This is one of my found-text digital image from my magazine satire “WöM.” The article is from a 1950 British magazine, and praises the only women who for sure, really love their husbands – the ones who get beat up, and keep coming back for more. If the man didn’t beat them, after all, how would people know she wasn’t just staying with him because he was nice to her?
No questions were asked about the “love” these men have for their wives. None was apparently necessary. And it is the women who are compared to leeches, not the men. This was the world my children’s grandmothers had to live in.
Lately, the air around me seems filled with questions about how to teach boys and girls about feminism. My children, too, have been asking me questions that naturally lead there. I’ve always talked about prejudice, whether skin colour, age, or sex. Children know when people are ignoring them because they are little; they’ve already experienced prejudice. Lately my daughter has been asking me to tell her about my past boyfriends. It’s a good place to start – and stories are always a better idea than axioms or advise from authority.
I’ve told her about the man who broke up with me with the words “So long – been nice playing with you.” I told her I later watched him sprain another woman’s arm, and confronted him about it, which chased him away after he’d started hanging around again.
I’ve told her about the one I dumped because he let me know he was considering leaving me to find a woman with better breasts.
I’ve told her about the one I left because he demanded I commit to bearing two of his children in exchange for any commitment from him. I told her of reading about his arrest 19 years later for possession of child pornography.
I’ve told her about how all these men made me feel – like I was a thing, a collection of parts to be toyed with, judged, and discarded; a walking womb for someone else to use.
I’ve told her about leaving the men I couldn’t think of a good reason to stay with.
I told her I married the man who loved me so much, he wanted to spend his life with me to matter what, who was willing to re-write all the rules, and be an equal in building our lives together. I told her his love gave me the security and courage I needed to overcome fears of motherhood, in order to give birth to her and her brother.
My son and I had this conversation three years before, when he was about her age.
My children have always known everything about where babies come from. I read to them and showed them pictures from books on childbirth so they will know what miracles they are, and what miracles women are. I love re-making clothes and look at fashion magazines with my daughter for reasons of design, yet find a lot of material there to talk about prevalent cultural abuses – commercial requirements to buy a lot of cosmetics and spend your life superficially – as well as anorexia, underage models, and plastic surgery. Very early, I taught my children that not all dogs are friendly, and they have to ask permission from the owner to pet a strange dog because some dogs bite. This naturally lead me, sometimes, to talking about people in the same way. Not all people are friendly. Some will hurt others. There are such things as war, and mental illness. Not all grown-ups will behave like Mommy and Daddy. Not all grown-ups deserve their respect or know more about right and wrong than children do.
It’s hard to know how much reality to reveal at what age, but I think that if the news is on and if children are old enough to be bullied at school, then stories of past realities which have been learned from and lived through can only be a good counter to the fairy tales of Prince Charming and happily ever after – or of James Bond and his long list of expendable sex-partners. Boys need to know the kinds of things that women are subject to so they will know why so many women are afraid of them – are prejudiced against men, too, for obvious reasons. They need to know what some men are like – men they will meet someday. I also feel I need to counter our collective family adoration of all babies; women aren’t required to bear them to gain happiness.
My son recently initiated a conversation with me about how some Muslim women are treated, perhaps spurred by recent news items about fathers and brothers murdering their daughters and sisters. I did speak of the killing part. I took him to Malala Yousafzai’s Facebook page, a girl not much older than him, who fundamentalists attempted to murder for speaking up for the right of women to get an education. I must admit I shied away (for the moment) from the horror of female circumcision – practiced by a sub-set of Muslims, as well as many Africans.
I showed my son this image – The Loyalty of a Woman in Love, which I reproduce in full at the bottom of this blog — to show him how western culture commits and has committed crimes against women also.
I want my children to know that they are in charge of how they are treated. They draw their lines in the sand, must clearly demand equality and respect, and have to expect to fight for their rights sometimes, even with people they love; no one is born perfect or into a perfect world and we all retain prejudices. I want my children to be capable of separating themselves from those they may love, but who are incapable of loving them back. Abuse must be the sign of the abuser’s inability to love properly, or to love at all.
Some might consider all this too much information for children this age – almost 9 and 12– but they both had to live through my cancer treatment and the possibility that I might die, though only the oldest remembers. They live in the real world and they should know it.
This much information might not be right for other parents. Many feel they will be destroying their child’s innocence by letting them know certain things. I say there is a difference between innocence and ignorance. Being innocent is the opposite of being guilty. Knowledge makes no once guilty.
I was an excessively sheltered child. My ignorance made me feel stupid.
I remember my shock as a teenager, finding out about how people deliberately hurt and killed each other. My anger and disillusionment lasting for years. The standards I had been taught the world possessed were lies. Suddenly, to me, the world was a bad place rather than a place filled with both good and evil.
Maybe if my children know that the world is half good and half bad, and the same is true of people, they will be able to adjust to adulthood better than I did.
Much of this sounds like advice. I wonder if there’s a way to turn this all into a story. It would have to be many stories.