Henry and I were settled in for the evening. My husband who had been working late and had just come in, was mumbling about a man who had been fired off the show he’s working on for downloading child porn. I moaned. Henry growled sympathetically. My husband left the bedroom, still muttering.
I continued on with the book I’ve been reading On Kindness by the brilliant British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and the equally brilliant social theorist Barbara Taylor.
I could hear the familiar sounds of pipes filling with water, a toilet flushing, the motorized hum of the electronic toothbrush: The sounds effects of domestic life in safe middle class America. I thought about a man going into a room turning on the computer, pressing a few buttons and filling his eyes with terrible images, images I didn’t want to be thinking about at 11 at night, or any other time come to that. The poor, poor children…..
It was then my eyes alighted on the following sentence. I read it over and over and finally tired though I was, got up out of bed, and with Henry loyally at my heels, bumped into my husband in the hallway.
“Where are you going? You’re not mad at me?”
“No! I’m getting a pen.” I had to underline: “Like all emotions, kindness had always raised tricky questions about which feelings were suitable for which sex. From antiquity on, pro-kindness thinkers had worried that too much sympathy might undermine manly gravitas.”
Now ain’t that the truth, sisters! Now we know that our brethren, who have always worried about their masculinity, have further cause not to be kind to us. Not to mention, our offspring. I have read, where I can’t remember, that the majority of child porn features female children’s bodies.
The next morning, when I came in from walking Henry, I glanced down at the front page of the New York Times national edition and read about the vast system of rape and enslavement of young girls perpetrated by the Islamic militants.
What a mournful pitiful story it is. Girls as young as twelve subjected to kidnapping, rape, sexual slavery, all in the name of religion.
Where is the message of kindness in all this?
Remember, historically, men have been taught over and over again that kindness equals weakness. Consequently when men go amok, they really go at it. And with God on their side—things just get worse.
Von Clausewitz: “War is therefore such a dangerous business that the mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst.”
What’s the fix?
How should I know? I’m just one small member of the despised kinder sex.
However, I do believe, it is within our power to practice kindness consciously. The same way we practice say, dental health, it’s a matter of spiritual hygiene. When I was growing up, it was perfectly cool to beat your children. I and everyone else I knew felt the rod. And forever after something was spoiled for us in terms of trust.
Today, to raise a hand at a small being is a big no no. That’s progress!
I’m proud to live in California where it’s now illegal to stuff chickens in a cage for life and make them give us cheap eggs. That’s progress too.
Out there in road rage central, I always let someone in. And I overpay household help. And overtip. Those are easy things. I’m working on sarcasm. I’m not making much progress with that one.
May all beings everywhere be happy and free from suffering.
One of the great things about the East Coast versus West Coast is the sight of armpit stubble on women, who in the East, don’t keep their arms rigidly down if there’s anything sprouting there. I’ll be in class, arms are in the air, and there it will be, a tuft here, a stray hair there, a five o clock shadow somewhere else. And every time I see such evidence, I am filled with glee.
As I keep reminding readers, ad nauseum, I am from the South originally, where such underarm goings-on are frowned upon and now live a lot of the time in Los Angeles, the world’s preeminent leader in the bleach-blond-no-body-hair look. I have dark hair and light skin so for me there’s never been anywhere to run and hide.
I have two very close friends who are cringing as they read this. Because I know every morning in the shower, come rain or shine, they are in there with their Venus razors sliding the folic-i away. Yes, most women (and two of my very favorites wouldn’t be caught dead without a smooth armpit.)
This is, of course, a very big gender inequality issue. Though I have to say, I have a female relative, who has never done anything about armpit hygiene and when she lifts her arms (as she is want to do) it is not a pretty sight. It is a scary sight, one reminiscent of that scene in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the one that horrified me throughout my young life when the bodice of the night nurse is ripped open and there it is, the hairy chest of the psycho killer of the night nurses who was there all along.
I remember well, the first sight of those dark lurking hairs under my own arms. I wrote about this, in my recent novel Lavina, and even in a work of fiction, I found the task daunting. Poor twelve-year-old Mary Jacob feared the hair would soon cover her body like an ape. I remember that feeling. It is SHAME; it is HUMILIATION, especially if one doesn’t know how to remedy the situation. And has no kindly grownup to ask.
I can’t remember what came first, my period or the hair, but I remember having to inform my mother, who looked at me and hollered, “NO!”
Which was very similar to the response I got when I had asked her sometime before, what a Social Disease was. My parents had the album of West Side Story (Oh, Officer Krupke, we’re down on our knees, for no one wants a fellow with a social disease). I could carry a tune as a kid, and that tune was one I carried perhaps for the reason that I knew on some level it elicited strong reactions from grown ups. “Who told you about that?” she snarled.
My father died just as the armpit situation was developing. I had on a sleeveless shirt; my arms were down rigidly at my sides, because I knew it smelled differently there.
It was Thursday night. The cook’s night off (Aline’s predessser Lulu). And on her night off we always dined out, and often at Morrison’s Cafeteria. As I said, my arms were glued to my sides, I thought I was safe, but I wasn’t safe, my old man glared at me, “You smell!” he said.
“No sir,” I replied. My family wasn’t rigorously southern, we didn’t enforce the inter-family yes’m and no sir. But I caught on to the fact that adding the “sir” worked well on him and could even, if I was lucky, mitigate his outbursts.
I said, “No, sir, it’s not me, it’s that steak sauce you’re putting on your steak.”
And in fact, Heinz 57 Steak Sauce to this day can send me into a real tizzy of olfactory shame and humiliation.
My brother already had hair under his arms. He had been given deodorant, some t-shirts to wear under his dress shirts and probably a talk about the birds and the bees.
Is it a different world out there today? In same ways yes. Still, why all these depilatory palaces everywhere one looks?
My dear husband took the shot for this blog at my request this morning. It is of one such palace on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica where on last count on the eighteen or so blocks of stores, there are more than eighteen places to get waxed.
Gentle reader: you do the math.