Sunday, June 14, 2009

Daddy Issues

This post was triggered by Melissa McEwan's post, "That's My Boy," at Shakesville. Forgive me if I've told this story before because it is one that I replay far too many times in my head, trying to find an ending that allows me to reconcile realistically the actual ending with one that doesn't have me hating the people in question.

The summer that I turned 20, my father said that women were like shoes. "You have your fancy dress shoes that you wear out on special occasions," he proclaimed, "and you have your sneakers that you kick around the house in."

Technically, he was not saying this to me. Mr. Fred, our neighbor, had come over with his son "Little" Fred, and they were milling about the living room with my two brothers. If I'm remembering correctly, the day was Father's Day, and the two dads were teasing the older two boys, asking if they had any reason to celebrate the day.

"No way," said my brother.

"Thank god, no," said Little Fred.

"Yeah," said Mr. Fred, "you gotta be careful."

Now, the conversation could have turned toward safe sex, and the man's shared responsibility in birth control; or it could have just dropped. Instead, it went on to advice about women, and how women will "trap you," all with an implied pride that their sons were out "getting some."

At that point, my father issued his proclamation about women as shoes. All of the other men laughed and heartily agreed, adding that they liked the sneakers better because the dress shoes were too "high maintenance." One even bragged, "I have nothing but sneakers." Notice the plural. They all congratulated one another on being such hound dogs.

I was in the living room with them, stretching my calves out on the edge of the fireplace hearth, getting ready to go for a run. My mother was in the kitchen, which wasn't really entirely separate from the living room. So, it wasn't as if they were in the locker room metaphorically measuring dicks -- not that that scenario would make their statements any better. They were in the presence of women, women with whom three of them lived, throughout these exchanges.

I protested. "You can't be serious," I said. They all agreed that they were. "That ridiculous," I said.

"But it's a reality," my dad said.

"Well, what about your wives?" I asked, being as how my mom was standing right there.

"Sometimes you find a woman who can be both sneakers and dress shoes," Mr. Fred and my dad agreed.

I looked to my mom to see how she reacted, if she was going to say anything. She just shrugged, but not in the "this is too stupid to dignify with a response" way. She shrugged in a world weary way, one that said, "I've given up fighting this shit and just take it."

"What about me, then?" I asked. "What if some guy treated me like the sneakers?" I knew what they meant by "sneakers." I had seen the way my brother acted towards the women he fucked and cast off, without telling them, of course. They would call and call and call. If he decided that he was bored enough to talk to them, he would barely veil his contempt, telling them that they were just "fish," or worse.

When I refused to go out on a date with a boy who had asked, or wouldn't go on a second date with a guy, or spurned some boy's near-stalker attention, I was told that I was being cruel and a bitch. That word was used, "a bitch." The same was not being said to my brother. When I asked my dad to talk to my brother about his behavior, to explain to my brother that some girls fall in love and that he should avoid those girls if he just wanted some no-frills sex, my dad said, "That's not your brother's problem. If the girls are stupid enough to think he loves or respects them because he has sex with them, then they deserve what they get."

Despite that, I honestly expected my dad to stand up for me. I actually believed that he might see the flaws in his logic if I brought it home to me, to some guy treating me like a blow-up doll, or shoes. I forgot that this was the same man who, when I was 14 and having a very dark depressive episode, told me that I needed to "get up off the couch, go have fun, and let guys play with my tits." Maybe he said "boobs" instead of "tits;" but that was not the point. Aside from experiencing eight types of squick, I felt as if he was telling me that the way out of depression was to make my body available to boys. That my body was not mine, but theirs. On top of that, it wasn't as if I was a boy-crazy teenager or had a boyfriend or even wanted a boyfriend. What he said was wrong.

I also forgot that this was the man who told me that girls who were raped on dates were asking for it. In fact, that was how I first learned what rape was. One of my parents was sitting on a jury for a statutory rape case when I was 11 or12. I wanted to know what that meant. They told me that a young girl would seduce a man, then regret it the next morning and have the man arrested for rape.

