Ash: So Brannan, I have a question for you.
Brannan: What’s up?
A: Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?
Today we’re talking about Glinda, the good witch—who for me and probably for a lot of girls and boys and everyone in between, it was your first encounter with a witch in pop culture, in Wizard of Oz.
B: Yeah, especially if you were in a limited background where witchery was not accepted.
A: But somehow classical pieces with Judy Garland weasel their way through because your mom just really liked her hair or something. Right? So your exposure to Glinda the Good Witch. What was—okay. So I’m curious. I’m going to play a clip actually because I know how I feel about it, but I’m wondering what was your first impression of Glinda the Good Witch before the clip?
B: I really liked her bubble. I was really impressed with being able to live in a bubble and travel in a bubble. She showed up in a bubble and I was like, mmmmm. But then that was, that was the end of it for me.
I wasn’t a big fan of the floof and I had a particularly egregious experience with tulley, floofy dresses—because they itch. At a wedding.
B: Well, for me it was early nineties. I’ll have to post a picture if I get permission from my cousin, but I’ve got—
A: The tulle.
B: Our faces were like splotchy from crying.
A: It’s like torture! It’s horrible.
B: And then she [badly mimics Glinda’s high-pitched voice]—and I’m like, “Oh—what are… What are we doing here?” After having just been really impressed with like the wicked witch’s socks?
A: You’re like, damn, she’s got style.
B: So yeah. I had some. I had some mixed feelings and reservations.
A: I have to admit it that when I was a kid I hated floofy dresses like that, with that horrible, horrible crinoline underneath. I had the wedding experience too—the flower girl. For some reason, my mom decided that I was a professional flower girl. So like I got stuck in everyone’s wedding and then my mom was like a flower girl pimp, right? She was like, You need a flower girl? I got a flower girl. Yeah.
B: “I know a girl.”
A: “I know the girl, we got the dress.”
B: We were just too damn cute.
A: I know, that’s what you get for being cute as buttons! So anyway, I thought I liked the sparkles but I thought that dress looks damn uncomfortable. Like, that poor lady. And then okay, so I have the clip queued up. I got so enraged when I heard her say this:
[Glinda] “…and that’s all that’s left of the Wicked Witch of the East.”
[Dorothy] “But I’ve already told you—I’m not a witch at all. Witches are old and ugly.”
[Dorothy] “What was that?”
[Glinda] “The munchkins. They’re laughing because I am a witch. I’m Glinda, the witch of the North.”
[Dorothy] “You are? I beg your pardon. But I’ve never heard of a beautiful witch before.”
[Glinda] “Only bad, witches are ugly.”
Only bad witches are ugly. [shrieeeek!]
A: Okay. So in case you missed that part, before I let out my banshee, valkyrie scream of anger, is she just said only bad witches are ugly. Oh my God. Stroke. Immediately, I was like, well that’s wrong.
I knew that was wrong because I knew people, like objectively, there are people who are associated with youth and fertility traits. I kind of had in my head that there were beauty standards, okay. So subjectively, there are people who are super attractive and then there are people who are like in their crone phase of life who, you know, I think they’re beautiful, but probably I knew like on a level they wouldn’t be slapped in a magazine for a reason unless they murdered someone.
So I felt really angry. I was like, okay, so beautiful people are good and ugly people are bad? WHAT? That’s wrong.
B: And that was kind of a southern trope that happened too, where you hear that phrase “Stop being ugly” If you’re being mean or unkind, don’t be ugly, you’re being ugly. I remember my grandma saying that and my mom kind of trying to break it a little bit, but it’d still slip out, kind of like saying “shit” would slip out sometimes.
A: I still let it slip out sometimes. I don’t love it, but I still let it slip out.
B: I get that there’s the whole inner beauty and being kind and that’s what’s really beautiful. And that’s probably the idea behind that. Right?
A: Exactly. So for, for a long time I hated Baum, wrongly, for putting that in there—until I actually, I think it was maybe Libravox. It’s public domain now, so I listened to Libravox and I was in the car and I finally got around to reading Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
So what the movie did—who did it? MGM? There used to be, at the start of the story, there was the witch of the south and then there’s the witch of the north, and Glinda the Good Witch of the north in the book, but she meets the witch of south first—and she doesn’t actually have a name in the book.
So this meeting that just happened from that sound clip actually goes something like this:
Three were men and women all oddly dressed. The men, Dorothy thought, were about as old as uncle Henry for two of them had beards, but the little woman was doubtless much older.
Her face was covered in wrinkles, but her hair was nearly white and she walked rather stiffly.
