God dammit. I was really hoping that my daughter, now 4, and son, now 7, would grow up in a culture free from sexual violence, or at least significantly different than the culture I came of age in. I’m an optimist by nature, so I recognize that this hope was fairly lofty, but “live the life you imagine,” right? Post 11/8 though, this hope is shot to hell and I am faced with the realization that my innocent children will actually take part in this culture-a rape culture, where women remain second-class citizens.
For those with children older than mine, I’m sorry. I didn’t have to face my children facing the harsh reality that in our culture, women don’t matter as much as men. I didn’t have to watch my children realize that a man can and will say whatever he’d like about a woman’s looks, call a woman a liar or unattractive if she discloses sexual violence, declare a woman’s body their’s for the taking, and that that man will become president. And then, the cherry on that pile of shit was that their reaction to this realization was met with condescension and they were told to stop complaining about it, accept it, move on, that there were more important things at stake in this election…
I was spared this time. I was able to tell my children that sometimes you don’t win, which means we try harder next time and in the meantime we continue to be kind to others and work hard to make sure people feel safe and protected. But now, my glimmer that our culture may change enough before my children begin to understand it and experience it is gone. And that makes me sad.
One of the most painful thoughts I have is that my daughter will most likely be the victim of street harassment, and unfortunately, if that is the worst she experiences she’ll be lucky. For my son, I question if or when girls will cease being friends. Will he be able to remain respectful and not succumb to the “slut shaming” of girls he once played Star Wars with on the playground? I can vividly remember myself as a child being afraid of rape even before I understood what it was. I don’t want that for my daughter or any of our children. I hate that I am unable to prevent them from knowing this reality, which includes a slew of other intolerances that have surfaced during this election.
If any good can come of this–I’d love to be surprised– it’s that a lot of people are calling bullshit on the treatment of women in American culture. And so, while I may not be able to shield my children from the blatant sexism and sexual violence, there might be more of us fighting the fight, working to change the culture. At least, that’s my new hope anyway.
Maybe it’s the feminist, women’s studies major in me or that damn optimism again, but I find my strength and drive in the thought of the suffragettes. Their fight for women’s equality, in the form of a woman’s right to vote, began in the U.S. in the 1840’s. It took until 1920 for that right to become law. When put in context, the work to achieve equality takes time–a lot of time, and when it comes to sexual violence, we’re still in our infancy. I mean, men could legally rape their wives in this country well into the 1980’s, with Oklahoma and North Carolina holding out until 1993. And, sexual harassment wasn’t a recognized thing until the 1970’s, and even then the term was largely unknown until the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings in the 90’s.
All of that is to say that the road to equality is long and there are stretches of great progress and major set backs. But, if more of us are working together, toward the same goal, I do believe we’ll get there… just not in the next 4 years.
In the meantime, I’m going to take large, deep breaths, and purposefully engage my children in constructive and age appropriate dialogue about our culture. While the days of shielding my children are over, I can certainly commit to raising them to challenge our culture and ideally, one day, continue the work to change it.
“Remember the dignity of your womanhood. Do not appeal, do not beg, do not grovel. Take courage, join hands, stand beside us, fight with us.”
-Christabel Pankhurst, daughter of woman’s suffragette movement leader, Emmeline Pankhurst
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope.”