Feminism in Limbo: Cathy Jo

My maternal grandmother isn’t the sweet, cookie-baking, hugs-and-kisses kind of grandma. She is the opposite of subtle and expects only the best from her children and grandchildren. She’s also intimidating – not only is she confrontational but at nearly 5’11” she’s quite physically imposing. She’s taller than many men, especially those in my family.

She became a mother right around the time she graduated high school, yet continued her education. She eventually earned her PhD; in the 1970s for a female that’s its own kind of impressive. Hearing her talk about her education and her career path and how she did it all while raising kids and making a marriage work is astounding. Shortly after she gained her PhD, she had an incredible job with (at the time, very new) AT&T, and she was a huge part of AT&T’s growth in the 80s and 90s.

As a female, she’s an incredible role model. As her granddaughter, she drives me insane.

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Not only is she a force to be reckoned with all her own, but she has an entirely different view of sexism. If anything, she thinks men are incompetent and shouldn’t be employed in certain jobs. While boys are her favorite – her son, her grandson – I think it’s more that she thinks the male ego is fragile and needs to be tended to, while women and girls need to be pushed to reach their full potential.

She’s a teacher now, and I think she honestly believes male teachers just aren’t as good as female teachers. They have no patience, she says, or they just don’t communicate well.

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Like I said, she isn’t the typical grandma. Compliments from her are rare, and if I get one from her it means it was well-deserved; no fluff or ego-boost from this grandma. The last compliment I remember getting from her wasn’t exactly eloquent, but it summed up everything I had been feeling in the months after I graduated:

You’re lucky you know. I mean, you aren’t lucky. You are who you are and that’s allowed you to have a job when other kids don’t. But that’s not luck, you worked for that and you worked hard. Luck really has nothing to do with it. But still, it all paid off and well… you are who you are.

This may not seem like much, but she was the first person who told me I’m not lucky with this job. She realizes it was working three jobs in college, and taking internships for less money than I would waiting tables because waiting tables wouldn’t get my foot in the door of the places I wanted to be when I graduated. She realized none of it was lucky. And while I don’t get offended when people tell me “Oh wow you’re so lucky to have a job, good for you!” it’s still nice to know there are people who realize it isn’t entirely about luck. There is some degree of right-place-right-time, I get that. But when you walk into an interview, they don’t just tell you to flip a coin and see what happens. You have to earn it.


A few years before I was born, my grandma was on the other side of the country when she discovered she would have to figure out how to raise 3 children on her own after becoming a widow far too young.

I think there used to be this version of her, before she became a widow. A version of her I’ve never met. Everyone who knew her said she just shut down after my grandfather died. Yet, no one can tell me what she was like before he died. I can’t picture her as anything but calculating and career-focused. I don’t know if she was the adventurous “try everything once” type of person or the more reserved, “better safe than sorry” kind of person when she was younger.

The only thing I do know is that, like a few other people I’ve met, she’s the type of person who tends to prove her love financially. I believe there’s nothing wrong with this – some people just aren’t emotional, and everyone needs some financial love every now and then, right? Because of her incredible career and her way of showing financial affection, she’s been able to give my brothers and I things that maybe my parents couldn’t.

I just wonder if there was a version of her that loved, once.

If there was, then it means maybe there is just one person out there for all of us. For her, that person was my grandfather and when he died part of her died too.

When I started, I thought this post was going to be about how she was a great career role model for me. But instead, maybe this semi-cold, pushy, insane woman taught me more about love than any fucked up romantic comedy.

Feminist in Limbo: Chapter 3

I used to be terrified of thunderstorms. I was convinced the lighting would get me, and that I was especially vulnerable in my upstairs bedroom. I refused to go to my room when it was storming, and I rarely went to sleep until the storm had moved on. I would hold back tears as best I could, but then I would catch a glimpse of lighting or hear a crack of thunder over the television and start bawling. Even once the rain and clouds had moved on, it still took my parents at least a half hour to convince me it had stopped; I was safe now.

