Today Rob got together with one of his female friends for a few hours at the park. When I arrived to pick him up, her dad hadn’t arrived yet, so I suggested Rob and I wait with her until he did. When he’d arrived, and Rob and I were on our way home, I mentioned that in general it is a good idea not to leave a woman stranded on her own. Rob scoffed and said, “You mean, to leave ANYONE stranded.” Well…sort of. But not really, actually.
One of the problems with bringing up children to believe that men and women are equal and that sex-based discrimination is wrong, is they can grow up thinking there are no differences between men and women, and that treating people differently based on sex is ALWAYS wrong. Also, it is hard to tell a child that a group they belong to by birth is known for being awful in a certain way. Also, I’ve been trying to explain to the kids that there are certain behaviors that are wrong not so much because those actual behaviors are wrong, but because those behaviors can symbolize certain things that WERE wrong that happened earlier, and that people need to be sensitive to that kind of history; but the parts of Rob’s brain that need to develop before he can understand that level of thinking are not yet developed, apparently. Or else he is never going to achieve that level of thinking, and I don’t think I want to turn my mind to that at this point.
In the meantime, I think what he needs is an educational supplement. I can tell him that in the United States, it hasn’t even been 100 years since women got the right to vote—but that amount of time has very little meaning to him. It only had meaning to ME in recent years, and I AM A WOMAN. Less than 100 years, can you even believe it? One hundred years ago, women could not vote. Because they weren’t men. Men could vote, but women couldn’t. When my grandparents were born, women couldn’t vote. That’s such a shocking concept now (THE ABILITY TO VOTE IS LOCATED IN THE PENIS), and aren’t we lucky that it is? And doesn’t it make us feel a little violent in our hearts? Yes. Completely understandable. It’s probably hysteria, a condition which can be treated by having a man remove some of your female parts for you.
I don’t think showing Rob a filmstrip about sexism is going to help. I don’t think it will help to find him a book on feminism. I don’t think it will help to lecture him. Here is what he appears to be thinking: “We have to treat women as if they’re special, because a long time ago, men-who-were-not-me treated women badly. THIS IS SO UNFAIR. Women are EQUAL now. WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY FOR THE PAST??” He also appears to be thinking something like: “Women and men are EQUAL! So why do I have to treat them DIFFERENTLY?” (Keep in mind, this is me putting words in Rob’s mouth in order to summarize the way it SEEMS to me he is feeling/thinking. He is not actually saying these things. Also, keep in mind that teenagers can be contrary, and Rob is of that sort of teenager: he may be arguing against what he actually believes, just in order to argue with me. He might be totally clear on all of this. I remember riling my own parents in similar ways.)
Here is what I want him to understand: Women are treated badly, even now, even by men like him, and also by men not like him. Women are more vulnerable to attack. SOME women are physically stronger than men, but in general, men are physically stronger—and some of them take advantage of that. Women are much more often victims of domestic violence, even though men can also be victims of it. What is the rate of sexual abuse now, 1 in 5 women? And that’s considered a very low estimate, because of how many women don’t report it. In war situations, or any situation where power is involved, the number of women raped by men is so vast compared to the number of men raped by either men or women, or to the number of women raped by women, it’s hard to even put those numbers on the same page. Men do continue to mistreat women, even though of course it is also possible to think of examples where women mistreat men. Men overall have greater physical strength and greater cultural power, even now when we say they shouldn’t. Men make more money for the same work, even now that we’ve noticed it and complained about it and made it really clear it shouldn’t be that way. If Rob leaves his female friend alone at the park, she ACTUALLY IS in more danger than a male friend would be. And if Rob grows up to be a man who doesn’t understand these things, I will still love him but a part of me is going to hate him, so let’s see if we can fix this. How do we bring up boys to understand the situation as it is, while also teaching them the situation as it should be?
As I said, I don’t think educational education (documentaries, statistics, history) is the direction I want to go with this, though I’m not abandoning that idea entirely. But telling him statistics doesn’t seem to have much effect. Talking about 1920 doesn’t seem to have much effect. And I remember as a teenager resisting anything that was Deliberately Trying to Teach Me Something. Here is what I want: Movies and/or TV shows and/or books that are completely popular and fun and mainstream and non-educational and non-agenda—and yet will bring him on his own to the horrified realization that I am right. Movies that show realistically how women are still treated, without making it seem like Yesterday’s Problem. And maybe not making it seem as if only Evil Movie Villains do it.
We can come up with some of those, I think, if we work on it together. A documentary about Genevieve Clark is not going to do it, but I’m sure if we put our minds to it we can we think of movies and shows and books that made us understand with a horrified chill how much power men still have over women, how awful men can be to women, what an imbalance there still is, how much still needs to be done, how much may never be done. We don’t need to show that ALL men are terrible to ALL women, because they’re NOT. We don’t need to show that ALL men are responsible for ALL bad things that men do, because they’re NOT. We don’t need to show that women never do anything bad, because GOODNESS KNOWS that’s not the case either. But I would like to firmly demonstrate these concepts to Rob: “Just because YOU are not doing these things to women doesn’t mean these things aren’t happening to women. Just because things should be equal doesn’t mean they’re equal yet. Just because things SHOULDN’T happen doesn’t mean they DON’T happen. Just because YOU PERSONALLY don’t see things happening before your very eyes, doesn’t mean they’re not happening. And, at this point, leaving your female friend alone at the park is different than leaving your male friend alone at the park.”
Maybe we can ask the guys in our life, the ones who DO realize. WHEN did they realize? HOW did they realize? What made it clear to them? It’s a human thing to listen more closely to people you identify with: maybe Rob would hear it better from Men than he would hear it from me, much as that might make me want to uproot a skyscraper or something. I have also vigorously discussed this with Paul this evening, pointing out that he is supposed to help deal with this, and NOT in a “women are crazy and you have to tiptoe around certain subjects” kind of way.
I remembered there was an article that compared the situation to video games, and it pleased me very much that searching “video game analogy women men” gave me the very article as the VERY FIRST HIT. I’m also looking for that post that explained how different it is to be a woman: like, how a woman is always calculating her risk of being raped/attacked, in situations where a man wouldn’t be worrying. [Edited: I'm pretty sure this one Mary mentioned is the one I was thinking of: A Gentleman's Guide to Rape Culture.] [Edited again: Ah! No, THIS one Brigid mentioned is the one I was thinking of!: Schrödinger's Rapist: A Guy's Guide to Approaching Strange Women Without Being Maced.]