So. Okay. That’s Glinda. They did a compilation in the movie, but the old woman is the witch that she meets who tells her that only bad witches are ugly in the movie. But that’s not in the book at all.
That’s not in the book.
So I felt a little vindicated—my inner child was like, “Yeah, stupid Hollywood! Always ruining things for good people. Yeah. Old ladies can be good!” [laughing] “I knew that already. Take that.”
So then this past year I actually discovered that Glinda the Good Witch was modeled after Baum’s mother in law, which I would like to unpack a little bit. Like maybe extensively.
The Witch Behind the Crinoline
A: [Baum’s] mother in law was actually a suffragette. She was an abolitionist. So prewar, when she was a little girl, she grew up in a house that was actually a stop on the underground railroad, which is kind of amazing.
I’m just going to read this clip from this paper—So her name was Matilda Joslyn Gage. So this is from part three, Matilda’s Magic.
Matilda Joslyn Gage was born in an abolitionist household, distributing anti-slavery petitions from an early age. Joslyn Gage remained a strong supporter of black suffrage inequality as well as an advocate for universal liberty and peace. Her father, Dr. Hezekiah Jocelyn educated Matilda in Greek mathematics and physiology. Her brilliance as a historian was often remarked by her contemporaries. Her brilliance as an orator, legal scholar, and advocate is evident in her writings in spite of lifelong illness from heart problems. She raised four children and was a passionate advocate…
But the thing that she did that rocked the boat so much was that she published a book called “Women, Church, and State,” in which she pretty much ripped everyone a new one. She was passionately speaking out against patriarchy. She was speaking out against systems that held down people of color and people who were women and everyone who was not a white male.
Basically, she was speaking out saying that the modern day religion at the time was perpetuating all these institutions that kept people down and keep them from being treated as equal citizens. Which to us sounds like pretty basic feminism.
B: There’s such a roller coaster learning this stuff so late. You hear the [Glinda the] Good Witch was modeled after his mother in law and you’re like, “Ha, that’s funny. Everybody thinks their mother in law is a witch” right? Simple joke. Whatever.
A: But he actually admired her a lot.
B: So you see her written in and then you’re like, “oh, she wasn’t actually just a mother in law.”
A: No, a lot happening. She had a huge political presence.
B: She was significant not only as a member of his family but a member of society, so she was a prominent person for him to write about. And then you unpack more about her and then wonder why we haven’t heard of her in history when we have that whole suffragette movement. This is not a woman that you hear of—and that’s kind of a good thing for her character, a bad thing for the way that we’ve been taught history.
A: Absolutely. Well, and here’s why. Like here’s. Do you want to hear why she was wiped out of the history of this in favor of people like Elizabeth Cady Stanton?
B: [attempt at being ominous] Dun dun duuuuun.
A: Okay, so Joslyn Gage argued that the church oppressed women by supporting witch hunts, a practice that primarily targeted women.
“Joslyn Gage noticed that women who acquired knowledge in medicine and healing arts were the greatest threat to patriarchy and thus were identified as witches at the height of the witch craze. Witches were burned 400 at a time. These witches were burned instead of boiled in oil because oil is too expensive for them.”
So what she did essentially was she was rejecting the religious practice of her day because it was being used to support unethical treatment of women. So she was one of the first people to claim really hard the witch label and take it back, because up until that point, a “witch” was a way to get back at your neighbor. It was a way to get back at their herbal woman or the woman who is dabbling in science and not staying in her lane. And women who are cooking things in their pots other than stew for the men. You know what I mean?
So she decided to take back the label. She took it and she said, okay, I’ll be a. which that’s a better thing to be. I’m for it.
B: So you notice that not all women were burned as witches? There are—there was the whole group of suffragettes who we are taught about, and the thing is, it’s because they were willing to align with patriarchy. They were willing to align with white supremacy in order to maintain their power, and they would keep that proximity to power and they’ve made progress. Yes.
But it was progress for a limited group of people.
It was literally progress for white women.
A: Yes, like in the case of Elizabeth Cady Stanton prewar, she was very pro-equal-rights for all humans. She really banged that pot loudly. And then after the war happened and it was no longer a convenient box to stand on, she changed her position completely and she threw the black vote under the bus—firmly. And she even said something, she said some things as horrible as like “white women are more intelligent than black men by nature.”
She said horrible [ridiculously inaccurate] things. She claimed to be a friend of Frederick Douglass and she basically just pushed him in front of the bus completely at that point because she realized it was going to be either/or, and she’s like, “okay, I choose me.”
