Children Education LGBT Sexism


Henry David Thoreau quote: every child begins the world again.

My boyfriend and I love movies, and there have been some truly special ones lately. We both particularly love science fiction (I’m more Star Wars, and he’s more Star Trek, though we love both) and action (I’m still squeeing over “Atomic Blonde” which we also both loved), but we enjoy others including interesting stories and historical movies. Some over the last few years are particularly special to me including “Suffragette” and “Loving.”  I heard “Dunkirk” is good and am looking forward to seeing it, probably on video. So many great movies; so little time.

There was one movie, “Hidden Figures,” that opened my eyes and made me angry: why didn’t I know that women had worked as engineers, programmers, and mathematicians at NASA? Why didn’t I know women did those jobs at all when I was a child? Why didn’t I know that women could do that? My thought process is generally pretty linear. Hard to believe with my rants here sometimes, I know. I’m not particularly gifted in math – took the usual stuff (algebra) and some extra (geometry and trigonometry) which were fine but didn’t speak to me. Programming (taught myself some BASIC from a book when I was in middle school) and science were easy for me. They made sense, they were logical, but they weren’t options for careers for a female. Eventually I chose to go into journalism, and the schools accepted me, but it didn’t work out for reasons I’ll not go into now. It’s related to upbringing as a woman, looking back, but I’m not ready to sort through that one today. We’ll put a pin in it. Don’t get me wrong on all this. The movie was excellent, and I recommend it to everyone. The picture below is of mathematician Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji Henson) from “Hidden Figures.”

Mathematician Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji Henson) from "Hidden Figures."

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a 50-year-old, white, cis female. My dad was (he’s retired now) an electronics engineer, and my mother was (also retired) a personal assistant. They are both exceptionally smart, funny, sarcastic people. They split up when I was 11 years old, but both were always in our lives (I have one younger brother). I finished a degree in computer programming a few years ago, and I’m a few classes (maybe two or three?) away from also completing my degree in business administration. Knowing all this might help you to understand from my own experience where I’m coming from as I work out why we do what we do and how we might be able to do better. I’m still a long way from finishing my recovery? or deprogramming? of being raised as a woman in the United States. A woman I met on Twitter from NSW (*waves* to Michaela – thank you!) gave me a helpful term for this process: healing the mother wound (link below for an article by Bethany Webster).

Now, to be fair, I was raised just shortly after the Stone Age when there was no internet. We primitives had to go to the library to research anything which was an ordeal with working parents so mostly I just had the school library on breaks between classes or study hall. There was a time when I was pretty damned good with the Dewey Decimal system. I was a slow reader, but I understood how books were organized and how to find what I needed. Access to newspapers was in that same library, of course. Today we have so much information available, and many things are in places that are easy to find if you care to look, but even now you might have to know to look. At the age of about 50 I found out that back when I was growing up a woman could absolutely do any of those jobs. I mean, I knew women could because obviously, but to know that women were allowed back then?! So now that I know to ask/look, I do. What a gift this is. Too late for me, but better than not at all.

“We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.” 
― Gloria Steinem

In a recent post I brought up my concerns about how we perceive others. It’s not so much in how we perceive them – that’s our problem – but how we expect others to present themselves in a way that we can easily understand. A man wearing a dress is an uncommon sight where I live. It’s not uncommon in the world, but here in Milwaukee we have to remind ourselves the first two or three times we see it that while it’s unusual and we might check again to be sure our first glance matches our perception (tall, slim man in a lovely purple dress) there is certainly nothing “wrong” about it in the scheme of things. We don’t often seen people in kilts, but none of us have a problem with that. And we can all appreciate how nice a cool breeze in a skirt or dress feels in the summer.

David Tennant and Billie Piper.

Then there was the concern every time Pat did a skit on SNL. The goal of the skit was always to determine what Pat’s gender was so the others would know where to “put” Pat. It was terribly important, urgent, and frustrating for these people to find out Pat’s gender. Pat, like a beautiful baby dressed in yellow or green, doesn’t give away the correct pronoun so we have to figure out how to use the correct speech if we need to refer to them. But that’s our problem. We make it out to be more important than it is because of our own discomfort. That person is who they are, and they owe us no explanation or excuse. Perhaps it’s partly a problem of our language that we feel the need to determine the labels, to put people in categories we understand. Our thoughts are, after all, made up of concepts we form using words.

Anyway, this brings me to children. Nowadays we find out the sex of a baby before it’s born. To many this is a very important piece of information. It was to me though I didn’t get to find out my baby’s sex before he was born. I hoped he’d be a boy because I really had no idea what to do with a girl. I knew I sucked at being a girl. It’s taken me a long time, too long, but in the last few years I understand that it doesn’t matter. It would be nice if babies developed their bits in puberty or something. I don’t mean like the “Guevedoces” – children who appear to be females at birth but who develop male genitals (penis grows and testicles descend) at puberty – that must be terribly hard for the kids. I mean, wouldn’t it be wonderful if children were neither for a certain period of time? Just think of the possibilities?

