When I was pregnant with my girls, and not knowing they were girls, I hoped they would be. Girls. For one reason. I thought it would be easier to raise female feminists than to raise male feminists. That’s my truth. Not proud. Just is.
I wasn’t up to what I believed would be too difficult a task. Too big. Out of my reach. I did not trust myself at 32. I believed, due to my own personal experience growing up female in a male-dominated family, male-dominated church, male-dominated parish, school, city, country, well, world–that I would be better able to help daughters face the challenges of male dominance than I would be able to teach sons how not to create them.
This all comes to mind as both my daughters have recently taken jobs with successful start-up companies founded by women. One in the arts and education, one in science and environment, one in New York, one in Tucson. Both tremendous opportunities for these young women, my daughters, to make a difference in the communities where these companies operate and to do their part in making their states, this country, our world a better place to exist. And to be the women they are destined to be. The humans. The amazing humans.
You see, I was mistaken in thinking that raising feminist men would be more difficult than feminist women. Looking back I find it funny, odd, that I even thought this. It’s all about raising good humans, isn’t it? Making good choices. Teaching decision making. I didn’t get it then. I saw a gap that I still see, but I understand it differently. Gender is a wonderfully evolving concept and reality in our world. Some brains take longer to upgrade.
Along with most other women on the planet, I have faced my share of sexism. Sometimes outright and frightening in its seemingly rock solid persistence. Often more subtle. For instance, I was not allowed to escort my best friend, a girl, in our senior year in high school, to the stage during the Homecoming procession at the Homecoming dance. She was on the court, but she had not been asked to the dance by a boy. This was the expectation. This did not happen. So I asked her to the dance, and I was prepared to be her escort.
But they didn’t allow it. They feared we were gay or “something.” She had to call her father, get him out of bed on a Saturday night, make him put on a suit, and drive over to the high school gym to escort his daughter to the stage so that this father/daughter couple could line up with all the other girl/boy couples as the Homecoming King and Queen received their crowns.
I was always grateful for this moment. We all hugged afterward, her dad, she and I. He went back to bed, we left the dance and went out to eat. And drink. We were duly offended, confused, concerned. But not, never for one minute, uncertain that what had just happened was wrong. I knew this. Could I teach others this. Could I teach men this?
I was harassed by boys and by men as a young high school girl. I was asked for sexual favors from men that I worked with and worked for. As a college girl, too. Shit, sometimes all I had to do was be a sister, of a woman who was married. In steps brother-in-law. Harasser. “If I wasn’t married to your sister, I’d fuck you,” he told me. At 18. Thanks. Nice.
I was pinned, no not by a boyfriend with a promise, nor teacher with an honor, but into the back of a walk-in cooler, by the chef, my boss. He asked me to “give it up” for him. “At least kiss me,” he demanded. I did. I was expected to scratch a different boss’s back, literally. I did.
I was watched, followed, catcalled. As a woman. As a child. I was walking home from school when a man “exposed himself” to me. That’s what we called it. I was a little girl. One time it happened when I was eight. One time when I was ten.
Some might respond to these instances and say, “What did you do?” A question that begs ‘what did I do to deserve it? What did I do in response?’ I’ve always wondered why what I did before or after the act of harassment, or threat, is even a question. It so skirts the issue. No pun intended. The issue is what he chose to do. Not how I responded.
And I realize this is all nothing compared to the women who were assaulted, battered, beaten, raped. By relatives, teachers, the parish priest, or priests.
(Notice the passive tense usage throughout. I will not edit it to the active tense because this is a great example of how ingrained sexism is in who I am as a human, a woman, on this planet. It’s in our language. Rhetoric. Grammar. All of us. Watch. It’s about the victim, not the criminal.)
How often do we hear “She was raped by…..she was abused by…..she was hit by…” The she, the victim, is the subject of the sentences we use to describe what the perpetrator did to her.
NO! Could we correct this please?
