"Eve" by L. Folk

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Patriarchy: It Exists

On Thursday night I posted the following on Facebook: "Women everywhere are taking the good ol' boys network down." This was in response to Fox News firing Bill O'Reilly for his sexual advances on Fox female employees. Now, this prompted mostly cheers from my feminist posse, but one long-winded jeer from a male friend of mine. I should say here that I regard this friend, an old friend, as a very intelligent person, a talented musician, an eloquent writer. Some of his posts have legitimately left me breathless by his wit and how calculated he is in expressing himself. But I don't agree with him on how "the patriarchy" is a feminist construct.

First, let's look at the more inflammatory things he said:

"The good ol' boys network is a feminist invention. It doesn't exist."

"The sad fact is feminists build their entire world view on emotion, conjecture, and belief, while refusing to challenge their own facts."

Well, I'm going to challenge your "facts," Inge (I'm going to directly address you here) and we're going to start with the definition of feminism. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, feminism is "the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes." Now, Inge I'm almost certain that you want for your daughter the same opportunities/rights as your neighbor would want for his son. I'm almost certain that you would want for me the same opportunities that you have. You're not that backward for Chrissakes. And, if this is true, that makes you a feminist, according to one of the most prominent lexicons of the English language.

You did say this: western women are "the most privileged creatures to ever exist on the planet." So, according to you, I have more privileges than you. I've surpassed equality and have ascended into luxury. Well, I'm not feeling especially privileged these days, probably any more than you are, and I am going to tell you a little story as to why that is. But first I want to make it perfectly clear that the patriarchy and the good ol' boys' club exists. Why? The reason is simple: worldwide there are far more men in leadership roles than women, and men organize themselves into hierarchies. Now you can argue the wage gap, how it doesn't exist, etc, etc. ; I saw the articles you posted, and from fairly reputable sources, I might add. But this is like treating the symptoms and not the disease itself. Here are the facts:

Fewer than 10% of 193 heads of state registered at the UN are women (Pew Research Center)

Four percent of CEOs are women (Forbes)

Twenty nine percent of America's business owners are women (the Atlantic, 2015)

Thirty six percent of lawyers are women (ABA)

104 out of 535 members of Congress are women (19.4%)

So this begs the question how does a surplus of male leaders in the world make a patriarchy?

To explain this, I'm going to relay some of my own personal history and then I'm going to talk chemistry, sociology, and psychiatry.

I graduated cum laude with a degree in civil engineering and a focus in structural engineering. Most of my peers were male. Most of my professors were male. I have nothing but good things to say about my peers and professors; I respected them and they respected me. We joked around a lot. I asked a lot of questions and received many thought-provoking answers. I worked with my peers on homework, projects. Maybe there were undercurrents of attraction here and there, but these were considered superfluous and never acted upon. Maybe it was because I didn't drink enough. (I don't have to tell you I wasn't unattractive.) I was part of an intellectual, academic, egalitarian community and I couldn't have been happier.

I graduated during a recession and took the first job I was offered in bridge engineering. As an entry level engineer, I was merely a draftsperson and spent hours upon hours editing digital line drawings of bridges. Now mind you, my thesis was in finite element analysis. I could analyze any structure you put in front of me with the help of structural engineering software. But I was entry level, the lowest "guy" on the totem pole, so I had to earn my stripes. That seemed to make sense to me at the time. Also, I don't know if you've ever been in the corporate world. Oh wait, have you ever been in the corporate world, Inge? Do you have any idea of how it works? What goes on there? Well I can tell you, it's very economically driven, and it's very hierarchical, and it is very, very cutthroat, more so now than ever because of the economy. In my first job, the boss was the guy who puffed out his chest and yelled the loudest. Well let me tell you, that wasn't at all like the cute and cozy community I was coming from in academia. There was this undercurrent of fear that didn't exist in academia. To be fair, the guys, my fellow engineers at my first job were terrific. It's just that it was dysfunctional. I didn't have my ass handed to me on a regular basis like the guys did; to tell you the truth my boss sort of treated me like a princess. (Oh, there's that privileged theme again!) It was just the way things were. But I eventually left. I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to do design and analysis. I didn't want to draw bridges anymore. I moved to the NYC office and back again, looking for the right work, the right fit. I eventually took a job with another company.

My next boss was soft spoken. He used to mutter sexual innuendos under his breath like "coffee, tea, or me?" I just brushed it off as quirkiness. That sort of thing just comes with the job. Whatever.

