Today's Reading

She's been on before, ranting about pay inequity and impenetrable glass ceilings, always inserting plugs for her latest book. This one bears the uplifting, doomsday-preaching title of They Will Shut Us Up. Subtitle: What You Need to Know About the Patriarchy and Your Voice. On the cover, a series of dolls—everything from Kewpies to Barbies to Raggedy Anns, stares out in full Technicolor, each doll's mouth photoshopped with a ball gag.

"Creepy," I say to Patrick.

"Over the top, don't you think?" He looks, a bit too longingly, at my melting ice cream. "You gonna eat that?"

I hand him the bowl, not turning from the TV. Something about the ball gags bothers me—even more than a Raggedy Ann with a red ball strapped to her face should bother me. It's the straps, I think. The black X with the bloodred center crossing out each doll's face. They look like half-a ssed veils, obliterating every feature but the eyes. Maybe that's the point.

Jackie Juarez is the author of this and a half dozen other books, all with similarly nails-on-chalkboard titles like Shut Up and Sit Down, Barefoot and Pregnant: What the Religious Right Wants You to Be, and Patrick and Steven's favorite, The Walking Uterus. The artwork on that one was gruesome.

Now she's screaming at the interviewer, who probably shouldn't have said "Feminazi." "You know what you get if you take the feminist out of Feminazi?" Jackie doesn't wait for an answer. "Nazi. That's what you get. You like that better?"

The interviewer is nonplussed.

Jackie ignores him and bores her mascaraed eyes, crazed eyes, into the camera so it seems she's looking right at me. "You have no idea, ladies. No goddamned idea. We're on a slippery slide to prehistory, girls. Think about it. Think about where you'll be—where your daughters will be—when the courts turn back the clock. Think about words like spousal permission and paternal consent. Think about waking up one morning and finding you don't have a voice in anything." She pauses after each of these last few words, her teeth clenched.

Patrick kisses me goodnight. "Gotta be up at the butt crack of dawn, babe. Breakfast meeting with the big guy in you know where. 'Night."

"'Night, hon."

"She needs to pop a chill pill," Steven says, still watching the screen. He's now got a bag of Doritos on his lap and is crunching his way through them, five at a time, a reminder that adolescence isn't all bad.

"Rocky road and Doritos, kiddo?" I say. "You'll ruin your face."

"Dessert of champions, Mom. Hey, can we watch something else? This chick is a real downer."

"Sure." I hand him the remote, and Jackie Juarez goes quiet, only to be replaced by a rerun of Duck Dynasty.

"Really, Steve?" I say, watching one bearded, camo-clad mountain man after another wax philosophical on the state of politics.

"Yeah. They're a fucking riot."

"They're insane. And watch your language."

"It's just a joke, Mom. Jeez. There aren't really people like that."

"Ever been to Louisiana?" I take the bag of chips from him. "Your dad ate all my ice cream."

"Mardi Gras two years ago. Mom, I'm starting to worry about your memory."

"New Orleans isn't Louisiana."

Or maybe it is, I think. When you get down to it, what's the difference between some backwater asshole's advising men to marry teenage girls and a bunch of costumed drunks flinging beads to anyone who shows her tits on St. Charles Avenue?

Probably not much.

And here's the country in five-minute sound bites: Jackie Juarez in her city suit and Bobbi Brown makeup preaching fear; the duck people preaching hate. Or maybe it's the other way around. At least the duck people don't stare out at me from the screen and make accusations.

Steven, now on his second can of Coke and second bowl of rocky road—an inaccurate picture because he's forgone the bowl and is spooning the last bits of ice cream directly from the container—announces he's going to bed. "Test tomorrow in AP Religious Studies."

When did sophomores start taking AP classes? And why isn't he doing something useful, like biology or history? I ask him about both.

"The religious studies course is new. They offered it to everyone, even the frosh babies. I think they're phasing it into the regular curriculum next year. Anyway," he says from the kitchen, "that means no time for bio or history this year."

"So what is it? Comparative theology? I guess I can tolerate that—even in a public school."

He comes back into the den with a brownie. His nightcap. "Nah. More like, I don't know, philosophy of Christianity. Anyway, 'night, Mom. Love ya." He plants a kiss on my cheek and disappears down the hall.

I turn Jackie Juarez back on.

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