Monday, June 02, 2014

The world for women

Anybody who has ever been to UC Santa Barbara would tell you that it's a laid-back, idyllic place that's a great place to go to college. It's a beautiful place, and Isla Vista, which is the little town in the midst of campus where all the students end up living and hanging out, is filled with beautiful kids getting pizza and going to the beach and surfing when they aren't stressed about finals. The weather is classic California beach weather. It's not a place one associates with gunshots and killings, that's for sure. But neither are any of the other places where kids have been shot and killed by disgruntled gunmen, either. Which just drives it home further that these killings could happen anywhere, to any of us. I'm not even going to get into the whole gun debate this time; but I do want to talk about women and men. I'll totally understand if you are sick of all of the talk and just want to leave it; I feel much the same way. I've been thinking on this post and re-writing and editing again for awhile now, and I'm having real trouble with it because the whole subject of men being mad at women for not giving them what they want is just painful. There's no easy way to approach it.
People talk about white male privilege, and how being a white straight male is the easiest road. Yet the gunmen who go on rampages and kill innocent people, students, little kids, are overwhelmingly white males. I can't claim to understand it. Writer Michelle Sagara thinks things through in a rational and cogent way; her thoughts are always well worth a read. Vixy also has an excellent set of thoughts about pervasive attitudes and what people can actually do, since most of us end up feeling powerless and helpless in the face of all of this.
Various people have mentioned the #YesAllWomen comments going on in Twitter; I haven't delved into it in any depth, for several reasons. It's all very familiar, for one thing. There are so many women with painful stories. There are so many hateful comments from men, or maybe trolls. There are too many ugly comments there to be bearable. And none of it surprises me much, though the amount of virulent hatred expressed by some is really frightening and disturbing.  The people who post these angry, hateful things either don't see them as being dangerously hateful or deliberately want to stir the pot and anger and upset others; whatever their reasons, their words are despicable and hurtful. It's hard to imagine why anyone would want to be around people like that, much less date them.

I'm trying to raise two boys to be intelligent, kind, respectful people. I have been fighting against stereotypes laid out for boys and girls from the beginning of their journey, but everywhere we turn there are assumptions surrounding all of us. My guys aren't under pressure to be thin, to be pretty, to appear sexy, to be as nice and malleable as they would if they were female. Bad behavior is more tolerated, even expected, from boys, and I've often been grateful for the tolerance and forgiveness we've been shown for the boys' occasional miss-steps; parents with energetic and mischievous girls aren't often given the same level of forgiveness. My guys are also given the benefit of the doubt as far as having parents who work and contribute to society and care about them and try to do their best. I believe that people are more willing to work with me on any issues that come up with the boys, perhaps partly due to an initial, visually-based assumption that I'm a safe, upstanding citizen, as a friendly-looking white mom who is at least trying to do a good job of parenting. It's certainly an advantage for me, as long as I can resolve any conflicts with honey rather than vinegar. I may not get taken as seriously as Paul would, since he's male, but I can generally resolve things without having to work uphill against open prejudice on that front.
The boys haven't had to face open prejudice. Because they are white and male, they'll have an easier time of it than if they had darker skin or were female or both. Hard things happen in life to just about everyone, but it's easier to get a good, better-paying job, easier to get respect, easier to not get attacked if you're male, if you're white. It would be all too easy for them to grow up without even having a clue about just how easy they have it. And I'm frustrated with how to combat that easy sense of entitlement that can result. To be honest, I'm not sure how to avoid it in raising young men in this society, except by sharing stories, giving them examples of how to behave, how to respect others. And we constantly try to reinforce the good qualities we're hoping to instill.To give them some credit, they are appalled when they see examples of racism in the media, or of obviously sexist behavior, which is heartening.
We watched an old courtroom drama from 1959 recently with Jimmy Stewart, Anatomy of a Murder, where the rape of a pretty woman becomes a central feature of the case. The underlying cultural assumptions in the way that the movie was written, the attitudes towards the woman, the dated way they all spoke about women in general, all had our boys' mouths hanging open in shock, and they kept looking over and seeing me seething with rage at the misogynistic attitudes and way that she was treated. It did at least lead to some discussion about attitudes towards women, rape and basic human rights, aside from the actual courtroom procedure that Riley was researching. At least in some ways there's been obvious progress since that time, but it really didn't feel like enough, at least to me. The way she was treated by all the men hasn't progressed enough, since it's still common. That assumption that she was asking for it, or that she instigated it with they way she was dressed, that she brought it on herself, are all too familiar to just about any woman. Women deal with the world differently than men because of things like that.
I see that easy sort of lack of gut-level understanding of how women have to deal with the world even in Paul, for example, though he's a very good person, and would never even joke about sexual harassment or anything like it. It's hard to admit it and say it, but even he doesn't really understand that underlying fear aspect of being vulnerable the way I and my women friends do. And while he's certainly supportive and understanding, he's never had to deal with sexual harassment or attacks, like I have, or like most of my female friends have. Of the friends I have who are close enough where we can talk of such things (which is a hard thing to speak of for most of us, due to shame), I'm really hard-pressed to think of even a few who haven't had something frightening and horrible happen to them simply because they are female. There must be a few who haven't lived through a serious incident, but I believe almost all of us have had to deal with discrimination and harassment, though the incidents might not be labelled as such.
We women live with it on a daily basis, at least during some phases of our lives, so it becomes just the way things are, and we adapt and go on as best we can. Nobody likes to listen to complaints. It's only when some women start speaking up, bringing it all out into the open, that we start realizing just how widespread the harassment, the subtle and not so subtle attitudes are, and how much we simply endured and then put quietly, deeply aside into an inner place we tend to wall off from everyday thought. Or at least that's what I've tended to do. The last few weeks got me all roiled up, and a lot of those old incidents came roaring out of the closet, insistent on being seen and recognized. I've been an angry person lately, and hard to get along with, especially for the males in my household. I'm the only female in my household, even including the animals, so you can imagine...
I know it's possible to raise good, sensitive, thoughtful men, since some of my dear friends are managing to do that. I want my boys to have long, happy lives; it's one of the things I regularly wish for. And I just can't bring myself to wish suffering on them in order for them to better understand what others go through, so they can really understand, so they don't just turn into arrogant jerks with a sense of natural entitlement.

