Tag Archives: Duke University

A Mother’s Legacy: Beauty and Brains

Photo By: THE Herb Ritts (Exhibit currently @ The Getty)

The photo is stunning. Its elegance, drama, lines, curves, shadows are absolutely breathtaking. A good friend is visiting from London this week and I took her, with my boys, to The Getty museum yesterday. Kate has always adored old Hollywood glamour, and since this is her first trip to America, what better way to get an infusion of that glamour than at the Herb Ritts’ exhibition at The Getty—which has the best views of Los Angeles as well. We took turns in the delicious exhibition that featured many celebrities and sculptured bodies against dramatic backdrops. Kate played with the boys in the kiddie room and allowed me the time to wander, meander and soak all the beauty in. What I noticed, (besides the intensely chiseled men) is that the women Ritts tended to photograph had a raw and natural beauty. Not much makeup. Large eyes. Voluptuous lips. Intense presence that smacked of intelligence or wisdom beyond their years. As I walked around the exhibit, I began to think about what my next blog post within A Mother’s Legacy should be. I’ve been a bit distracted with my friend in town and have gotten a bit behind, my apologies.

As I was looking at a photograph of an anonymous woman with gob-stocker -sized eyes, plump lips and strength in her features, it hit me. My post will be of my mother’s raw beauty. Mom never thought of herself as beautiful. She didn’t shop much. She didn’t exercise beyond walking and gardening, but was skinny as a rail for most of her life. In her photographs from college, which I found and saved after helping to settle her estate, you can see her timeless beauty.

MaryAnn Roe

Growing up, I rarely saw my mother, who was a child-protective services social worker, put on make up. She had her signature lipstick, but beyond that, she was a bit helpless in the makeup department. As you can see in her graduation picture, she had a natural beauty. What I love even more, is that she also had incredible smarts. She was accepted into both Brown University and Duke University and decided upon Duke, where she met my father and lived her entire adult life. I don’t think my mother ever made less than an A in her entire educational career. She could have done just about anything (or nothing, as she didn’t have to work) but  was driven to help the down-trodden and less fortunate. In the early 50s, when most women were concentrating on finding Mr. Right, mom seemed to concentrate on finding Mr. Right AND helping women to achieve their dreams and equality. I love the photo taken in college as it shows a bit of her chutzpah. She is gorgeous, even with a man’s haircut, and has a rebellious cigarette in her hand. I can see her drive that likely inspired her to later help found Women In Action, and volunteer relentlessly, even with most Democratic elections. She dedicated herself passionately to her job as a social worker, requiring her to often visit others in slums and sometimes put herself in dangerous situations.

She had a way about her, through the life that she led, that taught her three daughters that they could do anything they set their minds to. She didn’t preach to us and rarely said a negative word about anyone. She showed that beauty, grace and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. I will never understand how someone who woke every morning at 4 a.m. to read the newspaper back to back and do the Times crossword puzzle, could have her brain so horrifically attacked by Alzheimer’s at such a young age. Life isn’t fair. My sincere hope, by writing these blog posts, is that the women and men who take care of my sweet mother will read my words, see the pictures, and treat her with dignity. Because the person who is ravaged by Alzheimer’s does not represent the beautiful soul still somewhere within. The hardest thing about leaving your mother in the care of other people who are not family and who have never known her in her prime, is that you have to take a leap of faith that they will care for her in a gentle manner with patience and respect. It’s hard to know. She can’t talk to me. But hopefully they’ll get a sense of her kindness. I know from the director of the facility that mom is still trying to help others, even in her condition. It’s just a part of who she is. I think we are born with innate gifts and hers (besides playing piano by ear, which I will write about later) is definitely a sincere kindness and need to help others. And that is a rare beauty that isn’t found often in my world of LaLa land—or anywhere else  for that matter.

Female Objectification in an Online World

I’ve been a fan of Lisa Belkin’s for a while. The writer of the New York Time‘s blog Motherlode recently reported on the seemingly increasing objectification  and exploitation of women on college campuses across our nation. In her latest Sunday Times blog “Gender Roles On Campus” Belkin points out many instances when college (mainly fraternity) men publicly and aggressively harassed women. Belkin’s first example is an emailed invitation from a Duke University fraternity to hundreds of women on campus asking them to attend their Halloween party dressed in slutty costumes. Some on campus protested, but in the end, many girls attended in nurse good-body attire.  Is this shocking, in and of itself? Not really. I’m more concerned by the example Belkin gave of a University of Southern California frat boy who emailed many men on campus last year recruiting them to target women for sex, rank them within a particular system, and then to remember when hunting these women that they weren’t “really people like us men.” This is not just good ole fun as the Duke University Halloween party invitation seemed to be. This young man has to be deeply troubled and I don’t think he’s the norm on college campuses across the nation.  (At least, I hope not!)

