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All work, little rest for the women of Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay

It took being atop a mountain in north Vietnam for me to understand what bothered me most about the war on women that was waged by Republicans in this year’s presidential campaign.

I’ll admit right now to being a Democrat with a capital “D” — the only thing my adult kids know could risk estranging them from me isn’t drugs or unsafe sex or even moving to another country, it’s bringing home a Republican. My very first political memory is writing a letter in 1971 to Madame Binh, the leader of the North Vietnamese delegation then in Paris for peace talks — whom I admired, because she was a female diplomat and a woman feared by men — and to Richard Nixon — whom I loathed, not least because of how unhappy Pat always looked — asking both of them to please just talk things over and end this war. I was 13 years old and the first girl in my Iranian immigrant family to even think about going to college. I had the delusion that if I didn’t, the world might miss me.

Later, as a baby boomer, I fought dutifully and hopefully for the things that I thought my generation was supposed to hand down to our daughters: pregnancy leave, telecommuting, birth control, no-pantyhose Fridays, the right to choose your job, your God, your future.

So I’m not naturally inclined to understand or appreciate the GOP attacks on abortion or birth control; I’m not amused by the redefinition of rape; I feel outrage that anyone would suggest, in this day and age, that a woman undergo a forced vaginal ultrasound. I find it confounding that we’re debating whether or not American kids should have to go to college, when that dream is one that millions of people around the world would seize unhesitatingly with both hands. If I had any doubt about that, two weeks of traveling in northern Vietnam and watching people watch me — the luggage I possessed, the digital camera I captured their faces with, the money that paid for taxis and laundry service and bottled water — has persuaded me all over again. Read more