I forgot that this was the man who, when I got angry at my brothers for cheering a rapist on during a rape scene in a movie, told me that it was no big deal. It was a very big deal to me, since I had nearly been raped on a date just a few months earlier. I never told my parents about it. I was sure they would not be sympathetic. My mother might be, but she wouldn't be open with her sympathy for the same reason that her shrug conveyed he acceptance of a life with men who held her in contempt for being female.

That last point, the overall contempt for my mother and I for being female, I thought I could change. I thought it was something that could be changed because I think I actually bought the line about all of their appalling sexist behavior really being in jest. I thought that I could do something to make that change by turning this stupid shoe analogy back on my father by invoking his sympathy for me.

"What about me, then," I asked. "What if some guy treated me like the sneakers?"

"I'd feel sorry for you," he said, "but I'd understand him."

In that moment, I knew that my father did not respect me. After 2 decades of similar incidents, I finally realized that by simple fact of 2 X chromosomes, I was never going to be a full person to him. My brothers would go through the world as men, while I was supposed to go through the world for men. Men were full people, and I was not. What's more, I was supposed to embrace that role, and any rejection of it was a problem with me, not with the world.

Several years later, my brother told our ditto-head cousin that the reason I was so "into" feminism was because a boyfriend in college had treated me badly. "In college?" I said. "Oh, it began way before that, and he was part of the process." My family still thinks I will get over feminism, especially if I start dating a guy, preferably a conservative guy with traditional notions of gender.

It's a crushing experience, having to love your oppressor, knowing that he doesn't mean to be cruel, knowing that he loves you, but he just cannot accept you as a full person. But you grow up, and the damage becomes yours to fix, and you fix it however you can. You can be in their presence and give the shrug that says "this is too stupid to acknowledge" when they display their misogyny.

Then, you get nephews. Sweet, interesting, little boys who could grow up to be sweet, interesting grown men. Could. They think that you are kinda cool too, because they are little boys and have no real frame of reference. Then, you see their fathers (your brothers) and their grandfather, praising them for grabbing women's breast, teaching them to say the most disgusting sexists words, and telling them that if they whine or cry (as small children do) that they are being "girls" and being a "girl" is bad. You see that, and you see these sweet little boys are being taught to hate you.

You know that this same process is going on in a million houses with a million little boys, too young to know the difference. They will grow up and marry women who give the shrug of capitulation to sexism and raise more misogynists. That is how misogyny is taught and learned; and it is an ugly, soul-killing sight.

43 comments:

Belle said...

Interesting that you still affirm your love for them, when they don't seem to love you for you as a whole person.

My father was much like this, as was/is his son. I don't like either of them, and without like, love isn't gonna happen. Their choice, my reality.

Clio Bluestocking said...

IB, right? I recognize his symptoms.

It is odd, isn't it? I tell myself this: My father and brothers are deeply flawed. The parts that aren't flawed are actually likeable and even admirable; but one of the parts that is flawed involves hating me. Not hating me personally. For them it is an impersonal hate that encompasses all women; but because I am a woman, it feels very personal. It was certainly expressed personally.

So I love the likeable admirable parts and hate the parts that hate and harm me, then feel guilty for the hate. Therein lies the the conflict, the opposing forces that split me in half and which I have yet to resolve.

Ann said...

WOW. Just, wow.

You are right on. And I'm so sorry for your family that they are more invested in maintaining patriarchy than in loving their women and girls.

I have a friend whose sister left her high-powered career as a lawyer to stay home with her children. She (my friend) was really, really bothered by the fact that her nephew would always play with her husband and her father (his uncle and grandfather), but the only reason he would approach my friend was to ask for a glass of juice or to perform some other small mommy-like task. In other words, he was learning that women are there to serve men, and that the men are the ones who are important, where it's at, and having all the fun.

Historiann.com

profacero said...

Great post.

And the nuclear family is a patriarchal institution which exists to maintain patriarchy.

In mine, there are also women who do this more virulently than some of the men. I am sure (I know) this is not unusual.

And then people wonder why women resign themselves to mistreatment.

