Personally, I don’t give a damn about the label of feminism. It’s one that I rarely use myself. What I DO care deeply about is the perpetuation of gendered nonsense.
My daughter is going to start dating, eventually. Like most parents, I’m curious and apprehensive, and excited to meet the guys she dates. I think I’ve done a good job raising her to pick good men, and be a good partner to them.
I am raising a daughter who knows that the most important thing she can do for someone else is create a safe and loving space for them to be the best version of themselves they can be. According to themselves.
In the case of my daughter, at least right now, what makes her happy and fulfilled means excelling at very “masculine” things like Olympic Weight-Lifting and math. You know, Like A Girl.
I have been accused of being a feminist, of course. What with this pesky habit I have of raising a daughter who believes that all of us have the right to be who we want to be. That none of us should be denied opportunity, or given unfair burdens in this life, just because of the chromosomal hand we were dealt.
I look forward to meeting the young men (or, I suppose, women, but I don’t think that’s where we’re headed) that she dates. I think she’ll have awesome taste in people and relationships.
It is through that lens of expectant curiosity that I read a rather confusing piece on YourTango by Tara Kennedy-Kline. It was confounding in her insistence that because she has sons, she can no longer support feminism. That feminism is out to hurt her sons, and she somehow needs to protect them from “us”.
The whole thing was baffling to me, in no small part because it was steeped in such a catastrophic misunderstanding of what feminism is. The only thing that was really clear to me was that I did not want my daughter to date her sons.
But I was also glad that feminism will be there for her sons, even if my daughter (or girls like her) may not be. It really will be. Despite her misunderstanding that feminism is here to suppress masculinity, it’s really here to support it. Because it’s about equal rights and opportunities for all humans. And her sons are humans, albeit not ones that are prepared to date my daughter.
She believes that, “The FCKH8 Campaign would have girls tell my sons to ‘fuck off’ if they called them pretty or reached for their hand without permission.” But what the FCKH8 campaign* is really doing is teaching consent. The awesome idea that if women want sexual attention, they can and should ask for it, so that her sons won’t forever be wandering around in a world of mixed signals, trying to decipher if a girl wants physical attention, risking rejections and allegations of assault. Teaching all people to ask for what they want sexually reduces shame and should create a world were her sons are getting more great sex. And it’s not just girls who deserve the right to give consent, boys should have the right to have their sexual boundaries respected too. But, to be clear, FCKH8 is a private business, not a representative of feminism.
She thinks that #YesAllWomen “wants my boys to know that the fact they have a penis makes them a threat. They cite the statistic that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted, but seem to ignore they are sending the message to little girls to assume 100% of all men are rapists.” But that’s not what that statistic says. It says that men are our greatest ally, really, and they have the chance to stand up to sexual violence alongside of us. So that we can stop being so afraid, get our defenses down, and have more of that awesome consensual sex that we all want. It’s not their penises that will make her sons a threat, it’s the fact that they’re being raised to believe that sexual assault is someone else’s problem, which means they won’t likely be part of the solution.
She seems pissed that #FreeTheNipples “preaches to end ‘slut shaming,’ yet what they are really doing is flipping the shame of ‘sluttiness’ from the girls who expose their breasts (and bellies and butt cheeks) to the boys who look at them.” But really, it’s about removing the notion of sluttiness from everyone. That women have the right to wear whatever they want without being called slutty or looked at as a target. And anyone who wants can think whatever they want, but they don’t need to tell us. Whether they find someone attractive or not isn’t important to anyone except themselves and the people they’re having sexual relationships with. (Who, thanks to the work of feminists, will be able to dress however they want, and ask for the sex they want, without shame.)
She bemoans that TakePart.com “supports teen girls spin doctoring age-old terms like ‘boys will be boys,’ which is more about farting, burping, and falling out of trees than it is sexual harassment.” This might be the most important place where she is the most wrong. Feminism simply seeks to end the essentialism of gender behavior. But again, she needn’t worry, because that’s not why we need to dismantle phrases like “boys will be boys” and “girls will be girls.” There was a time when “girls will be girls, ” meant that girls were weak, emotionally volatile, frivolous, helpless, shallow and bad at both math and sports. Feminism was all like, “WOAH, not necessarily true.” Some girls are wicked strong, emotionally insensitive and kick math’s ass. In fact, girls can be ALL THE THINGS.
