As an adult woman who has witnessed the imbalance of power between men and women, who has been a victim of sexual harassment in workplaces and doctors’ offices and who knows countless other females who have experienced the same, I am a champion of the push for women’s rights and an ardent supporter of the #MeToo movement.
I am also the mother of sons.
That means I am hardwired not to denigrate all men while rallying around all women.
I don’t subscribe to the notion that all men are pigs.
I don’t operate under the assumption that all men willingly contribute to a patriarchal system.
Nor do I believe that all men are capable of pushing a woman down on a bed and trying to force her clothes off.
Even when they are drunk.
This is in part because I don’t believe these things about my sons, a point of fact I made recently on my Facebook page in response to a “boys will be boys” comment about forceful sexual behavior.
“My sons would never do that,” I said.
“How can you know this?” someone retorted.
“Because I know the people I raised.”
I know what my two sons, and my daughter, too, consistently show me in their interactions with other beings, whether man, woman or cat. I know where my children put their focus, each of them taking time to travel to D.C. two years ago, for example, to participate in the Women’s March. The elder of my sons, who is 30 now, has made gender equality around the globe his life’s work.
I also know the conversations I’ve instigated and listened in on for decades, starting at a very young age at the dinner table, in the car, in front of television shows and movies, around the books my children read in school and the news we watched together. I know the many times I’ve demanded: “Take responsibility for your actions,” and the times they’ve responded. I’ve heard their reactions to Anita Hill, to testimony from the former Supreme Court nominee, now Justice Brett Kavanaugh, to President Donald Trump’s disparaging comments about women and yes, to the shenanigans and commentary surrounding Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Political party affinity does not get a pass here.
I also know the caustic and confusing national atmosphere we are living in, which leads me to check in on my sons from time to time: Do they believe, as Trump recently said, that “It’s a scary time in America for young men,” and “Women are doing great”? Do they feel personally debased, watching their gender being called out over and over again by women? How do they feel, hearing the blame put on a “patriarchal system?”
“I just know I’m not immune,” my elder son told me recently. “I can think back to instances when I could have done better. I also know it’s a learning process for men. We need to wake up and see that the norms of dominance and invulnerability ultimately leave us depressed, isolated and lonely, and create lots of harm for the women in our lives.”
I thought of this, of who my sons are and who they strive to be, as we watched the Senate Kavanaugh hearing, during which the nominee responded to allegations about his past sexual exploits, with one woman in particular. We agreed it would have been better if Kavanaugh had modeled responsibility for those points of fact that seemed unequivocally true: “Yes, I drank a lot in college,” he might have said. “Yes, I likely blacked out on occasion. Yes, I’d like to believe I didn’t do these things to my accuser. But, yes, it is possible. All I can say now is that I’m sorry this happened, and if I did these things, I’m doubly sorry.”
I also thought of my sons as the newly released children’s book, “Baby Feminists,” came across my desk.
Written and illustrated by two women, one of them a former video producer for Al Gore and the other an accomplished artist and assistant professor of fine arts, the interactive board book highlights eight adult feminists on individual pages, and on facing pages under a peek-a-boo flap, the same person as a baby.
The idea is to show even 2-year-olds that RGB was a baby once, just like them, and that they, too, can grow up to be a feminist.
I scoffed at first. Too much early encoding, like playing classical music next to the womb or reading Chaucer into a megaphone over the pregnant tummy.
But upon more thoughtful reflection, I decided if I were a mother raising children now, “Baby Feminists” would be right there on my children’s shelf next to “Good Night Moon.”
Like “Cinderella” and “Snow White” and Congressional hearings, “Baby Feminists” would have provided another jumping-off place for parent-to-child conversation, a book among many I would have read not only to my daughter but to my sons. It would have provided me a platform from which to begin teaching my children that feminist is not a bad word, and that you don’t have to be a girl to be one. (President Obama is one of the feminists in the book.)
I would have used the book to explain what feminism means plain and simple, that is, believing women and men are equal, and then acting on that. We would have talked as the years went on about how we all likely and unwittingly participate in the system that keeps women down, but how we never have to do so willingly. We also would have talked about the importance of uplifting women and other historically marginalized groups within our society, but not abandoning ourselves in the process.
As it stands, we talked about all those things anyway, that last point being the one I want to hammer home now that my boys are men.
The movement on behalf of women isn’t all about women beating on men or men hanging their heads in shame and anger, they need to know.
It is about an old system that shouldn’t be allowed to continue and a willingness among an enlightened 21st-Century populace to dig deep for reason, truth and fairness, a rubric that should be applied to people of color and differing gender persuasions and a host of other disenfranchised segments of the population.
“Each for all. All for each,” reads the slogan etched in the wood above the door of the cafeteria at the boys’ camp where my sons spent formative years.
Swing wide the door, I tell my sons, and my daughter. Watch with mutual joy when the wind catches it.
Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or join her column’s Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.