B: Right. And if this is feeling difficult—
A: It was difficult for me when I first learned it.
B: You have to dig into this, we’ll post resources, but look into it yourself. Because this is lot of history that is taught…
A: Check the facts, always be curious.
B: And we have—there are really powerful women of color and black women leading movements today and reminding us that when we say “on this day in history, we, women got the vote,” that’s not accurate. No, part of the women got the vote. Some of the women got the vote, and there was a much bigger battle happening.
A: When Joslyn Gage aligned herself as a truth-teller, she was not trying to cave into power systems. She was willing to speak up against it all. She saw herself aligned with witches not because she practiced witchcraft or because it was a type of belief, but that she saw it was a political stance, that it was women who did not align with the power structures.
They stepped outside of what they were expected to be and do and that’s when they were labeled witch.
And that’s when they were burned at the stake and that’s when they were ostracized from society and cut off from any chance at power. She was willing to do that. And because of that she got erased from history.
B: I wanted to point out I think it’s important to not paint her as a savior, just as the sort of person who was given the opportunity, through her life experiences of being around people and living closely with people and seeing how difficult things were for them and actually having empathy.
Not necessarily hiding in an ivory tower and using her stance is a political piece to further herself as like woke of the day, I guess.
A: Right. She wasn’t just using it as like a convenient, “I’ll just drive down to Target and get my woke shirt and come back home and be correct on Twitter.” Like she was actually given the opportunity to be real, you know? And I think that more people would be if they were given the opportunity. And I think also like having, having a male presence in her life that encouraged her, in the form of her father, who encouraged her to do things like study history and study physiology and study things that weren’t necessarily super popular subjects for girls to be involved in. He encouraged her.
Teaching people to question things and look underneath the hood of life is more important than teaching children to parrot ideology and rhetoric.
Teaching them to ask questions and not make assumptions about their inherent value over other people’s inherent value is probably going to get you further in being a fair-minded human being than just teaching people a script.
The Power in Knowing
B: The thing about this type of girl, if you are raising this type of child, and they have access to information, they’re going to parse out that information and find things and find connections whether or not you intend for them to.
A: Yeah. The only way you could crush that is if you didn’t let them ask questions. Like if you somehow made them feel ashamed for asking questions. They might keep doing it in private, but maybe will be more timid about it. It’s not going to stop them from being curious.
B: They’re going to make connections that you didn’t expect them to. And there’s a lot of like willingness to learn with them and to help guide that learning and to be on the journey alongside them.
I want to sidestep for just a second. This wasn’t planned. But I was homeschooled. We were both homeschooled. I was in debate and when we started debate, when I was first starting off in early, early high school, they were teaching us like proper logic type arguments, like actual debate. They were actually going to public schools and debating, and then they made it just within the homeschool group. And then, but they kept all of the same rules of logic and the rules of debate. And you had to actually do like policy debate, right?
It didn’t take very long before they realized they were teaching us too much logic.
A: What have we done? We have armed the women.
B: If you are familiar with homeschoolers anonymous. That’s kids that were debaters at the same time as me. Right when the thing everything shifted, they realized that they were teaching us too much logic. And most of us started finding holes in our homeschool groups, holes in our family systems…
A: [laughter] Cos what do homeschool kids have? Lots of time.
B: We have lots of time, lots of time to ourselves. So before I graduated from high school, the priorities have shifted in the way things were judged and the way things were taught, and they became appeals to emotion and they became appeals to set belief systems.
A: Actually leaning in on logical fallacies.
B: I actually had some girls tell me at one point, I was like, your plan is outside of framer’s intent, this is not what the topic was supposed to be. They go, “Our father was one of the framers. So I think we know what it is,” in the round. Appeal to authority in the round.
So yeah. You’re going to have children who were going to be looking for those logic points and they’re going to want to poke holes in the systems. And honestly, this is a really great chance to check in again with your authenticity and with the authenticity of your belief systems and your political systems.
Be open to having those conversations with them because that is, that’s where Joslyn Gage made the connections, was in realizing that there were women who are scientists who weren’t getting the credit for their work and realizing that the witches were just really good at what they did. And that’s it. And, and you know, threatening power structures and realizing that, this, the right thing to do is to be an abolitionist.
Seeing the logic and the world around her made her a really strong woman.
A: Oh, that’s so good. And I think another layer to that that you could do to help reinforce that for kids like that as they’re going through and as they’re poking holes, you really have to leave your own ego at the door. You have to be willing to be flexible about your own cherished beliefs about yourself.
