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The Goddess and Everywoman

A Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie story by Greg Swann

"Consider this," said the Goddess. "When men go off to fight and die in wars, who is it who gets left at home with the children? Women!"

Whoop, whoop, whoop! The Sisterhood ate that one up.

"They get to see the world, and we get to see the diaper pail!"

Whoop, whoop, whoop!

"When Captain Scott O'Grady was shot down over Bosnia, we heard all about what a hero he is. Did we hear anything about his wife? His sisters? His mother bore him, didn't she? She's the real hero!"

Whoop, whoop, whoop!

It doesn't pay to argue with stuff like this, but I'm pretty sure the media did carry stories about O'Grady's womenfolk. If they didn't, it would be the first dollop of schmaltz they've managed to overlook.

But that doesn't really matter. The Goddess was cooking up what the Sisterhood craved to eat, and nothing spoils that kind of feast faster than a pinch of fact.

Can I say "pinch"? It might be construed as sexual harassment, if anyone would dare accuse the Goddess of inciting sexual contemplation...

But no one would. She wasn't unattractive, precisely, she was merely hideous. I am not committing the horrid crime of "lookism"; her hideousness came entirely from within. From the outside, she was just another middle-aged woman fighting stoutness, fighting matronliness, fighting the ravages of a diminished estrogen supply--and losing. She was groomed and then some, but the effort of her grooming served only to betray that it was an effort, and the net effect of her battle against aging was to make her look war-torn.

But even so, so what? It was the ugliness from within that scarred her as no cosmetics or hair salon ever could. In repose, she would look like somebody's mother or somebody's aunt. But when her face was lit with the fire of her boundless hatred, she came to resemble the nightmare of Mephistopheles. She seemed not so much to speak as to spew bitter black bile, and I imagined that her tongue was long and thin and forked at the tip.

"And when those men come home dead from the war, who gets all the attention? Is it the women? I don't think so."

A lot of tight close-ups of women crying, we all know, but we can't say what would happen if dead soldiers could shed tears for the television cameras...

And you don't have to tell me I'm an idiot for subjecting myself to this stuff. I was making a call from a pay-phone when I saw the rally a few blocks up the street, in front of the statehouse. And I knew it was a Sisterhood rally even before I got there.

A Sisterhood rally, not a Motherhood rally or an Anti-Abortion rally or a Ladies Garment Worker Union rally: no men except for a few very bored cops, no moms and no kids, no professionally-printed signs, and very few women who looked gainfully employed. A smattering of seniors, and seniors will go anywhere on zero notice to find respite from day-time TV. Quite a lot of college girls. A goodly number of lesbians or non-lesbians informed by the inimitable lesbian fashion sense. And a vast horde of professional functionaries: overdressed but dowdy, overgroomed but unattractive, overdegreed and yet hellishly ignorant.

And, of course, the Goddess was this latter group's finest flower. When she was introduced, her credentials were listed as "attorney, activist and goddess of femininity." Every attorney has a libel lawyer, and every attorney needs one, so I'm not naming names. And I'm not encouraging you to pray to the Goddess for her bounty of femininity, since to have your prayer ignored would be disappointing and to have it answered would be catastrophic.

"And who is it who gets all the sympathy when men are killed or injured at work? Men! Look at these arms!" She held up arms that were alabaster white and rippled with rolls of fat. "Do you see any burn scars from blow-torch sparks? Am I missing any fingers? Who did this to me?! Men!"

Whoop, whoop, whoop! I'm not kidding.

"Men take all the dangerous jobs! They get all the money, then when they get killed or injured, they get all the sympathy! Women get stuck in offices or schools or hospitals or libraries. How can you get sympathy for being injured on the job when you work in a library?"

A tiny little woman who had to be a librarian started pumping her arm up and down. In the meekest, squeakiest voice she shouted, "Justice! Justice!" And I hope I have film in the camera on that fine day when the librarians assert their right to "people" the barricades.

And it is only fair to say that we should not hold it against women with real jobs that they were unrepresented at the rally. Surely some of them wanted to be there, were there in spirit, so to speak. But women with real jobs have spouses and children and parents and friends and mortgages and doctor appointments and little league games and overdue tax bills and unmet sleep needs--and real jobs--so they aren't able to attend rallies held on Tuesday mornings. And we know who's to blame for that, don't we?

"Who gets all the attention for saving children from burning buildings? Men! Who goes out on the ledge to bring the suicide back inside? Men! We call them fire-fighters, but who really gets to go in and fight the fires? Men! Who gets into blazing gun-battles with thieves and rapists and gang members? Men! If you see a police funeral procession, will it be a woman in the hearse? Never!"

Whoop, whoop, whoop!

To my left was a bulbous black woman in a Postal Service uniform. For the most part, I like the people of the Postal Service. On the one hand, they have union jobs with a government agency, which ought to provide a double dose of optical occlusion. On the other hand, they do hard work in bad weather and face all manner of unforeseeable exigencies. It leaves them realistic if not wholly sensible, and they're usually easy to talk to.

The Postmistress turned to me and said, "Is she for real?"

I shrugged. "I'm afraid so."

She spoke out to the Goddess and her voice carried easily. "Are you saying we should hate men 'cause they die so we won't?"

"That's right!" affirmed the Goddess. "Men even beat us to the grave! They make all the money and then kick off as soon as they retire, and they leave us to wander around alone for fifteen or twenty years!"

Some of the seniors were dabbing at tears, and I want desperately to believe that they were crying for their dead husbands and not for their loneliness.

"She-it!" said the Postmistress.

The Goddess affected not to notice. "And what do women have to show for their years of sacrifice? A little savings, a little Social Security, but that's all!"

"His savings," said the Postmistress. "His Social Security. You done said he made all the money. I'd rather be scrimpin' and alive than livin' it up in the grave. Wouldn't you?"

"Logic!" spat the Goddess. "Who is it who demands that we think logically? Men! It's bad enough to hear it from them. But what are we to do about the female impersonators in our midst?"

That was cheap. And dangerous. First, while she did not ignite the flames of my own mild lust, the Postmistress was beyond doubt a woman. I expect there is a lucky man nearby whose face sometimes glows with a secret smile when he pauses to reflect upon her femininity. And second, I'd bet a large dollar that she sometimes puts a bruise or two on that same unlucky man.

She was certainly ready to put a bruise or two on the Goddess. I shook my head and said, "Sticks and stones. Satisfaction is fleeting, but a battery conviction is forever." She was huffing and puffing, and I thought she might put a bruise or two on me, the peacemaker's gamble.

The Goddess was trying to heal the wound with the rest of the crowd, to repair her own reputation. "Now is not the time to quarrel among ourselves. Now is the time for solidarity. Our sisters are convened in China and they're making great strides toward ridding all women of the dominance of patriarchy. And while some may sneer that China is no place to talk about anyone's rights, surely no nation has spoken more movingly about human rights."

"They've spoken about it all right!" said the Postmistress. I have the deepest admiration for people who just won't quit.

"That's right!" said the Goddess, demonstrating that all functionaries suffer irony deficiency. "And the Chinese are way beyond our meager Pro-Choice position. They're Pro-no-Choice, and because of this, we know that every girl child in China is a wanted girl child."

And the seniors, at least, figured out what happens to the unwanted girl children. And the enthusiasm of the college girls was not enough to sustain a convincing "Whoop, whoop whoop!" And when the cheering petered out to silence, one lone voice was heard, the closest approach to the voice of reason in the whole damned Sisterhood rally:


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