Tag Archives: feminism

Will I Accidentally Teach My Sons to Devalue Women???

So often, I’m inspired and intrigued by the writing of another mom out there on the web. It’s wonderful to read another woman’s words and think, yeah, I totally get where she’s coming from, and I am so glad she wrote that!

Today, I’m having this feeling about Kasey Edwards‘ piece over at Role Reboot, entitled, “When Your Mother Says She’s Fat .” Her letter to her mom is a bit of a truth bomb, especially as she describes when, at age seven, she first heard her mother called herself “fat, ugly, and horrible”:

“In the days that followed I had some painful revelations that have shaped my whole life. I learned that:

1. You must be fat because mothers don’t lie.
2. Fat is ugly and horrible.
3. When I grow up I’ll look like you and therefore I will be fat, ugly, and horrible too.

Years later, I looked back on this conversation and the hundreds that followed and cursed you for feeling so unattractive, insecure, and unworthy. Because, as my first and most influential role model, you taught me to believe the same thing about myself.”

That first idea, that “you must be fat because mothers don’t lie,” really strikes me. It goes along with the notion that “The way we speak to our children becomes their inner voice” (most often attributed to author Peggy O’Mara). But what Edwards implies is that not only does the way we speak to our children become their inner voice, but the way we speak to and about ourselves in front of them contributes to their inner voice as well. I think for many parents, myself included, we place a lot of emphasis on the way we speak to our kids about them, but not quite so much on how we speak about ourselves in front of them. Perhaps, though, this is just as important.

Edwards goes on to talk about the responsibility she feels toward her own daughter: to end the passing chain of self-degradation around ideas of beauty and worth. Her piece makes me think about my role as a mother, too – only I have sons, not daughters.

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me and my guys

What Am I Teaching My Boys?

I believe I have a huge responsibility as a mother of boys to model positive ideas about beauty and worth with regard to women and girls – ie. that there is no connection between social norms of beauty and inherent worth as a person. (Yes, with regard to men and boys, too, but the correlation is so much stronger for women in my culture, so my work has to start there).

But damaging ideas about beauty and thinness are actually not what I worry about passing on to my boys the most. I have a different brand of negative-self-talk that I worry will affect their perception of girls and women.

We all have our baggage. Mine is along the lines of general self-doubt and low self-esteem. Now, I’ve done some hard work on this in the last decade and I think I’ve come a long way – a looooooong way. I no longer have panic attacks about not being good enough. I don’t wallow for days in a defeatist stew of blaming myself for everything and everyone unhappy around me. I don’t have unrealistic, perfectionist expectations that follow me around everywhere while I try to put on a happy face as if my constant effort isn’t painful.

All. That. Being. Said…

…There are still rare moments where glimpses of this unconfident, former self re-emerge. When I’m particularly sleep-deprived, or there is too much on my plate, I occasionally still hear myself (usually through tears) saying things like:

  • Oh my god, I’m just the worst. I’m terrible. (eg. when my child gets more than a minor hurt and it scares me and I wish I could have prevented it)
  • Sorry, sorry, I don’t know why I’m like this. I just can’t ever seem to read situations right. (eg. when I’ve realized after a meltdown that I could have chosen a better time to have a difficult conversation with my partner)
  • I don’t know why I never ever learn! You’d think I could have figured this out by now. (eg. when the same obstacle presents itself over and over and I wish I had prevented it)
  • I can’t ever do anything fucking right. (eg. when I’m particularly stressed and so have more at stake than is reasonable on something, and it doesn’t go perfectly)

Let me start by saying I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me having these feelings of stress or regret in and of themselves. Feelings are what they are, and I can’t control that they arise. But I can try to control what I do with them. And importantly, I need to consider how my kids may perceive my reactions, especially as they get grow and learn about the world around them.

It’s not unreasonable to suppose that my kids, growing up in a family with hetero, cis-gender parents, are probably going to form some pretty deep-seated ideas about “how women are” and “how men are” from their two main role models: me and my husband. Whether I like it or not, this is probably what’s going to happen. So if in times of stress, I resort to self-blame and devaluing myself, but in the same stressful situations, my husband does not have these reactions, what might my sons learn?

Well, I can’t be sure, but it might go something like this:

  1. Mommy must be the worst, never learns, and can’t figure out how to do things right, because mothers don’t lie.
  2. Daddy must be getting things right since he doesn’t worry (out loud) about not getting them right or say he is the worst.
  3. Daddies (men) get things right and are fine the way they are; Mommies (women) don’t know how to get things right and always need to improve.

Hmm.

A thought-train like this will sure play nicely into established ideas about men and women that they’ll see all around them in their dominant culture. Men as self-assured, women as flaky. Men as rational, women as emotional. Boys as good enough, girls as having something to prove. Patriarchal valuing of “male” attributes over “female” ones will be reinforced. What they see at home will reflect what they learn from their culture, strengthening it.

