An Impossible Burden

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, I have been on constant alert for teachable moments. Truthfully, for me, It started more around the time of the  impact statement from the victim of the rapist from Standford whose name I refuse to even transcribe.  But the #MeToo tidal wave seemed to speed it all up a bit. It felt more urgent, all of the sudden. And I wasn’t just teaching my kids, I was teaching myself, and my husband. 

There’s a lot about this moment in parenting that has been difficult but I haven’t really been able to put into words…Why is it so difficult? It’s not really something I see talked about a lot, this moment as a parent/wife. But then I read something this weekend that described my generation as, “one whiplashed between the gender dynamics of our mothers’ Mad Men reality and our daughters’ March For Our Lives urgency.” And it hit me: I AM NOT ALONE.

In this piece on Medium, Kimberly Harrington puts into words a lot of what I’ve been struggling with lately. At one point she says, “We’re not only struggling with our own realities; we also need to wrestle with ingrained gender and power expectations in our marriages while attempting to raise our children in a way that will undo deeply entrenched beliefs around those same things.”

This is the problem. I was raised BEFORE the #MeToo era. I grew up in a time where boys were “allowed” to flip up uniform skirts so often that I was terrified not to wear shorts under mine.  It was a time where pantsing/ankling was a joke to be done in front of as big of a crowd as possible. Flipping bra straps started as soon as girls were wearing bras. And these were all minor glitches of embarrassment without any sort of discussions of body autonomy and consent.

Now I’m trying to reprogram my brain that was developed in a moment where these incidents were not even discussed past irritation and eye rolls. Now I have to see that these moments were/are part of a bigger systemic issues of misogyny and rape culture. I’m not equating flipping a bra strap with sexual assault, but I’m having to recognize that by minimizing this stuff in our puberty years, we laid the ground-work for future generations of drunk frat-boy rapists. I’m having to work in my own brain, and in my husband’s, to rewrite the terrible lessons of our youth. 

Kimberly puts it so well, especially in regards to working to help reprogram my husband’s brain: “We?—?who live in these bodies and are used to holding keys clutched between fingers when walking to the car and who are used to being passed over for a promotion in favor of an incompetent male coworker who is just better at bluster?—?are asking our partners to assume experiences they have likely never had, and likely never will. We are asking them to be better, instantly. We are asking them to be us.”

This is so perfect because I used the “keys-between-fingers” pose a lot to teach my husband about what it’s like to be a woman today. Over the years of our relationship he’s come to realize it’s not just his paranoid wife who calls him every time she has to walk through a dark parking lot so that, “If I’m attacked someone will hear it.” He see is it in the way women cross the street in the dark if they see him running towards them. He tries to be conscious if he’s running behind another woman that he doesn’t startle her as he passes her. But this is all SECONDARY reprogramming. He’s seeing this through MY eyes, which is a trickier perspective to get down. And he doesn’t always see it at first.

But it’s not just helping my husband and I, it’s also trying to help my kids. Trying to find teachable moments in everything without making it seem like the world is on fire. Harrington writes, “We are used to it at home, where we try to frame every horrifying reality for our children?—?sexual assault; school shootings; ready for prime-time, hoods-off racism; the criminalization of and discrimination against every imaginable ‘other,’ children being ripped from their parents’ arms; every immoral failing of a man in power (there are so many!)?—?in a way that doesn’t send them spiraling into the utter depths of anxiety and despair. And while we’re at it, our culture adds to the To-Do list: Unbreak boys. Fix that whole toxic masculinity thing while you’re at it. It’s on you. You are the mother.”

I read that paragraph and almost cried. YES. This is the burden I feel like I’m carrying right now. I’m trying to figure out how to teach my son that the “locker room” does not absolve you of repercussions. When our current President said nasty things it was described as “locker room talk” and now we have a former wrestling coach somehow trying to separate “locker room talk” about possible abuse from “official reporting” because evidently nothing discussed in a locker room is actionable? How do I make sure my son doesn’t walk into a locker room and feel it’s safe to participate in misogyny or homophobia or to joke about abuse or assault? And how do I find time to do that between soccer and swim lessons?

