Throughout my life, I have been told that I resemble various actresses: in the 80s, it was Sally Field; in the 90s it was Julia Louis-Dreyfus (something to do with the big 90s hair); in the early 2000s it was Megan Mullally as Karen Walker on “Will and Grace” (please note that I am a generous—and not a mean—drunk); and for the past four or five years, it has been Tina Fey. I admire these women immensely; they are all smart, talented, sassy, and pretty in the kind of way that gets the blood of pasty-faced nerds flowing. I am happy to be compared with these women; I wouldn’t mind being any one of them, especially Tina Fey. She has many impressive talents and accomplishments, all wrapped up in wit and wisdom, but I especially admire her for pulling off kissing Paul Rudd on the big screen in a 2013 rom com—that was truly inspiring. If, as a woman who came to be a movie star late in the game, she can get hired to play the love interest of such a yummy cutie-pie as Paul Rudd, then I feel as if I can do anything.
Speaking of being able to do anything: Compared with most of the women in the world—both today and in the past—Sally, Julia, Megan, Tina, and I lead pretty good lives. Granted, I am not a movie or a TV star, although in my daydreams I am alternatively a cabaret singer who performs burlesque in a skimpy corset and has legs as long as the Pacific Coast Highway, and a stand-up comic, a girl version of Steve Martin who packs stadiums and jams on the fiddle between cerebral jokes. The truth is, of course, that I am just an anonymous worker bee in the business of life. However, I do have so much to be thankful for.
I have a solid education, a presentable career, a degree of independence, and—dare I say it—a voice that is heard now and then. I have had a job and owned a car almost continuously since I was 17 years old. I cannot imagine being without either. For most of my life, I have had control over how my money is spent, and where and when I drive my car. I also have basic control over my own body; I can wear what I like, and I can use my body and care for it as I please. I not only have access to decent-ish healthcare (this is America, after all), I also have a roof over my head, clean water, reliable electricity, temperature-controlled environments, and a Starbucks on just about every corner—and, well, let’s face it, so much more. I have traveled around the U.S. and Europe alone. I own one real Louis Vuitton purse, one pair of Dior shoes, and diamond earrings. I own real estate in my own name. I can vote. In countless ways, I am privileged.
It is true that I have had my basic rights as a woman grievously violated by certain men in my life, but that is not unusual—35% of American women have been the victims of domestic violence and more than 50% have been severely psychologically and emotionally abused. And, more often than I like to admit, I have been overlooked, ignored, used, and patronized as a female. And, I cannot say that my life is completely perfect; sometimes I cry about unfulfilled areas of my life, mostly because there are just certain things that are out of my control.
However, I have never felt that I cannot do something just because I am a girl; I cannot be a rocket scientist because I’m a girl—I cannot be one because I can’t do algebra to save my life—no really, even if you held a gun to my head ready to shoot. And, through it all, I have been able to get on with my life in relative safety. The rights that I enjoy were hard won for me by generations of women (and men) who came before me; I most certainly cannot take a lick of credit.
I have a lovely hairdresser I shall call Sherry. She is cute as a button, and very stylish. She takes care of my hair, and I get to listen to stories about her life. Mostly, we laugh together. If we didn’t laugh, we might cry. Sherry is from Iran. She and her husband fled Iran almost 20 years ago. Today, she is a U.S. citizen, raising two teenaged boys.
As I walked into the salon the other day, she starts in with, “And my relatives are still in my house.”
“Oh gosh…are they STILL here?” I commiserated. Her husband’s cousin and wife from Iran had been entrenched for an interminable amount of time. As a matter of course, Sherry is expected to arrange all of the cousins’ travel, cook meals, and clean the house, while she is also caring for her boys and maintaining her hair dressing business. As far as I know, her husband does not have a regular job or income, nor has he any talent for housekeeping. And, when his sons do not have transportation, he tells them that they do not need to go to school. By the way, Sherry is grateful to me for introducing her to the joys of inexpensive Champagne.
Sherry said, “I have to tell you this, Lisa: My husband’s cousin struts around in a tank top and shorts with his hairy armpits hanging out, and his wife has to cover up from head to toe. He is constantly going on about it, too, asking me why I don’t dress like her. And, he never gives his wife any money; she’s not allowed to have a job BUT he doesn’t give her any money either.”
“That doesn’t seem fair,” I observed.
“No. When she does get money, she has to hide it away. She gives it to me under the table—and when she does spend this money, it’s always for her mother or her children.”
“That’s a shame,” I agreed.
“Yesterday, I said to her ‘Why don’t you buy something for yourself?’ So, I took her shopping. She wanted some Chanel perfume. We filled the back of my car with bags of goodies—almost $600 worth. I made sure we didn’t take it into the house. She had to smuggle it up bit by bit into her suitcase.”
“Clever,” I confirmed.
“Okay, but, Lisa, that’s not it,” Sherry continued, “The last straw with this guy was last night. My husband says to me at 10 o’clock at night, ‘Why don’t you make my cousin something to eat?’ I could not believe it. I said, ‘Are you kidding me? After all the cooking, cleaning, and being his travel agent? No way. He can eat a yoghurt—or dirt, whichever one he can find first.’”
“As well he should at that hour,” I encouraged.
“My husband finally backed down. You know, I feel like I should hang my U.S. passport up on the wall so they can all see it.”
“You are an American woman now, right?” I concluded.
“Right.” We giggled.
While the frequency of domestic violence—about one in three women—seems to hold steady globally, protection under the law most certainly is not the same in all countries. In Iran, there is no protection from domestic violence, rape, or emotional abuse for women under the law. Most Iranian women are also economically dependent upon their husbands, and they have no choice but to stay put. They have no alternatives to seek out, like I had. According to one source, an old folk Iranian saying states: “Women should sacrifice themselves and tolerate,” which is how most Iranian women are expected to deal with domestic problems of all kinds.
At the end of my conversation with Sherry that day, she said, “You know, I am not the same person that I used to be. I am just not.”
My 81-year-old aunt, who still rides horses, takes kickboxing classes at the Y, and has sex with her boyfriend, said she read that women in the Middle East are beaten with a stick if they don’t obey. “I would be covered from head to toe with bruises everyday,” she concluded matter-of-factly. True that.
Honestly, Sherry is the hero here. As far as I’m concerned, she’s just as amazing as Sally, Julia, Megan, and Tina. One of my Writers’ Group kids told me once that I was his own personal Tina Fey, but Sherry is mine. She’s a supa-star to me.