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Changing My Language

So I’m going to try to remember this in times when my old baggage comes creeping back. If I bring myself into the moment instead of making those sweeping conclusions about myself, I can lower the stakes for these times. Maybe I can change some of my words, as even small shifts could have a big impact.

Instead of talking about how I’m the worst, maybe I can focus on how I’m disappointed with what has happened right now. Maybe instead of apologizing for being the way I am, I can acknowledge that I could have done this one thing better and move on. Instead of bemoaning that I never get anything right, I can applaud my dedication to always keep trying.

And instead of worrying about the negative things my boys might think of me, I can strive for the things I want them to learn about me, and vicariously, to infer about women and girls. Now that list could get really long… it’s a thought for another day!

 

 

Raising Boys When Trump Can Be President

Issues of sexism and patriarchy have never been the focus of this blog, but they’ve come up a few times. We wrote just over a year ago about Teaching Our Boys About Sex, Consent, and Respect in light of a seemingly endless train of sexual assaults prominent in the media. Well, now Donald Trump is President-Elect of the United States, and women everywhere (and we don’t think we’re being hyperbolic when we say everywhere) are frankly, scared. We certainly are here in Canada. The day after the election, our experience of greeting other women was that we asked each other, with a sombre, knowing tone… “How are you?” None of us had to say why we were asking.

Simply put: the recent election showed us that a man can have double digit sexual assault accusers – and be shown on video, bragging about how he assaults women – and still be elected president. This is the part that’s hurting the most post-US-election, that a man can say terrible, terrible things about women and minorities, on tape, for years – he can even make that kind of divisive, hateful rhetoric the basis of his campaign – and that’s still apparently not a disqualifier for being elected president.

There are so many small, seemingly-innocent ways in which rape culture is perpetuated in our society – from the “boys will be boys” excuse we so often hear when male children engage in violent or aggressive behaviour that we would never accept from female children – to the many, many, MANY examples of pop culture ‘love’ stories where a woman resists a scoundrel-type hero who initially forces a kiss on her only to have her (of course!) fall in love with him in the end.

And while there is a big jump from watching a blockbuster to assaulting someone, there is no doubt that the message is sent, over and over again, that male aggression and dominance is not only acceptable but to be admired. No one starts out as a rapist or even remotely sexist, but these repeated messages, both subtle and not so subtle, are steps along that path.

Electing someone to his country’s highest office who has been open about his disrespect for women as objects worthy of either a) sexual assault, (if attractive enough, in his opinion), b) dismissal as a nuisance to employers (if pregnant/mothering), or c) dismissal as a “nasty woman” (if daring to disagree/state facts/aspire to a position for which she is actually qualified), is, yes, TERRIFYING.

It’s basically the cherry on top of a sundae for rapists, assaulters, abusers and garden variety misogynists to reassure them that, regardless of how they treat women, no pansy-ass-liberal-PC-police can stop them from achieving their ambitions in the world, because hey, it’s still a MAN’S WORLD. It says that, not only is this behaviour acceptable, it’s acceptable in a person with enormous influence as a leader and a role  model.

We thought it was going to be hard enough to teach our sons that women are equal to men as it is. We thought it was going to be hard enough to teach them that traits commonly associated with women (cooperation, openness, nurturing, and emotional intelligence) are just as valuable, and necessary for a vibrant life, as those commonly associated with men (independence, strength, assertiveness, and reason).

How are we going to explain this to them? How do we explain to them that the country where their grandfather and aunts live has a President who thinks Mommy shouldn’t have the right to make her own choices about her reproductive health, even though Daddy should? A President who thinks that  if one of their aunties gets pregnant, she should have to forego employment security, because she apparently ‘deserves’ what she gets for being knocked up, even though the father of that baby would not be similarly disadvantaged for becoming a parent? A President who, if he was in the same room with Mommy, or one of their aunties, or any woman they know, would feel entitled to size her up, decide if he felt like ‘grabbing her by the pussy,’ and believe that because he’s famous she would ‘like’ such treatment?

How do we explain that, while this man became President when people knew that these were his beliefs and voted for him anyway, that this standard is NOT OK for them?

We are feminists. Our husbands are feminists. We hope to raise feminist children, who will grow into feminist men, men who respect women – and all people – as equal human beings.

Donald Trump’s election has not, as we’re sure some of his supporters might hope, cowed us into some sort of bizarre acceptance that it’s a “man’s world” out there. All it has done is made us more sure in our principles, bolstered our confidence that the work of feminism is far from over, and made us even more determined that our sons will know, each and every day, by our words and actions, that misogyny is not okay. Even misogyny by quiet bystanding. Even misogyny in its subtler forms. Even misogyny masked as “locker room talk” or excused as “boys being boys.”

