The Alex P. Keaton Effect: or how, by trying to teach equality, it appears I’m accidentally raising an anti-feminist

Here's a thing for you to mull over on this Monday afternoon… the 12 yo boy and I are having a disagreement about Beyonce. He *loathes* her song, Run the World (girls). When it comes on, he rolls his eyes, makes heaving sighing noises, and shows a really discouraging amount of simmering grouchiness. And it's not because he's hit his Smiths phase (he hasn't, but I know it's coming). It's because the lyrics make him crazy.

He says if the song had the same lyrics, but was about boys, everyone would say it's sexist. My answer? "You are correct, sir." And so begins the argument. He doesn't understand why girl power songs are OK. Ultimately, I think he doesn't understand why girl power itself is OK. He is truly, honestly, offended. 

This is a kid who has been to more than one protest at the Texas Capitol. He and I engage in women's rights-centered political discussions all the time. He enjoyed several detentions this past school year for opening his big mouth to talk about Big Things in a variety of classrooms where it was not the time or place for opening one's big mouth. He stayed up with me, watching Wendy Davis and Leticia van de Putte eviscerate hypocritical politicians.

And yet, he thinks girl power is kind of bullshit. It makes him angry. He thinks it's unfair. He completely doesn't understand Title IX and why it's important. I know he's only 12, but I can't help feel I'm about to have my Progressive Parent Card revoked unequivocally. 

I've been trying to explain glass ceilings, and elbowing your way out of second class citizenry, and hidden patriarchal norms, and #yesallwomen, and various feminist viewpoints, but he is not.buying.what.I.am.selling. He sees his best friends going off to schools that are only for girls. He is not allowed in girls-only book clubs. He had a huge misunderstanding with his school about lacrosse and why only the girls had a team (that turned out to not be true, but he was livid for a few weeks). He is getting this perception that girls get special treatment, while boys are left to sink or swim. I've tried explaining that really everyone is left to sink or swim, and that, while some things have changed and are still changing, it's still a man's world, and it's OK for females to rise up against this so that they can have an equivalent shot at success*. 

I've been trying to explain to him it's not that girls don't get a fair shake (though they often don't), it's that girls get a different shake. A lot of times (in fact, I could argue the majority of the time) that unfairness, that differentness, isn't even ON PURPOSE. It's built into society. So, giving girls a safe place is not unfair, it's not anti-male, it's a way to build them up so that when the world starts to knock them down they have more airspace for falling and righting themselves. It's equivocating the shake.

He doesn't see it, though. He is a white, middle-class male, who is growing up feeling slighted and undervalued when his mom and sister shout Beyonce lyrics in the car.

This is when I start to wonder, is he feeling this way because he has been brought up to believe the sexes are equal? Does he not understand girl power because to him, girls and boys have equal rights and opportunities? When I argue my own point, am I actually, in a horribly ironic, 180-degree flip trick, teaching him that women are second class citizens?

Obviously, I don't want him to start thinking that women really are second class citizens and THAT'S why Beyonce and Sara Bareilles and Katy Perry sing the songs they do (side note: GOD, don't get me started on the confusing conversations I have with my 8-year-daughter about the words in these songs versus the perception of mainstream beauty, jesus christ). 

But also, if my 12-year-old accepts the status quo, he'll never realize he's been swallowed up by the social norms that dictate so much of women's lives (in obvious ways and in ways we, ourselves, don't even realize sometimes**). I'm damned if I do, I'm damned if I don't, and I'm afraid I've damned myself for even trying. 

What's a mama to do? I don't want to be raising the anti-feminist version of Alex P. Keaton. I don't want to discount the progress made by the feminist movement. I don't want to downplay all the maddening anti-woman bullshit that is still out there, and frankly, getting worse everyday. But most of all, I don't want my son to grow into a man who resents women because he thinks they have had unfair advantages. I want him to understand he is part of a generation that can work to change all of this, but that nothing will change if he resents Beyonce and girls-only book clubs.

I fully admit to him that nothing is fair, for anyone. But how can I make him see that even this unfairness is unequal?

It's hard out here for a mom, y'all. And it's even harder out here for a kid. Or maybe just for my kid. Sigh.

 

 

* The argument that it's unfair for boys to be expected to just drift about and figure shit out on their own is valid and definitely worthy of a blog post/discussion of its own.

** For example: the term "middle-aged". This was a mini-rant I had on Facebook. For me, this term is one more thing that gets slung around at women like locks in socks. It is pervasive. It's used by women and men. It is almost always meant in a disparaging way, or if not disparaging, then dismissive. "Middle-age" is presented as something we have to overcome. "Wow! She's 45 and she looks amazing. You'd never guess she's middle-aged!" BARF, y'all.

Now, I'm willing to entertain the idea that women can embrace the term, turn it into something they own, but, honestly, that still makes me feel squicky. "Middle-age" as a descriptor – particularly when referring to women – is almost always used as a negative assessment or backhanded compliment. And it's bullshit. Grown-ass women are fucking owning their shit. They give zero fucks. So I guess maybe they don't care about the term, and I am just being over sensitive.

BUT ANYWAY, my larger argument is that girls who are in their teens and early 20s*** (can I have an asterisk within an asterisk? I JUST DID), who loudly proclaim their feminism, they are the worst culprits when it comes to calling women middle-aged. I hate it. I really do. They don't even know they're buying into bullshit patriarchal language, and that steams me even more — not at them, but at The Way Things Are.

