I May Be Feminist Failure

photo from Betty’s Vintage Musings

While killing time, probably doing laundry or simply staring at the laundry piles and willing the clothes to fold themselves, I flipped through the television channels and landed on Megyn Kelly’s new program–Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly. Whatever you think of Kelly, I was intrigued by the topics featured on the show, specifically the discussion of research about young girls and how after age six, they shift toward believing boys to be smarter than girls. What?!

With the guidance of researchers, Kelly’s staff recreated some experiments. Kindly school-teacher types would tell young girls a story of a really smart person without revealing the person’s gender. Then, they showed a series of photos depicting women and men and asked which the children believed was the smart person in the story. Time after time, the girls pointed to a picture of a man.

The staff member would then simply show photos of men and women and ask the girls to point out the “smart” ones. Over and over, the girls decided the men were the “smart” ones.

Of course, lots of social and psychological input creates this type of output. But surely my teenage sons are more evolved–having been raised by an educated, independent and outspoken woman such as myself.

So, first I went after “the little one.” He’s fifteen. I asked him if any of the girls in his grade, those he is friends with, are smart. He had to think about it. Finally, he offered that a few girls are in the same classes as him and get the same grades as him. To clarify, I asked, “So you think these girls are as smart as you but not smarter than you?” He confirmed that this is indeed is his belief.

Then I asked him which of the adult women in his life he thinks of as smart. Again, he had to think–hard. He finally offered up a couple of names.

“What makes you think those particular women are smart?” I asked.

His response boiled down to particularly good manners and an unlikeliness to suffer fools. Okay. Fair enough.

Finally, I asked him who was smarter, his Dad or me. (I know. I know. I was asking for it. But I went there anyway.) Without missing a beat, the kid said, “Dad!”

Why? “Because everything useful I’ve learned, I’ve learned from Dad.”

Ugh. Okay fine you little ingrate. You’ve only spent over 75% of your life in my company. But what-ev’s.

On to the “big boy.” He’s nearly eighteen. When asked if he considered any adult women in his life smart, he said, “Well, that’s hard to know because most of them are stay-at-home moms.”

At this point, only the restraint of this kid’s guardian angel likely held me back from calling down a lightning bolt to smite my own firstborn child on the spot. But I somehow couldn’t entirely blame him for what is likely my failure. WTF have I done??!! Have I unleashed yet another generation of misogynist Cretans into the world? Can this be undone? If so, how? Lord help me.

I began by explaining to the “big boy” that his mom has a college degree and also attended grad school. That I SACRIFICED a promising career in finance in order to care for him and his brother.

I’ve worked as a magazine editor for several years now. But apparently, my flexible schedule and the fact that I’m the household grocery-getter and meal-preparer still slots me into the “at home” “sub-par” “less smart” categories created in my son’s 1950’s mindset.

I told him that most of the women he knows (all those “stay-at-home” moms) also have college degrees and many also SACRIFICED lucrative careers in order to care for their own ungrateful children. And still others juggle working outside the home or patching together enough side hustles to keep the creative energy (and car payment money) flowing.

He was surprised by my indignation. Apparently many high school girls he knows make comments about their goals being a couple of years of college, then marriage, kids, and… “stay-at-home.” What?! At a highly ranked public high school in 2017, in this hyper competitive world of achievement and accumulation, I’m surprised this remains a goal for enough young girls to seem to be “many” in his mind.

As a teenager, I never dreamed about staying home with kids. Raised by a single, working mother, I was taught to never “need” a man–but to be able to take care of myself. I dreamed of toting a briefcase to important meetings while a nanny took care of the kiddos. Why I chose not to continue on that path is fodder for another post. But suffice it to say, I’ve never considered this choice as a feminist failure.

The fact is, being “smart” has nothing to do with whether a woman works full time!

Being “smart” likely requires some level of education and demonstrable ability to hold a conversation without over-using the word “like.” But moreover, being smart is about being curious, having a desire to learn and master new skills, managing one’s life and future goals based on healthy choices and making useful contributions toward a better world.

I thought I’d done a pretty good job of raising smart and evolved young men who might help make the world a better place. Turns out, they may be “smart” but they may also have been socialized to support the patriarchy. Gasp! (I blame their father.)

Or maybe, just maybe, my kids were being smartasses in order to turn my crank. This is entirely possible. And In that case, it’s as my mom always says, “It’s better to be a smartass than a dumbass.” True that! Love you mom!

 

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When to Call Me “Ma’am” or “Her Majesty”

Okay. I’ve purposely avoided speaking out about the 2016 election. My opinions are strong. But I have no illusion of being able to change your mind with a Tweet, a Facebook meme or a blog post. But I do want to share some thoughts about a particular element at the heart of our current cultural debate–women in leadership. Or about being a modern woman in general…

I recently finished a pretty funny memoir by comedian Jessi Klein titled You’ll Grow Out of It. I started out loving it. Her chapter titled Growing Older had me nodding along while laughing so hard I choked on my morning coffee. But then, she does this thing. That thing too many women do. Even accomplished women. Klein basically starts telling readers about how she equates beauty to sex, lust and youth. She pivots from cracking wise about the banality of our “look young and beautiful at any cost” culture to fantasizing about a “princess moment” at the Emmy Awards, swooning over celebrities and bristling at being called ma’am. (She also attempts to further normalize pornography with a chapter about her interest in it. But doing so is so far off the rails on a train wreck of hypocrisy in terms defending women or decency; I will only roll my eyes and shake my head on that topic. For now.)

