Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Dad gets another lesson in feminism: on raising strong daughters

Talking with my dad allows me to say some things kids and parents normally don't have a chance to say to one another unless one of them is on a deathbed.  So today, I told him how his and mom's messages about our bodies basically created some of the issues my sister and I have with intimacy.  And his brain exploded.

"What did you expect, Dad?" I said. "We grew up in a religiously strict Baptist home, we were taught Satan was real, we were going to hell if we touched ourselves, our bodies were dirty, sex was bad and that boys were rapists. So, yeah - we're gonna have some issues with men when we grow up!"

"Ahhh, well. I don't know," he stammered. "I don't know if I agree with all of that. But we can talk about that later."

"Dad, L- and I still talk about how traumatized we were when you told us about sex. It was graphic!"

"I was just trying to protect you from the little knuckleheads down the street!"

"We were eight! Don't tell us about being snatched off the streets, thrown on a dirty mattress in a van and having some little boy put their fingers in our bodies! That was terrifying!"

"I was being a father! We lived in South Central - not some fairy land."

"Well, congratulations, Dad! You told us our bodies were fodder for rapists - who, apparently, lived down the street, went to school with us and walked the sidewalks! Nice going." I said. "We were EIGHT!  Dude, didn't anyone back then read books about child development? Didn't you guys have Good Touch/Bad Touch?"

"What's that mess?"

And so on.

Anyway, things are not going well with my sister's marriage; she has admitted to Dad that she has hated how men look at her, which has prompted Dad to ask where her attitude comes from.

"Are you kidding me?"

"I'm serious, Delia Christina. I don't understand it."

I tried to explain what it's like growing up a girl where you're taught that Bad Things will happen to you because of what's between your legs, how this reduces a girl to an object and tells her that SHE is the cause for a man's violence and perversion; but he didn't get it, quite.

So I said, "You raised us to be afraid, not strong. See the difference?"

My sister and I heard the same messages growing up. But I know what made the difference for me. Feminism. If that kind of awakening hadn't happened to me, I would still be struggling with my body, my value, my worth. I know that I've had a reputation for being a ball-busting man-hater, but I'd rather be a so-called man-hater than a woman afraid of her own body and desire.

But this, I think, is the conundrum of raising daughters. If you know that this patriarchal world is full of violence against women and girls (which it is, in horrible, horrific ways) then how do you prepare your daughter to face it? And then, how do you raise them to face it without making them afraid of themselves, of their bodies - how do you raise a daughter to be without shame?

Mothers and fathers raising daughters, I'd love to hear from you on this one.


Orange said...

I'm raising a boy. But my parents raised us two girls. I don't remember any shaming, any fear. The talks were all from my mom, never from my dad. It probably helped that we were largely raised without religion and by a mom who rejected Catholicism's teachings on women and birth control.

Fascinating topic! I hope we hear many perspectives.

Delia Christina said...

so do i!

i do remember my mother telling me to 'explore my body' - which i heartily agree with, btw. i think she told me this as an antidote to the religious stuff. (dad was more into that than my mother was, i think.)

liza said...

My dad said *nothing*. My mom was the one who fed us fear stories about "viejos"--literally old men, but really any man. I can't recall any lurid horrifying details, but more along the lines of "they want to touch you in bad ways and are scary" and so of course I was terrified of any interaction with any man, because any of them could be viejos. This terror wasn't helped any by the fact of getting groped by some drunk gringo asshole in an elevator in Mexico when I was 11. But that's a whole different story involving my mother reacting to my screams when the door opened by jumping on the dude's back, beating him with a stick, and going to the Mexican police station. We didn't press charges because my dad said the guy would be killed in jail..(wha?!)

My mom was big on the idea that I had to be warned against sex by telling me about how my aunt (who had three kids by the time she was 18) was really looking for a father-figure (their dad died when her sister was 12 and my mom was 5). Irony, much? She met my dad when she was 17 and he was 25...The upshot of her counsel was that I didn't need/shouldn't have sexual feelings because I had attentive/ loving parents (!!)Also, that she remembers being "in love with love" and above all: to be careful because you could be in a situation where "se te van las patas" (literally: your legs just go (open). Zero acknowledgment of my own sexuality/desire/curiosity. I knew enough, however, to keep my masturbation SILENT and to pretend like I didn't already know about sex when I told my mom that we got schooled about it in sixth grade. I had known since I was 6. Her advice about sex only ever about fear and some warnings against romance. This meant of course, that I was pretty cynical about being "in love" (or I wanted to be,) and I certainly made sure that when I found a willing partner in crime I was the one who planned it, and bought the condoms. I am ever thankful for my rebellious streak, which meant I could embrace feminism.

Delia Christina said...

The legacy our families leave us is never straightforward. And it's interesting to think about how messages didn't tend to change over time. (or did they?)

My family was big on 'no sex before marriage' but there was really no discussion of love or what love looked/felt like. It was like, as long as the big No-No's were taken care of, the rest (intimacy, self-care, self-reliance, self-knowledge, etc.) would kind of 'naturally' follow.

Their lessons to us were, of course, due to whatever baggage was following them from their own experiences so I'm not blaming my parents for this stuff. They had no idea how we were receiving their words or lessons; they had no idea how confusing it was.

I think that what's most interesting is how my parents may have had different goals: dad's was clearly protection - mom's may have been to embolden us to be on our own. But the jury is still out on that.

M.Reyes said...

I have been mulling this over in my mind since I read it yesterday and this is what I think...

As a college-educated, married working woman raising a daughter, I don't come into the challenge of parenthood alone and without certain outside resources that assist in the care and growth of my daughter. That said, I have learned that I have to constantly remind myself that I am an example to my daughter. My actions, words, reactions inform her as to how a woman speaks up for herself, how a woman defends herself, how a woman cares for herself, how a woman belts out a hearty laugh, how a woman cries at disappointment,how a woman reconciles life's very real and gritty experiences with her God's goodness, how a woman embraces and feels no shame at who she is, how a woman does not hide her true self from her children because she knows that in self-acceptance lies a lesson of honesty and love and how a woman sometimes has to walk away for sake of self-dignity. But most importantly, how a woman keeps going in the good times and not so good times with her "truth" known and intact because that going forward, no matter the obstacles is her only option....our only option, hers and mine.... mine and my female ancestors.... all of us going forward is how I show my daughter how to be strong.

Now, I find that a key aspect of being role-model to my daughter is to have a willingness to be vulnerable infront of her and honest. My mom was like that, she used to tell me what scared her, made her happy or caused her dissappointment. And she would cry or laugh at things in her life but she would tell me that her life wasn't mine. That I had what it took to go out and make life shine for me. I took her advice and in some areas, my life shines. But in some areas it sure doesn't and I share those dissappointments with my daughter because I don't ever want her to think that her mom is some sort of super hero and our life in the suburbs is some kind of nice, pretty, antiseptic package. No, I want her to know that I am a real woman, who stil struggles despite my zip code and makes mistakes but keeps getting up and going forward to take her seat whether that's on a Metro Bus, a cubicle, a corner office, in the kitchen, making beds, picking up clothes, or in the Board room....I'm just me and I think it will prove to be good enough to impart the lesson of strength to her.

One parting note on patriarchy. I don't bother giving it a place in my life by trying to understand it so I can ultimately defeat it. Its not worth my precious resource of energy. Does it get in my way? Yes. Sometimes. But I don't dwell on it or the morons that dwell in its dark bowels. I have better things to do, like a raise a little girl, prune my roses, make dinner, and oh yeah, occasionally write a grant that will change the world. Thanks for getting me thinking Delia. Somethings never change. Have a Blessed Day!