I caught Harry (the tarantula) on the elementary school playground and holding him in my hands, took great pride in scaring all of my friends. I was a freak for thinking it was okay to hold such a poisonous monster -- except I was raised to know it as harmless and therefore felt no fear.
....This may have nothing to do with the following op-ed that came out last week in the New York Times, warning parents to let their daughters get dirty... and injured and live as dangerously as our boys do. I use spiders as an example because boys aren't allowed to be afraid of insects for the same reason girls are often expected to be. Which is a problem.
In Caroline Paul's Op-Ed, she writes:
When girls become women, this fear manifests as deference and timid decision making. We try to counter this conditioning by urging ourselves to “lean in.” Books on female empowerment proliferate on our shelves. I admire what these writers are trying to do — but they come far too late.
We must chuck the insidious language of fear (Be careful! That’s too scary!) and instead use the same terms we offer boys, of bravery and resilience. We need to embolden girls to master skills that at first appear difficult, even dangerous. And it’s not cute when a 10-year-old girl screeches, “I’m too scared.”
The thing about being too late is huge. There are BOOKS upon BOOKS about women's empowerment but when it comes to empowering our young daughters, be them toddlers or teens, we seem to fall perilously short...
...Also, I totally get that there are two kinds of phobias -- the kind you are born with without any explanation and the kind you are taught to embrace -- assumed to take on -- dictated by family, friends, culture... I am severely claustrophobic and cannot do confined spaces or large crowds in small rooms. Nobody in their right mind could convince me to sleep on a train bunk or happily chill on a subway that has inexplicably stopped. And there are PLENTY of people who are petrified of spiders and heights and all kinds of things that CANNOT and SHOULDN'T be challenged.
However. There are FAR MORE "fears" like the ones Caroline Paul discusses in her piece -- fears that girls are TAUGHT as opposed to born with... And on the flip side, fears that boys aren't ALLOWED TO POSSESS.
I spoke recently to a friend who admitted that she cautioned her daughter much more than her son. “But she’s very klutzy,” the mom explained. I wondered, wasn’t there a way even a klutzy child could take risks? My friend agreed there might be, but only halfheartedly, and I could see on her face that maternal instinct was sparring with feminism, and feminism was losing.
I had been a klutzy child, too. I was also shy, and scared of many things: big kids, whatever might be under my bed at night, school. But I pored over National Geographic and “Harriet the Spy.” I knew all about Sir Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table, who wandered the countryside swearing oaths of bravery and honor. None of these characters talked about fear. They talked about courage, exploration and exciting deeds.
I found it imperative to finally write about something that was excruciatingly hard to write about, was because I feel that we're not doing NEARLY enough as parents and educators to PREVENT attacks. Instead, we put all of our effort into attacking the attackers, which, yes, YES, I understand why it's important to punish criminals, and sexual assault is CRIMINAL. However. I also think it's important to REALLY DISCUSS where the root of this behavior comes from and how WE ALL, perhaps without even recognizing it, are permitting, even REINFORCING said behavior.
And as a mother, I could no longer say nothing.
As a mother who refuses to "lock up her daughters" I could no longer say nothing.
As a parent who believes my daughters should have the same freedoms -- the same opportunities, the same ADVENTURES that are afforded my son, I could no longer say nothing.
I had a really difficult conversation with my mother last week. I had just sent her my last GGC post and spent hours on the phone trying to explain to her that what happened to me wasn't her fault. The truth is, the hardest part of publishing that post was KNOWING that she would blame herself for what had happened to me. Which is the last thing I would EVER EVER want... EVER.
Because the truth is I DID grow up with a lot of freedom. So did my sister and brother. And I wouldn't trade ANY OF THAT for ANYTHING. You can lock up your daughters all you want... you cannot protect them from the inevitable -- from life in all its immense beauty and pain.
All we can do is prepare them. And educate them. And publicly call out bullshit when we see it.
Fear is not a strong enough defense strategy, I'm afraid. And there is nothing more detrimental to the human spirit than a keeper and a cage...
May EVERYONE be wild and free and fearless.
You can read the rest of my post, here.