Mom: “God damnit I dropped my keys!”
Dad: “Michelle, do you really have to swear so much?”
Mom: “Yeah, well, whatever *grumble grumble*”
After this little spat I tactlessly pointed out the irony of Dad telling my mother not to swear (I get my bad habit from her) when just last week I’d shown her a rap song featuring Jay Z and Kanye and she’d scrunched her face up and declared indignantly “I just don’t understand why they have to swear so much!”
On this particular outing we’re all in a car coming back from the Sunday brunch I often spend with my parents , where I always seem to bring up pressing political issues (a little attempt at swaying my very conservative parents away from the more repressive of traditional values) when Dad started bemoaning our doomed generation.
Dad: “Everyone is so vulgar and the world is turned upside down! When I was a kid if anyone said any foul words in front of a woman they would get smacked upside the head.”
Me: ” Do you mean like saying, ‘do you talk to your mother with that mouth’? But I swear all the time, Dad.” (I really do, I have been told I have the mouth of a sailor, it’s kind of a problem at this point in terms of professionalism)
Dad: “That’s something that my dad used to say. Anyway, in today’s society women aren’t being respected by men, which is why they’re vulnerable and abused. And men didn’t used to behave around woman the way they do now. Women are being taken advantage of in those night clubs and bars, and constantly disrespected.”
Me: What I wish I’d said- “I don’t like when women are disrespected either, but we can take care of ourselves and are real people who don’t need to be put on a sort of ethereal pedestal. We like to swear too, and simply enjoy friendships with the guys we hang out with instead of being portrayed these magical unicorn creatures with delicate ears who can’t stand the though of a dick joke, that people seem to expect us to be. I’m not saying that we can’t be prim and proper if that fits our personality and who we strive to be, you do you, but these kind of societal expectations are a form of oppression that gets very old and perpetuates societal standards of how a girl should act. Plus, girls don’t hang around up in da club for the purpose of staying pure, or whatever.”
What I actually said- “Maybe those girls are happy with their lives?”
He is my dad after all.
Dad: “It used to be that little kids could play around town, run up and down the street, but now there are bad people everywhere. It all started with a funny little bathroom joke and someone rebelling against “the man” in the 60s. Now vulgar topics are being paraded around and every show has sex in it. Game of Thrones for Instance; you’d be crazy to let anyone under fourteen to watch that.”
Me: “It really depends on what you consider vulgar. And though you say we’re going backwards, look how far we’ve come with gay marriage having been legalized and our country demanding equal rights for men and women. Racism and sexism are still huge problems but we’ve taken enormous steps.”
This whole conversation reminds me of an argument from the comedian Whitney Cummings in the podcast The Tim Ferriss Show. Tim asked her about her what blue comedy is, and she basically said that she was sort of offended by the term. What it means is comedy that’s a little rough around the edges, or “dirty”, but she instead asks the question of why is sex still considered dirty and taboo. Almost everything in our lives revolves around sex in some way shape or form. We’re in a society that is obsessed with the topic of sex and yet, we still consider the act to be “vulgar”. I’m not saying kids under 14 need to be told about the topic… I remember when I was that age I probably would’ve found the nearest garbage can and ralphed if the subject of sex was brought up, or covered my years yelling “LALALALALA”. But why is the stigma still so real? Why would I think to cover my ears going “LALALA” if not for a subconscious societal bias that makes it seem wrong, somehow. Why are we such a guilt ridden society? Especially when we place the responsibility on girls to abstain from sex and feel shame, or less than someone else because we have actual desires? Like healthy human beings.
Dad: *looks a bit miffed* “I know times have changed, but I’m not here to argue with someone about what they do or don’t think is vulgar.”
I love my parents, I really do.
They are some of the finest individuals I know. Take my father for instance. Jeff is the real life version of old Mr. Bennet from Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. You can rarely find him without a book in his hand, and anything he says is either loaded with the wisdom of a thousand books and hours of contemplation.
My mother is another wonderful human with a kind heart with a surprising fountain of worldly wisdom and lack of pretensions. She tells it like it is, is easy to laugh, and is a skilled counselor for any break up or tough time in life. I love how she literally doesn’t give a flying fuck what anyone thinks.
So needless to say, my parents are great, but they’re also of a much different than ideology than I, which is to be expected from 50 and 60 year old people born into Catholic families.
I am what I would describe as a Beyoncé feminist.
Someone who isn’t apologetic for being a strong and feminine woman, who celebrates her femaleness, and wears lipgloss and pretty skirts as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie would say, and who also happens to love and appreciate men instead of shunning them for any masculinity they may or may not posses. Men are often despised in feminist culture, but we as a society need to connect with what feminism really is: the belief in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. It’s about owning one’s sexuality while keeping in mind that you can be who you want, do what you want, who you want, and have dreams that don’t add up to a wedding ring and kids, provided that that’s the life you want. No shame for homemakers or women who value their kids over their career. Woman can make their own choices about what gives them joy, and as women we have enough needless and unwarranted guilt and shame piled on our shoulders. Just make sure that you’re doing what you’re doing not out of pretense, but out of passion, because our society will push you to do the former based on its own expectations of what you should be doing. Or you can have it all. Ladies, don’t settle.
This passage from the song ***Flawless by Beyonce Knowles sums my up my thoughts on the matter fairly well.
We teach girls to shrink themselves
To make themselves smaller
We say to girls
“You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten the man”
Because I am female
I am expected to aspire to marriage
I am expected to make my life choices
Always keeping in mind that
Marriage is the most important
Now marriage can be a source of
Joy and love and mutual support
But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage
And we don’t teach boys the same?
We raise girls to each other as competitors
Not for jobs or for accomplishments
Which I think can be a good thing
But for the attention of men
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
In the way that boys are
Feminist: the person who believes in the social
Political, and economic equality of the sexes
We should all be feminists. I recommend watching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s full speech on Ted Talks, it’s eye opening, and the podcast with Tim Ferris and Whitney Cummings (the latter because its just fun to listen to).