I moved around some more, seeking the right fit. I began to question my career choice. Ultimately I landed a job with a company who was doing analysis work on the gusset plate failure of the Minneapolis I-35 Bridge. It was awesome. It felt like I was in school again. The project was challenging, engaging, and unifying. I thought I finally found my dream job. But that project eventually ended and other ones began. My boss became stressed out and wasn't very good at communicating and delegating work. I had no idea what project to work on. I asked him directly and was shrugged off. There was a complete breakdown in communication. Eventually I was called into the conference room and told I was on probation because I had caused a project to go over budget. Now, how could I have caused a project to go over budget when I wasn't the one delegating the work? I wasn't the one responsible for the budget; I just did the work that came across my desk. What the fuck? Long story short, I left. And I wrote everything down, why I left, etc. About a year later, another female engineer was "harassed" for similar reasons with the same boss. She hired a lawyer. They settled out of court. But due to my letter and the documentation on my boss's incompetency, his ass was fired. What's the moral of the story? Breakdown in communication. But more importantly, if your ass is on the line and the guy above you is breathing down your neck, you best get yourself a skapegoat. That's how the hierarchy works.

With every office I was a part of, I started to see a trend. Lack of communication. Fear of the big guy. Incompetency. Skapegoating. What's a male hierarchy, Inge? It's called a patriarchy. The members of the patriarchy care about one thing: self preservation. (We have a classic example of this in the Trump administration.) I began to see patriarchies everywhere, from the workplace, to government, to schools, to church.

I have to come back to this Inge; I have to make a point here. How can you say there is no patriarchy when you have never been in the corporate world environment to see how the hierarchy works? This isn't a matter of feminism. This is reality. This is how men organize themselves. And I say men because they are the ones in the leadership roles, for the most part. (Are you going to throw Margaret Thatcher at me now? Is that what you are going to do? Margaret Thatcher was working with a predominantly male Parliament...she had to play their game and be a part of the patriarchy or she would have been eaten by wolves, and the same goes for any other female leader in the hierarchy). Well, since you don't really have a clue about how the real world works, we'll look at what the experts say. Walter Ong, in his book Fighting for Life says men are "warlike," "agonistic," and "create oppositional formats to do almost anything." Deborah Tannen of You Just Don't Understand fame says "men live in a hierarchical world." These aren't chumps, Inge; these are people with street cred. These are people who have done their research.

And here you are, puffing your chest out at my girls Jenn, Olivia, and Andrea. Did you know that Olivia and Jenn are award-winning writers? My sister Andrea, well, she's intuitively smart and passionate. She gets the hierarchy as well. She's been in business for nearly twenty years. What business have you been in, Inge? Have you been skapegoated? I want to be very clear on my point here, because I think you're going to agree with me. My point is there are hierarchies everywhere and that people will fall victim to them, whether you are a man or a woman. I happen to think woman are easier prey (especially in the hierarchy of the home, i.e. domestic violence), but you are free to disagree with me on that. My main point is that these hierarchies, headed mainly by men, are patriarchies. The Patriarchy exists and it is very, very dysfunctional.

Here's another thing I need to point out: Can't you see how Facebook one-dimensionalizes people? If you would have read one of Jennifer's poems or Olivia's short stories, as an artist yourself, you would have felt a kinship with them. There would have been a communal subtext established. You wouldn't have to take on that patriarchal tone of "silly" this and "dear" that.

(You're a part of the patriarchy.)

Okay, now for the chemistry, psychology, sociology piece. I think you'll agree with me when I say we are composed of chemicals. I am more oxytocin than you. You are more testosterone than I am. You are biologically wired for aggression, and I am biologically wired for nurturing. There's definitely an overlap, like when you called my sister "dear" and I had the impulse to wring your neck. You might see this testosterone, oxytocin thing as an oversimplification, but the gist is true. These are the building blocks of patriarchy and matriarchy.

I can feel you reeling in that simplification. So I'm going to throw your own words back at you:

"If feminists want to be relevant again, they need to start recognizing the biological, natural group-level differences between men and women, instead of actively denying nature and pretending we're the same."


So we're not the same, and your fucking sex is destroying the planet, fighting wars, killing people. Oh yeah, every once and a while a woman jihadist blows herself up and takes a few people with her, but the majority of the people killing each other for power in the hierarchy, ahem, excuse me, patriarchy, are males.

