19 April 2012

The world doesn't hate you. Don't hate the world.

Dear daughters,

This is you being awesome
The world does not hate you.   

Look, everything in that post is true. The world is unfair. People can be horrible. A whole lot of the world, in general, thinks that being a girl is pretty much the worst thing you can be. So I'm not writing this to criticize the parent who wrote the above, or argue with anything she said. I admire her passion and her principles. I love that she teaches her daughter to go out every day and show the world how awesome she is. I like big chunks of that post, and the first time I read it, I thought "right on! Fuck 'em all!"

But I kept seeing it posted on facebook, by a lot of different moms. And I thought about it. It occurred to me I would express the same basic ideas rather differently, and I want to tell you why.

Granted, sometimes I want to say "fuck 'em." I have said it. When I get sick and tired of "girly" being used as an insult. When I get fed up with the "girl toys" and "boy toys" aisles at the big-box stores, or when I am frustrated because I have spent untold hours looking for appropriate Halloween costumes for your age. (This, by the way? NOT appropriate.) When I think about a culture that tells us motherhood is the most noble thing we can be, then doesn't support parents or families or children after they leave the womb, unless they fit into certain very specific, very gendered boxes.

You are 5 and 9 years old, respectively, and I shouldn't have to special order and pay $30 each for a pair of shorts that reach mid-thigh and don't have words written across your butts, or go to three or four stores in search of sandals in a size one that don't have heels. That makes me feel ill. A lot.

I could write several posts ranting about how utterly broken gender culture is in this country, about the messages we send little boys and little girls -- and big boys and big girls -- that can screw us all up for life. But that's not what I want to tell you about. You will find that out soon enough. And when you do, you will, I hope, be horrified, and refuse to buy into the conventional wisdom that your looks and your weight are your only source of self-worth, or lack thereof.

What I want to tell you, instead, is that the world loves you. I want you to wake up each morning knowing that you are utterly awesome, and that other people are too, and the world is a freaking fantastic place.

You will, of course, learn that there are people who treat other people badly because of things they have no control over: gender, sexual preference, appearance. There are people who are just bullies. There are people who want to make sure you stay in what they think is your place. You both have already started to learn that lesson, and there's no help for it. But you also know -- and I never want you to forget -- that there are completely wonderful people in the world, as well. Who help other people just because they can. Who give up their own comfort to make things a little bit more comfortable for someone else. Who will go out of their way to make your day a little bit brighter, for no reason other than that you both live on the same planet and it feels good to make someone else smile.

I'm not saying you have to be one of those people. Lord knows I'm not, not very often. I don't have that much energy and frankly I don't have that much self-sacrifice in me right now. But I want you to know they are out there. They might not outnumber the haters, but they are out there, and they love you.

And I'm not saying give up, accept unfairness and stereotypes and do nothing to change them. You can fight them, without hating the world that brought them into being. That world brought you into being, too.

Here's the other extremely important thing: you have nothing to prove to anyone. You go out and be awesome, because you ARE awesome, but if you don't want to be the one who proves that a girl can [fill in the blank] just as good, or better than, a boy, you don't have to. You didn't choose to be female, and you don't have anything to prove just by virtue of your sex.

You know that it's ok to like trucks, and motorcycles, and the color pink, and sparkly nail polish, and princesses and Transformers, whether you are a boy or a girl. You already know you can grow up to be anything you want to be. As long as you don't forget that you have a zillion choices, you don't have to be the one who makes the most radical choice. Someone will, eventually. If it's you, because that's what you want, fantastic. But if what you really want is to be a yoga instructor or a parent who stays home or an English teacher, then that's what you should do, instead. Don't do anything just to prove the haters wrong. Do what makes you happy.

Don't let people make you feel bad because you like to wear makeup or cry at sappy movies or collect Barbie dolls. And don't let people make you feel bad because you hate makeup and would rather sleep an extra 15 minutes, because you chop all your hair off and wear black nail polish, or because you would rather learn to rebuild an engine than sew a straight seam. Don't feel bad for wanting to get married and have children. Don't feel bad if you don't. Both are perfectly fine, valid choices. Frankly, just about anything you choose is just freaking fine, if you are choosing it because it's what you want. Not because you want to either a) conform or b) rebel just for the sake of fitting in or sticking out.

What I'm saying is, in my long-winded, god-mom-get-an-editor way, is don't go out every day thinking the world hates you for being a girl. Or for being anything that you are. Please don't. Because that will make you hate the world. You will grow bitter and angry, and you will do things just to spite the anonymous "them" who you think are telling you who you should be. Feel free to ignore "them" and do whatever you want, obviously, but don't do things just to spite "them." They don't actually care what you do. They only even exist because we give them any power to have any effect on us.

Look, I'm no Pollyanna. I know that political machinations will continue to make the world a difficult place for women. I know that some people will look at you and think "she's just a girl, what does she know?" I know that some people will judge you on the size of your breasts, not the size of your heart or your intellect. Someone someday will see you in a short skirt, or in sweatpants, and decide they know something about you because of your clothing choices. I know that at some point in the next 10 (20, 30) years, you will feel bad about yourself because of the way you look.

