E. E.’s language and vivacity.

In our book, it gets five stars for whetting poetic appetites.

In the spirit of things, here is my favorite E. E. Cummings poem, one I memorized in college whilst engaged to my Beloved:

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

Poetry is good for the soul.

Amen.

Nonreasons, and Actual Reasons, for Modesty

Nonreason 1:

Because some geriatric patriarchy told me to.

Actual reason 1:

Because across decades of following (and not following) the advice of the leadership of my church, I have learned that there truly is merit to their invitations. In fact, no other council has ever been as consistently helpful.

Actual reason 1b:

My body, my choice. I choose this standard because it feels right.

Nonreason 2:

Because my body is a shameful thing.

Actual reason 2:

Because my body is friggin’ awesome. It has birthed five babies and fed them, carried me around two continents, climbed mountains, passed lifeguard training, progresses daily in various asanas,and I really do love it. It deserves respectful presentation, not exhibitionism. One can argue all day long about what is tasteful and what is not, at which point, please see Actual Reason 1. When choosing a standard, why not consider the input of people with hundreds of years of combined experience, who have proven themselves again and again?

Nonreason 3:

Because I don’t want to be “walking porn,” because I’m responsible for the thoughts of others, etc.

Actual reason 3:

Because there is a whole population of people recovering from/battling pornography addiction and sex addiction. While I cannot control their thoughts, and am in no way responsible for the caprices of their triggers, I will never forget hearing one struggling soul lament how much s/he hates summer–when being surrounded by exposed bodies is like being a recovering alcoholic in a bar. Out of respect and love and solidarity for those quietly fighting their personal battles, I will opt for knee length over cheeky.

Nonreason 4:

Because I don’t want to be attacked/catcalled/raped.

Actual Reason 4:

Once again, I’m not responsible for other’s actions. In a perfect world, we would all look at one another and see each other’s souls/ personhood/ infinite value, and behave accordingly. But we do not live in a perfect world. We live in a fallen world, wherein people can and will treat us differently according to how we look. Fair? No. True? Yes. Don’t believe me? Experiment. Experiment. Experiment. I dare you.

How I dress communicates more about myself than most people have the time or patience to hear or read. Ergo, I choose to communicate through modesty.

Nonreason 5:

Because I was brought up to. Because I was told to. Because my community expects me to.

Actual Reason 5:

Because I love God, and this is a sign between Him and me. It’s representative of many things, both sacred and profane, both explainable and beyond words, that exist in my relationship to the Divine. It’s an expression of my personal initiative and commitment in this most precious relationship. My choice of clothing is sacred, and how I cover myself is as real, personal, and sacred. Hijab for some, tichel for some, mantilla for some, sleeved shirts for some. It’s sacred and belongs between the self and God.

Actual Reason 5b:

Because I want to. And even if there were times and places when I don’t feel like it, see Reason 5. All relationships matter more than clothing choice, but this relationship matters infinitely more. I can already hear some saying, “if your God would cast you off for something as shallow as how you dress, he’s not worth worshipping!”

My dress is not about God’s love for me. It’s about my love for God. Which is small and imperfect and deserves every outlet of expression I can find for it.

The End