My Thoughts on Mother’s Day: Reposted

I posted this on Facebook four years ago. Decided to share it again.

 

A lot of people are posting for Mother’s Day, calling for an appreciation for their mothers and the sharing of their happiness that is related to their mothers, which often translates into a monetary purchase. I get that. However, there are many motherless children, and there are those who do not feel happy or good about their mothers. Not all mothers are willing or able to be there for their children.

Every woman is NOT naturally good at being present and loving towards her child. Some women fail miserably at motherhood and parenting. The view that every woman is capable of loving a child because she has the ability to bring one into being is a myth propagated by patriarchal thinking that says that all women MUST desire to bear children and thus aspire to become mothers. Of course, I am proud and thankful for the women and mothers who indeed are present and loving (esp for the ones in my life), but the truth is that many women are NOT present or loving, and to give them credit that they have not earned or do not deserve is something that has always been painful for me to watch amongst my friends and family.

Today [Mother’s Day 2017], please be conscious, especially as you wish others a “Happy Mother’s Day,” that this day is quite constructed for socio-economic purposes, and that that kind of widespread promotion, which encourages a kind of groupthink, silences many and compels them to follow the crowd and lie to themselves as to how they really feel about their mothers and thus about themselves. This Mother’s Day is expected to gross more than $23.6 billion dollars; perhaps the most ever in U.S. history.

If you love and appreciate your mother, honor her, first and foremost, with a life that is lived everyday authentically you and human! And, if there is little to no love between you and your mother, be true to yourself and your experience with your mother by finding an honest way to honor and give voice to the feelings you have about your mother and your experience with her.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Have You Ever Written a Neighborhood Plan (Young Lady)? Sexism and City Planning

Today I talked to someone who asked me if I had ever worked for a city planning department. Here’s what I said in response: Well,

Number one: I teach students who go on to work for city planning departments.

Number two: I have worked for city planning departments, mostly in the role of a researcher/academic.

Number three: I am mostly engaged and committed to planning that is from the bottom up; my work in city and regional planning has been primarily with not-for-profits as well as local and state government agencies.

And then he said, “Yeah, but don’t you want to be a director of city planning?” Who came up with that?

I started to say: “What parts of numbers 1, 2, and 3 do you not understand?” But I didn’t.

And then he asked me: “Well, where did you go to school?” As if there was something deficient about my planning education.

When I named the schools for him, he said, “Yeah, I know about those schools; they are pretty good.” Like that had anything to do with anything.

And, all the while he was doing this, he was calling me “young lady.” Just for context: he was an older black man; probably about 25 years my senior.

This exchange reminded me of a more recent conversation that I had with a local white planner who was, I suppose, a little perturbed by my critique of his planning presentation. In response to my comments about his presentation, which were not hostile – I just didn’t agree on a method he was proposing (and I proposed another one instead), he asked me, “Well, have you ever written a neighborhood plan?” Just like that. Out of nowhere; who I am, what I said; none of that mattered. Like the man who asked, “had I ever worked for a city planning department.”

Why? Why should I be shocked when I encounter appeals to accomplishment and rank as a means to silence me and my critiques? I received similar receptions in my previous profession (I was a United Methodist clergywoman). When people learned that I was the pastor, the church administrator, the one with the authority to be in charge, they would ask me, “When were you ordained?” Or, “Where did you go to seminary.” By contrast, these were questions that my male counterparts rarely, if ever, had to answer. People just took their word for it that they were who they said they were, the “Reverend So-and-So.” Why should it matter to me that men who are black, white, brown, red, and yellow constantly question my credentials or my “fitness” for the work that I have been doing for years? Why should I be so offended since it happens so frequently? Even today.

Likewise, I have to ask myself, why do I think or want to think that urban planning academicians and professionals who call themselves committed to social justice, advocacy and equity are free from sexism, racism or any other “ism” for that matter? What makes me want to believe that women planning scholars should or could get equal treatment in the classroom, in the conference room, or even when it comes to discussing and implementing urban plans in “the real world of planning?” Where have I seen a good example of gender or racial equity in the urban planning profession, and in the U.S.?