Okay, so this begs the question, what is a matriarchy? Well that is a very elusive topic indeed. First I want to explain why you can't see patriarchy for what it is (because you say it doesn't exist). The reason is actually pretty simple: it's the only thing we know. From natural selection to Yahweh, hierarchies, patriarchies are everywhere with competition as the main driving force. For matriarchies, it is compassion (and you can read more about why this is here, again the reason is rooted in biology). Social justice is a compassionate thing; so is egalitarianism. And that's what you would have with a matriarchy: you would have egalitarianism. In a matriarchal society you would have less of the fucking fraternity where you've got to endure the hazing of the patriarchal hierarchy to get anywhere. It would be more of a true meritocracy. In fact, it did exist a long, long time ago on the island of Crete when they worshipped a goddess and lived in communes with just as many, maybe more female leaders than males and lived in a relatively peaceful society. They were artisans and artists, priests, and philosophers. Crete. The beginning of civilization. Oh your rolling your eyes again. That's just pure feminist crap, you say. As old as the hills. Exactly. Only older. And forgotten by just about everyone but feminists. How did it end? They were conquered by patriarchal tribes. Oh the conquering. Oh the bullshit conquering.

I can see your retort now: the la la land of compassion and egalitarianism. Such a non-reality. But you know what is a reality? Emotional intelligence. Teachers (what's the stats on teachers...75% women?) know this. They exist in communal matriarchal enclaves within a patriarchal society. They know how to inspire students to work; they know a student in crisis needs special treatment and space to heal before they can learn. I'm talking about good teachers.

So I went into teaching. I was hired as a permanent substitute at Watertown Middle School and taught Algebra I and II. I was then hired by Swampscott High School as a physics teacher. I was there for nine years, won awards, was respected for my teaching. I got a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing during my time at SHS (because I finally admitted to myself that I wanted to be a writer) and became a published science writer. My curriculum ideas were published in two separate texts. I created and taught an engineering course for ninth graders. You talk about STEM; I was living STEM. But then there was the issue with my certification, and also my dealings with helicopter parents wanting their little darlings in Honors Physics to get As. Well, eventually they won. They went to the superintendent, male, ex-marine, and he sent me a letter: either get another master degree in your discipline (this was No Child Left Behind protocol) or you're fired. I argued my position with him, with the Department of Education, stating how I wasn't going to get another masters degree: the one I had helped me become a published teacher and science writer. It was relevant. I used my writing in my teaching. I was published in two separate text books, and both of them I used in my classes. They fired me. The Department of Education ignored me. And this brings me to my final point, Inge. In a patriarchal society, there is no room for creativity. You need to do what the rules say or you are out, no matter how smart and talented you are.

Where do communal organizations exist? With creative people. This is why many artists and writers (Frieda Kahlo, for one) were communists. Oh, but that's so un-American! How un-patriotic of them!  Patriarchal construct for self-preservation: badmouth communism.

So now I am a Professor of English, adjunct, at North Shore Community College where my degree is relevant. As you have probably heard, we adjuncts are heavily exploited. Colleges and universities are now about 75% adjuncts. And this is the most patriarchal, bullshit situation of all. We adjuncts get to remain the peons, the lowest people on the totem pole while the administration gets all the highest salaries (according to the DPE, in 2012, women accounted for 26% of college presidencies) and the college doesn't have to pay benefits to most of its faculty.

Outside my classroom, the patriarchal world exists, but inside, I can run my classrooms with rigor, respect, clarity, creativity, and make paramount student engagement. It's communal, really; a place for inspiration, support, communication: all the things we females (and males) versed in emotional intelligence deem important and necessary for meaningful success.

So you see, Inge, there are patriarchies. And I thank you for giving me the opportunity to write this blog post, because I've needed to define this for myself for a long time now.

Note: The good news is that emotional intelligence IS infiltrating the workplace by the flat organization model. This is a more functional, communal set up than the traditional patriarchal hierarchy and incorporates mentoring, network informal trust structures, and employee input; they are, according to David Stein, co-CEO of Rypple, a social software company, "collaborative cultures that thrive on ideas, innovation and employee engagement." How very communal/matriarchal of them. Bravo. You can read more on flat(er) organization models here.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Mixed-media Collages

Mixed-media collage: Dreaming of a Cabana in Martha's Vineyard When the Weather Doesn't Suck

Mixed-media collage: Dreaming of a Doorway in Aruba

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Longing II, A Confession (and two new collages)

 Here's a flash fiction piece that didn't make the cut for Totem Beasts. I had decided last minute to pull it because, as I was reading through the proof, it hit me that it didn't fit in with the surrounding work. I tried to identify what the problem was: was it not crafted enough? was it too confessional? (I winced when I read it.) This begged the question, what is and what is not fair game for art? In fiction, we craft a guise that separates us from our work; we artfully do it for poetry as well. Some guises are thick, others thin. This piece was literally wearing a slip. It was half dream, half life and both haunted me. What to do about this? And then I thought of Frida Kahlo. In her work, she is completely exposed; she exposes her mangled body, her miscarried child. I thought of Yoko Ono in her performance pieces where people are invited to cut off pieces of her clothing. Is this risque or freeing? I think it is a type of confirmation; by declaring a vulnerability you begin to own it, and it will haunt you less.