This can clearly be an argument that goes a variety of ways, and I'm not saying my opinion is right, I'm just saying, to me, teenagers fawning over how beautiful and smart "middle-aged" women can be is one of those examples of how certain kinds of sexist notions are embedded within our society, and thus become an unquestioned social norm. 

*** This could spawn a huge rant about Tumblr, but it would spiral into some kind of tornadic rantsplosion and I would have a stroke. We'll save that for another day.

in which I rant about being self-absorbed

Hi, blog. It's been awhile. There are a lot of reasons, mostly having to do with finishing two manuscripts, the end of the school year, spending some time in Cincinnati with Ike-a-saurus, trying to avoid all news and poltics in order to save my dwindling sanity, going to writing conferences, etc.

But here I am and I'm ready to gripe. You must be thrilled.

So I'm reading a book right now, which isn't shocking because I'm reading books all the time, BUT I just broke a sacred rule and I read a review of said book. Now, I know, reviews are incredibly subjective, which is usually why I avoid them – especially before or while I'm reading a book. I like to form my own opinions that aren't accidentally or overtly clouded by other people's opinions. But this review was tiny and popped up at me before I really even realized what I was reading.

Now FIRE is shooting from my EARS – and not just because the review was about this particular book (which I happen to be really enjoying), but because the main complaint about the book is something I've heard before, ad nauseum.

Ready?

Female main character…
works outside the home…
worries about her job…
worries about her kids….
worries about her husband…
wonders if  she's made the right decisions in her life….  

Seems familiar and reasonable? Right? It's nothing new, it's not earth-shattering, but it's familiar and these are all things millions of women grapple with everyday. It's not a "message" book. It's not dealing with crises of world-ending proportions (unless you're the main character and you're watching your marriage dissolve, in which case, yes, world fucking ending).

So why am I riled up? Why am I just at the edge of seething?

Because the reviewer calls the main character "self-absorbed".

I'm sorry. WHAT?

Self-absorbed? Because the book is about her inner feelings? About her struggles trying to balance everything? About her guilt that she's not pulling equal weight in her marriage? Because it's third person limited so we only see what's going on in her head? Are those the reasons why she's self-absorbed? Or is she perceived as self-absorbed because she dares to question her life? She has the audacity to take a week to step outside of her Sisyphean daily tasks and think, "wait a minute, what the fuck is happening here?"

Self-absorbed.

It's so fucking "you're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't" it makes my nostrils flare. Let's talk about women who have it all – oh no wait, we can't do that because IT'S A FUCKING MYTH. OK, then, let's talk about women who are trying to have it all and then suddenly realize they don't know who they are anymore – oh no wait, we can't do that because it's self-absorbed. OK. Well, let's talk about women who want to have it all, but realize they can't, so they settle for what they can have, but always wonder about what they could have, or don't have, or want to have. Oh wait? Self-absorbed AND whiny. Shit.

It just really climbs all the way up my craw that a confident woman with a stable, successful career, who has the audacity to take time to question her personal decisions, is immediately labeled self-absorbed. When a woman is the main wage-earner in a family, when her husband stays home with the kids, when she misses dinners because of meetings, when she feels guilty for having to work over holidays, when she takes the time to recognize these things and wonder about them, and  - wait for it – NOT want to quit her job – she is clearly a horrible, self-absorbed, unlikeable character.

That is straight up bullshit, y'all.

And this issue isn't singular to this book. I know it's not. I know this argument, and my rage-y feeling, isn't new. (Just ask Wendy Davis.) I know this is a rant other people have had before me, and people will continue to have for ages to come. But seriously. This idea that a woman who has been trying to "have it all," who realizes that's actually pretty impossible, and who takes a moment think "oh, shit, now what" is a selfish person… it's getting really, really old.

Really fucking old.

You know what, world? Women can sometimes put themselves first. They can sometimes worry about their sanity without it being a humor piece. They can dissect their lives and try to figure out where things started twisting off into some kind of Volvulus of Necrotized Having It All. They can do things and it doesn't fucking make them self-absorbed. It doesn't make them "unlikeable" characters. It makes them humans. Actual human beings. Human beings who try hard, and who don't always hit the right mark. They're not whiners. They're not bitches. They're not actively trying to irritate people or ruin anyone's life, or even seek attention. They're just trying to figure shit out.

So if a book about a mother – a successful, career-driven woman – who is trying to figure out what her life means after having been married for almost half of her life, is a treatise on self-absorption, then I wonder what everyone thinks when a man writes a book about about the same… oh wait. That's right.  Those books win the Pulitzer prize.

Sigh.

I don't really know how to end this rant, but in a kind of perfect way, my life is ending the rant for me. Lunch is boiling over. The kids are not wearing pants. We have an appointment in 40 minutes and at least a 30 minute drive to get there. My brain is fogged from PMS and from a hundred new writing projects I'm trying to sort and rate and prioritize. I'm missing friends who are far away. I'm wondering when I will ever get out of the house – alone – again. I am thinking about whether I can sneak in a vacation before the next editorial letter arrives.

But I'm not going to blog about any of that.

I wouldn't want you to think I'm self-absorbed.