You know what? I'm almost 40. I'm divorced, renting a tiny house, driving a 12-year-old car, working in an underpaid, female-dominated field. This is not what I expected my life would be at this point. And still? I'm pretty sure that the world is an amazing, beautiful place. I don't feel it every minute of every day. Of course not. But on the whole. And I know that unless I let politicians, marketers, misogynists, and oversexed frat boys make me jaded and bitter, then I still win.

I want you to win, too. I want you to be awesome. Not to show anybody anything or teach anyone a lesson or to get back and anyone who said something hateful or mean or ignorant. But just because you are both amazing, wonderful, strong, loving, beautiful human beings. And I never want that to change.

This is you being awesome, too.

13 April 2012

It's About Choice

Oh yay, it's the Mommy Wars redux! This time with added false Republican vs. Democrat dichotomy!

To recap, in case you hadn't heard: a Democratic strategist I never heard of before, named Hilary Rosen, is taking some heat because she said of Mitt Romney, in a CNN interview, “Guess what, his wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She’s never dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of women in this country are facing.”

What Rosen was saying, I believe, is the arguably true statement that Ann Romney, married for most of her adult life to a very rich man, doesn't exactly have experience with the pressing financial problems of parenting that many of us do. Instead the media picked up "Ann Romney has never worked a day in her life" and ran with the "stay-at-home moms don't really work, according to top Democratic strategist" angle.

So Hilary Rosen had to issue an apology, saying that as a mother, she knows “raising children is the hardest job there is.” OF COURSE SHE DOES. Any mother who is raising her children and doing even a half-ass job knows that parenting is a shit-ton of work. I sincerely doubt Rosen meant to argue that Ann Romney didn't work hard and likely do a fine job of raising her five sons.

Obama campaign advisers were quick to distance themselves from Rosen, of course, calling her comments "inappropriate" and "wrong." I would say, however, that they weren't wrong. Ok, fine, "never worked a day" was a cheap shot. But is it wrong to say that Ann Romney has "never dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of women in this country are facing?" I don't think that's wrong at all. I think it's spot on.

There's also the argument that, as President Obama said when he got dragged into this manufactured controversy, "I don’t have a lot of patience for commentary about the spouses of political candidates." Well, fine, but that's a little unrealistic. Ann Romney has been active in her husband's campaign, and Mitt Romney brought her into it when he said she was his "top adviser on women's issues." Since women are a pretty damn big part of the electorate, Romney's position on women's issues is important. And if his top advisor on women's issues has little experience with the type of issues most women are facing -- well, I think that's fair game for the Dems.

So when Ann Romney says on Twitter that she "made a choice to stay home and raise five boys," I can't imagine any mother -- up to and including Hilary Rosen -- who would argue that was not hard work. The point both the Romney and Obama campaigns, as well as the media in general, missed, or chose not to address, is that Rosen wasn't criticizing Ann Romney's choice to stay home. She was criticizing the Romney campaign's portrait of her as an expert on the economic issues facing women.

Ann Romney told Fox that her "career choice was to be a mother" and "we need to respect choices that women make." Again, true. And again, beside the point. Some will disagree, but again, I don't think Rosen was disrespecting Romney's choice to stay home. She was pointing up that unlike a lot of us, Ann Romney had the means to MAKE a choice.

See, however the campaigns want to frame it, this isn't WOHM-vs-SAHM. It's Ann Romney, or her advisors and strategists, pretending she can relate to any mom, working or not, who has ever had to prioritize buying groceries over paying the electric bill, or feel ashamed that her child is going to school in outgrown hand-me-downs, or who has to explain to her third-grader that he can't go on the field trip because Mom doesn't have the ten bucks to send to school that day. It's any politician, parent or not, thinking they know how that feels if they haven't been there. Don't tell me you understand me because you're a mother and so am I. It's not that easy.

The media might want to cast this as a working-outside-the-home versus a stay-at-home debate, but the truth is, most moms I know fought that war a long time ago and have achieved, if not peace, then some kind of wary d├ętente with it. Most of us are working outside the home, or working at home, or not working at a job we get paid for at all, with the knowledge that we are doing what we need to do for our families.

We might have "chosen" to work because even though our spouses make decent money, we find it fulfilling to go somewhere people are wearing shoes and having conversations with multisyllabic words. Or we might be working because kids do, after all, need to eat and wear clothes and have somewhere to sleep. We might be staying home because we can't imagine missing out on a moment of our progeny's childhood -- or maybe it's because we know that whatever we might make at a paid job wouldn't cover what it would cost to keep said progeny in halfway decent daycare.

I'd wager that among the moms I know, most of us have a lot more in common with each other, whether we work outside the home or not, than any of us do with Ann Romney, or Michelle Obama for that matter. What I would really like is for politicians to stop creating fake media wars that distract us from actual problems, and get back to work making this country a place where more of us actually have the choices they all take for granted.