And note: speaking of which: I have various friends who are very down on battered women and how inadequate they are. These friends are also those who are in the most traditional female gender roles. I guess it is Schadenfreude in a way.

dykewife said...

empathies. it's sad that they're missing out on seeing you as the complete person you are because they're missing out on so much.

there's not much else i can say to that.

Jeremy Young said...

Damn, could you possibly have had a more awful family?

Well, yes, you could. But I'm very glad you didn't, and very sorry they were as bad as they were.

CH said...

"I'd feel sorry for you," he said, "but I'd understand him."

What the @#$^$@^!~%^(&?????

It starts early. Look at any mainstream baby clothes store and it's all blue vs. pink. Like it's a battle. And if it's a battle there is no empathy for the "other team".

My wife and I enjoy dressing our son in all different colours (he's 14 months right now). It's amazing how yellow baby is kind and energetic, red baby is dangerous but funny, green baby is eco-friendly, stripy baby is outgoing, pink baby is confusing to other people (you can see people physically struggling with the idea of a boy in pink), and so on.

I feel like entire aspects of my son's personality would not have come through if we had dressed him in standard blue stuff (I'm glad that my wife thought of this and pushed the issue). It totally affects how we treat him.

Flavia said...

This is a heartbreaking post.

squadratomagico said...

The most heartbreaking part of your post is the reflection on watching this heritage being transmitted to another generation, your nephews. I've seen the same process in my husband's family (neither me nor my siblings ever had kids). I vividly recall my brother-in-law yelling harshly at his wife that she should not hug or cuddle their little boy, because then he would grow up to be "girly" or "turn into a fag." Now that boy is 16 or so, and hero-worships his father. But, as far as I can tell, he's also lost. Even his parents complain that he has no passions, no strong interests, no determination to excel in any particular area or to master any skill. He was taught from an early age that his dad had strong expectations of him, and that there were important areas of culture where he must never tread -- and as a result, he's become a sort of blank, a reactive person who plays the same sports his father watches and plays, but who has no independent commitments or interests of his own.

Bavardess said...

I am sorry you've had to go through this and that it still effects your life and that of the next generation of your family. As others have pointed out, this behaviour hurts boys as well as girls and perpetuates a cycle where no one, male or female, is able to realise their full humanity.
And similar to Profacero's experience, in my family it was my mother who gave out the most sexist messages about women's subservient role. Looking back, my father was actually very progressive.

Susan said...

This is both heartbreaking in terms of what you've had to live with, and also a brilliant analysis of how patriarchy survives. It's a powerful combination. But gee, I wish you couldn't have written it.

Digger said...

Damn, Clio. That is a hell of a lot of emotions to hold simultaneously without flying apart.

"Therein lies the the conflict, the opposing forces that split me in half and which I have yet to resolve." I have family stuff also, of a different variety, but this describes exactly how it feels. If it was strangers, they could just go jump. But it's family, blood is thicker than water and all that, and who wants to be the bitch who stops talking to their own family? From their side, there is no reason good enough, ensuring bitch status. All tied neatly in with being a "good daughter." Some serious emotional dynamite.

(Can I also say that "experiencing eight types of squick" = win writing?)

Clio Bluestocking said...

Ann: Yep, they learn early that women are for them, the men. Men do, women serve. I had a friend whose son, at the age of 10, refused to do any house work because "that's for girls." She asked him where he found that attitude, and then she looked at her husband.

Profecero: That's why I was suspicious of "family values" from the start. At one time I tried to be one of those misogynist women, reinforcing the patriarchy. It didn't last long because, to maintain that schadenfreude, you have to beat back the realization that very little separates you from the battered, raped, and abused women of the world. Ultimately, to hold that position, you have to lop off significant chunks of your person. So, that phase didn't last long for me. It required too much lying and denial and ultimately it felt as if it actuallly drained intelligence from my head.

Dykewife: Thank you. There really isn't anything to say.

Jeremy: They could have been MUCH worse. In fact, as I grew older and started to hear the stories coming out of the families of my friends and neighbors involving molestation and rape and so forth, I was kind of horrified that all of this was going on and none of us told one another about it. But, of course, silence makes the abuse permissible.