In the classroom, planning scholars and urban historians often make reference to Jane Jacobs, a pioneering white woman who is known for her critique of city and neighborhood planning in the late 1950s. Her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, was written in the in the context of the urban neighborhood in New York City and not long after WWII. As noted by one of my colleagues, this is a book that you can still find on bookstore shelves today (including virtual book shelves). Jacobs is well-known for her critique of one of NYC’s “finest” a/k/a “The Power Broker,” Robert Moses. Of course, there was a lot that Jane Jacobs did not say or do in her important book (i.e., as it concerns matters of race and class), but, one thing is for sure, she was willing to stand up for herself and for her community, and she did this in spite of the sexism exhibited by the city and regional planners and the contemporary thinkers of her time. How did she do it? Indeed, with the power of the pen! And, voila, there is the example!

Well, it is 2016, and half a century later, women planners are still being ignored and dismissed; we still face sexism among  our colleagues, students (yeah, I said it!), and from practitioners that we know like the one who interrogated me today. Conference sessions on diversity, women, race, and planning are pushed to “the back of the bus” and scheduled on final days when nearly everyone is out of steam or they have gone back home, which shows us all how very important matters of gender, equity and inclusion really are for academics in city and regional planning and in the planning of its  conferences. Emerging feminist ideas about planning methodologies and frameworks, such as “loving attachment,” (made visible and palatable by Leonie Sandercock, Karen Umemoto, and Libby Porter) are not unknown, but they are not put into practice and thus they are not taken seriously by planners “in the real world.” Like, when have I heard this concept explained in detail for students or communities by one of my male counterparts?  That would be never. To make matters worse, it is not unusual for feminist proposals to be  openly criticized as divisive and unnecessary by those who are much more comfortable with traditional, Euro-masculinist theories and practices of city and urban planning.

Time and time again, women planners and planning scholarship that is gender-specific is disregarded and deemed not “good enough” or important enough to be first in presentation or priority at gatherings of scholars and students of planning. In addition, name for me one city where you have heard of a development project that has been designed for women or girls or with womens’ issues or concerns as the primary and motivating force. Yes, in planning programs we have inspiring workshops and courses that encourage us to think in terms of gender and race, and as they pertain to the built environment; and, we have women who are visible and audible in the teaching and in the practice of planning. But, where can we see city and regional designs or plans that make women and girls the primary beneficiaries?  Where do we find women’s thoughts and ideas about space and place that occupy the center of local discussion about city and urban planning projects and designs (beyond a class session or two)? Where, beyond the work of Dolores Hayden, and the planners I have mentioned above, do we see women city and regional planners taking the lead, offering visions of urban development that are also predominantly women-identified and women-centered and “in the real world?” I am not saying that they are not there, but I would like to know what is really happening with women and planning in the 21st century when many of the women that I know in planning have ultimately been more than willing to act in the interests of self, tradition, tenure, whiteness and patriarchy. As bell hooks once said, “Where is the Love?

Now, about black women planners and scholarship. Of course, I want to believe that black womens’ planning scholarship is important to city and regional planners who are “in the real world,” but today, after the “motivating” conversation that I had with a local Kansas City resident who has been active in community and neighborhood development, and after thinking about my own experiences “in the real world,” I really don’t see where black women planning academicians who talk openly and powerfully about race and gender in city and regional planning are perceived of as significant or important to the development of planning theories and practices (and who are on full-time status at schools and colleges of planning in the U.S.). I see black women planning academicians and practitioners, but rarely do I see the ones who are openly feminist or womanist and openly anti-racist (just for starters).

