Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Feminism and the Four-Year-Old

I didn't set out to be a feminist. I mean, as a kid, I was so shy it pained me to be called on in class. Calling attention to myself, even inadvertently, was to be avoided at all costs. Fit in, sit down and be part of the group; that was my motto. (It will be hard for some of you to believe this, but you can check it out with my family. They will tell you it's 100% true.)

But sometimes what seems like the best laid plans are just a stop gap measure until you find your voice, know yourself and feel good in your own skin. I feel lucky that I found that in me by the time I was in my 30s. It started in college, and I was realizing that I had been hiding for a while; but it wasn't until I was a mom and had faced down some life shit that I really embraced who I was. (Can we make that our new hashtag? #lifeshit) And hallelujah for finding my true self!  It was so hard trying to be someone else. I am glad I found me while I still had time to take her out and enjoy life.

But, finally being aware of who I am includes (very often) realizing that I am not like all the other ________________ (fill in the blank). I am constantly feeling the abrasion of not quite fitting into the molds around me. And I have realized that I am much more a feminist than I would ever have guessed. I'm not ashamed of it, I think it speaks to my need to see all the people. Men and women. Recently I found myself uncomfortable with this innocent scenario that played out at preschool:

Mom with toddler boy: Hold the door and let them go in honey; Ladies first!
Me with my daughter: . . . . . thanks . . . . (sigh). . . .

It felt gross, not for the first time, but especially because I had my daughter (my fiercely independent daughter) with me. And I did NOT want that to be the message of her world. It very clearly sounded like, "you know women are the weaker sex, so we do all we can to help them out. They need to be treated especially delicately. They just can't do all the things this big hard world expects of them, so be sure you help them whenever you can. That's a sweet lad."

Now I am sure that wasn't what that mother was thinking. At all. I am sure she was teaching her son a lesson about politeness and respect. Which I would have been completely on board with if she had just left the whole "ladies first" business right out of it. Hold the door for me because you wish to be polite, or because my hands are full. Pull out my chair for me because you respect me or love me. But DO NOT hold the door for me because I am a woman. I am capable of doing that myself. As are most women, and most men. Please, please, please, do not tell your child that their world view should include women as the weaker sex. Because that just promotes the idea that we deserve lower pay than men, do less work than men because we are not capable of doing the same work as men. I don't know a single woman who would actually claim those words, but be not deceived. When you point to the fact that I am a woman and then treat me as weak, your message is loud and clear.

When that mom said "ladies first" it made me feel the same way it did when my grandmother told me my black friend was "articulate." Holy lord. Please, oh please, do not start that backhanded double talk with me. Those phrases belong in the same drawer. Let's label it "covert discrimination." There is no need to prop me up. I have legs to stand on and the will to do it. And don't you dare try to shackle my strong, vibrant, curious daughter with those words. No, no, no. And don't shackle your son with that world view either. We have come much to far to let that happen. It does no one any favors.

I implore you, continue to be polite. Hold the door for someone because they are human and deserve to be treated respectfully. Pull out the chair of your loved one, because you want them to feel special. But I beg of you, do not tie these actions to gender. We all deserve more than that, don't we?


Theresa said...

Excellent words! I found my voice when I became an RN and had to learn to speak up on behalf of my patients and to defend my decisions. And sadly, those words to defend myself against the male-dominated world of hospitals.

Kim Chastain said...

Yesss!!! And the one that gets me is do not call a grown woman a girl if you wouldn't call a grown man a boy. It's demeaning and weakening in the same way. I was a late bloomer to feminism as well but now things are becoming glaringly obvious to me.