A moment must have existed at some point in the U.S. fight for Women’s Rights when the women and men who were working so tirelessly thought the tide might truly turn. Was it when Elizabeth Blackwell graduated with a medical degree in 1849? Or when Victoria Woodhull ran for president in 1872? Or when Susanna Medora Salter became mayor in Argonia, Kansas, in 1887? Or when Elizabeth Cady Stanton challenged the patriarchal orthodoxy with her Women’s Bible in 1895? Or when Juanita Kreps became the director of the New York Stock Exchange in 1897? Or when Marie Curie won her two Nobels, the first in 1903? Or in 1916 when Jeannette Rankin, of Montana was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives?
Surely women everywhere in this country much have gasped in joy on August 24, 1920, when Tennessee cast the deciding vote ratifying the 19th Amendment to secure women’s right to vote. But perhaps we needed more. Perhaps we needed to break more barriers, so was it when Edith Wharton won the Pulitzer in 1921? Or in 1925 when Nellie Tayloe Ross became governor of Wyoming? Or when Norma Merrick Sklarek broke into the old-boys architect network in 1962? Or when we achieved full control of our bodies in 1973 with Roe v. Wade? Or was it Patricia Bath’s invention, and subsequent patent of, the procedure to remove cataracts in 1981? Or, also in 1981, when Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court? Or when Janet Reno was appointed in 1993 as U.S. Attorney General? Or Madeline Albright’s 1997 appointment as U.S. Secretary of State? Or 2007 when Nancy Pelosi becomes the Speaker of the House of Representatives?
Or maybe the moment we held our collective breaths was in 2009 when Hillary Clinton became the first woman in U.S. history to win a presidential primary. Perhaps that moment was the moment which made us think that anything was truly possible for women, when we might truly be able to tell our daughters, “If you dream it, you can do it. Nothing will stand in your way.”
But that’s not true, is it my dear daughters? Would that it were.
Don’t get me wrong, my hearts. Women have made considerable progress since the inception of the U.S. You have more possibility in your lives than your great-great-great-great-great grandmothers could have conceived. Women have broken barriers your fore-mothers were told could never be broken because women were weak-willed and weak-minded. With each victory, no matter how small, women and girls have proven again and again that we are equal to men. So why is it that I worry for you?
I worry because the Women’s Movement has failed you. We have changed women. We have changed what women believe is possible, what women believe they are capable of. But we have not changed men. We raise intelligent daughters, strong daughters, capable daughters, because we have challenged patriarchy’s view of women and girls and subsequently changed the way we raise daughters. We have not collectively, however, changed the way we raise our sons. We have not effectively challenged the role of patriarchy in their lives. Certainly, some parents have, but as a society we continue to nurture our sons in a way which confirms their superiority and impenetrability vis-a-vis the patriarchy. We nurture them to be tough. We tell them they are OK even when they are physically or emotionally hurting. We tell them not to cry. We tell them to dominate. We tell them to win. We are less likely to ask our sons to share; we are less likely to pick up our sons when they cry. We are more likely to emotionally withdraw from our sons, more likely to physically punish them. We are less likely to stick up for them when they are bullied, more likely to encourage physical solutions in lieu of conversation. We give them a pass on bad behavior–boys will be boys after all–and tell them that picking on girls is an acceptable way to show interest. Such a view point ultimately translates to a culture wherein all men can be viewed as predators and rapists in all contexts, be they professional, social, or familial. We set the bar very low for our sons. Essentially, they are raised for a society that no longer exists while our daughters are raised for a society we hope to achieve.
How do I know this is true, my dear hearts? The most recent example is the sexist tone of the Oscars, as hosted by Seth MacFarlane. No female–be she fully grown woman or young girl–was safe from his sexist attack. When society gives a free pass for a nine-year-old girl, Quvenzhané Wallis, to be sexualized as one of George Clooney’s play things, when some of the most accomplished actresses’ accomplishments are downplayed because, “we saw your boobs,” something has gone seriously wrong. Men bring women down by focusing on their sexual proclivities or on their outward appearance, the underlying assumption being that no woman with an ounce of sexuality can possibly have a brain, no woman who looks remotely stylish can be taken seriously (but woe be to you if you “hide” your sexuality or fail to be impeccably dressed as a woman–they’ll discount you then too because you can’t “win” at this game). Consider the travesty which was the media’s characterization of Hillary Clinton during her Presidential campaign. No one gave a fig what the men were wearing, but innumerable pages of text and hours of news videos were devoted to Clinton’s wardrobe and hair style choices. Never mind her intellect or accomplishments–can you believe what she’s wearing? Sarah Palin, the eventual VP candidate for the Republican ticket, fared no better, with men practically howling at the moon in response to her “sex appeal.”
And don’t get me started on the list of states we can’t move to because they are willy-nilly implementing laws which impede your ability to control your body as though they have nothing better to do, like address the economy or education or job creation.
I want so much for this society to be able to respond, to change the way it raises its sons. For I think this is the answer. As I think about how I raise you, about the choices I make day in and day out to help you become intelligent, empathic, poised, strong, resourceful, and creative women, I can’t help but wonder why so many of the parents of sons are not. So many are choosing (purposefully or not) to allow society to dictate to them how to raise their sons. I cannot, in good conscience, throw in the proverbial towel and raise you as your fore-mothers were raised. I cannot raise you to believe that you are less intelligent than any man simply because you are a woman, to believe that your worth is far less simply because you are a woman. I cannot and will not. But this society cannot and will not change until more parents of sons take a very long and hard look at how they are raising their sons–and then do something about it. Do something to change how they are raising their sons. Do something to challenge the role of the patriarchy in their son’s lives.
Sometimes I think their path is the harder one. We know patriarchy is detrimental for our daughters, but for some reason we continue to believe it is beneficial for our sons.
For you, my loves, you are my heart. And I will raise you so you can fully realize, fully grasp, every iota of your potential, every dream, every hope. I will raise you to have agency and power in your life–to take ownership of it, to fly.
Love, Your Mama