That said, I am currently in the process of working through a hypothesis, along with a trusted colleague, which posits that black women planning academicians who operate from a gender-centered position and from a standpoint that privileges the experiences of black women and girls and black communities (e.g., the epistemological privilege of the poor) will be dismissed, disregarded and ultimately rejected in response to being openly critical of whiteness, maleness and the positivist roots of city and regional planning. For several months, we have been working to construct and test our theory which says that black women planning scholars who openly and unabashedly critique men, especially white men and white conceptual frameworks of  city and regional planning, will face negative consequences and negative responses from colleagues, students, administrators, and other institutional officials overall. And, we predict that this response will happen more times than not and in the form of some very specific consequences and negations. If our hypothesis is proven to be true, then we – as in city and regional planners – have not come all that far when it comes to women and planning. In other words, if a significant percentage or group of black women planning academicians are not free to theorize and to practice city and regional planning as they see fit, then we are not free (not individually and not as far as academic freedom goes)! Unfortunately, “in the real world,” if we have that finding, we believe that it will demonstrate that theories and practices of city and regional planning and the institutional terrain of planning schools, colleges, and thus municipal and regional planning departments are still as Barbara Hooper said in 1992: what white bourgeois men have said it is.”

And if our findings prove to be true, since I am a womanist scholar, I think that what we must then think in terms of is what womanist Katie G. Cannon, a theologian and womanist scholar whose work was critically beneficial to me in my 2010 dissertation, is whether we, as city and regional planners, have “structured academic amnesia.” And, if we do have this ‘structured academic amnesia,’ you can be sure that it will be played out “in the real world,” “as if this true [feminist and not this] womanist story] never happened.” Yet for some of us, like Jane Jacobs did half a century ago, who are willing and brave enough to utilize the power of the pen, nothing could be further from the truth!

© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

For more on Katie Cannon, I recommend: Cannon, Katie Geneva.  2006.  Structured academic amnesia:  As if this true womanist story never appened.   In Deeper shades of purple:  Womanism in religion and society., 19-28.  New York:  New York University Press.

For more on Barbara Hooper, I recommend: Hooper, Barbara. 1992. “Split at the roots”: A critique of the philosophical and political sources of modern planning doctrine. Frontiers 13 (1): 45-80.

Why I Didn’t Get Married

First of all, this blog is long overdue. I have been meaning to write on this topic for months, but I could never bring myself to do it with everything else that has been happening in my life for the last four to six months. But, from day one, when the words came to me, I felt that it was very important for me to blog about marriage. So, here it goes.

Frequently, I am asked about marriage. The closer that I get to being fifty years old, I guess, for some, it seems an appropriate question for a woman. And, for some, I suppose that it seems strange that a woman has managed to stay unmarried with no children in her adult life. I’ve been close to marriage once. It has been more than twenty five years since I was engaged to be married, but it was an engagement that lasted all of two months. The deceptive actions of my ex-fiance made the idea of marriage – with him – simply unimaginable. Now, when I look back, I don’t regret backing out of that engagement for a moment, but when it happened, when it was clear that our relationship would not lead to marriage, I was devastated. But, that was to be understood; I was in my early twenties and marriage was an idea that I had been taught to embrace from my childhood. To be more exact I would say that I was indoctrinated into embracing and believing in the idea of marriage.

Today, marriage is not a priority for me. In fact, there are times when it is not really an idea that appeals to me; at least not with so many relationships and marriages in the U.S. falling to pieces. One book captures this concern. In Is Marriage for White People: How the African American Decline Affects Everyone, professor of law at Stanford, Ralph Richard Banks queries:

White adults, men and women alike, are more than twice as likely to be single now as in 1970. More American women in their early thirties are single today than ever in our nation’s history. African Americans lead the marriage decline; other groups follow…Still, marriage has diminished more among African Americans than among any other Americans, including whites with whom I typically contrast African Americans for ease of exposition. Black women are only half as likely as white women to be married (11), and more than two times as likely as white women never to marry (12). As others marry, black women often remain alone (13).

I came to terms, years ago, with the idea of being alone, as in being not married. At first I was not married due to a failed relationship – or so it seemed. Later, I was not not married by choice. Why? Well, by my early thirties I came to understand that being alone does not mean being without male companionship or intimacy. I do not have trouble finding men to date. Shucks, “some of my best friends are men,” and I often enjoy the presence of a man for fun and relaxation. However, rarely have I found that many of those men would make good or worthwhile lifetime partners. Yes, every now and then I meet a man who is quite intriguing, but marriage is the last thing on my mind. Most of the time, I’m just trying to ascertain what is possible with that man. Ultimately, I want to know can we get along! Do we have what it takes to last as a couple? If we can’t get through the first month or two, or six, without too much trouble, then, duh, there is no going forward. I am simply not into the idea of getting married just for marriage’s sake.