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Grandma Dar is currently 83 and is incredibly resourceful and wise and generous. She had a total of five kids in the ’60s and ’70s; she had 2 girls, then a boy, then 2 more girls. The middle child and her only son was my Grandpa Gary.

So Grandma Dar had five kids, four of which were girls. These women, my great-aunts, are as different as any four siblings can be. Some have been married for 25 years or more, and some have had as many as 7 husbands. Some were housewives, some have had very successful careers. But they all had children, Dar’s grandchildren. And a good number of Dar’s grandchildren had children. Grandma Dar currently has over 45 grand- and great-grandchildren, and her second great-great-grandchild will soon be born. Bringing us to a grand total of over 50 people that wouldn’t exist on this planet without Grandma Dar.

Most people grow up in patriarchal families headed by a sole male figure whose name everyone shares, whose name and bloodline is very important to carry on. Sons who can keep the family name going are sought after and even preferred. In defiance of this patriarchal structure, my mom’s family is very much a matriarchy run by women and headed by the sole matriarch: Grandma Dar. There are many different family names, and characteristics that might be from a father’s or a mother’s bloodline, but neither are preferred. It just is. You might have a Reinhardt nose, or a Keefer laugh, or Cady height. Babies were babies, and they were all wonderful blessings no matter how they came into existence or who they belonged to.

Grandma Dar built all that. Not only is she responsible for the mere existence of over 50 humans, but she also helped raise every single one of us. She visits parents with their newborn babies and she finds a way to come back into the child’s life when they’re old enough to remember her, too. Grandma Dar is everyone’s favorite and she remembers every single one of us.

The summer after my brother was born, Grandma Dar came to stay with us like she does when new babies are born. In the Midwest we have snow in the winter, and storms in the summer. So of course the night my parents decide to go out and leave the new baby and I with Grandma, it storms. We had this big picture window in our living room at the time, facing the river across the street. Our couch was backed up against the big window, so it was the perfect little perch to watch everything going on outside whether it was summer parades or waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve. But this particular night, Grandma was determined to break my fear of thunderstorms.

She didn’t tell me that storms were about God’s wrath, or some mythical battle being fought in the sky. Instead she told me that with so many clouds up there, sometimes they bump into each other. Sometimes it got pretty loud, but that was when two really big clouds bumped into each other. And that’s all storms were – the skies just got a little crowded. When you’re a kid, and you start personifying these clouds, it becomes kind of fun to watch the clouds move around like bumper cars. So from that big picture window, we watched the clouds bump into each other. I cried a little less and maybe even giggled my infectious girly giggle. Most importantly, I eventually fell asleep during that storm, dreaming bumpy-cloud dreams. Now it was just the dog my parents had to worry about during storms.

Grandma Dar’s commitment to family is unremarkable and often unheard of. She didn’t just build this family and then sit back from a distance, living her own life. No, her family is her life. Her one-of-a-kind legacy will continue to live on within over fifty different people, with over fifty different memories of her.

Some people build businesses or political empires. Grandma Dar built her own kind of empire.

Are you okay? What do you want? Why aren’t you happy?

After months of not knowing, maybe I’ve finally figured it out.

I just want one goddamn thing in my life to make sense. To be a constant. Something reliable, something I’m good at, something that makes me feel good.

I had that, I had a rock (a stone, maybe only a pebble), for four years. As much as I hate that rock for dragging me down during college and then letting go at the worst possible moment, I don’t know if I could have make it through the uncertainty of college without that rock. The longer I had my rock, my pebble, the more I relied upon him. And sometimes, honestly, that rock wasn’t very good at being solid, at being there for me. (Maybe he was really more of a squishy, flaky pebble) But at least the pebble was predictable and made sense. I knew what to expect. I knew where my life with this squishy pebble was going, even if I didn’t know where other parts of my life were going. I had this squishy pebble to hold on to, even if he wasn’t always holding on to me in the same way, or wasn’t capable of being in love with me the same way all the time. At least he was there. So since he left I still haven’t been able to get solid footing, despite being over him. It was the constant he provided that I’m still trying to figure out. Up until now I’ve been trying to figure out my dating life, find a replacement squishy pebble. What I need now, though, is more than that – I need a solid rock this time.

