Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why Do We Try To Do It Alone?

I’ve been missing my sisters and mothers in the Big House lately. I miss living together—us, our kids, our spouses and partners—in our Big House. I miss eating together, and scrubbing together, and digging together, and singing together. I miss how we casually keep an eye on each other’s children and gossip while we cook and do the dishes. I miss knowing the intimate, silly little details of their daily lives, and having them know mine. I miss how they are good at things I’m bad at, and how I don’t have to try to do everything. I miss how our togetherness makes our creative work more satisfying. I miss how our companionship makes the drudgework less onerous. I desperately miss how we know together that our work is important, how we roll our eyes at each other behind the backs of anyone who doesn’t get it. I feel so lonely for these women, my mothers and my sisters.

I also miss the special savor of the intimacy when my husband and I finally retire to our private bedroom in the Big House at the end of the day. We’ve been looking forward all evening to finally being alone. We whisper and giggle and catch up in ways impossible in front of anyone else. We do other things that aren’t any of your business—more fun because we’ve missed each other while we were next to one another in the crowd of our family. We don’t bicker about who should do the dishes, or whether it’s important to do the dishes, or who does the dishes more often. And we don’t feel we should – or could – control everything about our lives, because many decisions, and a lot of the work, are made by the entire community.

But the Big House isn’t a place that has ever existed for me, really. I get tantalizing tastes of what it might be like on Thanksgiving, together with my sister, mother, aunt, cousin and grandmother in the kitchen. But I haven’t ever lived with extended (or honorary extended) family.

In my everyday life, I live alone with my husband and ten-month-old son. When we share meals with others, it’s a special occasion. I cook and clean for just the three of us, and take care of the baby, and sometimes get enough time to write. My husband works, too. He has a prestigious job which demands 85 hours of his time each week, on average. The only person who cares or knows enough about my work to appreciate it in all its insignificant detail is me. I have to pat my own back when my son emerges from under the furniture NOT covered in dust. A pinch of nutmeg in the cranberry sauce I made the other day tasted wonderful! But my son can’t tell me if he noticed, my husband doesn’t like cranberries, and nobody else had any.

I am sustained in my domestic work by these little moments of creativity. But it is hard to give to myself all the acknowledgement and appreciation I need. And it is in these moments that I miss my mothers and sisters the most.

I did field research in rural Nicaragua for 11 months in 2006 and 2007. And life there wasn’t exactly like life in my Big House. But most of the people I knew, although usually living in individual houses with just their nuclear families, lived within short walking distance of many family members. “Luisa’s” mother lives just across the street and up the hill with her sister and nephew, her father-in-law is next door, and her older brother lives with his wife and children about a ten minute walk away, close to the well. Some non-relatives also live just across the street, and life is such that everyone is often in and out of each others’ houses. There is malicious gossip, there is jealousy, there are feuds. There is also deep, deep poverty, and attempts to better one’s own situation at the expense of others. It isn’t beautiful or ideal. But it isn’t lonely – loneliness, or a desire to be alone, is actually culturally understood as sadness or sickness. And when a woman wants to go earn money by working for a day or two in the fields, her mother or her sister can watch her children. She doesn’t have to get on a 9-month daycare waiting list where the child will be watched by strangers, and do the math to see if she’d earn enough to pay for the daycare.

I fully acknowledge that my community of women—and their children, and partners, and everyone else who lives in my Big House—would not be, could never be, a harmonious, argument-free group. There would be gossip, and disagreements, possibly even big fights. And in my misty images of the Big House, I always seem to forget the various ways my actual mothers and sisters (blood, in-law, and honorary) can often find to push my buttons. But right now, I feel maybe disharmony isn’t the end of the world.

Why do we try to do it alone? Why does each nuclear family feel the need to have its own individual house with its own individual yard and its own individual oven and dishwasher and furnace and washer/dryer and hot water heater? When it’s almost as easy to cook for 8 as for 3, why do we insist on somebody from each individual family planning and shopping for and cooking and eating and cleaning up after their own individual dinners in their own individual houses every single night? Or instead grabbing something on the run, which is more expensive and less yummy or nutritious?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a total, raging, bra-burning feminist. But… especially since I’m breastfeeding, I’ve come to think that we may have been rash in burning all bras. Since I’m a Gen-Xer (sort of), I feel we women, and also men, what the heck, should be able to choose whether to work outside or inside the home once we become parents. But now that it’s happened to me, (I’m not sure it has felt like a conscious choice, but that’s another story) I feel diminished and almost ashamed sometimes. At parties, I get snappy and defensive when people ask me “if I work.” And I think it’s because I work by myself.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Fisher endorses Clinton

Dear friends and family,

Please excuse the lengthy mass email, but I want to explain to you all why I've decided to vote for Hillary Clinton in next week's primary.  This hasn't been an easy choice for me, and I still feel some ambivalence about it, but I think she is the best person both to get the Democratic party back in the White House and—more importantly in my opinion—to lead the country after the election is finally over.