But isn't just writing it down, getting it out of your head, owning it? There's something about leaving stuff up there in that realm that makes it less clear. Creating from experience, pain, clarifies these things and promotes growth. Publication is a means of showcasing it, and I wouldn't deny that ego is involved. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Ego says this is me: it's a pronouncement, a declaration of self; it is expression, a chronicle of experience, and I suppose this is the interface where catharsis can become part of a larger canon. I say can, because actually becoming a part of that canon depends on other qualified individuals like literary or art critics who have expertise in the field and know what has and what has not been done, who know craft and impact. But that brings us back to square one, and being fearless, experimental, honoring oneself: I doubt very much Frida Kahlo and Yoko Ono had critics on their minds (or at the forefront of their minds) when they were creating the work. It's more a thing that must be done, and that's what we need to remember. Where and when we birth it to the world is a different topic entirely.

Longing II

There was a stairway to the third floor apartment, and I ran up and down it for exercise. I thought perhaps you were watching me. You were playing a game on the fields below; it was some kind of timed obstacle course. I saw you during your run; you hurled yourself over the finish line with the crowd watching you, and I thought, yes, I do that too, hurl myself at things.
I found out eventually that you and your wife were our new neighbors. While you were at work I befriended her, and we planned to have dinner, despite the fact that she could barely speak my language. Was I just trying to get to you? Get on your good side? When you finally arrived, you were dressed only in a towel. I hadn't seen you in years and then, suddenly, there you were, dripping wet, the hairs on your chest, wet, wet. 

There was that time, years after we broke up and after you broke up with her that I knew you would walk through my front door. I had just moved into that dingy apartment in Brighton, and I was standing in the foyer looking at the painted grain of the wood, and I said to myself, he's going to be here at some point. And then you were. You called me wanting to return a book of poems, and we went out for dinner. Your hair was cut and you were wearing a ring. I don't remember anything about the ring, only that it was there, on your hand, some gem, and I thought perhaps she had given it to you. You had transformed into a man, and yet you still lacked some facial hair; there would be parts of you that would be forever boy. You had already made up your mind to move to LA and besides who would want a woman still dripping fresh with longing and need? She's as desirable as a wet piece of laundry.

Is this the part I need to rectify? Your opinion of me? How I see myself through your eyes?

Above right: multi-media collage "Emergence" by Laurette Folk ; Left: multi-media collage "Garden Bed"

Friday, March 24, 2017

Mixed Media Collage, Bowl of Flowers

Book Review, The Hunger Saint by Olivia Kate Cerrone

I loved this book for its gorgeous prose, its allegiance to human truths, its integration of prominent detail, and its heroic story.

My review of Olivia Kate Cerrone's The Hunger Saint, published in The American is here.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Letter from the Editor, The Compassion Anthology

We’re naming this edition of The Compassion Anthology the Student Edition, but it could very easily be called the Millennial Edition, because most of the writers and artists published here are Millennials. This begs the question who, exactly, is classified as a Millennial? I’ve heard the term used in conversation, on the news, but I'm a little unclear as to where they fall on the time line. I know they come after the Gen X’ers (my generation). I know that they preferred Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton, or anyone else, for that matter. Many articles have been written about their attitudes, their consumer choices, especially since they are now the largest generation, having surpassing Baby Boomers. They have been dubbed the “selfie” generation, accused of entitlement, laziness, idealism, and lacking in social etiquette. But really, who are they?

Philip Bump from The Atlantic cites researchers Neil Howe and William Strauss with the correct definition: a Millennial is an individual “born between 1982 and 2004.” And it has been proven, surprisingly, to some, that Millennials are compassionate and may very well be the most empathetic generation thus far.

