Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Gentlepeople

If I, as a man, write about how I believe a woman should behave, whether in terms of morality or comportment, I will invariably be labeled as a chauvinist by some. (I will have been guilty, in their eyes, of chauvinistic views and actions of which I am totally unaware, having grown up as a male in a male dominated society.)  It has already been made quite clear to me by numerous responses to any writing that touches upon women and their state in our world, that I have no business writing about such things and that, as a man, no matter how intelligent I may (or may not) be, I simply cannot speak with any validity on any matter relating to women. In short, empathy just ain't enough. I just don't get it, the critics say.

Yet...I speak. I don't have a daughter, but I like to think in terms of fatherhood: What would I want for her? How would I want her to act? What I find is that I would want her to act the same way I want my sons to act: like a gentleperson. I'd want her to be dignified, self-assured, polite/assertive, strong (both physically and mentally), confident and kind. In fact, there is not one thing I would approach, conceptually, differently in raising a daughter than in raising my sons, in essence. (I say "in essence" because, let's face it, each child of whatever sex requires a slightly different parental approach.)

That said, there is this video going around... As with most of these, I will not repost is because I don't believe in contributing to the easy viral success of anything I disagree with. The video consists of little girls speaking about feminism and cursing, letting the F-word fly in Scorsese-like barrages.

Let me make something clear: It is not the message in the video I have a problem with, it is the delivery. 

First, I find it interesting that it is meant to break girls out of the box that they are in, but that every kid in the video uses very common expressions, hand motions and body language. The message then becomes: I am going to be bad and say things I am not supposed to, but I am still going to act like everyone else. I am going to seem different, but I am not going to be different. Whose fault? Probably the director's. It would have been nice to have seen one girl in that video who strikes me as truly different as a cookie-cutter version of a TV character. This turns out to be empty rebellion. (One can ride a Harley and get the word "DEATH" tattooed across his forehead, but a tough guy is as a tough guy does. The clothes and the ink do not make you a rebel, true rebellion does.)

Second, I find it heartbreaking to see little girls talk that way. Yep. I said that. Now, here comes the part where I say I would feel the same way if little boys were filmed talking that way and where my critics don't believe me. But it is true. I believe in raising gentlepeople who rebel against injustices with action and free-thought and not just through superficial shock value. You're just going to have to trust me on that. I get the impression some think manners are chains in society; I see them as glue.

Third, this growing reliance on the lesser-of-two evils argument is making me really weary. People use it everywhere. In this instance, it is: "What's worse? -- girls talking like this or the injustices they have to put up with?" The answer, of course, is "the injustices are worse." I get it. The idea here is supposed to be that it makes the viewer question why he finds it so necessary to control girls' language when there are more important things to worry about; it is meant to make us think about the danger of raising "proper" girls who do as they are told. But, what would I rather? Neither, how's that? Call me a perfectionist, but I would like to see strong, liberated, confident girls who also speak like gentlepeople.

Are we so desensitized that we aren't simply appalled that one in five women is sexually abused? -- that women make less in jobs than their male counterparts? -- that girls grow up with the onus of conforming to unrealistic and oppressive standards of "beauty"? If we need to be shocked by the F-word into seeing that these things are bad, we need something a little deeper than a viral video. If we want to change things, we need to raise our boys to truly see girls as equals and to treat them with respect (real respect, not condescending respect). But how can we teach respect if we try to sell it through videos that offer no respect for what most people consider basic politeness? -- videos that exploit little girls in order to champion their cause? It's a mixed message, at the least.

To me, the video is embarrassing, not because it used the shocking language but because looks like something the bad kid in a high school would have made. It is a video full of children made by adults who are childish.

And our kids lose their innocence earlier and earlier in life these days. Should we take it from them even earlier in order to fight out social battles? Categorically: no.

UPDATE: (Hat Tip: Callie Bisset) It should be noted that the group that made this video is a for-profit company, as stated on their own site, at the bottom. This only brings them further into the realm of child exploitation...

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Truth is, after all, a moving target..."