I'm fighting some of that sense of entitlement already, as the boys enter the difficult teenage years. They expect to be given rides to their various activities, to get to do things like baseball and gymnastics and other sports that take money and time. They get to do these things, they're in the honors classes as smart kids and they take almost everything for granted; it's what they know and have been raised with. They haven't run into very many 'no's' in their lives yet. I think partly because I was raised fairly poor, I've always wanted to give my kids the chance to do the fun things, to do sports and have friends over and get to do things. They live in a household with a little more money and privilege than I did, and I wonder now if it's not coming back to bite me in the ass. I wanted them to have a happy childhood and not a painful one, and now I'm wondering if that may have been an idealistic and shortsighted attitude. I'm not saying they're bad kids, mind you; they're not. But the news lately has got me thinking about it all and how we can give our kids a good childhood without turning them into spoiled brats.
I've gotten into some ugly fights with them lately because they've acted arrogantly, blaming me for their own tardiness or demanding things I regard as an earned privilege. Some of the incidents I've been (what I at least) thought was tough but fair, but there's been a build-up of incidents and I've reacted out of proportion to some of them, losing my temper and yelling my head off like a crazy person. My patience and ability to deal rationally, reasonably, responsibly, seems to be shot. Last week Riley gave me a hard time while I was driving him to a game; he was late and stressed about it and he foolishly criticized my driving (never do that to me, just fyi). He blamed me for the lateness when it was his own procrastination that caused us to be late. I yanked the car off the road and made him get out of the car. Nearly drove off, too, except it wasn't in a place where he could walk home, so I pulled off a further distance and  let him panic for a while about what to do. Eventually, when I felt I could talk to him without physically ripping off his head, I got out and yelled at him about respect and how it was a privilege to get a ride and to even get to play baseball at all. Much later when Paul asked him what he'd learned from the incident he told Paul "uhhh, respect the driver?"

And just today, Casey ignored me and argued and gave me attitude when I was trying to give him a ride over to his friend's house to work on a school project. So after giving him several chances to pull himself together, waiting on him and then enduring some attitude, I pulled the plug and grounded him. Boy was I the evil mom then. I lost it, cut loose and yelled at that boy. A lot. So after an ugly scene of arguing and discussing and trying to get to the bottom of it all, I just left, removed myself and my computer from the scene, leaving Paul there to deal.
So here I sit, writing it here. I used to think of myself as a person with some amount of patience and that it took a lot to make me mad, but I don't think I can claim that anymore. Any signs of arrogance and unfair assumptions, especially from males, maybe especially from the closest males in my life, just really sets me off these days. I think as I get older I'm less willing to put up with the crap, the sexism, the unfairness of things that I felt I had to let slide when I was younger. Maybe this impatience goes along with getting older, where a woman goes from being an object for catcalls to complete invisibility. I get so angry about the way women are treated at all the various stages of their lives, at all the crap that happened and is still happening. It's happening to the daughters of my friends, now, the same shit that we endured, the sexism, the harassment. It makes me so angry. I'll be damned if I want to raise boys who treat women like second class citizens or worse.

Obviously I need some work on patience and working conflicts out, but I can't even pretend to be some perfect angelic mom who never loses her shit and never gets hurt and never yells. Let them learn to deal with a real person, a real woman, a real mom who hurts and bleeds and gets mad and calls them on their arrogance.
So how do you teach humility and awareness? How do you teach men to understand the world women live in? Can someone who hasn't lived with fear or harassment or just a lack of respect on a regular basis really get it on a gut level? Can a person really understand something like rape, if you haven't been through it yourself? How could anyone who actually understood what it's really like joke about it, or dismiss it as no big deal?