CH: Thank you for that reaction! Because of my father's answer, I always expect people to say, "well, you know, he is kind of right." I love the baby color experiment. Whenever I see a guy in pink, I know that he is confident.

Flavia: Thank you. Writing it and posting it in public seems to have separated it from me in a way, a bit like excising a tumor.

Squadro: It's that transmission of the sexism that really upsets me. The stuff done to me is done, I'm an intelligent adult and can deal with it. What's being done to the boys, while I stand helplessly by (you know, because I'm not a mom so what do I know) and watch it. There's also that strain of homophobia woven into the whole process, like you describe in your brother-in-law's family. I recognize that numbness of your nephew, too. Anything beautiful and expressive about them becomes shut off and shriveled all in the name of maintaining this narrow and fragile concept of masculinity.

Bavardess: My grandmother is like that, too. She was a powerful woman in her day, rising from sharecropping to getting a master's degree in the 1940s and becoming a principal of a high school in the 1970s. Still, her messages to me were always, "oh, women can't do that," while "boys can do anything."

Susan: I like the way you put that. The one good thing about all of this, once I figured out what I was good and mad about, was that I suddenly understood what other marginalized groups were talking about. That broke down a significant chunk of the lifelong brainwashing about everything else.

Digger: Exactly! Strangers, even boyfriends (because I'm such a cliche, my dating life tended to play out in this same way), you can dismiss. Family, on the other hand, they aren't always evil. I hear you on the "good daughter," too, especially being the only daughter and the oldest. Such requirements for perfection, even when "perfection" had no clear definition.

One last time, because I can't say it enough: Thank you all for your comments.

Clio Bluestocking said...

I'm looking at the comment about family not always being evil and seeing it doesn't quite say what I want it to say. Obviously, people who aren't family aren't always all evil either; but in a family, you have these interwoven obligations and histories that become almost impossible to unravel. Some people are able to just cut it all off, some aren't, and each case is unique and complicated. In my case, I love my family, but I'm not close to them any longer. I have to maintain just enough distance to not feel too guilty for drifting too far or too angry from being too close.

GayProf said...

It's a chilling post, but an important one. Sometimes I think academics forget that such sexist notions are still considered basically "true" by huge sections of the population.

liliannattel said...

Yours post is gripping, the writing sharp and insightful.

I'd like to point out that what your father said to you when you were fourteen was emotionally abusive.

He was advising you, his child, that you required sexual handling. That is sexually inappropriate and abusive.

I am saddened and angry at the damage done, not only to girls, but to boys like your nephews, by teaching them such hate. By limiting them and narrowing who they are, the pain of such dismissal is projected outward at women. And it is probably more acceptable to them to hate women because the real target of their anger, the men who disrespect their full humanity, are also people that they love as you do.

Not all conservative men are like that. This is not to excuse inequality or patriarchal attitudes. But there are men who believe in traditional gender roles who treat women respectfully and value their wives and daughters. (There are other problems but that's not the subject of this post).

I think that hatred of women should not be tolerated, whether by a submissive shrug or a dismissive shrug.

This hate justifies and excuses rape and child abuse. I don't know if any of the males in your family have acted on that, but if not it's only because they haven't felt like it up to this point. There is nothing in what they say that implies any limits to what a man may do. Women are there to be used, preferably at low cost, and women need it, including adolescent girls who are depressed. Women ask for it and only stupid women have any higher expectations.

I think this can only end if it stops being tolerable and tolerated by women and by men who see this hatred for what it is.

I am thankful that in my neighbourhood little boys are raised differently. Even here I've heard from mothers of sensitive boys that they've seen their friends encouraged to be aggressive by their mothers. But from what I've personally seen, boys here are encouraged to treat others respectfully and allowed to express a full range of emotion.

I have two daughters. I have to think about what kind of environment they're growing up in and what they're going to encounter as young women. And I hold myself and everyone else accountable for upholding and teaching values of respect between men and women.

liliannattel said...

I just want to add that I understand first-hand how difficult it can be when love for your family stands alongside awareness of how badly they behave. My heart goes out to you.