Today, my approach to marriage is similar to my approach to teaching and to my life as an academic in general. I expect college students to put their all into doing well in a course; and, likewise, I put my all into what I am teaching and writing. Furthermore, I believe that we are all students of life, and with that comes recognizing the lessons we learn about ourselves and love. I try to give my all when I feel love with a man, but, a man who shows me that he is not willing or capable of giving his all and of doing the necessary emotional work of relationship is not, as some might say, “marriage material.” In fact, such a man is not really “relationship material.” I enjoy being in an intimate relationship with a man; it is where I do some of my best work, so to speak. I enjoy talking and working things out, but rarely do I meet men who enjoy talking and working things out. On the flipside, I find that many men enjoy the fun of being in relationships, but they often avoid the not-so-fun part of being in relationship. And there is at least one good reason for that: when you open up yourself to someone of interest, you are making your whole self visible and thus seen. All the good parts are visible, but so are all of the not-so-good parts. Being seen wholly like this makes us all vulnerable and thus open to pain or hurt. Patriarchy and the social construction of masculinity teaches many men (from childhood) to avoid being so seen with such vulnerability. One of my favorite authors, feminist bell hooks, has explained, that boys, especially black boys, are often only seen in part, not wholly. For some, going through life not being seen as vulnerable, often expressed as cold, hard or angry, is a means to surviving traumatic and painful conditions. The downside is that refusing to be seen as vulnerable and making oneself invisible to avoid being seen as a way of life can also lead one down a very lonely and dark path. On the contrary, I have found that being vulnerable is the way to thrive in life and in love. Embracing our vulnerability (being willing to share our whole selves with another) is the lifeline to experiencing a good, healthy relationship. Of course, this kind of vulnerability, which leads to intimacy, doesn’t happen overnight, but gradually and with time and effort it has beautiful and rewarding consequences for those who are willing to make themselves visible to each other, scars and all, and in spite of the fact that they might get hurt. Unfortunately, the possibility of getting hurt goes with the territory of relationship.

So, before I close this blog I will say openly that I am not against getting married, nor do I think that it is something that is only for white people. However, I will say that until people – men and women no matter what color or class – are willing to be seen as vulnerable then marriage is not something to be embraced or taken seriously. That said, I will also say that instead of constantly finding paradigms to fit ourselves into, such as marriage, we must endeavor to find the wherewithal to construct healthy social or relationship paradigms that work for us in the here and now. And, whatever relationship paradigms we construct for ourselves, must be specific to who we are, what we need and want from ourselves, others, and life in general. Indeed, the relationship paradigms that we create must be a reflection of our own lived experiences; and that will include the good, the bad, and the ugly.

In conclusion, if a person is not good at developing healthy relationships – ones that are based on respect, honesty, equity, and loving kindness –  then how is marriage imaginable? No marriage will survive if there is disrespect, dishonesty, inequity or animosity for the other, unless, I suppose, there is some kind of covert arrangement or transaction at work, or, unless the person is willing to live with such expressions. On the other hand, it is very important to recognize one’s own autonomy or worth and completeness apart from anybody else. Thus, what I have learned from life is that I, as a black woman, do not have to be married to be happy or fulfilled in life. Being happy or fulfilled is something that is up to me to cultivate, and so far I do not require or need marriage or children to find fulfillment or happiness in life. Yes, it is always great to share myself with a man that I care about, and I have known some very interesting men, but I can love a man wholly without being married and without bringing children into this world. There is nothing wrong with being alone and the happiness that I feel and know for myself is something I know and create from within, alone. And, right now, there is nothing more important than cultivating my own happiness for myself.

© 2015 annalise fonza, Ph.D.