If they find a hole in your logic and they find a place that’s a blind spot for you, instead of becoming angry and defensive and blowing up, which is going to absolutely stymie them because they’re not going to understand that reaction to someone being like, “Hey, here, you’ve got toilet paper on the foot of your brain.”
If you can say, “You know what, that’s a good point. I’m going to think about that. Give me a minute to think about that.” And sit with that and with yourself and push past your own initial defensive response because you need to feel like a good person. Right? And say, is this true? Could this be true? And actually take it seriously and think about it.
They will respect you forever.
If you come back and say, you know what, “you’re right, you’re right. I am being hypocritical.” Or “I did have a blind spot there”, or “actually, I’m going to try to change that. I’m working on that.” They’ll respect you forever.
B: And that will encourage them—we’ve talked before about putting resources in front of them and connecting them with people who are experts, putting them in the room with someone smarter than themselves, challenge them. Someone with different experiences than themselves to challenge them. They crave that. That’s why Joslyn Gage wound up being more well rounded than some of her peers.
A: Who wrote her out of the history that she literally helped create.
Patting Ourselves on the Back
Okay. So shifting, shifting, pivoting a little bit. So can we talk about how well-meaning men in Joslyn Gage’s life accidentally wrote her out of her own, like even in trying to pay an homage to her actually wrote her out of her own narrative. Can we unpack that a little bit? Starting with Baum.
B: Starting with Baum. So yeah, I think Baum and MGM, it was just layer after layer of dilution. And I almost wonder. So this was an interesting thing that I found. I think this is from the same piece that you just read from. Yep. So Baum was trying—I mean he married into this family and I think he had some respect for her.
A: Yeah. He had some aspirations himself, trying to be a forward thinker. And I say aspirations because he didn’t quite hit the mark.
B: We also have to consider the position that different people are in. So he didn’t have a lot of skin in the game, and the further you are removed from the situation—like you can’t look down at something that you’re trying to help with., You can’t look down on them and also try to help them.
A: In the same way that Joslyn Gage probably was a little bit removed from Frederick Douglass, and he probably had a much better bead on that situation than she did because he had firsthand experience.
B: So [Baum] kind of got a lot of credit for being progressive. Baum got a lot of credit for being progressive because he wrote women into his books.
A: What a novel concept.
B: I’m not going to read directly from this, but the point is, is that he had some women written in, but also he based the flying monkeys off of native Americans.
A: That was really unfortunate, and that was confirmed by the fact that like publicly and outwardly, he was outspoken against them and against their rights, at the same time as claiming to be an abolitionist.
B: Right. And then later on, as he wrote more about Oz, he turned the suffragette movement into satire and painted a picture of beautiful young women overthrowing and making their husbands stay at home and do all of the wifely things.
A: Because how terrible would that be?
B: Well, they decided that it was terrible, because confirmation bias, and then everything went back to normal. So even within that space where he was supposed to have been progressive and writing about women—
A: Undermined himself completely.
B: And so that’s why like we always have to check ourselves and our privilege and even if we feel like we have good intentions.
If our peers are telling us that we’re doing well, we need to see who our peers actually are.
Put ourselves in positions where we don’t feel like we’re the smartest person in the room. We don’t feel like we have the best perspective in the room and we are listening to other experiences and amplifying their voices, amplifying black women, amplifying women of color, amplifying people outside of our own experiences and giving them the microphone.
And honestly, truth-telling girls, your authoritative girls, we’re going to enjoy that system. Because it’s a system of authenticity and it’s a system of speaking truth to power. But we have to be nurtured in that, right? Because our overall structures tell us something very different than that.
A: Right? Well, and also we tend to be ambitious people right by nature. We have a natural drive to want to keep moving forward and forward and forward.
I think that you can get to that Elizabeth Cady Stanton place very easily had you not been brought up to say no, you may not speak for other people. You may not use them as a device to get yourself forward and step on their heads and then leave them behind. That has to be brought to your awareness on a pretty regular basis or unfortunately, your own drive will get the better of you.
B: Right. And that’s, that’s part of the emotional awareness that we really have to develop an absence we needed in our sons, but we needed in our telling girls. Because I think sometimes it’s assumed, within these structures it’s assumed that women are born naturally empathetic, with this really clear empathy.
And then when you mix that with these conflicting messages of power and authority, if you’re not in the right system, things can go south real fast.
A: You get angry. You know enough and you have enough awareness to get very, very angry, but you have to have some soft skills to go with that and you have to have some structure of ethics inside your head. Right?
