“Do you think I’m something?”
Edith Bunker’s line halted my channel flipping one afternoon.
In the old episode of All in The Family, each time Edith asked Archie that question, her words were met with either silence or avoidance. Her daughter, Gloria, was so upset with her for not standing up to Archie that she told her mother, “Daddy is right. You are one hundred times nothing.” In the end, Archie would only offer, “You are something else.”
Does your own life mimic such great sitcoms lines? My life always has.
Years ago, as I was mentally preparing myself to attend an event commemorating victims of the Montreal massacre, my mother kept asking me, “Where are you going tonight?” Later, when I returned, “So, how was it?”
I didn’t just want to describe the moving event in quick, superficial terms so I avoided replying until I found an article covering the event in the paper the following morning. I knew I had my out.
“This is where I was — when you read it, you’ll understand,” I told her.
How do you tell your mother, “The real reason I was there was because of you?”
You see, my mother was much like Edith Bunker except that she couldn’t have even asked her husband, “Do you think I am something?” She wouldn’t have dared.
The actress who played my mother in a short film based on my story asked what it was like for mom being married to my father.
“Imagine walking a step behind your husband.”
“Well take that feeling, imagine yourself several feet back, and multiply it by one hundred. So much so that you feel invisible.”
You think I am exaggerating? You haven’t met my father.
That and a childhood filled with other such observations is why I am the feminist I am.
From the moment I saw mom crying, holding her just-hit face, looking into my four-year-old eyes in helplessness, I knew she was something and I would dedicate my life to helping her to believe it.
At four years old, that’s a tall order for any child, but it is what it is. Notwithstanding the current collection of psychobabble on the subject, that’s what children often do: they rescue a parent in need. Often there’s no village to save the child let alone a parent.
Nevertheless, I could totally relate to sitcom-Gloria’s anger at her mother. How many times do you have to tell victims of domestic violence, female or male, they do mean something?
Apparently, until they believe it.
I remember asking my mother, decades after her divorce if she had married again and her husband hit her, what would she do?
“Well, I’d hope it wouldn’t happen again.”
It will come as no surprise that I was an over-protective son until the day she died, but clearly, in a figurative sense, the “assignment” is ongoing and won’t end in my lifetime.
According to statistics provided by The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV):
- “1 in 15 children in the United States are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.
- “On average, nearly 20 people per minute are (sic) physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
- “One in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. This includes a range of behaviors (e.g. slapping, shoving, pushing) and in some cases might not be considered ‘domestic violence.'”
My mother experienced a great deal of behaviour that “might not be considered domestic violence”: belittling, name-calling, financial control. Just one example of the latter: my father had a dental plan and never took my mother (or us four kids for that matter) to the dentist as he feared our communication with sources outside his control.
Soon after the Edith Bunker incident, I spoke at an event in which I touched on my mother’s story. The host of the evening read the following in part of my bio: “He’s also a card-carrying, poster-boy, proselytizing, you-name-it, Feminist with a capital F — if feminism is defined as he says as ‘a condition of men who become hypersensitive, too imaginative, and lacking in the traits that are supposed to be masculine.'”
I recall waiting in the wings listening to those words I had supplied and wishing I had been more serious in my declaration instead of making it light to make the statement more palatable.
Even so, during my speech, I boldly stated, “I recently found out a rapist/murderer, who I also knew as a kid, served his 20 years, remarried and is living happily ever after under a new name. His former wife? She raised their four children alone and a few years ago suffered a debilitating stroke. I can’t help comparing that to my mother’s lot in life. She’s only had one man in her life. He married four more times and is living happily ever after. My mother? She’s had chronic fatigue syndrome for 20 years. I don’t wonder why, but who said life had anything to do with being fair?”
Imagine my surprise when I was later informed by a woman that one man in the audience didn’t like my saying that I was a feminist and said that those he was with felt the same way. She hoped it would be food for thought for me.
When I first communicated these stories publicly online, the oppressive reactions were food for thought for me. Sometimes the most well-meaning people just don’t get it. Giving a voice to men, women, and children who have been silenced by violence means just that: They have one. Unique, original, individual, but it’s one thing they can call their own. I tell my stories, my feelings, how they affected me, my ‘aha moments’.
That’s the thing about this journey. A feeling can’t be hijacked until it suits another human’s agenda.
Every time I’ve given a speech since then, I made the declaration, “I am a Feminist!” I’ve made sure to add, “By the way, if I don’t upset someone here tonight, I don’t think I’ve done my job.”
Sometimes I’d hear, you mean you’re a humanist. Each time I replied, well that’s a given, no?
Isn’t that the challenge laid by those who counter Black Lives Matter with All Lives Matter. One doesn’t negate the other. Rather it is stating what should be.
I will be bolder, not fearful, for the rest of my life. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me, “you can’t say that,” and I always reply, “I think I just did.” My mother never understood, and even if she did, she would deny her role in my journey towards Feminism, but before dementia took over her mind, she actually believed, “I am something.”
That, Archie Bunker, is something else.
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Photo credits: Shutterstock; illustration by Bob Kio