Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Hillary Clinton, Macha, Pneumonia, and Great-Grandmother Ferguson


[NOTE: Almost all of this is a slightly updated version of some paragraphs I wrote for my blog on OpenSalon, before the Salon.com book-burners closed down the site. Since it's from one of a collection of essays submitted to Wildside Press in Winter of 2014 — and which they will publish apparently when they damn well get around to it — it was definitely written without Hillary Clinton in mind.]

One day back in the late 20th century, back when I was teaching writing courses, a student staggered into my office, sneezed, coughed, wheezed, and dropped off a paper on my desk, only somewhat spotted by her bodily fluids. She rasped, "Here it is," and waited for my thanks and appreciation. She didn't get any; I said something like, "Okay, now go home and get some sleep; I would've given you an extension." I wasn't going to thank her. I wasn't going to be impressed. What was going through my mind was (1) that she'd exposed me to Whatever Is Going Around — although I'd probably been exposed already (students are disease vectors) — and (2) that far from being impressed that she'd trekked over with the paper, I thought her socially unskilled that she couldn't get a friend to drop it off and/or unsophisticated about modern technology that it didn't occur to her to just send me the essay as an e-mail attachment.
I discussed this matter with some women colleagues, and they told me the problem was Great Grandmother Ferguson.
They'd all been brought up on some version of Great Grandmother Ferguson, "who dropped the twins while plowing the south forty; bit through the umbilical cords; put one twin to each breast to suckle; finished the plowing; then went home to nurse a log-cabin-ful of cholera victims; and you, you little weakling, you're complaining about some minor appendicitis. Woman up! You're whining like a boy!" The rule was, "Real women don't get sick," or they don't allow a little pneumonia to get in the way of getting housework done: that's for boys and men, who "never have to go through a three-day labor like I had to for you — and then you ripped me apart!"
My colleagues explained to me, "Girls are brainwashed, Rich; it's the Macha Creed, and you just have to tell them that times have changed, and we're winning the Revolution, and now women and girls can take a day off to be sick the way men always could. Or at least rich men."
I thought that story and line were great, and I repeated them back to the class, to which several young women responded, "Right! Boys are wimps! If they get sick they go to bed!" And I repeated the point to rather militant stares and repetition of "Boys are wimps!" and finally just said, "All right — all of you! If you're sick, don't come to class. I gave you a roster with contact information; you're divided into groups; get someone to cover for you." And we moved on.
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            So: There may be some convoluted Machiavellian reason(s) why Hillary Clinton in September 2016 hid the fact that she had pneumonia; or it may be just Great Grandmother Ferguson, lying moldering in the grave, but hoo boy! her spirit marches on.

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