B: And there’s that feeling that we have all of these witches that we’ve talked about and have so many left to go over. They all see stuff that needs to be done and they want to just do it.
Why do I have to wait? Why do I have to go slow? Why do I have to let someone else do it? I want to just do it.
And those are well-intentioned things not. I don’t doubt that Baum was well-intentioned. Yeah, those are well-intentioned things.
A: Maybe a little smug.
B: But honestly we kind of tend to be smug sometimes.
A: Well, it’s a comfortable position, right? Because as long as you’re smug, it means that you feel settled. And humans like homeostasis. We like to feel equilibrium. It feels good. So smugness is like, “oh, I’ve arrived.”
But really no: you’ve taken a pitstop, and you’re going to have to keep moving forward and questioning yourself and feeling uncertain because that’s what moving forward is—feeling insecure every single day.
That’s why we’re here—because we know the force of nature that these girls can be.
B: I’m going to liken it to my boys for a minute because I have two boys, two girls, and I know that they are going to step into a room with more societally given power than my daughters will. And so because of that I’m working really hard with them on emotional development and on being able to step back. And being able to use that and hand it over to somebody else. I do a lot of work on that with my boys, because I know unchecked, you can see what happens when boys are given power unchecked and aren’t developed well. You wind up with really powerful, dangerous men.
Our girls are very similar when they’re truth tellers, and that gets overlooked a lot.
And then when you have layers of privilege, like if you’re, you know, cisgender or straight or white, when you have layers of privilege on top of that ambition and on top of your emotional development being overlooked—
A: You can become a cutthroat.
B: It can be a mess. And you see that with our Elizabeth Cady Stanton and there are modern examples of white women who just want to center themselves and take over and take the reins. And at some point, there was probably good intentions there, but intentions don’t matter if the impact is negative, right?
A: So they’re not willing to sit with discomfort. It’s really easy to, to have to entertain the idea of being a moral person and having the high ground as long as you’re comfortable. But so many people, myself included so many times, turn tail and run as soon as things are not comfortable anymore—because you worked so hard to get ahead, you don’t want to take step backward. Right? Yeah. But I think cultivating an attitude of we all move forward or we don’t move forward at all.
Diluted Until Palatable
B: So I want to get back to Baum. Yeah, absolutely. First I want to, I want to touch on MGM, because what the hell?
A: Because what the hell? Okay. So this is what I think happened. Okay. I think Baum modeled Glinda, which is the beautiful young witch, after his mother in law. If you look at pictures of her, she was a stately woman and definitely a bold, strong looking woman, but she was definitely not like whatever he described Glinda as.
Because Glinda in MGM is a lot like Glinda in the book, but that “ugly is bad, pretty is good” thing didn’t exist in the book. But he did morph this strong, powerful mother-in-law into this traditionally kind of male vision of strong, perfect femininity. Right? So he took that first step and then MGM did what?
B: They almost had to explain to us—I really dislike this. It still happens in movies and shows, when they’ve put something in that challenges you or challenges your expectations, and then feel like they have to spell it out for you.
A: Just give us a little bit of credit for having brains not rocks in her head.
B: So they show up with a beautiful… we would expect her to be a fairy probably.
A: She was manic pixie dream girl!
B: She was a manic pixie dream girl. And the reason we have manic pixie dream girls is because of male gaze.
A: Not that there’s anything wrong with being whimsical. I mean we’re plenty whimsical, but they’re yanking the teeth out of those characters, right? So they’re not threatening anymore.
B: Right. And then there’s the idea of attractiveness being connected to values, conventional attractiveness.
A: I don’t think that if you had interviewed Joslyn Gage and said, “What is your vision of what it means to be a witch? What does that mean to you?” I don’t think that’s what she would have described. I really don’t think that’s what she was going for because the woman was outspoken, she was scalding. Like, her words could just cut to the bone. I don’t think that’s what she would have come up with had she been at the drawing board. [post edit note: Instead, we got several layers of male interpretation, like a bad game of Telephone.]
B: Right. We see that so much with any kind of movie portrayals of strong women, they almost always get softened and your soft boys get strengthened up and hardened and make a man of them.
A: Right? Because it doesn’t make us feel uncomfortable. Or I think there’s also this idea that girls have to either be softened so that they’re not threatening, or if they are threatening, they have to be femme fatale threatening and they have to be sexed up because they either have to make a guy feel safe and nurtured or they have to make him feel excited.
Because what is a girl who’s powerful who’s not there for you sexually? Boring. Right?
I think we teach boys that they either have to feel nurtured by someone or excited by them, and there’s not an in between.