All of my adult life, and through a good portion of my younger years, I have been tormented by statements and maxims about "doing the right thing." Sometimes, in simple times and circumstances, "the right thing" is clear to all; most often, it is not. At any rate, I often have wished I could be as sure about everything as everyone around me seems to be.

Maybe because of my instinct and (I hope) ability to look deeply into everything I see, I could never help but say, "Yeah, but...how can one be sure of what the right thing is?" I always knew that often "the right thing" was more connected to group consensus than to morality or reason. (In some ways, morality is nothing but a group consensus, when you think about it.) Stand among an enthusiastic group for awhile, and what they agree upon will seem the "right thing." But what if you had stood, first, among their enemies? You might have been just as likely to side with that group -- not because of any flaw in yourself, but because people who truly believe they are right think so as a result of their available perspective and of the information they have at their disposal. The "wrong" side may be in possession of different information that, if known, might put a whole new spin on things. Sometimes, though, bigger pictures preclude the sharing of such information, for better or ill. Or, sometimes, things simply get misintrerpreted. But the worst of all possible scenarios is the presence of people who are more interested in "winning" than in finding the truth.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Humor as a Parenting Tool

One of the biggest struggles of being a parent, at least for me, is that of convincing my kids that all of the hundreds of "inevitabilities" they are taught about are not really inevitable.

I have written, before, about my older son having come home and having said that he learned in school that day that when he becomes a teenager, his hormones are going to make him rebellious. His exact words were, "Did you know that when I become a teenager, I am going to start being mean to you?" It goes to show how careful we have to be about teaching. I, of course, corrected this by asserting that being mean is a choice; he can control how he acts toward me, no matter how powerful nature's pull may be. He was much relieved.

A few months ago, late in the summer, I was talking to another adult and my son (the same one as above) was with me. I mentioned that my son was going into the seventh grade. This person (an educator) immediately countered with: "Uh-oh..." and went on to explain how ("just you wait") seventh graders are so hard to handle and how he was going to change. A while room full of adults agreed, laughing the laughs of the battle-hardened parents. So, in front of him, I said, "Nah. Joe's a good kid. Everything will be just fine."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Letting Go of the Little Ones

I'm not much for nostalgia, but, today, I happened to look at a printed-out photo montage that my wife, Karen, made. It is a collection of pictures from the beach, of my two boys. They were much smaller and much more innocent than their present ten and twelve-year-old counterparts. The cheeks were fuller, the bare feet were chubbier and the eyes were ever so slightly wider.

In one picture, the two of them are standing in bright bathing trunks and oversized T-shirts, looking down and waiting for the cold water to hit their toes. They are fascinated by the bubbles and the illusions in the tide. They are looking at the ocean as a curiosity; as a rare and new thing.

In another picture, my older son -- though much younger, then -- is crouching and intently looking for treasures in the sand; in still another, the two of them are smiling with unbridled joy, sitting side-by-side on an amusement park race car ride. These are smiles that are empty of self-consciousness; empty of the need to appear any certain way other than simply happy. Their smiles are boys' smiles, unashamed and unaffected. Pure happiness -- the kind of pure happiness a grown up can never remember except through his children.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Warmth

People waste a lot of time philosophising about religion. They debate minutiae and they kill each other over dogma. Some from the outside generalize the religious as uneducated morons and some on the inside label those outside as heathen rabble. It has been going on for centuries. But I can sum up what is good about Catholicism by something that happened at my Catholic school's open house on Sunday.

There was a good crowd of people milling about in the halls; prospective students and families were walking on tours with teachers who were showing them the premises and explaining about the programs; some of our most energetic students were chipping in, some of them adeptly leading tours of their own.

Many of the families were in their Sunday best; others were sharp in stylish sportswear or crisp jeans and sweaters, whistle-clean hundred-dollar sneakers on their feet.

Through the happy clamour, I saw an oldish woman standing at the sign-in table. Her coat was dirty and her gloves were worn through to the stuffing. Her sneakers were dust grey and her hair was a dusty, sparse red. She was bent over, filling in a registration card. Anne, our advancement director, asked her, "Do you have a prospective student with you?"