E.J. Dionne, author of Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent claims Millennials are “the generation most comfortable with racial and ethnic diversity, most open on matters such as gay marriage, and most welcoming to new immigrants.” Sanjay Sood, Director of UCLA’s Center for Management of Enterprise in Media, Entertainment, and Sports says Millennials are more opt to work for companies with a message of concern regarding social issues or the environment.

I have been teaching for nearly seven years in diverse community college classrooms, classrooms with people of color and LGBT individuals, and not once have I witnessed an instance of bullying, racism, sexism, or any type of intolerance in general from my students. The personal essays I’ve read indicate how close Millennials are to their own pain—the pain of failure, grief, disillusionment, and how they are working to transcend these. They are, by and large, a hopeful generation, despite what previous generations have bequeathed them (a lackluster economy, rising college costs, global warming, etc.).

Moreover, Millennials have an unflinching willingness to work together. This is demonstrated clearly in the image above, a large-scale reproduction of Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” by North Shore Community College students in Jim Chisolm’s Basic Drawing classes fall semester, 2016. To create this mural, students collaborated on color and the post-Impressionist technique of Pointillism; the project included research, preliminary sketches, and synthesizing visual concepts. Jim has been doing these mural projects in his classes for the past seven years and says they are “real life experience[s] that [he] is sure [students] will recall for many years.” You can read how these mural projects have been life changing to students here.

In this edition, we're publishing images of postcards for the Art for Aleppo Postcard Show  an exhibit designed to raise awareness and funding for the people who suffered the atrocities of Aleppo. Curators Carla Goldberg (former anthology artist), Russ Ritell, and David Link will be accepting submissions until April 15, in case you’re interested in submitting. All postcards submitted will be displayed at Catalyst Gallery in New York opening night April 22. The powerful images shown here are taken from postcards created by some of the students in my Composition II, Intro to Lit class.

Also included are the themes compassion for self, as in the essay “Coming Out” by Eddie Marshall and the poem “Survivor” by Dan King; compassion as a chain reaction, as in Ishita Pandey’s “Carry Forward the Compassion”; and compassion as the night sky, a theme in both poem and postcard image by Olivia McCormack.

I welcome you to celebrate the creative power and promise of Millennials—what difficulties they have transcended, what they have learned, what they care most about, how they interpret the world, and what they wish to give. If you have any questions or comments, please do drop us a line.


Laurette Folk, Editor The Compassion Anthology


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Every Artist Is a Cannibal: Thoughts on the Creative Process

It always begins with some agitation, like a grain of sand in the oyster belly of my brain. I have some idea of what I want to do, and the struggle is mainly to find the time. When I begin, there is always anxiety, especially with painting, because I am still insecure with the medium. With poetry and prose, it's like diving. I hurl myself into it, despite the critic on my back, always comparing, whispering, berating.

Inspiration is necessary for invention, the first part of the creative process. This is the temptation, the coaxing that makes everything possible. Yes, you must have faith. Yes, you must be courageous. Confident. Some people can't get past these  requirements. But what really fires the mind is work that's already been done, work that has some element you seek for your own. When I wrote A Portal to Vibrancy, I wanted a sense of immediacy in the voice and a banquet of images in the prose. I kept Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye always nearby and would read a few pages to get the rhythm, the style in my head. I suppose it's a kind of stealing (Every artist is a cannibal, Bono says); you're stealing someone else's fire to galvanize yourself.

Once I've put something down on the page, the canvas, I look for clues in the work itself of what it wants to be. This is sort of like seeing the sculpture in the stone. You've got to believe it's there. With the painting pictured here, I wanted the ethereal white of the table cloth to be prominent. This painting actually started out as a pastel I created from a photo in a gardening book. I agonized over how I was going to capture the flora in the backdrop--all of those damn leaves! I tried a more impressionistic approach, but that didn't look right. I had studied Matisse, his simplifying things with large blocks of color. I spray-fixed the drab pastel and then pulled out the paint. The white acrylic felt right. I colored the backdrop a haze of burgeoning green, the green of late spring, the green that says the Earth is alive again. This felt right too. I had abandoned my ideas of realism for the feel, the dreamlike style of something deeper. By refusing to embrace detail, I traded craft for simplicity, arduous work for flair.

What I have learned in being a creator is that I am less focused on product than I used to be. Ego likes to clutch at its own gifts to itself. I clutch less. I have faith that the statue in the stone will, step by step, be unveiled. It is an exploration, whether it be a poem, a novel, a painting, a stroke, a sentence. You just stay with it until you get it right, and when you get it right, it's a notch on your belt. Empowering. This is what keeps me coming back.