First, let me just say that I enjoy looking like a woman. I wear makeup, try to style my hair and often wear high heels (mostly because I’m short, but also because I like how they look.) I am not opposed to girls and women wanting to look or feel beautiful.

I am opposed to letting media, men and an increasingly lewd culture define what is beautiful. High applause for Alicia Keys going sans makeup on The Voice, for high-profile women who allow a crinkle around the eye or a crease in their forehead, for my super classy girlfriend who always looks great but never dresses like her tween daughter.

Then there is the raunchy but funny Amy Schumer skit where she shows up at a picnic of aging actresses who educate her about women in Hollywood only having value if men still want to sleep with them. (The language in this vid is pretty coarse in case you search for it. You’ve been warned.) But if this view is in any way accurate, and I believe it likely is, then why on earth would women want to splash around in that scum pond by focusing more on being/looking “sexy” than on being/looking strong, intelligent, accomplished, wise, classy, lovely, artsy, comfortable, hard-working, etc.

Of course women are sexual beings. I’m not suggesting old-school repression or enforced “modest” dress. I’m just asking WHY would sexually “desirable” be at the top of any list of female aspirations?

And finally, the word “ma’am”…

As with all things, there’s a balance here. An introspective pause button that we should hit when we hear this word.

Klein is frustrated at being called ma’am because she believes it implies she’s “old” and therefore undesirable. I reiterate, if “desirable” is your long-term goal, disappointments will mount (not to mention I’m disappointed in you) and you’ll miss so many opportunities to be someone of greater significance, influence and honor.

Ma’am need not be a curse word or term of degradation. It could be a term of high praise–a word that says you’ve transcended the need to simply be desirable; you’re accomplished. We are mothers, leaders and deep thinkers. We are wise. So fetch me my coffee youngster!

And now, a note of caution to men who think I’ve given you permission to dismiss us with the word ma’am:

A family friend has helped my hubs coach little league baseball for several years. This woman knows as much about the sport (maybe more) than many of the dads on the field trying to relive their glory days.

But one day, an opposing team’s coach attempted to bend the rules, clearly thinking our assistant coach wouldn’t know better–she being a woman and all. She called him on it. He dismissively responded with something like, “Let the ump make the call, ma’am.”

The ump did make the call and she was right. But when she mentioned the exchange to my hubs, he was quizzical. Couldn’t quite figure out why she was still upset. I’m proud to say I helped the hub’s male mind figure it out.

“All other coaching staff is referred to as coach. Your assistant deserves no less. You will inform the opposing team’s coach to refer to your assistant as “coach,” not “ma’am” from now on.”

I could see a light bulb spark to life above my hub’s head. God bless him, he nodded in agreement and walked over to the other team’s coach in an attempt to spread some goodness, decency and respect into the game.

It may seem tricky–when to feel honored and when to be offended. But it’s worth some thought. It’s also worth your time to consider what you want to be known for–being fawned over as a princess? Or being honored as a Queen!

 

P.S. I love the above photo I found online and the video link of women talking about aging. Of course I offer credit. But still, I cringe when an ad for anti-wrinkle cream immediately follows the video. Sigh…

 

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How a Young Feminist Got Played

Our youngest, a seventh grader, had to interview the hubs and me as part of a school project. His questions included the normal stuff, “Where do you work?” “Where did you grow up?” etc.

But he also inquired about our favorite childhood toys. Oh the nostalgia of pondering what entertained you as a kid. And having your child assigned to ask about such things gives parents an excuse to prattle on about the good ‘ole days while the offspring are “forced” to act interested.

I thought for a moment, mentally scrolling through my memory banks in search of favorite toys. There was the Baby Alive that ate real baby food and soiled real diapers, that is until my cousin jammed a crayon down its throat. Baby Alive gagged on this early introduction of solid food and died soon thereafter. Plus, my box of 64 colors was permanently short a blue violet.

R.I.P. Baby Alive

R.I.P. Baby Alive

Then there was my Barbie Star Traveller Motor Home that I used to take Barbie pretend camping. But having actually lived in trailer park made a toy motor home seem less aspirational than say, a Barbie Dream House.

Barbie Star Traveller

Barbie Star Traveller

Later in life, the hubs and I would camp quite a bit, about which another cousin once remarked, “You spend your whole life working to not be poor. But isn’t camping like pretending you’re poor and calling it a vacation?” Never thought of it that way, but I suppose she makes an interesting point.

So I guess, when pressed, I’d have to say my favorite childhood toy was my Bionic Woman action figure. Remember Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers on the 1970s television show, The Bionic Woman? That show was my first introduction to the notion that women could be badass; that women could not only fight their own battles, but also could be counted on and called upon to help others who are in dire straights.

A toy more badass than Barbie.

A toy more badass than Barbie.

As someone who was raised by a single mother whose heroic adventures included juggling childcare while going to college, becoming a registered nurse, obtaining a driver’s license near the age of 30 and buying a house all on her own, it’s no wonder I was more drawn to the idea of a bionic woman than a fashion model who pretended to be poor.

My Bionic Woman action figure also came with some sort of high-tech computer station play set. It had these rubber cables that plugged into my toy’s bionic arm and leg. It had charts and graphs that I would imagine displayed readings of her increasing levels of strength. I proudly told my son that this beloved childhood toy of mine was pretty much a pioneering female Project Lead the Way education project.

But then, he did a Google search to see for himself if such a toy existed. The search revealed that the bionic play set I was so fond of and believed to be a groundbreaking toy for aspiring young feminists everywhere was actually called the Bionic Beauty Salon. What the…?!

You've got to be kidding me.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

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