If we were neither sex or gender for awhile, our parents would treat us all the same. They wouldn’t hold us or touch us differently, more gently for a female, etc. They wouldn’t imply to us that we should behave a certain way or prefer certain toys because of our gender. The sky would be the limit! We’d have dolls and cars and erector sets. We’d play with blocks and paints and an Easy Bake oven. From the very beginning we would wear any and every color, wear our hair however we wanted (as long as it’s not too hard to maintain), be encouraged to ask questions, to grasp the concepts of empathy and respect, to snuggle and cry and laugh. We would learn how to deal with anger, how to feel our pain, how to describe it, how to accept it, how to work through it. We could be who we are and get what we need, whatever it is at the time, whether it’s a hug, understanding, space, or just time.

If we were neither sex we would read anything we want, and we’d learn about all the choices and careers available to humans – chef, parent, astronaut, legal assistant, doctor, writer, monk. We’d be encouraged to explore our interests, to try things, to fail, to try again. We would learn how to apologize, how to respect other people and their boundaries, how to articulate what we want and what we don’t want. We’d learn how to say “no” and how to say “yes.” We’d learn about sex for when it matters later but from the perspective of either, from the perspective of a human being, deserving of respect, and capable of respecting others and accepting them as we do ourselves. At that point we’d probably have an idea of our gender(s) and who we’re attracted to that we could articulate before any physical signs came along so it wouldn’t really matter if things “match” exactly. As long as our parents aren’t trying to guide us in a particular direction, the possibilities are endless.

Imagine if we could double the population of people who “count,” add women to the population of men, equals in mankind. We could stop putting limits on ourselves and on others when it comes to behaviors, emotions, roles, jobs. We could stop giving ourselves or each other excuses for bad behavior or for not trying. Our only limitations would be ourselves and our own abilities and motivation (or lack thereof). I know this doesn’t solve the issues of race in our society, but baby steps, you know?

What if we started right now raising our kids to be kids? What if we made a conscious effort to do what we can so our kids have every opportunity? What if we didn’t assign our kids their lifetime limitations in the sonographer’s office or at birth after a quick glance at our new little person? What if we raised our kids to be good, respectful people and let them test their abilities and their limits themselves?

It would be lovely if we didn’t have to be surprised to see black women working at NASA in STEM fields in the 1940’s-1960’s. I don’t want to assume that a parent who stays at home raising their children is a female, the “mother,” and I am sick of people pushing parenthood (especially motherhood) on people as if they are defective if they don’t want to spend most of their money and the rest of their lives worrying about their offspring. It would be so beautiful if people were paid for their work and the gender pay gap was a thing of the past, and sexes were represented roughly equally in all fields.

And wouldn’t it be lovely if no male senator would ever consider rudely shutting another (female) senator up because he can? Because he doesn’t like what she’s saying? It happens every day to women all over the world. This wasn’t an isolated incident. Women learn tricks to get their ideas across, ways to get the information out and let men think it was their idea so they’ll consider if it has merit. This senator wasn’t elected by her constituents to use tricks to be heard. She was doing exactly what she was elected to do. Elizabeth Warren, an intelligent and capable human being with an important message for the Senate and for America, was shut down on camera in front of the entire Senate. Because she is a woman. Because, being a man, McConnell can. Nevertheless, Warren read Coretta Scott King’s letter about considering Jeff Sessions on camera in the corridor. McConnell should have been the senator banished to the corridor, not Warren.

I’m still furious that he wasn’t in some way disciplined or shamed properly for the inexcusable thing that he did because he can, because he is a white man in America. Because we live in a patriarchal society people, even some women, made excuses for his abhorrent behavior. He was wrong, and he’s an embarrassment to human beings and to America. He should be removed from office for his rudeness and disrespect. Nevertheless, he did it. And America let him.

There are a lot of excellent links here covering a range of related topics. I hope you will find them as helpful and as enlightening as I have.

Link: “Google Fires Engineer Who Wrote Memo Questioning Women in Tech” – by Daisuke Wakabayashi at The New York Times. In 2017 a man thought writing this memo was perfectly reasonable. In 2017. A man felt empowered to do this. In 2017. The memo itself is hard to read no matter your gender; the author is an ass. BTW, my degree is in programming though I’m a couple of classes away from also finishing my business degree.

Link: “What Does It Mean to ‘Be A Man’?” – by Maria Shriver and Jennifer Siebel Newsom for Time

Link: “Boys don’t cry? Sure they do, and we need to embrace it” – by Joelle Casteix of Orange County Register

Link: “Why it’s Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound” – by Bethany Webster

Link: “Most Women You Know Are Angry — and That’s All Right” – by Laurie Penny at Teen Vogue

Link: “Why do girls as young as six believe boys are smarter?” – by Hattie Garlick at Financial Times

Link: Video of Elizabeth Warren speaking about the reading of Coretta Scott King’s letter in the Senate. “This is about tens of millions of women who are tired of being told to sit down and be quiet.”

Link: “CA School Board Leader: If We Teach Kids Gay People Exist, They Might Turn Gay” – by Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist

Link: “Excuses, Excuses” – by E. Brooks at Gray Matters

Link: Patriot Not Partisan

The thing is, it’s patriarchy that says men are stupid and monolithic and unchanging and incapable. It’s patriarchy that says men have animalistic instincts and just can’t stop themselves from harassing and assaulting. It’s patriarchy that says men can only be attracted by certain qualities, can only have particular kinds of responses, can only experience the world in narrow ways. Feminism holds that men are capable of more – are more than that.

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