57suttonplace said...

I don't know whether I'd rather be a sneaker or bovine: My father always said, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?"

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I grew up in a very matriarchal household, but one where children were there to serve. I only have one nephew, and while he's treated not much differently than the rest of us were, I think it's worse for him, because it's sort of the same thing -- he almost has to carry the weight of all the unhappy relationships on his shoulders.

I mentioned this to his other aunt, and asked if he needed someone to step in. And my feminist sister said, "he needs to learn to stand up for himself. If he doesn't like it, he should say something." Because we are supposed to be tough.


Somehow, it didn't occur to her that he's 16, and his mom and my mom are adults -- and that it's their job to look out for him.

Patterns. They repeat in all the wrong ways.

The History Enthusiast said...

Clio, I am so sorry that you had to experience that upbringing. I don't know what else to say.

the rebel lettriste said...

Masculinity is so ... crazy. For all the bullshit about women being "fragile," I think it's men and their masculinity that somehow need the protection. So much energy goes into it.

I was thinking as I read this about my own BF and his 6 yo nephew, who is a sweet, silly, headstrong little boy. We were at the bookstore, and BF kept pushing what he thought were more "appropriate" books (on dragons, on knights, on superheroes) on nephew. Nephew wanted "If you give a mouse a cookie." They had a battle of wills. BF kept saying that nephew's book was "babyish."

At the end of the day, I pulled BF aside and said, "what matters is not WHAT he reads, but THAT he reads. Support that."

Nephew got his babyish book. I asked him why he chose it and he was thrilled to discuss. And BF thanked me afterwards...

Jeez.

Samquilla said...

Wow, I don't know that I've read such an intimate description of growing up in that type of environment. At least outside of fiction/literature. So thank you.

I wonder whether the balance you've reached with your family will/would change if you have/had children of your own. As you say, you are an adult who can fend for herself, but exposing your own children (boys or girls) to the indoctrination your nephews are receiving is another level of pain.

Jottie said...

This is a devastating and brilliant post. Thank you for writing it.

And this:

Then, you see their fathers (your brothers) and their grandfather, praising them for grabbing women's breast, teaching them to say the most disgusting sexists words, and telling them that if they whine or cry (as small children do) that they are being "girls" and being a "girl" is bad. You see that, and you see these sweet little boys are being taught to hate you.

also makes me think about little girls, and how heartbreaking it is to watch them being taught to hate & despise themselves, to conceive of themselves as somehow less-than, to believe the myriad lies the patriarchy tells them about themselves and their rightful places in the world.

I have very young female cousins, and I hate being away with them so much; I just want to spend all of my time being an affirmative voice in their lives. They have loving parents & families, but they are loving people that do not realize the insidious, vile nature of the gender-coding they so ignorantly perpetuate.

There are few things sadder than watching this and feeling like you are losing the next generation to the patriarchy.

jennyappleseed said...

Wow. I can't even finish this post. I promise to later. This is hitting home and reading someone else's experience allows me to see how damaging it must have been and probably continues to be. My father has said a lot of stupid shit like this over the years. How do you even make sense of why a man would believe this type of shit, much less proudly spew it to a daughter and then ask us not to be "so sensitive". Just like your mom, a lot of women just "eat it" because the wounds are too deep at some point. I'm sooo pissed!

Kathy said...

First time commenter here, and I came to this late, but I just want you to know I grew up in a very matriarchal family, co-raised by strong, intelligent aunts and a single mom, and they STILL said and believed in the most sexist, hateful stereotypes and prejudices imaginable (maybe just not quite as crudely as the males in your family), all the while pushing me to go to college, be independent, etc. I still don't know to this day 30 years later how I came out half-okay as I did. Thank you for this post. I just wanted you to know you have lots of company and solidarity.

snobographer said...

I'm impressed, Clio, that you managed to not internalize all that crap. I look back on the men in my family, and many of the women, and how I processed those messages and I wince.
It took me some time to come around.

growingcurious said...

I admire you for writing and sharing this. You have courage.

It's hard to see the degrading behaviors that are so close to us, but you've seen them clearly here. I support you and wish I could give you a big hug.