And yes, this might sometimes result in us being moms who are “no fun,” who can’t “take a joke” or “let it go.” But we’re okay with that. Because the alternative – quietly laughing along because we want to be liked by our boys, or just being quiet, or simply eye-rolling at the sexist behaviours they will encounter in order to avoid uncomfortable conversations – is too horrible. We’re seeing the results now of what happens when people turn a blind eye to sexist, racist, and homophobic behaviour.

We love our boys, and we want them to be free to be complex, multi-faceted human beings. We do not want them to feel defined by what is between their legs, as Donald Trump seems to define women by what’s between ours. We want them to care so much about other people of all backgrounds, and to empathize with them so strongly, that should someone espouse the values and opinions that Donald Trump has displayed, they will call them out. They will stand up to the injustice – not “like men,” but just like decent human beings.

 

With Love & Respect, “Get That Shit Out of My Way,” She Said

This morning a dear friend shared this article by Scary Mommy with me, called “Why I’m Done Asking My Husband To Help Me Out.” As I read it, internal bells ringing Yeah! and Exactly! went off more than a few times. This is something I’ve discussed with my mom, my sister, my husband and I’m pretty sure more than one girlfriend, but Scary Mommy sums it up well, with excellent reasons why specifically not to ask your partner to “help you out” or “do you a favour” when what you’re really looking is for some good-new-fashioned partnership participation. She explains that by taking the asking-a-favour route, a woman a) diminishes her partner’s value, b) puts undue responsibility on herself, c) sets an unwanted example for her kids, and d) diminishes the partnership itself. If you’re like me (female in a hetero relationship), I’d wager there’s a fairly good chance it might resonate with you, too – so give it a read!

equal housework
Should she have needed to ask for ‘help’ to make this happen? (Source: healthland.time.com)

(I should note first that there is a time when I think the asking for ‘help’ approach is apt – namely, when my partner and I have clearly determined that x job is mine or his, and we want help with that particular job. So in our house, if he asks for help with gathering garbage for collection day, or if I ask for help with folding laundry, for example.)

I’m always interested in the “why do we do this?” part of any social question, so naturally, my brain went to, “Why the hell am I still doing this?” I’ve thought about this for years. I often correct myself in the moment when speaking to my husband – “Can you do me a – actually, no, wait, not a favour, can you just do this?” Yet I still find myself phrasing requests for him to do his share as requests for ‘help,’ I think for two main reasons:

1. I’ve internalized the overwhelming fear of being a ‘nag.’ 

Among the things our culture encourages women to stress about in their domestic life, fear of being a ‘nag’ is pretty high on that list. So no wonder we ask for ‘help’ instead of reminding our partner that they didn’t clean up their own coat/socks/papers/plate again. Asking for ‘help’ lets me seem more sweet, feminine, and likable – definitely the opposite of a nag – and increases the likelihood of a positive response, because my partner gets to feel like he’s doing something great and gets a gold star for going above and beyond, so everybody’s happy… right? Except… not. Because I’m still left holding the bag of responsibility for all things domestic, and I never really get to respect myself as a feminist who asserts her desire for equality in household management. I end up catering to fear and shame instead of self-respect, when I really dig down to the heart of it. Which brings me to reason #2:

2. On some level, I’ve internalized the idea that domestic work really is my responsibility as the woman in the partnership.

As much as I try to deny it, I think this nugget is still there. Sure, I’ve attempted to justify and couch it in enlightened, post-feminism rhetoric about how my partner and I simply have different personalities, and I simply care more about cleanliness/organization, so it’s not a sexist thing, it makes sense that I’m inclined to do more, and yadda yadda yadda. And there may be some truth to that – some. But it’s also very likely that we’ve each been, at least to some extent, socialized to have these personalities and tendencies to care more or less about domestic tasks/management. So am I happy to just accept that the socialization has happened and live out my life that way? Not really. Do I want to contribute to socializing my kids according to this status quo? Not if I can help it. These are not glamorous labours, nor ones that society really places a lot of value on, and I think if I was a man, I certainly wouldn’t be motivated to learn to take more initiative on these things. But at the end of the day, clothes need picked up because we each eventually need clean clothes to wear, so whose job should it be to make sure each item of clothing ends up in the laundry bin? Probably the person who was wearing that item of clothing. At the end of the day, dinner needs cleaned up because eventually we’ll need clean dishes to use, and we want to avoid bug infestations or health hazards of rotting food all over house, so whose job should it be to make sure that dishes get picked up and leftover food goes in the garbage or back in the fridge? Probably anyone who ever needs dishes or dislikes bug infestations. Again, asking for ‘help’ with these tasks reinforces a socialization I don’t like, instead of presenting myself as an equal partner in my home.

I want to act out of love and respect for the equal partnership my beloved and I have been building for fourteen years. So if love and respect means creating an environment where it’s sometimes okay to say, to borrow Scary Mommy’s words, “Get your shit out of my way,” well then, I guess that’s what we’ll do.

 

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