As in “JOHN raped her. JOE abused her. BETSY hit her.”
Ken D’Angelosanto harassed me. Gerry harassed me.
Father Bill destroyed her, etc.
The stranger in the alley committed a felony. Indecent exposure. I was ten. What was I supposed to do?
I was asked often by family and friends why I was going to go to college when I could just get married. I was told that having an active sex life, as a young woman, in college, made me a slut. And a sinner. I was told that I was not really married if I didn’t change my name to my husband’s.
When my husband left our family the question arose as to why I didn’t make it easier for him to re-build a relationship with his daughters. Why didn’t I take the girls to see him. Why didn’t I, the woman, take care of him, the man, and his relationship with the girls? Why didn’t I do that along with raising the girls alone, during the great recession, with no support? Financially, emotionally, or otherwise. How do I raise feminist boys when our extended family believed in these rules of living.
The English department did not give me the permanent instructor position because it came down to me and another recent graduate of the English program. He got the job. He was an active member of “the good old boy” network to which I could not belong. He became a coke addict. A womanizer. They had to fire him. They lost him and me.
How could I teach boys not to be this way, I wondered, when I was pregnant and I was curious about the gender of my baby. It scared me. Because I had been scared. I had lived a life often afraid. Confused. In disbelief.
And even after I had my girls, and while raising them as feminists–without really thinking about it, I just did, it’s just who I am–the male dominance, and sexism, in our lives, persisted and permeated who we are. I taught choices. Review the choices made. Make better choices.
My boyfriend is on the earliest end of baby-boomerhood. I am on the very end. He is amazed to learn that I do not walk comfortably, in any city, anywhere, ever, if I am alone at night. I am always aware of assault and battery possibilities. I look behind me often. I keep my keys tightly in my hand. I look under my car before I get in. I check the back seat before I get in. “Do you do this?” I asked him. “No,” he said. I suspect many men do not. I suspect more women should.
Maybe this stems from growing up in Detroit? Maybe it’s just being female. Maybe it’s a result of reading too many crime reports. I do not know. But this is my habit. My reality. Men rape women. Beat them. Hurt them. I am a woman. Be careful.
It is encouraging (hopeful?) to learn recently that 1 out of 6 women in the U.S. has been a victim of attempted or completed rape. That statistic has improved since last I checked. It was 1 out of 4 for years. More victims reporting? Less crime happening?
I worked for three years as a crisis support counselor for battered women. The stories I learned all became a part of the fabric of who I am. How would I teach a boy not to behave the way that I learned so many men behave so often behind closed doors? How would I teach a daughter to not except terms of a relationship that involved violence, abuse, assault, harassment?
My girls’ father was the subject of tremendous physical abuse as a child, and a witness to the repeated battering of his mother. It was in the weave, the fabric, of his existence, and our marriage. Not that he beat me. He did not. But it was part of how we understood our world together. It is a past difficult to escape.
How do I raise a feminist man? I was wrong in believing that I couldn’t. Had my babies been boys, I would have raised them equally as feminist as I did my girls. For I raised my girls as good humans. Humans who understand that each day is full of choices. Make those that lead most distinctly to acts of kindness. To being smart. And that’s, really, for me, what it comes down to: feminism is not some weirdo rare form of behavior being required or requested from people. It is not that complicated. Be kind. Be smart. Be careful. And be kind again.
As always, I believe that I say it better with a poem.
We have choices
each word each step almost
each breath is chosen not
random not happenstance
not circumstance not a
chance to sit back and point
fingers and guns and rant-
ing chants of blame fault guilt
name calling and ill will.
Take a chill pill and a second
to review what exactly did
you do. What did you do.
What did you do to
stop it change it start it
take the dance into
your own hands take
the chance into your
own hands. Pull back your
own hands and choose
what to do. You have
choices each word each
step every single breath.
What did you do what
could you do did you do
what you could did
you do all you
could do what did