Elise said...

Clio, I'm wondering, have you shared any of your feelings/viewpoints with your family? If you are biting your tongue instead of TALKING about these issues with your mom, your dad, your brothers, you are enabling what they do, what they say, what they think, how they raise the next generation.

It's hard to change the way people think, but it can be done, sometimes. At minimum, I'd say your dads needs to get an earful about the episode that happened when you were 14 and your feelings about it. Yes, it was abusive and disgusting, and you should call him on it, better late than never.

If you start opening your mouth and your family life gets more problematic, so be it. Do you want any female children that get born into your family in the future to experience the same crap you did? Have you thought about what will happen if you have a daughter of your own? How will you avoid repeating patterns if you have her around this kind of crap?

Best of luck. I know how hard it is to deal with toxic people, I have some in my family too. Oh, and thanks for a great post.

Cynthia said...

Heartbreaking, thoughtful, and very well written. It makes me so thankful for my father & brother -- conservatives but pro-women & generally respectful of (most) people. Can't wait to check out the rest of your blog! (You know Salon has linked to this post, right?)

Clio Bluestocking said...

Wow! I'm kinda bowled over at the response to this post. After I put it up I was a little embarassed by it, thinking "your ass is showing on the internet;" but it's been seen and linked by more people than any other post I've ever written. Just, wow! And, again, thank you!

GayProf: Exactly! One of the things about having family in suburban Texas (and you KNOW about Texas) is that I get a healthy dose of that every time that I visit.

Liliannattel: I'm with you. It's nice to know that children somewhere are being brought up in some semblance of sanity. Also, at the time -- and even now -- I didn't see this as a conservative/liberal split, just a man/woman or a designated person/designated part-person split. The conservative that I mentioned, the one that my parents want me to marry (still!) is a particular person. Boy, that would be a match made in hell!

57 Sutton Place: Leather shoes? (Just joking!) Ah, yes, the cow analogy! That one actually didn't appear in my family for some strange reason. I think because, despite the whole madonna/whore (or dress shoes/sneakers) attitude, premarital sex was not really taboo in our family. In fact, would you beleive, they disapproved of people who got married without having had sex.

Another Damned Medievalist: The little soldier phenomenon. It's good to teach children to stand up for themselves, but at some point the parent does have to realize that they are, in fact, children and there are limits to their abilities.

History Enthusiast: There really isn't anything to say, but thank you!

Rebel Letteriste: Exactly! Masculinity is supposed to be all about this strength and power, yet it seems to be threatened by the least little thing: women not knowing their place, homosexuality, any gender queerness and, OMG!, masculinity will die. Die! I tell you!

Right on for you and your nephew! That's so cool that he wanted to discuss his favorite book. And good for your BF for realizing the error of his ways.

Clio Bluestocking said...

Samquilla: It probably would. I don't want children and menopause is due any day now, so it probably won't happen. Still, even with the nephews, I was sort of surprised that all of these issues that I thought I had put behind me woke up and started to bother me so much.

Jottie: Oh, yes, the girls who you see are about to go through exactly what you've spent your whole life trying to undo. Historiann has a collection of links about "Lessons for girls" that pass on some of the things the writers have discovered. Maybe your cousins might benefit from them?

Jenny Appleseed: I think my mom, like many women, feel like just one woman; and to fight the patriarchy in their own house would upset any peaceful status quo that they can maintain since that burden, of course, rests with the wife and mother. Their whole lives would fall apart if they fought it, and they just can't deal with that. At least, that seemed to be part of my mother's life. My grandmother, on the other hand, was the sort who closed the door behind her.

Kathy: Thank you. I'm amazed and a little depressed that this post affected people. Also, as you say, sometimes women can be some of the biggest guardians of the patriarchy. I tried to be one myself for about a year or two. I finally cracked. Too much discipline and effort with so little reward for self-loathing and proper behavior.

Snobographer: Oh, I internalized more of it that I care to admit. Like I wrote above, I tried to be a good little misogynist for a period of time. I shudder at the memory,too. I still have to fight the internalization. Still, what else did we know? We were told these things from the moment we popped out of the womb and were wrapped in pink or blue. At least, we had the sense to figure out something was wrong, eventually.