B: I mean there’s not because there’s still objectification. That’s still a huge issue. We have to do better with our boys. I think that media is getting closer. I mean I just sat and like sobbed all the way through A Wrinkle in Time, because of that portrayal—I’m just gonna say if Oprah was staring at me in my face and telling me like, “You’re beautiful”—I cried just watching it. But all the little brown girls in my life get these messages that are negative and they’re feeling all of these confidence and self-esteem [issues]—they’re not getting reinforced by society as a whole.
To see that on the big screen. I was just—can I hold you, love you all? It’s beautiful.
So we’re getting better and we’re starting to see it get better. But I think that’s also because we’re giving the microphone to women of color. We’re giving the microphone to women.
A: And we’re giving the producer’s chair too.
B: We’re giving them the chair, getting them to write the script. And so what had happened, what has been happening and what will I’m sure will continue to be a problem was Baum got kind of patted on the back for being progressive and felt—
A: Man, they gave him cookies—
B: He got all the cookies and then felt like he arrived and didn’t have to grow anymore and wasn’t being held accountable. And so he went directly off the rails.
[mutual sigh, frustrated laugh]
Too Much, Too Fast
B: Right off the rails. And so there’s so much danger in pinging that confidence button.
A: Succes is dangerous. Like you have to have people around who do not care who you are, who will tell the truth to you. I like going back to Tiffany Aching’s character. I love that she walks up to the powers that be. At one point one of her childhood friends becomes like the Baron of the area.
And he was like, “Address me as Baron.” And she was like, “No, I will not address you as Baron. Bite me. Bite my elbow.”
I think that that’s, that’s such a gift that people like that possess. They speak to the truth to power and they really don’t care about rank very much. Have you published 20 books? Good for you? I’m still going to call you out.
B: Right. And you see Matilda doing that. When the Trenchbull is like “Read Nicholas Nickleby. The hero is the headmaster,” and Matilda’s like, “I’ve read it, like that’s not a correct analysis.” That’s our truth tellers. If they’re nurtured in some way to move in the right direction they can be really powerful at speaking truth to power. If you’re nurtured in the wrong way, you’re going to do that either on your own or without checks and balances. Right? And that is not a powerful force for good in the world.
A: So the place where I see our bossy pants, girls coming in, right? Or bossy pants, boys, if you’re listening, please pay attention. People who are good at setting up structure: listen. You can keep [truth-telling] people from burning out if we will put into place new structures that reward handing the microphone over to the appropriate person. Then, you know the same five people are not put in the position of [having to] speak truth to power the whole freaking day long. It will become the new norm—and the box office agrees. Like right now, absolutely the box office agrees.
Hand the microphone over and let people tell their stories, because they’re good at it.
As it turns out, people are good at telling their own stories.
B: It’s more authentic, it’s more powerful, it’s just better quality of life for everyone. At the end of the day, it’s not even about us, it’s that we’re not free til we’re all free. We have to be able to include everybody and that’s can be a massive blind spot for your little witch who wants to just get things done.
A: Because if you’re “free” within the system of patriarchy, you’re no longer free from patriarchy. You’re complicit in patriarchy. You’re participating.
B: Yep. And that’s always been an issue. Like, we just are kind of calling out ourselves.
A: Absolutely every single day, because I fuck this up on a regular basis. Yeah.
B: And it’s always been a temptation, and unfortunately many of us succumb to it. It’s always been a temptation for white women to just align the powers that be because we’re craving that power ourselves.
A: Play the game, play the game.
B: Games are fun, but games are not fun when we step on other people. So that’s a massive point of empathy to develop in our girls. And that in that involves encouraging their intellectual development because there’s a lot of emotional—if you do help them develop their emotional strengths and their emotional intelligence and empathy through points of intellect, that’s what’s going to stick.
Out of the Tower
A: So can we talk about not sticking them in an ivory tower in letting them have different experiences in life and being around all different kinds of people without borrowing their culture and taking it home and enjoying it, but like actually appreciating it among people—you know what I’m saying?
Does this make sense?
B: Well, you have to put them in an experience where they can make mistakes and get called out.
A: And have people push back…
B: Have them learn. And that goes all the way back to modeling how to be corrected when you’re corrected. They have to be under the authority of someone who’s not like them. You have to be under, you know, they have to see the black women who’ve been very successful and CEOs and the leaders of groups around them and book studies. It can be really difficult in some areas of the country to find these spaces. [post edit note: This is NOT to say that the only worth is monetary productivity! I think my mind went there specifically because we don’t need to develop the idea that only certain kinds of people are ambitious or successful. To knock those baby egos down a notch, for our white kiddos, and bolster potential for kids of color!]