Maybe my rock this time doesn’t have to be a relationship. It probably won’t be my job, not for awhile, but it could be something else. There’s more to life than boys and careers, right? I suppose friends and family are constants – but not in the same way. There’s a sort of obligation for them to stick around; rocks by default aren’t the same as rocks by choice.

In that same vein, I don’t believe in doing things like taking a year to “work on myself”. I don’t believe I should avoid dating just because I need to find a constant that doesn’t involve a boy. I don’t believe in forgoing one thing because I need to focus on something else. Maybe it’s my “I can do it all” mentality or the fact that I wouldn’t know where to start with something like ‘focusing on my career’. But regardless, I don’t believe in exclusion.

The rock doesn’t always have to be a boy, but it could be. It doesn’t have to be a person, really. I just need a constant, a more solid rock this time. No more squishy pebbles.

Maybe this blog is a start. I think before the squishy pebble, writing was the thing for me that made sense. Maybe this time it’ll be my ever-growing love of wine and food, or the ever-more habitual exercise routine. I don’t know. I just know I need something, a rock to orbit my life around. Something, anything – that makes the rest of my uncertain life make sense.

Feminist In Limbo: Intro

Before I even started this project, I took a very small poll with an unrealistically small sample size. As a market researcher who understands how this works, let me tell you the data gathered from this study wouldn’t stand up to any sort of scrutiny.

However, there were a couple of recurring themes:

  1. People would, in fact, be interested in a more personal blog as opposed to a strictly professional one. There are things only I can do and say and write, and a personal blog is going to be more unique than another one about cooking.
  2. Those that know me suggested, encouraged, and even demanded that I don’t shy away from my trademark sarcasm and/or inherent feminism. Basically, that I should have voice in my writing. In the past was a strong suit of mine. As a ‘recovering writer’ so to speak, this is one of the easier things to get back, but not as easy and I had thought.

To speak to both points (but mostly the second one), I bring you a recurring column: Feminist in Limbo. (Or maybe as Colbert would say: I Am Feminism and So Can You!) This isn’t set in stone, but the idea for the column is to sort of explore why and how I became a feminist…a question I get more often than you would think. This isn’t to say I feel the need to explain or apologize for my feminism; that’s not at all the case. Many people would say ‘everyone should be a feminist’ and while I agree, I truly believe the development of my own personal brand of feminism was created over generations of exceptional woman and equally exceptional men as well as my own personal experiences with being female. So the idea is to talk about my incredible female ancestors, the men who stood with them, and my own personal experiences – both positive and negative – and how they shaped the current viewpoints I have.

Maybe that sounds a bit too prompted or rigid, but I promise there are some really good stories here I can’t wait to share! Come back soon for Feminist in Limbo Part 1….

Cautionary Tale – With Wine

This is a long read. So I’ve opened a bottle of wine. It’s pretty great – Malbec is my new favorite red. But if you’re someone with a short attention span – start at the quote and just read the few sentences after that.

I promised I would tell you how I got to this place, over 70 miles away from most my friends. “This place” happens to be a suburb of a bankrupt rust belt city. Not someplace I would have chosen ordinarily. It has it’s own kind and charm, but…my wanderlust seeks bigger and better and different things.

Once upon a time... no, that’s too much, let’s try again:

Once, I was in high school. Specifically, I was sorta-kinda-talking-to a boy in the winter of my senior year of high school and simultaneously trying to decide where to go to college at the same time. Being the intelligent, mature high schooler that I was at the time, I waited to officially date the boy and fall for the boy until I had made a decision on where to spend the next four years in college. I didn’t want this boy clouding my judgement.