Growing curious: Thank you!

Elise: Trust me, I make a noise everytime I'm there. I have tried every tactic in the book. The problem is that there is always a reason not to respect me. I don't have kids, so anything I say on childrearing is dismissed. I have a PhD, so pretty much anything I say can't possibly be grounded in any sort of reality. I am a feminist, therefore hysterical. I start to see how my mother gave up. Still, I try to keep up the good fight in strategic ways. LIke when my nephew wanted to help me put on make-up. His parents objected and objected ("are you a girl?" they kept asking him, saying "girl" as if it were a dirty word), but I let him help. My god, what would it hurt? We had fun. Then we spiked up his hair with gel and he was pretty proud of himself. I decided that, if I'm set up as the crazy one, then when the nephews get to be rebellious teenagers, maybe they will drift my way. (That's my fantasy anyway.)

Cynthia: I didn't know Salon linked to this. I think I just used up my fifteen minutes of fame.

squadratomagico said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate said...

Found you via Salon.com.

This post was heartbreaking because of the subject matter. It really took my breath away; your writing is very evocative.

It also gave me great hope, because you are the product of this upbringing, and look at what you have become. Thank you for posting this.

profacero said...

Congratulations on the Salon link! They're smart to link to it because it's a very key text.

I find it odd that people found the post hard to read -- I tend to feel relief when people actually articulate experience(s), including bad ones, and relate to Rigoberta Menchu when she says (in response to people saying her story is "sad"), "No, it is not sad, because it's true." And it's just way FUN to say what's true, and hear what's true ... especially considering the alternative (saying what's false!). (Life has taught me that my attitude may be atypical, but still, I find this to be a happy and uplifting post because it is CLEAR and TRUE.)

Owen said...

I, too, found this via Salon.com. I'm so sorry your family were shit to you. As a man, I was raised to respect all people, regardless of gender, race and whatnot...as long as they respect me, in turn.

I'm glad; traditional 'masculinity' is a straight-jacket, though of course, not as bad as it can get for women in 'traditional' roles. (And yeah, machismo, or whatever you want to call it, is a weak and fearful thing, inside.) I went to a school with a strong Greek culture, and saw first-hand how both men and women are profoundly deranged by the various gender roles they're expected to play. And how much of this was pushed by their peers. I hope your nephews are able to move away from this idiocy in time, just as you did--and I'm sure you'll always be there to help.

'This hate justifies and excuses rape and child abuse. I don't know if any of the males in your family have acted on that, but if not it's only because they haven't felt like it up to this point. There is nothing in what they say that implies any limits to what a man may do.'

All I'd say to this is that there's a big difference between, say, disliking or even hating black people, and joining a lynch mob. Some who are vocal in their hate are actually secretly uneasy; some who speak the loudest do so to cover their own doubts; and many who believe hateful things still feel compassion for other beings. Rape and child molestation are such horrific things that most people, even if they're prejudiced against women, cannot and do not want anything to do with them.

There is always hope. The world is far from perfect, but I do feel that we are closer to equality than we have ever been in the US. Not close enough...not yet. But that is why we act, no?

zt said...

I hope this doesn't offend you, but your dad is more than sexist- he's just a straight Asshole by any standards - conservative or progressive. Your poor Mom. She has to fuck the guy that says those things. How does one manage that?

I'm sorry to say that about a person's mom. My mom was in a similar situation and all I did was pray for her to be free. She got divorced when I graduated college and remarried to the love of her life. Happiest surprise of my life. I thought she was a lifer for sure. I had never seen my mom truly happy as a woman until then.

The new guy was still sexist/full of privilege blah blah, of course, but he wasn't _an_asshole_ -he was generous and supportive and romantic - talked her up, showed her the world. The two can be different things.

Your post made me thank god for my brother- once again. He was raised by the biggest jerk in the world - but happened to be possessed of a brilliant mind and completely rejected what his father tried to beat into him. Very strong guy. Didn't exactly get any societal rewards for it either.