There have been a lot of comparisons made lately between Barack Obama and JFK—both of them have the power to move crowds and inspire.  But I was born too late to remember JFK personally.  The closest parallel that occurs to me, of a charismatic politician elected despite a relatively shallow political resume, with the rationale that he would hire good advisers and get the important tasks accomplished through the power of his attractive personality and will, was George W. Bush.  The Bush years have made me profoundly anxious about the idea of electing another president with this same profile.   I feel much more comfortable with Hillary Clinton, a politician whom I trust to go about things in a methodical, pragmatic, realistic way. 

One thing some people dislike about her is exactly this willingness to be pragmatic.  They say she is too calculating, and this supposedly indicates a lack of genuineness.  But I feel very strongly that this country does not need more leaders who, due to their "spiritual clarity", stick with their convictions come hell or high water, despite the shifting and indefinite nature of external reality.  We need politicians who can deal with that reality, who are capable of introspection and re-calculation when they see their strategies failing.  Hillary Clinton has demonstrated she has this capability.


I've heard some people arguing—and read quite frequently in the press—that Obama would have an advantage in a general election in terms of electability.  But poll numbers indicate otherwise.  At the site RealClearPolitics, which publishes aggregate results of multiple polls, in recent head-to-head matchups between Obama vs. McCain, and Clinton vs. McCain, Obama and Clinton come out with almost identical results (McCain beats Clinton by 1.8% and McCain beats Obama by 1.5%).  These numbers are available at: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2008/president/national.html.  

There is also the idea out there that people either love Hillary or hate her, and that therefore people who are not supporting her must hate her—they say "Hillary is nobody's second choice."  But CNN exit polls argue against Hillary being much more hated than Obama.  In Florida (which Hillary won), 80% of Democratic voters would be very satisfied or somewhat satisfied if Hillary got the nomination.  Only 70% of Democratic voters would be satisfied if Obama got it (http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/primaries/results/epolls/#FLDEM).  In South Carolina (the only election which Obama has won so far), 77% of Democratic voters would be satisfied with Hillary, and 83% would be satisfied with Obama (http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/primaries/results/epolls/#SCDEM).  Neither of these differences are large enough to justify a storyline of overwhelming hatred against Hillary. 

Healthcare Policy

I will mention one specific policy on which Clinton differs significantly from Barack Obama.  Both candidates support government programs to expand health coverage to more people.  But Obama's plan does not make coverage mandatory to all adults.  He says he wants to give people "choice", but that he believes that everyone, including healthy young adults, will want health coverage.  Clinton's plan, on the other hand, makes coverage mandatory for all.  This is an extremely important distinction. 

Insurance as an economic model only works and is profitable—or, in the case of non-profit insurance, does not lose money—because it can count on having some people, the healthy, pay more for the coverage than they receive in benefits, in addition to the sick people who receive more in benefits than they pay.  Nobody can accurately predict whether a given individual will get injured or sick.  Given the choice, many young and healthy people choose not to buy healthy insurance, effectively betting that they will remain healthy.  As people get older and/or sicker, their cost to health insurance increases, and they more often choose to buy the insurance.  But the health insurance industry depends on having enough healthy young adults in its population in order to pay for the coverage they have promised.  The smaller the percentage of healthy people, the more everybody else has to pay in premiums, and the less money there is available to provide care.

Obama wants to give adults "choice" whether or not to have health coverage.  And so some people—the youngest and healthiest—will choose not to have coverage.  This will weaken and undermine the entire system of coverage.  The more responsible system, and the one that guarantees the highest-quality care and the cheapest premiums for individuals, is the one which makes coverage mandatory.

Work to be Done

Towards the end of the Bill Clinton presidency, a politically radical professor of mine explained to me that she didn't vote because the contests were meaningless—that the positions of the Democrats and the Republicans were so close as to make distinctions between them meaningless, and that the only way to accomplish the necessary radical social changes was through working outside the political system.  My political sympathies were largely, and to an extent still are, in agreement with hers.  And this statement seemed reasonable to me at the time.  However, in the ensuing years I have come to believe that this professor's strategy of non-participation was dangerously complacent. 

I am very aware that under Bill Clinton the U.S. was not on a course which I was totally comfortable with.  Just to name two issues, it was under Bill Clinton that NAFTA was signed, legislation which had devastating effects on Mexican agriculture.  It was under Bill Clinton that welfare "reform" was instituted, seriously undermining the social safety net in this country and therefore driving down wages for the entire working class. 

However, the years of the Bush presidency have shown me that there are even larger issues at stake.  Again, just to list two, the irresponsible use of the U.S.'s frighteningly powerful military holds incredible danger for both the rest of the world and the U.S. itself.  Another danger we have seen under the Bush administration is the expansion of the sphere of executive power, throwing off the vital system of checks and balances which has the potential—if used—to prevent this powerful country from becoming an autocracy.

I'm not trying to argue that I think that under Obama these dangerous policies would be continued.  I'm just trying to argue that it makes a big difference who we choose.  And that I trust I know the types of policies Hillary would make, and the types of advisors she would appoint.  Whereas I don't trust that I entirely know these things about Obama.

With all this said, I will absolutely be behind Obama if he gets the Democratic nomination.  But on Tuesday I'm voting for Hillary.

Carolyn Fisher