Saturday, October 6, 2018

"Our Girls"

Janelle Monae with the message we need

There's a speech by Elizabeth Cady Stanton called "Our Girls" that I use to teach 19th century feminism, in all its flaws. It makes a good contrast with Frances Willard's linking of women's rights to temperance and "home protection," and often surprises my students because they did not think there were women in the Gilded Age who thought as radically as Stanton did. The opening lines are certainly evocative:

"They are the music, the flowers, the sunshine of our social life. How beautiful they make our homes, churches, schools and festive scenes: how glad and gay they make our streets with their scarlet plumes, bright shawls and tartan plaids. Who can see a bevy of girls tripping home from school without pausing to watch their graceful motions, pretty faces, feet and legs, to listen to their merry words and peals of laughter. See how they romp and play with hoops and balls, with sleds and skates, wash their brothers’ faces in the snow, and beat them in a race on yonder pond. These boys and girls are one to-day in school, at play, at home, never dreaming that one sex was foreordained to clutch the stars, the other but to kiss the dust."

I think about these lines all the time when I watch my six year old daughters playing with their friends in their joyous, carefree way. It often fills me with profound sadness, because I know what society is about to put them through.

The glimpses are already there. Based on their behavior, the boys I see their age have not been taught a lot about being nice to each other or caring about other people's feelings. I know that in a few years my daughters' male peers will be judging them by their looks, and that they will be dealing with the Kavanaughs, Squis, and Judges of the world. My wife and I know that as their parents there is only so much that we can do, and that they are going to have to navigate the minefields of female adolescence mostly by themselves. Things were bad enough already, but with the election of Trump and the confirmation of Kavanaugh the abusers, predators, and misogynists can rest easy that their people are at the helm. I am sure that they feel emboldened.

I know too many people to count who have been sexually abused and assaulted (not all of them women, by the way.) I am sure that I know many more who have not shared their stories with me. I know that in some cases the resulting pain and trauma lasts a lifetime. I also know that not a single person who perpetuated these assaults on the people in my life ever had to face justice. I have also seen up close and in painful ways how institutions and authority figures makes excuses for abusers. Kavanaugh's confirmation sends a clear message to the already disbelieved and disrespected victims: your pain, your experience, and your life simply don't matter.

That's the message Trump's America sends to so many people on a daily basis. The children murdered in school shootings, the black men and women shot down by the police, the immigrant families broken apart and jailed, and the women who are sexually assaulted have essentially been told that their sufferings are justified.

I can't help but to make it personal, and to think about what my girls are growing up into. Those who want them conditioned to "kiss the dust" are behaving with impunity. They have control over the courts now, so their vile fantasies about what kind of lives our girls can and cannot have will soon be a reality. I owe it them to fight to my last breath.

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