LivelyClamor said...

Wow. I start linkhopping and here I am. Nice to meet you.

Sorry but not entirely surprised you had to deal with this.

The 2008 presidential dynamics seem to have brought out the sexism in a lot of people that was otherwise hidden, leading me to wonder if anything has changed at all since I was in my late teens. (I'm 52 and by the way not menopausal yet, so relax. You have a while. And don't get me started on the ageism that starts about now along with the sexism)

Keep writing, please.

I'm in midlife crisis #2 (sorry for giving that away, but there CAN be more than one) right now it's dealing with past stuff that has clobbered me from behind so I find your post moving, interesting and unfortunately ringing very true. I was an only child and didn't get the sexist input from home, but the rest of the world. Chose not to have kids. Just because it wasn't in my immediate family didn't mean I wasn't affected. too empathic.

Bright blessings.

kon said...

Excellent post and courageously honest. Sometimes it's so difficult to be honest about our families, but, I think doing so, helps to make some of us feel a little more sane in the world.

In solidarity.

exwool said...

This makes me so incredibly grateful for my father that I just emailed him about how much I appreciate him. He is not a very verbose man, but I have always known that he is incredibly proud of everything that I do. He couldn't be married to my mother without thinking that women can be just as or more aggressive, smarter, and stronger than men, and he's always presumed that of me. But he has also always assumed that the ways in which I use that are my own to choose. My brother is more gentle than I, and my parents have also been open to, and careful about that. I am so sorry for what you went through. Thank you for reminding me that for all the faults I recognize in my parents, there are so many things in them to value, respect, admire and appreciate. And thank you for reminding me that even if I don't have children, I can be a role model and a reminder to the children of friends and family members for the support of women and the idea that men don't have to play the confining and stereotypical roles they are often assigned.

Val said...

No wonder I had the urge to surf over here & catch up...
Great post, Clio - the heartbreaking thing about MY dad is that I've read fragmentary essays of his, where he GETS the patriarchal misogyny of our world, yet he's still immersed in the attitudes & behaviors... It's like the enormity of the problem is too much for him to grasp, so he retreats into familiarity.

Big said...

Great post. How incredibly creepy to be told by your father that you just need to go out and 'get some' to cure your depression. Ugh. I feel sick just reading about your experiences.

These men are so incredibly small and weak. What possible return can one get from objectifying, dismissing and degrading other human beings? I agree with the commenter who talked about traditional masculinity as a straightjacket. I guarantee you that these men who refuse to see or can't see women as human are suffering as much (or more?) that the women they choose to victimize. They are projecting their utter sense of worthlessness and powerlessness onto women and attempting to destroy a part of themselves that they cannot accept. A lot of these men, at least in the more extreme cases, have been abused themselves. I'm sure your father was/is a miserable man. Ahem. Yes, this post struck a personal chord.

Leslie M-B (trillwing) said...

I am so sorry you experienced all of this, and that the men in your life were committed to perpetuating violence against women.

Either I'm totally blind to it or this doesn't happen in the family with which I grew up--mostly my mom's family, with a sprinkling of my dad's. It may be that the women in the family were saved that injustice because in general we have been higher-achieving (in measurable ways that society values, like academic degrees and Olympic medals) than the men. In other families, some men would undoubtedly see the women as uppity, but as the pattern of women's achievement became clear, they came to respect us rather than be envious or belittling. It helps that we've all married men who are more than happy to be, as my husband puts it, "the descending spouse" (his tongue-in-cheek term for the academic "trailing spouse").

I wonder what can be done for women (and men) in families that haven't enjoyed this pattern?

Susan Brei said...

Very interesting, and sad, post. I'm sure your father loves you in his skewed way, and wants the best for you, but this is why women should work to define themselves. This is why women need to develop their own networks, their own resources, and their own sense of power and control. Just because your dad feels that you, as a woman, have to be there FOR men doesn't make it a reality. Define yourself. Develop your own sense of worth and importance. Find a man who is there for YOU, or better yet, a man who is your equal... a true partner. They're out there.

 

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