Sexism: What I Tell My Boys
My mom had two years of college, then fell for, married my dad, and had five children. With so many mouths to feed, it was often necessary for her to work, and she was fortunate to "get on" with the federal government. She had sick leave, vacation, and health insurance.
After twenty-seven years of marriage, she divorced my dad and his alcoholism. As youngest, I was the child who experienced my mom as a single, working parent in and after 1967. By then, her oldest kids were off at school or married.
Although I didn’t understand it at the time, my mom often struggled with her place in office politics. She didn’t suffer fools, and when promised something to make her life easier, such as a new, IBM Selectric typewriter, she was determined to enjoy the fruit of her hard work.
After returning from a trip, where she was a hearing assistant for Social Security, she discovered that her promised piece of equipment, that new, sleek, modern, gorgeous typewriter, had gone to a younger woman in the office.(It always stink when women are pitted against one another.) With determined indignation, she confronted the lawyer she worked for about the switch. He promptly moved her into a closet, where her office remained for months. She refused to leave the cubby, embracing her outsider status. Her stubborn endurance was a silent witness to injustice.
When higher-up supervisors eventually came through to check office procedures and personnel reviews, they wanted to know why my mother was doing her work in a closet. She laid out the entire story, and was given not only her IBM Selectric typewriter, but a much nicer office.
It may seem a little thing to us now when women are senators and governors, when we occupy boardrooms, and pulpits and O.R.s. In 1970-something, holding out for a new piece of equipment to make life easier was not little to my mother; it was a victory, a triumph to remind those in power that there would be a reversal; justice would come, and this justice would be sparked by small and large acts of fierce opposition.
We are still holding out to make our lives easier and free. That reality, that truth became baldly apparent this past year. Women spoke together, in a loud voice. Instead of being interrupted, written off, dismissed, told we are liars, and to be quiet, we held our ground. Go ahead: look fully into the closet in which you have tried to stick us, and you will find it empty.
My boys have noticed our current conversation about sexual harassment. They are nine-year-old triplets and an eleven-year old, and they are trying to figure out people and power. They’ve heard a bit about #MeToo and personal space, the problem of inequitable pay, the need for childcare to help families, the necessity to create a level playing field, and the problem of stereo-types. Their mother is not unlike their grandmother.
Yet I can’t wave a wand and break down societal barriers. I can’t change the way that jerk called me the “b” word, and sometimes I wonder if that same guy ever uses that one on his daughters and wife. I can’t change the way some men have appropriated my ideas, or dismissed them. I can, however, make a beginner’s list for enlightened, girl-identified boys, boys who are encouraged to grow up to support and believe in women.
A Beginner’s List for Girl-Identified Boys in 2018
— Respect people’s physical space, especially girls.
— Girls are strong.
— Girls are more than what they look like.
— In our culture, boys have more power: cooperate with girls.
— There are no boy things or girl things.
— We are made in the image of God.
Yes, I threw in that last one because, well, I believe it. I believe we are made in the image of God. Mistreating women distorts that Imago Dei, and we are all lessened. Boys need to know that.