Feminism feels the same way about boys. When people say “boys will be boys,” they tend to mean bullying, or distracted, or rude or…you know, “boys.” Feminism doesn’t buy into that myth either. That doesn’t mean that boys can’t be strong, and tough and brave, or that they aren’t some times rude (hint: so are girls) it just says they don’t have to be. And certainly not all the time.
We can even take turns.
I have no doubt that Ms. Kennedy-Kline is smart, well-intentioned and really just wants the best for her boys. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs ever. But what she is doing in this piece is not only furthering really unfortunate stereotypes for her sons, but also showing a shocking misunderstanding of what feminism is.
Which brings me to why I really hope that her sons won’t date my daughter.
Her sons are being taught that:
– Being masculine means always paying the check, as opposed to being allowed to have people “treat” them, or allowing women the financial freedom and agency to do the same. I don’t want my daughter in a relationship with someone who has a hard time openly receiving the gifts of love, in all its forms.
– Being a “man” means supporting your family without help, rather than creating a partnership that allows both parties to contribute if they want to, however they can. I don’t want my daughter in a relationship with someone who feels they have to shoulder all burdens, or is somehow less of a “man” when things aren’t going his way. Those people get really warn down, and that’s not healthy for anyone.
-Being a man means always being a strong shoulder to cry on, as opposed to a human who also sometimes needs to land on the strong shoulder of someone – maybe even a woman – when they need it. I want her to have a partner who can openly express himself to her, and appreciate that she is strong enough to love him anyway, perhaps even because of it.
-Being a man means adhering to a man-code, which in turn means so do the partners in their life. She is not giving them a choice in how they express both their gender and their humanity. Men ARE this way, women ARE that way, and that’s the way it is. In reality, we are all capable of being ALL the things that work for us, and have the right to do so without shame.
But more than all that, she’s raising boys who will believe the false paradigm that my daughter being true to herself inherently means that she is taking away someone’s else’s rights on a fundamental level. That’s just not true. A woman’s right to be who she wants to be doesn’t take away a man’s right to do the same. And we all have the right to be free and empowered regardless of our gender. None of us have the right to infringe on someone else, regardless of our gender.
Her sons are probably lovely kids, and they will most likely grow into wonderful men. But I’m old enough to see a pattern that worries me. Often when I see kids—boys or girls—growing up into strict gender roles and rigid societal expectations, I later see teens and adults who are varying degrees of broken on the inside. They feel bad for not being what their parents want them to be. Or what society wants them to be. They don’t feel “good enough” and often compensate with behaviors that I, frankly, would not like my daughter to have to deal with.
Because, on top of all that, it’s not my daughter’s job to fix and heal people, and I hope I do a good job of teaching her that. I don’t want her dating boys who believe feminism is anti-man in any way. Or who think that in order to be men, they have to “manly” in some cartoony and arbitrary way.
Sometimes I just want to scream, “can we just get on with the job of loving accepting and appreciating ourselves and others ?” Then I run across opinions like Ms. Kennedy-Kline’s and I realize that we can’t. Not as long as anyone is spreading the myths that it’s a man’s job to take care of everyone else. And that a woman trying to work toward equal rights for herself and others is somehow a threat to men.
Personally, I don’t give a damn about the label of feminism. It’s one that I rarely use myself. What I DO care deeply about is the perpetuation of gendered nonsense. And the misguided way that people blame any “-ism” for things that are in no way core to that “-ism.” Feminism DOES NOT take away anyone’s right to be anything. And perpetuating the myth that it does is precisely the thing that continues the Us vs. Them battle.
If we don’t get past that, then we will never really be able to love each other.
And life is so much better with love.
*(not defending the entirety of FCKH8 and their work here – just to be clear)
Also read “Challenging Boys Will Be Boys” by Joanna Schroeder
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Photo: flickr/Bill Hartmann