Surprisingly, I tend to agree with many points Amanda Marcotte of Slate wrote in her retort Smart Girls Wear Short Skirts, Too. She argues that women aren’t to blame for this exploitation just because they want to wear sexy clothes and enjoy the attention they receive from men. Her main argument is that women don’t hold it against a man if he is sexy, goes to bars on weekends, dates more than one woman, and also earns As in the classroom. In fact, we applaud it. There’s a double standard there.

I think both Marcotte and Belkin make good points. Yes it seems that female exploitation is wide spread on American campuses and elsewhere (Think Eliot Spitzer and Arnold Schwarzenegger for instance.) While Belkin and some of her readers ask where the parents went wrong, I tend to think that the problem is much larger than that of just parental example, or lack thereof. Yes, if a young man sees his father treat his mother poorly or cheat on her, it will leave indelible scars. (At the same token, the same can be said if the young man’s mother divorces many times or consistently dates many men.) But by and large, I think the biggest influence on this type of male behavior is our media-driven society today and how women utilize social networking to garner attention and tip the scales of gender power. If men do truly rule the college campus and the social agenda—where women wait to be invited or are pursued and then submit—than what better way to get an invitation or to get pursued than by posting promiscuous pictures online? Heck, girls, in junior high school begin utilizing social networking in this way. It may be harmless, as perhaps Marcotte may argue, but I tend to think that it can create a clouded perception in young boys’ minds.

If you have middle or high school age children on Facebook, friend their friends and look at their profiles. You’re likely to see many young ladies posting pictures wearing barely any clothing or appearing in a provocative stance—perhaps even boasting about their latest party. The problem most parents have (and that their children don’t) is that the world can see their children’s pictures and send messages. It isn’t rare for a pretty young girl to receive multiple friend requests from strange men, or for men to ‘befriend’  models or ‘hot girls’ to improve their own profile status. But Facebook allows them to interact—to send notes, pictures and share personal contact information that teenage girls need to be aware of.

Experts such as Pat Allen, PhD, behavioral marriage therapist and best selling author of several books including “Getting to I Do” say men, by nature, are just predators. And social networks expand their territory.  I had the privilege of working with Allen in 2009 and read her books, including her latest: “The Truth About Men Will Set You Free … But First It Will Piss You Off.” What both books point out, is that men instinctually want to hunt and be with many women. Not all men act on their instincts, however. But women need to understand that these instincts are there biologically.  That’s where nature and nurture may come in and instilling ethics and morality in our children can help tip the scales. But some things can not be controlled by good parenting alone. Sexual addiction, for instance, is one of them. And good men can become addicted to cyber sex and the old fashioned kind as well. But objectification of women like the USC frat boy’s claim that women aren’t like men, is quite terrifying.

As the single mom of two young boys, I wonder what I can do. Most parents of young boys don’t want them growing up to be sociopathic predators like that USC frat boy. I don’t know what the answer is, but untethered access to the Internet at an early age can’t help. I’ve explored this issue somewhat in the past when Parenting Editor of DivineCaroline.com. In my articles Internet Safety and The Real Online Threat I interviewed experts who exhorted parents to monitor children’s online lives. The seeds of mysogyny or objectification of women start in middle school. We shouldn’t allow our children to create profiles online before they are 15, they say. Surprisingly many of my nine-year-old’s friends in Los Angeles have Facebook pages. They lied about their ages to create them and their parents don’t follow their activities very much. I know we’re all insanely busy, but parents need to monitor their children’s online world, especially if middle school children are involved, as experts claim they aren’t mature enough to handle the additional pressure and influences. Middle school is tough enough. Sexual images that objectify women abound in the media: whether on television or in magazines. You can’t shield your children from it, obviously. But there’s a different element to those found on the Internet or via social networking—as your children can quickly communicate with others.

I’m not sure where the foundation for frat boy attitudes in this country is rooted, but the online world sure provides a quick and convenient outlet to express it. Sadly, this type of attitude can also be found “offline as well.” I hope that my boys never join in any antics like that at Yale where Belkin reported men paraded through campus last year shouting  “No Means Yes! And Yes Means Anal!”

I pray that nine years from now, when my intelligent, thoughtful and precocious son begins college, our society will have evolved a bit. I know he’ll pursue pretty girls, (as he has already started to do!) but my hope is that his pursuits will always involve respect for the young women involved, regardless of whether a relationship begins. As a single mom, the onus is on me to instill these belief systems and morals. But at the end of the day, our children are their own people and they have to find their own way in this world. And today’s world is one with a million online and media temptations.