As it turned out, I chose the school geographically closer to the boy and to our hometown, so I decided to fall for and date the boy. I didn’t think we’d date for very long, but then somehow we were still together when I graduated high school, and when I left for college. Three and a half years later we were still together. Then, we started making plans for after I graduated. I’d find a job and move somewhere near his seemingly permanent location, a suburb of a bankrupt rust belt city. Since I’d be living up there, it would just make financial sense for us to move in together.

Before we made it to the four year mark, he decided that just wasn’t going to work for him. He didn’t want to move in with me right away, he said. Then he decided he didn’t want to move in with anyone, ever, that it wasn’t my fault. Now it’s just a month and a half before I graduate college and I am “…” <— this close to landing a job. Near his bankrupt rust belt city no less. Then, he decides we shouldn’t be together, since he doesn’t think he can truly, fully commit to anyone, ever. It’s not my fault, of course. It’s all him. I’m just too nice or selfless or sweet or something. And he’s the asshole who doesn’t deserve me. Of course, he won’t ever change. Even for cute, sweet, selfless me. So I get this job near his godforsaken city because it’s the only place I looked for jobs. Suddenly, instead of looking for apartments that my boyfriend and our two incomes can afford, I’m grumpily looking for sad studio apartments in less exciting suburbs. The boy I have followed has left me. I’m just alone in this suburb of a city I never wanted to be a part of. I’m in a new state so I have to get a new driver’s license, my insurance goes up, and I can’t afford to get a dog. Which is really the one thing I wanted when I graduated and was living on my own.

Even worse – I’ve always had wanderlust. I grew up in various parts of the Midwest, went to college in the Midwest… I wanted to get out of the fucking Midwest! Don’t get me wrong, the Midwest can be spectacular. But I just wanted a chance to get out, even just for a minute, while I still can.

I used to be unapologetic. I used to be unrelentingly independent and opinionated. There was a time when I wouldn’t even think of allowing another person (especially a boy) telling me what I could and couldn’t do. Where I could live. Yet, I let this one boy do just that. For some reason, I thought the ‘happily ever after’ would justify everything. I thought, sure, I could sacrifice this one small thing for him. Because no, I don’t have a reason to live anywhere else, I just really want to leave the Midwest. He has aging parents and other “reasons” for staying in his home state. I thought…I don’t know, I thought I was done dating forever and I was sort of cool with that. So I tried to quiet my wanderlust.

But, turns out, I’m not done dating. Turns out, he’s just a medium-sized blimp in my long-ish dating history. Maybe he’s a fairly important footnote, but still just a footnote in the overall text. Now I’m in “this place” and I wish I had sacrificed less, whether we ended up together or not. Now that I’m no longer with him, I realize I lost a part of myself in that relationship. Mostly, I lost four years of my life. Was it truly a complete waste? No, probably not. I did learn a lot about myself. Mostly I learned some of what I ultimately want and deserve in my next relationship(s). I also learned and realized I need to return to being unapologetic. Also importantly, I’m starting to figure out what I want out of the person I ultimately decide (if I decide) to marry. Between the failed relationships and all of my Tinder/dating experiences since this relationship, that list is starting to become a weird collection of things. If nothing else, it’s at least one step forward in answering the question ‘what do I want?’ in one small facet of my life.

So – bottom line – ladies and men alike… don’t give all you have to a significant other. Or a friend, or family member for that matter (maybe kids are an exception, I’m the opposite of an expert on that topic). It’s just not going to be good for you in the end. Especially if the other person won’t do the same for you. Compromising to make you both happy is one thing…pretending to be something you just aren’t is another thing entirely. I gave so much time and effort into a relationship and to a person who…who knows, maybe he did care and just sucked at showing it, but either way wasn’t willing to make any sacrifices for me while I was making plenty for him. He didn’t care enough, and not to the extent I expect and deserve. As my grandfather, a wise old man, would say:

You gotta look out for number 1, because number 2 won’t.

Look out for yourself. Do what’s going to be good for you, not for them. Be a little hedonistic from time to time and do what makes you happy. Because, ultimately – who else is going to look out for you, if not yourself?