I’ve also felt a lot of shame that it took so long for me to really understand the depths of the errors made in our culture that created such a fertile ground for rampant harassment. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t do more sooner. And I’m trying to explain to my wonderful husband that him thinking a pat on my but is cute, really irritates the crap out of me and why does it suddenly bother me NOW when he’s been doing it for a decade? 

Well. Maybe it bothered me all along and I stupidly thought it was unfair that I complain.

Harrington hits that point here: “I have been living it but not properly offended by it. I let the clarity I felt at 20 dissipate into the fog of The Real World. A world of taking the joke, brushing hands away with a forgiving laugh, trying hard not to be a bitch (I never quite succeeded at that). I am not alone. And so many of us are seething with decades of sudden clarity at our backs.”

And I admit. That sudden clarity is angering AND embarrassing. Just like when I watch an old episode of Friends – which was my FAVORITE SHOW – with my kids and I see how terrible it was about Fat Shaming and Gay Panic and I’m just MORTIFIED that I told my kids that I loved this show. They’re looking at me during the Fat Monica jokes like, Jeez…Mom. This is really cruel. How do you like this show when you can’t even stand diet commercials? 

She continues to discuss the emotional difficulty of raising a daughter to use her voice and claim the power of her body so that she can punch a guy who tries to pull down her shorts in gym class or she can kick a guy who thinks grabbing her ass in a crowded bar is okay. IT IS YOUR BODY, YOU GET TO SAY WHAT HAPPENS TO IT.  Nikki and I also talk about abortion a lot, honestly. We talk about all of the reasons a woman might want one: Rape, Illness, Abuse, Poverty…and that it is not OUR PLACE to rank those reasons as “acceptable” and “not acceptable” because it is HER BODY and NOT OURS. But then I have to rectify that with the current events of a political structure being built to take away those rights from all women. 

But on the flip side, we also have to raise sons that won’t perpetuate these notions. I showed Wesley the video of that bartender, Emilia Holden knocking the customer to the ground when he grabbed her ass at a bar. He was celebrating her badassness and deep down I’m just hoping this helps in making sure he’s never the kind of guy who thinks this is okay.

This is the part that’s difficult. BOTH pieces of the puzzle that I’m in charge of building. Harrington writes, “Experience tells me that my daughter, at 12 years old, may be in the final days of feeling like her body is her own. A body that is uncomplicated and good, an unproblematic body. And that my son, my white son, at 14, will continue to enjoy the privilege of having a body that is wholly his. And if he is in pain, if he feels discomfort, no matter what he wears or where he works, he will be listened to and taken seriously. He will always be believed. And anything he does to ally with girls, with women, will always be seen as extra. Not a must have, but a nice to have.”

I don’t know. Maybe it was unnecessary that I write a whole blog post about someone else’s article on Medium but it was just such an important read because it made me feel UNDERSTOOD. And I thought maybe if I talked about it here, other people would feel understood as well. We find ourselves with the burden of rewriting the shitty gender programming in ourselves while trying to do it right for the next generation.

Some days it feels impossible.

One Comment

  • MrsDragon

    That piece resonated deeply with me as well for many of the reasons you listed. <3

    "And so many of us are seething with decades of sudden clarity at our backs." Yes, yes, yes, so much this. And also? The fact that I assumed things were on a good trajectory, that progress, while slow was inevitable, that the "old ways" would die off and things would be made better because that was the arc of progress. And the last couple of years have shown me how naive that really was and how hard some people are working to ensure that is not true and how successful they have been and I am ANGRY. It's good and it's bad, in it's own way, but it's also hard and emotionally fraught to find a way to reconcile that with the day to day minutia.