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.