A: So then our job becomes boosting these people and handing the microphone over them or making some phone calls when you have somebody who’s running for office and supporting them and putting your legwork behind them to get them in those positions when they’re first place, right?
B: It can be a lot of work, but as much as we need to, I think it’s under the microscope that we all need to work with our boys on being better and being a better next generation of men, we need to work with our girls—and especially girls honestly.
Oh, Those Favs
B: So before we wrap this up, I want to just touch on the similarities here with some other men who have gotten patted on the back for being progressive.
A: We’re going to open a can of worms and we’re just going to dump it in the middle of the table and examine it.
B: We’re kind of going to dump it in the middle of the table, and then walk away and come back in the next episode to examine it more. Because this is not uncommon and there are, I’m sure, I know there are many examples that we could point to, but in recent history, because we’re nerds a little bit—geeks probably more accurate?
A: Yeah, probably both apply.
B: I’ve never really cared much about the difference because I can relate to both. I just want to know things and watch shows. Um, so we have Joss Whedon.
A: Yeah. Good old Joss and the Whedonverse.
B: And so he got kind of a lot of those confidence pings in writing strong women. And that fantastic quote where somebody asked him, like a dummy, why? “Why? Why do you keep writing strong women?” And he said, “Because you’re still asking me that question.”
A: It’s a great answer to that great answer. That’s a great answer.
B: And he got a great confidence ping, and not unlike Baum, then got maybe a little cocky.
A: Yeah. Because he was progressive.
B: We all do, right? Yeah.
So that kind of took him down some paths where he felt like he had some freedoms. And we’re going to talk in the next episode about Buffy, and we’re going to just talk about the Whedonverse just a little bit. But also how those tropes show up in media. We were just talking this morning before we started recording about how when you do have the microphone and when you are in a position where you are communicating something of entertainment value, what we miss often is that it’s not just entertainment, but that shapes the voices in our heads.
How many song lyrics do you still have in your brain? Or quotes from that will come out of your mouth and you don’t even remember what movie it is anymore? Our entertainment shapes the way that we communicate with each other. And you, most likely you’re raising a writer, you’re raising a scientist, you’re raising somebody who’s going to be in some form of communication, whether written or otherwise.
Those things really shape how we think about each other and how we think about the world and how we talk about it.
A: We self-create. We do.
B: So when we have this unchecked confidence ping shaping those really important structures, it creates things like “Don’t be ugly,” right?
A: Well, and we stop examining our own cognitive holes and biases, right? We don’t know what we don’t know. Every single person has something that they don’t know. Right? And you can’t know what you don’t know because you don’t even know what you’re looking for. So we have to be open to feedback from other people.
But unfortunately, when we come up on success, people either a want to kiss our ass because they want to be successful too, and they see you as a means to getting further along in their journey or career, or at least see you as in a position of power and they are afraid to say something to you.
I think that’s where absolute power corrupts comes from, is you stop getting feedback, right? So you stop seeing where your brain has holes—walking around like Swiss cheese just leaking everywhere.
B: Leaking brain juice. That’s why this conversation is not just like, “oh, look at this, Joslyn Gage hero” or “look at Baum the enemy”, or even “look at Suffragettes, the enemy!” But that the lesson that we need to pull from it for our girls who are inclined that way is you need to emotionally develop.
You need to learn how to have checks and balances in your life and you need to learn how to accept them and lean into them and grow from them—because they do want to grow. And they do want to be authentic. But it’s hard for us to not want to just shut all of that down as being ridiculous and uninformed and move along. And what that does is at best it dilutes our art so that we get some of these problematic modern things that we’re going to talk about in the next episode.
A: We hurt people.
B: At worst it hurts people and it can—the stronger your little truth-teller is, or your action minded, bossypants…the bigger…
A: We get “sheetcaking.” This is where sheetcaking comes in. You get incredibly tone deaf and moments in history where people need you to hand the mic over or maybe a bullhorn and twelve mics and instead you center yourself and you eat a frigging sheetcake, which is so useful and helpful. [sarcasm]
B: I mean I just want a name that what happened.
A: Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead and describe. I just threw that out there without context.
B: I saw her speak about that on a David Letterman interview. Tina Fey, by the way. She was on David Letterman’s new show and she talked about this and she owned up to it. She was like, it was, it was a blind spot.
And the idea was she got on SNL, and it was with the election, I think. The election had just happened. Trump was elected.
A: Nobody expected it.
B: Not nobody expected it. [laughs]
A: Everyone who was not paying close attention, didn’t expect it.
B: People who didn’t have good checks and balances in their lives didn’t expect it. And so we basically, white women reacted with white women tears, very upset. And that’s not to say that everybody wasn’t upset, but there was like this element of shock and surprise.
A: We felt betrayed. We felt betrayed and we were kind of betrayed by our peers and sometimes by ourselves because that was the primary vote that got Trump in.
B: Again, it’s a case of not being in the room with people who had different experiences to say, no, this is the pattern of history and this is the pattern of the country and this is going to happen. You’re going to make this happen. And so Tina Fey, what thought it would be funny to reflect that moment by ordering a giant sheet cake and saying—it was Charlottesville is when it happened. Because she’s from Charlottesville.
A: Oh, shit. Seriously?
B: She came out in a Charlottesville sweatshirt for us.
A: So the response is to a man plowing into a crowd of people and killing a woman…
B: So she said the response today is not to—we can’t fight. You can’t fight it with protests. Don’t give them attention. They want attention. Kind of like how we treat bullies, which is a whole other topic, right? Don’t give them any attention. That’s what they’re looking for. Stay home and eat a sheet cake. And she was like eating a sheet cake as she said it. Yeah.
I actually got on a plane, I was going to a writer’s conference that weekend. You sent me a message in the airport and then this very sweet, very gay man sat down next to me and he was like, “Have you seen this? Oh my God.” And watched it with me and I was like, “Yeah, it’s kind of, it’s kind a blind spot.”
A: Super tone deaf.
B: She didn’t, literally she did not see that as a problem at the time.
A: Assuming that it’s fine for you to buy a sheet cake and go sit down and ignore everything that’s going on around you because it doesn’t affect your life directly.
B: Exactly—the privilege there, the bubble that we can step back into that Elizabeth Cady Stanton could step back into—when you have an amount of power, you can say, “I’m too tired of dealing with this, so I don’t have to be here. I can tap out.” It’s like when you go on a youth mission trip.
A: Oh, that’s like a whole ‘nother podcast itself.
B: For two weeks. You’re in this place and you’re working hard and you’re tired and then you leave and go home. And you don’t ever have to think about that again, except to ping your confidence meter and be like “I did that thing.”
So the message that she did not necessarily intend to say, but that the impact came with was?
A: “Oh well.”
B: “I’m just gonna step back and feel my feelings and eat cake and ignore it for a weekend.”
A: And that’s not to say that there’s something wrong with giving yourself time to process. We love cake, right? There’s nothing wrong with giving yourself time to have like an emotional day to the end of getting back up in continuing with life.
You can’t tap out, you can’t tap out, you can’t tap out.
B: And if you can tap out, it means that you have an amount of power given to you and amount of privilege given to you.
A: You’re benefiting.
B: You need to be able to then redirect and give some of that power over to people who don’t have it. Who can’t escape and can’t get the break. Like buy sheet cake and give it to your black activist neighbor who is doing [work] and can’t escape.
A: Damn, you must be having a really hard day. I brought you a cake. Proverbial cake, probably like most people probably don’t want cake. [post edit: I mean, cake is great. The point is to just check in with folks. If they want a cake, buy ’em a cake!] I want cake when I’m having a bad day, but like more than cake.
B: The idea is, sheetcaking was just that tone deaf moment of just ignore it and make a joke of it and take a break. And you don’t have to think about it—which if that’s true, that’s because you need to recognize the position of power that you’re in.
What she needed, and what she said she needed later was those checks and balances first. And the way that SNL happens is very, very fast. And so that was her knee jerk reaction that she thought would be funny and there wasn’t time to vet it. [post edit: but for real, work on better knee jerk reactions, yes?]
And we need to give our girls who want to just jump in and do things, we need to teach them how to take time to stop and think about it, take a break, make sure that the people who are affected by your decision actually want you to make that decision.
A: Right? Right. Exactly.
B: So much. And this is one that we’re going to be working on for a while.
A: It’s a work in progress. It’s a work in progress. We’re going to talk about it a while.
B: I have a feeling we will wind up with some interviews probably.
A: I hope so.
B: Because this doesn’t need to be just us. This topic is speaking directly to us and people like us, but we also need to draw in the women of color who are doing the work and get their voices—and that will be in our resources. But start the conversation, have the conversation, think the thinks with yourself, talk to us about it.
We will be back to dig in a little bit more in the next episode.